Film Review: Interstellar

Interstellar

With the Earth’s food supplies running out, farmer and former astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) travels across the universe in search of an alternative home for Earth’s inhabitants.

There are few directors whose films generate as much excitement as Christopher Nolan’s. And for good reason. With a back catalogue to date including Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception, Nolan might not be prolific but he certainly knows how to make a film.

Which brings us on to Interstellar, his most ambitious project yet, which given the head fuck that was Inception, is no mean feat.

What starts off on Earth as a relatively low key drama soon expands to the far reaches of our universe and beyond. Space exploration in films is of course nothing new but here it feels special for the most part, and some of that is down to the film being routed in realism. Sure, some of the science may not totally add up, but much of the film (the first two thirds in particular) feels plausible and not beyond the realms of possibility. It’s both exciting and scary to think this may one day become science fact rather than fiction.

Space exploration is only one aspect of the film, however, and as with the majority of Nolan’s films, Interstellar has family at its heart. It owes a debt to Robert Zemeckis’ Contact in this respect, knowing all the while that Cooper’s daughter Murph (but weirdly not his son) is at the forefront of his mind. It adds some emotional weight to the story that hasn’t worked for some but I thought gave the film a more human feel.

Black Hole in Insterstellar

Unfortunately, this good work is partly undone by some pretty hefty plot contrivances and whole strands of story that simply don’t work. Matt Damon’s brief storyline, for example, just feels forced and unnecessary, whilst trying to work out how Cooper ended up finding the NASA headquarters and being involved in the mission makes less sense than anything else that happens in the film.

But what Interstellar lacks on plot and script, it more than makes up for in ambition and grandeur. It looks absolutely stunning for a start, particularly some of the shots in the depths of space, whilst its final act is a brave one for a mainstream blockbuster. It does things other films would be afraid to do and should be applauded for that. It takes its cues from 2001: A Space Odyssey and whilst it does fall some way short of Kubrick’s masterpiece, it’s still quite the spectacle.

All the actors give decent performances with Matthew McConnaughey, Anna Hathaway and Jessica Chastain all handling their roles pretty well. None are particularly spectacular but do what they need to do when they need to do it.  However, it’s Mackenzie Foy as the young Murph who truly sparkles and adds some real emotional clout to the film. Foy’s character is central to everything happening to the film and fortunately she carries such pressure with ease.

Interstellar is not Christopher Nolan’s best film but is still a film to be appreciated, if just for its technical achievements. Like Gravity, it may not have the strongest script but is a visual marvel and will make you realise why you fell in love with cinema, particularly if you’re a sci-fi can. See it on the biggest screen possible and just drink it in.

Pros

  • Amazing cinematography
  • Pure cinema at times
  • Great performance by Mackenzie Foy

Cons

  • Some horrible plot contrivances
  • Some sections *cough* Matt Damon *cough* just don’t work

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Sunday Soundtrack: Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen)

Nothing subtle about this choice of Sunday Soundtrack whatsoever, but it’s Wayne’s World and there’s very little else to say. Party on.

If you have any suggestions for future Sunday Soundtracks, leave them in the comments below. Also feel free to leave favourite Wayne’s World moments just because.

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Film Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl

When Nick (Ben Affleck) comes home from work to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has disappeared, a large-scale manhunt ensues. However, as evidence comes to light and secrets are revealed, Nick ends up being squarely at the centre of the investigation.

David Fincher has amassed quite the body of work, but what’s impressive is that pretty much every one of his films is admired and revered. Even films such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has its fair share of fans, and so it’s no surprise that Gone Girl developed a fair amount of hype in the run up to its release.

Fortunately, for the most part, it delivers on its hype and will go down as yet another strong entry in Fincher’s filmography.

At first glance, Gone Girl is a simple whodunnit but it soon evolves into something much more (it’s difficult to go into any kind of detail without spoiling the whole thing). It becomes en examination of a marriage that seems perfectly normal on the outside but is actually anything but underneath.

A good chunk of the film is told from Amy’s point of view via a diary she kept and with each entry we learn a little more about her Nick’s relationship, all the time becoming that little bit more intriguing and eye-opening. However, as is always the case with a biased POV, it always leaves the question of just how much of this can we trust.

Ben Affleck - Gone Girl

Fincher does an excellent job of creating two distinct sides to the story, and as we’ve come to expect from him, the film is at its best when it delves that little bit deeper into the darker side of the human psyche. He paints a disturbing portrayal of middle class suburbia, and suggests that even the most seemingly grounded of people harbour deep secrets whilst happy marriages conceal darkness and can go sour very quickly. What’s also interesting is that Fincher injects a surprising amount of dark humour into the film which adds an even more unsettling edge to everything.

The film is also an interesting examination of the media and how it can manipulate the truth and push a certain agenda based on empty assumptions. As far as TV stations and newspapers are concerned, Nick is guilty until proven innocent, something that rings very true with today’s media.

