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An average weekend at the movies with 'Passengers', 'Assasin's Creed', and 'Jackie'

12/21/16 (Fox Searchlight Pictures/MGN Online)

PASSENGERS (2016)

3 Stars (out of 5)

Rated PG-13 -- 116 Minutes

As I walked out of the theater after seeing PASSENGERS, I really wanted to scream at all of the 12 producers, the one director, cast, and the crew of this sci-fi fantasy romance thriller with its A-list co-stars. I would have liked to say to them:

"You spent all of this time, effort, energy, and lots of money creating PASSENGERS. It has everything for 100 minutes including moments of great humor, good acting, great special effects, even a strong musical score. Then for 16 minutes, the story falls apart with a copout ending. Didn't anyone ever tell you that it is the screenplay that holds a movie together?"

Apparently not.

PASSENGERS had the potential to be a great movie.

It is not.

98% of PASSENGERS takes place in an interstellar hibernation starship, The Avalon, cruising at warp speed between Earth and a nearby star system. It takes 120 years to get there. Why someone would want to make this life altering move to Homestead 2 is clearly explained. When we first enter the ship, we find more than 5,000 souls in a deep sleep in their individual pods. Wouldn't you agree that this is an intriguing story with a lot of potential?

No need to issue a spoiler alert. You have probably already seen the trailers either on TV or the Internet. Chris Pratt, as handsome as ever, wakes up early (90 years early). A year later, Jennifer Lawrence, as beautiful as ever, also wakes up. Then the love story begins.

Oh, the potential. All of us can look back on more than a century of science fiction movies set in space, beginning back in 1902 with Georges Melies' A TRIP TO THE MOON. From 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY to THE MARTIAN, and from STAR TREK to STAR WARS -- it has been one heck of a wonderful ride.

Despite the above three paragraphs, this is not as negative a review as you might think. Despite the sell-out last 16 minutes, there are four extraordinary performances and some exceptional production achievements that are worth noting. Joining Lawrence and Pratt is Michael Sheen and Laurence Fishburne. Sheen is wonderful and so is Fishburne.

This is the "film of the year" to appreciate the technical genius of Guy Hendrix Dyas, the production designer. If you liked his work in MATRIX RELOADED, INCEPTION and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL -- you will be impressed and amazed at his vision for PASSENGERS.

Forget the CGI. We are talking about building section sets. Dyas has created a ship with kinetic movement to create artificial gravity (again, a nod to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.) When the ship makes its first pass across the screen, you will hold your breath looking at this large frame holding three outer hulls and a central hull containing the propulsion unit. Be amazed at the hibernation pods, the grand concourse, the restaurants, shopping mall, gym, swimming pool, the New York bar -- the list goes on and on. All interiors were built, actually physically constructed.

You may also chew on the film long after the voyage is over. Much is left for interpretation and is ripe for discussion. NOTE: The name of Jennifer Lawrence's character is Aurora. According to Roman mythology, she is "the Goddess of the Dawn". Ignore all of the science and technology. What is our future as human beings?

PASSENGERS is directed by Mortem Tyldum. Music is by Thomas Newman. Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto and Editing by Maryann Brandon.

ASSASSINS CREED (2016)

2 Stars (out of 5)

Rated: PG-13 - 115 Minutes

As a kid who went to the movies every Saturday and Sunday afternoon (probably because my father owned the theater -- in fact, he owned 3), I just liked to disappear for a couple of hours from what was going on in my world at the time. I also loved to just sit back with a box of buttered popcorn in my lap and a Slo-Poke sucker in my hand. It didn't make any difference what was up on the screen. As a kid, I think I saw every movie that ever played at the Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis.

I write this disclosure because I will probably be the only film critic in Las Vegas -- let alone the United States, that is not going to call ASSASSIN'S CREED the mess that it is. Everybody knows that most film projects based on a video game truly suck. Folks, the early reviews from The New York Times, Variety, and The Guardian are absolutely dreadful. Here's my take:

I sort of liked ASSASSIN'S CREED. It was a Saturday or Sunday matinee kind of movie. An adequate escape from what is going on in today's world for almost two hours. That's it, an escape movie. There was action, lots of action. There were special effects. There was music. You will be entertained. You even get to watch two Oscar winners (Jeremy Irons and Marion Cotillard), and a shirtless Michael Fassbender. That alone is worth two stars.

JACKIE (2016)

3 Stars (out of 5)

Rated: R - 100 Minutes

In 2010, Israeli-born American actress Natalie Portman won the Oscar for Best Actress of the Year in the psychological thriller BLACK SWAN. She played Nina, an innocent and fragile committed ballet dancer. In his review, film critic Roger Ebert wrote, "It centers on a performance by Natalie Portman that is nothing short of heroic, and mirrors the conflict of good and evil in Tchaikovsky's ballet "Swan Lake." It is one thing to lose yourself in your art. Portman's ballerina loses her mind."

In 2016, Natalie Portman will be nominated and seems to be destined to win a second Oscar for Best Actress of the Year in the drama JACKIE. She not only plays the role of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, she becomes Jackie. The movie revolves around an interview that is held shortly after November 22, 1963, Variety film critic Guy Lodge called her performance "complex and meticulously shaded" and wrote, "Portman's intricate performance is so layered in its sense of internal motivation and manipulation that the actress's fine technical approximation of Kennedy's froggy tone and phrasing seems the least of its achievements. It may just trump her Oscar-winning turn in "Black Swan" as the most high-wire feat she's ever pulled off."

Unfortunately, I don't have the same admiration for the picture itself. But there are plenty of average movies in the past where Academy voters ignore the film but honor the performance. JACKIE is one of them. And it will come as no surprise, the negativity is due to a weak and inconsistent screenplay. At times, it seems that this is two different movies.

I also think that as someone who was old enough to remember the Kennedy Assassination, it remains very difficult, hard and always challenging, to relive those horrible and tragic moments in time. America seemed to change forever after that day in Dallas.

PREVIEW OF COMING ATTRACTIONS

Next Thursday, December 22, 2016, Bob Fisher will review two new films opening in Las Vegas. LION (5 Stars out of 5), which is nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture of the Year.

FENCES (5 Stars out of 5), starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.



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