Thursday, March 23, 2017

Passengers (2016) Review (Minor Spoilers)

     Passengers is a space drama directed by Morten Tyldum and stars Jennifer Lawrence & Chris Pratt as two people (out of 5000) aboard a spacecraft in the future that is en route to a new colony on another planet.  Easy enough but the trouble is the voyage is supposed to take 120 years; Jim Preston (Pratt) and Aurora Jane (Lawrence) have been awakened from their stasis pods 90 years early.

     I remember watching the trailer for this one when it hit the web in September and to be honest, I wasn't sure what to think of it.  It didn't look bad but I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to see it, even if it did have star power like Katniss Darkholme and Peter Grady.  I kept it in the back of my mind as one to look at once it hit rental (this opened the same weekend as Rogue One so our priorities were elsewhere) and now that it has done so, I plunked down and gave it a watch.  I'm not going to try and get too specific but I do need to address a couple of events that might be considered minor spoilers.

     Jim checking his map, making sure he isn't on the Sulaco.

     The first (and best) thing I noticed with Passengers is the score, which I absolutely loved.  Composer Thomas Newman loves his piano apparently as he fills the softer and more awe-inspiring scenes with a piano-focused but a touch of electronica score that I could not help but compare to the score from Bioware's Mass Effect series while also keeping that more traditional action scene music handy for when things really go wrong but even then, he can't keep the piano and electronica out of those.  The soundtrack here can be beautiful and ominous all at once and it is absolutely great, well worth a listen.
     Unfortunately, that's all I can say that I undeniably loved about this movie as the rest of it is something of a mixed bag.  I like the leads of Lawrence and Pratt and they do have some pretty good chemistry and charisma onscreen together.  Even though Lawrence is top billed, this is very much Pratt's movie as his character awakens first and it was interesting to see him go through something along the lines of the Kubler-Ross Five Stages Of Grief Model.  In fact, I wish that this could've gone on longer (or have just been the whole movie) because I thought that when Jim considers suicide via air-lock 24 minutes into the film, it felt too premature.  At this point in the story, he's been on his own (unless you count Michael Sheen's android bartender Arthur) for just over a year and I get why Jim would want to try this but it didn't feel like it had been a year.  Since the movie isn't interested in being Cast Away IINNN SPAAAAACCEEE, Aurora is introduced shortly after this scene and then the movie felt like it picked up in pace, rushing through the highs and lows of their relationship.
     Looking over my notes again, it becomes clear that once Jim and Aurora's relationship tanks the movie doesn't offer a whole lot in terms of substance.  It's not like Jim goes all psycho over the fact that he's alone again despite not being the only person awake on the ship or Aurora finds something that Jim hasn't tried to reactivate their pods, they just sort of...exist.  Another character gets introduced at the 1hr 12min mark but they're only around for, what, literally ten minutes?  I would wonder why the movie even bothered introducing this character but obviously its for plot convenience so the story can attempt to build up suspense and tension for a finale on the exterior of the ship that probably sounds cool when you hear it but lacks that sense of peril in execution.
     As far as other technical things go, the only thing that stood out was that I was not overly impressed by the CGI in this movie.  There were a few dodgy green screen moments as well as CG effects that were not very convincing and these damaged the sense of immersion that I usually feel when watching a movie.  I will give credit though to the Zero Gravity Pool sequence though, where the onboard gravity malfunctions while Aurora is swimming and she gets trapped in a floating bubble of water.  Not only did the CGI look the best here but in order to really sell Aurora's predicament, Jennifer Lawrence was tied down in a water tank for authenticity.  Method acting for the win!

"Go for a swim," I said.  "It'll be relaxing," I said...

     In the end, Passengers is a movie that I'm glad I didn't see in theatres because I feel like I would feel more bitter towards it if I had.  The quality starts to dip after the first twenty minutes or so and that's a shame.  There are moments where you think the plot is going to go a certain way but then it goes a far less interesting route and it does that a few times leading up to an ending that doesn't so much feel like an ending but an abrupt stop that'll make you say, "That's it?"  Do I hate this movie?  No, I don't feel like I want the 110min runtime of my life back but I'm not in any rush to revisit the Avalon any time soon.  I liked Pratt, Lawrence and the score but the rest of it overall is pretty "Meh," and with that I'm giving Passengers the ranking of Indifferent.

 Yeah, that happened.

     What did you guys think of Passengers?  Good, bad or meh, let me know down in the comments below.  Thanks for reading and if you like what you see on the blog, be sure to nudge that "Follow" button and stay cynical!
     -The Cynic

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Nocturnal Animals Review

     Nocturnal Animals is based on the 1993 novel Tony And Susan by Austin Wright.  Directed by Tom Ford and starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, it follows the story of an artist named Susan who is sent a manuscript of a novel written by her ex-husband Edward.  While she is reading the book, she finds herself not only becoming wrapped up in the violent events on the page but she also begins to reminisce about her life with Edward, rethinking some of the decisions she made in her life.

