Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Richard Armitage, James Corden
In the final moments before her crew sets out to execute their heist in the reboot-sequel Ocean’s Eight, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) tells them: “You’re not doing this for me. You’re not doing this for you. Somewhere out there is an eight year old girl dreaming of being a criminal. You’re doing it for her.” This is the self-aware dialogue of a film which knows it has a greater purpose. Ocean’s Eight, like the gender-flipping strategy in general, is about allowing female viewers to break free of Hollywood’s limiting portrayals of women as passive objects and identify with the type of active character historically reserved for men. Could there be anything more emblematic of a female character with agency, with control of their own destiny, than a criminal? Continue reading
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, David Gyasi, Bill Irwin, Matt Damon, Wes Bentley, John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn, Topher Grace, Casey Affleck
And so it has arrived. Arguably the year’s most anticipated film, the film which had blockbuster lovers and serious cinephiles alike impatiently counting down: Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. As the first step in Nolan’s post-Dark Knight Trilogy career Interstellar delivers exactly the sort of bold, ambitious and audacious filmmaking we have come to expect from this British director who has established himself as today’s premier large-canvas filmmaker.
In the not too distant future a still very recognisable Earth is on the verge of being uninhabitable. Ravaged by dust storms and a major blight that has caused the death of most crops – the only thing that still grows is corn – making sure that there is enough food to keep people alive has become humanity’s first and only priority. Once a NASA pilot, Cooper is now a frustrated farmer, living in the Midwest with his son Tom and daughter Murph, but still maintaining the heart of an explorer. By this time NASA has become an underground organisation; at times like these the government cannot be seen to pour money into something as frivolous as space exploration. There Professor Brand is working on a plan to ensure the long term viability of humanity. While there are no other inhabitable planets in our galaxy, a wormhole has opened up near Saturn which has given them access to other stars and galaxies and twelve planets with potential have been identified. When an unusual occurrence lands Cooper on NASA’s doorstep, Brand invites him to pilot the exploratory mission. So, motivated by the chance of ensuring the survival of his children, Cooper joins the crew and sets off on a mission to save humanity.
Interstellar takes us into the world of theoretical physics. The narrative is built around concepts of time and relativity. As the crew explore different planets of different masses, it impacts the relationship between their time and Earth time. In one instance, a three hour stopover to investigate a water covered planet ends up equating to 23 years on Earth, an occurrence which is emotively captured through the lifetime’s worth of video messages from home that await the team when they return to their ship. The film attempts to explain relativity in simple, visual terms in order to keep the audience on board, so you don’t have to be a physicist to understand what is going on. That said, Nolan has always been a filmmaker who prefers to trust his audience to keep up rather than over-explain things. Consider the reverse chronology of Memento or the multi-layered narrative of Inception. Likewise, here he trusts his audience to glean enough from the film’s many discussions of theoretical physics that they will be able to follow what is happening even if they don’t completely understand the concepts.
California Institute of Technology physicist Kip Thorne, known for his work on traversable wormholes, was a script consultant for the Nolan brothers (Christopher’s brother Jonathan was co-writer) and receives an executive producer credit on the film. As such, Interstellar has been praised for the unprecedented accuracy of its depictions of black holes and wormholes. But even for those of us who are none the wiser on such matters, the visuals of these phenomena are still very striking. These impressive visual effects are complemented by the use of stunning location shooting for those scenes which take place on foreign planets. The result is that Interstellar is very much a big screen movie.
Science fiction, particularly when you move away from the action-adventure end of the spectrum towards the more ideas-based narratives, is often accused of being cold and emotionless. Nolan has faced similar criticisms of his own filmmaking, that for all the spectacle and grandeur, the scope and scale, his films lack a beating human heart. In Interstellar the filmmaker seems to be searching for that balance, accompanying the theoretical physics which inform the story with an exploration of human themes of hope and sacrifice. Interstellar sets itself up as a very scientific film, in which people act pragmatically, but it then introduces emotion, love and the bonds between people as motivating forces which must be factored into this scientific equation. The film also contains more humour than we have previously seen in Nolan’s work, mostly courtesy of TARS, the artificial intelligence robot which accompanies the crew. However, in seeking to bring a human warmth to his film, Nolan arguably overcorrects and in the third act takes the film in an overly sentimental and fantastical direction.
