FlixChatter Review: Passengers (2016)

passengers

Directed By: Morten Tyldum
Written By: Jon Spaihts
Runtime: 116 minutes

I heard about the premise of this one a few years ago when the project was still stuck in development hell and for some time it was meant to be a vehicle for Keanu Reeves. Well, now we’ve got two of the biggest young A-listers as leads, but what attracted me was still the premise of what could’ve been an intriguing psychological sci-fi thriller.

Well, if you have seen the trailer or tv spots, the studios pretty much marketed this as two passengers who’re stuck in a spacecraft traveling to a distant planet when they’re awakened 90 years early. Within 10 minutes of watching it, you’ll realize that isn’t quite the case. A giant asteroid hits a part of the spaceship, causing a malfunction that triggers Jim’s sleeping pod to open 90 years early. Apparently in the future we still age as we do today, so of course Jim is going to die of old age before he reaches his destination. The first 15 minutes or so are pretty entertaining when it was just Chris Pratt‘s Jim Preston all alone on the ship wondering why he’s the only one awaken on board. There are some funny moments, i.e. how it takes 50+ years for his SOS message to reach earth and the machine says ‘we apologize for the delay.’ Ha! It helps that Pratt has that aw-shucks likable charm that the film puts to good use, but he could only sustain it for so long before he’s starting to get on my nerves.

passengers_pratt

When does Jennifer Lawrence enter the picture, you ask? Well, to talk about it would spoil the premise, so I’ll discuss that later in the spoiler section. I could tell you that her character’s name is Aurora Lane. Heh, the Sleeping Beauty reference is just way on the nose it’s lazy. And is ‘Lane’ meant to be an homage to Lois Lane as Aurora is a writer? [shrug] Speaking of Lois, there is a space *walk* halfway through that evokes the flying sequence in the first Superman movie… and of course Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. In fact, Passengers made me recall so many other [read: better] sci-fi movies: 2001 Space Odyssey, Sunshine, Ex Machina, etc. but in a bad way because it could barely hold a candle to those films. Oscar-winner Lawrence herself doesn’t really get much to do in this movie. She’s pretty much reduced to a damsel in distress, one with questionable principles no less, by the end of the movie.

passengers_aurorajim

I have to admit the visuals of the movie, which is basically just the set design of the spacecraft Avalon, is stunning and sleek. It’s like a pristine, futuristic mega mall, complete with state-of-the-art rooms and all kinds of amenities such as bar, dance studio, swimming pools, etc. The special effects of the pool losing its artificial gravity whilst Aurora’s swimming in it is pretty cool to watch. But it’s to be expected from a movie with a $100+ mil budget, and this movie is pretty much all style no substance. Director Morten Tyldum (whose gone Hollywood since making the Danish indie film Headhunters) seems more concerned with the actors’ physicality/physiognomy than their psychology. In a dramatic moment where Aurora’s supposed to be feeling emotionally distressed, the director shows off her svelte physique in a snazzy bathing suit that tells you nothing of what she’s feeling. Apparently Jon Spaihts‘ script was from the coveted Black List, though you wouldn’t know it from the final result.


For a movie built on the romance of the characters, there’s zero emotional resonance here. Mostly it’s because most people wouldn’t be able to easily reconcile the fact that a bored, lonely man basically does something so selfless. Obsession is NOT true love, no matter how slick Hollywood tries to package the story nor how attractive the actors they hired to sell it. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read): At one point Aurora calls Jim a murderer for waking her up to keep him company, and that description is absolutely justified. There’s no denying that Jim basically stalks Aurora in her pod, then proceeds to rob her out of her future and deceives her into falling for him. No matter how you look at it, he’s a creepy dude who doesn’t deserve our sympathies, yet the filmmakers want us to root for him.

Aside from the unethical decision of the protagonist, it’s hard to root for either of them as we just barely knew them. No character development than mere superficial hints of their professions prior to their space journey. There’s also no real threat for any of the characters, even at the most dire scenario when all hell broke lose in the spaceship. Don’t even get me started with the bombastic finale. The mechanical failures in the ship feels like a cop out plot to avoid facing the morality of the story, while also conveniently give the protagonist a ‘get out of jail’ free pass. As for the rapport between the two leads, well they may seem like buddies in interviews, but there’s no chemistry between them as a couple. The hyped-up sex scene is pretty lame and I never believed them for a second as two people falling in love.

passengers_sheen

Well, I’ve described this movie in the worst possible way and I actually like it less the more I think about it. The only bright spot here is Michael Sheen as the android bartender, but he’s barely around often enough and his talents is wasted on this role. It’s also nice to see Laurence Fishburne popped up briefly, though his appearance can be considered a cameo. He did have one memorable line in the film delivered the only way he could, which only vexed me that he’s not around longer.