Ben Affleck is a decent male lead, giving Nick just enough of a nasty side to make you question his involvement, but it’s Rosamund Pike’s Amy that really shines. In the flashbacks recounting her diary entries we see her as the ideal loving wife, although Pike somehow lets us know there’s a little more to it than that and subsequently we’re never really sure if she can be trusted. It’s a fantastic performance that makes Amy the focal point of the film despite Affleck’s Nick receiving more screen time.

 Not everything works quite so well, however, with the ending in particular feeling somewhat rushed and abrupt, leaving us abandoned in a story that feels only partly told.

Despite misgivings over the ending, Gone Girl delivers a healthy dose of intrigue and misdirection, ultimately culminating in a film that can’t help but grab your attention. It might not be in the upper echelons of Fincher’s work, but it doesn’t have to be in order to still be thoroughly entertaining.

Pros

  • Great performance from Rosamund Pike
  • Twisty, turny story
  • Fincher’s trademark great direction

Cons

  • Rushed, abrupt ending
  • Weaker supporting cast

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Pride

Pride Film PosterWhen a group of gay men and lesbians turn up in a small Welsh village in support of the miners’ strikes, not everyone is happy to have their support.

The UK miners’ strike of the mid 1980s ripped apart not just families but whole communities, and so it’s a little surprising that it’s the subject of a comedy. What’s even more surprising is that for the large part it works brilliantly.

Most (in the UK at least) will roughly know how the miners’ strike concluded, so there’s no huge conflict in that regard. Instead, it comes from the tensions between the LGBT community, their handful of non-gay supporters and, well, just about everyone else.

The script, written by Stephen Beresford, is a perfect combination of heartfelt and (often very dry) humour that will have you giggling to yourself just as much as you catch a lump in your throat. This script is impeccably delivered by all involved, partly due to the fact that they all look like they’re having a wonderful time with it. Imelda Staunton in particular is wonderful, although there are few, if any, weak links in terms of casting.

A few cliches and stereotype issues aside, Pride will only fail to connect with the most cold hearted of viewers, and whilst it may be stretching it somewhat to call it a ‘feel good film’, there are few films this year that are quite so adept at making you grin from ear to ear one minute and reaching for the tissues the next. Unless, of course, you’re massively right wing.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Quickie: The Raid 2

The Raid 2Following the events of the first raid, Rama (Iko Uwais) goes undercover to infiltrate a Jakarta crime syndicate.

Who’d have thought that an Indonesian martial arts film directed by a Welshman would be one of the biggest cult hits of the past few years? Gareth Evan’s The Raid has since been heralded as one of the greatest martial arts film of all time and a sequel was therefore inevitable.

The Raid 2 takes everything the original film did and turns it up to the extreme, which would usually be cause for concern, but Evans has such control over the material that it never gets out of hand and still retains pretty much everything that made the original so brilliant. The fight scenes are the film’s bread and butter and they are undeniably breathtaking. The choreography of each and very fight is almost balletic. Brutal, bloody ballet. With hammers.

One criticism levelled at the 2011 original was the lack of story. It was essentially just a series of increasingly impressive fight scenes with little connecting them. This was fine enough because the fight scenes were so good, but there’s do denying it was slightly short on narrative. Evans attempts to address that issue by shoving in some story but this is rather too convoluted in the first half of the film and almost completely abandoned in the second half, again favouring the fights over the story. It’s admirable that Evans attempts to focus more on story but it doesn’t quite work.

However, that should in no way take away from the fact that The Raid 2 is quite simply one of the best action films of recent years and one that fans of the genre will no doubt be talking about for years. Or at least until the next one comes out.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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The Homes of Middle Earth

I occasionally like to post random bits and bobs found on the internet and I thought this was pretty cool – a guide to the homes of Middle Earth as if they are for sale in an estate agents. It’s also made me that little bit more excited for the final Hobbit film, The Battle of the Five Armies.

The Homes of Middle Earthsource: http://www.anglianhome.co.uk/goodtobehome/fun/homes-of-middle-earth/

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Sunday Soundtrack – Nightcall (Kavinsky)

Way back on the first Sunday Soundtrack I asked for suggestions from you lovely lot and one was from the beautiful but dangerous Tyson from Head in a Vice who suggested something from Drive, a film we both think is bloody brilliant. Now I could have chosen one of many songs from the Drive soundtrack, which I actually reviewed a while ago, but my favourite is probably Nightcall by Kavinsky. Here it is…

If you have any suggestions for a future Sunday Soundtrack entry, pop them in the comments below and I’ll hopefully get around to them eventually.

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7 of The Greatest Animated Female Characters in Film

This is a guest article from my very good friend Ruth Hartnoll who co-runs the awesome blog Crown Rules which you should definitely head over to and bask in its glory. Anyway here is Ruth’s post on her favourite animated female characters. Enjoy!