With a runtime of 169 minutes, Interstellar is a long movie. Christopher Nolan hasn’t made a film under two hours since Insomnia in 2002 – most have been around the 150 minute mark – so the length here shouldn’t be a surprise. Of course, length is not, in itself, a problem if a film can maintain your interest for that period of time. But while Interstellar is never slow and crams a lot into its runtime it still feels long and the multiple codas that make up the film’s last twenty minutes drag.
At its best, Interstellar is very impressive indeed. It is hard to watch this film without thinking of Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. Given that film is one of Nolan’s favourites, the similarities are likely no accident. Unfortunately, Interstellar does not maintain that high standard for the entirety of its runtime. It is not always engrossing, despite an impressively deep cast some of the characters are thinly drawn, Hans Zimmer’s score (which has shades of Vangelis) at times overpowers the dialogue, and the film’s third act and coda will frustrate a lot of people. Interstellar contains some major cinematic achievements, but does not deserve to take its place in the science fiction pantheon.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Interstellar? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen
Les Misérables first appeared on stage on the West End in 1985 and in the 27 years since it has become one of the most successful musicals of all time. That said, it was still a bit of a risk for Tom Hooper to announce it as his next film project after winning an Oscar for The King’s Speech. It was always going to be a high profile event film, and let’s face it, history has shown us that when you get a big budget musical wrong it can be really, really bad. Hooper assembled a great cast lead by Hugh Jackman – amazingly making his first movie musical despite his strong musical pedigree. But early critical reviews were mixed. Some called it a mess, others heralded it as one of the year’s best. So I was really keen to see it for myself, particularly as I saw the stage production in London earlier in the year and loved it.
The big experiment with Les Misérables, and again part of what made it a risky project,was having the actors sing live. Usually when you make a musical one of the first things you do is get the cast into a recording studio and record an album. Then a couple of months later when it is time for the shoot, the actors simply lip-synch to the mastered recording. With Les Misérables, Tom Hooper decided that he wanted his actors to sing live on each take. The major advantage of doing it this way is it frees up the actors creatively. When you record the songs in advance, the actors are forced to make many of their acting choices well before getting on set, and once on set they are restricted by the necessity of matching up with the recording. This would be far from ideal for a musical like Les Misérables where so much of the emotional crux of the story is delivered through song. This greater level of freedom in performance for the actors has resulted in a musical which is not necessarily as brassy and robust as the stage show, but packs an incredible emotional punch.
This different approach was then complemented by the way the musical numbers have been shot. Unlike a traditional musical, Les Misérables only features one heavily choreographed number, the comical ‘Master of the House’ performed by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter’s grotesque tavern owners. The other numbers are shot very simply, often in close-up. The beauty of this approach is you get to see characters faces, something you don’t get on stage. Les Misérables is a very tragic, very emotional story, and the impact of being able to see the faces of characters as they sing is quite powerful. Never is this more apparent than when Anne Hathaway sings ‘I Dreamed a Dream,’ shot entirely in one shot, a medium close-up.
Hugh Jackman was always the logical choice to play Jean Valjean. With his baritone voice, his award-winning musical theatre experience, broad chest and handsome features, Jackman seems born to play the part. As Valjean, he carries much of the emotional weight of the film and he does it admirably, imbuing the character with a real strength and masculinity. The film’s other clear stand out is Anne Hathaway as Fantine. She delivers one of the most gut-wrenching performances you will ever see, demonstrating her versatility in a year which also saw her playing Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. While Jackman will be in the mix come award season, Hathaway can start deciding where she wants to put her Best Supporting Actress Oscar now.
One of the big questions in the lead up to the film was the singing ability of Russell Crowe. Everyone knew Jackman and Hathaway could sing, but the fact that Crowe used to have a band, Thirty Odd Foot of Grunt, not to mention his old Russ le Roq days, didn’t have people convinced he was the right man to tackle the demanding role of Javert. This concern was not helped by the fact that his voice was notably absent from a couple of the early trailers. As it turns out, he does alright. His voice is nowhere near as full as some of the others in the film, but you get used to it. He definitely looks the part, and still manages to give some emotional depth to the character.
