Passengers (2016)

Two wine glasses making a toast
In Passengers, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) has an impossible problem. He’s on a 120-year trip to colonize the planet Homestead II. He’s supposed to be in suspended animation for the trip but wakes up 90 years too early. Not good. He can’t be suspended again. Even less good.

He searches for help but finds none. He spends over a year solo on the Avalon. He tries to keep himself occupied, but eventually reaches his limit. He falls in love with a suspended woman and wakes her up, condemning her to never start the life she had planned.

After traveling for 30 years, the Avalon is moving at half the speed of light. It has a shield in front of it, but it isn’t impenetrable. Unbeknownst to Preston, the ship was critically damaged before he wakes up. It’s up to Preston and his victim, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), to fix it.

The Avalon is really beautiful. Graceful, delicate and vast. It is a good backdrop to this lonely love story.

Mr. Nobody (2009)

Alarm clock
In the year 2092, we meet Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto). He is the last mortal left after humans have been engineered to be immortal. He is dying and the doctors have put him in a reality show to learn his story. Although they are demanding a source of entertainment, he playfully compromises their understanding of history.

As a child, Nemo (Thomas Byrne) smiles at three girls sitting on a bench waiting for school. He is averse to making decisions and these girls fill three different stories as Nemo and the three of them mature. He develops parallel biographies as he gets married to each of them. Visually, they leave the church through different doors. Nemo’s lives go awry and we get lost within his tangled path through time.

In one life, he is passionately in love with a woman he cannot find. In another, he has a devoted wife that he doesn’t care about. In the third life, he has a wife who is desperately depressed and never available to receive his love. These lives start to fracture and crack when Nemo (Toby Regbo) is a teenager.

Nemo’s world is beautiful as he narrates the different lives. Mr. Nobody is happy to show the viewer a kaleidoscope of love and tragedy. The future interviewer of Nemo tries hypnosis to bring back Nemo’s real story, but each time the hypnotist says “remember,” the kaleidoscope shifts and the story changes. The cinematography uses colors to anchor the story to different paths through time.

For the proponents of linear time, Mr. Nobody is infuriating. Time loops and swerves as if it were a leaf in the breeze. The story unfolds as a labyrinth with stories inside of stories.

Perhaps there is no truth and the 118 year old man is playing the audience. Perhaps he revealed nothing important. He is the topic of a reality show that morbidly votes that he should be allowed to die. Mr. Nobody’s story leaves the observer puzzled and he ends up laughing at us all.

Abominable (2019)

A traffic light showing go
Last week I went with my parents to watch Abominable. It’s an animated film about a Yeti that is trying to get home to Mount Everest from a city in China. It’s a nice story and fun to watch.

I had one scene that sticks with me. After escaping the villains in an extraordinary way, Yi (Chloe Bennet) and Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) wander into a bamboo forest. They have a deep conversation about grief and superficiality. It helps strengthen their relationships by sharing an intimate moment.

The imagery of that scene stood out to me. The calming shadows of the bamboo and the clean landscape around Yi and Jin was hopeful. It produced a classic image that centers the film in a reality beyond the animated excitement that occurs before and after.

I really enjoyed the film. It was a simple story but not simplistic. The characters were fun as they went on a cool adventure. Yi has postcards from her father who had died shortly before the story began. The postcards have a special meaning through the story. We don’t learn much about the father, but Yi loves him and was inspired by her father’s violin lullabies.

The traffic light is green for Go!

Review: The Goldfinch (2019)

A reel of movie film
The Goldfinch is a film inspired by the Pulitzer Prize winning novel with the same title by Donna Tartt. The title refers to a painting by Carel Fabritius, a Dutch painter from the 17th century. The painting has an unusual history because it is one of the few paintings by that artist that survived an explosion in the Dutch city of Delft. Fabritius, who was a talented student of Rembrandt, was killed by that blast.

