Saturday, 8 November 2014

Interstellar

(M) ★★★½

Director: Christopher Nolan.

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow.

McConaughey took a wrong turn in the produce aisle.

FILM-MAKERS have long tried to predict the future.

One of the most intriguing of these sci-fi predictions is 2001: A Space Odyssey - a film that's now confusingly set in the past - and it is the obvious reference point for Christopher Nolan's own attempt at prophetic cinema.

Just as 2001 wanted to explore the possibilities of space and beyond, Interstellar aims to go to the final frontier and further, all the while exploring the nature of humanity and the unknowns of the universe.

Even the structures of the two films are similar, which makes it even harder to avoid these comparisons - it's impossible not to think of Interstellar as Nolan's Space Odyssey.

As such, this film is incredibly ambitious, even for the director who took us into a dream inside a dream inside a dream with relative ease. However, this might be a starbridge too far.

As fascinating and scientifically intriguing as it is, Interstellar asks a lot of the viewer in terms of endurance (it's almost three hours long) and whether you will buy into the plot twists that come with its cosmic destination. And after just one viewing it's not immediately obvious how successful it is.

The film spends the first hour on Earth sometime in the possibly not-too-distant future, where climate change has wiped out billions of people and ruined most of the world's crops, leaving the planet a dusty husk of its former self.

Among the farmers struggling to keep the world's mouths fed is Cooper (McConaughey), a former test pilot who turns to corn farming after the government shuts down non-essential programs, and while he still secretly yearns for the adventures of his youth, Cooper is mostly content to raise his two kids.

That is until some weird happenings in the family home inadvertently lead him into space as part of a mission to find a new home on a new planet in order to save what remains of humanity.


Obviously there are some major plot points removed from this synopsis, but you're better off not knowing them and just enjoying the surprises. Nolan's typical secrecy meant the trailers gave away little about this film in the lead up other than "McConaughey goes to space to save dusty world" and that's one thing of the key things Interstellar has going for it - it's a journey into the unknown for the characters and audience alike.

But is it an enjoyable one? That's the question you might find yourself asking as you walk out of the cinema after three bum-numbing hours.

Interstellar is definitely fascinating. It's filled with amazing ideas, stunning visuals, great performances, and what is apparently a level of scientific theory that's interesting if you're so inclined.

But after all this brain fodder and some genuinely awe-inspiring moments we finally reach the third act - and it's a long time coming - the story takes a turn that will either leave you tearing up your ticket or glued to your seat.

My initial reaction was the former but the more the film went on and the more I think about the film in the hours since watching it, the more I am willing to forgive it. Maybe. To be honest I'm still undecided.

And that's the general feeling I'm left with after seeing Interstellar - a sensation of indecision.

Large parts of the film are stunning, such as the depictions of blackholes, wormholes and space travel, but other bits are not so great, such as some of the dialogue, the lack of characterisation, and that plot twist. There are questions unanswered - some deliberately so but some seemingly ignored - and while this does make me want to watch it again to dig a little deeper into the film, its length is kind of off-putting. At the same time, the fact that I'm still thinking about it so much is probably a positive.

Interstellar is ambitious, perhaps overly so, and it's engaging and intriguing, perhaps at the expense of being truly entertaining. For now, the best I can say is that, yeah, it's pretty cool and particularly impressive on the big screen but not quite the five-star classic that Inception or 2001: A Space Odyssey is.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

(M) ★★★★

Director: Matt Reeves.

Cast:  Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer.

"Grapes? That's not what I thought you sent me to the shops for."
ONE of the biggest cinematic surprises in recent years was Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes - another unwanted reboot/reimagining/prequel that turned out to be one of the best films of 2011.

So here's the sequel to that movie no one wanted and - surprise, surprise - it's also really good.

While not as tautly scripted as its predecessor, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (known as DOTPOTA from here on in) is another great balance of emotional punch, great characters (all apes), and action thrills.

Eight years after chief chimp Caesar (Serkis) led his fellow chemically enhanced apes to freedom across the Golden Gate Bridge, the world is a very different place. A virus has wiped out much of humanity, with the survivors eking out an existence in small communities, such as one in San Francisco.

At the other end of the Golden Gate Bridge, Caesar's colony is thriving, unaware any humans remain alive.

However a run-in between Caesar's forces and a small group of human survivors led by Malcolm (Clarke) sets in motion a chain of events that will lead the two species to either mutually beneficial peace or bloody war.


DOTPOTA pulls a few of the same tricks as its predecessor (which we will call ROTPOTA), but it's a very different film. Its misty forest and dark broken city settings give a suitably ape-ocalyptic (sorry) vibe to proceedings that's a stark contrast to the warm homely tones and bright clinical labs of the first film.

This is also very much the apes' film. Whereas Caesar (a combination of Serkis' motion-captured performance and some CG wizardry) and his simian sidekicks stole the show last time, this time they own the show.

The interplay and relationships between Caesar, the tortured human-hating bonobo Koba (Kebbell), the wise Bornean orangutan Maurice (Konoval), and Caesar's son Blue Eyes (Thurston) are far more fascinating than those of the humans. While Clarke gets a lot to do as a sort-of go-between for the humans and the apes, Oldman does little but give vaguely rousing speeches and mourn for the past and Russell is a plot device disguised as a doctor.

This doesn't matter though because the apes are the reason to watch. They are wonderfully realised characters built from nuanced performances (particularly from Serkis and Kebbell) and some near flawless special effects.

The moral questions raised, the themes of trust and power, and the emotional moments are no less effective for being provided by a cast of CG primates.

As with ROTPOTA, DOTPOTA (yep, it's ridiculous but stick with me here) takes us to a destination we're expecting - a planet of, well, apes - but does so in an unexpected manner. It's this that helped make the first one so enjoyable and intriguing and the feat is impressive once again here.

While the humans are the weakest link, the apes more than make up for it, creating a sequel that's well worth watching.