Passengers (2016)

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‘There’s a reason they woke up early’, so the tagline for this movie goes, as it turns out it’s not a very interesting or even great one. The only great thing the film has going for it is the fun chemistry between its leads and a superbly glossy style for the ship where the action takes place.

Avalon; a spaceship, is travelling to Homestead II, a planet for people to live on. The course will take 90 years but suddenly passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) awakes from his hibernation pod and finds himself alone. Preston’s only company is a barman android named Arthur (Michael Sheen). Later down the line, writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) is awoken and with Jim they try to solve the ship’s mystery whilst also falling for each other.

For the positives of this movie, the spaceship has a cool and incredibly sleek design. It’s clear the makers of the film have taken time to think about how certain rooms and items should appear. Avalon is a rotating craft and on the inside, modern technology is advanced with rooms aboard boasting entertainment to rival cruise liners. The connection between Jim and Aurora grows nicely and is believable consistently as they spend more time together. Gravity falls, machines fail and threat does come into play for moments which is good to see but that doesn’t outweigh the rubbish plot.

It’s a shame the story increases in it’s ridiculousness because for the portions of the movie where Pratt is by himself the movie is strong. It of course never reaches that amazing solitary ‘Moon’ vibe of Rockwell/Jones but it gets close and has a neat cold vibe about it as we see him struggle. Sadly as the sci-fi dwindles and the romance takes over it feels like ‘Titanic’ in space, also plot points that create dramatic changes are executed in the most expositional way.

Not only these moments annoyed me in how the writers got the story to move forwards but there were no twists which I expected and the actual thing that caused early rising from hibernation was nowhere near a revelation as it could…should have been. That could have been a clever and possibly dark idea played with but they never tread down that path, even ‘Wall-E’ is a darker comment on society than this is.

Chris Pratt is engaging and manages to submerge his usual Pratt shtick as the cabin-fever sets in. Jennifer Lawrence is a glowing presence as she steps into the story and breaks down with suitable emotion upon realising why she’s there. Together as a couple of love struck space travellers they work well and a spark is clear. Michael Sheen plays a near emotionless character to convincing standards with ever present glossy eyes and almost creepy smile adding to his role.

This film gets more dumb as it continues and makes you forget the nice intense moments that it started with. Aside from a captivating pairing of actors this is a creepily played out love story that doesn’t know how to stop.

5.5/10

 

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Yes, this latest in the Trekkie universe is entertaining and feels like it’s ticking boxes of the roots of the show but there’s numerous times where it felt either too campy or too boring. It’s most certainly a blockbuster movie but it ended up being quite loud, crashy and dumb.

3 years into their 5 year mission, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew land in Yorktown. Kirk goes for a promotion to Vice Admiral but whilst there he sees a distress signal out of the nebula. Once the escape pod figure is rescued the USS Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of ships and a powerful leader named Krall (Idris Elba). The Enterprise ensemble end up separated and then together as they try to take down the force of Krall’s plan and army.

Even though my opening paragraph may sound negative, there’s still a lot to enjoy in this film. The major thing being the look of it all. Each new planet and landscape is detailed to glorious colour, texture and ultimate perfection. The sleek quality of the ships, space and creatures are in full effect. It definitely has a sci-fi appeal and visually the movie strikes a neat balance between weird worlds and summer popcorn entertainment.

Jaylah; a new character and a unique looking scavenger is another great addition the film. She’s smart, strong and resourceful and hopefully she’ll stick around with the team. There are some funny moments also, but at times it’s this attempt at comedy that begins waning and feeling out of touch. The comradery is great though and I liked the different pairings the film goes for as the fleet end up separated. Bones and Spock are a highlight of the movie.

It’s really clear to see that Simon Pegg wrote this film, because with Doug Jung there is a quirky stab at comedy that sounds more Cornetto trilogy then Final Frontier. The most impressive piece of writing is having the Enterprise attacked so early on, it’s a cool moment to set up the conflict and the battle look of this sequence is glorious to watch unfold. I think that was the best set-piece of the movie meaning it could only go downwards from that point. Pegg injects perhaps too much jokey attitude in places that deserve to be more tense and the final showdown in Yorktown feels very silly indeed; from gravity streams to glass shard reflections it just appears quite cheesy.

Chris Pine is looking more and more like Kirk as the franchise goes on, he has a smarmy charm but a confident and likable approach to being the captain and as a hero he acts the part. Zachary Quinto is even more the doppelganger to a young Spock, his Vulcan appearance and demeanour providing logic and humour along the way. Idris Elba gets to perform under some admittedly heavy but cool villainous make-up, his usual dominant voice and stature aiding Krall very well. Sofia Boutella as Jaylah is brilliant, she can hold her own and feels right amongst the rest of the story. Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho and Anton Yelchin in one of his last feature roles are all fantastic, creating a sparkling chemistry and getting enough screen-time each to contribute something to the plot.

