Film review – Passengers (Morten Tyldum, 2016)

It’s fun to slam a bad film, isn’t it? Hand us a terrible film and we’re all there ready with our sticks to beat it down. It’s funny, because the filmmakers have no control over it and we get away with having a good laugh at their expense.

Passengers has been that film for the last couple of weeks.

I’ve had an article shared to me with some photos that prove how creepy Chris Pratt is in it. I had another one sent over about how it had failed at the box office after poor reviews. Generally the early reviews were positive, then the consensus changed and everyone has now decided it’s a poor film, so that’s the stance everyone has taken. Even positive reviews have misleadingly negative titles to ensure they don’t buck the trend (News.com.auhad a favourable review but they titled it “What was Jennifer Lawrence thinking?”).

The three people who sent me the above articles have no intention of watching Passengers. That is entirely their loss.

Passengers is an excellent film.

There’s more to this than the reviews have suggested

Spoilers now follow.

At its heart, it is a romantic drama that explores the relationship ship between James Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), who are trapped in space on the Avalon spaceship, en route to the planet Homestead II. To make the 120-year journey, the crew and passengers are in hibernation pods, but Preston’s pod opens early and he is forced to fend for himself, physically and mentally.

Trapped in space alone, he eventually starts to consider waking up fellow passengers. As an electrician and mechanic, he can navigate the user manuals of the hibernation pods and is able to select who he wakes up based on video messages left on their personal profiles onboard the ship’s communication devices. He chooses writer Lane, a woman he has fallen in love with, and makes the unforgivable choice to wake her up, sentencing her to the same fate as him – certain death before anyone else wakes up.

The critics have centred on this decision as a blocker to any enjoyment. That is truly unfair. If they were handed the film to edit, presumably it would finish after forty minutes and we’d have a shot of Pratt’s character dying alone as an old man, trapped and miserable, yet having made the morally correct decision. 

In Mark Kermode’s book Hatchet Job, there’s a brilliant passage on how Casablanca would have turned out if it had been shown to test screenings, with one of the greatest love stories of all time likely being changed to a happier yet implausible conclusion. 

The same applies here.

This is a plot that is deliberately divisive, meant to create discussion. Some will argue that Preston was insane, on the cusp of suicide, and his relationship with Lane sustained him long enough to figure out there was a critical error with the ship, this saving the entire ship (with her help – it was a two-person job). Others will side with Lane’s stance immediately after she realises the truth; also quite justifiable due to the fact their entire relationship is based on a fundamental lie.

Either way, director Morten Tyldum fully explores every possible line of thought enough to allow the viewers to make their minds up, with enough space in the pace of the film for those thought processes to go to fruition during the film.

Pair this complex romance with some beuatiful visuals and some stellar performances from the two leads, and you get a film much better than the critics will have you believe.

You will be robbing yourself if you believe the negativity and don’t see this film for yourself.

Film review – Joy (David O’Russell, 2016)

Of all the stories of all the people that have ever existed on this planet, perhaps one of the last you’d think to turn into a film would be that of Joy Mangano, inventor and telesales presenter. It’s not that she’s unremarkable or boring, but she is far from a controversial character. What she does encompass, however, is both a traditional tale of the American dream and a figurehead for strong-minded women that have ever felt oppressed in work or at home.

If you’re wondering what Joy Mangano looks like in real life, there’s a popular video below of her selling her first major breakthrough invention: The Miracle Mop. From then on she became a self-made millionaire, invented many more successful products and created a business empire.

It has to be said that whilst she may be a household name across the USA, the rest of the world remains unaware of her background. Or at least they did. That was until the film Joy came along. Starring Jennifer Lawrence in the title role alongside the likes of Robert De Niro, Isabella Rossellini and Bradley Cooper, the film reveals the journey she went on to get to where she is today – from divorced mother-of-two working for Eastern Airlines right up to her first business successes.

The first forty-ish minutes of the film try really hard to give us a potted history of the causes of Joy’s personality traits, actions and outlook. It usually works on a scene-by-scene basis but the pacing causes issues and seems to lack direction until Joy herself finds a focus in her life.

joyscreenshot

From this point on the film has hit its stride and she breaks free from the oppression and the doubters. There are moments of humour (which surely explains the Comedy Golden Globe nomination, no?), edge-of-the-seat excitement (her first sell on QVC springs to mind) and fist-pumping success (I recall here a scene near the end set in a California hotel room). This is all driven by a remarkable performance by Jennifer Lawrence, reminding the world again that she isn’t just the girl from The Hunger Games but rather a girl with acting talent far beyond her years.

So whilst this film has its merits, the scatter-gunned first act and lack of consistency mean it won’t go down as one of the great films of the year, though Lawrence’s performance is worth the ticket money.

Joy is on general release globally now.

 

 

 

 

American Hustle (David O’Russell, 2014)

Director David O’Russell has had a sudden upsurge in fortune. With his last film – Silver Linings Playbook – he finally realised the promise hinted at with his earlier attempts at cinematic quirky humour. It was both critically lauded and a commercial triumph. It was a must-see film. If you hadn’t seen it you wanted to, and once you’d seen it once you probably wanted to see it again. O’Russell’s stock had never been higher.

It was important, then, that he chose his next film wisely. I’d say American Hustle was exactly that – a wise choice. It’s a film set in 1970s New Jersey, and this allowed a lot of fun to be had with costuming and recreating an authentic world in which the characters can play. To bring the characters to life, he enlisted three key actors from last year’s triumph: Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Added to this he also brought Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Christian Bale. That is a formidable lead cast if ever you saw one.

The music is spot on. Mixing a superb score from Danny Elfman with some choice cuts from the era (think Elton John, America, Chicago), it all blends together to further enhance the authentic experience.

Yet, after 138 minutes of buying in to the story, I left the cinema feeling a little short changed. There’s enough humour to keep us smiling, some great playoffs between Adams and Lawrence who are at each other’s throats throughout, and the mild twists and turns in the plot are entertaining if not thrilling. I admired the solid performances from the all-star cast, none of whom underperformed but at the same time didn’t shine. The film had the feeling of playing it safe, and I thought there could have been more to it. The final payoff was predictable and in turn disappointing.

The main problem for me was that none of the characters were likeable. Adams and Bale are both untrustworthy con artists, Cooper is an FBI career man who wants a quick rise to the top, Lawrence is a degenerate waster who’s slow on the uptake, De Niro is a mafia overlord. Renner’s Mayor Polito is the only one I felt sympathy for, getting mixed up with the wrong people for the right reasons, but he’s not really a central character. I didn’t have anyone I felt the urge to back and for me that’s a flaw in the scriptwriting. I understand that the aim of the film may have been to portray the fact that nobody in this circle is likeable, but it just wasn’t carried off successfully. With so much time to develop the characters and such an amazing array of talent on offer, it could have been so much more.

American Hustle is out now in UK cinemas.