     So in all honesty, this movie kind of fell under my personal radar as far as movie watching goes.  Sure, I had heard of it but anything I had seen didn't jump out and grab me and say, "Hey!  You need to see this right now!"  However, it recently hit digital rental and I said, "Hey, let's give it a shot."

     First, the good. I found that the score by Abel Korzeniowski was haunting, intoxicating and gorgeous and I found myself tilting up my ear whenever it was on.  It felt like it would fit right in a classic horror movie so that's always welcome, as far as I'm concerned.
     While the cast here is overall pretty good, so much that I even wrote in my notes that I would just like to see a movie of Adams and Gyllenhaal sitting at a restaurant table casually talking.  That being said, there are a couple of real standouts that I'd like to address.  First off, Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  Holy shit, I had no idea that Ford Brody/Pietro Maximoff could be so unsettling.  Johnson plays this despicable human named Marcus Ray and I could feel my fingers tightening into fists and my shoulders tensing up whenever he was onscreen.  The other is Michael Shannon as Detective Bobby Andes.  This is one cop that I would NOT want on my trail, especially later on in the movie when his motivations become a little more...laid back, we'll say.  I don't really want to go too much into it in case you haven't seen this one yet but these two deserved the recognition they received with any awards and nominations they got for this movie.
     Last thing I want to talk about the overall look and cinematography of the movie.  Writer/director Tom Ford is a fashion designer so he is able to take his know-how of catching a person's eye visually and applies it into his direction which creates some real eye candy, not just the fact that Amy Adams has never looked as good in a movie as she does here but some really great shots like where some moments of the book overlap with shots of the real world.  Really good stuff.

     As for any negatives?  Well, notice how most of the praise I gave was to the events set within the novel Susan is reading?  That's because that's when the movie is at its strongest.  The real world stuff with Susan hating her job, her overly conservative mother (Laura Linney), correctly suspecting that her current husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) is cheating on her, I get that she is going through a lot of crap but at the same time, how Susan carries herself even in some of the flashbacks, she just comes off as being a very unpleasant individual to be around and I didn't find her terribly sympathetic.  I get that this movie has two plots and you have to focus on the two as equally as you can but whenever it stepped out of the novel, I found myself saying, "What?  No, no, stop, just go back to the book."  I got just over halfway through the movie before I got fed up and wrote down in my notes, "I officially don't care about the events outside the book."  It doesn't matter how long it takes to get there, when the viewer reaches a point where they no longer care about characters they're supposed to be following or root for, that's a big problem.  Especially when in the first thirty minutes or so I couldn't shake the feeling that this movie might end up talking down to me like High Rise did (thankfully, it didn't).
     There's also a couple little things that bugged me, like some lines of dialogue coming off as a little cheesy or forced or a really silly jump scare that really didn't need to be in the movie but on a technical level, Susan says that she hasn't spoken to Edward in 19 years and yet in the flashbacks, neither Adams or Gyllenhaal look any different than they do in the present.  Don't get me wrong, they're two very good-looking people but this just bugged me that it seemed like NO effort was put into making them look even slightly aged.  I get that this is a weird thing to get hung up on but it was just another thing that really distracted me and made me want the movie to go back to the events in the book.

     In summation, Nocturnal Animals is an interesting movie to watch.  While the plot-within-a-plot structure is neat, the novel world material completely overshadows the material set within the real world and makes a part of you wonder why we couldn't have just seen a movie about that.  However, the movie ends with a seemingly open-to-interpretation final shot that really gets you thinking and I can appreciate a movie that does that.  There is an explanation to the ending that I unwittingly stumbled upon and while it does make sense, there is a certain enjoyment to letting your mental gears whir and cobble together your own explanation.  I was torn between what rating to give it and even though I had some issues with one of the plots, the other is just that damn good and engaging that I feel like I would be selling this film short if I didn't give it this rating so I'm giving Nocturnal Animals the rating of a low Excellent.

 Excellent!  *guitar peel*

     I almost gave this movie a high Fun Ride but like I said, the stuff that takes place within the book is such a good movie in its own right, it should be classified as an Excellent.  What did you think of Nocturnal Animals?  Let me know down in the comments below and be sure to stay tuned to both the blog and the YouTube channel for upcoming reviews *cough*Logan*cough*.  Thank you so much for reading and if you like what you see here, you be sure to nudge that "Follow" button and stay cynical!

     -The Cynic