Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Interstellar

To be honest, I actually missed most (if not all) of the pre-Interstellar hype... who knows, this might have been during the time I was finding a love for gardening or sharpening up my non-existent juggling skills. The point is, when Interstellar arrived in theatres, I was left with a bit of a confused look on my face: Why the hell are people so obsessed with this film? It was more than enough to whet my curiosity though and get me to buy a movie ticket. At the very least, I was excited to see if this would be another ‘stellar’ performance for Matthew McConaughey, whose sudden breakaway from shitty rom coms to serious acting roles has left me quite intrigued.

First impressions of Interstellar are great. I must admit, that I really liked the Western-ish, kinda post-apocalyptic backdrop chosen by director Christopher Nolan for the first part of the film. The film takes a quite generous amount of time to introduce you to a world slowly dying due to all of mankind’s bad judgements. And the dust motive will definitely resonate with anyone that’s ever been to Oppikoppi! During this time, you get to experience the depression and anxiety that comes from a world that really doesn’t have much hope for a dramatic turnaround. There isn’t much of a sense of rush, as humankind sits idly by, waiting for the end of days. All of this is quite dandy and to be honest, I would have been happy to spend more time on earth with Nolan, exploring the daily challenges of this dying world and the added complexities they bring to normal human relationships.

" I would have been happy to spend more time on earth with Nolan, exploring the daily challenges of this dying world and the added complexities they bring to normal human relationships." 

But judging by the movie title, it’s very obvious that the film will take a very different turn. This turn comes in the form of the protagonist (who happens to be an amazing astronaut) being enlisted to undertake a trip into space with a handful of grouchy cabin mates. The purpose? To find mankind a new home, or at least something a tad less dusty (you don’t understand how dusty earth becomes in the future). Anyways, this is where things really start getting interesting, as our space travellers are left with some very difficult decisions regarding which direction in space they should go. And it’s a decision that can mean the final swan song for mankind (dum dum dum).

One thing that I really did appreciate was how real this first part of the space adventure felt. The special effects were great, but nothing felt overdone, which made it all feel that much more believable. Sure, some (or probably most) of the film’s science is not science at all, but the cast does do a good job in convincing you that this could all indeed be possible... if you don’t think about it too hard. If you’re just after a fun space movie with a few interesting twists and turns, Interstellar won’t disappoint. There’s even a very unexpected scare that had me jolting out of my seat and caused a fellow movie goer to grab my leg. Yeah, definitely date night material.

But don’t think that means this movie is just a shallow sci-fi adventure either! The complex relationship between Hathaway and McConaughey is an interesting one to see develop and it definitely helps the film move along in some of the less eventful periods thereof. In saying that though, I don’t care much for Matt Damon and honestly didn’t feel much for his part in this film either (haters gonna hate). But, it’s the space team’s relationships with those that they left behind on earth that are undeniably the crowning achievement of the film. You see, time progresses at a different rate in space, which has the consequence of our brave space travellers not aging as quickly as they would have if they were still on earth, resulting in their children and other loved ones growing older much faster than they do (you following this shit?). This results in some thought provoking ‘letters from home’, as the space team is forced to see their children grow old without them and even overtake them in terms of actual age. This is a very powerful, emotionally hitting theme and really manages to give the film a strong sense of resonance.

"...it’s the space team’s relationships with those that they left behind on earth that are undeniably the crowning achievement of the film."

And then, just as things get interesting, it gets well, too interesting, as the plot suddenly goes completely off the rail tracks. I don’t want to give anything away, but in my opinion, the film’s concluding half-an-hour (which aims to tie up some lose strings) is completely whack (and trippy as they come) and only manages to diminish the overall impact of the film. Most of the time, you can get away with a complete WTF ending in a sci-fi film, but I have to admit that this ending left me more confused than intrigued. Even worse, it all ends up leaning towards the corny (no pun intended) side of things, which is such a shame for a film that takes so much care developing strong and authentic emotional themes up until this point.

Don’t get me wrong folks, Interstellar is a great sci-fi epic by any standards, I just felt that it fell a bit at the final hurdle. Who knows? You might even love the rest of the movie so much that you can convince yourself that you loved the ending too. Different strokes for different blokes. Nevertheless, you need to go see this one if you haven’t yet, as I’m sure all the cool kids in your school are talking about it.

