Absentee parents and missing friends don’t always make hearts grow fonder in four offerings at the movies this week.
First up is “Ad Astra,” starring Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones.
“Ad Astra” is the name of a piece of public art created by Richard Lippold that is located outside the National Air and Space Museum. In addition, the Latin phrase “ad astra per aspera” or “through hardships or difficulties to the stars” is also used on a plaque honoring the astronauts of Apollo 1 on the site where they died during a failed launch test in 1967.
As “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fans know “ad astra per aspera” is the Federation Starfleet’s motto.
In the science fiction adventure film produced, co-written, and directed by James Gray, Pitt stars as Roy, an emotionally stunted astronaut who goes on a mission to find a father (Tommy Lee Jones) who he believed was dead. The journey takes him to the wild frontier of the moon, where pirates abound, to the more peaceful settlement on Mars, where he’ll be betrayed. Roy discovers the source of his emotional black hole while stowing away on a spacecraft headed to Neptune.
Low on action, this is an intellectual consideration about space exploration with special effects and cinematography aimed at realism that will remind audiences of both the documentary “Apollo 11” and the biopic “First Man.”
Like “The Martian,” “Ad Astra” takes pains to adhere to science because Gray said he wanted “the most realistic depiction of space travel that’s been put in a movie.” Pitt is more melancholy than macho as he convincingly contemplates the realities of love and its absence.
“Downton Abbey” is a visit to a community we’ve come to know from six seasons on television. Fans will want to re-watch the first episode of the first season to appreciate some parallelism, but the movie begins with a handy primer narrated by the commanding though stodgy Carson (Jim Carter) with additional comments by his wife (Phyllis Logan) for those who are not among the faithful.
The year is 1927 — about a year after the last TV episode which ended on New Year’s Day, 1926. With a one-day visit from King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) afoot, the downstairs and upstairs are in a tizzy. Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) doesn’t think the newish butler, Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), is up to the task — describing him as a rabbit before a cobra and she summons Carson out of retirement. Yet, even for Carson, the royal staff is a bit much to handle and the teamwork of another couple — Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Bates (Brendan Coyle) — will uphold the downstairs pride. Fans of Barrow don’t fret. He has his own storyline. Romance is in the air as are disputes about inheritance. Not everything is neatly tied up, so there’s room both for fan fiction or the promise of future installments.
Already in theaters are two films that deal with the female body as a commodity: “Ms. Purple” and “Hustlers.” In the latter, Jennifer Lopez is an inspiring example of fit at 50 in her role as Ramona, a mother-hen to strippers who is looking for an easier and more lucrative means of making money.
Constance Wu’s Dorothy was dumped by her parents on her grandmother who ends up supporting her. Dorothy emerges from under Ramona’s wing to bxecome her main partner in crime as they hire pretty girls to drug and bilk Wall Street’s well-to-do men, preferring the more easily blackmailed married types. These women mistake misandry for feminism.
Although “Hustlers” is based on a real crime, the fictional “Ms. Purple” actually seems more real. While “Hustlers” is a NYC story, “Ms. Purple” is a fictional LA tale about aspiring concert pianist Kasey (Tiffany Chu) who drops out of her studies to provide for her dying father.
To make money, Kasey works as a karaoke hostess in LA’s Koreatown, ready to be groped and grabbed. Her rich boyfriend (Tom Kim) is no less of a user.
When her homecare nurse quits, rather than put her father in hospice she contacts her loser brother (Teddy Lee). Their mother deserted them along ago and that resonates in both of their lives.
The title derives from the color of the custom-made hanbok Kasey received from her boyfriend. Chu’s Kasey cleans up well, but at one point she’s rumpled and ruined from a hard night, stumbling home in her purple hanbok.
Director and co-writer (with Chris Dinh) Justin Chu’s movie has the saturated colors of vivid memories and the dull ache of impending death.