Flash forward to modern times and the painting is witness to another explosion and more deaths. Theo Decker’s mother is killed during a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City after admiring The Goldfinch. Theo is shell-shocked by the loss and steals the painting in the chaotic aftermath of the explosion.

Oakes Fegley plays the young Theo and the adult is played by Ansel Elgort. The actors showed clearly how Theo carried the pain of his mother’s death. Theo blames himself for her loss. Theo is quiet and introverted with thoughts that are full of regret. He comments that he is wearing a disguise that also might disguises himself from himself. As an adult, Theo’s disguise shows him impeccably dressed and always stoic and hard to read.

In Theo’s journey, he meets Boris who is a wild and anti-social boy that was a neighbor of Theo’s father. Boris is played by Finn Wolfhard as a youth and Aneurin Barnard as an adult. Theo’s loneliness and regret force him to find ways to escape. Boris’s wild irreverence and worldly-wise nature help him find that release. Alcohol plays a key role in the life of the adults around Theo’s life and Boris introduces him to pain killers and other drugs.

The film has a pattern of switching from young Theo to older Theo and back. The transitions are never confusing and help give the film some artistic merit. Theo reports that he is sad for being the cause of so much loss. He feels guilty and ashamed for the things he did. After failing to right those wrongs, he attempts suicide.

The tragedy of Theo’s life begins with his mother’s death in the explosion. While the stolen painting is a talisman against his loss, he doesn’t realize the irony of the Goldfinch’s prior experience with catastrophe. He suffers because he doesn’t ask for help to resolve his dilemma. However, he has had to be self-reliant because all of his important relationships blow up. Boris rejoins Theo as an adult and helps repatriate the painting to the world so that Theo has the possibility of being freed of its power.

Review: Ad Astra (2019)

A Rocketship
Ad Astra, (To the Stars), is a space epic that often features Brad Pitt’s face. Unfortunately, he isn’t asked to smile much.

Two ongoing motifs are remarks about the exceptionally low heart rate of Pitt’s character and agency-required monologue psychological evaluations. Roy McBride’s remarks are used as a cue to the audience into his mental state. After all, there is little dialog to allow his character to be built up more naturally. No other character is important enough for that.

Central to the story is a classified “Lima” project. Despite the secrecy surrounding it, many people that McBride meets have more information for him. The project was led by Roy McBride’s missing father, the hero H. Clifford McBride, played by Tommy Lee Jones. This connection provides an evolving emotional impetus for the story.

Ad Astra has a dystopian projection of how terrestrial nations deal with the resources of space. On the moon, each nation has staked out a claim that leaves a dangerous no-mans-land between their territories. Space travel has become a commercial venture, but SpaceCom seems to consider it secondary to their secret intrigues.

Since it’s a Hollywood movie, I didn’t expect the science to be very hard or precise, so I was willing to suspend disbelief for a lot. Yet, one horribly weak plot point struck me. Landing on the near side of the moon and driving to a base on the far side is hard to defend. However, the situation gave some action to a story that is heavy on cerebral pursuits. (See the psychological evaluations.)

The story is straightforward to describe. It’s hard to say much about the story without dropping spoilers. With a few nodes of action with slower stretches between them, the story would need expansion to make a novel.

I’m glad I saw the film on IMAX so that I could feast my eyes on the beautiful set development. I really appreciated the sonic environment that the movie possesses as well.

Review: Blinded by the Light (2019)

A reel of movie film
In Blinded by the Light, the first advice of dad for his son’s entry to a new school is “Stay away from the girls.” Javed, played by Viveik Karla, is a teenager in Luton, Great Britain whose parents emigrated from Pakistan. He longs to escape the nowhere town and hopes college will lead to a career as a writer. He has been an avid writer with years of journals lined up in his room. School can become his road to escape.

Javed’s longtime friend, Matt, played by Dean-Charles Chapman, is a musician whom Javed helps by writing lyrics. Matt’s frustrated with the political stock of Javed’s songs: they’re not performable. He still holds out hope for Javed’s lyrics getting better.

