REVIEW: Passengers

20 12 2016

Franchise action flicks catch a lot of flak – rightfully – for existing as little more than an excuse for merchandising. But maybe the problem doesn’t stop there. Is it possible that our star vehicles have similarly been co-opted to serve as personal branding for actors?

There is a very plausible scenario in which a year from today, I will remember little of what happened between Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt’s characters in “Passengers.” I’ll probably never forget how angry I felt watching them play into the flaws of the script – more on that in a bit. What I am most likely to remember, however, is their late-night talk show appearances and lab-created viral video moments. The film itself feels like an afterthought amidst the millions upon millions of media impressions the duo generated on a month-long press tour.

The ancillary content for “Passengers” further cements the personas of both actors: Lawrence the raucous and relatable girl next door, Pratt the goofy but lovable working man. But the film itself cuts against the grain for each of them, making everything feel entirely disingenuous. This does not constitute much of a problem for Chris Pratt, who gets to play the tortured center of a deep space morality play. The prematurely awakened space passenger Jim Preston represents Pratt’s first chance to really display his dramatic chops, and director Morten Tyldum spotlights them by … focusing heavily on his puppy dog eyes whenever he’s grappling with a deep emotion or question. Whomp!

Lawrence, on the other hand, plays totally against type for both her on- and off-screen feminism. As Aurora Lane, the object of Jim’s gaze and manipulation, she gives herself over to being little more than a sex object ready to please on cue as well as a backstage figure to male heroism in the face of danger. This is Katniss Everdeen and Joy Mangano! This is the actress who dared to call out Hollywood’s sexist payment practices! What’s going on with this retrograde role choice?

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements




REVIEW: Far from the Madding Crowd

28 06 2015

All period films should feel as urgent as Thomas Vinterberg’s “Far from the Madding Crowd.”  Though the story might take place in Victorian England, none of the characters ever feel preserved in amber.  This adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel illuminates present-day issues faced by women as they seek agency and independence through a heroine, Carey Mulligan’s Batsheba Everdene, who bristles with the norms of her time.

You would think, in the 140 years since the novel’s publication, that the world has progressed some in respecting the dignity of women.  But alas, two chauvinists sitting next to me served as a potent reminder of just how necessary this story continues to be.  In their eyes, any decision Batsheba made that did not lead her down a path of submission or domesticity evinced that she was a reckless whore.

Bathsheba never aligns herself as opposed to the institution of marriage; at one point, she memorably remarks that she would be a bride if she didn’t have to get a husband.  Her needs are rather peculiar due to a unique set of circumstances that grants her ownership of a sizable portion of land in the English countryside.  Rather than surrender the property to an able-bodied man, Bathsheba possesses enough self-confidence to run the farm herself.

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: Admission

24 08 2013

Some movies do not fit neatly into categories.  For some, this means a refreshing streak of iconoclasm.  For others, however, it means a wavering indecision on the part of the filmmakers that can prove quite frustrating to watch.  Paul Weitz’s “Admission” is definitely more of the latter.

The film is not quite a rom-com, not quite a comedy, but also not really a drama.  It’s just a strange mix of tonal swings tied together by a story.  Despite the presence of the very funny Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, “Admission” has very little to laugh about.  And surprisingly, in spite of the loving glances they shoot each other in the film’s poster, their sexual tension remains a set of undeveloped hints.

Fey’s character is also extremely similar to the one she played in the 2008 romp “Baby Mama.”  The slightly uptight career woman experiencing regret about not settling down to have kids is quickly on its way to becoming as clichéd as Reese Witherspoon’s perfect belle having two men fight over her.  In “Admission,” she plays a strung-out Princeton admissions counselor dealing with mommy issues when a potential new admit could be the son she gave up for adoption back in college.

Even though I’m three years removed from the college admissions process, watching the Princeton committees debate the merits of applicants by reducing them to test scores and résumés still sent shivers up my spine.  It’s tough and rather disheartening to watch Portia try to fight for an unconventional candidate and face an insurmountable uphill battle the entire way.  The whole process is rather strung out and tense, and the overall mood left after the dust settles is one of depression.

By the end, “Admission” decides it most wants to be a drama after all.  And it actually does produce a decent conclusion, one that satisfies by not coming to any neat and tidy answers.  Because that’s what life is – anything but easy (just like getting into Princeton, apparently).  Better the film come to this tough realization than make us sit through a clichéd one that we’ve already seen in more defined and self-assured movies.  B-2stars





REVIEW: Tron: Legacy

30 12 2010

The so what factor looms large over “Tron: Legacy” as it thrills the eye but leaves the mind way in the dust.  It provides a visual spectacle in an entirely digital world that’s dazzling enough to merit the extra cash for 3D and IMAX.  But even with all of that firepower, when the credits roll, it leaves no sort of statement or impact.  It’s almost as if the movie wants you to leave your experience in the theater and take nothing with you.

The movie features a storyline that can be understood only in its most general sequence of events.  It’s a step up from its predecessor’s plot – which was about as intelligible as binary code – in that it makes sense and has a simple theme at its core.  “Tron: Legacy” deals with perfection and its ultimate subjectivity pretty sloppily; I doubt the writers even know what the words utopia and dystopia mean.  And in a year where “Black Swan” provided an all-encompassing cinematic exploration of similar themes, an ugly stepchild is a generous term of endearment for this movie.

Nearly two decades after the mysterious disappearance of his father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) investigates a strange page in the run-down family arcade.  What he doesn’t expect, though, is to get unwittingly swept into the server that his father built where he is ill-prepared to face the hostilities of the computer.

In a world of “programs,” Sam (the 2010 model of Jake Sully) is a rare “user” and thus hunted by the tyrannical power of the server, CLU (also played by Jeff Bridges).  Only thanks to Quorra (Olivia Wilde), the protege of the now Zen Buddhist-like Kevin Flynn, is Sam saved from almost certain death or deresolution.  Kevin has discovered life-changing developments for the real world inside the computer but has been exiled thanks to CLU’s evil bidding and unable to escape with the information.  However, Sam’s arrival opens up a mystical portal to the outside world, and the journey there takes them to the ends of cyberspace, including a stop off at the house of a David Bowie-wannabe (Michael Sheen).

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: The Damned United

12 05 2010

Really, there’s not too much wrong with “The Damned United.”  It’s just all too easy to be ambivalent about.

Michael Sheen really does give an admirable performance, and it’s the next step towards something that will gain some Academy attention.  Those who saw him in “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon” will probably notice that Sheen has been gradually upping his game.  If he keeps up this trend, he will be at Oscar level in a few years.

But for now, not even Sheen can make any part of “The Damned United” memorable.  The premise seems like it’s something that can really rile up some emotion: Brian Clough (Sheen) is a soccer coach who plays a game of honor, yet he has to put up with some dirty cheating players at his dream job coaching for Leeds United.  We see the mettle of Clough as he raises his Derby County team from the cellars of British soccer to playing with the league’s big dogs.

So it should be heartbreaking whenever the Leeds players disrespect him and refuse to acknowledge his role as their coach, right?  It isn’t.  The movie has no urgency, and no power to play up any sort of emotion.  It’s a breezy movie and easy to watch because of this, but I feel like it had the potential to really pack a punch.  However, “The Damned United” felt surprisingly coy with just providing an overview of the events.

So, if you happen to be looking for a movie that is good but doesn’t require you to turn on your brain, this could be just the right thing for you.  Don’t expect to be blown away, though.  Expect “good” and nothing more.  B /