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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Take your ass back to the trailer park – part 3

Noah-director-Aronofsky-tweets-up-a-storm-4J21KFSF-x-largeIt’s January and the skies and cold and grey.’ Good line for a song? Perhaps if we turn it around. ‘It’s January and the skies are cold and grey, but it’s warm inside the cinema and therefore we shall stay… and watch many films.’

Ok the rhyme needs work but you get the idea. Escapism is the word of the day – and with many exciting films in front of us, I thought another ‘trailer park’ rundown is in order. Some of these are out soon, some we’ll have to wait. Don’t blame me, go read a book or something.

The Invisible Woman (February 2014)
Who likes a period drama and a love story? Here we have the tale of Charles Dickens (the legendary Ralph Fiennes) and his secret mistress (the gorgeous Felicity Jones). I’m not a huge fan of this genre, but I like the two leads and we may as well start the year on a classy note.


Noah
(March 2014)
What’s this? Darren Aranofsky turning his hand to the tale of a man with a wooden arc and a bunch of animals that go in two by two? Hurrah! Ray Winstone is in it? Oh god. Oh Noah. Before you panic just watch the trailer. It looks epic and has promise.


Transcendence
(April 2014)
Moving out of Christopher Nolan’s shadow his former cinematographer, Wally Pfister, takes the helm of this sci-fi thriller. Featuring two great leads, Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall, this screenplay made the famous Hollywood ‘blacklist’ in 2012, and looks quite the spectacle.


The Other Woman
(April 2014)
Before it all gets too serious, how about a comedy? Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann in a sort of buddy girl anti rom-com, which actually looks quite funny. Oh… and someone has finally cast Kate Upton in a film. If that doesn’t cheer you up this month there’s no hope.


Sabotage
(April 2014)
Yeah Arnie! And he’s got a cigar and a gun! You can tell I’m getting excited now right? This won’t just be a big dumb blockbuster though. It’s directed by David Ayer (the man behind Training Day and End of Watch) so should be smart to boot.


Jupiter Ascending
(July 2014)
Another epic beast here that puts me in mind of Cloud Atlas… and then I read the Wachowski siblings were behind it. They directed Cloud Atlas and the Matrix films, keep up. Seems they’ve decided to finally let their imaginations off the leash, and that’s really no bad thing.


Interstellar
(November 2014)
It’s great to see, particularly after Batman, Christopher Nolan going the other way, at least with his trailer, keeping it simple. This film sees a bunch of space travellers head through a wormhole. Plot details are shady, but it involves time travel and dimensions… maybe.

Man of Steel: he strong, fights Zod, wins!

henry-cavill-man-of-steelDon’t think my title is giving anything away is it? We all know Superman is ultimately going to win. Hardly much of a franchise reboot if he dies at the end. In this instance, my title is referring to the latter third of the film, where it all goes a bit Hulk a la Avengers, smashing up city skyscrapers – but more on that later.

To backtrack a sec, Man of Steel is – what I’m classing as – a reboot of a much-loved character. Perhaps to shake the memory of the utterly bland 2006 entry, Superman Returns. Anyone remember that one? Brandon Routh donned the cape (average depiction of the character) and faced off against Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor (doing the best he could in the circumstances). Kate Bosworth, whilst very pretty, I could take or leave as Lois Lane. Less said about James Marsden’s drippy character the better.

superman-returns-wallpapers_16583_1024x768So why did the last one fail?

Bryan Singer was a strong and safe pair of hands. He’d got The Usual Suspects and X-Men and X2 on his CV. The cast seemed solid enough, the effects were passable. Maybe that was the problem? Each component part of the previous instalment failed to deliver the wow-factor. Add them all up and you end up with a below-par showing.

Mostly it harks back to script. Without a good script you’re finished before you even start. Tone is quite important too. I mean, look at Brandon Routh’s Superman in his sky blue lycra and red pants, it looks so dated.

Fast-forward to 2013

And the dream team of Zack Snyder (directing), Christopher Nolan (producing) and David Goyer (writing); between them they should deliver a rock-solid script right? After all, these guys – in their careers to date – have given us 300 and Watchmen (Snyder); Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises (Nolan and Goyer).

zodHappily – and somewhat expectantly – they do deliver, this outing worlds away from Singer’s efforts. Literally, worlds away – the opening sequence begins on Krypton.

Epic in scope and ethereal in places (as you’d expect and hope when depicting an alien species) the sequence is an exhilarating start to the film, although at times seeming to borrow from Avatar and the 2009 Star Trek (the destruction of Vulcan bears striking resemblance to the tragic and fiery demise of Krypton).

The reason for the Krypton opening sequence and much of the film’s first half – and why I think this is a reboot – is Goyer and Nolan are playing to their strengths (as they did with Batman) and doing an origin story. Perhaps fair, given the franchise had somewhat lost its way – or perhaps never found it since the original in 1978?

Superman-The-Man-of-Steel-Movie-bearded-Clark-Kent-by-actor-Henry-Cavill

Going Nolan-esque

Either way, what we’ve got here is a much darker, more sombre tone. Ultimately, it’s gone all Nolan-esque, with a buffed and bearded Clark roaming the globe trying to find his place in the world, helping strangers along the way.

Remind you of a certain Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins? This style and tone continues throughout. Take Michael Shannon’s General Zod and his chilling message to the people of Earth – reminiscent of the Joker’s video message to the people of Gotham in The Dark Knight anyone?

Despite these obvious parallels I am of course, nitpicking. This film is massively epic, indeed, it’s epically massive. The final third goes very Matrix Revolution/Avengers with Kal-El/Clark and Zod going at each other in what can only be described as an unparalleled destruction of every skyscraper in Metropolis.

psmoviescostnerSomething that no doubt most of the audience would have been waiting for yet, for all its action set-pieces, the film tended to hit home more effectively in the quieter, more poignant moments. Scenes with Clark’s foster parents (wonderfully played by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) were particularly touching at times.

