Ad Astra (DVD)

Ad_Astra-dvdBrad Pitt gives a powerful performance in the “absolutely enthralling” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone) sci-fi thriller set in space. When a mysterious life-threatening event strikes Earth, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) goes on a dangerous mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones) and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.

[Promotional text from the Dvd sleeve]

>> Please, read the warning for possible spoilers <<

In a “near future”, astronaut Roy McBride is told that his father — Clifford McBride, lost in a failed intelligent life-seeking mission around Neptune and presumed death — could still be alive. Powerful particules’ flares are hitting Earth and causing dangerous power surges and the authorities think that his father could be creating the flares with the “Lima Project” ship propulsion system which is using dark matter (!). He is sent to Mars, via the Moon, to record a secret message for his father but discovers that the authorities intentions are far more nefarious than he was told. Despite the lack of trust on both side, he manages to board the Cepheus on its way to Neptune in order to find his father and resolve the situation…

The movie is very slow and has little action (mostly when he falls from the “tower” (space elevator?), when he is attacked by pirates on the Moon, when he boards the distressed Norwegian biomedical research space station and when he tries to escape the “Lima Project” ship). It is also filmed in a very theatrical way, with little dialogues as most of the movie is narrated in voice-over by the main character. Therefore it feels a lot like 2001: A Space Odyssey with some influences from Philip K. Dick (the use of mood altering drugs and the constant psych eval — like seen in Blade Runner 2049).

The director, James Gray, said that he wanted a movie with a “realistic depiction of space travel” but I think he was not very successful. The movements of the characters seemed sometime a little odd and often the laws of physics were broken: a twenty-day trip to Mars? Eighty days to Neptune? You can sure have ships with bigger acceleration but I doubt that human would be able to survive them (and they didn’t look like accelerating a lot in the movie). Also, no matter what kind of radio communication you are using (even with a laser beam) you are limited to the speed of light and transmitting a message to Neptune would take some time (certainly over three hours in each direction), therefore you cannot get an immediate response !

It is said that the movie is set in the “near future” and that also is doubtful. Space elevator, significant bases on the Moon, a base on Mars, all this cannot happen in a few decades. Maybe in a couple of centuries, considering how slow humanity has been doing space exploration lately. Also, the world in which the movie is set seems quite interesting — even if it is barely glimpsed at. Everything looks computer controlled, people are kept on a tight leash with constant psych eval and mood altering drugs to keep them “happy” and well behaved. It is maybe a 1984-style dictature? Everyone seems to have strong religious belief, so maybe a very conservative and fundamentalist world? The movie doesn’t offer enough clues to say so with certainty. Or maybe the Millenials / strawberry generation needed this level of protection and control to survived and feel safe in a “difficult” future?

However, despite its slow pace, technical flaws and lack of action, Ad Astra remains a beautiful movie, with great photography, excellent special effects, good actors and acting (Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, and Donald Sutherland) and a very interesting subject (solitude, family bonds and commitment). The movie made a slim profit at the box office and was well-received by the critics (with a rating of 6.6 on IMDb and 84% on Rotten Tomatoes) but was not as well appreciated by the public (audience score of 40% on Rotten Tomatoes). People probably found it not as exciting as they were expecting because it feels more like a psychological drama than a sci-fi action movie. It is stimulating to the mind, but only mildly entertaining…

All in all, I found Ad Astra disappointing but still worth watching. Anyway, catch it on TV or on DVD (maybe from the library) and be the judge yourself. stars-2-5

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ AmazonBiblioGoogleIMDbOfficialWikipedia ]

Also, you can check the official trailer on Youtube:

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TolkienPosterThis is a very good and touching biopic about the genesis of J.R.R. Tolkien’s universe (what he called his legendarium, set in the Middle-Earth, which includes novels like The Hobbit and Lord of the rings) without really talking about it. It is quite subtle and interesting. Very well done. Although, I am a little disappointed as I was under the impression that the movie was about the Inklings, a literary club that Tolkien (played by Nicholas Hoult) was a member of at Oxford along with C.S. Lewis. The movie is actually about another club, the T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Barrovian Society), where he pledged with his college friends Rob (Patrick Gibson), Geoffrey (Anthony Boyle) and Christopher (Tom Glynn-Carney)  to change the worlds through their art (literature, painting, music and poetry). His writing was greatly influenced by his experiences in World War I, his interest in philology (particularly in creating new languages) and in European mythologies (Norse, Germanic and Finnish), as well as by the love for his wife (Edith Bratt played by Lily Collins).

