Insomnia File #22: Insomnia (dir by Christopher Nolan)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Last night, if you were up at 2 in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the atmospheric 2002 mystery, Insomnia.

I have to admit that I’m cheating a little bit by including Insomnia in a series about obscure films that you might find on cable late at night.  While Insomnia does seem to often turn up during the early morning hours, it’s hardly an obscure film.  A remake of an acclaimed Norwegian film, it not only stars three Oscar winners (Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank) but it was directed by Christopher Nolan.  Insomnia got a lot of attention when it was first released in 2002.  But, doing an insomnia file about a movie that’s actually about insomnia was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.

I should also mention that I didn’t have insomnia last night.  I was up because I currently have a cold and I watched Insomnia in a feverish and congested haze.  And yet I couldn’t help but feel that, somehow, that was actually the ideal way to watch Insomnia.  With its ominous atmosphere and Nolan’s eye for the surreal, Insomnia plays out like a semi-lucid fever dream.

A teenage girl has been murdered in a small Alaskan fishing village.  The chief of police (played by the great character actor Paul Dooley) asks his former LAPD partner, Will Dormer (Al Pacino), to come to Alaska and help with the investigation.  Accompanying Dormer is his partner and friend, Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan).

Dormer has issues that go far beyond anything happening in Alaska.  He’s burned out and he’s plagued by rumors that, in the past, he was a crooked cop.  He’s being investigated by Internal Affairs and, shortly after they arrive in Alaska, Eckhart admits that he’s been given immunity as part of a deal to testify against Dormer.  While pursuing the suspected murderer through the Alaskan fog, Dormer fires his gun.  When the fog clear, Dormer discovers that he’s killed Eckhart.  Was it an accident or did Dormer intentionally shoot  his partner?  Not even Dormer seems to know for sure.  He lies and says that the murderer shot Eckhart.

Working with a local detective (Hilary Swank), Dormer tries to solve the Alaska murder, with the knowledge that, once he does, he’ll have to return to Los Angeles and he’ll probably be indicted.  Because of the midnight sun, night never falls in Alaska and, tortured by guilt, Dormer cannot sleep.  Add to that, the murderer knows that Dormer shot Eckhart.  And now, he’s calling Dormer and cruelly taunting him.

Who is the murderer?  His name is Walter Finch.  He’s a writer and, in a stroke of brilliance, he’s played by none other than Robin Williams.  To me, Robin Williams’s screen presence always carried hints of narcissism and self-destruction.  Even in comedic roles, there was a transparent but very solid wall between Williams the audience.  When he was shouting out a thousand words a minute and rapidly switching from one character to the next, it always seemed as if it was all a technique to keep anyone from figuring out who he really was.  In Insomnia (and, that same year, in One Hour Photo), Robin Williams reveals an inner darkness that he rarely showed before or after.  Finch may possess Williams’s trademark eccentric smile and nervous voice but, underneath the surface, he’s an empty shell who views human beings as being as disposable as the characters in his paperback novels.

Christopher Nolan takes us directly into the heads of these two enemies, with shots of the desolate Alaskan landscape seeming to perfectly capture the inner desolation of two minds destroyed by guilt and paranoia.  (Neither Finch nor Dormer is capable of connecting with the world outside of his damaged psyche.)  As seen through Nolan’s lens, Alaska becomes as surreal and haunting as one of the dream landscapes from Inception.  For those of us who found both The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar to be so bombastic that they verged on self-parody, Insomnia is a nice reminder that Nolan doesn’t need a pounding Han Zimmer score to make a great movie.  With Insomnia, Nolan gives us not bombast but a deceptively low-key and atmospheric journey into the heart of darkness.

Ironically, for a film about two men who cannot sleep, Insomnia will haunt your dreams.

insomnia2002poster

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth

Lisa’s Too Early Oscar Predictions For February


Oscars

Well, it’s that time again!

Every month this year, I am updating my predictions for which films and performers will be nominated for Oscars in 2018.  At this point in the year, this is largely an academic exercise.  The nominees below are a mix of wild guesses, instinctual feeling, and wishful thinking.  Usually, a clear picture of the Oscar race doesn’t start to form until October at the earliest.  (Last year, at this time, nobody had even heard of Moonlight or Hell or High Water.)  In other words, take these predictions with a grain of salt.

