REVIEW: Interstellar

9 11 2014

“We were meant to be explorers, pioneers – not caretakers,” utters Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper towards the start of “Interstellar.”  This declaration is true not only for the world of the film but also of its filmmaker, the inimitable Christopher Nolan.  As if exploring the deepest corners of the mind with “Inception” or redefining an entire cinematic genre with “The Dark Knight” was not enough, he has now flung his vision and ambition into the farthest reaches of space and time.

His “Interstellar” is not limited by dimensions nor encumbered by gravity.  It defies time and space entirely.  It is at once poetic and narrative.  It is a calculated work of science that also operates from a profound emotional level, wedding Kubrickian formalism to Spielbergian sentimentalism.  And most importantly, it inspires wonder and awe.

This is why, at least in Christopher Nolan’s lifetime, the movie theater experience will not perish.  His cinema is bold, immersive, and ultimately transcendent.  He goes beyond capturing an image or a feeling for what it is, showing the majesty it can embody and convey.  When at his calibrated best, Nolan can invoke not only a visceral reaction but also a spiritual one.

He is the undeniable myth maker of our time.  If that does not prompt loyal adherence, it should, at the bare minimum, command admiration and respect.  No one else working with this massive a budget is coming anywhere close to approximating Nolan’s scope or verve.  “Interstellar” is the latest shining star in his cinematic universe, and it shines brightly as a paradigm of balancing artistry and authorship along with accessibility and avant-gardism.

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Random Factoid #570

29 10 2014

InterstellarI figured in order to break myself out of my recent writing slump, I’d bring back an old favorite … the Random Factoid!

Because I go to the movies and have a brain, I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan and eagerly await his upcoming feature “Interstellar.”  Because I have such confidence in Nolan, I don’t need to be sold on the movie’s plot or marketing materials.  Thus, I am trying to avoid them at all costs.

This is nothing new for me.  Back in 2010, I wrote of my efforts to pull off a similar feat in the wake of the opening of “Inception” in Random Factoid #275:

“I am attempting to do the impossible: avoid the media blitz surrounding Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” and walk into the theater on July 16th without knowing anything about the plot.  I am not going to read plot summaries, watch trailers, or read any sort of specific review.

I am prepared to do whatever it takes not to have this movie spoiled.  I will start bringing either headphones or earplugs to tentpole summer movies where previews will most assuredly play.  If I see any feature on the movie, I will shield my eyes and go away.”

I’m still doing the same with trailers at the movies; last night, I even walked out of the theater for three minutes while the “Interstellar” trailer played (to the complete bafflement of the rest of the crowd).  But this abstinence has taken on a new battlefront in 2014: social media and trade websites.  Because the embargo has broken and people can start talking about the content of “Interstellar,” I have sworn to myself that I will not take the risk of having anything spoiled for me by visiting these sites.

I unfollowed The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and IndieWire on Facebook so their posts don’t appear on my News Feed.  (Like I was going to give up Facebook entirely?  Please.)  I won’t check any sort of awards handicapping site because they are most assuredly breaking “Interstellar” down in those terms.  It’s essentially like a miniature Lent for the Church of Christopher Nolan.  Who knows what I’ll do with all this time I’m saving in avoiding these sites?

Maybe start writing reviews again … actually, make that definitely!





REVIEW: Man of Steel

20 07 2013

Look, it’s a bird!  No, it’s a plane!  Worse, it’s Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel,” a bomb of heroic proportions torpedoing its way towards a multiplex near you to steal 2 1/2 hours of your life and $10 of your money.  How this could have been touched by moviemaking Midas himself, Christopher Nolan, truly escapes me.

I personally saw nothing horrendously wrong with Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns,” though I haven’t seen it since 2006 (a fact that may ultimately speak loudest to its quality).  However, I can point out a number of gaping flaws in “Man of Steel.”  It’s one thing to leave a movie nonplussed but another entirely to be angry.  If you hadn’t already guessed, I was the latter upon leaving this film.