So yes, this is a fun film for the majority and it looks great, there’s just a heavy touch of dullness in places and the climactic scene feels totally the opposite. It may not live long and prosper but it’ll do until Rogue One comes along.

6/10

 

Interstellar (2014)

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Christopher Nolan returns after his ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy duties, with probably the grandest big screen event release this year. It might be a slight pushy to compare it as this movie calendar’s ‘Gravity’ but it certainly fits in that realm. Stunning sci-fi, outstanding performances and the long dark quiet of space to shock you into awe. At nearly three hours long, it can certainly be said that this is an epic tale, there are moments that lull or stretch scientific imagination a tad far but it’s great to see something so bold be conveyed on the screen it deserves to live on.

Living in a bleak and dusty future is widowed Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his children Tom and Murph (Timothee Chalamet & Mackenzie Foy). Crops are dying and the only profession left to aspire to is being a farmer to try and save humanity. Though after stumbling on a secret building Cooper realises to try and help Earth he must leave it. A wormhole has opened up leading to the chance of interstellar travel and the hope to find a planet habitable for the world’s population.

That’s as far as I can really go in terms of detail, that’s the bare bones without spoiling more of the inner workings of the plot and the science backdrop. Sufficed to say, on the whole this script by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan is filled with gorgeous sci-fi material, it’s very intelligent in places too and can definitely be classed as one of the cleverer blockbusters to be released in a long while. Saying that, some of the terminology may lose audiences and non fans of sci-fi may not enjoy the film. It also loses itself in places just because the movie length is long, moments yawn out too much and one significant twist to do with dimensions feels drawn out and glossed over in reasoning of how. There’s know how there but it will 100% lose quite a lot of people.

As with all of Nolan’s recent films, you can go in expecting glorious spectacle. The landscapes they discover are beautiful and worrying. The feel of the craft spinning or just floating in space leaves you watching with a powerful sense of wonder. After quite a non-impactful opening set up of character and location, the true art of Nolan’s mastery is revealed up in the inky magic of space. Icy sheets, wave ridden worlds and rippled wormhole delights truly engage you, the IMAX is the best way of seeing these images. The 70mm photography is majestic and though it probably looks alright on a standard screen, IMAX is Nolan’s area, picture and sound quality are amplified to perfection and truly immerse you into this crisp new solar system.

In keeping with the sound, Hans Zimmer conjures up a brilliant score to accompany the visuals of this film. Striking out with more tense ridden dramatic sounds that pile on pressure and suspense in relation to docking on a ship or lovingly crafting more slowed down eerily filled blurs of guitar and strings that encapsulate the amazement yet hollow scariness of space. There’s no ‘Inception’-esque big drums to shudder the seats, the more relaxed score works better than that, lovingly contributing to this brave new world.

All performances are unshakable in this film. Matthew and McConaissance are still in great flow with his leading role sticking more in the calm side of things yet he excels in his grand moments of teary scenes and panicked uncertainty. A scene featuring Matthew McConaughey will no doubt bring some audience members to tears as it nearly did with me, it’s a stunningly real scene, no CGI or sweeping visuals needed. Family and love thrive throughout and he truly shows that in this scene. Anne Hathaway gets more in touch with emotions of the human heart and her interactions with McConaughey are greatly acted, she’s a counter balance to Cooper’s sturdier relaxed manner yet she has moments to shine in realising where they should go. Michael Caine is the man to explain integral parts of the plot, as he so often does and throughout this film he expands on the broken mentality of scientific exploration, becoming even more fragile and weary than his Alfred was in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. Other cast members play just as important roles in the film, Mackenzie Foy is an actress with superb emotional weight and one performer to keep an eye on. Casey Affleck and Jessica Chastain get differing moments to tell their stories but both are solid actors and Chastain really shines. This isn’t even mentioning the splendour of Jon Lithgow, David Gyasi and some humourous work from robot voices Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart. A magnificent cast to match the magnificence of the film’s visual dazzle and one nicely masked guest spot works fantastically in the story and wow moment.

A very thought provoking drama that serves as a love story more than the clearly obvious science fiction setting. Family, togetherness and instincts of the heart keep cropping up and they make this film more than an average space journey. Even if some of the story tries going places it maybe shouldn’t have and can sometimes feel slightly stuffed with bewildering talk, the majority of Christopher Nolan’s directing feat works rather than not.

‘Interstellar’ will probably only be hugely loved by Nolan or sci-fi fans but I think others can and will like or appreciate that the daring aspects of the adventure are worth it and it scratches ever so near to being a flat out masterpiece.

8/10

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Awesomely spectacular in sci-fi visuals, battle-tastic sequences and high class comedy. The tenth installment in the Marvel cinematic universe and 100% one of the best. James Gunn the director and co-writer of this penultimate Phase Two feature has mastered a wise cracking, zippy futuristic barnstormer to once again keep the threat of stale superhero movies well away.