This update is heavily influenced by what happened at the Sundance Film Festival last month.  In fact, it’s probably a bit too influenced by Sundance.  If these predictions turned out to be 100% correct, the 2018 Oscars would be the Sundance Oscars.  That said, it seems that there’s always a few successful Oscar campaigns that start during Sundance.  (And then there’s always a few Sundance sensations that totally fizzle during awards season.  Birth of a Nation, anyone?  Or perhaps The End of the Tour.)  But, as of right now, Sundance is pretty much the only thing that we have to go on, as far as future Oscar contenders are concerned.

Again, take all of this with a grain of salt.  Just because I may brag about knowing what I’m talking about, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I do.

Check out January’s predictions here! 

And without further ado…

Mudbound

Mudbound

Best Picture

Battle of the Sexes

The Beguiled

The Big Sick

Blade Runner 2047

Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour

Downsizing

Dunkirk

Mudbound

The big additions here are Mudbound, The Big Sick, and Call Me By Your Name, all three of which got a lot of attention and acclaim at Sundance.  Both Mudbound and Call Me By Your Name are already being mentioned, by some Oscar bloggers, as possible winners for best picture.  The Big Sick may seem like more of a dark horse but, from what I’ve read, it sounds like the sort of movie that could emerge as a surprise contender.  With its Muslim protagonist and its mix of comedy and drama, it sounds like it could catch the cultural zeitgeist.

Dropping from the list: T2, All Eyez On Me, and War Machine.  T2 has gotten good but not great reviews in the UK.  As for All Eyez on Me and War Machine — well, it’s just a feeling I have.  Both of them could be good but it’s easier to imagine a scenario in which they’re both disappointments.

Best Director

Luca Guadagnino for Call Me By Your Name

Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Alexander Payne for Downsizing

Dee Rees for Mudbound

Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2047

Guadagnino and Rees are new contenders.  Rees would be the first black woman ever nominated for best director.

Best Actor

Chadwick Boseman in Marshall

Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name

Tom Cruise in American Made

Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

I’m a little bit iffy on Chadwick Boseman.  In Marshall, he will be playing Thurgood Marshall, which sounds like a good, Oscar baity role.  But Marshall itself sounds like a rather standard biopic.  Timothee Chalamet and, especially, Kumail Nanjiani received a lot of Sundance acclaim.  The fact that Nanjiani has been outspoken in his opposition to Trump’s travel ban will probably help his chances.

Sundance was also responsible for Logan Lerman falling off this list.  Sidney Hall got terrible reviews.

Best Actress

Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul

Danielle MacDonald in Patti Cake$

Carey Mulligan in Mudbound

Lois Smith in Marjorie Prime

Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes

Among the new additions, Danielle MacDonald was one of the break-out stars at Sundance.  Carey Mulligan is due to get another nomination (and Mudbound is expected to be a major Oscar contender).  As for Lois Smith, she’s a respected veteran actress who gets to play a rare lead role in Marjorie Prime.  So, why not a nomination?

Best Supporting Actor

James Franco in The Masterpiece

Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name

Jason Mitchell in Mudbound

Bill Skarsgard in It

Michael Stuhlbarg in Call Me By Your Name

I’m continuing to predict a nomination for James Franco and yes, it probably is just wishful thinking on my part.  But dammit, I just like the idea of Franco getting a nomination for playing Tommy Wiseau.

Skarsgard is probably wishful thinking as well.  If It works, it will be because of Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise.

Finally, Hammer, Mitchell, and Stuhlbarg are our Sundance nominees.  Many people think that all three are overdue for some Academy recognition.  (There’s some debate over whether Hammer should go supporting or lead for Call Me By Your Name.  I’m going to assume that he’s going to pull a Viola Davis and go supporting.)

Best Supporting Actress

Mary J. Blige in Mudbound

Holly Hunter in The Big Sick

Melissa Leo in Novitiate 

Kristin Scott Thomas in Darkest Hour

Tilda Swinton in War Machine

As always, this is the most difficult category to predict.  Blige, Hunter, and Leo are all Sundance nominees.  (Hunter is especially said to be award-worthy in her Big Sick role.)  For the second month in a row, Scott Thomas and Swinton are listed more because of who they are than any other reason.

