Interstellar

interstellar

DIR: Christopher Nolan   WRI: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan   PRO: Christopher Nolan, Lynda Obst, Emma Thomas • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema    ED: Lee Smith  DES: Nathan Crowley   MUS: Hans Zimmer  CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn

Once considered the ‘saviour’ of the modern blockbuster genre, Christopher Nolan has in more recent years become a divisive figure. His most hardened acolytes will defend his every utterance while his equally tenacious detractors decry him as a no-talent hack that’s managed to fool everyone into thinking his movies are more than just well-shot, shallow distractions. The one-two knockout of The Dark Knight followed by Inception created a lot of goodwill that allowed The Dark Knight Rises to slip by with Nolan’s reputation intact; it wasn’t a bad movie and there were a lot of individually great bits in it, but no one really expects the third part in a trilogy to be good at this point.

Interstellar then is the first time Nolan’s really had to prove he can do this blockbuster shtick when removed from long-gestating pet projects and The Goddamn Batman. Well, let’s just say there’ll be plenty for both sides of the Nolan argument to get into heated debates about.

And the all-important question; when Nolan’s first post-Batman film heavily uses the term “Lazarus” after he negated to do so when everyone was asking for it, could it be that he truly does get a kick out of antagonising Bat-fans? (Kidding… mostly.)

Set an undisclosed amount of time in the future, Interstellar follows Cooper (McConaughey), a farmer and former engineer/pilot. With the human population devastated after a global food shortage, most people are now farmers. However, crop after crop continues to fail and the human race trudges slowly but inevitably towards extinction by hunger. After his daughter Murph (Foy) discovers some strange anomalies on their farm, Cooper is led to a secret government project headed up by an old friend of his, Brand (Caine), who might just have a dangerous solution to our species’ looming extinction. In case the title didn’t give it away, it involves space.

From a technical point of view there is, as ever with a Nolan movie, a lot to admire. The cinematography is consistently pleasant but largely little more than functional, save for some of the effects-heavy space sequences and the ice planet which really stand out as the visual highlights of the movie. The score is in a similar position. Zimmer has, like Nolan, become somewhat divisive over the years. In many ways the score here is a better version of what he was approximately aiming for with Man of Steel. It’s certainly nowhere near the awful dreck that was his work on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but nor is it as memorable and inventive as Inception or the Batman scores. The main issue is that it feels terribly derivative. A large swathe of the main themes sound so much like Philip Glass that you have to wonder if he wasn’t their first choice. I’m happy to report there isn’t an Inception-Bwong in earshot but unfortunately it’s been replaced with a massive overuse of organ music that couldn’t be screaming “Didn’t 2001 make space sound majestic yet divine?!” if it tried. Some of the more intense action scenes, and the initial blast-off sequence, are extremely well scored and you’ll quickly remember why Zimmer is accompanied by the hype that he is, but far too much of the film just sounds so disappointingly familiar or at worst, clichéd.

As to those action scenes, they’re genuinely exciting and close to being unbearably intense. This is helped in no small part by the score and the general volume of the chaos that often surrounds them. There is a mild issue with everything being so loud that it can drown out the dialogue (especially in IMAX) but it remains worth it just for that feeling of armrest-gripping tension. Getting to these scenes is another matter. The initial movement of the film set on Earth is by no means boring, and contains some fascinating world-building, but it does start to drag on for just long enough that you begin to wonder when exactly you’ll be getting to space. In that sense the running time is both a blessing and a curse. You get to spend a substantial amount of time with these characters (and in space) through multiple eras and really get a well-rounded experience as far as their arcs go. (Although, Hathaway’s character still feels lacking, never feeling quite like a fully-rounded person.) This can’t stop the film from feeling overlong but it conversely still doesn’t feel as long as it actually is so that may be a moot point.

If there is a major issue with the film, it’s one that can’t be easily explained and certainly one that can’t be talked about without spoiling things. For months now, people have been talking about Interstellar in relation to the movie Contact. Now, while that comparison certainly has some basis, Interstellar largely avoids falling into the same depths of New-Age-y nonsense that drowned Contact in its final act. That’s not to say the ghost of Contact is entirely absent but it’s underplayed in a way that it wouldn’t have been if this film was in the hands of anyone other than Nolan. That said, the ending comes dangerously close to disappearing up its own ass (being pulled into its own black hole, if you will), especially when it seems like the unthinkable has happened and that Nolan is about to be overcome with sentiment by invoking the old “power of love” deus ex machina. Mercifully this doesn’t entirely come to pass but the resolution (and indeed the whole setup) does feel unmistakeably Doctor Who-esque in its hand-waving, contrivance-ridden miasma of soft-science and its borderline invocation of magic to justify it.          

