Interstellar

Christopher Nolan is the director of some great films and someone who clearly holds cinema very dearly and wants it to not just survive but to thrive. After a string of hits he is apparently more or less able to make the films he wants the way he wants, but I can’t help thinking that the old adage that constraints help creative thinking applies a little bit here. I mean, take a look at the graph below.

There’s a worrying trend there! So let’s cut to the chase – this film could have done with loosing 40 minutes and not just because it’s too long – the entire last act didn’t really work for me. I found that there was an awful lot of completing the circle that didn’t need to be done: more than that, would have been better not done. Which is a shame because there are some spectacular and enjoyable sections and it is certainly an ambitious film that lives up to the epic name.

It starts in a near-future dystopian landscape of failing crops and dust storms in what is presented as a world of corn fields and a diminished human species. At the same time there are vox-pops reminiscing about the times of hardship, so we already know that we are watching the past as far as the film universe is concerned and that there is a better outlook in the present.

Matthew mcconaughey is convincing as Cooper, the former NASA pilot running a farm but desperate to punch out of the stifling, future-less world. Cooper’s father-in-law Donald (Jon Lithgow) is resigned to the current situation, his son wants to be a farmer too but his daughter’s dreams are in the stars.

After a lot of scene-setting we seem to leave the farm all at once and it is then exciting as things are building, which helps to hide the large amounts of exposition at times. This is where the film shines with some spectacular settings, realistic in-film mechanics and inspired plot devices (but some dodgy robots!). Hans Zimmer’s score is much more stripped down than previously and there are a lot of loud simple organ sounds which will no doubt become familiar over the next few years.

And then it’s a shame as we arrive at the last 40 minutes or so and the pages of the plot seem to come apart and flutter away in the breeze. It’s an enjoyable watch for most of the film, but ultimately ephemeral.

3 on 5

Info
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck UK Release: 29th October 2014

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Man Of Steel

man of steel poster

This re-telling of the Superman story actually begins in Krypton, with Russell Crowe playing Jor-El, Superman’s Father (or Kal-El as Superman is named after birth). The Kryptonians are destroying their planet and themselves from a greed for resources and a lack of coherence. Jor-El has plans for the continuation of his blood line.

This intro sequence actually lasts quite some time, and whilst it is nice to get some backstory, the designers obviously struggled to balance making things seem Earth-compatible but also alien. It comes across very “remastered Star Wars”, with laser bolts and flying creatures everywhere and a sense of impending – but coming at just the right moment – doom.

Still, Kal-El (Henry Cavill) gets to Earth and we pick him up pretty much in the “present”, with the story of his childhood told in a number of flashbacks. We first see a glimpse of Kal-El’s powers on an oil rig, in a hilarious, entirely computer generated display, but leaving that behind as the man does himself, this part of the film dealing with his conflicts and his exercising restraint are great to watch. The logger’s truck certainly brings a good chuckle! Kal-El’s Earthly parents are played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane and for me Kevin Costner is the best part of the film. The things he is trying to explain to his adopted son are the essence of the superman story and a scene by a motorway bridge in the film nearly moved me to tears.

The film takes another shift now to action setpieces. Louis Lane (Amy Adams) is a rather shallow character who starts popping up all over the place and trying to show how amazing she is, but General Zod (played by Michael Shannon) is a convincing, cold, passive-agressive nasty man. The action is probably better watched on a smaller screen to be honest. I watched it in a digitally projected 2D screening where the picture quality was mostly good with some graining in darker areas, but the shaky camera was getting incredibly annoying and combined with the UNNECESSARILY LOUD VOLUME OF EVERYTHING started making me feel a bit woozy. Despite some sounds being impressive (Zod’s gravity machine had the most terrifying noise I think I’ve ever heard), it all gets a bit too much after a while and I was closing my eyes and putting my fingers in my ears to get a break. Take some earplugs or watch it on a tv!

Then, just when you think it’s calmed down, it starts up again. And again.

Buildings are smashed into, whole skyscrapers are collapsing, the collateral damage must be off the scale! I looses its way somewhat at the end and whilst reminding you in some senses of Inception, especially the galloping music-bed (so seeing that Christopher Nolan was a producer and Hans Zimmer composed the score is no surprise), it is nowhere near as good as that film was.

Nonetheless, there is an enjoyable centre and when it’s understated it is at its best – Superman in the scene with handcuffs is a great example of a high point. The first time you see him take to the sky and catch the edge of a cloud you smile, the 5th time you’ve had enough and your ears hurt.

3 on 5

Info
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Christopher Meloni, Russell Crowe
UK Release: 12th June 2013

Inception

[Poster]

Christopher Nolan came up with the story for this film a while ago, but wanted to get a couple of big films under his belt before tackling it. Batman Begins (okay) and Batman – The Dark Knight (good, but one scene too long and with a grating voice) fit the bill there, so here we have it. He’s also directed Memento (excellent) and Insomnia (meh…).

Leonardo DiCaprio is great as the star of the film which deals with infiltrating people’s dreams – I’ll try not to spoil it by saying any more. From the word go it starts off at a frenetic pace, almost like a resume montage backstory, screaming ‘Come on! Keep up!’ at you as the concepts take root in your brain. This pace is kept up for virtually the entire film, helped massively by the score by Hans Zimmer which is brilliant. The film has a great look about it too, which I am sure is largely thanks to long-time collaborating cinematographer Wally Pfister.

The environment is coherent and generally robust and easy to follow (with forgivable exposition at some times and only the ‘limbo’ had me scratching my head a little – I don’t think I’m spoiling the film by saying that!). I also thought that it drops in terminology of the new world with the confidence of a Philip K Dick story, perhaps his work was an inspiration to Nolan. The plot mechanisms and stakes are perhaps not quite on the level of the environment and the present on reflection, at least for the rest of the gang.

It’s always difficult to keep up the interest in an action film. More often than not they end up with a stupid dull final extravagant setpiece and you disengage a bit amongst all the shooting, but I don’t think that’s true here.

All in all a great ‘wow’ film and a natural successor to The Matrix.

4 on 5

Written, Produced and Directed by : Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy
UK Release: 16th July 2010