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Non-Review Review: Passengers

Passengers is a super creepy tale of male entitlement.

The movie has an intriguing science-fiction premise. On a sleeper ship intended to ferry passengers to the colony world of Homestead II, a freak accident awakens James Preston. The only problem is that Preston awoke far too early. Preston awoke approximately thirty years into a one-hundred-and-twenty-year voyage. The engineer is now destined to spend the rest of his life as the only waking inhabitant of a gigantic city ship, living and dying completely alone. It is a horrifying thought.

"We need a little space."

“We need a little space.”

There are suggestions of a powerful science-fiction epic to be found in the film. Jim finds his every physical need has been anticipated. He can live a life of material luxury. He will never want for food or space or activity. He effectively has a gigantic space craft all to himself. And therein lies the rub. Feeling almost like a sadistic episode of The Twilight Zone, Jim grapples with the question of what he will or will not do in order to end his loneliness. In his desperation, Jim makes a horrifying (if entirely understandable) decision.

The biggest problem with Passengers is that it strains too hard to make that decision palatable instead of terrifying. It is a super creepy tale of male entitlement that brushes aside any of this issues in favour of a much more conventional action romance.

Peace in a pod.

Peace in a pod.

Note: Very minor spoilers for Passengers follow. If you know the cast list, you can probably deduce where the movie is going from the opening ten minutes.

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Non-Review Review: The Hunger Games – Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire suffers from a problem comic to the second story in planned trilogies. It lacks its own clear arc or structure, instead serving as a little more (or perhaps a little less) than half a film. There’s no conclusion or resolution here, just a lot dangling plot threads and insinuations – the suggestion of a larger and grander conflict looming on the horizon that might offer some measure of closure.

While it improves on quite a few flaws from the first film, it ultimately feels rather hollow; like an extended trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.

Hungry for more?

Hungry for more?

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My 12 for ’12: Silver Linings Playbook & Earning Your Happy Ending

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #7

The term “uplifting” is thrown around a lot these days. Happy endings are very funny things. They seem to be a given for most major Hollywood films, and so there’s a degree of predictability to them. And yet, despite that, there’s also usually a sense that they are somewhat contrived or manipulated or otherwise the result of a rigged game. In order to raise the stakes, films will generally put our characters in peril, and create a massive sense of jeopardy for our heroes to overcome in order to secure the inevitable happy ending. However, as time goes on, we become increasingly cynical and sceptical, so those stakes get higher and higher. The ending remains guaranteed, so making the threat so much more menacing means we have to suspend greater and greater levels of disbelief in order to accept that everybody involved lived happily ever after.

Your ability to accept Silver Linings Playbook will directly correspond to your ability to accept an improbably neat happy ending. However, what distinguishes David O. Russell’s latest film from the bulk of the other “uplifting” examples of modern cinema is the fact that the stakes manage to seem far more emotional and psychological than literal and tangible, and that the characters involved feel so much more real.

silverliningsplaybook1

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Non-Review Review: Silver Linings Playbook

It’s very hard to find a movie that deals with mental illness in a compassionate way, let alone without descending into cheap emotionally-exploitive hokum. The story of Pat Solitano, coping with his “undiagnosed bipolar” disorder by returning home, Silver Linings Playbook manages to be sincere without being cheesy, to be warm without being soft and to be human without being melodramatic. Returning to his parent’s house, Pat stumbles across Tiffany, another “broken bird” dealing with her own personal issues. Silver Lining Playbook is the story of two extremely damaged people helping one another in the most human way possible.

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Non-Review Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is a solid science-fiction action movie that brushes fleetingly with greatness. Borrowing liberally from various sources of science-fiction cult lore, director Gary Ross provides an efficient little adventure movie that alludes to depths it seems afraid to explore. The result is a stylish little film, one constructed with considerable style and technique. It keeps the audience interested for most of its two-and-a-half hour run time. The problem is that it feels like it should be so much more than it ultimately ends up being. It lacks the killer instinct that it needs to define itself as a truly exceptional piece of work.

Straight arrow?

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Non-Review Review: Winter’s Bone

In many ways, Winter’s Bone is the Best Picture nominee most typical of the modern Oscars (or, at least, the criticism of the modern Oscars). While The Fighter echoes the every man appeal of Rocky, The King’s Speech is the archetypal historical and “triumph over adversity” tale, The Social Network is classic morality tale with a modern sheen and True Grit is the nostalgic entry, Winter’s Bone speaks the “indie” attitude that we’ve seen become dominant in the past decade. It’s a film rich in atmosphere and mood, with a bleakness that threatens to escape the screen and devour the audience whole, but it favours this lush approach over pacing and engagement. To say it is glacial, is an understatement.

The road ahead is bleak...

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