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Saturday, September 28, 2019

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[Review] Green Book (2018)

"You never win with violence, Tony. You only win when you maintain your dignity." - Dr. Don Shirley

Green Book plays like most movies that tackle racism from the past, an undeniably sugary, feel-good drama that everyone can’t help but adore. That’s true for many reasons. Bearing many resemblances from Driving Miss Daisy, its concept is pretty much paint-by-number: a portrayal of two polar opposites dealing with unfortunate ‘events’ that come along the way. This time, the roles are reversed with our two leads, Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, taking us to a road trip bound to be bumpy and affecting. Mortensen’s Tony, with a paunch and a Bronx accent, is high-octane in his laid-back, carefree demeanor, flaunting his singularity every time those boastful talks come out of his mouth. Ali’s Don is anything but that: he’s a stoic, one that endures the long-suffering strain of being a nonconformist in his own world and the other. Reserved, detached, and deemed too sophisticated, yet portrayed with such gravity that he defines his own charm, Ali delivers what may well be his best performance to date. Put them both in one frame, and the result is as spellbinding as ever. Fueled by their warmth, humor, and strength, it’s one of those fiery dynamics that keeps us engaged, hitting most of its highly pleasing notes without even breaking a sweat.
Still, even when the dynamic duo’s effortless presence operates at a pristine level, the narrative sadly doesn’t. As funny and as delightful as it is, Green Book never walks out of its well-trodden territory with its chin up. Addressing racism is never easy, and in a year of BlacKkKlansman, Blindspotting, and The Hate U Give, Green Book shies away from tackling it right. It does try, though, but instead of plunging deeper to confront its subject, Green Book simply squishes through the swampy mud, drenched in it yet never gutsy enough to penetrate. Anchoring too much to their magnetic relationship might be their strongest and weakest link, as it eventually dwarves its already outward, simplified display of racism and disenfranchisement. In the end, Green Book does appear to be another case of Driving Miss Daisy: a flattening of history that pleases both sides, which works really well in that regard, a fairly typical Hollywood effort that doesn’t have anything to write home about, yet offers you a real good time that rarely any film does. Well-intentioned and endearing through and through, Green Book’s approach to its sensitive topics may be too clean-shaven and confusing at times, but its two formidable, dazzling stars still manage to overcome its rather passive outcome, as they’ll laugh, struggle, and cheer with you.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

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[Review] Ad Astra (2019)

"The enemy out here, is not a person or a thing, it's the endless void." - Thomas Pruitt

Visually ambitious and thematically grounded, As Astra goes as far as the stars yet its echoes are still reflective even from billions of miles away—well, technically we're going to Neptune, but you get the idea. An odyssey that speaks in its most poetic tongue, Ad Astra is also an introspective reverie that makes great use of its vast of nothingness to unearth a brimming sense of catharsis. Gray's direction wanders in a measured rhythm, that knows how to soar into its intense stillness. In its remote moments, you can't help but get drawn in its mighty splendor, a meditation that never asks us to ponder things, we simply—and willfully—get captivated. This science fiction is more about fiction than science itself, but as it shows in its more thrilling split seconds—from scavenging moon pirates to killer baboons in space—the whole thing is deliberately borderline silly and out of place, yet strangely enough, as Gray distances us from the world we're so familiar with, it never crosses that mindless line.

Over and above its daddy issues, Gray and Gross' script dilates its premise by engaging us through our protagonist's grueling personal battle and shadows of his buried nightmares, interlocking the past and the present in a father-and-son relationship to unfold how toxic masculinity and the lack of emotional awareness is perpetuated, kept in existence through generations. Marking Brad Pitt's return to his best form, his performance as emotionally detached astronaut Roy McBride commands the entire space voyage with a different mold of self-assurance we rarely see in his usual work. He's firm and understated, distant yet intimate, all things in one. It's essentially a one-man show, where Brad Pitt is given so much scope through his bounded and restrained sense of thereof. This is not without help of the script, which deliberately dims other characters to create an inward-looking stance that allows us to descend deeper into McBride's state of mind, shying away from reality and manifesting his solitude in full display. The result, is colossal in magnitude and deep-seated in scope, a spectacle that's beautiful beyond measure and a moving journey that finds a contemplative eye in a subdued desolation, seizing attention and emotions once your head gets around its orbit.