Most issues seemed to spring from the lackluster story.  The film takes on the practically futile task of humanizing Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El, an invincible being.  He’s always had an identification problem because, well, how many of us can relate to someone who is essentially perfect?  (I’ll speak for myself and say that I certainly cannot.)  While the drama of Clark’s grappling with his power is relatively compelling, it’s told only in brief flashbacks.

And these scenes with his adoptive parents, played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, really only serve to play into the overarching Messianic allegory of the entire film.  I’m certainly not opposed to such grand implications, but they need to be done well (such as they were in Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables“).  “Man of Steel” feels completely disingenuous, exploiting spirituality for its own gain.  If it were any more obvious about its overloaded metaphor, Henry Cavill’s Superman would be wearing the letter t across his chest.

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REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises

29 07 2012

I don’t force every domestic drama I see to stand up to “American Beauty.”  Nor do I weigh every romantic comedy against “Annie Hall.”  So in a sense, why should I make a superhero movie stand up to “The Dark Knight?”  I consider it every bit as paradigmatic as the two previously mentioned Best Picture winners, so an apples-to-apples comparison is hardly even possible.  It’s more like apples-to-Garden of Eden fruit.

Indeed, a number of directors have tried to make their genre films a little more in the mold of Christopher Nolan’s iconic tale of the Caped Crusader, such as Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man 2” and Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class,” to little success.  Yet even “The Dark Knight Rises,” the sequel to the revolutionary film itself, can’t recreate its magic nor cast a comparable spell.  Perhaps its time to declare those heights unattainable to avoid further disappointments.  If Christopher Nolan himself can’t reach them, surely it is time for Hollywood to find its next golden goose.

“The Dark Knight Rises” also has the added disadvantage of being scrutinized as a Nolan film, not merely a post-”Dark Knight” facsimile.  Coming off an incredible decade of filmmaking (five supremely acclaimed films: “Memento,”  “Batman Begins,”  “The Prestige,”  “The Dark Knight,” and “Inception“), it is hardly premature to call him the Millenial equivalent of Steven Spielberg.  His movies are so good that they have merited many a repeat viewing, allowing dedicated fans to really analyze what makes his work so exceptional.  Now, it’s immediately recognizable when his films are not up to the sky-high standard he has set for himself.  For instance, in the opening scene of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

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Know Your Nominees: “Inception”

4 02 2011

The Oscars are a great cultural conversation for all to participate in, but it’s all too easy to only have surface knowledge of the nominees.  It’s all too easy to know “Black Swan” as the ballet movie, “The Fighter” as the boxing movie, and “The Social Network” as the Facebook movie.  But don’t you want to know more and stun your friends with your knowledge of the movies in the weeks leading up to the awards and ultimately during the broadcast itself?

That’s what my KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series hopes to do.  Every three days, I’ll feature ten interesting facts about the ten Best Picture nominees of 2010 that would be fascinating to pepper into any conversation.  My hope is that you will come away with an enhanced appreciation of the movies but also enjoy learning strange and interesting things about them.

So, as we proceed in alphabetical order, our next stop on the tour is “Inception.”

So what was the inception of “Inception?”  According to director/screenwriter Christopher Nolan, the movie began as a heist film mainly as a way to provide entertainment and exposition for the complicated dream structure.  But concerned with the cold emotional detachment to the characters in a heist film, he began to add the hero’s story to get the audience to connect with the movie.

What’s real and what isn’t was a big talking point about “Inception,” but it may interest you to know what was shot on location (real) and what was shot on a soundstage or studio lot (not real).  The snow fortress was a built set, as was Saito’s castle. With a few other exceptions, most scenes were shot on location in Tokyo, Paris, Mombasa, Los Angeles, and a small town in Nolan’s home country, England.

How about that spectacular anti-gravity fight scene in the hotel hallway.  According to Christopher Nolan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt did all his own stunts for the scene, only using a double out of necessity for one scene.  The scene was done by creating a spinning set, not through CG.

Another fantastically well-executed scene of mind-blowing visual proportions was the scene at the Parisian café where the city implodes.  How did they shoot that?  According to cinematographer Wally Pfister, they used a camera that captures 1,500 frames per second (in contrast to the average camera which captures 24) to create the slow-motion effect.  In post-production, the visuals team added effects to make the objects look like they were floating.  (Everything was shot out of air cannons for the explosion effect.)