Even Hathaway know this shit is too whacked to work! 

Highlight: Definitely those letters from home... touching stuff, even for a manly man like myself. 


Friday, April 18, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

It’s hard to not acknowledge and admire the colossal movie universe that Marvel is creating for itself. 15 years ago, superhero movies were mostly limited to ‘The big three’ (Spiderman, Batman and Superman), with a few obscure but interesting superhero films appearing every now and then to challenge the perception that the Western world has of these types of films.

Since then, we've definitely come a long way in terms of the superhero fantasy/action sub-genre, with these films becoming increasingly complex and interesting. Whilst superhero films like Watchmen and Chronicle take an extremely left-field and risky approach, others do a clever job of mixing mainstream appeal with strong characters and shockingly realistic storylines.

A new superhero film that you can add to the latter list is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel’s latest look at the Marvel superhero with the most direct ties to modern history and real world politics.
To be honest, I was worried about how Marvel would approach Military legend, Steve Rogers’ second standalone film, especially after the first film was such a pleasant departure from what we’re used to with actions films, thanks mainly to the interesting alternate reality, period setting it treated film goers to. With Captain America now facing the modern world on his own, what could Marvel do to keep the story fresh and interesting?

It was a challenging dilemma, but one treated masterfully by the film’s concept and story writer, Ed Brubaker. In Winter Soldier, Steve Roger’s finally has some time to try to adjust to modern society, doing his best to fit into a world where he is loved and adorned, but that he is noticeably detached from, to a debilitating degree.

"It was a challenging dilemma, but one treated masterfully by the film’s concept and story writer, Ed Brubaker."

The film starts slow, giving film goers some time to get to know the man behind the famous shield, focusing on his struggles with adapting to a very different world than he was born into. It’s a world in which he only has colleagues, with no real friendships to help him come to terms with the new world he is forced to adapt to. Sure, S.H.I.E.L.D agent Black Widow (still played by Scarlet Johansson) is eager to play cupid in an attempt to help Rogers fit in more with modern society, but unfortunately, there’s not much time for these type of hook-ups, as our heroes find themselves in the midst of a secret government plot that has the potential to bring a dystopian version of the world into fruition.

With Chris Evan’s character fleshed out a bit more, the film very quickly shifts into high gear with a series of events that suddenly places Captain America in a precarious situation where he can’t seem to trust anyone – a frightening prospect in the face of the fact that he is already disconnected from the world he lives in.

[Spoiler Alert – Next paragraph discusses an aspect of the film that gives away plot details]

At the centre of the forces antagonising Captain America is acclaimed Hollywood heavyweight, Robert Redford, in a role that he seems as if he was destined to play. To be honest, I’m not well versed in the works of Mr Redford, but after seeing him command his character in Winter Soldier to such an amazing extent, I have gained massive respect for this man. Redford imbues his character with a unique sense of composed calmness that is so frighteningly understated that it results in one of the best Marvel villains to ever grace the cinema screen. Whilst Redford’s character is a worthy mental adversary for Captain America, he does lack any physical prowess that could match that of the film’s hero.

[End of spoiler]

And that’s where the film’s other villain comes into the play, the infamous Winter Soldier, who allegedly, as noted in the film, played an integral role in most of the major assassinations of the last few decades. From his first appearance on the screen, Sebastian Stan’s character strikes pure fear into the hearts of his enemies, fully intending that each and every blow he lands will be a killing one. Director duo, Anthony and Joe Russo do a sterling job at giving the Winter Soldier a dreadful presence in the film, thanks mainly to action sequences that feel dangerously urgent and highly volatile. Our heroes always seem noticeably vulnerable in the film, leading to fight scenes that can actually leave you a bit distraught. The Russo duo accomplish this feat so well, that it grants the film with a unique suspenseful flavour that isn’t normally common in action films, but manages to give Captain America: The Winter Solder a unique atmosphere that makes it a truly memorable experience.

"... the Winter Soldier has a dreadful presence in the film, thanks mainly to action sequences that feel dangerously urgent and highly volatile."

