‘Passengers’ review: Chris Pratt saves director from lackluster script

chris-pratt-passengers

Imagine a science fiction film starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. It’s directed by Morten Tyldum (Intimidation Game) and written by Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange). That sounds like a winner, right? Not necessarily, because that’s exactly what moviegoers got with “Passengers” with uninspiring results.

If you’re thinking about seeing Passengers, then here is what you need to know:

  • Chris Pratt plays Jim Preston, a mechanical engineer who is on a spaceship called Avalon. Its destination: a colony planet called Homestead II.
  • A meteor shows damages the Avalon, which causes Jim to wake from a state of suspended animation roughly 90 years too early.
  • Jim desperately tries to figure out a way to reenter a sleeping state while also dealing with extreme isolation. He has an AI robot named Arthur (Michael Sheen) to keep him company.
  • Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Aurora Lane, also is awakened midway through the film.
  • The Avalon begins to malfunction, which forces the two passengers (along with Laurence Fishburne — very briefly — as Captain Gus Mancuso) to work together to avoid a catastrophe.

This is a spoiler-free review, so I won’t go into many more details other than to say that Passengers is most intriguing for the number of missed opportunities racked up by Jon Spaihts. With a few tweaks of the script, Passengers could have turned into an instant classic. Over and over again the stage is set for a stunning reveal, only to inform theatergoers, “Nope. This is just a by-the-numbers sci-fi flick that will hit embarrassingly predictable beats by the time the end credits roll.”

If you decide to see Passengers, then ask yourself the following questions before the curtains open:

  • Will A.I. ever reach the point where it can become lonely and yearn for human interaction?
  • Would a company accused of treating customers like cattle ever engineer a disaster to see how the “animals” respond — perhaps as a way of garnering larger profits down the road?
  • If a character puts the proverbial “smoking gun” in a place where an individual would obviously find it over the course of a relationship, then that needs to happen — right?

Again, I note that this is a spoiler-free review, which means that asking the above questions only draws attention to the fact that Passengers explored … none of them. There are more, but for the purposes of this blog post we’ll stick to three.

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In short, if you’re a science fiction junkie who needs a fix, then see on Sunday matinee of Passengers. It’s passable, but in many ways that is only attributable to Mr. Pratt’s likability and professionalism. He did the most with what he was given, but he wasn’t given much.

 

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Magnificent Seven: Fuqua brings in Washington, Pratt and crew for awesome Western

magnificent-seven-trailer

Westerns have been box office poison for quite some time, but for whatever reason the powers that be allowed director Antoine Fuqua to have a go at a “Magnificent Seven” remake. The film, which stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, came in first place its opening weekend for good reason — it’s awesome.

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Anyone who is familiar with the Western genre doesn’t need to work too hard to guess how the story goes:

  • Bad dude controls a town and kills good people.
  • Stranger is enlisted to take out bad dude.
  • Showdown eventually happens and bad dude is removed from the equation.

Where is the fun in the movie if we already know how it goes, you ask? In this case, everywhere.

Denzel Washington plays post-Cvil War bounty hunter Chisolm, Chris Pratt plays a troubled gambler with a heart of gold, and the two of them eventually put together a motley crew that will oust the evil Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) from a mining town. Their success will also avenge the death of a frontierswoman Emma Cullen’s (Haley Bennett) husband.

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There are elements of the movie that could be spoiled in an extensive review, so in this case I’ll stick to saying that everyone in this movie looks like they’re having a great time. The scenery is beautiful. Every single actor has his or her moment to shine. The gunfights are top-notch, and there are even a few surprises towards the end that had the audience gasping during my showing.

In short, this is the movie that Sony’s team on Ghostbusters should have seen before making this summer’s box office bomb. Mr. Fuqua pays homage to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), John Sturges Magnificent Seven (1960), and other Westerns while also creating something distinctly his own.

This is not a Western for Baby Boomers, nor it does it try to be. It tips its hat to the past, but it cinematically moves forward. In a year of lackluster movies, this is a fun film that is worth seeing before it leaves theaters. See it in IMAX if you get a chance. This blogger did not, and I’ve been kicking myself for the decision for the past week.

Chris Pratt 100% right on success: ‘Apply constant pressure for as long as it takes’

 

Chris Pratt Instagram

It’s not often that a Hollywood actor talks about the recipe for professional success — and nails it. Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt took to Instagram on Jan. 27 and did just that.

prattprattpratt It’s 3:20am. I got picked up for work at 6:45am yesterday. I’m not good with math, especially after being up for approximately 61 hours but I think I’ve been up for over 77 hours. I did a table read for Guardians of the Galaxy 2 this morning and then shot all day on Passengers and just now wrapped some 144 hours later. Weirdly both films, which iI’l be shooting back to back, are being shot in Atlanta at Pinewood studios. We have the best crew. Total rock stars busting their asses. And the stuff we’re shooting. My God. I can’t wait for you to see it. I go back in in about 8 hours to do more.

I am doing what I love. It doesn’t feel like work. Even though it is. I’m having fun. I’m overcome with joy and gratitude. I felt like posting this to say to anyone out there chasing your dream… Fifteen years ago I felt the same passion I feel today, but I had very little opportunity. I had to hustle hard and go hungry. I had to eat sardines and figure out how to get gas money. And I never had a plan B. I never stopped believing. Ever. Don’t give up. Apply constant pressure for as long as it takes. It will break before you do. Go get it.

