Thursday, October 24, 2019

Empathetic vistas

Right from the beginning, it has to be said that Monos is one of the more visually striking films I've seen recently. From the Colombian highlands to the Amazon basin, you're going to see some impressive vistas which are a perfect contrast to the close-ups of humanity that are also witnessed. Is it more affecting to see the crumbling of a near-child's face when she's been shoved away from her first encounter with human tenderness in who knows how long, than a slice of pristine wilderness in the evening as the sun slides away? Both of those are transitions. Both of them are decent allegories to what's taking place in broad form throughout the film. Both of them can leave you with open ends (where does she go from here?; what happens at night?) The real question becomes: Is it enough to make a film from?

I think the answer, by and large, is "Yes." Film is a visual medium. It's quite possible to tell a story without uttering a word, simply by letting the images and actions on the screen convey everything that needs be "said." Those of you that know my fandom will remember me citing the director's cut of Blade Runner as an excellent example of this, where Ridley Scott had lengthy scenes without dialogue that provided everything that the viewer needed to know to continue his story. The studio, of course, subsequently ruined these by putting in Harrison Ford's voiceover for the theater release. Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is another good example. Director Alejandro Landes definitely pushes Monos in that direction, despite extensive use of dialogue to build the characters of the performers and expand on one of the central themes of the film: the slow dissolution of humanity when removed from society.

Now, let's also clarify up front that this story is essentially Lord of the Flies. The lead characters are teenagers or children and their detachment from society leads to a very simple cult of personality structure to their group organization. In fact, they doubled down on that Lord of the Flies comparison when the head of a pig ends up staked near one of the group that is being punished for snitching. They've been sequestered in a wilderness location because they're functioning as guards for an American prisoner whom they call 'Doctora' (Julianne Nicholson) at the behest of The Organization; a political/criminal faction of some kind that could be using typical hostage tactics to protect their interests or could be using her as leverage for some kind of goal. That's never revealed in the film and is largely unimportant, as the central element of the plot is observing how rules, norms, and relationships are established and maintained, not only among people separated from the typical parameters of society (laws), but also from any older people to guide them, with the exception of the occasional visits from the Messenger (Wilson Salazar) who merely urges them to greater zeal on the part of the Organization and self-recriminatory group judgments ("shaming") to keep them from going too far outside the boundaries of what the main faction wants from its soldiers. In that respect, it's easy to become sympathetic to the main characters, despite their increasing ruthlessness, because the Messenger is perfectly aware that he's shaping weapons and his occasional visits are merely to ensure that those loose cannons don't turn on their forgers...

What further complicates personal matters among the characters, but only enhances the emotional appeal to the audience, is that these teenagers are developing as teenagers do and start making stronger physical connections among themselves (and probably because it's pretty boring sitting in the jungle, watching a prisoner.) Landes rather skillfully uses the primary expression of sex as both the very commonplace activity that it is and the wholly human bond that it is, while remaining restrained on the visual depictions, given that the subjects of the film are young enough to send some viewers into a Helen Lovejoy spasm. It's sex as an essential part of the story of life, rather than basic titillation or because a "love interest" (ugh) has been written into the script to fit the expectations of the typical audience.

The fact that so much about the plot is left to mystery is another genuinely appealing aspect to it. Landes begins with what I usually call the "Howard Chaykin technique"; dropping the audience right into events with no preamble or preparation. We just know that a group of young people with military hardware are holding a woman hostage in the hills and are entrusted with a cow. Go. When Doctora is placed in front of a camera to give the typical message to the outside world via the hostage, we never hear any of the details and she's handed a newspaper with the word "Deforestacion" splattered across the front. Are they a hardcore enviro resistance group? Is that just a cover story for some kind of secession activity? Clearly, holding the cow but being instructed that it must be returned in the future seems to indicate an appeal to the common farmers of their country. But we don't know any of the hard detail because our main characters don't know. The point of the film isn't to deliver a broader plot. It's for the audience to ride along with these kids as their world breaks down around them, completely isolated from the larger world that presumably all of them knew before they signed on (or were drafted into) the Organization. As broad as the vistas are, the film itself is quite personal. Again, that most affecting moment, when Swede (Laura Castrillòn), who is perhaps 15, begins to panic at everything that is happening around her and tries to find comfort in the presence of the only adult and conceivable mother figure, Doctora. Separated from any kind of gentle human contact herself, Doctora at first responds as any caring human would, before realizing that she's showing empathy to one of her jailers, who forced her to participate in the gang-like birthday abuse of one of the other members of the cell. The audience rides along with Doctora in the tumult of her emotions and it should be the point where most would learn to appreciate the story being shown to them, even if it is unconventional.

