Interstellar: Nolan goes intergalactic

INTERSTELLAR

We’ve entered a time in which certain filmmakers – directors and writers to be precise – are being afforded a fairly free license to make the films that they want to make. Films on an epic scale, but with added smarts. The thinking person’s blockbuster.

With Interstellar director Christopher Nolan has firmly left the Batman franchise behind and struck out into bold new territory. You could argue he’s been doing this sort of thing his whole career: Memento, The Prestige, Inception – they all deal, to a certain extent, with time, memory and personal identity. And each film in his filmography is a big step up from the last.

Interstellar begins on an earth ravaged by dust storms, akin to America during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The earth has had it and it’s up to former pilot-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to fly a spaceship through a black hole in search of a better world.

interstellar

So far so epic. The setup has been done before, that’s for sure. But we’ve never seen Nolan tackle it. He starts by setting up the characters on earth, taking his time with them.

We see Cooper’s relationship with his children, particularly his daughter (expertly played by Mackenzie Foy) who seems wise beyond her years. Their relationship is key throughout, so pay attention early on. We also meet old NASA scientist (Michael Caine) and his daughter (Anne Hathaway), also at NASA. Both attempting to solve Earth’s agriculture and environmental problems as best they can.

Once we head into space Nolan asks us to get our thinking caps on, for this story demands you give it your full attention in terms of space, quantum physics, the relativity of time and the nature of gravity.

int2

That’s not to say it doesn’t pack emotional punch. With the voyages through space and time families and divided, perhaps to never see each other again, and their limits are tested. This affords the likes of McConaughey some big emotional moments (which we know he can do) and keeps us in the story. Hathaway, too, gets her time to shine.

That said, space film clichés remain. With space you’re always going to have someone who’s been left on their own for years and, with no one to talk to, gone mad/insane/to the dark side. You’ll have the desperate quest to get back to earth. You’ll have a few people selflessly sacrifice themselves for the mission.

But, to rein in my cynical side for a moment, it’s a decent film. Tense, thrilling, human, heartfelt. It makes you think and it tests you. There’s a strong emotional pull throughout, although it does have a somewhat melancholy tone, but perhaps that’s in the nature of the message that Nolan is trying to deliver.

int1

This may seem patently obvious to say, but if you go into the cinema expecting to see Inception – or even Batman – in space, then you’ll be disappointed. However, as a cinematic experience it’s got action and thrill moments (a la Apollo 13 and Gravity), yet it also shares some ground with films like Moon, Sunshine and maybe Event Horizon – although the latter might be pushing it.

There’s a section in the final third where you think maybe Nolan has handed over the director’s chair to Darren Aranofsky, as it gets really quantum and asks the audience to take a bit of a leap of faith (or imagination). This could be considered a brave move, but Nolan is a heavyweight director these days, and more often than not, what he does works.

This could be one of those films in which you have a wholly different experience on a second viewing. Time will tell how it stands up in Nolan’s filmography. But, as far as space films go, it’s an intelligent one that asks a lot of the audience, but does so in a respectful way.

Top 10 thinking man’s actresses

Hello my film-loving friends. Today I wish to share with you my list of a thinking man’s top actresses. Ladies that have a certain allure in terms of intelligence, physical beauty, acting prowess and – to avoid using an overused French phrase – an indefinable something.

With each actress I’ve also mentioned the films that first made me fall in love with them. Now you may disagree and say some of these ladies are just a pretty face and nothing else – that’s fine. Hopefully I can state my case and change your mind.

  1. Natalie Portman – Garden State, Closer, V for Vendetta
    It’s no secret I hold this actress in high regard and I’ve previously discussed her top performances in another posting. So I’ll just say she makes my top spot by being a perfect blend of intelligence, beauty and vulnerability – a winning combination.
  2. Eva Green – The Dreamers, Casino Royale, Dark Shadows
    Hypnotic, alluring, sensual – she got her debut in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The DreamersThe Director described her as ‘So beautiful, it’s indecent‘. It’s not the world’s best film in terms of plot, but if you want to truly appreciate the appeal of this actress I highly recommend it.
  3. Anne HathawayLove and Other Drugs
    In this film I’ve mentioned she plays a character who has early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Some of her scenes – particularly in the third act – are heartbreaking and put her firmly in third place. Even without Catwoman in The Dark Knight she’d still be here, she’s that good in this film. If you’ve not seen it here’s a nice little clip.
  4. Amanda SeyfriedChloe, Alpha Dog, Dear John, Jennifer’s Body
    An actress with the biggest, most beautiful eyes in Hollywood. You have to love the internet, a quick search turned up a site dedicated to her eyes! That aside, she’s been in an interesting and varied bunch of films that slowly but surely convinced me of her inclusion. Out of them all I recommend you see Chloe.
  5. amber heardAmber Heard – The Rum Diary
    She’s the kind of actress that exudes an old-school Hollywood charm and mystique. But who am I to say these things you ask? Well if you don’t believe me listen to Johnny Depp – he compared her to Veronica Lake and other old Hollywood beauties, she clearly had quite an impact.
  6. Jennifer LawrenceWinter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook
    I heard a story once that Ms Lawrence was walking down the corridor in a Hollywood studio when a bearded guy in a cap stopped her saying ‘Are you the Jennifer Lawrence?’ Turns out this was Steven Spielberg. He’d seen Winter’s Bone and been captivated by her performance, as many of us were seeing her for the first time.
  7. beth albatrossJessica Brown Findlay – Albatross,
    Black Mirror, Misfits, Labyrinth

