*NEW* PASSENGERS REVIEW *NEW*

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One ride I didn’t expect to enjoy.

Two passengers are awakened 90 years early after a spaceship malfunction en route to a distant colony.

From all the negative press, I was bracing myself for something horrific. A loved up but incredibly naff Gravity rip-off.

Oh no! The opening act was completely different to what I had expected.

For the first 30 to 40 minutes, we had just Chris Pratt. Lost in space. 

After his stellar performance in Guardians of the Galaxy, I was worried that Pratt was becoming a one trick pony. Delivering his usual comedy shtick. BUT he delivered a much more serious turn.

A little slow burning BUT riveting as Jim wandered the vast and empty vessel. His confusion rapidly turning into hysteria as he realised he was the only one awake.

His only companion, a slick and highly entertaining robot bartender. And who better to play the role than Michael bloody Sheen?!

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Even if his attire reminded me of Lloyd from The Shining.

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Don’t worry, it’s not that type of movie. No murderous androids here. 

Sheen was sublime. His rapport with Pratt was brilliant. Desperately searching his bartending database to strike up conversation and offer advice.

As much as you felt for Jim’s frustration and isolation as he came to his wit’s end after a year (A year?!) of playing around with robots, virtual dancing, getting smashed and wondering around the endless hallways naked (Yeah, the ladies will love that), the pace was testing by the hour marker.

And that was the only real issue for me. Don’t worry, lads. We have J-Law in a space bikini (Whaaat?!)

Doomed to travel in space alone. Unable to break into the captain’s quarters after months of trying. Contemplating the end. Jim was truly a man on the verge.

That was until Katniss Aberdeen made her introduction.

Pratt and Lawrence were brilliant. They had fantastic chemistry and were a great duo. Crucial when the film revolves primarily on just two people.

The special effects were pretty impressive as the pair orbited the ship in anti-gravitational body suits, admiring the interstellar landscape. The inevitable sparks flying as the couple inevitably fell for each other.

However, all was not as it seemed. The reasons behind Aurora’s (The lovely Jennifer Lawrence) pod failure made things a little more intriguing and certainly changed the dynamic of the film.

Without spoiling too much, it pondered a surprisingly moral argument. Especially when Aurora discovered the truth. BUT it was never going to be that type of movie either.

Thankfully, the ship’s increasing power surges soon created more noticeable issues than just some robots going haywire and broke the schmaltzy hokum as the pair had only a matter of time to save the ship and its comatose inhabitants from impending doom in the form of a dying star. Yikes.

Pratt and Lawrence’s chemistry smoothed over some of the rougher edges of the film. Most notably, the giant plot holes; if an asteroid belt did that much damage to the ship, why was only one pod disturbed?

Some of you might even laugh at the convenient arrival of Laurence Fishburne’s character (The Matrix) as the sh*t finally hit the fan; “We can’t get through these doors without clearance!” Guess who has and knows exactly what to do? Come on .  . . 

I actually didn’t mind Passengers. The explosions and set pieces did overindulge with the CGI too much by the end with everything getting a little too cartoony for my liking.

The frantic (Though highly watchable) finale tragically ended on such a flat and corny note that it spoiled things a bit. BUT it was better than I expected.

A slow burning romantic sci-fi drama. Just take it with a pinch of salt.

If you’re expecting a hard-hitting thought-provoking sci-fi flick, go watch Arrival. If you want a big, dumb Hollywood sci-fi love story, then give it a go. It ain’t that bad.

3/5 (Just)

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*NEW* NOCTURNAL ANIMALS REVIEW *NEW*

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Strange, hypnotic, tense, nail biting, different. Certainly one for the books.

An art gallery owner (Amy Adams) is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel (Jake Gyllenhaal), a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.

I hadn’t even sat down and got comfortable before I was wondering what the hell I was getting myself into.

I never like to read too much about a film. All I had to go by was the hype. The endless promotion and tweets. I had to seek it out. The eye popping opening sequence certainly grabbed my attention as a bunch of morbidly obese elderly naked women gyrated and flaunted their money makers across the giant silver screen.

I kid you not. I have to admit I wasn’t overly impressed with the first 15 minutes BUT director Tom Ford’s (A Single Man) hypnotic visual style (aided by Seamus McGarvey’s beautiful cinematography) and Adam’s (Arrival) presence kept me going.

Abel Korzeniowski’s musical score was something else. Perfectly balanced against the haunting backdrops.

It was only when Susan (Adams) received a mysterious manuscript from her ex husband that my interest was peaked. A dual narrative set with Susan’s (Adams) cynical lifestyle and unhappy marriage to Hutton (Armie Hammer – The Man from U.N.C.L.E) running alongside Edward’s (Gyllenhaal – Demolition) story.

Gyllenhaal was superb. He really excelled in playing both the author and his fictional counterpart Tony. Nightcrawler certainly marked a turning point in ol’ Darko’s impressive career and he delivered yet another sterling performance. Oscar?

The film flicked back and forth from Adams’ past to Tony’s fictional struggle. The only problem was that I was found myself more interested with the fictional world than the real one. I’m sure that was supposed to be the point BUT it was a little frustrating watching the talented Ms Adams become increasingly more passive. A mere spectator in her own narrative.

