Talking Movies

April 19, 2019

5 Modern Works for mourning

Arvo Part: Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten

Richard Strauss: Metamorphosen for 23 Strings

Olivier Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time

Krzysztof Penderecki: Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima

Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings

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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

April 23, 2012

Damsels in Distress

Writer/director Whit Stillman’s first film since 1998’s The Last Days of Disco is a deliriously enjoyable slice of New England liberal arts college skewering nonsense.

Ingénue Lily (former America’s Next Top Model contestant Analeigh Tipton) transfers into Seven Oaks College which is dominated by the slightly unhinged clique of Greta Gerwig’s Violet. Violet is engaged in a deadly struggle with the editor of the campus newspaper The Daily Complainer over his efforts to shut the Roman Houses as her dim boyfriend Frank (Ryan Metcalf) lives at one of these frat houses. Violet is also engaged in trying to raise morale with her Suicide Prevention Centre, which she runs with best friend Rose (CSI: Miami star Megalyn Echikunwoke) and Heather (Carrie MacLemore). Violet thinks that creating an international dance craze with her original creation the Sambola may help change the world for the better. Lily becomes more assertive under Violet’s acerbic tutelage and indeed soon thinks that Violet’s clique may be the worst people imaginable for the job of preventing suicide…

Stillman is one of the most urbane auteurs imaginable and this return from an extended absence occasioned by a film set in Jamaica falling thru is full of delightful gags. An opening argument about whether Xavier is spelt with an X or a Z which instances the lamentable case of a Xorro who signed his name by slashing X with a sword, and was therefore unjustly considered illiterate exemplifies what follows. The ‘plot’ is a ramshackle series of comedic episodes with titles. A highlight being The Roman Holiday at which the frat boys go wild in costume to the strains of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathrustra as the girls sigh that this seems to be the end of western civilisation. But following Lily from ingénue to mean girl while Violet declines is really all the structuring character arc you need when it allows glorious dialogue.

Billy Magnusen’s frat boy Thor who is hitting the books hard to try and fix in his mind what the primary colours are is a triumphant creation, and the transformative power of a bar of soap is an equally absurdist moment. Stillman also indulges in more subtle effects, as when a piece of pop Anti-Catholicism by a character is revealed later to be tragically misjudged. Gerwig is impressive as Violet, Echikunwoke receives an amazing character moment after milking her recurring line about ‘playboy operators’, which she applies to Talking Movies favourite Adam Brody; whose Charlie, alongside Hugo Becker’s exchange student Xavier, comes between Lily and Violet as romantic obstacles. People say horrible things to each other in this film but Stillman never has anything less than love for them.

No one in the world has ever really talked quite like a Whit Stillman character, but you feel sure that F Scott Fitzgerald’s characters would get on well with them.

4/5

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