The flip side to that is the increasing savagery exhibited by the characters, as almost all similar stories and situations tend to descend. It's a frequent thought that survival instinct becomes paramount in all animals and humans are no different. When driven to the limits of rational behavior or when all behavior that doesn't orbit around maintaining one's existence in the world can be dismissed as irrelevant, all empathy drains away. I found myself wondering why Doctora wouldn't have casually buried her stolen machete in the head of a 10-year-old boy out of simple frustration and vengeance. That kind of base operation was mentioned in a book known as The Long Walk, ostensibly about an escape from a Soviet gulag in the 40s. Pushed to the limits of survival, when he and his compatriots reached British India, they found themselves unconsciously reverting to basic habits and fighting anyone who tried to prevent them from, as they saw it, surviving, even while surrounded by people committed to returning them to health, physical and mental. One could imagine similar circumstances for most of the kids in this film when/if they ever returned to society. "Monos", of course, means "monkeys" in Spanish.

Monos is a film that takes a little patience, but there's so much happening on screen that has nothing to do with special effects or complex plotting, but everything to do with basic humanity, that I think it's worthwhile to seek it out wherever you can find it and, for once, be able to just sit back and enjoy something that's both moving and highly intelligent.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Half truck, half story

[There are minor spoilers, yo.]

Stories have a beginning, middle, and an end. Full stop. That's what a story is. From that rather unforgiving perspective, El Camino is not a story. It's an addendum to a story, because the beginning is in Breaking Bad and this is really all about the end. I mean, I guess you could say that this two-hour film was about not having the money, getting the money, getting more of the money, and then using the money to disappear into Alaska... and that's a story. It's not quite the level of discourse I'd expect from someone as talented as Vince Gilligan, but it's arguable.

This is starting out pretty bleak, as a lot of things have over the past few weeks. These are relatively bleak times, on a personal and public level, so that's quite possibly coloring my perspective. Furthermore, I'm still aggravated about having to scrape out a draw against the Mancs yesterday, so there's that. When it comes to sports, writing, media... I am pretty much an "excellence demander", as the saying goes. That's why I'm looking at El Camino from the perspective of the basics: Does this tell a story? Does it tell a good story? Does it serve any purpose beyond titillation of hardcore Breaking Bad fans? The answer to all of those is, largely, "No." On the other hand, most TV and most films are filed under "entertainment" for a reason. This one gives you a couple hours to watch Jesse's recurrent struggle with his sense of humanity that almost constantly gets him in trouble in the morally ambiguous world that he followed Walter into. It gives you another look at Breaking Bad fan favorites like Badger, Skinny, Mike, Todd, and even Walter himself; still in desperate schoolteacher mode and not yet having descended to the notorious Heisenberg. It also gives us one last look at clean-up guy, Robert Forster (RIP), who is his usual low-key, amiable, but still memorable self.

And that contrast raises a lot of overarching and frequently asked questions about these kinds of entertainments. How is something defined as "good" or, in the case of Breaking Bad, "universally acclaimed"? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? (No. Not that kind of beholder.) If El Camino was written for Breaking Bad fans and it serves the interests of Breaking Bad fans who just want to spend more time in that world (especially with Better Call Saul having been on hiatus for a while), then that kinda makes it good by default, right? We still get Vince Gilligan's solid writing and directing, as well as Aaron Paul. Sure. It's fine. I'm a diehard Breaking Bad fan. I'll watch anything that Gilligan puts on the screen, which is why I was eager to watch El Camino.

But I'm also interested in stories that actually go somewhere. Yes, we get to see Jesse once again regret that his streak of morality prevents him from pulling a trigger that he probably should and gets him into a problem that is more complicated than it had to be, if he could just emulate some of Walter's ruthlessness. Yes, we get to see his final interaction with his naive and anguished parents. Yes, we get to see him reminiscing about the frustration of his relationship with Todd; his ironic innocence and brash youthfulness in interacting with Walter; his wistful longing for Jane. All of those are well-acted and at least somewhat poignant moments that are well written, too. Those are all entertaining.