There’s really not much to recommend this movie. But the biggest disappointment of Passengers for me is that there’s an intriguing story here buried under studios’ meddling. It has the potential to be a haunting sci-fi that makes us ponder on our humanity, but all the thought-provoking bits gets swept under the rug [or more appropriately here, thrown out to space] in lieu of a generic space action adventure. No amount of star power can save a flawed script, pair that with studio meddling and you’ve got yourself a real cinematic misfire.


Have you seen Passengers? Well, what did you think?

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Weekend Roundup: Frequency and Headhunters reviews

Ahhh… Fall is in the air. I LOVE Autumn, it’s my favorite season. Growing up in a tropical country where it’s 80+ degrees all year long, I’ve come to appreciate the changing seasons and I’m really looking forward to the cool, crisp weather.

It’s another week where we opted for home cinema viewing once again. The only movie that opened wide was the fourth Resident Evil movie which I never had any interest in seeing, and The Master hasn’t opened yet where I live. Fortunately, the three movies I saw were both excellent, reviews below.

Sunday night I re-watched one of my all-time Disney favorites, Sleeping Beauty. The plot is pretty thin but the visuals are so gorgeous! I still need to see the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty that explores the art of modern animation and the stormy days of Disney’s animation house. Even 53 years later, amongst a plethora of other animated features, I think that it still stands as the most strikingly beautiful. Princess Aurora remains one of my favorite Disney princesses!

Anyway, here are my reviews:

FREQUENCY (2000)

I don’t know why it took me so long to finally saw this. My friend at work raved about it and lent me her DVD nearly a year ago. The premise about a rare atmospheric activity marked by the appearance of Aurora Borealis that somehow allowed a NYC firefighter Frank Sullivan to communicate with his son John 30 years in the future via a ham radio. Frank supposedly died in a warehouse fire, so John used the opportunity to warn his dad of his impending death, which was to happen the day after the two talked on the radio. Frank survived the fire and they’re overjoyed, but what they didn’t realize is that the alternate history also meant that a new set of events are triggered, including a horrific serial murders that affect the fate of Frank’s wife. So the father/son must work together to somehow change history again and hopefully prevent the murders from happening.

As with any time travel/alternate history movies, the logic behind the story is tough to grasp. I mean the film never really explained how the Aurora Borealis caused the radio reception to function in such a way, enabling the Father/Son to communicate 30 years apart. But hey, obviously the sci-fi fantasy element asks the viewer to simply accept that fact, so I was willing to go with it. The movie starts out being more of a drama, but the last third it becomes more of a thriller as the father/son worked together to catch the Nightingale killer, named for his penchant for killing nurses. The fact that John’s mother is a nurse—which ironically saves the killer at the hospital in the alternate universe—obviously made her a target. At times it felt like a procedural suspense drama, like an episode of Criminal Minds or CSI, but the father/son bond is what makes the whole thing intriguing. Shawn Doyle as the psychopath is undeniably creepy, relentlessly terrorizing both father/son in parallel timelines.

Frequency‘s strength definitely lies in the emotional bond between the father/son roles. Dennis Quaid as Frank and Jim Caviezel as John palpably displayed a heartfelt bond despite not sharing the screen together pretty much the entire movie. The first time they realized the identity on the other side of the radio, you immediately connect with these two characters and the love they have for each other. I love how the movie depicts such a loving family life, not just between father and son but also between Frank and his wife Jules (Elizabeth Mitchell). Andre Braugher as John’s partner in the force who’s been trying to solve the Nightingale murder case also gives a memorable performance.