The movie was not endorsed by the Tolkien Estate (which considered it inaccurate) and received mixed reviews (it was rated 6.8 on IMDb and 50% / 73% on Rotten Tomatoes) but I nevertheless found it quite interesting. The movie is mostly criticized for lacking imagination, but I disagree: it has plenty, but it just requires a little effort from the viewers. While entertaining, it offers great (but subtle) insights on the life of Tolkien and his creation. Whether you’re a fan or not, Tolkien is worth watching. stars-3-5

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ AmazonGoogleIMDbOfficialWikipediaYoutube ]

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Where I belong

Shabondama-posterAfter committing robbery, Shoto’s flight from the cops takes him to the mountains of Miyazaki in southern Japan where he helps an injured elderly woman. This serendipitous encounter will softly coax him into changing and set him on the path to redemption. The Japanese countryside comes to life through beautiful cinematography in this simple and unhurried reflection on what it means to have a place where to belong.

[ From Cinémathèque québécoise ]

A petty criminal (who was shaped by his environment or bad parenting) do something bad, escape to the countryside, feels guilty, meet with nice people, sees the error of his way and seeks redemption… I must say that Where I belong doesn’t feel very original as we’ve seen this type of movie often in Japanese cinema. However, it is still a nice feel-good movie. It offers a touching story, which is beautifully shot and with good acting. It’s an entertaining flick that offers a good time. Nothing more. The best part is probably that it is showcasing the nice landscapes of Miyazaki and giving us a glimpse at the Shiiba Heike Festival.

Where I belong (しゃぼん玉 / Shabondama / lit. “Soap bubble”): Japan, 2016, 108 mins; Dir./Scr.: Shinji Azuma (based on a novel by Asa Nonami); Phot.: Wataru Miyamoto; Ed.: Shinya Tadano; Music: Yuki Hara; Cast: Kazuyuki Aijima, Mina Fujii, Kento Hayashi. ©2016「しゃぼん玉」製作委員会. stars-3-0

For more information you can visit the following websites:

[ AsianWikiGoogleIMDbJFDBOfficialYoutube ]

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Ken Burns’ Country Music

KenBurnsCountryMusic-DvdLast night I watched on PBS the first episode of Ken BurnsCountry Music documentary and I was mesmerized! I don’t really like country music (or at least I thought I didn’t) but I was fascinated by this documentary about the history of country music in the USA. In fact, it is much more than that: it is the history of America and its culture — mostly of the deep America. It is very interesting and educating. Like all documentaries by Ken Burns it is very well researched. It is very interesting to see all those old pictures and footage, as well as to ear such music from another era (the documentary covers until 1996)… Certainly a must see.

Country music is certainly a pretty large musical genre that has evolved a lot and encompass many sub-genres (hillbilly, bluegrass, western, etc.) and cross-over styles. It is difficult to define and I am looking forward to learn more about it. For instance, Bob Dylan sang many songs from the country music pioneers (and adopted their style) but he is considered a folk singer. What’s the difference between country and folk? Is folk a sub-genre of country music? I am just wondering…

Country Music is an eight-part mini-series (120 mins each) that premiered September 15, 2019 and airs on PBS every week day until September 25. It is also available for streaming on PBS website (U.S. only). stars-3-0

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ AmazonGoogleIMDbOfficialPBSWikipediaYoutube ]

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Japanese film festival 

The 36th edition of the Japanese Film Festival will be held from Friday September 20th to Sunday September 22nd at the Cinémathèque québécoise (335 De Maisonneuve Blvd East, Montreal, QC). This annual event is presented by the Japan Foundation in collaboration with the Consulate General of Japan in Montreal. It offers four free Japanese movie screenings (in Japanese with English subtitles; Limited seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis; no reservations required).

Where I belong (しゃぼん玉 / Shabondama): Japan, 2016, 108 mins; Dir./Scr.: Shinji Azuma (based on a novel by Asa Nonami); Phot.: Wataru Miyamoto; Ed.: Shinya Tadano; Cast: Kazuyuki Aijima, Mina Fujii, Kento Hayashi.

