Passengers

For F*** Magazine

PASSENGERS 

Director : Morten Tyldum
Cast : Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne
Genre : Adventure/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 1h 56min
Opens : 22 December 2016
Rating : PG13 (Scenes of Intimacy)

passengers-posterMany of us have pleaded for “five more minutes” when struggling to get out of bed in the morning. Compared to Jim Preston’s (Pratt) predicament in this sci-fi romance, that’s nothing – Jim is awoken 90 years too early. He is among the 5000 passengers on the starship Avalon, bound for the colony planet Homestead II. A malfunction in his hibernation pod results in Jim’s 120-year-long slumber being cut short. Doomed to live out his days in solitude aboard the Avalon and with no way of returning to hibernation, Jim only has the android bartender Arthur (Sheen) for company. That is, until another passenger awakes: Aurora Lane (Lawrence), a writer from New York. Jim and Aurora fall in love – it’s not like they have too much else to do. However, the hibernation pod malfunction is only the first warning sign as it soon becomes apparent that the state-of-the-art ship is in jeopardy, putting the lives of Jim, Aurora and their fellow voyagers at risk.

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Jon Spaiht’s screenplay for Passengers landed on the 2007 Black List of most-liked unproduced scripts in Hollywood, with Keanu Reeves and Reese Witherspoon once attached to the project. It’s safe to say that Lawrence and Pratt have significantly more star wattage. They were the top-earning female and male movie stars of 2014 respectively, and while making the promotional rounds, the pair has given some entertaining interviews. While there’s a novelty in the premise of a sci-fi film carried mostly by two actors, Passengers ends up feeling too familiar. With Oscar-nominated director Morten Tyldum at the helm, it is solidly assembled, but the romance central to the film borders on the simplistic. There is conflict and a rom-com-style big misunderstanding writ large, but the film relies more on its stars’ charm than its wit.

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Passengers’ gleaming, futuristic aesthetic is pleasing, if not terribly ground-breaking. The corkscrew-like exterior of the Avalon is a departure from the traditional bulky star cruisers from most sci-fi media, but the interiors conform to expectations of Apple-esque sleekness. The Avalon is meant to be a space-borne luxury cruise liner, with the passengers spending the last four months before arrival to Homestead II enjoying its plush surrounds. This is one of several ways in which Passengers resembles WALL-E. Production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, known for his work on Inception and Interstellar, does some beautiful work here and is successful in making the Avalon seem like an awesome place to take a vacation. Infinity pools have got nothing on infinity-and-beyond-pools.

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Both Lawrence and Pratt are interesting case studies in stardom. It’s affected the former more than the latter so far, but there are large swathes of moviegoers who find themselves put off by a perceived sense of ‘trying too hard’ projected by both actors. Lawrence has spoken up about pay inequality after being paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle, and secured a $20 million salary for Passengers – $8 million more than Pratt, despite Pratt having more screen time. Behind the scenes politics aside, they do make for perfectly-matched romantic leads, and their immense chemistry helps the film overcome some contrived moments of character development. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography also makes them both look as glamorous as ever.

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Michael Sheen’s Arthur the android bartender deliberately invokes Lloyd, the ghostly bartender in The Shining. The character is a clever creation, Arthur’s polite friendliness belying an unsettling uncanny valley vibe. Despite its fantastical setting, the film’s depiction of loneliness and despair resulting from isolation and the desire for meaningful companionship is relatable, if not exactly profound.

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Thomas Newman’s score is frequently guilty of being too obvious and intrusive, loudly dictating what the audience should feel rather than hinting at it. It’s a bit of a shame, given how many of Newman’s scores have been lyrical and moving.

The posters for Passengers feature the ominous tagline “there’s a reason they woke up”. This reviewer was hoping for a mind-bending conclusion and an audacious reveal of a massive conspiracy that Jim and Aurora get caught up in. There are flashes of wit in Spaiht’s screenplay – why yes, Sleeping Beauty’s real name is Aurora – but when it is explained why Jim’s hibernation pod opened early, this reviewer was disappointed. Passengers promised a marriage of fiendishly clever sci-fi with a tearjerker romance, but only takes audiences partway to that destination.