Throughout the second half of the movie, we saw plenty of the van falling off the bridge.  But what you might not know about this scene is that it took months to film and entire days were dedicated to the shot.  But it gets better: the van was shot out of an air cannon and when the van hit the water, the actors actually had to stay underwater for four to five minutes holding their breath and taking air from a tank.  How’s that for dedication?

The ensemble cast turned out perfectly, but it wasn’t always what it was.  Before shooting, Evan Rachel Wood was slated to play Ariadne but dropped out and the role went to Ellen Page.  Another big casting shift was the exit of James Franco, who was originally cast to play Arthur, due to scheduling issues; the role ultimately went to Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Fans of Marion Cotillard got a chuckle when they heard “Non, je ne regrette rien,” the closing song of the film “La Vie En Rose” which won her an Oscar for Best Actress.  The title means “No, I regret nothing” when translated literally into English.  Was it a clever nod to her previous role?  Actually, no.  Nolan and composer Hans Zimmer chose the song before Cotillard became attached to the project because of its booming rhythmic qualities, not because of its association with the actress.

Many people have seen “Inception” as a metaphor for filmmaking, and Nolan has said that these musings aren’t entirely off-base.  But the craft he was most interested in exploring was architecture.  In an interview with WiReD, he stated, “I’m very interested in the similarities or analogies between the way in which we experience a three–dimensional space that an architect has created and the way in which an audience experiences a cinematic narrative that constructs a three–dimensional -reality from a two-dimensional medium—assembled shot by shot. I think there’s a narrative component to architecture that’s kind of fascinating.”

NEWS FLASH: The kids at the end of the movie are not the same as the ones before! Adjust your explanations of “Inception” as necessary.

Don’t worry, no top theories here.  Only some insight on where the idea came from – not exactly inception.  Nolan gave a top as a gift to his wife and then rediscovered it, incorporating it into “Inception.”  The one used in the movie was symbolically designed by the prop department to represent Cobb’s universe.

Check back on February 7 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “The Kids Are All Right.”





Random Factoid #540

19 01 2011

So, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman.  Time for her to get her sexy on (since she won’t be able to rely on just straight up being naked like in “Love & Other Drugs“).  Guess we just have to trust Christopher Nolan’s casting instinct.

It’s hard being a fan to remind myself that I actually have no say in how movies are made.  I don’t get to write, cast, or direct Hollywood products (yet).  I don’t have control, and we have to remember that a studio wouldn’t give millions of dollars to a director if they didn’t know what they were doing.  And after “Inception,” I dare you to tell Christopher Nolan that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

A lot of people, particularly us vocal bloggers, have a hard time reminding themselves of these things.  We scream as if there’s actually some way we can change things.  But we really can’t, and it’s only worth writing about if you can joke about acting like you have a say.

What about YOU?  Do you struggle with remembering you don’t run Hollywood?





Random Factoid #527 / I’m a DC

6 01 2011

So Katie over at “Stories That Really Mattered” invited me to be a part of the meme called “I’m a Marvel, I’m a DC” (which should ring a bell from Mac/PC in your head).  I’m pretty noncommittal on the two comics powerhouses as I don’t read the books, and the movies just run together for me.

But, since she asked so nicely, I’ll make a commitment.  I’m a DC!!!

Why?  Three reasons.

  1. They had Heath Ledger.
  2. They have Batman and Christopher Nolan, who made “The Dark Knight,” the only comic-book movie worth talking about as anything other than a movie adaptation of a comic book.
  3. They have “Watchmen,” which was a pretty average movie, but a great graphic novel!  I only read it thanks to the movie, TIME magazine, and a friend’s recommendation, but I certainly did enjoy it.  I don’t know if I’ll ever read another one again, yet I certainly was enriched by reading an entirely different kind of literature.

So there.  Those are my reasons.  Take that, Spider-Man!  Turn off THAT dark!








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