And, in the end, just more of the same. This is an epilogue to the real story that is Breaking Bad. Unlike the prologue that is Better Call Saul, we don't get to see a character that transforms over the course of a story; in which we see key moments that we can look back to as the places where the path was laid in and the might-have-beens blew away in the breeze. El Camino is just an elaboration on Jesse's hysterical laughter as he flees Walter's murder/suicide of Jack's Aryan gang in the final episode of the series. We knew Jesse was getting away and finally escaping Walter's shadow and all the danger that had come with it, despite never being able to escape the pain that had ensued. This film was just an elaboration on how he got away, which doesn't tell us anything we didn't know already and doesn't really do much else, except entertain, which is perhaps the point.

HBO has started up a sequel series about The Watchmen. I don't have any particular interest in seeing it because, when it comes to that particular property, I tend to agree with both its artist, Dave Gibbons, and its writer, Alan Moore, both of whom expressed varying levels of confusion and dismay that anyone would want to "continue" a story that they had told and completed. It's done. As Moore has stated, it's an icon of its time and an artifact of it. There's nothing else to be done with it that doesn't diffuse or distract from the original. Who knows? It might be fantastic. But does it really do anything with the material that we haven't seen before or hadn't really been interested in seeing in the first place? Breaking Bad is kind of in that same sphere. No one wants to see HeisenBadger: Back to the Blue. We've seen the story that Gilligan wanted to tell. Now let's move on.

In the end, is El Camino worth your time? Sure. If you're a Breaking Bad fan, you could be doing a lot worse than spending a couple hours with Jesse and Vince Gilligan again. It's still entertaining, if somewhat predictable. It's just not transformative like BB was and it won't do much more than make you think you should go back and watch "Fly" again.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Taxi Driver with makeup kind of misses the point

When you're going to see a movie about a clown, there's only one album you should be playing on the way there. The cover is above. No, the Butthole Surfers don't really have anything to do with clowns but that's not really the point. Neither did Joker, unless you're into the whole "evil clown" thing that creates rather pointless stories like It. (Or you played Dragon Warrior 2 on the Nintendo gray box. Shut up. I'm old.)

So, yeah, I finally made it to Joker and I have many thoughts, which is in itself kind of remarkable since it was a film that was paced at a level that approached tedium but had enough style happening on the screen (helped ably by Joaquin Phoenix) to keep you watching, if occasionally impatiently. The Joker is one of the more fascinating characters in the DC stable, as he's the pinnacle of the "Batman as his own antagonist" phenomenon. Normally, you read a story for the lead character whose story it is; the protagonist. But, from the 70s forward, a lot of people read (and many writers wrote) Batman comics to see him play the straight man to his more interesting opponents. Batman was a force of nature; often one-dimensional in his approach to life (billionaire playboy who solves 'problems' with his fists.) That gets old fast. So you'd read his comics to see what unusual activities figures like The Joker and The Riddler and Scarecrow and Poison Ivy and Clayface were going to get up to. We were more interested in what was going on inside the minds of the deviants from society than the neo-fascist in the cape who claimed to be defending it (but who, in all honesty, also clearly had some mental health issues.) The most prominent among those was The Joker, who wasn't just compelled by his psychological issues, but reveled in them. The greatest Joker story ever told was Steve Engelhart's "The Laughing Fish" in 1978, where the Joker dumped chemicals into the water around Gotham to give all of the fish his maniacal face and then tried to claim a trademark on them so he'd get a percentage of every fish sale. When he didn't get it, he started climbing the chain of officials at the local patent office, murdering them until he found one that agreed with him. My girlfriend gave me a confused frown when I mentioned this story. I said: "Yes. That's exactly the way you're supposed to react. If you're not laughing." He was crazy, but there was a distorted genius in what he did. That's entertaining to watch or read.