Mr. Pratt is 100% right. To prove it, I will share just one example from my own life that testifies to the authenticity of his claim.

Roughly 15 years ago I not long removed from the U.S. Army and on my way to USC. I used to read The Drudge Report and think how cool it would be to one day write something that garnered one of his top headlines.

This past Tuesday I wrote a piece for work and once again experienced that unique feeling that only happens when a dream others call crazy becomes a reality.
Hillary Drudge Doug

In the 15 years between dreaming about landing a bullseye Drudge hit and actually doing so, there were three roach-filled apartments, stretches were I was literally licking Chipotle burrito bowls clean because I was so low on cash I didn’t want to waste a calorie, and a temporary “mattress” made of my own clothes on a hardwood floor in Washington, D.C.

One section of Mr. Pratt’s message in particular hit home with me: “Apply constant pressure for as long as it takes. It will break before you do.”

That comment echoes something I have told my wife for years. I have always said that with enough time and pressure, we all have the ability to bend reality to our will. 

There are many factors that affect how quickly one manifests a particular dream (which I would be happy to discuss in the comments section), but the following is a blueprint that has worked extremely well for me over the years.

  • Faith in God — and prayer.
  • A clear vision for what you seek to attain.
  • Belief in the core of your being that you will achieve your goals.
  • A commitment to honesty, integrity, hard work, and humility.

One simply cannot go wrong if he or she follows those bullet points. It is a breath of fresh air to see a well-known actor who gets it, and for that Mr. Pratt has earned a large amount of good will with this writer.

I look forward to seeing both Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Passengers in theaters.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Marvel gets its heroic misfits right on the first try

Guardians of the Galaxy

There is no denying it: Marvel Studios has churned out a hit “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie before DC could treat the world to a big screen “Justice League” adventure. Director James Gunn was asked to deliver a box office smash with a relatively unknown product (to those who don’t read comic books), and he gave the studio a $94 million opening weekend. Not too shabby. The question still remains: Is it any good? Short answer: Yes. The longer answer is that Marvel played with fire in terms of language and content that could scare off those looking for “family friendly” fare. More on that later.

For those unfamiliar with the Guardians of the Galaxy, the team consists of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). While the whole lot of them are technically misfits and scoundrels, the audience knows that deep down each character has a heart of gold. They’re all heroes who don’t quite know it at first because their horrific and tragic pasts shielded them from acting upon virtues like honor, integrity and self-control. Their initial thievery and selfishness brings them together, but it is their slow-burn heroism that keeps them together. Their task: The Guardians of the Galaxy must save an entire planet from an alien known as Ronan.

Guardians of the Galaxy Gamora Peter

In order to avoid spoiling certain parts of the movie, I’ll try and explain everything that I liked and disliked about the movie by discussing the scene where the team officially forms:

Peter Quill: I need your help. I look around at us…you know what I see? Losers. I mean, like, folks who have lost stuff. And we have. Man, we have — all of us. Our homes. Our families. Normal lives. And usually life takes more than it gives, but not today. Today it’s given us something. It has given us a chance.

Drax: To do what?

Peter Quill: To give a shit. For once. And not run away. I for one am not going to stand by and watch as Ronan wipes out billions of innocent lives.

Rocket Racoon: But Quill, stopping Ronan — it’s impossible. You’re asking us to die.

Peter Quill: Yes. I guess I am.

Gamora: Quill. I lived most of my life surrounded by my enemies. I will be grateful to die among my friends.

Drax: You are an honorable man, Quill. I will fight beside you. And in the end I will see my wife and daughter again.

Groot: I am Groot.

Rocket Racoon: Oh what the hell, I don’t got that long of a life span anyway. Now I’m standing. Y’all happy? We’re all standing up now…a bunch of jackasses.

Guardians of the Galaxy is funny. It has heart. It’s irreverent. It sends a message that redemption is possible and that there are things that transcend the self that are worth fighting and dying for. Overall it succeeds in all of those aspects, but one of the virtues that is lacking appears to be prudence. Writer and Director James Gunn did a commendable job, but there were times where harsh language was used that was completely unnecessary for a film marketed on many levels to kids. Was it really necessary for Peter Quill to say “You said it yourself, bitch — we’re the Guardians of the Galaxy,” at a key moment in the film? Probably not. As a 35-year-old man with no children, I can shrug it off. If I did have a little one running around, I’m inclined to believe I’d have a very different opinion.

Guardians of the Galaxy Groot

And finally, there is the climatic show-down with Ronan. Once again, Mr. Gunn’s judgment seems off. In fact, there will probably be as many moviegoers who are as embarrassed over how it was handled as there were Iron Man 3 fans upset over how The Mandarin turned out. All I will say is “‘O-O-H Child’ by The Five Stairsteps,” and that there is a time for jokes and a time to be serious. My personal opinion — again, while I enjoyed the film — is that a very large ball was dropped during the creative process on that one.

If you get a chance, you should definitely check out Guardians of the Galaxy while it’s in theaters. Just don’t give the DC fans in your life too hard of time over the movie’s success.

Related: Marvel announces ‘I am Groot’ for Phase 3; DC scrambles for response