Film Review: Interstellar

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 4th November 2014.

There are only a handful of directors whose work I will seek out just because their name is on the poster. Christopher Nolan is one of them. After his triumphant Dark Knight trilogy and the mind boggling Inception, there have been high expectations amongst cinephiles for his upcoming opus, Interstellar. I’m pleased to say that he doesn’t disappoint and his space saga has rocketed to the top of my 2014 list.

In the near future, the world’s crops have started to fail. Wars over food supplies have resulted in a society that is solely focused on survival, with loftier pursuits such as space exploration no longer a planetary priority. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a father of two, corn farmer and former NASA pilot, is recruited by a secret organisation to lead a mission into a newly discovered wormhole in space which may lead to an inhabitable planet and new home for the Earth’s population.

Determined to complete his mission and return to his children, Cooper has to beat the clock. You see, with years of travel to the wormhole, plus visits to alien planets where time passes faster than on Earth, Cooper only has so much time before his offspring die of old age.

Being penned by brothers Johnathan and Christopher Nolan, there is far more to this story than just a trip into outer space. With twists and turns galore, there is a depth of storytelling that is rarely seen in films today. It is not just Cooper and crew venturing into the unknown. The audience gets to go too.

Make no mistake. This is McConaughey’s film. With his seemingly endless array of dodgy rom coms behind him (all of which seem to feature him leaning on something in the poster), we are truly living in the age of the McConaissance, and the world of cinema is all the better for it. Whilst his recent Oscar win may have been more for a run of superb performances (Mud, Bernie, Killer Joe, The Wolf of Wall Street and Magic Mike) than Dallas Buyers Club itself, McConaughey’s performance in Interstellar is a tour de force and puts him in good stead for two Oscar wins in a row.

Nolan has assembled a spectacular supporting cast. Anne Hathaway shines as Cooper’s crew mate Amelia. Jessica Chastain is in fine form as Murph, Cooper’s daughter who can’t forgive her father for abandoning her. Nolan regular Michael Caine is a welcome screen presence playing, er, Michael Caine. An unbilled performance by a well known actor playing a key role will have you looking twice.

I experienced Interstellar in IMAX. Nolan shot many key scenes in this format and I found the rocket launch and alien planet scenes absolutely breathtaking as the already huge picture opened up vertically to fill my entire field of vision. I definitely recommend that you go out of your way to see this film in IMAX.

From tiny spaceships floating through the enormity of space to beautifully stark alien vistas, Interstellar is a feast for the eyes. Nolan has created a lived-in universe with no obvious signs of CGI (although I’m sure it was used).

Despite a few plot holes and a lengthy 169 minute runtime, Interstellar captivated me. A must-see, it is a near perfect masterpiece.

Published in: on November 20, 2014 at 17:11  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: (Don’t bother to see) Now You See Me

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 13th August 2013.

The makers of Now You See Me want you to believe that the film shares roots with Christopher Nolan’s brilliant The Prestige. Both feature the stage magic theme and Michael Caine in a prominent role. To strengthen the association, Morgan Freeman also co-stars with Caine in both this new feature and Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Unfortunately, Now You See Me is not even half as smart as The Prestige and the only magic trick on show is the filmmakers making money disappear from unsuspecting moviegoers wallets to see this mess.

The film initially shows promise as we are introduced to street magician Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), washed out hypnotist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), street hustler Jack Wilder (Dave Franco, brother of James) and high risk illusionist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher). Brought together by a mysterious stranger for an even more mysterious purpose, the quartet become the Four Horseman and are soon filling stadiums under the guidance of millionaire sponsor Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).

For the finale of their Las Vegas show, the Four Horsemen seemingly pull off the impossible: making millions of euros disappear from a bank vault on the other side of the globe. This trick draws the attention of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent), as well as professional magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman).

The trickery behind this initial illusion is explained but ridiculously we’re left completely in the dark for all of the subsequent acts of magic. There is no “prestige” or final reveal. Instead, the storyline spins completely out of control until it crash lands with a highly unsatisfactory resolution. Three screenwriters are credited for Now You See Me. I suspect that they have never met.

