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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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Quickie: Now You See Me

A group of four magicians known as The Four Horsemen (Isla Fisher, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco) are enlisted by a mysterious fifth party to undertake a serious of impressive, and illegal, illusions that begin attracting the attention of the authorities, and in particular FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo).

Now You See Me starts off on the right foot. We’re treated to a bit of close-up magic that actually involves the audience, immediately inviting us to buy into what’s on screen. Even up until about half way in, we’re still in a world of mystery and illusion. However, it all suddenly starts to fall away. Gone are any trace of nuance or intricacy and in comes a paint-by-numbers action film complete with car chases, fight scenes and a ridiculously unnecessary romance.

Most of the cast do reasonably well with what they’re given, but none are particularly stand out. Woody Harrelson probably provides the most personality of the four leads, with Dave Franco and Isla Fisher being really rather nondescript. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are also fleetingly entertaining but never do more than hover around the periphery.

Jesse Eisenberg’s character comments at one point that with magic “the more you look, the less you see”, and the same could be said of Now You See Me. Look too closely and the whole thing starts to unravel – some rather sizeable plot holes and laughable exposition prevents you from ever fully engaging with the film. However, there is some fun to be had. Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige this most definitely isn’t, but take it at face value and the various twists, turns and red herrings should provide just enough to provide some popcorn entertainment.

3 pigeons3/5 pigeons

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Film review: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

With great power comes great responsibility.

Yes, yes, that’s a whole different suit o’ spandex, but it could so easily apply to the pressures surrounding Christopher Nolan approaching The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan rebooted a Batman franchise that was in dire need of an overhaul and did so to an effect that no-one could have expected. Batman Begins brought us Batman’s origin story and perfectly mixed action and sentiment, whilst The Dark Knight introduced Heath Ledger’s Joker, creating one of the most memorable comic book film villains ever. Many have hailed TDK has the greatest superhero film of all time, so just how do you follow that?

It wasn’t too long before we were introduced to Bane, the beefcake who was to take over villainous duties from The Joker, duking it out with Bats amongst literally hundreds of extras, showing that Nolan clearly wanted to show people that he was thinking big. We also got told that a certain Miss Selina Kyle would make an appearance and then the trailers arrived featuring some huge explosive set pieces. It seemed as if Nolan was right on track to concluding the series in spectacular fashion.

We pick the story up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight with Gotham in a time of peace following the work done by the late Harvey Dent and Batman seemingly gone forever. Bruce Wayne is doing a Howard Hughes and has become a recluse in Wayne Manor. However, following the emergence of the terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), who is plotting something terrible for Gotham, Wayne decides to suit up once more to put a stop to his evil plotting.

BaneAll the major players are back for more; Alfred (Michael Caine), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), etc, but we also get the introduction of a few new faces. Of course there is Anna Hathaway’s Selina Kyle (not Catwoman, technically), but we also get Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake, a young cop in the mould of Jim Gordon, and Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate, a businesswoman desperate to get a nuclear energy programme up and running with Mr Wayne. These new characters add plenty more depth to the story, having various different influences on the final outcome. Of all the new additions, it’s Selina Kyle that is the most significant. Many believe Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman to be pretty definitive but Hathaway is superb as the feline femme fatale, managing to successfully capture the good gal/bad gal dynamic that is so essential to the character.

Then we come to Bane. The previous villains in the trilogy were all very much human characters in the comics, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch for Nolan to drag them into his real world imagining. However, Bane is a little different. Although still human, he is traditionally of superhuman size with stupendously large muscles. Enter Tom Hardy. Hardy’s physique has become rather renowned after turns in Bronson and Warrior, so it’s no surprise to see him chosen to join the Inception reunion. Much had been made about Bane’s voice in TDKR but the problem was negligible; the evident post-production dubbing has ironed out much of the issue, with only a couple of instances that may leave you trying to work out what was said.

Bane is a fine addition to this Batman’s Rogues Gallery, along with Ra’s Al Ghul, Scarecrow and Joker, and most certainly makes up for the abominable portrayal of the character in Batman & Robin. However, much of his actions build up to something that doesn’t really take a near 3 hour film to tell, and there is a feeling with the main plot of a little style over substance. It looks fantastic throughout and the set pieces are certainly impressive, but they feel a little shallow at times and we rarely feel the true peril that Gotham is supposedly in; Bane’s motives remain unclear for much of the film, which does leave a certain sense story being sacrificed for plot. The film, and particularly its climax, also descends into cliché at times which detracts a little from a franchise that has laid a foundation of doing things differently.

The action is nicely punctuated with more touching moments to give a change of pace and give the film a more of a Batman Begins feel; Bruce and Alfred’s emotional showdown is a highlight of the trilogy, and even Bane isn’t completely immune to a tug on the heartstrings. Alfred is the trilogy’s emotional core and once again he provides the perfect grounding for Bruce’s daredevil lifestyle. Over the three films, his story is arguably the most poignant of all. There are some plot threads however that feel underdeveloped that do nothing but add unnecessary confusion to an already packed plot.

It was always going to be difficult for Nolan to top TDK but he has done tremendously well to create a film that offers action in swathes but also a level of sensitivity that was missing from the previous film. TDKR is more character focused, harking back to Begins, which offsets the action set pieces perfectly. It might lack the originality of Begins and the depth of TDK, but TDKR is a fitting sign-off to a trilogy that has reinvented comic book adaptations and has shown that Christopher Nolan can handle both the power and responsibility bestowed upon him.

Words: Chris Thomson

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