1. Kiki – Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki

Kiki’s Delivery Service sees a young witch leave her parental home for her mandatory year of independent life. She travels to a distant town on a broomstick and sets up her own air courier service. She does all of this with her faithful sidekick, her cat Jiji.

This film was made in 1989 – the year I was born. In the same year Walt Disney bought out The Little Mermaid. That story sees a woman stripped of her independence and identity so that she can chase after a Prince. I think we both know who won 1989 – Hayao Miyazaki. Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of the few films where the adventure is had by a female character – for that alone she gets a firm place on my list.

3 Things That Make Kiki Great

  1. She sets up her own business and gets her own place when she’s 13
  2. She’s brave, smart and self-sufficient – all the characteristics a girl needs to get on in the world
  3. She’s not always happy and perky, like so many female characters, and she’s still brilliant

Best Scene

Kiki

The scene in the woods when she goes back to visit the female artist she happened to stumble across on one of her deliveries. The two characters talk about everything but men and they comfort each other with cocoa. What a bloody great scene that is.

2. Yzma – Emperor’s New Groove

 Yzma

There is no female character in animated cinema history that has made purple more fabulous and tyranny more appealing that Yzma from Emperor’s New Groove. She’s the villain, without falling into any of the female villain stereotypes (step mother, mother, jilted lover), and her assistant is a (loveable) muscled and stupid man.

Yzma kills it in this film. She sounds like she smokes 40 a day, could probably have her own headlining act in Vegas and she makes grey skin du jour. My love for Yzma is so paramount that when I take over the world I will have a National Yzma Day where all women can be tyrannical without reason, whilst wearing purple.

3 Things That Make Yzma Great

  1. She’s super quotable: “Pull the lever Kronk! Wrong lever! Why do we even have that lever?”
  2. She basically invented the colour purple
  3. She’s old and still as spritely as a dame

Best Scene

The potion making scene. The animation, the quips – flawless.

3. Wyldstyle (Lucy) – The Lego Movie

 Wyldstyle

Wyldstyle is the fast quipping, punky and hilarious female from 2014’s The Lego Movie. She saves the hapless Emmett on countless occasions and is always ready with an inspiring speech, flick of the hair and wrench. Man, can that girl build a spaceship-submarine-time travel machine quickly.

Side Note: I was at a wedding recently and a 6 year old boy turned to me and said his favourite character in The Lego Movie was Wyldstyle. My feminist heart filled with joy and I proceeded to tell him about the importance of female role models in children’s films. He got bored and ate some cake, but I really felt I got through to him.

3 Things That Make Wyldstyle Great:

  1. She goes after bad men because good men go after her
  2. She’s as equally funny as her male counterparts and looks a damn sight better than them to boot
  3. She’s an engineer, maverick and traveller

Best Scene

She saves Emmet and fights off a load of police whilst flying through the air, whilst constructing a getaway car, whilst finding time to flick her hair in slow mo. My kinda gal.

4. Satsuki and Mai – My Neighbour Totoro

 Satsuki & Mai

I am going to cheat and put two female characters in here, but it’s only because you can’t have one without the other. Satsuki and Mai are the central characters to Miyazaki’s most loved work; My Neighbour Totoro.

Again, Miyazaki puts the two girls at the centre of the action and shows that girls can be heroines. As the girls’ mother is ill Satsuki takes on the role of guardian, not mother, to her sister and shows that being a guardian doesn’t necessarily mean being safe – it means looking after someone, even if that might involve a bit of danger and fun. Oh and they get to spend a lot of their time with a giant, fluffy imaginary beast. I don’t know what else a film could need really.

3 Things That Make Satsuki and Mai Great

  1. They look out for each other and show a positive female relationship in action
  2. They get to run around with a giant, fluffy, ridiculous beast called Totoro and don’t question it for a second
  3. They’re both brave, adventurous and independent

Best Scene

The now more than iconic bus stop and cat bus scene. It’s a bus that’s a cat people, need you ask why I love it so much?

5. Marjane Satrapi – Persepolis

 Persepolis

Persepolis is the startlingly beautiful and autobiographical film by Marjane Satrapi. It’s a coming of age story set in 1970s Iran and shows the impact of a country run by Islamic Extremists. Marjane is less than quiet about her opinions on the new regime and is eventually sent off to Europe to live alone, all whilst she’s a teenager.

This film shows a female character in real, mortal danger and shows her unnerving and resilient nature against oppressive figures. Marjane lives abroad, educates herself and messily falls in love and we get to see all of it in its black and white glory. Persepolis is so achingly beautiful that sometimes it’s hard to take it all in at once. Just go and watch it right now.

