Talking Movies

November 10, 2014

Interstellar

Christopher Nolan redeems himself after the patchy The Dark Knight Rises with a hard tack into heavy-duty theoretical sci-fi in a mind-bending, oddly abstract blockbuster.

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The McConaissance continues as Matthew McConaughey takes on the role of Cooper, a Texan engineer and pilot turned farmer in the near future. Cooper’s is a self-professed caretaker generation, trying to eke a subsistence living from a devastated planet with a collapsed population. Indeed Cooper’s daughter Murph is subjected to some Orwellian education about the futility of technological civilisation. But among the cornfields stalked by blight and storming dust-clouds there are still some people who dream big: NASA in hiding. Michael Caine’s wise professor and his icy daughter Brand (Anne Hathaway) convince Cooper to pilot their last ditch Lazarus mission, to travel through a wormhole next to Saturn in an attempt to find a new home for humanity. But as Cooper leaves an inconsolable Murph behind him, and joins fellow astronauts Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi), he finds that the search for humanity’s salvation seems oddly underpinned by losing all traces of humanity…

Interstellar is a bold change of pace for the Brothers Nolan. The script, written by Jonathan Nolan and then reworked by Christopher, sketches in this future world in the manner of a John Wyndham novel; taking for granted that we know about the macro which we actually only learn about when it impacts the micro world of Cooper and Murph. This leads to some double-take moments, such as Bill Irwin’s comic relief, which are amplified by Nolan’s insistence on secrecy. Some familiar faces appear to shocking effect, which would be dissipated by mentioning them; but among them is a cheerful cameo from William Devane aka 24’s President Heller. Interstellar could best be described as a version of Sunshine written not by Alex Garland, but instead boasting a screenplay by Rod Serling based on a story outline by Carl Sagan. Hard science of a theoretical bent mixes with a soured vision of humanity’s worst tendencies being dominant.

Interstellar is unlikely to get as fond a welcome as previous Nolan movies, but it does have much in common with them; from the Twilight Zone finale like The Prestige, to simultaneous set-pieces as adult Murph (Jessica Chastain) and Cooper wrestle with similar dilemmas like Inception. Hans Zimmer’s score avoids nearing Richard Strauss’ template by borrowing Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible organ and plugging it into a million IMAX amplifiers; achieving solemnity (without melody) by dint of volume. The replacement of Wally Pfister as DP by Hoyte van Hoytema doesn’t jar, but the changeover is aided by the fact that a very different cinematic world is being captured than that of the Nolan/Pfister paradigm. Nolan wrings good performances from his large cast, with Mackenzie Foy blowing Jessica Chastain off the screen as the younger iteration of the indomitable Murph, and McConaughey counteracting the heartless science of the Brand family with the emotional sensitivity of the Coopers.

Interstellar walks a tricky high-wire, attempting to create a heart-rending family saga dependent for its emotion on theoretical physics being literalised in a way that defeats traditional blockbuster visuals.

4/5

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October 17, 2013

Escape Plan

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger finally properly co-star together, and the result is a superior slice of prison break nonsense.

THE TOMB

Ray Breslin (Stallone) begins the film getting sent to solitary in a federal prison in Colorado for shanking a vengeful fellow prisoner. He promptly escapes with the help of an explosive diversion outside. And then explains to the warden how he did it, because that’s Ray’s job. Aided by his colleagues Abigail (Amy Ryan) and Hush (Curtis Jackson), Ray is sent to prisons by his business partner Lester (Vincent D’Onofrio) to compromise their security, so that weak-points can be eliminated. However, when CIA agent Miller (Monaghan’s Caitriona Balfe) employs Ray to test a new black site things go sideways. Victimised by vicious guard Drake (Vinne Jones), Stallone finds the warden Hobbes (Jim Caviziel) is not his contact, but his nemesis. Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), an associate of a master financial hacker, is Ray’s only chance of escaping from Hobbes’ unbreakable The Tomb.

Director Mikael Hafstrom is obviously aware of the silliness of proceedings. The first appearance of Schwarzenegger is accompanied by a deliriously knowing camera swoop to reveal his face. And then a later slow-mo extreme close up on Arnie’s eyes accompanies an appropriately massive gun finally being given to him. The dialogue at times creaks under the weight of expectation for good one-liners that it can’t quite deliver. But there is so much to love in this film. Arnie freaking out in German in an extended sequence in which he recites the entire ‘Our Father’ as well as riffing on Nietzsche’s Gay Science is oddly glorious. And Stallone’s emphasis on brains over brawn is a pleasing acknowledgment of his age: his strength is his tactical nous in assessing how structural weak points best combine with the blind moments in guards’ routines.

Hobbes beautifully uses Ray’s very life work against him. If you’d read one of Cosmo Landesman’s more ridiculous rants you’d note that Caviziel’s wearing of a waistcoat, fastidious dusting of his tie, and studious hobby of pinning butterflies resemble Christopher Eccleston’s alleged coders of homosexuality in Gone in 60 Seconds. Landesman’s quite odd sometimes… Far more interesting is noting Republican Schwarzenegger’s involvement in such a politically subversive script. Hobbes dispenses with the niceties of water-boarding to simply insert a hose in Rottmayer’s mouth and let rip. Faran Tahir’s Javed becomes an integral and sympathetic part of the escape, so that suddenly either we’re rooting for a mujihadeen to get back to business or accepting that the CIA quite frequently renditions the wrong man. Escape Plan is also a needlessly star-studded film. Sam Neill gets very little to do as the sympathetic prison doctor, while the great Ryan is similarly underused.

Escape Plan, excepting some expansive pull-outs, prioritises physical sets and choreography over CGI, and is the escapist fun The Expendables franchise fails to deliver.

4/5

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