This is still however a comfortably Nolan movie, thematically speaking. His usual go-to moral greyness and notion of ‘the truth only being worth anything in relation to how useful it can be’ are all prominently on show. Perhaps even to a degree previously unseen as there is a recurring motif of characters, usually jokingly, telling each other what percent truthful they’re being with one another. There is also a nice amount of humour, mainly from John Lithgow’s brief appearance and the strangely designed robots. Said design is quite clever as it completely bypasses the uncanny valley by not even trying to make them look like anything resembling humans. It’s a small but clever choice that more movies could learn from. Aside from that, all the old Nolan tropes are present and accounted for; a wrap-up montage with voice-over, clunky writing, main character who wants to act for the greater good but for compromisingly self-centred reasons, weird relationship with female characters and naturally someone speechifies groggily from a hospital bed. The only real surprise on that front is the sudden and slightly awkward appearance of sentimentality.

This review sounds more negative than it should but really, it is definitely a film worth seeing and worth seeing right, i.e. on the biggest, loudest platform available. It’s not Nolan’s best and it’s not his worst (in as much as he has a worst) but it is certainly less than the incredibly worthy, meaningful movie it seemed to be being billed as. The performances are all great (especially the actress playing the young Murph), it looks great and there’s a handful of brilliantly exciting and emotionally devastating scenes that justify seeing it all on their own. It’s not as deep as 2001, it’s not as inventive as Inception and it’s not as intense as Gravity but it’s still a damn good ride while you’re on it.

 Richard Drumm

12A (See IFCO for details)

169 minutes

Interstellar is released 7th November 2014
Interstellar – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Les Misérables

DIR: Tom Hooper • WRI: William Nicholson • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward , Cameron Mackintosh • DOP: Danny Cohen • ED: Chris Dickens, Melanie Oliver  • DES: Eve Stewart • CAST: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmaybe, Amanda Seyfried

Few films in recent memory have screamed Oscar®-bait more than Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables. When an Academy Award®-winning filmmaker takes one of the world’s most beloved musicals based on one of the most powerful novels ever written and casts it with cream-of-the-crop performers, including a former Oscar® host, an Oscar®-winning actor and two Oscar®-nominated actresses, how could it fail come February?

Well, with surprising ease, apparently. It takes quite a talent to so thoroughly slaughter this golden egg-laying musical goose, but Hooper has found a way. A masterful director of actors (check out The Damned United) who has been remarkably lucky with his script choices, never more so than for his multi-award-winning film The King’s Speech, Hooper has never been accused of having outstanding visual flair. Here, that lack of flair is downright unimaginative, and results in a lazily produced and bloated film that never manages to engage the eyes, even as it haunts and delights the ears.

Hooper’s misdirection has not been enough to block out the power of Victor Hugo’s story, or the arresting music and lyrics of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s 1980 musical, and Les Mis retains a certain magic.

Tony Award-winning musical performer and Wolverine Hugh Jackman stars as Jean Valjean, a beleaguered Frenchman in post-Napoleonic France, starving and unable to find work due to his status as an ex-con; he has just served 19 years for stealing a single loaf of bread. Daring to start a new life, he breaks parole and creates a new identity for himself, within years becoming a successful factory owner and mayor of a provincial town. Valjean’s past catches up with him in the form of Javert (Russell Crowe), the foreman of his former chain gang, now a high-ranking police inspector who views Valjean as the one who got away, and someone whom the law must punish once more.

Valjean’s life on the run from Javert is complicated by his adoption of Cosette, a sweet urchin whose prostitute mother (Anne Hathaway) was unable to take care of her. Years later, as revolution stirs once more in the streets of Paris, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) finds herself besmitten with a young rebel named Marius (Eddie Redmayne), and is soon dragged with her father into the political tumult, pursued ravenously by Javert.

Hugo’s themes of persecution and faith echo wonderfully in the film’s finer songs. Anne Hathaway sobs her way through ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, her hair shorn and her cheeks bloodied, having just sold her locks, teeth and body. Jackman belts out ‘Who am I? I’m Jean Valjean!’ as he decides to take responsibility for his actions in order to save another man. Samantha Barks, the only professional singer in the main cast, brings a mournful elegance to ‘On My Own’. Hooper’s insistence on using single-take close-ups throughout many of the numbers show off his actors’ talents well, but they are anything but cinematic, more akin to watching the big screen at a pop concert than a Hollywood musical. The only properly choreographed performance is ‘Master of the House’, a jaunty, nasty song that feels out of place in the midst of so much real drama.