If there’s one thing that should be clear it is that Captain America’s latest outing is deceptively deep and complex, much more so than the standard comic book adaptation we’re used to. It continues the new trend of rich and thought provoking superhero films and is probably one of the best examples of it recently. In a perfect world, I would love to have seen Captain America’s struggles with modern life be explored in more depth here, but except for that, there isn't much fault I can find with this one.

Highlight: An exhilarating encounter with the Winter Soldier later in the film will have you on the edge of yours seat. 


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Don Jon

It’s difficult not to get excited about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first try at the duality of director/actor. It’s a cross-over that many well established actors have attempted, but have failed miserably at. I will admit though that I was holding thumbs for Joseph, hoping that Don Jon would be the start of something that could lead him down a similar route as Ben Affleck, an actor/director that has surprised everyone with his natural talent for film direction.

And to ensure that he ushered in this new career path with a proper bang, Joseph Gordon-Levitt cleverly created a film that tackles a topic not often approached by Hollywood. I dare to predict that the only way you can’t know that Don Jon is about a guy addicted to porn is if you haven’t heard anything about the movie at all. It’s by far its most enticing and exciting aspect of the film and one that it does not shy away from.

Sure, the film’s numerous references to porn and actual porn scenes is awkward and difficult to watch with just about anyone, but I’m sure that it’s at its most awkward when watching it with a girlfriend, or worse yet, your parents. Clever and apt use of editing effects adds a sense of vibrancy to the film’s pornographic ‘flashes’, making then even more impactful, and yes, even more awkward.
"Clever and apt use of editing effects adds a sense of vibrancy to the film’s pornographic ‘flashes’, making then even more impactful, and yes, even more awkward."
But if you can handle the awkwardness, then you’re sure to find a lot to enjoy and appreciate here. Acting, across the board, is top-class. From the film’s chauvinistic and traditional-minded male characters; to Scarlet Johansson as a bossy and high demanding girlfriend to the slightly off-beat and damaged character played by Julianne Moore.

Another aspect of the film that I really appreciated was the honest and realistic dialogue that contributed significantly to the authenticity of the characters. Even though you might not be able to directly identify with any of the film’s characters, you will be left with a sense that the film introduced you to real people, with real issues.

Oh and guys, don’t worry that the film is going to try to teach you a hard lesson about the dangers of porn. Without sounding like I’m trying to make a joke, take comfort in the fact that Joseph Gordon-Levitt truly does give his subject matter the respect it deserves, allowing for an interesting exploration of pornography from the vantage point of a variety of characters and therefore, opinions.

If you look more closely though, you’ll soon realise that the film really isn’t about porn at all. It’s merely used as an interesting mechanism from which the film explores the complexity of human relationships. By the end of the film, you’ll have been treated to an insightful character study that cuts through pretences, revealing the real truth of its protagonist.

The last 30 minutes of the film is particularly interesting and it’s a shame that this story arc wasn’t explored in more detail. Nevertheless, Don Jon is a film that is likely to surprise you, proving that a movie about porn can have more depth than you would ever have dreamt possible.

Don's relationship with his father is funny, moving and strange. But in saying that, it still feels very real.
Highlight: The film’s last few seconds feel like the prelude to another movie, a movie I would really like to watch. 


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Walter Mitty

There's something very exciting about an actor trying out something new and unexpected. And that's exactly why I was so excited to see Ben Stiller in a film that he both directs and plays the lead role in.

In Walter Mitty, Ben Stiller plays a painfully ordinary guy who uses a mind overflowing with creativity to escape the daily monotony of life. He's awkward and shy in real life, but in the dream world he conjures up, he is a hero worth of song and praise.

"He's awkward and shy in real life, but in the dream world he conjures up, he is a hero worth of song and praise."


After a crisis at work though, Walter gets the opportunity to make his fantasy world a reality, as he sets off on an adventure that redefines the way he looks at the real world.

Ben Stiller does a stand-up job directing this fantasy comedy, introducing us to both a mesmerising world and the man behind its conception. Whilst you will find yourself laughing a lot through the course of this somewhat silly adventure, you will also find the film to have a truly inspiring message.

There's a great balance between the film's serious and more quirky moments, resulting in a memorable movie experience you'll find difficult to compare with anything else.


Highlight: A completely random but moving scene taking place in a bar on the remote side of the world really captures the essence of this strange film.