Passengers

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I went to see an advance screening of Passengers last night. They do this fun thing sometimes at these screenings where they valet your cell phone and any recording devices you may have on you. Here’s how it works: a man in a tuxedo takes your phone, acts like you’re lying about not having any other recording devices, and then talks into a fitbit about how The Eagle has landed.

The only part of that story that I didn’t fabricate was the man in a tuxedo taking my phone. He asked if I had an iPad or anything. What he doesn’t know, is that I can’t afford an iPad. Take my phone, just let me keep my triscuits, sir.

I’ve found, recently, that I have an affinity for films that are contained to one space and have a small cast. If done correctly, they are often more effective than movies with a lot going on. Just this year we had The VVitch, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Don’t Breathe, The Shallows, and Blair Witch just to name a few. All very different movies following the same protocol; take a handful of characters, put ’em somewhere they can’t leave, and make ’em do stuff.

Aboard the Starship Avalon, there are roughly 250 captain and crew and 5,000 passengers. They are all on the their way to a new start on a planet that is essentially a better Earth called Homestead II. The journey will take 120 years to complete and everybody gets to snooze the entire way in hibernation pods. Not too shabby if you ask me. Leave crappy Earth behind and wake up in Xanadu? Sign me up. Let’s get started on ruining this planet, too!

The only problem is — and I work for a tech company so I know what I’m talking about — sometimes, in technology and in life, we experience glitches. The glitch can be something as small as a website not loading properly, or as big as your hibernation pod malfunctioning with 90 years left ’til you arrive at your final destination.

I feel like the trailer to this movie could have been the voiceover guy going, “Jim (Chris Pratt) and Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) are having a REALLY BAD DAY,” and then it cuts to the two of them freaking out about waking up too early and just running in and out of different doors down a hallway, Yakety Sax style.

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Upon realizing that they are the only ones awake on the Avalon, the pair do some sleuthing and discover that if they can’t get their pods up and running again, they will die long before they’ve arrived at Homiestead II. Yeah, I changed it. It’s cooler.

I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I’m alone long enough I get real weird; making strange noises, talking in different accents, pretending I’m a secret agent in my own apartment, and so on. Imagine having an entire fancy spaceship to play on. This thing has a swimming pool that looks out into space, a video game room, a basketball court, a French restaurant, and a bar with an android barkeep called Arthur (Michael Sheen).

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Nothing makes you forget that you’re stuck somewhere for 90 years with one other person like boozin’ and making out a bunch, but when flaws in the ship start popping up left and right, they need to crawl out of their sex dungeon and get real or over 5,000 people are going to die with them.

Passengers is a good movie with a sweet message, but a blockbuster it is not. It’s not for lack of trying from the cast. Everyone is excellent. In this humble critic’s opinion, many filmmakers get a few big-ticket names on a project and sort of let that carry the premise to a glorious finish. That does not always work. In fact, most times it doesn’t. As topical and thoughtful as the screenplay is, it just doesn’t come full circle the way it would like to.

The movie is trying to provoke the idea that we need to pay better attention to what we’re doing here on Earth while also evolving a love story. A story and B story is one thing, but trying to do two dances at the same time often does not work. You can have a movie that contains a deep and provocative message and still include the fun and games, but this one just doesn’t pull it off. It’s essentially a romcom in outerspace that forgets the takehome point Re: we’re totally blowing through all of our natural resources and we need to be more mindful until the last 10-ish minutes of the film.

At least that’s what I felt about it.

Thomas Newman was on the score for this film and, man… so much of what that guy does ALMOST sounds like a Pure Michigan commercial. It’s pretty, but it’s nothing special.

Jennifer and — geez, I almost typed Bradley – force of habit! — CHRIS… Jennifer and Chris are both very fine actors, respectively. They’re a great watch. And seeing Michael Sheen bash his face into the bar was hands down the very best part of the movie because he’s doing what I feel like doing at my desk 100 times a day.

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Anyway, go and see it. You’ll get a tasteful glimpse of Chris Pratt’s chiseled  glutes, all of Jennifer Lawrence’s greatness, and Michael Sheen’s charming and British impression  of what we all want to do after this godforsaken year. Here’s to having to find a new planet to live on once we completely ruin this one!