Director Louis Leterrier’s previous films (Clash of the Titans, The Incredible Hulk, Transporter 2) have all favoured style over storytelling. Now You See Me proves no different. The Las Vegas and New York City locations are appealing, and the performances by the Four Horsemen are certainly glossy and elaborate, but it’s all distraction and little else.

The performances are all uniformly solid with everyone doing a lot with their thinly written characters. Jesse Eisenberg once again proves to be a watchable leading man, although I suspect he is only capable of playing himself. Isla Fisher is radiant and deserves her place as one of the most in demand actresses working today. Mark Ruffalo is charismatic and on a rise after his turn in The Avengers. And Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman once again play Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, respectively.

Despite a trailer that promises so much, Now You See Me doesn’t deliver. It’s the cinema equivalent of asking someone to pick a card, any card and then walking away with no explanation.

 

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 00:05  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 24th July 2012.

Rarely does a film trilogy manage to maintain its quality and momentum throughout the entire series. Many franchises start strongly and falter along the way as studios place pressure on creative forces to ensure that more money is raked in each time.

In recent years we’ve seen Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy begin with two brilliant entries but lose its way in the final chapter (Emo Peter Parker is best forgotten). The (then) Wachowski Brother’s The Matrix set up an intriguing world within a world but then threw it all away with two under baked sequels (and a credibility erasing rave party scene). And let’s not mention The Godfather: Part III or Jurassic Park III.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course. The Indiana Jones trilogy (note that I said trilogy) and the original Star Wars flicks (Ewoks notwithstanding) are classics and practically critic proof. Same goes with the Back to the Future, Toy Story and The Lord of the Rings franchises.

So it was with excitement and some trepidation that I ventured in to see Christopher Nolan’s final chapter in his Batman series. After a strong opening and then a sequel that surpassed the original with a memorable performance from the late Health Ledger as The Joker, Nolan had declared that this would be his final visit to Gotham City and the good news is that he doesn’t disappoint.

Most importantly, try to catch The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX. Nolan shot over an hour of the film in IMAX and the format suits the grand scope of the cinematography well. As far as I’m concerned, IMAX is the future of cinema, not 3D.

The performances are all uniformly solid. Bale once again brings gravitas and vulnerability to the Bruce Wayne / Batman role, although I still have no idea why he suddenly requires a cough drop as soon as he dons the Batsuit. Michael Caine makes the most of Alfred Pennyworth with a couple of great scenes which essentially bookend the film.

I’ve never been a big fan of Anne Hathaway but I have to admit that she won me over as Selena Kyle (the name Catwoman is never uttered in the film). As a skilled cat burglar torn between Batman and the bad guys, Hathaway brings charisma and sassiness to a character that could easily have been played as a wisecracking sidekick (see Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl).

Tom Hardy is virtually unrecognisable as the principal villain; the muscle bound masked mercenary Bane. Much had been made of his incomprehensible voice in the trailer, but I had no problems understanding Hardy who appears to be channelling Darth Vader and Colonel Sander’s lovechild.

The story picks up eight years after the last film. Bruce Wayne is a broken man, both physically and mentally. Only Bane’s terrorist attacks on Gotham City can convince him to become The Dark Knight for potentially the last time.

Nolan’s screenplay, co-written with his brother Jonathan, gives everyone their moment to shine and neatly wraps up all of the storyline strands from the previous chapters. A few plot holes and lapses in logic may leave you scratching your head after the fact (see my website for the plot holes after you have seen the film) but at the time, it’s hard not to be captivated by Nolan’s superb ability as a storyteller.

I can’t recall a film in recent memory that makes its hero suffer for the audience as much as The Dark Knight Rises but in my books, this magnificent final entry in Nolan’s Batman trilogy is one of this year’s best films.

Published in: on July 24, 2012 at 11:43  Leave a Comment  
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