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Review: A gripping plot and stunning visuals create a cinematic thrill ride not soon forgotten

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Brad Pitt stars in 'Ad Astra,' which will be released in area theaters on Friday.

'Ad Astra'

4.5 of 5 stars

20th Century Fox

Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland

Release date: Sept. 20

It would be easy for filmgoers to express "space fatigue" with all the blockbuster astronaut movies to come out in recent years. From "Interstellar" (2014) to "The Martian" (2015) to "First Man" (2018), there has been no shortage of astronaut dramas starring A-list actors in the last half-decade.

But Ad Astra, while it might appear initially to follow the same formula, is a genre-defining thrill ride that serves as a timestamp for a new era in film. Space exploration epics aren't just the latest Hollywood fad – they are here to stay and they will leave a lasting imprint on our collective conscience.

This film does just that, following the life of astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) through a journey of courage, sacrifice and the complexity of family.

Ad Astra, set in the "near future," begins with an accident on one of Earth's space stations caused by some unknown force. It is discovered that the burst of energy is coming from a distant spacecraft near Neptune, manned by none other than McBride's father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones).

The elder McBride is regarded as a hero and one of NASA's greatest astronauts, but there is a mystery surrounding his whereabouts and the source of the energy coming from his ship. The U.S. Space Command enlists Roy McBride to communicate with his father, with the solar system's fate potentially at stake.

What follows is two hours of brilliant acting from Pitt, who properly conveys the intricacies of a complex character. The film is written beautifully with Pitt's voice serving as narration for the story and a peek into McBride's inner monologue.

McBride, while pegged in the beginning of Ad Astra as an even-keel, no-nonsense guy who can't be rattled by anything, is very clearly fighting some internal demons. As the story unravels, those demons begin to bubble up from beneath the surface as McBride remains focused on carrying out his mission. In an increasingly damaged emotional state, he is constantly facing external threats that keep the viewer's eyes glued to the screen.

But Ad Astra doesn't rely on drama for drama's sake. The whole film isn't Brad Pitt racing through the stars or brooding in the dark corner of a space outpost – it's a compelling story weaved into some of the most stunning visual achievements of modern filmmaking. It feels both real and aspirational in the best possible ways, and it forces viewers to face the reality of our own future.

Commercial flights to the moon, outposts on Mars, manned trips to the edges of our solar system – all things we can imagine happening within many of our lifetimes. When imagining this future, though, we like to think of it as a utopia – free of the ugly parts of human existence. Ad Astra, convincingly, argues the opposite.

In a realistic future marked by wondrous space exploration, we are still fighting each other for resources, still killing each other senselessly, still grappling with the morality of our actions and the mistakes of our forefathers.

McBride's desire to be different from his father is a clear metaphor for humanity at large. Are we doomed to make the same mistakes as previous generations, regardless of how far we travel or how advanced we become? It's a question I left the theater with and I'm not sure when I'll stop thinking about it.

Ad Astra made me look down at the sidewalk in ponderous thought and look up to the stars in ambitious wonder. The best movies make you think and viewers are going to be thinking and talking about this movie for a long time.

Arts & Leisure briefs

Linfield professor will talk about casting

McMINNVILLE -- Ever wonder how big-time theater shows cast actors in historical roles and whether that casting is true to history? Well, a professor of theater at Linfield College would like to share with you the secret.

Lindsey Mantoan will present "Reimagining Early American History: The Casting Practices of Hamilton and OSF's 'Oklahoma'" at 7 p.m. Sept. 25 in the Fred Meyer Lounge in Riley Hall on the campus of the college.

Mantoan will compare the casting practices of the blockbuster musical "Hamilton" to those of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's "Oklahoma!" and demonstrate how the "productions make visible people who have been erased by the dominant histories of early Americans, including people of color and queer people," she said in a release from the college.

"By replacing the white bodies of the founding fathers and the white characters in the most iconic American musical with actors of color, these productions argue that the United States has always been a place of rich diversity," Mantoan said.

Mantoan, who joined the Linfield faculty in 2017, is the author of "War as Performance: Conflict in Iraq and Political Theatricality" and co-author with Sara Brady of "Vying for the Iron Throne: Essays on Power, Gender, Death and Performance in HBO's Game of Thrones."

For more information on the lecture, part of a monthly series, call 503-883-2409.

Event will honor opening of Newberg's post office

The Fernwood and Brutscher families, in conjunction with Friends of the Fernwood Pioneer Cemetery, will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the first U.S. Post Office in Newberg on Nov. 5, 1869, with a celebration that will also honor Sebastian and Mary Everest Brutscher, the town's first postmaster and postmistress.

The celebration is set for 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 5 at Fernwood Pioneer Cemetery, 500 S. Everest Road, the final resting place for the couple.

The program will see Newberg historian George Edmoston, former Newberg mayor Bob Andrews and Newberg City Council member Stephanie Findley speak.

For more information, call Ron Parrish at 503-538-3209 or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

'Treasures in the Attic' quilt show on tap at historical society

McMINNVILLE -- The Yamhill County Historical Society will present the "Treasures in the Attic" quilt show, appraisal fair and vintage market from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 21 at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center, 11275 S.W. Durham Lane.

In keeping with its commitment to share the history of Yamhill County, the event will feature the works of three quilt guilds and the historical society in displaying more than 125 pieces in the "crazy quilt" standard. Quilts on display date from the mid-1800s to the 1920s. There will also be a raffle for a rustic country-style quilt donated by the Gone to Pieces Quilt Association. Valued at $500, proceeds from the raffle will benefit the historical society.

The Gone to Pieces group will also feature a "Build the Block" table that will allow guests to help create a quilt block, which will then be used to create a raffle quilt for 2020.

In addition, the appraisal fair will offer oral evaluations by local experts; vintage toys, dolls, musical instruments and novelties will be on display; there will be blacksmith and sawmill demonstrations and more.

A special demonstration termed "Bed Turning" is set for 10:30 to 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to noon by quilt historian and YCHS member Donna Hulett. Music by the Old Time Fiddlers is set for 2 to 4 p.m. and "19th Century Crazy Quilts," a talk by quilt historian Rachel Greco, is slated for 12:30 to 2 p.m.

Admission is $5, although kids 6 and under are admitted for free, and parking is free.

For more information, call 503-434-0490 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Plant society will meet to hear botanist talk of the mountains

McMINNVILLE -- The Cheahmill Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon will gather for a discussion and a work party at 6:45 p.m. Sept. 26 in the Carnegie Room of the McMinnville Public Library, 225 N.W. Adams St.

The discussion, headlined "The Alpine of North America: The Last Region Still Without Major Human Influence," will be led by botanist Dennis Woodland. He will discuss the flora and ecology of alpine biomes above timberline in the Sierra, Cascade and Rocky mountains, and how they have developed survival adaptations in these harsh environs.

For more information, email the chapter president at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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