The Big Sick

The Big Sick

Lisa’s Way Too Early Oscar Predictions For January


2013 oscars

Why are these Oscar predictions “way too early?”

Well, unlike every other movie blogger right now, I am not attempting to predict who and what will be nominated on January 24th.  Instead, with this post, I am attempting to predict which 2017 releases will be nominated next year!  In short, I am attempting to predict what movies and which performers will emerge as Oscar contenders over the next 12 months.

Needless to say, this is more than a little bit foolish on my part.  I haven’t seen any of the films listed below.  Some of these films don’t have release dates and others are coming out so early in the year that, in order to be contenders, they’ll have to be so spectacular that neither the Academy nor the critics end up forgetting about them.  For the most part, the true picture of the Oscar race usually doesn’t start to emerge until the summer.

For now, these predictions are, for the most part, wild guesses and they should be taken with more than just a grain of salt.  Each month, I will revise my predictions.  At the very least, next year, we’ll probably be able to look back at this post and laugh.

(Whenever trying to make early Oscar predictions, one should remember all of the award bloggers who predicted Nicole Kidman would win an Oscar for Grace of Monaco, just to then see the movie make its long-delayed premiere on Lifetime.)

With all that in mind, here are my way too early Oscar predictions for January!

Best Picture

All Eyez on Me

Battle of the Sexes

The Beguiled

Blade Runner 2047

Crown Heights

Darkest Hour

Downsizing

Dunkirk

T2: Trainspotting

War Machine

Again, for the most part, these predictions are a combination of wild guesses, instinct, and wishful thinking.  It’s entirely possible that none of these films will actually be nominated for best picture.  (Some might even end up premiering on Lifetime, you never know.)  Here’s why I think that some of them might be remembered next year at this time:

All Eyez On Me is a biopic of Tupac Shakur.  Assuming the film is done correctly, Shakur’s life would seem to have all the elements that usually go into an Oscar-winning film.

Battle of the Sexes is a film based on a true incident, a 1970s tennis match between a feminist and a self-declared male chauvinist.  It’s directed by the team behind the Oscar-nominated Little Miss Sunshine and it stars two former nominees, Emma Stone and Steve Carell.

The Beguiled might be wishful thinking on my part but, at this point, wishful thinking is all I have to go on for most of these predictions.  The Beguiled is a remake of a Clint Eastwood film and it’s directed by one of my favorite directors, Sofia Coppola!  Much like Battle of the Sexes, its misogynist-gets-what’s-coming-to-him storyline might make it the perfect film for the first year of the Trump presidency.

Blade Runner 2047 is one of the most eagerly anticipated films of 2017 and it’s directed by Denis Villeneuve, who is hot off of Arrival.  The Oscar success of Mad Max: Fury Road proved that a sequel can be a contender.

Every year, at least one contender emerges out of Sundance and this year, it could very well be Crown Heights.  It tells a fact-based story, about a man trying to win his best friend’s release from prison after the latter is wrongly convicted.  That all sounds very Oscar baity.

Speaking of Oscar bait, Darkest Hour stars Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.  If that doesn’t sound like Oscar bait, I don’t know what does.

Downsizing is Alexander Payne’s latest film.  It’s about a man (Matt Damon), who shrinks himself.  It may not sound like typical Oscar bait but Payne is definitely a favorite of the Academy’s.

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s big epic for 2017.  Will it be another huge success or will it just be bombastic?  We’ll see.  The Academy has a weakness for World War II films and it could be argued that the very successful yet never nominated Nolan is overdue for some Academy recognition.  (It is true that Inception received a nomination for best picture but Nolan himself was snubbed.)

T2: Trainspotting is probably coming out too early in the year to be a legitimate contender but who knows?  The trailer was great.  Danny Boyle is directing it.  And, much as with Blade Runner 2047, Mad Max: Fury Road proved that a well-made and intelligent sequel can find favor with the Academy.

War Machine is described as being a satire about the war in Afghanistan.  Could it be another Big Short?  With Obama out of office, the Academy might be more open to political satire than they’ve been in the past.

