Review: Interstellar (2014)

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Christopher Nolan’s most recent film is an epic adventure in space filled with science and philosophy as the characters go into an interstellar expedition in order to save humanity. It is I think the British director’s most mature work and it could have been his best picture if not for its disappointing ending. One can’t avoid drawing comparison to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (one of Christopher Nolan’s favourite films). Interstellar is indeed an odyssey of its own, but it ultimately fails where 2001 succeeds.

The story is quite long and can be split into three parts. The first part (the first 40 minutes) takes place in earth at some point in the future when a kind of space dust has filled the planet eventually causing a food shortage. People are only concentrated in surviving. Most of them become farmers and as a result, technological advance is put aside. Our main character is Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former pilot and engineer who is struggling to adapt to his new life as a farmer while raising his son and daughter. Murph, his daughter, is a brilliant kid with a great interest in science as her father. One day she claims that a ghost is trying to send some messages to her through the books in her room. Cooper translates one of those messages (without understanding their source), and it leads him to a secret base where what is left of NASA is trying to carry out a mission to find an inhabitable planet. They mention that they also have been conducted by seemingly supernatural forces that they believe to be 5-dimension beings. Cooper is chosen to pilot the spaceship Endurance joined by the scientists Brand (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley) as well as two robots.

The second part takes place in space. The goal is to pass through a wormhole near Saturn that will lead them to another galaxy where three previous missions, each for a different planet, have reached planets that can possibly be inhabitable. The plan is to find the best of these three planets and if possible go back to earth to bring all remaining people to this new planet (Plan A). If resources do not allow for a journey back to earth, the plan is to use fertilized eggs they carry with them to create a colony and preserve the human kind (Plan B). Note that these planets are very close to a giant black hole which decelerates time which results in Cooper’s children becoming older than him. I don’t want to go into any more details. Let’s just say that the first two planets didn’t work and the resources left were very limited so Cooper manages to send what is left of Endurance into the third planet sacrificing himself in the process by falling into the black hole. Brand, the only remaining member of the crew, is supposed to follow plan B in this planet.

Before I talk about the third and last part, which is actually only the last 30 minutes, I want to comment on how good this second part was. It was amazing! Everything about it was a masterpiece: the visual effects, the score, the imagery, the story, everything. Most of all though, the dialogues. As I mentioned above the film also gets philosophical at times amidst the so well-researched scientific script. You listen to the astronauts talking about supermassive black holes and the next moment they discuss about love being a total mystery that overcomes the barriers of space and time. It was much more though-provoking than I expected. The idea alone that a time may come when earth won’t have the necessary ingredients to sustain human life is terribly frightening. The main theme of the film I think is survival and how far people are determined to go in order to survive. What would you do if you have to choose between the people you love and the preservation of the human kind? I hope we never come to face this dilemma.

And then comes the last part, the ending. This is where everything goes wrong. We discover that the ghost and these 5-dimension beings are actually future humans who have evolved into much more powerful beings and allow for Cooper to send messages in the past to help the people of his age. Then, we learn that Murph and her team managed to create a station that can travel in space and save a lot of people, Cooper somehow is transferred there from the black hole and Brand starts a new human colony in the third planet. All this carefully taken care of scientific background becomes something closer to fantasy. First of all there’s the predestination paradox we so often come across in sci-fi movies. How did future humans survive if they needed Cooper to send these messages to NASA? And even if there is an explanation for that as some people claim, why didn’t future humans make things a bit easier? They could travel through time and they supposedly created the wormhole that made the whole plan possible. Couldn’t they create a wormhole next to the earth so that everyone could be saved? Couldn’t they inform people about the best possible planet? And if NASA created a station in space that could sustain life for thousands of people, couldn’t it do the same in the Earth saving many more? Maybe Christopher Nolan just wanted a happy ending. Maybe he wanted to satisfy people who didn’t care much about science. For me, the last minutes only managed to ruin my impression of the previous 2 hours.

In any case Interstellar is a great and very engaging film and its technical aspects are amazing. The ending made the plot seem a bit faulty, but this doesn’t make it a bad film. In fact I would recommend it to everyone. You never know, maybe there is a pretty good and scientific explanation for everything and I’m completely wrong. Maybe this is why 2001 is better. Kubrick knew which answers he could answer and which he could not. So instead of coming up with some out-of-place explanations about the monolith and evolution, he just leaves everything open for interpretation letting the movie speak for itself. I wish Interstellar did the same.