Because of this, the musical numbers have no energy, and you would be forgiven for wishing Gene Kelly would burst onto the screen and roar ‘Gotta dance!’ If only. It is not until well into the third act that the medley ‘One More Day’ properly electrifies the film, followed swiftly by the show-stopping ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’; but it’s too little too late. As the rebels set up barricades in a Parisian cul-de-sac so fake it looks like Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, it’s hard to care anymore about the young lovers’ plight, let alone the attempted revolution. When the film reaches its apparent climax, there are still 20 minutes to go, although the overwhelming finale just about makes up for that drag.

Hooper’s decision to have the actors’ singing recorded live on set results in some very affecting performances that hammer the emotions through the songs; although this doesn’t always facilitate their hitting the right notes. Jackman makes a believable Valjean, but the boy from Oz rarely flexes the vocals (and not once the dance moves) that made him a Broadway darling. Russell Crowe, a rock ’n’ roll singer in his spare time, scoops his voice repeatedly to reach the notes required, but the effect is more Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia! than Michael Crawford. Due as much to some of Hooper’s more incomprehensible directorial decisions as to the Gladiator star’s miscasting, Crowe only manages to capture a fragment of the obsessive, sadistic and homoerotic nature of Javert that Charles Laughton mastered in the role nearly 80 years ago.

And fragments are all this film is; pieces of a glorious story, with moments of fine acting and superb songs brought low by excessive Dutch tilts and face-hugging close-ups. Not since Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc have expensive sets been this lost, buried out of focus, behind the faces of a film’s stars.

Yet it’s still hard not to recommend Les Mis, on some level. The story is timeless and the music resplendent, and Jackman and particularly Hathaway deserve to have their performances seen and heard. The un-cinematic quality of Hooper’s interpretation may yet lead to it finding a more respecting audience on the small screen, where the careless photography and in-your-face close-ups can cause less offence.

It could be worse. It could be Nine.

David Neary

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

157 mins

Les Misérables is released on 11th January2013

Les Misérables – Official Website

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Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

DIR: Tim Burton • WRI: Linda Woolverton• PRO: Joe Roth, Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd, Richard D. Zanuck • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Chris Lebenzon • DES: Robert Stromberg • CAST: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway

For many, the idea of Tim Burton not only getting his hands on the wherewithal to finally add 3-D to his dreamscape pictures, but also to inject Alice with some 21st century pizzazz, was a match made in Wonderland. Happily, cohorts Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp soon joined the bandwagon, and the movie was deemed all but perfect before a single scene had been viewed.

Whilst it doesn’t quite live up to these illustrious beginnings – and what could! – it nevertheless brings to screen one of the liveliest, most mesmerising and downright entertaining re-imaginings of Alice ever…well…imagined. Burton is the perfect mix of darkness and light to capture the literary nonsense of Lewis Carroll’s fragmented tale of stunted growth and avoided adolescence. What Burton has done, (to some purists’ eternal chagrin), has combined both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and joined the fragments of both to create a more linear narrative. Whilst this might nullify some of the more nonsensical elements of the original tales, what it does do is make for an easier-to-follow storyline, and a more satisfying denouement. It’s worth remembering, though, that even when a tale is linear in the world of Tim Burton, it does not necessarily make for a straightforward movie!

Depp, of course, is mesmerising as the Mad Hatter – as he mentioned himself, what he wanted to bring to his character was fear at his own madness. It’s all very well being mad when you don’t realise it – a lot of people can get on quite happily like that – but if you know that you are crazy, and can’t always control it, then it becomes a fearful thing. His menacing Glaswegian accent highlights the intensity, as does his post-enhanced massive eyes, but beneath it all, Depp is as at home in this wonderful world as in all of his Burton escapades. Bonham Carter’s Red Queenie is a comic mix of foolishness, conceit and globular head – her impeccable skills keeping it from farce, and Anne Hathaway’s good queen is regal and charming, and just a little bit nuts herself. Not to forget the surprisingly-older titular Alice, all confusion and gumption, brought together winningly by Mia Wasikowska. Add to this the anthropomorphic array of delightful creatures that cross her path – from Stephen Fry’s Chesire Cat, through Alan Rickman’s Caterpillar, and Christopher Lee’s terrifying Jabberwock – and the Wonderland is complete.