Best Director

Danny Boyle for T2: Trainspotting

Sofia Coppola for The Beguiled

Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Alexander Payne for Downsizing

Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2047

Again, there’s a lot of random guessing here.  Personally, I’d love to see Sofia Coppola receive a second nomination for best director.  Payne and Boyle are always possibilities and, if Villeneuve’s work on Arrival is ignored this year, nominating him for Blade Runner would be a good way to make up for it.  As for Nolan, he’s going to get nominated some day.   Why not for Dunkirk?

Best Actor

Tom Cruise in American Made

Sam Elliott in The Hero

Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman

Logan Lerman in Sidney Hall

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

In American Made, Tom Cruise plays a real-life drug runner.  It sounds like one of those change-of-pace roles that often results in an Oscar nomination.  Gary Oldman has never won an Oscar and has only been nominated once.  The Academy might want to rectify that situation by nominating him for playing Winston Churchill.  And finally, Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum in a big budget musical that’s scheduled to open on Christmas Day?  It sounds like either a total disaster or the formula for Oscar gold!

Logan Lerman is one of those actors who appears to be destined to eventually be nominated for an Oscar and, in Sidney Hall, he ages over thirty years.  Finally, Sam Elliott is a beloved veteran who has never been nominated.  If The Hero is a hit at Sundance, it’s easy to imagine the Oscar campaign that will follow.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain in The Zookeeper’s Wife

Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul

Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled

Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes

Naomi Watts in The Book of Henry

As of this writing, Meryl Streep does not have a movie scheduled to be released in 2017, which means that another actress will get the sport usually reserved for her.  But who?  Jessica Chastain could be nominated because she’s Jessica Chastain and the Academy loves her.  Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria for a second time in Victoria and Abdul.  The Academy loves movies about British royalty and Dench has already been nominated once for bringing Victoria to life.  Naomi Watts plays a loving but possibly crazy mother in The Book of Henry, which again sounds like a very Oscar baity role.  If Emma Stone doesn’t win for La La Land, the Academy could make it up to her by nominating her for Battle of the Sexes.

As for Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled — well, let’s call that wishful thinking.  My hope is that Sofia Coppola will do great things with The Beguiled and she will get another great performance out of Nicole Kidman.  We’ll see if I’m right.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Carlyle in T2: Trainspotting

Johnny Depp in Murder on The Orient Experss

James Franco in The Masterpiece

Bill Skarsgard in It

Kevin Spacey in Billionaire Boys Club

Admittedly, the guesses here are fairly random but there is a logic behind each nominee.  Robert Carlyle was great in Trainspotting so he might be just as great in T2.  In Billionaire Boys Club, Kevin Spacey plays a sleazy con artist and that sounds like the type of role with which he could do wonders.  If It is to be a success, Bill Skarsgard is going to have to be a terrifying Pennywise.  If Heath Ledger could win for playing the Joker, surely Skarsgard could be nominated for playing Pennywise.

As for James Franco in The Masterpiece … yes, it’s more wishful thinking on my part.  Franco will be playing Tommy Wiseau, the director of the notorious The Room.  Wiseau is, needless to say, an eccentric figure.  Not only do I think James Franco could give an award-worthy performance in the role but I also just like the idea of someone getting an Oscar for playing Tommy Wiseau.

Finally, we have Johnny Depp in Murder on The Orient Express.  Why not?  It seems like someone from that film’s huge cast is destined to be nominated so why not Johnny Depp?

 

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Aniston in The Yellow Birds

Danai Guirra in All Eyez On Me

Kelly MacDonald in T2: Trainspotting

Kristin Scott Thomas in Darkest Hour

Tilda Swinton in War Machine

These guesses are even more random than my guesses for supporting actor.  Jennifer Aniston and Danai Guirra will both be playing mothers who lose their sons.  A lot of people were surprised when Aniston was not nominated for Cake so here’s a chance for the Academy to make it up to her.  As for Kristin Scott Thomas, she’ll be playing Winston Churchill’s wife and the Academy loves historical wives (i.e., Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech and Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything).

As for the last two predictions, Tilda Swinton is listed because she’s Tilda Swinton.  Kelly MacDonald is listed for the same reason that I put Robert Carlyle down for supporting actor.  She was just so good in the first film.

So, there you go!  Those are my too early Oscar predictions for January!  Will they prove to be accurate?  Probably not.

But we’ll see how things change over the next couple of months.  At the very least, you’ll be able to look back at this post and laugh at me for thinking that … oh, let’s say Battle of the Sexes … would ever be nominated for an Academy Award.