[ AsianWikiIMDbJFDBOfficialYoutube ]

After committing robbery, Shoto’s flight from the cops takes him to the mountains of Miyazaki in southern Japan where he helps an injured elderly woman. This serendipitous encounter will softly coax him into changing and set him on the path to redemption. The Japanese countryside comes to life through beautiful cinematography in this simple and unhurried reflection on what it means to have a place where to belong.

Friday September 20 at 6:30 p.m. / 18h30

The Night I Swam (泳ぎすぎた夜 / Oyogisugita yoru): Japan/France, 2017, 79 mins; Dir.: Kohei Igarashi / Damien Manivel; Phot.: Wataru Takahashi; Ed.: William Laboury; Music: Jérôme Petit; Cast: Takara Kogawa, Keiki Kogawa, Takashi Kogawa.

[ IMDbJFDBOfficial ]

In the early hours of the morning in snowy northern Japan, a boy is woken up by the noise of his father leaving for work. Later, the boy deviates from the path to school and heads towards the fish market where his father works. This Japan-France coproduction has no dialogue, no narration, but instead captivates its audience with the power of images and everyday sounds, revealing in poetic silence the charming simplicity of a child’s world.

Saturday September 21 at 2:15 p.m. / 14h15

Drowning Love (溺れるナイフ / Oboreru naifu): Japan, 2016, 111 mins; Dir.: Yûki Yamato; Scr.: Yûki Yamato, Kishu Izuchi (based on the manga by George Asakura); Phot.: Takahide Shibanushi; Ed.: Kenichi Hirai; Cast: Nana Komatsu, Masaki Suda, Daiki Shigeoka, Mone Kamishiraishi, Nazuki Amano, Mickey Curtis, Masami Horiuchi.

[ AsianWikiIMDbJFDBOfficialWikipedia ]

Two of Japan’s rising stars take on the roles of a teenage fashion model from Tokyo and a successor to a family of Shinto priests, portraying together dreams of freedom and fragile teenage love, intense and tragic.

Saturday September 21 at 4 p.m. / 16h00

Summer Wars (サマーウォーズ / Samâ uôzu): Japan, 2009, 114 mins; Dir.: Mamoru Hosoda.

[ ANNIMDbOfficialWikipedia ]

When a timid high school math whiz unwittingly unlocks a rogue AI program able to destroy the real world, calling on the bonds of family and human compassion might be the only way to counter this menacing mayhem. A timely 10th anniversary screening of this Mamoru Hosoda and Madhouse masterpiece which seamlessly blends the beauty of traditional Japan with Superflat colorful computer graphics.

Sunday September 22 at 2 p.m. / 14h00

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Alita : Battle Angel

AlitaBattleAngel-dvdWhen Alita (Rosa Salazar) awakens with no memory of who she is in a future world she does not recognize, she is taken in by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate doctor who realizes that somewhere in this abandoned cyborg shell is the heart and soul of a young woman with an extraordinary past. As Alita learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield her from her mysterious history while her street-smart new friend Hugo (Keean Johnson) offers instead to help trigger her memories. But it is only when the deadly and corrupt forces that run the city come after Alita that she discovers a clue to her past – she has unique fighting abilities that those in power will stop at nothing to control. If she can stay out of their grasp, she could be the key to saving her friends, her family and the world she’s grown to love. — (Promotional text)

This movie is based on the manga series Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro (which I recently commented). James Cameron had been interested in the story for a long time (he optioned the titled in 2000 and used it as inspiration for his TV series Dark Angel) but, being too busy with Avatar and its sequels, he passed the directorial torch to Robert Rodriguez. It is a good thing that Cameron and Jon Landau waited to produced Alita because it gave them the time to perfect the motion-capture CGI technology with Avatar. The type of fast action combat scenes needed to adapt the manga would not have been possible otherwise. It also gave them time to work on the script to make it shorter.

It’s an excellent movie, with superb special effects and great storytelling. It is both entertaining and compelling. They succeeded to tell the story within two hours while keeping enough elements of the manga to be faithful. I was afraid at first that they would not be able to adapt the story properly, but all the essential themes are there: the identity quest, the love story, the desire to protect the weak against evil, the dark post-cataclysmic world, the hopeful cyberpunk technology, the fabulous combat scenes, even the social comment about the stupidity of war and social inequity. 

