Sunday, November 9, 2014

Interstellar (2014)

You know, the raging success of Christopher Nolan and his launch into the public's consciousness is something of a curiosity. Not because he doesn't deserve, far from it. But because his films, at their core, are so...anti-Hollywood. Reading off his plot summaries to his films on the basic, bare-bones level (i.e. a thriller told in non-chronological order, a murder mystery with Robin Williams, two Batman movies without flamboyant campiness and crotch close-ups, a film about dreams within dreams within dreams) and they sound like the filmography of an experimental, Harmony Kornie wannabe, Dogme 95 enthusiast. These films should not be loved by the public and be  such large blockbuster smash hits, when you get right down to it. There are way too intricate and ingenious to be beloved by such public masses.

But there is a God. Thank you, God. OK, maybe I should give audiences more credit. Every now and then, smartness triumphs over spectacle. However, the genius of Nolan is that he meshes both, making visually lavish, eye-popping, entertaining films that are feverishly seminal and thoughtful. Case in point, Interstellar.

As someone who made it through Inception just fine, my mind is chortling a bit with satisfaction and irony, in the sense that I can actually describe the plot. Essentially, the plot takes place in a stark, empty time in Earth's future. Dust storms are a constant occurrence and mankind has surrendered themselves to an agricultural society. Cooper is a former NASA pilot, now a farmer, living with his son, Tom, his father-in-law, Donald, and his daughter, Murph. While trying to find the origin of a strange, possibly supernatural occurrence, Cooper and Murph end up at a NASA facility. It turns out that a wormhole has been discovered in the solar system and it is up to Cooper to fly the rocket through that wormhole and get mankind onto the new worlds present in this wormhole.

At least, I think that's the plot. Or maybe it's my shitty describing skills. And that certainly can't be true.

Honestly, the movie can be a little hard to follow at times. However, even while I was lost on occasion, I still was in an intense state of wonderment from the start. Nolan beautifully generates an incredible sense of atmosphere. The shots of Earth at its time are so matter-of-fact and yet powerful that your mood almost get dragged down to complement the tone and feel of that environment, what with the desolate, austere landscapes and the ravenous dust storms. I've always said that if there's any sci-fi film that should be remade, it should be Mad Max (Really, people? Am I supposed to be intimidated by bad-acting, motorcycle-riding pansies?). However, I retract that statement, because this film takes that similar minimal, frighteningly simple perspective on the future of Earth and applies it to much, much greater and haunting effect.

And then that competence for creating atmosphere translates over to the space and wormhole sequences. It is so astonishing that I had a hard time telling what was green screen, what was real, or what was a soundstage. I don't know if any of it was used, but it doesn't matter because whatever method was used gives the movie at least one extra bonus point.

This film actually marks the first movie I have seen in IMAX (at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre, none the less). I don't know how this plays at a regular theatre or how it will play when viewed on Blu-Ray, but in IMAX...damn. The sound is so intense that I felt that the deeply resonant vibrations from the speakers were going to give me a heart attack, although I don't know whether or not that goes without saying. I will say that, even though this is probably thanks to the cinematography, it looks gorgeous. And this film has some of the most beautifully shot water sequences I've seen in a film. They are crisp and whopping. And, while on the subject on visuals, they rank from suspense-inducing (i.e. dust storm chases) to jaw-droppingly spectacular (i.e. I will not reveal them).

To me, the actual greatest visual of the film is...the actors. I swear Nolan is gonna go through every other great actor he didn't work with and work with them, just so he can give them another great performance to put on their resumes. All of the actors are gut-wrenchingly effective, including an appearance in the second half of the film by an actor, who was not in the advertising and I will not spoil for you. Michael Caine portrays Professor Brand, the commissioner of this assignment, is as he always he is: refined, thinking one step ahead, and of course, awesome. Bill Irwin brings a comedic quality to the film as a robot called TARS. John Lithgow abandons his light-hearted, goofy persona for the role of father-in-law Donald, who Lithgow depicts with an acerbic, deadpan edge. Anne Hathaway picks up where she left off of from Les Miserables and gives us a commanding yet cathartic performance as Amelia Brand, Professor Brand's daughter, who is a crew member on this mission. Jessica Chastain, on the subject of picking up where leaving off, goes back to her Zero Dark Thirty roots, taking all of the authority, intense physical presence, and nuances as Murph. However, the big discovery to me is Chastain's younger counterpart, Mackenzie Roy, as a young Murph. A film so heavy and detailed in structure as this calls for actors who can live up to the challenge and Roy shows potential for greater roles, pulling off her scenes with valiance, vulnerability, and authenticity.

And then there's Matthew McConaughey as Cooper. How? How did this happen? Where did this side of you come from, Matthew? How did you, you, the co-star of lackluster films, such as Wedding Planner and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, all of a sudden make a turn for the past four years as a dramatic actor. I don't where it came from, but all I can say is I'm a fan. His character is portrayed as quick-witted, courageous, and kind of stoic, which gives McConaughey a starting point for a stalwart performance that he also incorporates moment of shattering fragility. Plus, his dynamic with his daughter is the perfect juxtaposition with the relationship between Professor Brand and Amelia Brand. The way the film subtly reveals that aspect without drawing too much attention to it is a sly script decision.

Speaking of the script, it fucking commands this movie. Nolan co-wrote with his brother, Jonathan. Some viewers might become perplexed and confused during some of the film. However, one of the joys of the film is that Nolan drops in additional details to keep the viewer up to speed and sane. However, in the big scheme of things, the structure of the script is the excellence of the film. Nolan often has an inclination to utilize multiple layers on a screenplay. They're never simple and that is certainly the case here. I don't want to go into any additional plot details, as to avoid revealing any other details, because I want it to be as fresh for you as it was for me. All I will say is that the ideas Nolan chooses to put on display are astonishing in concept and detail. Once I was fully caught up with the director, I was in giddy awe, just waiting for Nolan to add something new and different. And he doesn't disappoint. The ideas he poses about the parameters and boundaries, or possibly lack thereof, of space and time are utterly intriguing from beginning to end. And while the screenplay is certainly intelligent, it never feels technical, as it realizes that an emotional resonance is necessary. And it does pack quite a punch, especially at its conclusion.

Viewing the trailers for this, it reminded me of Gravity, currently unseen by me. While that film seems tense and taut, this film is complex and cerebral, as well as enlightening. I actually could name an array of films this reminds me of (i.e. Apollo 13, Armageddon, Inception) and despite that, it still stands firmly on its own as an original and engrossing cinematic gem. It's one of those films that grips you, nails digging into your skin, but you surrender all of your sensibilities until the screen turns black and you sit there, contemplating and understanding what you have just seen. It plays, oddly enough, as a good double feature with the 1993 film, Gettysburg, in the way in that both films showcase grand, sweeping visual set pieces and makes them share their importance with the film's shrewdness and intellectual ambition. As much as I praise the film, I can't say that it gave me as big a sense of eureka and euphoria as Inception. But you know what, I'll be hyped to obtain the DVD, so I can watch it nine or ten times and retract that statement. In a time where films can be so simple and straightforward, it's incredibly liberating to see something so intricate and yet so goddamn entertaining.

RATING: Three-and-three-quarters stars out of four