Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Opening today:

PassengersJim and Aurora are passengers on the ultimate red eye, a huge, luxurious interstellar ship on a 120-year voyage to a colony planet. Both of them are awakened from their pods way too early, with ninety years of flight left—Jim first, Aurora about a year later.

They can’t figure out how to put themselves back to sleep, but since Jim’s played by Chris Pratt and Aurora is played by Jennifer Lawrence, it isn’t surprising that they find a way to pass the time. The course of true love doesn’t run smoothly, however, and neither does the spaceship, and eventually perils arise that require derring-do and sacrifice.

This science-fiction romance, directed by the Norwegian Morten Tyldum from a long-postponed script by Jon Spaihts, is lavish and visually elegant. The ship, which resembles a giant corkscrew as it twirls its way through the void, is like a high-end shopping mall, spa and resort on the inside. As solitary confinements go, it’s above average.

And Pratt and Lawrence are rather visually elegant, too. But their characterizations are flat and uninteresting. About midpoint, Jim takes an action that makes it hard to like him, but it’s also just about the only true interpersonal drama that Passengers offers.

The dialogue is most of the problem. Michael Sheen appears as a robot bartender, spouting mindless platitudes in the grand tradition of his profession, and this would be droll if most of Jim and Aurora’s lines weren’t equally banal.

Passengers is cleverly imagined, and it has its moments, like a scene involving a swimming pool and the loss of gravity, that show some sci-fi panache. But overall, it’s slow going, the sort of film that’s only worth watching, say, on a long flight. And even then, only if you can’t get to sleep.

The Phoenix Film Critics Society has announced its 2016 award winners! La La Land led the field, taking seven awards, and Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water, Moonlight and Hacksaw Ridge were also among the winners.

Clearly most critics got more out of La La Land than I did, but I was glad to see Linus Sandgren honored for that film’s superb cinematography.

Check out the complete list of winners here.

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