The only major changes are that they explain early in the story the cause of the Earth’s destruction (the war between Earth and Mars — in the manga they just mentioned that Earth was hit by a meteorite without saying, at first, that it was intentional) and the nature of Alita (a martian soldier/berserker). Hugo (Yugo in the manga) also appears in the beginning of the movie (while he only appears in chapter eight in the manga). Most of the changes are minor and without consequence: Ido names Alita (Gally) from his dead daughter (instead of from his dead cat), his ex-wife Chiren doesn’t appears in the manga (that character was created for the anime), his assistant is different (she looks more like Myra, the doctor who replaces Yugo’s hand in chap. 10 of the manga), the Berserker replacement body is not found by Alita but by Ido, the speech in the “Kansas” bar to try to get the Hunter-Warriors’ help against Grewishka (Makaku) is made not by Alita but by Ido (who still has his Zalem symbol on the forehead in the manga), etc. The movie also adds the fact that Nova can see and speak through Vector. Despite those few differences, the movie seems quite similar (even more if we compare to the anime version, Battle Angel).

Annoyingly, the movie ends on a sort of cliff-hanger: will Alita succeed to reach Zalem and get her revenge from Nova? That’s what we will know in the sequels — if they are ever produced. It all depends on the success of the first movie. Despite mixed reviews, it seems that it was well received (the sales more than doubled the budget and ratings were good enough on IMDb [7.4] and Rotten Tomatoes [60% for the critics but 93% for the audience]). For my part (but I was already an Alita fan), I think it was an excellent adaptation and I enjoyed it greatly. I warmly recommend it. stars-4-0

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ AmazonBiblioGoogleIMDbOfficialWikipedia ]

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Arzak Rhapsody

ArzakRhapsody-DVDPerché sur son fidèle Ptéroïde anti-gravité (où rien de grave ne peut l’atteindre), Arzak explore le Désert ‘B’, un monde parallèle peuplé de créatures étranges, situé aux frontières du rêve et d’une réalité au-delà du réel. Mais Arzak ne rêve-t-il pas d’un univers qui est en lui…ou en chacun de nous ?

(Texte promotionnel — voir aussi la couverture arrière de la jaquette)

Ce dessin animé est une série de quatorze capsules de 3:30 min. chacunes qui offrent un dessin minimaliste qui est terriblement animé. On y retrouve différentes aventures (et mésaventures) du célèbre guerrier solitaire et (généralement) silencieux alors qu’il parcours le désert B, affrontant l’herbe-serpent ou diverses autres créatures. C’est un peu sans queue ni tête mais les récits sont étoffés par une narration et Moebius donne, pour la première fois, la parole à Arzak. Tout comme les planches de Moebius, ces capsules sont un peu inégales en qualité (et en intérêt). L’univers d’Arzak est un peu tourné en ridicule avec des personnages clownesques (où l’on pourrait peut-être discerner une influence de Winsor McCay?). 

C’est mauvais mais tout de même amusant et intriguant. À la défense de cette curiosité décevante, il faut admettre qu’elle est définitivement produite pour un public jeune alors que la série originale s’adressait aux adultes. On s’attendrait néanmoins à mieux de la part d’un créateur comme Moebius. C’est trop court et plein de potentiel inexploité (quoique le graphisme s’améliore avec les derniers épisodes). Cela aurait pu être tellement mieux…

Il est intéressant de constater que l’on voit déjà le début de la convergence des différents univers (et styles) de Giraud / Moebius avec des éléments qui rappellent Le Garage Hermétique, d’autres qui font définitivement partie du monde SF déjanté et imaginatif de Moebius — parfois hilarant et absurde, parfois mystique et obscure (avec des allusions au Arzach original ou à Edena) — et même des relents d’atmosphère western à la Blueberry. Cette série d’histoires nous laisse donc présager la suite — L’Arpenteur

À voir par amusement ou par curiosité.

Arzak Rhapsody: France, 2002, 51 min., série télévisée d’animation (14 episodes); Dir., Scr., Des.: Moebius; Dir. Art.: Alexandre Brillant; Ass. Réal.: Francois Narboux; Mus.: Zanpano; Studio: Millimages Online; Prod.: Wolfland Pictures, Carrere Group, France 2. stars-2-5

Pour en savoir plus vous pouvez consulter les sites suivants:

[ AmazonGoogleIMDbWikipedia ]


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