Downton Astra

MOVIE REVIEWS: Are “Ad Astra” or “Downton Abbey” Worth Your $$$?

Downton Abbey reviewed by Kristin Schuck
I was in the breakroom last week listening to a coworker’s review of the new Downton Abbey movie. She had snagged an invite to one of the fan screenings and was gushing about it. Her review was fairly simple – she “smiled the whole time. Grinned ear to ear.” I MIGHT have rolled my eyes. Insufferable entertainment snob is a mood I slip into quite easily, and I knew my review of the movie would be much more nuanced than that.
Smiled the whole time? This new Downton movie was clearly a money grab! Come on, Debbie, don’t let them pander to you! So when I got my chance to review the movie for I was armed with my refined tastes and a large dose of cynicism. And guess what? I smiled the whole dang time, y’all.
Don’t get me wrong. I take my stories very seriously, and I watched Downton Abbey from start to finish during its run. But my husband reminded me that I watched the last couple seasons almost begrudgingly, my face buried in a second screen as I half-watched the Crawleys trudge to the finish line. (I’m a 6 on the Enneagram scale – a loyalist – so once I’m in it, I’m in it until the bitter end.)
But the second that theme music fired up, I forgot all of that. It helped that a sweet man sitting behind us gave a giddy little cheer each time a beloved character appeared for the first time (I’m a big fan of “big fans”). Mrs. Patmore was still busy whippin’ up souffles and yappin’ with Daisy. Anna and Mr. Bates were still adorable, Barrow was still preening, and Mary was still giving me that bored bitchiness that I dig. Maggie Smith’s zingers as Violet, The Dowager Countess of Grantham (and of my cold black heart) were as hilarious as I remembered them. The movie format kept the pacing at a nice clip (none of the plodding, drawn out story lines from later seasons of the show). The sets were, as usual, gorgeous, and the 1920’s costumes divine, as expected. The movie shimmers on its surface, and the surface is as deep as we need go. We have the backstory, and we’re just here for a lovely visit. Mild complaints: my precious Mr. Bates was barely in this thing, although his wife Anna is heavily featured. And the delicious Matthew Goode as Mary’s new husband Henry, billed as #2 on the movie’s IMDB cast list, is little more than a cameo tacked onto the end. Watching the prickly Mary softened by love was one of my favorite parts of the show, but alas.
(Julie, who never watched Downton Abbey, said the movie was like going to someone else’s high school reunion. It’s pretty to look at but you don’t know anyone and have no idea what’s going on. Fans only for this one.)

Ad Astra reviewed by Julie Fisk
Since Gravity was released in 2013, Hollywood has felt it necessary to gift us with a space-based star-vehicle each fall. We’ve had Interstellar, The Martian and First Man to name a few, with Brad Pitt in this year’s offering, Ad Astra.
He plays an astronaut in the near future, who travels to Mars in search of his missing and presumed-dead father (Tommy Lee Jones). Secrets are uncovered along the way and a leap of faith must be made to find real answers.
Some big statements are made in Ad Astra (in case you’re wondering, it’s Latin for “to the stars”), specifically about humanity’s need to build walls while, at the same time, looking to the heavens for connection, and life. There are also questions about our desire to colonize new worlds, and whether we’re more likely to build shopping malls and restaurants than to explore or learn.
These are solid questions to ponder, but they don’t exactly make for a good “space” film. They, along with our main character’s obvious Daddy issues, leave Ad Astra to aimlessly stumble along while the audience waits for something to happen. When the action does kick in, it feels like high-octane segments from a better space-film, spliced into an emo-indie flick. The result is an uneven and occasionally boring but lovely-to-look at addition to Hollywood’s annual space-race. (C)

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