Summary: There was never any doubt that Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt would work wonderfully off each other, but past its sci-fi context, it’s a bit of a let-down that Passengers is as straightforward as it is.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

The Imitation Game

For F*** Magazine

THE IMITATION GAME

Director : Morten Tyldum
Cast : Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Vanessa Kirby, Rory Kinnear, Matthew Beard
Genre : Thriller/Drama
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 22 January 2015
Rating : NC16 
Alan Turing: mathematician, cryptanalyst, often considered the father of modern computing and a unique war hero who was persecuted later in his life. The man is as fascinating and compelling a biopic subject as they come. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing, the story shifting between three pivotal periods of Turing’s life: his school days, his secret wartime code-breaking work at Bletchley Park and his post-war conviction of gross indecency. Much more at home with puzzles and ciphers than in social settings, Turing’s co-workers at Bletchley Park’s Hut 8, particularly chess champion Hugh Alexander (Goode), find him insufferable. As the Second World War rages on, Commander Alastair Denniston (Dance) breathes down Turing’s neck for results. Turing goes about developing a machine with the goal of deciphering German messages encoded with the Enigma Machine – a task deemed impossible.

            The Imitation Game is based on Alan Hodges’ biography Alan Turing: The Enigma. Graham Moore’s screenplay landed at the top of the Black List, an annual survey of the most-liked unproduced scripts in Hollywood, in 2011. The title The Imitation Game refers to the Turing test, which determines how well a machine can imitate the thought processes of a human being. At face value, this looks entirely like an Oscar-bait biopic carefully engineered for maximum Academy voter appeal. Despite its Norwegian director Morten Tyldum and American screenwriter Moore, it does seem very British indeed, and if there’s anything the Academy loves, it’s British-y biopics built around an attention-grabbing tour de force performance – see The King’s Speech’s triumph over The Social Network at the 83rd Academy Awards. We reckon it is possible to go into the film harbouring all these cynical pre-conceived notions and to walk out of the theatre afterwards unmoved, but one would have to be a special brand of jaded to do so.

            The standard biopic tropes we’ve come to expect of awards-contender “based on a true story” prestige pictures are all there, but The Imitation Gamehandily transcends them, never letting up in just how absorbing it is. Naturally, this is due in no small part to Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Turing. Cumberbatch has captured the world’s imagination and is that rare combination of a superstar, a “serious actor”, a geek icon and, as he is probably tired of being described as, an unlikely sex symbol. We’ve become accustomed to “eccentric geniuses” in various media, the smartest people in the room who don’t suffer fools and have unorthodox but highly effective methods of solving problems – Cumberbatch’s take on Sherlock Holmes could definitely be classified as such. There have also been various explorations of the “dark side” of genius, the inner demons that misunderstood prodigies grapple with. As Alan Turing, Cumberbatch is able to paint a highly sympathetic portrait of a man who, if he were “normal”, would not have accomplished what he had. When audiences question the veracity of a biopic, it is often brought about as much by the shortcomings of the actor as by the script’s fictionalisation of real events. This reviewer did not detect that here. To dismiss Cumberbatch’s Turing as “just another troubled wunderkind who can’t make personal connections” would be a great disservice.

            While the film was in production, there was the worry that Turing’s homosexuality would not be mentioned. Thankfully, it is addressed, and as such Keira Knightley’s Joan Clarke is far from the superfluous love interest she could have been depicted as if such liberties were taken with the source material. Joan has to battle the deep-seated misogyny of the time, never mind that she has repeatedly proven herself as an expert code-breaker. The character’s introductory scene when she is almost turned away from an entrance test because it is automatically assumed she is up for a clerical position is dynamite. Knightley and Cumberbatch play off each other in a manner that steers clear of being cloying or saccharine and the relationship between Turing and Joan is a well-developed one.

            A surprising element of The Imitation Game, given its often heavy subject matter and wartime setting, is its humour. There are plenty of well-judged moments of levity, most derived from Turing’s interactions with others without feeling like they are at the man’s expense. As Hugh Alexander, Turing’s fellow code-breaker whose frustration is often justifiable, Matthew Goode is appealing and comes off more likeably caddish than smarmy. Charles Dance is also funny as the irascible Commander Denniston and Mark Strong is believable and coolly charming as spymaster Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies.

            If there’s any particular weakness, it would be the quality of the computer-generated imagery used to depict the WWII battles in brief cutaways. However, this deficiency barely registers because of how expertly the film is put together on the whole, the story flowing naturally through those three time periods in Alan Turing’s life. It seems there’s the danger of the film being written off by some, ironically enough, for its pedigree and awards potential. Ignore those voices; see this, tell everyone you know to see it. It’s a cliché, but this is a story that needs to be told and to be heard.

Summary:Moving, entertaining, thrilling, thought-provoking, even funny, The Imitation Game is a powerful, well-made biopic anchored by a brilliant leading performance from Benedict Cumberbatch.
RATING: 4.5out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong