Arrival of Passengers


CHRIS PRATT WAS PERFECTLY CAST in Guardians of the Galaxy.  Which is why he’s hard to take seriously in Passengers. Jennifer Lawrence, too, I have a hard time taking seriously these days.  Before she was the queen of A-List celebrity, I saw her in Winter’s Bone.  So I know she’s got acting chops.  But all the silly roles in silly blockbusters (stupid Hunger Games) and greatly overrated films like Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle have taken their toll, as far as I’m concerned.

passengers-text-blockThose ratings.  Passengers was something of a test of Rotten Tomatoes.  Too often films with a high Tomatometer score, such as the other big Sci-Fi film this year, Arrival, I find phenomenally disappointing.  And too often I disregard films with low scores. And by disregard, I mean miss. Passengers — with a lowly 17% score among “Top Critics” — would have been one of those I missed, but I stuck to my gut instinct and was happily surprised.

Which, just like the non-failure of the AE-35 unit in 2001, just about does it for Rotten Tomatoes.  I’ll still refer to it, but that percent score by itself will neither compel me to, or dissuade me from, watching any given picture.

* * *

Back to Chris Pratt.  His tongue-in-cheek countenance weighs a little on Passengers in the beginning, because after all he is in a quite dire, life-or-death situation.  But the film plays off that lightheartedness, and marries with it.  This is a tack the film takes which weakens it; a heavier tone could have turned this good film into a great one.

In other words, a little hokum runs as an undercurrent through the first half of Passengers, and Pratt fits that stream well.  The bits of corniness may be viewed as pandering to the lowest common denominator of audiences, and as I said a sterner approach would have produced better results.  Luckily though, this occasional dearth of depth is the film’s worst problem, and as such hardly ruins it.  I even liked Jennifer Lawrence.

I was sorely disappointed by Arrival, and the big “sci-fi” film of last year, The Martian.  Both highly regarded by critics, as reflected on the Tomatometer, and both really sucky movies.  The good news?  I reckon it’ll keep me writing these posts.  If I could find a source of criticism that I could rely on to only watch good movies, God knows I’d go with it.  But if it exists, I haven’t found it.

I very much liked Passengers, and it stuck with me through the night.  Overall very entertaining, and never boring.  The little glitches hold it to a solid recommendation at the top side of 7/10.

Comparison Notes: (Recommended): Moon

Film Brief: Arrival

Ugh.  If you’re looking for wonder, awe, magic and mystery along the lines of Close Encounters, 2001, Alien, Moon, or The Box, keep looking. Honestly, this made me reminisce for Skyline.  What’s not boring is either ridiculous or inept, and to make matters worse an impotent, muddled world peace message is unfolded through the second half.  A semi-intriguing alien language course salvages Arrival from the absolute dregs.

I suppose you could say that at least they’re trying; I would answer, not very hard.  3/10

Film Brief: Midnight Special

Midnight Special is bad Sci-Fi, and worse narrative.  Put another way: YAWN.  A cynical effort with little value.  2/10

PS has a complete HACK writing reviews for it.  Ebert must be turning over in his grave.

Comparison Notes (All much better): Starman, Firestarter, ET, Close Encounters

Midnight Special - text block

Obligatory Star Wars Post

Star Wars VII posterAnother Star Wars, another Death Star.  Yawn.  Which is too bad, because I was really looking forward to this movie.  And the first two-thirds or so held up well, with some terrific sequences wrapped around something of a compelling story.  But then another Death Star — and a completely unbelievable one given the context of the other episodes, and an extended, wearying action sequence to go about attacking it.

The magic, mystery and wonder the of the original series is long gone, but the first part of the film was strong enough to yield a mild thumbs-up.  Not that it matters, as Star Wars has already earned more money than every other movie ever made combined.  6/10

Film Brief: The Martian

The Martian - poster small“Bring Him Home” the poster pleads.  If there were any inkling of doubt at all, there might be some actual drama.  But there’s not, and the whole thing is an utter bore.  Or put another way…

Those who appreciate good science, good fiction, or good science fiction won’t find much to like in The Martian.  On the other had, the enormous popularity of the picture demonstrates how subjective “good” is.  But then, a lot of people thought George Bush was a good president.  For me, what a yawner.  And I mean literally.  It’s remarkable how each film Ridley Scott produces sinks below his prior effort.  2/10

Comparison Notes (each recommended, and stratospheres better than The Martian): Gravity, Moon

PS  This guy’s a botanist, but he didn’t bring any seeds?  Gimme a break!

Humans on AMC

Humans - poster

My name is Talky Tina, and I’m going to kill you

Twilight Zone, episode “Living Doll.”  “A Thing About Machines” — with an electric razor chasing a man down the stairs — is also to the point here.

I wanted to post a short note on AMC’s Humans, which I’ve got caught up in.  With Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Better Call Saul, AMC has established a reputation which demands that its new series be given attention.  Humans is not up to the level of Mad Men or Better Call Saul, and Ex Machina may be thought of as a concentrated and much better overall effort than this series, but it’s still worthwhile.

What I like most about it are the character portrayals, especially of the “synth” Anita — who though friendly and helpful maintains a distinct sinister undercurrent, and the bonus of a well-optimized William Hurt.  The plot needs a little work, but nobody’s perfect.  Not even a robot.

William Hurt (not a cyborg)

William Hurt (not a cyborg)

Cinematic Greats: The Mist

The Mist - poster large

The Mist - text blockTHOSE FIRST PULSATIONS through the corrugated tin door, which a moment later are found to come from tentacles — the giant, flesh-tearing tentacles of an enormous monster whose body is never revealed: this is the sense of mystery and wonder — and dread — that evokes those early marvels of Steven Spielberg.  James Berardinelli of Reel Views sums it up better than anyone:

The Mist is what a horror film should be – dark, tense, and punctuated by just enough gore to keep the viewer’s flinch reflex intact. … [Director Frank] Darabont has fashioned a tense motion picture that’s ultimately more about paranoia, religious fanaticism, and the price of hopelessness than it is about monsters.

The Mist is an intense macro-epic for when the world is being torn away.  You can read my previous comments here.  And the ending is brilliant — decidedly un-Hollywood.  A terrifically thrilling film.  9/10

Availability: iTunes, rental or purchase