Joker, the film, is not like this. Phoenix is entertaining enough to watch, but he's entertaining because he's Joaquin Phoenix, not The Joker. Writers Todd Phillips and Scott Silver (Phillips is also the director) decided to make an origin story for the character that's grounded in more realistic circumstances than "burglar breaks into playing card factory, falls into chemicals while fleeing police, comes out looking like Billie Joe Armstrong after bathing in bleach for a week, loses mind." Bob Kane and Bill Finger's original story was as simplistic as most comics were in those days and DC has been trying to catch up to Marvel for, oh, fifty years now by attempting to make their characters into real people. The first few DC films have largely failed at that, so they doubled down here and, in that respect, largely succeeded. This is a story about someone with mental health problems who has been ignored or discarded by society as so many people are these days. Phillips and Silver weaved in the prevailing economic mood of the time (so many with so little, so few with so much), in addition to making the statement that society isn't paying enough attention to those that need help, in both internal and external ways. In making the film more of a personal tragedy, they've essentially made it the Pagliacci joke. This is an apocryphal story about a man who goes to a doctor because he's so miserable and the doctor suggests he go see the famous clown, Pagliacci, to improve his mood, whereupon the man informs him: "But doctor, I am Pagliacci." For those of you in the comic set, this is the joke that Rorschach recites while we're watching The Comedian get tossed out a window to his death in the opening scene of The Watchmen.

Speaking of Alan Moore, Phillips and Silver clearly drew inspiration from Moore's The Killing Joke, which was a mild reworking of the Joker's origin to be a failed comedian, rather than just a small-time hood. They're also obviously big Scorcese fans because all I could think of while watching the first half of this film was that it was funny to see DeNiro doing a remake of Taxi Driver. But this is kind of where all of this begins to break down. Taxi Driver was Scorcese's statement on how some people felt that society had decayed and Travis Bickle was going to cleanse it and himself. Joker is making the same statement but from a different angle, in that the rich have allowed people to suffer in a state of decay when they shouldn't have to. The locus for that societal perspective is the very emotional tale of a man who has suffered that neglect, both in general and personally, as he discovers that his life is a lie told to him by his similarly ill mother and his gentle nature is easily abused by others. It's meant to be an emotional tale because, like the Pagliacci story, it's a tragedy. You're meant to feel sympathy for the protagonist because of what he's suffered. The problem is: That's not The Joker.

The reason that Engelhart's version was so interesting was because he held an internal logic that could be seen by others, even if it couldn't be understood. There was intelligence there. Similarly, the most obvious and direct comparison to Phillips/Silver/Phoenix's version is the one created by the Nolan brothers and Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight. Ledger's Joker is considered insane because he looks at things radically differently from most of society and then acts on that perception. His intelligence is evident in every word he speaks in the film, as is the ruthless nature behind it that drives him to make statements with both words and actions. Phoenix's Joker is the polar opposite of that. He's not a figure to be feared and marveled at. He's an object of pity until he goes about murdering people, whereupon the pity becomes mixed with revilement and a reintroduction of the disdain he's felt all his life. It's not compelling. In some ways, it's not even interesting, except for the fact that it's much closer to reality than much of what is displayed in Nolan's film. Arthur is what the Joker probably would be in the real world: a less confident, somewhat more off-kilter Travis Bickle. There's nothing wrong with a film or a story based on emotion. There are some really good ones. But, again, that's not The Joker.

Indeed, when Arthur finally does begin making pronouncements at the end of the film, there's nothing particularly innovative or interesting about them. They're simply restatements of what the film has already been telling us: society has forgotten or ignored these people and now there's a tiny bit of payback. These aren't unusual statements of philosophy. They're boilerplate repetition. There are no questions posed, as by Ledger's version, about the value that human lives hold or how some may be more valuable than others. That's implicitly what Phillips' film is saying, but that's the screenplay preaching, as the characters in his film aren't asking any of those questions or even considering them. They're already fully-formed in their opinions and don't develop at all, except in that Arthur changes from meek servant to vengeful killer. Are there layers to that character in the same way there are in other versions of it? I'm not sure.

I appreciated Phillips' approach to storytelling. It's a moody story that stays moody; even moreso than Taxi Driver. He also pointedly used a comic panel approach to several scenes. Arthur crossing the street to Arkham Asylum and the overhead shot of him curled in his bed with cigarettes and gun resting on the bedside table are both moments that could be dropped right into a comic book page. Those are establishing shots, giving you a feel for where the next several panels or couple pages are going to be and what they're going to feel like. Frank Miller must also still be feeling a little tickle from people continuing to borrow the "pearls in the air" moment when Martha Wayne is shot that he first introduced in The Dark Knight Returns. And, again, Phoenix has to be lauded for his performance, as does Zazie Beetz, as Sophie, the neighbor down the hall and object of Arthur's fantasies.