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La La Land

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I had the very good pleasure of seeing La La Land in an advance screening last night. While I was waiting in line, this little, old man had just come down the escalators after seeing a movie. He walks over, looks at the sign for the film, looks at me, and smiles ear to ear.

“Are you seeing La La Land tonight?”

I smile and nod. He leans in closer and whispers, “You know, Ryan Gosling was born in Canada. He used to sing and dance all the time — and now he gets to do it again!”

Then he grinned, shook his head, and walked out of my life.

A promising start to the evening.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a hapless but tremendously talented jazz pianist. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actor who just can’t find the right part. Together, they are a whole heap of unrecognized potential and both just looking for that one thing that’s missing. That’s kind of all anybody’s doing, but Hollywood is not for the faint of heart and the rejection can be quite harrowing.

A happy distraction is just what the doctor ordered, and Sebastian and Mia find it in one another. Where the trouble begins is coincidentally the same place the two had been working so hard to get to before they found each other. It begs the question: does one sacrifice an unbelievable, unicorn opportunity for love, or vice versa? If you can’t have both, which one has to go?

Do star-crossed lovers have a shot?

When club owner, Bill (a delightfully perturbed J.K. Simmons) fires Sebastian for ignoring the provided song list and playing his own stuff, he winds up playing a Casio keyboard in a tacky cover band. Slightly directionless, he meets Mia. A young, ambitious woman who is chasing her dreams of gracing the silver screen. In championing her , he lights a fire under himself to have his own jazz club where he can play whatever he likes.

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Meanwhile, Mia is working in a coffee shop on a studio lot with movies filming all around her. It’s the closest she can get to starring in pictures at the moment and sates the immediate desire while she goes to audition after audition.

When Sebastian is approached by his old friend, Keith (John Legend), to play piano in his band, the offer comes with one stipulation; sacrificing the music he’s passionate about for lots and lots of money. So much money, in fact, that it affords him the opportunity to let Mia quit the coffee shop and focus on auditions. No longer struggling to make ends meet, Mia is free to pursue acting, but what good is any of it when they never see each other? Love is fickle that way. It’s marvelous to have but tricky to manage.

When Sebastian begins to lose sight of his club dream, Mia becomes frustrated and overwhelmed at her own failings and their once super solid foundation begins to shake and crumble.

La La Land resurrects the likes of Singin’ in the Rain, High Society, and Funny Face. What’s really neat about this film, though, is that it’s the classic musical vibe set in present day. With iPhones and Priuses and such. It is vibrant and captivating, replete with lively dance numbers, witty and engaging songs, and natural, genuine, heartfelt performances.

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Emma and Ryan bring something so candid and organic to the picture. To everything, really, but the two of them in this movie are some kind of magic. Separately and together, they both bring it all to life in a seemingly effortless manner. They’ve always been fun to watch together, but this is another level. Not only do you believe them, but you’re pulling for them. There was a grown man sitting a couple of seats away from me, stifling sobs at one point. You want them to win.

As for writer/director Damien Chazelle — YOU ARE YOUNGER THAN I AM. HOW ARE YOU SO BRILLIANT?! Enjoy your Oscar, ya bloody bastard. Chazelle absolutely killed it with Whiplash (2014), earning an Oscar nod and a whole slew of other, well-deserved accolades. I very much look forward to whatever pours out of that beautiful brain of his next.

The film’s composer, Justin Hurwitz — I dunno how old he is but he looks like he’s younger than me, too. The John Williams to Chazelle’s Spielberg, Hurwitz composed on both Whiplash and La La Land. Being the score junkie that I am, this music touched my soul. It’ll lift you up one moment and break your heart the next. The opening number got a round of applause in the theater. Probably would’ve gotten a standing ovation if we weren’t all so lazy. It kicks the movie into high gear right away and only continues to deliver one sublime song after another.

Damien and Justin — if you’re reading this — please just always work together forever. Alone you are both great people and whatever, but together, you are a treasure too pure for this world.

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La La Land is dazzling, sharp, poignant, and radiant from top to bottom. This is one of those movies that people say you need to see in the theater. For real though? See it in the theater. It’s an experience to be had and it consumes you. Just let it happen. La La Land hits theaters this Friday, December 16th. GO. The soundtrack can be found on iTunes and Spotify, to name a couple of options. I’ll just be over here listening to it forever.