The 3-D may have been added after shooting, and certainly contains some cheap ‘throw-things-at-the-audience’ shots, but Burton’s dreamlike mindscape is exactly what 3-D has been waiting for. Fantasy, adventure, a wonderland below our earth, a cast of colourful characters, and logic out the window: these things make for a movie event that begs to be experienced in big screen. What Burton does better than any other director – perhaps with the exception of Wes Anderson – is use the cinema screen as his own personal canvas, painting scenes of such obvious delight that you can’t help but be carried away with his enthusiasm. So what if Avril Lavigne maligns your ears with a rendition of Alice? So what if the Hatter’s dance seems totally out of place and meant for toddlers? So what if he takes liberties with an acknowledged hotchpotch of literary ideas? The fact remains that when Tim Burton makes a movie, anything goes, and everything works in its own way.

All in all, niggly doubts aside, Burton has brought Alice’s Wonderland to life as only he can: fantastical, beautiful, and a wonder to behold.

Sarah Griffin
(See biog here)

Rated PG (see IFCO for details)

Alice in Wonderland is released 5th Mar 2010

Alice in Wonderland – Official Website

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Rachel Getting Married

DIR: Jonathan Demme • WRI: Jenny Lumet • PRO: Marc E. Platt, Neda Armian • DOP: Declan Quinn • ED: Tim Squyres • DES: Ford Wheeler • CAST: Anne Hathaway, Debra Winger, Bill Irwin, Rosemarie DeWitt

Since she was crowned America’s Sweetheart for the lead rolein The Princess Diaries, Anne Hathaway has charmed audiences with her winning blend of Hollywood glamour and girl-next-door quality in light-hearted fare such as Ella Enchanted and The Devil Wears Prada. However, it seemed her charms – and talent – were limited as audiences and critics alike remained somewhat indifferent to her ‘acting’ efforts in Brokeback Mountain and Becoming Jane. Suddenly she has critics falling over themselves to praise her, gathering award recognition left, right and centre (including an Oscar® nomination) and deservedly so, as Hathaway turns in an astonishingly powerful performance in a wonderfully intense, insightful and intimate film that will leave you feeling as if you had attended the wedding yourself.

Hathaway plays Kym Buchman, an estranged daughter/sister who arrives home to an overly-concerned father (Irwin), an aloof mother (Winger) and the wedding of her anxious sister, Rachel (DeWitt). While the premise may lack originality, first-time screenwriter Jenny Lumet effectively weaves a tale of guilt, love and forgiveness through a series of touching, tender moments exposing and examining the misshapen relationships that have evolved throughout the Buchman family. Key to the film’s success, however, is Jonathan Demme, a director bold enough to cast the relatively untested Hathaway in the lead role, to shoot the film entirely with hand-held cameras and to tell this harrowing tale of family strife after the misfires of similarly-themed movies such as Margot at the Wedding.

Simply put, this combination of terrific performances (from every member of the cast), a beautiful script and Demme’s inspirational direction produces one of the most painfully poignant films in recent years and a cinematic gem.

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Get Smart

Get Smart
Get Smart

DIR: Peter Segal • WRI: Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember • PRO: Michael Ewing, Alex Gartner, Alan Glazer, Andrew Lazar, Charles Roven • DOP: Dean Semler • ED: Richard Pearson • DES: Wynn Thomas •CAST: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp, Ken Davitian

We all know the beloved spy James Bond. He’s suave, charming, always prepared and very good at getting along with the ladies. Well, meet his complete opposite by the name of Maxwell Smart.

Smart (Steve Carell) is an analyst working for the secret spy agency Control but dreams of leaving his desk job days behind and becoming a field agent.

When Control’s arch enemy, KAOS, infiltrate the spy network and discover the identity of every agent except one – agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), Smart is promoted and becomes agent 86. Smart and 99 are then partnered together on a mission to thwart the plans for world domination by KAOS operative Siegfried (Terence Stamp) and his bumbling sidekick Shtarker (Ken Davitian).

With no field experience, a beautiful but deadly partner and some compulsory spy gadgets, Smart must use his own smarts if he is to prove his worth as a field agent and save the world.

Get Smart is the latest of the spoof spy comedies to hit our screens and, even after the long awaited return of this film genre, you may be sadly disappointed.

Being too young to remember the original television series I can only compare the new film to other spoof comedies such as Spy Hard, Naked Gun and the original James Bond movie collection.

Like those titles above, Get Smart has some ridiculous secret gadgets and many puns, which do offer a bit of a giggle accompanied by the odd eye-roll. However, many of the stunts, which include car chases, speeding helicopters and of course some hand-to-hand fight scenes are impressive.

If you’re a fan of films like The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up then Get Smart is a must-see but if like me you find Steve Carell a bit much to handle for the best part of two hours, then I wouldn’t recommend it.

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