Javed’s father, played by Kulvinder Ghir, is an immigrant from Pakistan. He is the center of the household and manages the household’s money. The traditional role of the father is a struggle for Javed’s father when circumstances change. Unlike in Fiddler on the Roof, the family is not torn apart by events beyond their control. However, events beyond their control such as the recession under Margaret Thatcher still make them stretch and evolve.

Javed meets Roops at school. Roops, played by Aaron Phagura, gives Javed some Bruce Springsteen cassettes. The songs revolutionize Javed’s attitude and fill him with power. He feels that the music speaks directly to him. Springsteen puts words to his feelings and cinematically, the words are visually swirling around Javed as he listens.

Central to the progression of Javed as a writer is his teacher Ms. Clay, played by Hayley Atwell. She scolds him for not sharing with the world the raw emotion in his writing when he discards his poems. He follows her inspiration and writes in the school paper and then a local newspaper. Javed’s cultural background and knowledge of Urdu allow him to write a powerful story about the community’s mosque.

While the movie isn’t exactly a musical, music has a central place to the story. The movie is full of the angst and joy of youth. Javed and Roops go to New Jersey after he wins a writing contest. During the trip, the friends make a pilgrimage to visit Bruce Springsteen’s hometown sites.

One of the struggles that Javed’s family faces is the hostility of some people in their community toward Pakistani immigrants. Javed’s family faces those indignities with grace and do not become bitter when life becomes more difficult.

Blinded by the Light is an melange of conflicting cultures. The Pakistani community, the people hostile to them, students at the high school, and Javed’s friends all mix together into a scene of hope that is inspired by Bruce.

Impression: Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Thought bubble
The local AMC theater has been playing old movies for a few weekend showings. They have a couple different classics each week. That’s how I saw the original How to Train Your Dragon.

This afternoon I went to see the 1991 Disney Beauty and the Beast. They had it on twice today and the 2PM showing fit my schedule. I was the only one in the theater.

I don’t understand the economics of a movie theater. Much of their cash flow comes from concessions. They probably get money for the trailers that the show. They also have revenue from advertisers. Tickets haven’t been a substantial source of income for the movies I go to. Usually there are four or fewer in the audience. Is the fee for advertising prorated for the size of the audience?

In first run movies, the tickets are a big deal. Perhaps they just need to keep the doors open. It lets them make a net profit with the help of big movies while keeping the venue relevant by having a big selection that only few people watch. I usually go in the afternoon. That might give me a distorted perspective on how many are in an evening audience.

Perhaps the older movies are playing on behalf of Disney. It could be market research for their streaming service? Is there a corporate connection between AMC and Disney?

So, Beauty and the Beast was an ok movie. There were several songs. None of them stuck with me after the show. All of the characters were really rough caricatures and I couldn’t really identify with any of them. Of course, here’s not a lot of character development you can do in 84 minutes. I didn’t notice “adult” content that was meant to go over the heads of kids but be meaningful to adults (unless it went over my head too).

With 1991 being the release year, they could use technology to do some of the animation. I don’t think they did much. In the intro, you could see layers move as the perspective shifted on the trees; a good hint that it is cel animation. The characters were drawn primarily with cel techniques. A group of four or five animators were responsible for each character.

There was one place where you could see that they had help from computers. During the dance scene with Belle and the Beast, the stars, windows and chandelier were too complex to do as traditional cel animation. It was most obvious with the changing perspective as the camera went past the chandelier. I think the computer give the animators a starting point.

I noticed that this had a similar structure to the Aladdin that starred Robin Williams. The villain has a sidekick who is loud and obnoxious and is only played for comic relief. The sidekicks are throw away (and annoying) characters. There’s probably other tropesthat both films use.

It was a nice film for the AMCs A-List membership so that my only expense was the travel.