Movie Review: “Passengers”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne
Director
Morten Tyldum

Norwegian director Morten Tyldum may not be as flashy as some of the other filmmakers who’ve broken into Hollywood recently, but between his little-seen 2011 thriller “Headhunters” and his Oscar-winning drama “The Imitation Game,” it’s evident that he has serious chops behind the camera. Despite that past success, Tyldum’s latest project is easily his biggest movie to date – a heady slice of genre-hopping sci-fi developed from one of the hottest scripts in town and starring two of its most bankable stars. Though the film fails to reach its lofty ambitions, “Passengers” is still a surprisingly thought-provoking holiday release that’s biggest misstep is succumbing to the very formula that it works so hard to resist.

Sometime in the distant future, interstellar space travel has not only become a reality but a way for humans like blue-collar mechanic Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) to immigrate to other planets. Jim is one of 5,000 passengers traveling aboard the Starship Avalon, a luxury cruise liner currently en route to the colony world of Homestead II. The Avalon is just 30 years into its 120-year journey, however, when it sustains damage during a meteor storm that causes Jim’s hibernation pod to malfunction, waking him up 90 years too early. Stranded on the ship alone with no way to contact the sleeping crew and only a robotic bartender (Michael Sheen) to keep him company, Jim spends the next year slowly spiraling into depression until he becomes smitten with a fellow passenger named Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) and decides to wake her prematurely against his better judgement. Jim keeps his involvement a secret from Aurora at first, but as the two grow closer together over time, he becomes racked with guilt. Meanwhile, a larger threat looms in the background when the spaceship inexplicably begins to break down.

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Movie Review: “The Magnificent Seven”

Starring
Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Hayley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Vincent D’Onofrio
Director
Antoine Fuqua

Hollywood remakes are hardly a new concept, but while there have been a handful of movies that actually improved upon the original, most tend not to be as good, either because they veer too far from what made them enjoyable or not far enough to make it worthwhile. Antoine Fuqua’s “The Magnificent Seven” is an interesting case in that it’s technically a remake of a remake, based on the 1960 John Sturges film of the same name, which was itself inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai.” Although it certainly had the odds stacked against it, the movie succeeds where so many have failed by retaining the spirit of its predecessors while also distinguishing itself just enough to stand on its own. It’s not exactly magnificent, but it’s a slick and entertaining take on a familiar tale that’s bursting with personality.

The year is 1879, and the small town of Rose Creek has been invaded by an evil mining baron named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who presents the townspeople with an ultimatum: accept his paltry offer to buy their land or stay and suffer the consequences when he returns in three weeks. And to prove that he means business, Bogue murders the outspoken husband of Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennett). While her neighbors cower inside their homes, Emma goes searching for help in a nearby town and hires bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who in turn recruits six other men – drunken gambler Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), former Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), knives expert Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), fur trapper Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) – to protect the town and put an end to Bogue’s tyranny. But as they prepare for the inevitable attack, the seven mercenaries soon realize that they’re fighting for more than money.

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Movie Review: “Jurassic World”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson
Director
Colin Trevorrow

“Jurassic Park III” felt like the final nail in the coffin of Steven Spielberg’s dino franchise. It was obvious that another movie would happen one day, though not anytime soon after Joe Johnston’s atrocious 2001 sequel. Capturing the magic of Spielberg’s original film and, to a lesser extent, his underrated follow-up is no easy task, but while director Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) is unable to reproduce the sense of awe and terror found in the first movie, he does deliver an entertaining summer blockbuster with “Jurassic World.”

After years of setbacks, Jurassic Park is finally open and fully functional. People travel from all over the world to experience John Hammond’s dream, except it isn’t quite what he envisioned. Instead of a place of wonderment, the powers that be are more focused on profits. To raise public interest, the park has created a new dinosaur called Indominus Rex using the mixed DNA of other breeds. When the bloodthirsty dinosaur escapes on the same day that park operations manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is being visited by her two nephews, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), she enlists the help of Owen (Chris Pratt), a former Navy man who has a bond with a pack of raptors, to track down the Indominus Rex before it reaches the center of the park.

What “Jurassic World” manages to bring back to the series is actual character arcs. In the first movie, it’s as much about Dr. Alan Grant taking on a paternal role as it is about running and screaming from dinosaurs. The two sequels that followed were more about thin, reactionary characters. The two relationships in this sequel – Claire with her nephews and Owen with his raptors – are well developed. It’s not the most compelling drama we’ll see this summer, but the relationships are effective enough not to be overwhelmed by the spectacle.

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Movie Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Benicio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Rooker
Director
James Gunn

Marvel Studios has a history of taking some big risks, from the men behind the camera to those in front of it, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” is perhaps their biggest one yet. Not only is the comic book on which it’s based an unknown quantity to most moviegoers (if Iron Man used to be considered a B-list character, then the Guardians are on the D-list), but James Gunn isn’t exactly the first person you’d think of to direct a big-budget comic book movie. Despite his lack of experience, the bigwigs at Marvel clearly saw something in his earlier work (the horror comedy “Slither” and the superhero satire “Super”) that suggested he was the right man for the job, and Gunn has definitely repaid their faith in him by producing the best possible version of a “Guardians of the Galaxy” film and one of the most purely fun Marvel movies to date.

Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill, a member of an intergalactic group of thieves and smugglers who was kidnapped from Earth as a young boy. When he’s sent by his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) to steal a mysterious orb, only to double-cross him in order to keep the artifact for himself, Quill becomes the target of a power-hungry alien named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who’s made a deal with the Mad Titan Thanos (the purple-skinned figure teased at the end of “The Avengers”) to give him the orb in exchange for destroying his enemy’s home planet. After he’s captured and thrown into prison, Quill teams up with a quartet of fellow misfits – deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), revenge-driven bruiser Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), gun-toting raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel) – to mount an escape. But when the group discovers the true power of the orb, they agree to stick together a little longer in order to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

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Movie Review: “The LEGO Movie”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, Charlie Day
Director
Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

The biggest conundrum for the makers of “The LEGO Movie”: how to make a movie that promotes the product without playing like a 100-minute informercial. To that point, we have heard from friends who refuse to see the movie because, in their opinion, it is blatantly designed to sell more LEGOs. Well, sure, the LEGO Corporation would certainly like people to buy more of their product, but that in and of itself is not the point of the movie. If anything, the movie is quite subversive in tone, in that it encourages kids to take their uber-precise themed kits and build whatever the hell they want to with the pieces. It preaches against conformity and encourages imagination, both noble goals, and it has Morgan Freeman saying Milhouse Van Houten’s name out loud. Yes, yes, yes.

Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a construction worker who does everything he’s supposed to do. He follows the instructions set forth by President Business (Will Ferrell), which in a nutshell ask everyone to bend to his will in the friendliest manner possible. One day, Emmet sees the lovely Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) poking around his construction site, and as he goes to catch up to her, he discovers an underground group of rebels, led by the blind prophet Vitruvius (Freeman), who refuse to live by President Business’ law. Emmet has discovered a piece that Vitruvius believes will stop President Business’ insidious plan to glue all LEGO pieces together, and because of that, Vitruvius declares that Emmet is the one that an ancient legend predicted will lead them to victory. This group of rebels includes every superhero imaginable (in the DC universe, anyway), along with several other “master builders.” Emmet, on the other hand, doesn’t have an original thought in his head. The rebels have their doubts about him, to say the least.

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