3 Things That Make Marjane Great:

  1. She’s an out and out feminist and frequently voices her opinion even if it may get her into trouble
  2. She’s resolutely human and makes some pretty bad mistakes on the way – which is an important thing to see your heroine do
  3. She’s educated, fearless and imaginative

Best Scene

Persepolis

One of the best montages in all of film history exists in Persepolis. There’s a great part where Marjane lifts herself out of a depression and does it all to Eye of The Tiger. Genuinely funny and moving all at the same time.

6. Jesse – Toy Story 2 & 3

 Jesse

The Toy Story trilogy is my favourite trilogy of all time (fuck off Star Wars) and that is largely down to Jesse. Jesse is the spunky and boisterous cow girl that eventually steals the heart of a space man and manages to rock a plaid shirt like no other woman before her.

Toy Story was, of course, a great exercise in film franchising because you could buy all of your favourite characters as they appeared in the film. Ka-ching. If any of my friends have kids then they are getting a Jesse doll and the whole box set so they can see what it looks like to play alongside the boys and be considered an equal. Jesse for president.

3 Things That Make Jesse Great:

  1. She’s scared of rejection and has one of the best montages in Pixar’s history, then she finds all of her die hard loyal friends and has adventures with them. Yay!
  2. She’s a horse and space man whisperer (she knows about his Spanish setting, after all)
  3. She’s Calamity Jane for 90s kids

Best Scene

Jesse

The montage. Sob.

7. Young Ellie – Up

 Young Ellie  (Up)

That fucking montage. Heartbreak aside, Young Ellie is so great. She’s loud, outgoing and steals the heart of a man with a balloon and a winning smile. Fair shout. Young Ellie also demonstrates that you can suffer great loss (cue the tears) and recover to live a life filled with happiness. She didn’t get to travel, which makes me sad, but that’s part of her story – she’s the whole reason Mr Frederickson finds his bravery. What a catalyst she is.

3 Things That Make Young Ellie Great

  1. She’s loyal, brave and someone I would want to be friends with
  2. She makes a depilated house a wonderland
  3. She helps others realise their potential

Best Scene

Adventure is out there! The scene in the bedroom after Little Mr Frederickson comes back from the hospital. They tell stories under their own handmade tent. Nostalgia abound.

Ruth Hartnoll is a full time copywriter, part time queen at www.crownrules.uk and obsessive theatre & poetry enthusiast. She adores animated characters, particularly female, and encourages all women and girls to go and to have lots of naughty fun – if the boys are doing it, we can do it better. Adventure is out there! Follow Ruth on Twitter here.

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Film Review: Calvary

Calvary Film PosterFather James is an innocent, good-natured Irish priest, but his life is thrown into disarray when someone threatens to kill him during a confession.

John Michael McDonagh’s 2011 dark comedy The Guard has become a bit of a cult hit and Calvary looks set to do exactly the same. It only received a limited release at cinemas so is likely to gain most fans from home viewings, which is a bit of a shame as it’s well worthy of far more attention.

Whilst McDonagh and his brother Martin (In BrugesSeven Psychopaths) might be best known for their dark comedies, Calvary is practically pitch black in its humour, verging on straight-up drama territory. There is still some comedy in there but it largely arises from the small, individual moments and interactions between the characters rather than any major incidents.

Because it’s the script that really shines in Calvary, as is the case with practically all of the McDonaghs’ work. The plot is relatively irrelevant for large chunks, but the script is always razor sharp with plenty of satire and social commentary. It also helps that it’s masterfully delivered by Brendan Gleeson (and everyone else) who perfectly blends his compassion with anger and hurt. This is proof that Gleeson is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated actors working at the moment.

The Irish landscape also plays a big part in making the film successful, as it did with The Guard, making the area feel remote and totally isolated, as if what happens will never be uncovered by the rest of the world. Despite the wide open spaces, it makes the film feel very claustrophobic, almost Straw Dogs-like, and adds to the feeling that Father James’ fate is inevitable.

The only thing that I felt didn’t really work was that it felt a little easy to do the whole priest and child abuse angle (not a spoiler – it’s mentioned in the first scene). It’s a massive issue, but just felt a little cheap. Other than that there’s very little to criticise. Calvary will no doubt go largely unnoticed by many but it’s well worth your time if you want a film that looks superb, is on the whole magnificently written and superbly acted.

Pros

  • Wonderful script
  • Great cinematography
  • Brilliant acting, particularly from Gleeson

Cons

  • Slightly predictable in its portrayal of the clergy

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Sunday Soundtrack – Romeo and Juliet (Dire Straits)

Well this feature (if you can call it that) has gone well, hasn’t it? Oh well, here’s a Sunday Soundtrack that came at the request of Abbi from Where the Wild Things Are and it comes in the form of Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet from Empire Records. Enjoy!

If you have any recommendations then leave them in the comments and I might eventually get around to them.

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