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Second Opinion: Seriously, ‘Interstellar’ Is Worth Another Watch

interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s ambitious sci-fi space epic Interstellar has proven itself to be a very contentious topic of discussion among hardcore moviegoers (and Nolan fans). And in the three years since its release and after Nolan’s newest film Dunkirk, the debate has only gotten more divisive.

Some liked it, some (including Jon Negroni himself) didn’t, some were indifferent, etc. Despite all this debate, Interstellar has managed to gain a surprisingly devoted following, many of them (like myself) even more impressed the second time watching it.

As the title of this article suggests, I remain a staunch defender of Interstellar. Yes, it definitely has flaws, but there’s still a lot to love. When I first saw the movie, however, I was sad to say that I didn’t like it much. I found it boring and confusing, and it just kind of left me disappointed. It wasn’t until the recent release of Dunkirk that I decided to give it another shot, along with some other Nolan movies, to gain a fresher perspective.

I was amazed by how much I loved Interstellar the second time.

I almost didn’t think I was watching the same movie, and I eventually came to the conclusion that time was the key factor here. It had been over two years since I first saw the film, so I had actually forgotten a lot of what had happened, weirdly enough. I did remember most of the actual plot thanks to a combination of my disjointed memory and some of the online discussions I had observed over the years, so I pretty much knew the basic premise going in, which I think made for a much more complete experience. An emotional one.

In fact, the emotion of it all is what surprised me the most watching Interstellar the second time. The personal story of the characters, the beautiful imagery, and the score by Hans Zimmer all worked together to sell me on humanity being at stake. I truly felt like time was running out and that every second was important. The relativity scene and the docking sequence stick out as being especially tense and heavy, making for some decent thrills among the more conceptual material.

On top of all that, I was impressed by how Nolan balanced all this heaviness with a very unique story about a father and his daughter. Although Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain) don’t have a lot of screen time together, the connection between them managed to be as potent as it needed to be, even across time and space (a point the movie directly addresses, of course).

interstellar

That said, I attribute this successful character relationship to the editing by Lee Smith. He cut these scarce scenes together in just the right way for them to display the mutual care between Cooper and Murph and how they can’t seem to move on, even though it may be in their best interest to do so. The performances by McConaughey, Foy, and Chastain obviously help too. They’re able to convey the pain of leaving a loved one behind in a very convincing way, and I was excited to see where the story was going even though I already knew the ending. That’s not easy to pull off.

But what I liked the most while rewatching Interstellar was the overall message I must have missed the first time around. It might be a hackneyed thing to say, but I was impressed by what I think Nolan was getting at with a recurring motif in the movie in the form of Professor Brand (Michael Caine) repeating these lines from a Dylan Thomas poem:

“Do not go gentle into that good night; Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

First, recall the premise of the movie: humanity is on the verge of extinction and/or famine as a result of a second dust bowl destroying the world’s resources. You get the sense early on that most people have basically accepted their fate and are just trying to have as good a time as possible before it all slowly ends.

What I think Professor Brand, and by extension Christopher Nolan, is getting at with the poem is that we shouldn’t just give up on life. We possess the intelligence, the potential, and the technology to resist the natural order of things, and we should use our humanity wisely. Just because we can. Why not fulfill our potential as intelligent beings?

It’s this kind of compelling philosophy that makes me love science fiction as a genre.

Despite all of the praise I’ve given it, I still don’t think Interstellar is a perfect movie. Most of my flaws stem from pure filmmaking aspects. For instance, I think the shifts in tone between intellect and emotion can be very jarring at times, and some scenes can be a little too wordy and bogged down in exposition.

interstellar

I think there are numerous wasted characters, as well, most notably Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and Dr. Mann (Matt Damon). They’re both a bit underwritten and don’t have as clear motivations as you’d expect from the rest of the script. Plus, Dr. Mann is a little on-the-nose in that one scene I don’t think I have to spell out.

Also, and this is painful to say, the ending is…perfunctory. I think most people agree the story wraps up sappy and with little apparent thought put into the broader implications of the whole enterprise. I don’t want to accuse the studio of meddling, but it really seems like someone put something into the movie at the last minute in an attempt to make the film more accessible. Who knows?