This isn't a bad film. It's just not a very good one. One aspect that drags it down is its very nature: it's yet another comic character origin story. Are we going to need a Joker reboot 10 years down the road the way they seem to be doing with Spider-Man every decade? Do we need this story told again with different actors and someone else trying to put their own shine on a piece of tin that's almost worn through from all the polishing? In contrast, you know what one of the best things about Ledger's Joker was? The Nolans didn't even bother trying to do an origin story for him. It wasn't important. Here he was in full force from the opening minutes of the film. Indeed, they kept teasing the audience with what his life story might have been. The fully formed nature of his character is what gave it and the film such dynamism. A similar phenomenon can be seen in The Silence of the Lambs. We aren't shown normal-if-somewhat-creepy psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter before he starts chowing down on people. He's already there in the, uh, flesh when the film begins. He's witheringly intelligent, dangerous, and confident. So is Heath Ledger's Joker because the origin of "an agent of chaos" really doesn't matter.

But the other weight on this film is the seeming insistence on reducing the spectacular to the mundane. Superheroes and their opposite numbers are intentionally larger than life. If DC's attempt to make its characters real humans outside of the spandex is to reduce them to people that most of us, for good or ill, would probably ignore, they're kind of missing the point. Believe you me, I'm not interested in another Marvel fireworks display, either. I haven't even seen Endgame yet and I'm not sure I'm going to bother. I've honestly had my fill of typical superhero stories, which is why I stopped reading them 30 years ago. But I'm still interested in characters that fascinate on the screen because of who they are and how they look at the world. If the only one that's offered is a meeker version of Travis Bickle, well... I've been there already; in the same way I've seen enough wild costumes and force bolts.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Le(A)d Astra(y)

[Note: Being a grammar Nazi (the only kind of Nazi our president doesn't like!), it aggravates me to no end that many professional writers don't know that the past tense of 'to lead' is 'led'. 'Lead' is the metal. This is also pertinent because we're talkin' science here. I just wanted to clear that up in case anyone suspected me of poor execution in the title. It was just a convenient bit of wordplay. Thank you. Joke has been ruined. Proceed.]

One of the main challenges for any writer of fiction is knowing what your story is. You may start out writing a slam-bang adventure story only to find yourself meandering through the mind of one of your protagonists who never quite understood why Mrs. Watson didn't give him an A+, instead of just an A, on his baking soda volcano in second grade. You might begin writing a tale about the travails of the downtrodden in post-WWI Birmingham, only to veer into a pastiche of faux Shakespearian tragic romance (Shots fired, Peaky Blinders.) Or you might, as in the case of Ad Astra, not have a clue as to what your story was when it started and still not have one (as your audience didn't) when it appeared in finished form on the screen.

This isn't to say that your story can't change as it moves along or have more depth than is initially thought. But it has to retain some level of coherency so that your audience still feels like they're with you when the end credits roll or the last page is turned. If your story starts out as a moody study on the question of the moral rights of intelligent beings but incorporates some of the best aspects of horror thrillers along the way (like, say, Deus Machina), great, But if your story starts out as something of an introspective wander, contrasting the vastness of space and global politics with one man's struggle with his own inner demons, then you probably want to stay there and not take a hard right into an action/heist film, with the appropriate plot holes and drastic departures from the established pace.

Since so many people have been complaining about the voiceover in the film, it's pretty easy to draw a comparison between Ad Astra and Blade Runner, as a case study in how to and how not to stick with the story. Blade Runner began as a noir film: ex-cop drafted to do what he does best: legally kill other sentient beings. But, along the way, we're examining what makes that right and even what the definition of "humanity" happens to be. There are going to be brief and intense action scenes, but nowhere along the way do you lose sense of what the story is and how outside events (defining emotional vat-grown humans as not humans, but emotionless killers as still human) are only highlighting the essential question of the film. Ad Astra doesn't do that because the essential question of the film really has no ethical or moral parameters. It's mostly about Roy McBride and his personal issues. And that can be a story. It just usually doesn't need a trip to Neptune with a ship blasting radiation that somehow threatens all of Earth to make it work. The voiceover in Blade Runner was just one more mistake that lessened the theater release of the film. In Ad Astra, it really doesn't have that much impact because the questions the film asks aren't important enough to be distracted from.