    If you only know Miss Findlay from Downton Abbey then you’ve missed a trick. I loved her in Albatross, where she plays a bit of a sexy troublemaker, seducing her best friend’s dad. She gives the character warmth, depth and vulnerability – with a sharp, sassy nature to boot.
  8. Marion CotillardPublic Enemies, Inception, Dark Knight Rises
    She won an Oscar for playing Edith Piaf  in La Vie En Rose and I’m excited to see her forthcoming film Rust and Bone, where she plays a killer whale trainer. She was fantastic in Inception – intense, vulnerable and mesmerising. Watch the ‘waiting for a train’ scene.
  9. Mila KunisForgetting Sarah Marshall, Friends with Benefits, Ted
    I struggle with Kunis. She’s still Meg from Family Guy – a problem when she’s clearly stunning and likes to play quite fiesty, yet down-to-earth characters. The perfect girl-next-door, if you happen to live in Hollywood. There’s a rumour she might play Anastasia Steele in the forthcoming Fifty Shades film, an enticing prospect.
  10. Felicity JonesCemetery Junction, Albatross, Like Crazy
    Ah Ms Jones, great up-and-coming actress. She comes across as really sweet and genuine. Like Crazy cleaned up at the Sundance film festival in 2011 with her performance getting compared to Carey Mulligan’s in An Education. Emotional and heartfelt, watch the trailer.

So there’s my list. As ever I was ruthless with the cut – there’s probably a lot more that could have made my top 10 but there you go. I hope you enjoy this selection, until next time.

Bane vs Catwoman – scene stealers!

Ok, for my very first blog I thought I’d offer my take on the latest Batman film. For the purposes of this blog I’ll assume that you, the reader, has a fair idea what the film is about and the films that have gone before it. I am going to assume a certain level of knowledge on your part in terms of film history, the Batman franchise and so on. Got that? Good.

Now we’re on the same page, lets chat Bat! From the title of this post, you’ll have noticed I want to focus my comments on the new characters. Or at least, in the case of Catwoman, the new actress playing the part. For Bane, he’s new to the Nolan Bat universe, so we’ll deal with him second.

Firstly, Ms Hathaway, did she steal the show? I would say yes and no. Perhaps a cop out of an answer but there it is. I think she was a great take on the character. I am a fan of her anyway so it wasn’t a hard sell for me. She brought across the vulnerability that she showed in Love and Other Drugs (which is well worth a watch if you’ve not seen it – aptly described by some as a rom-com guys would want to watch). She also had that sexy, confident quality demonstrated in the latter half of Devil Wears Prada.

In many ways I would have liked to have seen more of her sparking off of Bale’s Batman, especially if he was channeling his inner Patrick Bateman, something he did in Begins when he kicked guests out of his party. I suppose though, it would not have been appropriate in this film, where Bruce Wayne was more the wounded soul. I remember reading that Nolan was unsure how Catwoman would fit into his version of Batman. I can understand that. I think they managed this issue well however, and I say this as a fan of Hathaway, did they really need her character in the film? Did she really add to the story or was she just another character to entice the audience in to see the film? Cynical perhaps, but just something I thought I should raise.

So, on to Bane. Hardy was awesome, inasmuch as you can be when you’re acting with some sort of Predator-esque mask on. If you want a crash course on intense Hardy, go watch Bronson. I really hope he gets to work with Nicholas Winding Refn again. Considering his love affair with the 80s, particularly synth music during key scenes, it would be great to see them team up again. Perhaps even with Gosling on board, now that would be special. Anyway, I digress.

Bane, in some ways, was a funny character. His opening scene in the plane, was outstanding. It was reminiscent of Dark Knight’s opening bank robbery scene, introducing the new villain, setting the standard, how ruthless he is etc. What I could not get to grips with was his voice. I suppose the cultured thespian lends intelligence and gravitas, to what otherwise could have seemed brute-ish. Thinking about it though, it was not a million miles off Brian Blessed, which would have thrown the film’s tone out entirely! I wonder how much input Nolan had in terms of voices of the Joker and Bane, or was the voice driven by the actor? I remember reading that Heath Ledger spent a fair while perfecting his Joker voice, which was spot on. I can see what they were trying to do with Bane’s voice, but I wonder, was it menacing enough?

tom hardy

In terms of Bane’s character, as the plot develops, you begin to feel sympathy for him and his plight. Or at least I did. It was good that Nolan added layers to Bane in the final act of the film, he could have otherwise seemed a touch one-dimensional. That said, even if he was shown to be just as much as blunt instrument as an intelligent bad guy, his two, major fight scenes with Batman were outstanding and perfectly pitched. Did he steal the film? I would say he stole a lot of scenes he was in, and rightly so. Even a scene where Batman and Catwoman realise they are outnumbered and have to flee via The Bat (Batman’s flying machine), Bane’s entrance to that scene is mesmerising. He doesn’t do much other than saunter towards them, almost bemused. Hats off to Tom Hardy for infusing him with such as threatening presence.

Anyway, to round off my first post as it’s getting late, I think both Bane and Catwoman stole most of the scenes they were in, leaving poor old Batman to scrap for the rest, despite the focus of the story being on him. That said, I think they were both strong characters and complemented Batman’s journey well. I want to discuss other characters that also stole the film in their own way, but I’ll leave that for another post.

So, there’s my first post! I hope it made sense and you found it informative, perhaps even witty and thought-provoking? To be fair, that’s going too far. I just hope you enjoyed it and there will be more to come.

All the best

Mikey P