Movie Reviews: Passengers and La La Land


Cary, NC – Passengers stars Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy) and Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games, X-Men: First Class) as two passengers on an intergalactic journey that get woken up from hypersleep 90 years early. Director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) crafts a gorgeous looking science fiction film, but even with beautiful scenery and two charismatic leads, Passengers ever quite lives up to its unique premise.

Pratt And Lawrence Are Great

Chris Pratt is quickly becoming one of the biggest stars on the planet, and for good reason. He’s got charisma for days and a sense of humor that never fails to make me laugh until I can’t breathe. He’s slowly but surely been branching out into slightly more dramatic fare in between blockbusters with small roles in films such as Her and Zero Dark Thirty. It’s safe to say that this is his first full-on dramatic performance and he doesn’t disappoint!

It doesn’t hurt that his chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence is quite impressive. Lawrence has proved herself time and time again at this point, but it’s clear she’s not interested in phoning anything in. The movie really hinges on these two as it’s pretty much just them throughout the runtime. Thankfully, they seem to like each other, which helps keep the movie afloat.

Beautiful Visuals, But Story Lacking

Director Tyldum has a wonderful eye and there are multiple shots that are simply beautiful to look at. There’s even an intense set piece involving a pool and lack of gravity that is focused and terrifying. However, aside from its stars and gorgeous photography, Passengers really doesn’t have much going on. The film’s central conflict, which has been kept out of the trailers and I won’t spoil here, is never really explored in any meaningful way and resolved way too easily.

Most of the movie is Pratt and Lawrence just hanging out, which as I mentioned, is very watchable. But there are ideas just waiting to be played with throughout that never get touched. Ideas of mortality and morality are all over Passengers, but Tyldum does nothing with them, which is a real shame because science fiction is an ideal platform to explore things like that.

Not Worth The Trip

In the end, Passengers is saved by its two lead actors and impressive visuals. The rest of the film disappoints as sci-fi, but remains watchable throughout. Overall, I can’t quite recommend a trip to the theater for this one.

La La Land

Cary, NC – Musicals used to dominate Hollywood and while La La Land doesn’t try to revive the genre, it is a moving and exciting homage that will leave audiences stunned.

A Modern Classic

La La Land takes no effort to hide its influences. There are multiple references to Golden Age actors, locations are borrowed from the big movies of the 1950s and the choreography is an obvious interpretation of charming numbers from the past. But La La Land could not exist in the time of those musicals and not just because of special effects involved. A big part of La La Land is about how these kinds of movies are dying, as is dance and jazz and classic film in general. And this movie acts as one last hurrah to get audiences to maybe care again.

And in terms of music and dancing, La La Land could stand toe to toe with any musical from any era. There are giant ensemble dances that dazzle the eye with movement and color, there are quirky little numbers between our two leads and sweeping, special effects heavy waltzes through time and space. The music, almost all composed by Justin Hurwitz, is beautiful and uses a leitmotif to echo the film’s themes throughout.

All of this is made possible thanks to director Damien Chazelle. He wowed people with his first film Whiplash and as good as the acting was in that, it was the editing that blew a lot of fans away. Editing essentially means the timing and rhythm of the movie, which is crucial in a musical, and in La La Land the film moves with the music in a way that is simply perfect.

Ideal Casting

Like the movies of old, a big selling point for La La Land is its two leads. Ryan Gosling (Drive, The Nice Guys) is the most liked leading man working today, aside from maybe Channing Tatum, and he lights up the screen with everything from dancing to piano-playing to singing to his natural charm. In his role as Sebastian, a wannabe jazz club owner, he has a cool swagger but is also a goof who has his bravado picked apart constantly and Gosling can play just the right amount of humility and humor.

Gosling is joined by Emma Stone (BirdmanSuperbad) as Mia, a young woman who came to Hollywood to become an actress and is struggling to get a role. She fits the role perfectly, straddling the line between love for acting and insecurity about her own ability. Mia also has the intensity and shrewdness needed to give Gosling’s Sebastian a dressing down and the two actors work in tandem here.

There are not many other roles of note, although singer John Legend plays a significant role in the film, but that’s the way of old Hollywood. If you have gotten this far in the review and you are not a fan of musicals, I cannot urge enough how much you will still enjoy this. La La Land is a surge of energy, encompassing the best of everything a film can offer.

Go See It

La La Land is a top candidate for an Oscar. With great acting and chemistry, diverse and fun dance routines and music that stays with you, it’s about as close to a perfect movie as one can get.

Jordan Hunt reviews movies for CaryCitizen. Read more Movie Reviews. Photos from Facebook (Passengers/La La Land).

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