As for me, I’ll be revising my predictions in February.  At least by that point, maybe the Sundance Film Festival will have provided some guidance…

Tommy_Wiseau_in_The_Room

Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” – Full Trailer


The full trailer for Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Dunkirk, was recently released.

Focusing on the events surrounding the battle of Dunkirk, the movie looks to be pretty epic from at least a cinematography standpoint. Hoyt Van Hoytema (Spectre, Interstellar, Her) is back for this, which could be fantastic for the 70mm and IMAX Presentations.

Dunkirk – Starring Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Kenneth Branaugh, is due to open in theatres next July.

Scenes I Love: The Prestige


The Prestige - David Bowie

David Bowie has passed away and the world is much less brighter with his passing.

While I’ve been a fan of most of David Bowie’s music, I consider myself more of a fan of his rare appearances playing other characters in other people’s films. Whether it was as the alien Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth, to John in The Hunger and right up to his role as Jareth, King of the Goblins in the fantasy film Labyrinth, Bowie has always made himself such a presence whenever he was on the screen.

One of my favorite roles he played recently was in the 2006 film The Prestige by Christopher Nolan. In it he played the role of the eccentric genius Nikola Tesla who gains as a patron Hugh Jackman’s magician, Robert Angier. Not as showy a role as some of the others mentioned above, but Bowie easily conveys not just tired and beaten down Tesla who by this point has been hounded by Edison for years, but also understanding that his own genius has led him to obsessing over what his intellect has come up with.

Even as he battled cancer these past 18 months before losing his fight, David Bowie continued to do what he loved. Releasing a new album this month and now he lives on in his music and up on the silver screen.

“Commencing countdown, engines on…Check ignition and may God’s love be with you.”

RIP, DAVID BOWIE

Here Are The Chicago Film Critics Association Nominations!


Happy Valentine's Day!

Finally, from the former hometown of Al Capone and President Obama, here are the Chicago Film Critic Associations Nominations!

BEST PICTURE
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Under the Skin
Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Christopher Nolan, Interstellar

BEST ACTOR
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton, Birdman
David Oyelowo, Selma
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Scarlett Johannson, Under the Skin
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Laura Dern, Wild
Agata Kulesza, Ida
Emma Stone, Birdman

BEST ORIGNAL SCREENPLAY
Birdman, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo
Boyhood, Richard Linklater
Calvary, John Michael McDonagh
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson
Whiplash, Damien Chazelle

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
The Imitation Game, Graham Moore
Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson
Under the Skin, Walter Campbell
Wild, Nick Hornby

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
Force Majeure
Ida
Mommy
The Raid 2
Two Days, One Night

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Citizenfour
Jodorowsky’s Dune
Last Days in Vietnam
Life Itself
The Overnighters

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Lego Movie
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

BEST ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Interstellar
Into The Woods
Only Lovers Left Alive
Snowpiercer

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ida
Inherent Vice
Interstellar

BEST EDITING
Birdman
Boyhood
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Whiplash

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Under the Skin

MOST PROMISING PERFORMER
Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle/Beyond the Lights
Jack O’Connell, Starred Up/Unbroken
Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
Agata Trzebuchowska, Ida

MOST PROMISING FILMMAKER
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
Jennifer Kent, The Babadook
Jeremy Saulnier, Blue Ruin
Justin Simien, Dear White People

‘Interstellar’ Review (dir. Christopher Nolan)


interstellar2

It would be disingenuous of me to not start this review by saying that I went into ‘Interstellar’ with a clear and present bias. Not towards Nolan – though I think he is a wonderful director who has not yet made a truly bad film. But a bias towards the scientific theories and potential themes I expected – based on trailers and the concept of the film – that it would explore. I have always been very interested in astronomy and astrophysics – and have a soft spot for science fiction films with a strong emotional core (‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, ‘Contact’). So when I headed to the theater I knew I was walking a very fine line (one that many reviewers walk but won’t admit to). If the film met (even marginally) my high expectations then it would in no doubt lead to high praise that bordered on hyperbole – and if it didn’t – if it disappointed – then it would cause a reaction a lot more negative than it really needed to be.