‘GOTG’ kicks things off with a simple enough back story into Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) past of 1988 and from there he’s whisked away into the land of space and the unknown. This movie revolves around him 26 years later as his space pirating ways lead him to grab a much sought after orb. Having this item however is more dangerous than expected and in the process of keeping it he stumbles upon a motley crew of bandits who become friends. (Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper) They all must try and stop the orb falling into the wrong hands, i.e the paws of one mighty villain named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).

*very mild spoilers may follow in this write up*

This is such a damn good movie, the movie keeps shuffling along at a speedy pace but never in a way that you feel it’s over before anything has begun. The story is suitably told even if it is predominantly a item for sale kind of shtick. It might be basic but it never feels dull with interesting character interactions to keep the story amusing and fresh. The book-ended Earthy quality to reflect Quill’s background help add that grounded touch to bring us back to more level standings after flying high in the future. The mum, present and Star-Lord aspects all get their time and help make the arrogant, witty dude in charge more three dimensional, which I believe was needed, even if skidding across an empty cave and singing into weird creatures is epic cool. The main likable story focus is centering on them as a gang, a unit, friends and possible a family because of them working together, all their rapports are scripted brilliantly with comedic one liners, miscommunications and personality divides all adding to the hilarity of this odd bunch coming as one. James Gunn and Nicole Perlman have done a top notch thing in writing this film, mixing funny with feels, whizz with calm.

The science fiction is like something wholly and delightfully different to the Marvel films to come so far. Each planet and scene is detailed with futuristic eyes for design and wonder that it’s a treat to see each place appear on the big screen, especially when captured on an IMAX screen. They all work with the unraveling plot and suit the impending darkness of Ronan’s influence. Though Xandar always seems clean, white and like some new Colgate commercial or a Jetson’s city. The sci-fi gizmos are fun and Star-Lord, you know….Star-Lord, oh forget it, he has a Batman like utility belt of gadgetry to deploy; from a handy helmet to some jet-packed boots. It’s all stamped with an assured extreme modern look that gives this film the fun identity you hoped it would have.

‘GOTG’ has a soundtrack of insanely great proportions that relate nicely to Quill as a human with his travelling mixtape, appropriately titled Awesome Mix Vol. 1 that gifts us the sounds of the 70’s and each song ties in with the action it’s played over. Of course there’s the great ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ by Blue Swede but other gems come from David Bowie, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, The Jackson 5 and The Runaways who have one of the best song-to-scene moments with ‘Cherry Bomb’. It’s a very musically felt film even when a song isn’t blasting through the cinema speakers like some phat boombox-esque disco tune. Peter Quill utilises on the moods of ‘Footloose’, he twinkle toes…quite a fair bit and even uses this knack for such a great way to deal with the enemy, very Han Solo tapping on a Stormtrooper to distract jobby.

Chris Pratt is a great leading man and shines as Star-Lord, seriously no idea? Okay, nevermind, the cockiness is just right, never leaning into proper douchebag territory, he has a great sense of comedic timing clearly picked up from his time in ‘Parks and Recreation’, but there’s a sensibility lurking under the leather and helmet of Quill and Pratt showcases this human emotional side when needed to settle the soaring visuals with hearty story, maybe not huge hearty story mind but hearty enough. Zoe Saldana is a great kick-ass assassin and plays green Gamora with the hit-girl precision, she also keeps Quill in check and turns a corner for him without even meaning to. Bradley Cooper is never seen but is utterly fantastic as the voice of the violent Rocket Raccoon, the furball is cute and somewhat softened by the end but he comes out with insults and lines to crack you up constantly, the funniest thing in the film by far. Stan Lee has a cameo, as per. Karen Gillan has black eyes and blue skin in her most evil role yet and she carries that baddie role well giving long stares into shots to convince you she can do harm, underused as a character and I was saddened that after hype of a great female fight between Saldana and her it feels cut short and not that impressive when it comes down to it. Lee Pace is bulky and very bad as Ronan and booms as the central villain, it’s a great play but this film does side more with the journey of the Guardians leaving the villains with less time to breathe.

The best thing about this film is you can tell the makers had a blast getting this made and so you have a blast watching it. It’s zany and piled to the stars with silly and smart comedy, shining special effects and grand fun. A Jackson Pollack comment says it all for some of the greatly scripted one-liners and the dazzling lights and kindness of Groot’s heart tell you how sweet and sad the film can sometimes be. It succeeds it making you care about the good guys an awful lot and each one gets enough screentime to warrant you liking them all, they’re the new Avengers in a way, more weird but just as easily to get attached to. Heck this film even bangs out a final act more impressive and neatly wrapped up than ‘The Avengers’ managed to achieve.

Mad fun, great sounds and sights can be found in this action filled space adventure. An exhilarating ride that makes you want to go round again and again.

8.5/10