Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Michael Sheen”

Passengers

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 1st January 2017

3 stars, Rated M, 116 mins

The set-up for Passengers is pretty great, and the startling setting and gorgeous rendering of space travel initially suggest this is going to be a worthy blockbuster.

The Starship Avalon is on a 120-year journey through space to Homestead II – a new colony to be inhabited by the ship’s 5000 civilians who are seeking a new life away from Earth. Viewers who have flown long-haul in ordinary aeroplanes will be wistful, since these travellers lie in induced hibernation for the duration, scheduled to awaken only at T minus four months in order to enjoy leisure activities such as you’d see on a 6-star cruise ship, and to prepare for their new, Utopian existence.

Unfortunately, something causes passenger Jim Preston (the popularly charismatic Chris Pratt) to wake too soon. Nine decades too soon. Facing a lonely life and certain death before the vessel reaches its destination, Jim’s future now turns on an ethical dilemma.

Passengers’ strong points include its aspirational, futuristic production design and the casting of Jennifer Lawrence against Pratt, which was surely predicted to be chemistry on tap. But better than these two put together is Michael Sheen as the cliché-spouting android bartender. And of course, the interstellar setting promises much, including Gravity-esque space walks and a terrific scene which aptly demonstrates the importance of actual gravity.

passengers

Sadly, despite these wonderful opportunities, the plot lets it down. The initially gripping “How could this happen?” is even tantalisingly dangled in the film’s tagline “There is a reason they woke up”. Well, yes there is – but it turns out it’s not something you can really build a film around. So screenwriter Jon Spaihts (who co-wrote the brilliant Doctor Strange and the disappointing Prometheus) relies heavily on Pratt and Lawrence’s romantic qualities instead. As a result, what could have been exciting like Total Recall or Sunshine (films that this one evokes) instead fails to even reach Titanic heights/depths (another movie alluded to in Passengers – Jim the engineer is a lower class of passenger than Lawrence’s Aurora, and his question “Do you trust me?” is a sure nod to the famous “I’m flying!” scene in the doomed boat drama).

Norwegian director Morten Tyldum made the multi-award nominated The Imitation Game and the terrific Scandi thriller Headhunters, so it was fair to assume he had the chops to handle a big-budget space adventure. Granted, purely as big-screen entertainment, Passengers does deliver some spectacle and engagement – but with a more developed conceit, it would have been great to see what a $110 million budget could really have bought.

 

Far From the Madding Crowd

A couple of centuries before plucky young Katniss Everdeen fought to the death in The Hunger Games, her namesake ploughed the furrow of female independence in Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Far from the Madding Crowd.

The curiously-named Bathsheba Everdene (played by the luminous Carey Mulligan) has not just three romantic suitors to ward off – disconcertingly, one proffers a lamb and a proposal within moments of meeting her – but a successful farm to get on and run, if only the village’s misogynists would let her. Oh, it’s hard to be a woman in rural 1870s England.

Bathsheba’s romantic travails have been brought sumptuously to the screen by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, whose previous film The Hunt had a kindergarten teacher (a sensational Mads Mikkelsen) tackling the distrust of his close friends and community after he is accused of child abuse. Happily, Vinterberg has moved into slightly less confronting pastures for his follow-up, directing a wonderful English-speaking cast which includes Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge and the Belgian Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone) whose impressive English accent renders him a convincing Gabriel Oak.

Mulligan’s natural grace and poise contributes in large part to this being a beautifully photographed, well-acted and thoughtfully constructed piece of filmmaking, pitch-perfect in narrative tone and musical soundtrack. Bathsheba’s predicament, such as it is, could risk looking trivial and fatuous to a modern-day audience who knows that choosing a husband is not the path to success (a lesson Bathsheba’s descendant strong female characters, Katniss and Bella, could perhaps learn from). But we learn early on that this businesswoman would be happy enough to be a bride, if only there was no husband at the end of it. Unable to take criticism or frank opinion, Bathsheba has character in spades.

Scripted by David Nicholls (whose work on Starter for Ten and One Day proved a knack for novel adaptations), Hardy should be pleased that his heroine’s honour is in safe and respectful hands.

It’s bio-digital jazz, man

Tron: Legacy

I did my usual spot of market research beforehand, which consists of asking young people who’ve seen the film what they thought of it.  The overriding feeling was “it’s AWEsome” and that the latest Tron experience really ought to be maximised in 3D, and Imax if possible.  As I have both at my disposal, I paid top dollar for the privilege of watching some unknown director’s take on a sequel of a 1982 sci-fi revolution I had not seen – and it was a digital blast.

Tron: Legacy starts with a brief backstory of young Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund, in a 2-dimensional yet strangely charismatic starring role that will surely catapult him into the Big-Time) being effectively orphaned when his technology mogul father (Jeff Bridges) disappears at work one night.  Years later – about 19 by my count – Sam is the stereotypical renegade heir who wants nothing to do with his father’s business that has been turned into a commercially profitable operation by a vaguely malevolent board.  Prompted by the avuncular Alan, Sam visits his father’s old office, types in some code and slips down the rabbit hole into a parallel, computer-programmed world.

So far, so Batman/Matrix/Narnia.  Fathers abandon their children all the time, but few kids expect to find their erstwhile dad running a futuristic universe known as the Grid, and presiding over brutal, gladiatorial games like something out of The Running Man.  Accosted by four beauties straight out of a Daft Punk video and re-costumed in a reflector-strip wetsuit, Sam is immediately hauled off to meet his end in a deadly game of “Wipe-Out” which is basically stupid, but quite simply the coolest stupid I have ever seen.  Strangely, Sam encounters each surprising development with the typical cool of any arrogant, tech-savvy, rich kid who has dropped out of CalTech (presumably out of boredom rather than stupidity) and simply wants to find his dad inside a computer program.

Jeff Bridges, now an Oscar winner, donates as much depth and pathos as is possible for a fairly thin plot that has cannibalised a lot of sources.  There are elements of Star Wars (although the immortal line here is “Sam, I am not your father.  But I am very happy to see you”), biblical references galore (Cain & Abel, the Creation story, fallen angels and sacrificed sons), and the underlying dramatic arc is a pretty basic one of “save the world (real, and programmed)/girl/dad”.  So, too, some of the key characters are pastiches of classics past – British actor Michael Sheen steals his scenes doing a rendition of Frank-N-Furter-meets-Clockwork Orange, throwing in a few Charlie Chaplin moves but thankfully eschewing a stutter or limp.

If soundtrack can be considered a key character (and I think it can), this too borrows – seemingly on long-term loan – from everything that’s ever worked in cinema before.  The overriding theme echoes Inception with its heavy bass, we have the exhilarating string ostinato of the Bourne movies, flourishes of Danny Elfman from his Batman phase, and towards the end a rewarding punch of Vangelis-inspired ’80s pomp, reminiscent (of course) of Blade Runner.  Notably, the aforementioned Daft Punk produced original music for Tron: Legacy and this heightens certain scenes to an almost unbearable level of excitement.

All in all, Tron: Legacy is about style, not quite over substance, but certainly it’s the aesthetic that makes the movie work.  It’s amazing what a glow ring and some fluoro-reflector stripes can do to an otherwise drab, utilitarian (and ubiquitous) outfit.  The stark white production design of Father Flynn’s house, set against the dark, foreboding world he originally created, extends the heaven and hell metaphor with scant concern for subtlety, but this is a spectacle worth experiencing.  And the bigger and more dimensional, the better.

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