Where did ‘Interstellar’ ultimately fall? Hyperbole…or disappointment? Well luckily for me it was the former…to a fairly strong degree. I’ll say it now – this is not just probably  my favorite film of the year so far, but like with ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Tree of Life’ (yes, more on that later) in recent years, this may  fall within my favorite films of all time. It is a dazzling, visually stunning, emotionally resonant and incredibly well made sci-fi space epic – one with the power to keep you on the edge of your seat one minute and in tears the next. It explores big ideas about the cosmos while also staying incredibly grounding with an intimate story about family, regret, sacrifice and love. Like I said…hyperbole.

coop2

The film takes place in a not so distant future in which the world is becoming unlivable. After population growth, climate shifts and diseases ravishing crops, the world is struggling to produce enough of what little food sources they have left – which means a heavy reliance on corn farms. It is very bleak future where dust from dust storms covers everything, and the only focus of mankind is struggling to survive with what they know and have. Innovation, free thinking and exploration are at a standstill – and unless schools deem you smart enough to go on to a university, your only career prospective is farming.

Matthew McConaughey stars as Cooper, a widower and former pilot who now owns a farm where he lives with his two young children. He does his best to provide for his family but clearly wants more for them than what the current world can provide. After finding a mysterious message in his daughter Murph’s room, Cooper finds himself being recruited by what is left of NASA. They are secretly putting together a mission to journey through a wormhole that has appeared near Saturn. They do not know how it got there but they do know that beyond it is a solar system with some potentially habitable planets. They want Cooper to pilot an expedition through the wormhole to explore these planets and see if one is suitable to set up a new human colony. Cooper reluctantly agrees, even though it means leaving his children behind. He knows that the journey could kill him or – due to the laws of relatively – that by the time he does return his children may be much older than he is or already dead. But the fate of the human race – including his son and daughter – relies on finding a new home. So he sets out with a team of astronauts – and one pretty funny robot – on a journey that will take them farther than any humans have ever gone. The decision devastates his young daughter Murph – who he had a close relationship with – and it sets her out on a journey of her own to save humanity in a way she believes her father couldn’t.

To go into much more detail of the plot would ruin much of the experience. But I will say it becomes a fast paced and exciting journey. It does sometimes fall back on the usual genre tropes but there is never a dull moment; and it all builds up to an emotional and rewarding conclusion.

murph

The performances are truly superb. For all his technical mastery, Nolan is also an actors’ director and he gets the most out of his casts. McConaughey is at his best here – which is saying a lot considering his work in recent years. The emotion he brings is on a whole different level than anything he has done before. Jessica Chastain, who plays the adult Murph, also has a strong presence. Both actors wear the burden of their decisions and regrets on their shoulders, and you can see it in every scene. They are the heart and soul of the film. Hathaway also did a wonderful job – as did Wes Bently, Michael Caine, and David Gyasi.

The score from Hans Zimmer is loud and heart pounding. He always manages to perfectly convey the intensity of some truly exciting set pieces – while also slowing down to capture the emotions of the more intimate moments, and this score is no different.

The visuals are absolutely stunning. The effects (most of them created through practical means) were influenced by physicist Kip Throne – who also oversaw a lot of the science in the film – and the result is dream-worthy space imagery. Interestingly, the depictions of the wormhole and black hole in ‘Interstellar’ are considered to be the most accurate ever created. The results are gorgeous, especially on a big screen – with one scene with Saturn making me all teary eyed.

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Below the spectacle and hard science is an emotionally resonant tale of exploration and human ambition that puts its faith not only in science but also the human soul.  Does it become heavy handed at times? Of course! This is a space opera – a science fiction epic – with a big budget, big ideas, big name actors, big visuals and so the emotions at times match that. The first 40 minutes or so do a fantastic job setting up the bond between Cooper and his daughter. It is a wonderful relationship – but a complex one filled with love, anger and regret. It is also the backbone of the story and Nolan builds the emotion from there.