Problems aside, I’m happy to say I finally got my money’s worth after almost three years. If there’s anything I would like you to take away from this belated review, it can be found right in the title. Maybe Interstellar is worth another try. Coming from the perspective of someone who came around after just one rewatch, I think there could be more to it than you originally imagined.

Second Opinion Grade: B+


 

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Review: ‘The Martian’ Makes Science Look Cool Again

the martian review

The Martian was directed by Ridley Scott and written by Drew Goddard. It’s based on the initially self-published sci-fi novel of the same name by Andy Weir. The movie has a massive cast that I won’t be able to list off here, but the main players are Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Several decades in the future, NASA has expanded enough to send manned ships to Mars. During one of these routine missions, Mark Watney (played by Damon) is left behind and presumed dead when a massive storm threatens to kill his crew. He awakens to find himself alone on Mars with nearly zero supplies and the harsh reality that it will be years before anyone can rescue him.

What plays out is a struggle for Watney to use his wits and ingenuity to survive on this harsh planet while everyone on Earth uses their own wits to get to him before time runs out. There’s also his crew, led by Commander Lewis (Chastain), headed to Earth having to deal with the fact that they left their crewman and friend behind.

the martian review

Going in, it’s easy to see a lot of similarities between The Martian and Apollo 13. The author, Weir, was certainly inspired by this and other space films. This isn’t a bad thing because The Martian has its own voice and style thanks to Ridley Scott’s signature knack for making futuristic sci-fi feel accessible. And Weir, of course, brought his own background as an engineer to the original source material, making The Martian feel very authentic.

I haven’t read the book, and I’m probably the opposite of a scientist, but the film managed to keep me engaged with the more complicated details surrounding Damon’s problems and solutions that could have easily gone over my head. There were still some moments where I felt a little lost, but it never took me out of the movie.

While the scenes outside of Mars are great, the movie really excels whenever Damon is onscreen. Mark Watney is a refreshing optimist who is nearly impossible to dislike. He’s funny and cracks jokes throughout his dilemma, but Damon also delivers some heavy, desolate scenes that are some of his best to date.

the martian review

In fact, Damon’s performance ultimately saves the entire movie. If you don’t like his character and want to root for him, then you’ll have a hard time believing that everyone on Earth is willing to spend billions of dollars and months out of their lives to save him, even though the odds of success are perpetually low.

It helps that everyone who’s seen Saving Private Ryan has gotten used to Matt Damon being someone worth rescuing, even if that means putting your entire life on hold. Because Mark Watney is such a fun character, I was able to ignore how strange this entire setup was and just enjoy the ride.

My only real issues with the film have to do with how some of the characters on Earth have limited roles despite being played by such big-name actors. Most of them are only in the movie to share exposition or explain something for a few sentences. Sure, we get to see Donald Glover play a mean Abed, and there’s one scene involving Sean Bean that had me in tears (the good kind).

But aside from Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Benedict Wong, I didn’t find myself loving any of these side characters that much. Though it’s a small complaint considering how incredible Ejiofor’s performance was, even if the minor roles felt a little underdeveloped.

the martian review

That said, The Martian is a witty, funny, and sometimes nerve-wracking movie that goes back and forth between charming lines of dialogue and believable peril. For my money, it’s one of the best films of the year and one of the best space movies of the decade.

Grade: A

Please do yourself a favor and see this one on the big screen. It’s not every year that we get a Ridley Scott film that feels like a new classic.

If you’ve seen The Martian, let me know your thoughts in the comments. And be sure to check out our podcast review coming this Sunday, where we’ll talk about the film in more detail.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Review: ‘Interstellar’

interstellar worth watching

Is Interstellar worth watching?

Yes, but manage your expectations.

I watched the film in its best format — 70mm IMAX on one of the biggest screens in the country. I couldn’t have been any closer to the content.

It’s a spectacle of a movie. It uses a lot of flair and constrained visual effects to justify its ridiculously long runtime. And it’s best feature is the emotional story that evolves between Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his daughter Murphy (played by Jessica Chastain as an adult).

But the fantastic performances and literally epic world-building is undercut by the science of it all. The ultimate story. It doesn’t wrap up as nicely as it ought to, as the final act tries to be a deserved payoff, but for me it felt confusing and underwhelming.

