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

 

Swiss Army Man (2016)

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It cannot be said that this film is unoriginal, because wow oh wow is it something odd. The humour and story that goes with it is wacky and tries at some resemblance of meaning/heart which I feel is underwhelming, but it’s certainly different and carried well by the actors.

Cast-away Hank (Paul Dano) is about to end his life when he sees a man washed up on the shore. It turns out to be a corpse emitting gases that eventually helps the desperate Hank to escape to a wooded mainland. The dead body is Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) who becomes disarmingly alive and then helps Hank journey back home.

Daniels aka Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert direct this film with a great eye on making the world the characters are in seem very treacherous. The movie has a fantastic look and the sharp cuts of close ups for quick details or the slower serene moments to build on the creation of Sarah work well towards the friendship between Manny and Hank.

Both the Daniels also scripted this barmy adventure of self-discovery, friendship and stalking. The writing is great in places, the comedy of the idea alone bringing some laughs as you witness the floppy Manny being used like a multi-purpose tool but it’s the reliance on the corpse as a narrative aide that is a downfall too. I think that fart jokes are one of the lowest forms of comedy and sadly this film comes back too flatulence much too often, it also tries carving an arc of sentiment into the plot which kind of works but also doesn’t by the time the ending arrives.

I loved parts though, the visuals of Hank crafting people, vehicles or a cinema out of wood and rubbish left in the forests, I cracked up in the montage of Hank using Manny to further his trek to civilisation, the chopping, the mouth propelling and the shooting of critters was sublime. As Mary Elizabeth Winstead comes into the fold there’s a neat air of intrigue as you wonder where the film is going to go but sadly the end is underwhelming and for a run-time of 97 minutes, this movie feels very long.

Paul Dano is an actor I love watching and that’s no exception here. He plays the bewildered loner well and his wide eyed joy at discovering the saviour of Manny is well pitched. Dano acts like a man broken and lost from modern life for years which works. Daniel Radcliffe pulls in one of his finer and unarguably strangest performances as the dead eyed hardly moving talking corpse befriending Hank. Radcliffe’s facial expressions are brilliant and together they help the film a lot by being so in sync.

Saying this movie is out there is a huge understatement but originality beats remakes and sequels. It may grow tired by the closing credits and strive too hard to be one of those ‘art-house’ features to its discredit but there’s entertaining moments and it’s happily unpredictable.

5.5/10

The Neon Demon (2016)

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Heavily stroked by a purple and red brush, this is a strange movie to write about and even stranger to watch. It’s different…and that’s the big word to truly describe what this film is. It’s neither terrible or outstanding, even though people have commented on it being a masterpiece or boo-worthy love/hate release, I shall disagree.

Aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) arrives in LA and soon meets makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone). It doesn’t take long for naturally pretty Jesse to get signed and land modelling gigs leading more experienced models to grow jealous. As this ingenue increases in profile and confidence she sees how dangerous the world of modelling can be.

Now, I have to say that the above summary doesn’t even half cover the madness that occurs in this 2016 movie. There’s a Keanu Reeves plot which maybe best to forget, also for those that have seen this film, then you’ll know about the weirder side of proceedings once the run-time goes past the half way point or so.

Winding Refn definitely knows how to make an impact. This could be his largest stamp of ‘I’m here…notice me doing something unique’ yet. Because it goes without saying that this movie plays with an idea not really seen or dealt with in this way before. The trend of models, their lifestyle and the fanatic obsession of looks in Los Angeles is certainly put under a colourful microscope here and edged with a bite of something sinister.

I must commend Refn for being out there and going against the grain of, but then he does fall into that style over substance trap. The idea is very special but it feels like they run with that more than focusing on how to keep the story engaging. What stops it from being out and out amazing is the thin characters and thirst to go down a gross road. Jesse is clearly innocent and lost in the land of stars but apart from that and a few well placed smirks she feels like a hollow character to have as the main focus.

I won’t venture too much into that gross road comment but Jena Malone makes up nearly 100% of that statement. A table is the only thing I’ll write because it’s already stirring up images of a scene I wish to forget. Moving on from the sicker moments, there is a stylised attempt at horror with tinges of psychological threat striding the catwalk. The robotic personas of other models, the sexy vanity of identity and a trickle of fashionable comedy alongside the blistering soundtrack from Cliff Martinez and Julian Winding’s ‘Demon Dance’ boosts the electric surreal landscape.

Elle Fanning sure looks the part, her doe eyes like a rabbit in the headlights showcase the youthful side of Jesse. She has a glamorous ease with the role and does get a teeny go at playing snide and smirky as the movie goes on. Jena Malone is slightly sordid as Ruby and she’s got the strength to play that necessary elder controlling level and a scene with her out of the model light is a great reveal. Abbey Lee is tall and unflinching as model Sarah and pulls off a flawless lip twitch as Bella Heathcote flails Heathcote more than sells her character Gigi being a season ticket holder to the plastic surgeon, her upright posture and similarly still gaze gives the two models an almost funny twist. Desmond Harrington plays photographer Jack like a vulture praying on the sexuality of women, it’s a neat performance from him as his gaunt figure plays into the maturation of Jesse’s rise.

I can’t be harsh because even though it’s pacing is slow, the characters are nowhere near fleshed out, Refn seeks to shock for an apparent sake of it and it drives you to look on bemused, there’s still an undeniable streak of flair to this movie. There’s a boldness that I admire and the seductive look and sound keeps things intriguingly…different.

7/10