It’s not a perfect movie by any means, in fact, there’s perhaps overly sentimental at times, down to the unbelievably happy ending. But overall, the performances of the leads are what made the movie work so well. It’s a sci-fi thriller that’s full or heart, and one that confirms me even more how underrated both Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel are. Caviezel in particular has this charismatic presence and that ‘quiet hero’ sensibilities about him that would make him a perfect candidate to portray Superman. I think he was considered by Bryan Singer at one point and I think he could pull off such a role [at times his looks and mannerism actually reminds me a bit of Christopher Reeve]. Obviously he has convincingly played humanity’s hero in The Passion of the Christ, a role that in a fair world should’ve nabbed him at least an Oscar nomination.

Frequency is definitely worth a watch for fans of time travel movies, or anyone who appreciates a heartfelt family drama with a twist. Fans of baseball might get a kick out of all the World Series facts used throughout the movie, at times it becomes a plot significance as well.

four reels


Headhunters (2011)

This independent Norwegian movie has definitely shot up to be one of my favorites of the year! I’m so glad I gave it a shot despite it being more violent and gory than I’m usually comfortable with.

Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is one of Norway’s most powerful headhunters. You’d think he makes pretty good money to live a good life, but if you want to live like a prince, then certainly one must pay for it. Roger lives an incredibly extravagant lifestyle: multi-million dollar house, top of the line Lexus and he could buy his beautiful wife Diana a 98,000 Krone (about $17K) earrings! The secret? Well he’s also an art thief, which is ironic since his wife is a gallery owner. With the help of his security guard friend Ove, Roger’s perfected his heist method, replacing the originals with forgeries which often goes undetected for years and the trails have gone cold.

It’s an interesting character study and Roger is definitely an intriguing individual. By self admittance, he realizes that he overcompensates his relatively short stature (5’6″) with an outward panache and marrying a tall, beautiful blond (Heidi-Klum lookalike Synnøve Macody Lund). He’s more in love with what the Diana represents than the woman herself, which explains why he hesitates to have a baby with her. He also has a mistress who’s much less glamorous than Diana, perhaps because internally, Roger feels inferior to his own wife.

Early in the film, the VO during one of Roger’s heist says that everything is fine until one gets caught. Well, unbeknownst to Roger, there’s apparently an even bigger danger lurking. The movie quickly gains momentum the moment Diana introduces her husband to a powerful man in the name of Clas Greve (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). A former elite soldier and former CEO of a surveillance company HOTE. It turns out Clas wants to be the CEO of HOTE’s competition, Pathfinder, which is a position that Roger happens to be recruiting. Clas soon becomes the target of Roger’s thieving plan, as Clas apparently inherits a rare Rubens painting worth close to a hundred million, along with his grandmother’s apartment.

What happens next propels this movie into a relentless cat and mouse game beyond anything Roger could’ve imagined. It’s full throttle action that involves a brutal shootout, dog attack, car/tractor chase and a breathtaking accident involving a truck going in full speed! The action is quite vicious and relentless but none of it feels gratuitous to me as it moves the plot along. One particularly disgusting scene rivals the one in the Slumdog Millionaire (you’ll know which one it is when you watch it). Roger is in deep sh**, and I don’t just mean that figuratively speaking. Yet beneath all that bloody action sequences, the film is not without heart. There’s a conversation between Roger and his wife that’s particularly striking for its emotional honesty.

36-year-old Aksel Hennie carries the movie with aplomb. Initially he’s not a sympathetic character but he grows on you as the film progresses. The only actor I’m familiar with, Coster-Waldau, definitely fits the role of a charming but deadly former military guy who’ll do whatever it takes to get ahead. I picked the tall, gorgeous Danish as one of the actors I’d love to see as James Bond, and I stand by that pick after seeing him here.

This is easily the smartest, most gripping thrillers I’ve seen in years. The acting is understated and the script, based on Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s novel Hodejegerne (The Headhunters), is taut and unpredictable. I was at the edge of my seat the whole time and a few times I thought I knew where the story was going, but fortunately the movie still managed to surprise me. I’m not very familiar with Scandinavian cinema, but the stark minimalism packed with maximum efficiency is definitely a breath of fresh air.

There’s apparently a US remake in the works (surprise, surprise) as Mark Wahlberg was reportedly so impressed by this movie that he already bought the remake rights. Meh, I doubt it’ll ever live up to the original. So I advise you to watch this one instead before the US one comes out. Kudos to director Morten Tyldum who’s only made less than a half dozen feature films. This is what every thriller movie should be as it really was a thrill ride in more ways than one.

4.5 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on either one of these movies? Did you see anything good this weekend?