It starts out interestingly. We have the drop from the space antenna which introduces us to Roy and his apparent inability to be affected by even the most trying circumstances. Then, we have the flight to the Moon which is followed by a near ambush by pirates where Roy is still Joe Cool and shows us the transposition of regular Earth struggles (the fight for resources) to space. And then the weird encounter on the Norwegian station with the space monkeys (baboons.) It's strange, but that's fine. Some of the early parts of 2001: A Space Odyssey are strange, too, despite everyone only remembering the final 20 minutes. Then, we hit our hard right turn.

The difference between our main character struggling with issues surrounding his father's absence in the face of a mounting threat to his home planet and the father's absence being THE REASON there's a mounting threat to the home planet is, uh, rather stark. One approach is an opportunity to play into larger messages: "Hey. Look how we're still fighting the same wars out in space. Even the animals are against us out in space. Do I really want to go through with this? Would I have been the loyal soldier if I didn't need Space Force to replace Dad?" and so on. The other approach is Star Wars. Unfortunately, Ad Astra went with Star Wars and we quickly got into action movie mode wherein you paper over all the obvious plot holes and just expect the hero's journey to jump those chasms because he's a hero. "Your dad is the menace currently orbiting Neptune, coincidentally enough, and he also killed my parents when he started on his personal crusade so, here, let me show you the secret passage out to a launch pad. On Mars. Your codename is now Colonel Mustard. Here's a candlestick."

Yeah, man. You lost me right there.

The rest of the film is just bog-standard adventure story and a lot of glowering by Tommy Lee Jones. Don't get me wrong. Jones does OK with the rather one-dimensional role that he's given. Pitt's performance is also decent, especially for someone who's supposed to be in his own shell. But there's just not much left here that didn't come from a SyFy Channel screenplay with a somewhat better visual effects budget. Even worse, despite their general adherence to science in their science fiction, they totally lose that adhesion in the second half of the film. Instead of a natural phenomenon threatening Earth or even an alien-created one (since Jones' original mission was discovering new worlds and new civilizations, yo), we find out that said mission, one couple hundred foot-long ship currently orbiting Neptune, is the threat to our entire planet.

So, lemme just go over some basic astrophysical stuff. The Earth's atmosphere blocks all kinds of nasty radiation coming from the source of all life on this planet: the Sun. The Sun is one AU away: 93 million miles. When Earth's and Neptune's orbits happen to line up so they're at their closest point (Neptune orbits the Sun every 165 years, as opposed to Earth's, you know... 1 year.), they're 2.7 billion miles apart. Billion. With a 'b'. So, 29 times farther away at their closest point. Thus, the premise of this story is that one ship at least 29 times farther away than our Sun is more of a radiation threat than said local star. And it's because of some special technology that Space Force used to send our antagonist out to Neptune. Technology that, in the intervening 30+ years, has somehow fallen out of use, despite it being a superior method of travel...? Even worse, the film begins failing on the basic physics front for no other reason than to deliver a pretty picture. Our hero has to blast through Neptune's ring to get back to his ship. So, despite being thrust forward fast enough for small meteorites and dust to flare with friction against his blast shield (let's not talk about the physics of that), none of said space rocks hinder his momentum whatsoever. This is completely aside from the whole momentum thing that was already ignored when dad and son are doing the impromptu spacewalk (i.e. when momentum is arrested, you stop; of all films, Gravity failed with this principle, too.) And, again, this is all in service to making a pretty picture of Roy blasting through a natural phenomenon (Is that why Earth is out of resources and pirates are on the Moon? Maybe.) But none of these pretty, CGI pictures do service to the story or are even that impressive, especially when you compare them to a previous film in this diatribe, where matte paintings and models made Blade Runner so visually impressive and absorbing that it didn't need a voiceover.

Again, don't get me wrong. If you're going to go full-on laser blasters and hyperspace and jetpacks (We still don't have jetpacks! We were promised jetpacks!!), go for it. Do that thing. I'm all about it. The least troubling parts of George Lucas' films are the way they abuse science. I don't care. That's why it's science fiction. But if you're going to give us the "Just a few years from now..." premise, rather than the "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." one, then stick with it.

Do I think it was an awful film? No. I think it had its moments. Am I glad I didn't actually spend money to see it (unless you consider the wholly appropriate membership to the Michigan Theater spent money... which it is... but, I mean, isn't just for this film)? Yes. Ad Astra is an interesting experiment in how to lose track of one's own story, for all you film students out there, but there's not much else that can really be said about it.