Interstellar – A Spoiler free Review

A Christopher Nolan movie is an event movie – it deserves tonnes of press and an even greater amount of hype and excitement as Nolan rarely disappoints. The man who single handedly revived the super-hero genre, the one who dabbled in magic and memory loss and dared peer inside our dreams is revered among cinephiles and for good reason. And when this man sets off on an inter-galactic voyage you simply strap in and join him for the ride on the biggest screen possible. To say I am a Nolan devotee would be a gross understatement. I have devoured every tidbit of information that came out while Nolan worked away on his space sojourn and Interstellar was the number 1 most anticipated movie for me for this year. I was back in 2010 when I was waiting with bated breath for Inception to unfold and for it to silence all Nolan critics and it did in spectacular fashion. Would Interstellar be able to continue Nolan’s winning streak or will the law of averages finally catch up with this auteur. Read on to find out more – there are no spoilers in this review

The story starts in the near future where science is all but forgotten, the school teach students that the Moon landing was a hoax perpetrated to bankrupt the Soviet Union and trained astronauts are left to plough the field for crop. This is the caretaker generation, struggling through dust clouds and crop blights to survive while staring extinction in the face. Through curiously encoded messages Cooper played by Matthew McConaughey and Murph played by Mackenzie Foy end up at NORAD a clandestine NASA mission run by the Nolan-regular Michael Caine playing Professor Brand. He asks Cooper – the best pilot they ever had- to join the mission along with his daughter Amelia played by Anne Hathaway, Romily played by David Gyassi and Doyle played by Wes Bentley. The mission is to follow 3 of the 12 previous astronauts who left our galaxy to travel through a mysterious wormhole to look for other planets which could be used to sustain human life.  No more story-wise, lest I risk the spoiling of the surprises that are in-store.

Nolan is a master of visuals. His association with Wally Pfisher was what elevated his movies to the next level. With Hoyte Van Hoytema donning the cinematographer’s hat I had a feeling we won’t be let down because he filmed the wonderful Her last year and made the future very accessible and believable. The visuals Van Hoytema creates of the inter-galactic voyage are stunning in their grandeur but as one wired article evidences they are also based on a very real scientific equations which Kip Thorne the theoretical physicist from Caltech collaborated on with the team behind interstellar. The wormhole, the blackhole, and the Endurance spacecraft passing alongside Saturn are all stunning in their detail and scale. Where the visuals however are let down are with the background score. Hans Zimmer who has provided very complementary scores for previous Nolan movies plays it too heavy handedly this time around. The loud klaxon based soundtrack takes away from the scene and makes it almost unbearable. A Clint Mansel or Alexandre Desplat score would have served Nolan better giving it the Kubrickian feel of using the classical compositions. With the thunderous riffs and booming drums of Zimmer the crescendos come quick and fast but there is no payoff visually or story wise .

Nolan had me scratching my head when he announced that Matthew McConaughey would be the lead actor in Interstellar and my worst fears have come to fruition. Every time Cooper opens his mouth to speak out comes the stoner cowboy drawl that will dull anyone to sleep. Half the time his words are illegible and the other half just unbearable. He is unbelievable as someone who understands and can hold a conversation about quantum physics and he puts in no efforts to the contrary either.  Anne Hathaway is still stuck being Fantine from Les Miserables and cannot seem to turn the tears out. If we had a whiny bio-physicist and a stoned out southerner to rely on to save the fate of humanity our chances look grim. Thats where the grown up Murph, Jessica Chastain comes in – she is the only one that manages to come across as someone with a sane mind but her interaction with her brother played by Casey Affleck make little sense. But my biggest grief is with David Gyassi who plays fellow astronaut Romily who waits on board Endurance when Coop, Amelia and Doyle go to the planet of the Tsunami waves. He ages 22 years when they get back on the spacecraft and I for one instance thought he was just hamming it to tease Coop and Amelia on the passage of time but he wasn’t and he had really aged and he acts really weird too, walks with a slouch and sounds defeated. The whole effect is jarring and not entirely believable.

