Interstellar Movie Review 0 89


Quentin Tarantino. Terrence Malick. The Coen brothers. David Fincher. These are just a few directors whose films, for better or worse, are event movies for passionate film fans and Christopher Nolan surely needs to be part of that list. Few directors today carry with them such reverence and expectation around their next film. In a relatively short 15 year career he has already solidified himself as one of the most popular and interesting filmmakers, whether he’s working on a small intimate scale like Memento and Insomnia or on an epic scale like Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy

His latest film, Interstellar, feels like something he has been working towards his entire career. An epic space adventure that spans galaxies as well as the love between a father and his children, this is Nolan presenting big ideas on a big scale but tying it to a small and intimate base, ensuring it doesn’t get overly caught up in the technical jargon the characters often speak.

Its complex plot is set in the near-future when the world is becoming rapidly uninhabitable for human beings, ravaged by famine, drought and extreme climate changes. But just as humanity is staring extinction in the face, a group of scientific explorers are brought together, including family man Cooper (a magnetic and soulful Matthew McConaughey) and scientist Brand (an endearing and sympathetic Anne Hathaway), to go on a mission beyond our own solar system to find a new habitable world. Unfortunately for Coop, he may have to face the reality of never seeing his children again in order to try and save the human race.

The word that comes to mind when trying to describe ‘Interstellar’ is ‘huge’. It’s so epic in scale, so ambitious with its ideas and intent, so bold with its visuals that it becomes a gigantic, all-enveloping experience more than anything else. I stress the word experience because, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and the more recent Gravity, this demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible with the sound blaring out at you. This is pure cinema.

But it’s also a journey that doesn’t leave its characters or the emotion out in the coldness of space, so to speak. For all his brilliance, Nolan has never been the strongest at injecting true emotion into his films. Here he seems to be making up, perhaps even overcompensating, for that with floods of emotions – there are many scenes of characters bearing their souls as they cry their hearts out – and makes it as much a moving family drama as a grand scientific adventure. He often cuts between the life-and-death space mission and the drama back on earth, visualising the sort of fascinating and very effective connection the film is partly presenting in its overall ideas. Leave it to Nolan to try and explain love and human connection through the medium of wormholes and quantum physics.

Even when it loses a handle on its multitude of ideas or it throws up plot holes as big and powerful as the black holes found in the film, it’s a piece of cinema that feels utterly confident in its own ideas and ambitions. We’ve seen plenty of sci-fi movies that focus on a group of explorers trying to save the world but few have delivered something that feels authentically powerful and important, and even fewer that actually have something to say about life, survival and the human condition. While it’s perhaps a little on the heavy-handed at times here – with characters side-tracking us from the mission to overtly talk about “what it all means” – you always feel like it’s getting at something thoughtful and truthful just as it awes you with its resplendent visuals and Hans Zimmer’s commanding and affecting score. It has a tremendous sense of momentum and anticipation to it throughout its gargantuan runtime, all of which leads to a thoroughly loopy third act which will surely split audience opinion.

Interstellar provides us with the best sort of science fiction; ambitious and thought-provoking while still remembering the importance of the human connection. This $165 million, almost 3 hour-long genre blockbuster is deeply scientific, beguiled by the way the universe works and the possibilities therein, but at the same time not requiring its audience to be knowledgeable or have a vested interest in such things. By all means take in all that, and the film certainly respects the audience’s intelligence enough to realise many may come to it for those headier aspects, but it also works purely as enjoyable, awe-inspiring spectacle. The film is big, bold, talky, emotional, creative, insightful, fascinating, head-scratching and just the right kind of barmy. What it’s not is some flawless masterpiece but you know what? That’s okay. Perfection is rarely interesting if attainable at all, especially in the world of movies, and Nolan’s latest effort takes us wonderfully to infinity and beyond in spite of its faults.

This review was previously published on Scotcampus.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 420

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 452

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10