The cut backs conveniently appeared at the tensest moments of Tony’s traumatic journey in the desert as his family crossed paths with some unsavoury characters.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick Ass) was superb as the demonic Ray. A complete change of role for him. A revolting creature lurking in the darkness. Dare I say, a nocturnal animal waiting to strike. I really detested him. A great performance.

The suspense had me on tenterhooks as the family feared for their lives. BUT every time we cut back to Susan dealing with her empty and frustrated life, I was urging the film to get back to Tony.

The questions piling up. Why is Susan so captivated with this story? Did this happen to her? Is this why she is no longer with Edward?

The supporting cast were impeccable. Michael Shannon (Midnight Special) was equally good as Bobby. The cop with nothing to lose. Ready to do anything to help Tony get justice. Made a change to see him play something less sinister.

I was a little disappointed at the lack of Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) and Anne Riseborough (Birdman). Reduced to passing cameos as Susan’s gallery friends. Shame. Laura Linney (Mystic River) made more of an impression in her minute role as Susan’s controlling mother.

Despite that bizarre opener, I was hooked to the very end as you began to peel beneath the layers and realize that there is more than meets the eye. Gyllenhaal and Adams had good chemistry as we finally delved into Edward and Susan’s relationship.

My only qualm on first watch was the ending. It was a little abrupt and left me baffled. I actually looked around the cinema, wondering “Did I miss something?”. Perplexed, I went to forums and discussed heavily on Twitter about the ambiguous finale.

BUT for the first time in a while, I was left talking about a film for days. It actually made me have to think. I actually wanted to watch it again. An impressive feat in itself. Especially if you look back on my last months review backlog.

It was suspenseful, engaging and brilliantly acted. There was even a moment that took me completely off guard and made quite a few people jump in the screen. One chap actually yelped in surprise (No, not me!)

If you’re in the mood for something a little different to the norm, I would heavily recommend.

4/5 (Just)

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD REVIEW

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An engaging and brilliantly acted drama.

In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer; Frank Troy (Tom Strurridge), a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) a prosperous and mature bachelor.

I’m not normally one for period dramas but somehow this one managed to keep my attention.

I haven’t read the classic novel nor have I seen the 1967 feature with Julie Christie so I can’t make comparisons.

Carey Mulligan was superb as Bathsheba (Such a strange name). Perfectly cast as the strong willed heroine. A different kind of beauty but still a pretty young lady.

A woman desperate not to be another man’s property. Defying type and “social standing” to be her own person.

The opening act may have been slow burning but I was happy to watch the blossoming romance between Gabriel and Bathsheba.

Matthias Schoenarts delivered a very good performance. I know people were sceptical about having a Belgian as the farm hand in something that should have been a quintessentially English affair but I thought he was charismatic and had fantastic chemistry with Mulligan.

By comparison, his performance in A Little Chaos was quite wooden.

As well as dealing with the ever-growing suitors, Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s farm and is determined to restore the place to its former glories. Her dealings in the markets and with her staff made for good viewing. Resourceful and resilient, but vulnerable and anxious.

Sheen delivered a fine turn as the strange and brooding Mr Boldwood. Hell, we even got a little sing song between him and Mulligan.

I knew Mulligan could sing after her turn in Shame but it was certainly unexpected from the Sheenster.

Tom Sturridge (The Boat That Rocked) played the slick solider Frank Troy well. A slimy charmster if ever there was one.

I couldn’t help but question why Bathsheba would be interested in such a tool.

Troy was certainly enigmatic and a sweet talker but his behaviour was so volatile. Their forest fling was a strange encounter. His OTT sword swinging foreplay was a little comical for me. It killed the brewing tension between them.

BUT I understood that the action was supposed to display a sense of danger and excitement that the other suitors weren’t offering.

Is that all they do in the countryside? Shear sheep and marriage, apparently.

It was obvious that the proposals would happen. But the timing was certainly unexpected. Boldwood’s proposal was too sudden.

Sparked by a Valentine card that Bathsheba had sent as a joke. His sudden infatuation and obsession with her seemed a little disjointed. Ridiculously extravagant in one exchange, then nothing the next.

Yet somehow you still felt sorry for the middle aged extrovert.

The cast couldn’t be faltered. Their performances were flawless and I actually cared what happened to the characters.

Each suitor offering something different for Bathsheba. Security, love and danger. But all to a woman who never promised anything and already expressed that she did not want to be “tamed”.

Every time I felt my interest dipping or the pace lulling, there would be a new development or twist that kept me going. Not that my interest dipped that much, to be honest.

A merciless sheepdog with a flock certainly delivered a unexpected cliffhanger.

Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography was superb. Despite its beautifully shot idyllic backdrop, horror and grief can still strike the countryside.

The only critique I can make about the casting was Juno Temple. She didn’t make as much of an impact as I expected. The role was still important to the story line but anyone could have played her.

The ending may have been a little predictable but I still came out smiling and impressed. Don’t say that often enough.

It was easygoing, engaging and wonderfully acted. One of the better films out there.

Highly recommend.

4/5