But it’s still a blast of a movie, and among Nolan’s most ambitious. It’s just not his best.

The trick with Nolan is that he’s often misunderstood as more of a thinking filmmaker than he really is. The director excels most at spectacle that is raised by high concepts, so it’s easy to expect a little too much out of his offerings. 2001, this isn’t.

In other words, he’s very serious, but you shouldn’t take him too seriously. Here, he scatters his near-future world with interesting locations, a race against time, and deep familial relationships, but the only matter truly at the center here is the latter. Otherwise, it’s a lot of exposition carried on by mostly relaxed scientists placed in a hopeless situation. Interstellar gets much of this drama right, but it comes sparsely within the meat of the movie’s middle.

By the end, the power and mystery of love get a little too much attention, as the film trades its interesting themes of man versus nature for a strange admission that both are one in the same. For most moviegoers, this message won’t resonate. But perhaps they’ll be too enthralled by the gorgeous vistas and raw human emotions that are also in play.

Interstellar speaks a lot of sacrifice, both unseen and through our main character, Cooper. Strangely, a lot of the sacrifice he undergoes is written out of the story in favor of a convenient resolution. That said, Nolan shouldn’t be faulted for putting so much effort into injecting spirituality into a film void of hardly anything else.

If the tide continues to turn in favor of Christopher Nolan being one of our most overrated filmmakers, then Interstellar will likely be one of the jewels of that argument. Strangely, it’s probably Nolan’s boldest work.

Grade: B-

Review: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

Image Courtesy of boingboing.net

Does this retelling of the now famous execution of one of the world’s most elusive criminals worth watching? Here’s my take on the film that is now in the running for Best Picture at this year’s Oscar’s.

You’ve probably heard a lot of hype leading up to this film, so I can only assume that those of you still on the fence about going to see this are looking around for opinions on the other side of the coin.

The most buzzing news right now is that the film portrays a very candid display of torture tactics that were used by the CIA to capture the men who would eventually lead us to Osama Bin Laden (UBL). This film does not pull punches with showing us just how brutal these tactics were, and some are arguing that this is an endorsement for Bush’s foreign policy (definitely an unpopular foreign policy.)

I don’t want to get into that. See the film for yourself and draw your own conclusions. It’s actually very subjective, and I would argue there are more reasons to see this as a film that is indifferent to whether or not torture works. It’s more about how a small group of people worked tirelessly and did whatever it took to bring UBL to justice. That’s what warrants this film a lot of praise.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Zero Dark Thirty spans the decade long manhunt for UBL, but it actually pays a lot closer attention to the rise of his real nemesis, Maya played by Jessica Chastain. Her gradual rise to prominence as a CIA operative, as well as her obsession in finding UBL is the standout of the film.  There is a scene at the end of the second act that is probably the most intense, emotional, and beautifully written performances I have ever seen an actress pull off.

Yes, much better than Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables. 

Image Courtesy of timeinc.net

Chastain deserves an Oscar in my opinion, but it is the intense third act that really exudes the power of the film. The Navy Seal Team 6 raid on UBL’s compound is probably the best military tactics operation I have ever seen presented in film. The realism and significance behind the direction of this act is so well done, it allows me to forgive every minor issue I had with the movie.

Image Courtesy of aceshowbiz.com

Speaking of which, the only hurdles you’ll have to go through when watching this is the sluggish first act. It’s important, yes, but I was honestly bored for the first 45 minutes and craved for the plot to start moving forward. Luckily, the post 2008 scenes are exactly what I was looking for, and I found myself enjoying the film tremendously throughout.

This film is definitely worth watching and paying hard-earned money for. Politically, both sides can conclude what they want from the film, and opponents of America will obviously have nothing to hold on to here. I didn’t like The Hurt Locker very much, though I really wanted to. Zero Dark Thirty actually ended up being everything I wanted The Hurt Locker to be and more.

Image Courtesy of slate.com

I will be honest. If this movie had been based in fiction, I would probably only count it as an above-average (good not great) film about military and political espionage in the middle-east. It’s the way they handled the emotional impact of this true story that really makes the movie a classic, and one of the best films of the year.

 

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