Hooper’s film is a very faithful adaptation of the musical, plus the requisite new song, ‘Suddenly,’ so that they have something to submit for Award consideration. This faithfulness means that if there was anything in particular that irked you about the stage musical, it still will in the film. In my case, it is the fact that Cosette and Marius are still really boring. It also means that, as is the case with many film musicals, the critical reception will be varied. Musicals are really divisive. People tend to like them or they don’t and if you are someone who can’t get behind the concept of a musical, you’re never going to enjoy one. Even people who like movie musicals may struggle with this one as the ratio of dialogue to song is much closer to an opera than to a normal movie musical. So with a film like this it is difficult to make a general judgement. Instead, I can only speak as a person who enjoys musicals, and who particularly loves this one. I thought it was brilliant.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman
With the exception of perhaps Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, no film released this year has had to contend with the immense weight of expectation that met The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in Christopher Nolan’s brilliant Dark Knight Trilogy, when it hit theatres in July. Nolan’s films had re-written the rules of comic-book movie-making, combining box office success with critical reverence.
The Dark Knight Rises sees Bruce Wayne living in self-imposed exile after the events of The Dark Knight. When the terrorist Bane releases thousands of Gotham’s most dangerous criminals from Blackgate Prison, and succeeds in prompting a class war which brings the city to its knees – all the while obscuring his even more devastating plan – it becomes apparent that Gotham has no other hope, and Wayne is forced to once again don the Bat-suit.
When the first film in the trilogy, Batman Begins, was released, much was said about this being a ‘darker’ approach to Batman. But the darkness wasn’t really anything new. Tim Burton’s films, Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) had been dark. Frank Miller’s comic The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One had been dark. Batman had always been a character who suited a dark, gothic interpretation. Rather, what made Nolan’s take on the Batman mythology different was his intent to ground it in the real world, asking the question “How would this work in real life?” This emphasis on grounding the action in the real world then allowed for the film to engage with real world issues.
While other comic book adaptations like The Avengers and Iron Man have been incredibly successful, their pure escapism lacks the real-world relevance of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were both very much products of the War on Terror. The Dark Knight Rises draws on the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement to deal with themes of revolution, capitalism and economic imbalance (as Nolan said in an interview, “You can’t really deal with Bruce Wayne without eventually acknowledging the massive wealth he’s a part of”).
Likewise, this grounding of the Batman story in a real world means that in Nolan’s films we see explorations of the consequences of Bruce Wayne’s decisions and actions. The Dark Knight Rises is a film about consequences – physical, emotional, psychological.
Each of Nolan’s three Batman films have been generically quite different. Batman Begins had a very mythological feel to it, with Bruce Wayne travelling to the farthest ends of the earth to learn his craft from a mysterious cult. The Dark Knight largely abandoned that mythological sensibility, and instead became an urban crime thriller (Nolan often compared the picture to Michael Mann’s Heat (1995)). The Dark Knight Rises again changes direction. This time Nolan is taking us into the world of the historical epic.
Whether or not you think that The Dark Knight Rises succeeds in what it is attempting, you can’t help but admire the ambition of the film. Nolan is attempting to tell a historical epic (not the persistant allusions to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and the French Revolution) on an epic scale, resulting in filmmaking on a scale that has not been seen in Hollywood for a long, long time. The scale of the picture is immense, with this size emphasised by the fact that so much of it was shot in IMAX format. The magnitude of some of the set pieces, literally employing a cast of thousands, harks back to the epics of classical Hollywood and a style of filmmaking we just don’t see in the CGI era.
The Dark Knight Rises does not quite reach the lofty heights of its prequel, but then very few films have. It is, none the less, a very good film and a satisfying end to a very impressive trilogy. It is pleasing to see a filmmaker with the conviction to take a very popular film franchise and bring it to a close rather than giving in to the temptation to drag it out. In closing the story of Bruce Wayne with The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan has retained the integrity of what will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the key film franchises of the early 21st century.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean