Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine
Release date: November 6th, 2014
Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures
Countries: USA, UK
Running time: 169 minutes
Best part: The mind-blowing visuals.
Worst part: The exasperating length.
Whenever a Christopher Nolan feature is released, two distinctive camps wage war. One group, known simply as the Nolanites, strives to elevate the acclaimed British filmmaker’s status. Convinced he’s cinema’s biggest game-changer, this cult pushes internet comment sections to breaking point. The other group directly clashes with the Nolanites. Convinced he’s another Michael Bay or Brett Ratner, the group causes a stir before, during, and after each movie’s buzz-time. His latest monster,Interstellar, has crafted the decade’s boldest cinema-related feud. Inexplicably, it’s a behemoth ripe for praise and parody.
Matthew McConaughey vs. the universe.
So, how did Interstellargarner said backlash? Oh boy, where do I begin?! There are many reasons behind said divisive reaction. Hot on The Dark Knight Rises‘ heels, it had a fascinating production history. Passed from Steven Spielberg to Nolan, the production undertook several exponential changes. Working from brother/writing partner Jonathan Nolan’s original script, Nolan crafts a concoction of weighty concepts, directorial ticks, and peculiar casting choices. Indeed, Spielberg’s version would have worked. However, Nolan’s version is a scintillating yet flawed epic. The story is…seriously, where do I begin?! This extravaganza follows mankind’s journey to infinity and beyond. Former NASA test pilot/engineer turned corn farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leads a bland life. Born into a warring world, he’s pushed through food wars, social obliteration, and his wife’s death. This widower, fathering Tom (Timothee Chalamet) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy), treats his job and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow) with contempt. Humankind, regressing into an agrarian society, must contend with blight, dust storms, and economic/political/social/cultural failure. In fact, its schools teach children about phony, propagandistic space programs and 20th-century “excess and wastefulness”. Murph, convinced a ghost haunts her room, asks for Cooper’s help. Thanks to gravitational anomalies, it outlines a binary message listing nearby coordinates. Finding NASA’s underground station, Cooper is chosen for a humanity-saving mission. Aided by astronaut Amelia (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romilly (David Gyasi), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley), and artificially intelligent robots TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart), Cooper searches for life-sustaining systems and multi-tiered dimensions.
Interstellarbares several overwhelming positives and mind-numbing negatives. Wanting to have its cake and eat it too, the movie reaches for the stars but just misses. As notoriety and power rushes to these siblings’ heads, their latest aims higher than the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception combined. Despite Chris’ majesty, his reach still exceeds his grasp. So, with this in mind, why the high rating? The well-renowned filmmaker, switching from mind-bending blockbusters to unique drama-thrillers (Memento, Insomnia) to outside-the-box surprises (Following, The Prestige), still deserves immense credit. His style, delivering blockbusters no one else can compete with, deserves meticulous study and discussion. Interstellar, despite being a lesser effort, is born from full-blooded ambition. Unlike previous efforts, light, space, and optimism solidify its core. Fuelled by intriguing ideas, multi-layered plot-lines, and major themes, each act delivers significant twists and turns. Standing out from the second-two thirds, the opening 45-60 minutes weave through parenthood, global degradation, and spirituality. Despite the leaps in logic, the first third delivers touching moments and picturesque flourishes. Ripping up/burning down corn fields, poetic happenstances, and far-fetched ideologies, its less-is-more approach switches between apocalyptic-actioner tropes and ponderous dream-weaving. After Cooper’s run-ins with Dylan Thomas poetry aficionado/Earth saviour professor Brand (Michael Caine), Nolan hurls us into the stratosphere. Pulling us into his galaxy-hopping journey, the second-two-thirds obsess over quantum mechanics, wormholes, potential home-worlds, black-holes, physics, and relativity. The convoluted screenplay, spilling vital details through exposition, becomes a miasma of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne-approved science mumbo-jumbo, plot-holes, needless plot-strands, and contrivances.
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” (Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Interstellar).
Jessica Chastain & Casey Affleck.
Sadly, Interstellar‘s egregious run-time is inexcusable. Exhausting his audience, Nolan’s latest is too dark for too long. In the last third, its grand-scale messages send it into a crash landing. Flipping between hard science and love-and-fate-conquer-all posturing, Nolan becomes lost in his own tumultuous labyrinth. However, its smaller moments add emotional resonance, awe, and stakes. Nolan’s uncompromising visual flourishes are worth the admission cost. Wearing its central influences – 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Right Stuff – on its sleeve, it laps up the universe’s wondrous creations. Lapping up our solar system, Saturn has never looked so appealing! Also, the black-holes/wormholes are vast, awe-inspiring obstacles. The planets – constructed of water, ice and sand – are imaginative constructions. Shooting on anamorphic 35mm film, Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography paints with delectable strokes. Nolan’s world-building – depicting space’s weightlessness, silence, and claustrophobia – delivers edge-of-your-seat thrills. Nolan’s process – utilising practical effects over CGI – improves over each set piece, visual flourish, and extended take. Capturing space travel, human endeavour, and astronomy’s overwhelming merits, his style crafts engaging dreamscapes. Hans Zimmer’s organ-based score, coming in at opportune moments, amplifies the movie’s atmospheric glow. Throughout the middle-third, cross-cutting between space-and-time-tearing adventures and Murph(Jessica Chastain)’s and Tom(Casey Affleck)’s sibling rivalry, its overly insistent momentum swings wildly. However, the action – including one set piece connecting a shuttle to a damaged spacecraft – amplifies Nolan’s glorious style. Also, McConaughey elevates this monolithic sci-fi extravaganza. Crafting new inflections and ticks, the Oscar winner solidifies his immense worth.
Swinging for the fences, Interstellar attempts to deconstruct blockbuster cinema and create ground-breaking celluloid playgrounds. Despite the polarising screenplay and directorial choices, Nolan’s ambitions deliver several heart-breaking moments and wondrous flourishes. Delivering 2014’s ultimate movie-going experience, his willpower and attention to detail overshadow other action-adventure filmmakers’ styles. Aiding Nolan’s grand-scale project, McConaughey and Hathaway are flawless in beautiful roles. As an enthralling concoction of Cloud Atlas, Sunshine, and The Grapes of Wrath, this is true big-budget spectacle. However, Gravity achieved much more in half the length.
Verdict: A flawed yet invigorating sci-fi extravaganza.
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong
Release date: December 19th, 2012
Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, Icon Productions, GAGA
Running time: 157 minutes
Best part: Bigelow’s direction.
Worst part: Some slightly underdeveloped characters.
There has been a vast number of military procedurals since 9/11. Each with their own point to prove, they attain an understandable account of relations between the west and the Middle East. One director unafraid to discuss the War on Terror with a definitive and fiery passion is Kathryn Bigelow. Her latest film, Zero Dark Thirty, is arguably one of the best films of the past decade.
A big statement for sure, but both her and this film heartily speak to the masses about the past decade’s hottest topic. Zero Dark Thirty dramatises the work of multiple US agencies, all of whom with the same goal. Between 2001 and 2011, Osama bin Laden was at the top of every most wanted list. CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) is brought in to witness the routine of Pakistan’s US Embassy. Aided by fellow CIA officer Dan (Jason Clarke), their brutal interrogations uncover several leads. While searching endlessly for Al-Qaeda members, in particular a courier by the name of ‘Abu Ahmed’, the CIA division overlooking the region must also contend with constant allegations and terrorist attacks. Heading up the operation, Maya launches an all-out assault on bin Laden and Al-Qaeda’s hold on the Middle East. Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have reunited after their best-picture winning effort, The Hurt Locker. Whereas that film centred on one Bomb disposal unit, their new feature examines every aspect of the war against bin Laden. Despite bin Laden’s death in 2011, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq may never satisfyingly end. Zero Dark Thirty has caused severe controversy since its conception. Clashes with CIA and Obama administration officials suggest that this story hits way too close to home. So-called ‘leaked’ information is combined with an in-depth analysis of the war on terror.
Kyle Chandler & Jason Clarke.
The 2 hour and 37 minute length is vital for this immense story. Boal’s script is a cinematic dramatisation of startling personal accounts. Like a journalist’s presentation of the Middle East, the film’s objectivity allows for many interpretations. Bigelow and Boal smartly recreate certain events without either propagandistic or anti-establishment messages. This expansive story covers 10 years of terrorist acts and events within a shattered bureaucracy. Attacks including 9/11 and the London Bombings are depicted but never sensationalised. The boardroom rules over the battlefield here. The film’s daring examination of pencil-pushers and investigators grounds this intense struggle. Intelligence and surveillance may be vital, but human intuition is even greater. However, the bombings, shoot-outs and assassination attempts will leave anyone sinking in their seats. The film’s best sequence is the night raid by Seal Team Six on Bin Laden’s Compound. Tight, tense and violent; it’s a stunning action set piece devoid of unnecessary ‘Hollywood’ flourishes. Zero Dark Thirty never reverts back to standard action-thriller tropes. It’s subtly divided between cat-and-mouse chase, military procedural and intense thriller. With many post-9/11 military dramas, action and simplistic exposition tell the story. The film’s level of political jargon is about as intensive as a CNN newsroom. Evidence, gathered and shared between Pakistan and Washington D.C., extensively details how technology can create freedom. Yes, it’s refreshing that a Hollywood post-9/11 drama can speak strictly to the current affair-centred viewer, but that concept may be excruciating for everyone else. Films such as The Insider, All the President’s Men, Munich and The Kingdom provide a similar outlook on international political affairs. Zero Dark Thirty has caused controversy due to its graphic torture sequences.
“Can I be honest with you? I am bad fucking news. I’m not your friend. I’m not gonna help you. I’m gonna break you. Any questions?” (Dan (Jason Clarke), Zero Dark Thirty).
The Seal Team Six sequence.
Bigelow, however, never pushes things too far. No one is having appendages chopped off. Instead, heavy metal music is blared for days on end and male prisoners are humiliated in front of female CIA operatives. Despite these atrocities, both the American and Middle Eastern characters are depicted delicately. Bigelow and Boal find, and comment on, the humanistic elements of both sides without sitting on left or right wings. Bigelow is clearly one of Hollywood’s best action-thriller directors. Her tight, kinetic style comes to the forefront of both The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Boal and Bigelow have expanded The Hurt Locker‘s Middle Eastern setting. The grit of the Middle Eastern desert is important to this harsh docudrama. The verisimilitude establishes a startling world that the American characters struggle to adjust to. Bigelow’s handling of Maya’s story is hauntingly personal. Maya is based on a real-life CIA operative whose name cannot be given for security purposes. Maya’s arc between naive operative and frustrated leader is chilling. She separates the men from the boys whilst living and working in a testosterone fuelled environment (much like Bigelow herself). Maya is courageously determined to capture bin Laden. Pushing papers and tempers around the office, her implausible hunches push her to continue on. The ubiquitous Chastain is remarkable here. Every emotion is etched painfully into her face. She presents her character’s exhaustive journey with a powerfully affecting turn. Charismatic character actors, including Mark Strong, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler and James Gandolfini, deliver powerful performances in small roles.
Bigelow and Boal have crafted a heart-thumping and intelligent thriller. Crafting the line between bureaucracy, democracy, and chaos, Zero Dark Thirty is an objective and affecting look at the greatest manhunt in history. Thanks to this immaculate cast and crew, this military flick transcends the genre and studio system.
Verdict: An intelligent and captivating military thriller.