Passengers (B). The critics haven’t been too kind to this new sci-fi flick, but I liked it pretty well. For this particular movie it’s kind of hard to know what would count as spoilers, so first I’ll just say what the movie is about based on the first ten minutes: an awesome starship from Earth is on a 120-year journey to a new world, with 5,000 passengers and a couple hundred crew members all sleeping the voyage away in suspended animation. But a little problem crops up, and a single passenger—a lowly engineer named Jim (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World)—is woken up 90 years too soon. There’s no way he can put himself back into hibernation, and communicating with Earth is impossible, so he faces living the rest of his life completely alone. The movie is about how he deals with that fate.
The rest of this review might contain spoilers if you haven’t seen any previews for this movie.
As the previews show, and as even the movie’s posters give away, Jim doesn’t stay alone. Another passenger, the lovely Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook) also wakes up. How that comes to pass, and how she and Jim get along after she wakes up, are among the most interesting parts of the movie. Michael Sheen (TRON: Legacy) turns up as Arthur, the robotic bartender. The movie’s final act gets rather less interesting as coincidences and unbelievable events pile up. Still, I liked the movie overall. I thought Pratt and Lawrence were very likable, kind of like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land. If you like science fiction, I say give Passengers a try.
Joy (B). So, I saw this movie about inventor and marketing mogul Joy Mangano a couple of nights ago. As I was driving home, I thought, “How odd that I have never seen or really even heard of this person before.” When I got home, I retrieved my mail, and, lo and behold, there she was on the cover of a Bed Bath & Beyond flyer, touting her redesigned Miracle Mop. Anyway, I basically agree with Mom Under Cover’s opinion that this is a pretty good movie. It’s Jennifer Lawrence’s picture all the way, and she (Winter’s Bone) delivers her typical go-for-broke performance. Like Mom Under Cover says, Joy is basically a human weeble–she continually gets knocked down, but she always gets right back up. I enjoyed watching her fight to realize her dream, with various degrees of help and hindrance from her divorced parents, her beloved grandma (Diane Ladd, TV’s Alice), her ex-husband, her jealous half-sister, and her dad’s flamboyant foreign girlfriend, played with flair by Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet). Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) has basically a glorified cameo as the QVC manager who gives Joy her big break. The ending wrapped up a little too quickly and easily for my taste. But on the whole, I enjoyed it.
I saw Joy recently and would give it a solid B. The third movie directed by David O. Russell starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro has much the same feel as Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. This movie is loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano, inventor of the miracle mop (among other items) that sold like hotcakes on QVC and later HSN (Home Shopping Network). Ms. Mangano had consulting credits and apparently approved of the film but the story deviates quite a bit from her life. Joy (Lawrence) pitched her mop to a QVC exec (Cooper) after a cash infusion to make parts for the mop by her father’s (De Niro) girlfriend played by Isabella Rossellini. Russell throws out every imaginable obstacle to thwart Joy’s success but Lawrence’s Joy isn’t down for long before she overcomes. I found the movie a little long and slow in parts but it made me curious enough to Google Joy Mangano–and learn enough to wonder if the movie would have been better if it had stuck closer to her story.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (B-). Here is yet another movie full of comic-book mayhem, the seventh movie in the X-Men franchise. I thought it was a mixed bag. On the plus side, the movie’s central character is Wolverine, and I just can’t help liking good old Hugh Jackman (The Wolverine) in that role. There are some decently cool action sequences. Some other quality actors turn up and give good performances (Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle; Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave). On the minus side, there’s a fair amount of tedious exposition. The CGI magic eventually starts to feel less than magical. Cute little Ellen Page (Juno) is wasted in a tiny part. And the whole movie is about time-traveling to save the world, a gimmick that is getting a little tired.
Here’s a fun game you can play. Before I saw the movie, I read the beginning of one critic’s review in which he asserted that the whole movie is mediocre except for one stand-out, clever, delightful scene. I deliberately read no further in the review, and when I saw the movie I tried to guess which scene he was referring to. Turned out, I guessed right. See if you can too! I think this link will get you to his review.
I liked American Hustle more than The Movie Snob. I would give it an A and totally understand why it won the Golden Globe for best comedy/musical. I found the opening scene a microcosm of the entire movie and a comment about life. Christian Bale (who underwent quite a physical transformation from his Batman days) is putting the finishing touches on his elaborate comb-over as he prepares to leave for the day. The things we do to feel comfortable going out in the world are a little bit of a con job. How much of it do we believe? How much are we really fooling others? In some ways, we are all conning each other and ourselves—just as these characters do. Sometimes we want to believe the façade we see even though clues abound. Bradley Cooper’s complete and utter confusion when he realizes Amy Adams’ character is not British is a good example. Cooper has the finesse to be totally believable as the FBI agent who thinks slightly higher of himself than he ought. J. Law rocks the ‘70s hair and makeup. The crazy schemes are a wacky laugh-out-loud romp.
Another good movie I saw recently was Philomena. B+. Judi Dench and Steve Coogan bring life to a real woman’s story about being forced by nuns to give her son up for adoption as an unwed, teenager mother. Stephen Frears (The Queen; High Fidelity) directed a well-paced, heartwarming tale in the style of an odd-couple buddy movie. The Catholic Church is scrutinized and found wanting for its treatment of young girls and their fatherless infants. You will leave the theater googling to find out how much is true (hint: all of it). Seeing the real Philomena at the Golden Globes was a kick.
American Hustle (B). Here’s the much-anticipated new movie from director David O. Russell, whose films The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook I liked a lot. He unites four of the main cast members from those movies for this fictionalized tale about the “Abscam” scandal of the late 1970s–Christian Bale and Amy Adams plays a couple of small-time con artists, and Bradley Cooper plays a loose-cannon FBI agent who traps them into helping him set up a sting operation that gets increasingly crazy as it goes along. Current It Girl Jennifer Lawrence plays Bale’s wife, and she’s more than a bit of a loose cannon herself. There’s a lot to like about the film. It’s got a lot of energy, and the actors and actresses are at the top of their games. But I didn’t love it, or like it as much as Russell’s last two films. I think I just don’t like movies about con games. Most of the time I get totally confused and have no idea what’s going on. The con games going on in American Hustle aren’t as complicated as some, so I think I basically followed what was going on, but the movie just didn’t grab me. Still, it’s a decent flick, and it apparently got seven Golden Globe nominations, so by all means, check it out and see what you think.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (B-). I still haven’t read the books, so I went to this sequel simply as a moviegoer who likes sci-fi and who enjoyed the first installment. (See my review here. And other reviews of the first one here and here.) On the plus side, the movie moves along nicely and held my attention throughout its almost 2 1/2 hour running time. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) is good like she always is, and I thought a couple of the new arena fighters, Finnick (Sam Claflin, Snow White and the Huntsman) and Johanna (Jena Malone, Pride & Prejudice), were pretty cool. But I just didn’t enjoy this film as much as the last one. The idea that an oppressive regime would use these complicated and drawn-out gladiator contests to keep the restive provinces subdued just seems too far-fetched for me. The bland guy who’s in love with Katniss (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right) is just as much a helpless Harry in this one as he was in the first one. And the arena part of the movie ultimately felt more dutiful than exciting this time around. Oh well, two down, two to go….