Like with ‘The Tree of Life’ (I told you I was going here), the juxtaposition of dazzling space images and the exploration of the cosmos with this grounded and intimate family story about love and nature make for a challenging but truly rewarding experience. One that asks big questions about our relationship with each other and the universe we inhabit; and examines how the flow and clash of such things as love and instinct with nature can change and inspire us for better or worse. Nolan does seem to want to show how love has the ability to conquer and transcend even the harshest things nature and its laws can throw at us. It is almost fitting then that Chastain stars in each, and has a roll in both stories that could be almost viewed as similar – as the focal point of love that guides the main character and the audience. And like with ‘The Tree of Life’ I can totally understand why people would not like ‘Interstellar’. Neither are films for everyone. I believe most reviews I have seen are so mixed because ultimately ‘Interstellar’ relies so heavily on the emotions at the core of the story that it was inevitable that it wouldn’t connect with some people. You have to be open to some extreme sentimentalism, which just isn’t the case for everybody.

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I won’t go into much detail over the film’s final act, but I think it makes perfect sense within the logical and emotional progression of the story – though some critics disagree. They seem to think that Nolan’s often straight forward hard science approach is too stern and takes the wonder and ambiguity out of his stories and I found that to not be the case with ‘Interstellar’. Mainly because the ending does in fact have some level of ambiguity – but what it does explain adds a level of wonder and hope that would be lost had it been open ended. I will also say that I find it absolutely absurd that some critics who praise and accept the ending to’2001: A Space Odyssey’ have dismissed this one for being too convoluted or even nonsensical…as if those couldn’t also be said of the ending of Kubrick’s film.

But again maybe this is all just me. As I warned you, hyperbole was expected and I think this review lived up to that. I truly loved the film. It generated in me the same feeling of wonder, excitement and curiosity I got from the spectacle and emotions of ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and ‘Contact’ –the realism of ‘Gravity’ – and the complexity and mind bending theories of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Throw in with that the connections I felt it had with such films as ‘The Tree of Life’ and there was no way I wasn’t going to love it. This is cinema at its finest. Whatever flaws it might have I can easily overlook due to not only how moving and entertaining of an experience it all is – but also because it is just so damn ambitious. Whether you see it on a large IMAX screen or not, you’ll be moved in one way or another.

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Now, I don’t usually do this but I would like to end by quickly addressing the small group of people who have been crying sexism before the film even got its wide release. Apparently, because the lead is a scruffy male and the film is about the will power of mankind to journey off and explore the unknown, that it is somehow a male centric film that is about masculinity above all else. If the idea of human endeavor, innovation, the struggle to survive, and the pursuit of knowledge brings to your mind nothing but masculinity and male dominance then blame society – not the film – because it was clearly not its intentions  and really is just not even remotely the case here. You could easily replace McConaughey’s character with a female lead (like in ‘Contact’) and the narrative, emotional and thematic results would be EXACTLY the same. This all seems even more ridiculous given the fact that the female characters play a much more important role than any of the men. Their work, decisions and perspective essentially save the day. It isn’t until the men view the situations and universe through them that they are able to succeed.

I have also been thrown off by the complaints of Nolan’s reliance on “daddy issues” or the “dead wife/spouse” tropes, and fail to see how these (which I admit are often present in his films) should at all matter when they fit so well into the story and are so emotionally effective. Not to mention Cooper being a widower has nothing to do with any decision he makes; and the relationship Murph has with him is far more complex than simply being “daddy issues”. It is actually a wonderfully realized one, with Nolan drawing experience from the relationship he has with his own daughter.

But why are these even being brought up by people, so early and with such vigor? Do not get me wrong, I understand and appreciate the opinions of those who simply did not like it…but for the few who have criticized it for the aforementioned reasons I just cannot wrap my head around where they are coming from. Sexism is often an issue in cinema and film making as a whole and something that could clearly be worked on…but it just does not apply to ‘Interstellar’ in any way. And I say this as someone who isn’t a Nolan fan boy. Yes, I appreciate his work – he has made some truly great films – but I am not one of those who think he is the best director working right now. But it is hard to not be disappointed and confused by the fact that every time he releases a film there are tons of articles that pop up to critique what would otherwise be completely ignored in other films – or in some case they critique things they didn’t even care about in his other films. Maybe this is just the price a director like him faces. His work tends to be so popular that critics seem to try extra hard to make their voices heard – an attempt to quell the masses of fans excited to see it – by overreaching in their criticism. This is made all the more disheartening when you consider he is one of a very few filmmakers willing to take such big risks to make smart and ambitious films. But maybe I am wrong. Please, let me know your thoughts!

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