So all in all, Snyder did a fine job, perhaps his best work to date. Yet Nolan and Goyer’s influence was clear to see and, whilst their contributions undoubtedly helped reboot the franchise, they may have taken it too dark in tone. That said, watch out for a scene in the closing moments that suggest a sequel could be lighter and more playful.

Oh…and Henry Cavill is easily the best Superman to date. Live long and prosper. Sorry, wrong rebooted franchise! As you were.

Best twenty films of 2012

It’s been an epic year for films across a variety of genres. This list reflects my taste in films so I hope you enjoy. Sorry Twilight, you didn’t make the cut!

  • Skyfall
    skyfall-craigStrangely there are people who don’t like this film and say it’s not classic Bond. I think it’s the closest to Fleming’s Bond since Connery. To celebrate 50 years of Bond, the dream team of Mendes, Craig, Bardem and Dench pulled out the stops to make this film truly special.
  • Argo
    Can’t believe people still give Affleck a hard time for his early career. How many decent films does he need to direct before people will admit he’s a real talent? First Gone Baby Gone and The Town and now this. A proper, intelligent thriller.
  • Moonrise Kingdom
    This film is a great companion piece for The Life Aquatic, my favourite from Wes Anderson. As always, a great cast: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton. Although focus is on the two, young actors who confidently carry the story. A sweet and quirky tale.
  • Looper
    Rian Johnson and Gordon-Levitt are fast becoming a match made in heaven. First Brick and now this time-travelling sci-fi tale of assassins. This film had an interesting mix of futuristic and retro, plus it marked Gordon-Levitt out as a leading man in the making.
  • Silver Linings Playbook
    SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKForget Hunger Games, this ranks as my favourite Jennifer Lawrence film, just edging Winter’s Bone. She has great chemistry with Bradley Cooper, both of them playing flawed characters in this acerbic, edgy and alternative type of rom-com. Highly recommended.
  • Chronicle
    Earlier this year this film was released and flew somewhat under the radar. Shown in found footage style, the best way to describe the first half is Jackass with telekinetic powers. It then goes darker as it builds to an epic finale. Thoroughly deserving of a place on this list.
  • Dark Knight Rises
    The final instalment of Christopher Nolan’s game-changing bat franchise. Tom Hardy as Bane, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Gordon-Levitt as Boy Wonder in the making. This was an emotional, visceral ending to the best set of Batman films of all time.
  • Avengers Assemble
    Despite my last comment regarding Batman, Marvel Studios has firmly staked its claim as the lighter, more upbeat side of the superhero world. Joss Whedon pulling off an incredible trick to balance a film with a host of big characters, letting them all shine equally.
  • Ted
    ted
    Macfarlane knows his comedy. This film was his vision and really paid off. From script and direction through to mo-cap acting, he was the driving force. Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg added their dramatic and comedy talent to make this one of the funniest films of the year.
  • Life of Pi  
    Ang Lee’s tale of a young boy shipwrecked at sea with a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker is a visual masterpiece. Taken from a Booker prize-winner novel, it makes you question the nature of belief and how you perceive the world. An uplifting and life-affirming tale.
  • The Raid: Redemption
    Combine the talents of a Welsh Director and up-and-coming action star in Iko Uwais and you get an unexpected, kick-ass treat. Introducing us to pencak silat, an Indonesian form of dance and self defence, it’s breathtaking to watch when used to beat up bad guys.
  • The Hobbit
    Peter Jackson has worked wonders yet again. The dwarves are great and Martin Freeman is the perfect Bilbo. His ‘riddles in the dark’ scene with Gollum is brilliantly scripted. If you’re even a fleeting fantasy fan you won’t want to miss this exhilarating tale.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
    beasts
    Critically well received, this fantasy film has drawn comparisons with Pan’s Labyrinth and is well worth seeing. It tells the tale of six-year-old girl Hushpuppy who, when looking after her ill and hot-tempered father, must learn the ways of courage and love.
  • Rust and Bone
    It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Marion Cotillard – there’s a permanent picture of her on my blog. Here she beautifully plays a killer whale trainer who forms an unlikely romance with a bouncer. Jacques Audiard directs this passionate and moving love story.
  • The Master
    Possibly a career-best film from Paul Thomas Anderson and performance from Joaquin Phoenix? Ultimately, this film is about the fascinating interplay between war veteran Freddie (Phoenix) and movement leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
  • Seven Psychopaths
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    From the Director of darkly comic film In Bruges, this tale of kidnapped dogs and gangsters is hilariously scripted and brilliantly acted. With a cast including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell and Woody Harrelson.
  • End of Watch
    Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena put in the hours with cops on the beat in South Central LA to form a real bond prior to filming. The results paid off, as this thriller cop movie has real believability and chemistry between the two leads.
  • Magic Mike
    Ladies of Tampa‘, croons Matthew McConaughey, before he smashes his guitar and strips in front of a horde of screaming ladies. This film, though, belongs to Channing Tatum. Before acting he was a stripper – this film gives an intriguing glimpse of life back stage in that world.
  • The Grey
    It’s Liam Neeson, he’s cold, he’s angry, wolves are trying to kill him. In a minute he’s going to get really mad – what’s not to like? This bleak adventure sees a bunch of oil workers stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash – in the middle of a wolf kill zone.
  • 21 Jump Street
    21 jump street
    Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill team up in this cop buddy comedy remake. Tatum is – surprisingly – very funny, with great comic timing. Jokes are often set up and don’t pan out how you might expect, which is a good thing. Also, Johnny Depp has an outstanding cameo.