For a movie that is nearly 3 hours long there are key scenes which feel rushed and unresolved. The initiation of Cooper into the Save-the-humanity program, the travel to the different planets to find the data, the climax which holds the key to the human survival seem hurried and rough. If more time was spent on these, more technical aspects of what is essentially a sci-fi adventure it would have felt like the Nolan movie I have come to expect. Instead we spend an inordinately long time setting up the doomsday scenario in the first half with the dustbowl and the father daughter bond that will be Cooper’s driving force. Also once onboard the time spent whining about personal issues is almost juvenile and for Nolan standards unpardonable. Instead of Cooper and Amelia talking I would much prefer a lively chat between TRAS and CASE the two robots who are nods to HAL9000 from 2001 : A Space Odyssey.

There is little doubt that this movie is not all that it could have been. A majority of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Matthew McConaughey who I hope Nolan never collaborates with ever again. But this is still a Nolan movie it is big on Ideas and huge on visual impact. For a director who dares to take such huge risks and break away from the formulaic big-budget franchise movies it deserves a watch. It won’t redefine the sci-fi genre in the way that 2001 did. But like Inception it is an idea that needs to be explored and discussed and it makes the most complicated science easily accessible and it makes you think. And I want Nolan to break the bank on this one so he can get back to the long-gestating Howard Hughes biopic.

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Gravity – A Review

Alonso Cuarón directs George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in the space adventure Gravity. Set at 200 km above the surface of the earth Gravity tells the harrowing tale of a crew of spaceship out on a regular mission that gets hit with the debris from a Russian satellite and the horrors that ensue in Zero Gravity.

Gravity has been hailed as the visual masterpiece and the movie event of the year – believe the hype.  From the opening shot till the final closing one not one frame lets you take your eye off the screen. The scenes of the vast open blackness of space interspersed with  stars and other celestial bodies make you realize how tiny we are in the grand scheme of things and at the same time the minute you are on terra-firma the tracking shot shows us what a giant we are when it comes to our existence on earth.

The story is simple – George Clooney plays Matt Kowalski a veteran astronaut on his final mission is joined by the first timer Ryan Stone played by Sandra Bullock. While trying to place the scientific experiment that Dr Stone has been working on in to an orbiting satellite they get news that there is debris from a destroyed satellite headed their way. While they try to abandon their mission and return to safety they get hit by the debris and are set adrift with no communication back to the command center or the international space station. Left with only each other they try to survive in space with depleting oxygen and try and get to a escape pod to return to earth.  Without going into too much details the story is simple as they try against staggering odds to return to earth they get hit by one problem after another and the single shot camerawork draws you into their plight as you stop breathing while they are trying to reach out and grab hold on to a space craft and heave a sigh of relief when they do while getting increasingly frustrated as another crisis looms right ahead.

Sandra bullock in my opinion has never been better. As the harrowed first timer in space who kept crashing her simulator you feel for her and want to her to make safe passage to earth as it begins to appear that the chances are fast diminishing.  George Clooney has a small role to play but he does it like no one else does. There is a certain ease with which he plays every character on screen that no matter what the stakes you are sure he will make it out smiling that smug smile.

But this is a movie that is so much bigger than the big name stars involved. This is a movie which is dead certain to bring Emmanuel Lubezki his first Oscar for his magnificent work behind the camera. Lubezki has been credited with one of the most remarkable scenes ever filmed- the creation of life scene from The Tree of Life for Terrence Mallick. Here he essentially takes the viewer into outer space and spins you around like a sock in a tumble dry washing machine while still allowing you to marvel at the beauty of our planet as viewed from outer space. There are beautiful solitaire sunrises and pulsating Aurelia Borealis. A majority of the visuals are computer generated yet never once do you feel like you are not seeing the real thing. Also essential to the visual experience is the surprisingly effective music by a relative no-namer Stephen Price – however the use of silence is just as effective as is some of the other soaring soundtrack by Price.

There are those who are questioning the veracity of science involved in the making of Gravity and while doing so are missing the point that there are elements that have been exaggerated for dramatic appeal. What lies underneath is the essential human instinct for survival, survival against the greatest odds, odds that sometimes are the demons inside our own mind. Not giving up when there is nothing left to live for and trying with all your might to live to tell your story.

Don’t miss Gravity as it is a masterpiece of why we watch movies – it is to go where few men have ever gone before to be able to experience it for yourself without having to leave the comfort of your plush push-back chairs. Seek out the biggest screen possible and watch it in 3D but put the pop-corn away because when you are not looking there is satellite debris coming your way and you better watch out.