8/10

 

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Review: Hell or High Water (2016)

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Hell or High Water is easily one of the best movies of the year. Set in Texas, this suspenseful crime thriller reminded me of older classics where the bad guys suddenly become your heroes. It was one of the most pleasant surprises back in the summer of 2016 which was mostly filled with flop blockbusters. Somehow, I only got to see it in January.

The film was directed by David MacKenzie and follows the story of two brothers that try to raise money to save their deep in debt family ranch. Toby, the younger brother (Chris Pine), realizes that he has no other option than to steal money and chooses a local bank as his target. Tanner (Ben Foster), his unpredictable and dangerous ex-con older brother agrees to help him. They follow a methodical plan targeting small branches of Texas Midlands, the bank that is about to foreclose their ranch. Naturally, they get the attention of the police and the soon-to-be retired ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges). Hell or high water eventually does come as the plot reaches its climax leaving the viewer with a bittersweet feeling.

The impressive thing about this film is the way it makes you feel about its characters. You see a homicidal Ben Foster saying “I love you little brother” and hope that he gets away with the money. The next moment you see Jeff Bridges crying over his dead partner and wish he gets Ben Foster in the head. By the time the ending credits roll, you can’t tell for certain what is wrong or right, good or evil.

The acting is solid throughout the movie. Jeff Bridges, one of my favourite actors, deservedly got a golden globe nomination. Ben Foster was awesome too and he should get more attention after this. The other very strong aspect of the film was the soundtracks. A mix of country, blues and classic rock, the songs seem to be the perfect choice for each scene. Gillian Welch’s I’m not afraid to die playing as the brothers share their nostalgic moments during what might be their last day in the ranch where they grew up, is one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve seen in a while. After three Golden Globe nominations (with no wins unfortunately), I really hope it gets rewarded in next month’s Academy Awards.

8/10

Review: Pi (1998)

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Pi was the debut feature of the now acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky. It revolves around the obsession of a charismatic, but troubled man named Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), who is determined to find a pattern that will decipher the stock market. His former professor (Mark Margolis), who had been chasing a similar obsession for years, tries to convince him against it. Max is obsessed beyond return though and soon he finds himself going after a 216-digit number that could explain universe and help him discover God.

The film has some very interesting themes. It deals with the same idea that Black Swan did (the only other Arronofsky’s film I watched), that while the relentless pursuing of an obsession can lead to success, it can also lead to self-destruction. Then there is the search of God as we have seen in many other movies before, most notably in Ingmar Bergman’s filmography. Max is so infatuated with the idea of the secret key number, that before he knows it he loses control. He becomes a slave of his obsession as so many other people in our days.

Arronofsky did a great job in Pi. I don’t know for certain, but it seems like a low budget film with its relatively unknown cast and its black and white filming. The surrealistic, thought-provoking way the plot is unveiled though, is more than enough to redeem the viewer. The acting is not what we would call top-notch, but they’re all doing a respectable job. Mark Margolis in particular gives a very good performance.

I’ll end this review with the optimistic message that I believe the ending scene attempts to deliver: there is beauty in simplicity. We don’t need to understand everything, it won’t make us happier. It would only serve to bury us even deeper in the universe’s chaotic nature. Let your goals and ideas serve your life rather than making your life a servant of them.

7/10

Review: Primal Fear (1996)

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What started as a very interesting mystery film, turned out to be a complete disappointment for me. Primal Fear is full of flaws redeemed only by the astonishing acting of Edward Norton.

The main character is Martin Vail (Richard Gere), an attorney who believes that every defendant, no matter if he’s guilty or not, has the right to the best defense. When a 17-year-old boy is accused of murdering the city’s archbishop, Martin finds himself with a big case. Not only that, but he starts to believe that Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton) might be innocent after all. The fact that he has to face his ex in court makes the situation even more intense for Martin who is determined to uncover the case. As we move on we discover that things are a bit more complicated than we thought. So far, so good. An interesting film with an intriguing murder mystery case. From that point on though it only gets worse. I’m afraid I’ll have to give away the plot to explain why I didn’t like it so…

*SPOILER ALERT*

Aaron seems like a young troubled guy who is incapable of hurting anyone. He claims that he is innocent and that another person was there when the murder happened although he doesn’t know who. It is then revealed that Aaron suffers from multiple personality disorder and that another identity of him named Roy has killed the archbishop. Molly Arrington (Frances Mc Dormand), a psychologist that Martin hires, confirms this. Roy comes out whenever Aaron is scared or upset and when he’s off Aaron can’t remember a thing. When Martin discovers that, he manages to convince the court that Aaron is sick and wins the case, only to find out that Aaron Stampler was in fact sane and he was only pretending to be suffering from multiple personality disorder. It sounds like a great twisting plot right? Well, it could have been, but it is so full of plot holes that it becomes only annoying in the end:

  1. Anyone that knows about how courts work can see that the court scenes are unrealistic at the least
  2. Martin tries to convince the judge that Aaron is sick even though he hasn’t plead insanity from the beginning. Even he himself acknowledges that something like this is impossible. This could never happen in any respectable court. He tries anyway though and somehow succeeds.
  3. Aaron doesn’t remember Roy, he doesn’t even know of his existence. However Roy knows and remembers everything about Aaron. I’m not a psychologist, but doesn’t this sound a bit wrong?
  4. Ok, Roy manages to convince Martin that he is insane, but is it so easy to convince a psychologist? Shouldn’t Molly have realized that something was off?
  5. Aaron initially claims that there was a third person in the murder spot. He couldn’t have talked about Roy of course. So he’s either lying or there really was a third person and he could be very important. How is it that nobody thought of that?

*END OF SPOILERS*

The film was a complete mess. Apart from Norton, everyone else’s performance is more or less forgettable. I don’t know if it is a faithful adaptation of the book, but in any case the screenplay is appalling. I repeat, Edward Norton’s performance was the only good thing about this film and it definitely deserved the Oscar nomination, maybe even a win. This is also the only reason I wouldn’t recommend against watching the film.

4/10

Review: Léon: The Professional (1994)

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Can a man be a cold killing machine and a sentimental human being at the same time? It seems like he can. Luc Besson’s crime thriller deals with a wide range of themes, yet the one that stands out is love.

Léon is a hitman and a good one. He is professional, skillful, trains every day and always follows his delicate set of rules. One of these rules (“No women, no children”) forces him to save the little girl-next-door’s life from the corrupted DEA agents who murdered her family. Despite being alone for a long time and reluctant to forge ties with anyone, Mathilda’s rebellious and at the same time sweet nature wins him over. The two of them adopt a life filled with killings, training, milk and some hilarious moments. As Léon’s past is unfold, it seems that Mathilda has finally restored his long lost emotional and affectionate self.

The film is quite thought-provoking with lots of symbolisms around, most notably Léon’s plant, the story of which is never explained in the film. Maybe it is a relic from his past or maybe it’s just a symbolic depiction of his personality’s well-hidden beauty. However, the most intriguing aspect of the film concerns the nature of the relationship Léon shares with Mathilda. Is it father-daughter relationship? Are they in love with each other? It never becomes clear. Well, I believe that trying to assign a tag here is wrong. Their bond has more than one dimensions and it is better to feel it I think rather than trying to describe it.

Acting is great throughout the movie. Jean Reno and Gary Oldman are amazing and Natalie Portman was at 12 still a sight to behold. The score is quite good too, effectively setting the mood in several scenes. In general, apart from a few unrealistic Mathilda lines that seem out of place for a 12-year-old girl, the film is flawless and even though it was released 22 years ago, it is as relevant and powerful as ever.

8/10

Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

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I have a tendency to check user reviews on IMDb before watching a film. I was surprised to see how divided people were for Birdman. Most of the reviews gave the film either 9-10 stars or 1 star. This made me want to watch the film even more and by the time I finished watching it, my faith in people had decreased by a little bit.

Birdman is brilliant and this is not just an opinion. I’m not saying that because I liked it too much (although I did), I didn’t even give it 10 stars. When I say it is brilliant, I mean that every aspect of the film is masterfully dealt with. Sublime acting, excellent cinematography, interesting and unconventional directing and a wonderfully original score. OK there wasn’t a fast-paced plot with lots of plot twists, but not every movie has to be like this. I was very surprised when I realized that one of the reviewers who gave the film a one-star rating, complained about the plot and suggested to the readers to go watch a Kubrick film instead. Well, Kubrick himself made movies with minimal plot which were nevertheless proved to be masterpieces (2001: A space Odyssey, Eyes Wide Shut). He once said: “A film is (or should be) more like music than fiction”. Films are supposed to make us think and feel, like music does. You can make a good song by adding story-like lyrics and you can make a good song by adding no lyrics at all. The same applies to movies. There are plot-driven masterpieces and there are not-plot-driven masterpieces. Birdman is one of the latter.

I don’t want to spoil the film. I just want to say that I would highly recommend it for anyone, except people who only want to see pointless action and superhero films. Birdman will make you think, reflect on similar situations you might have experienced and discover the other side of actors and films.

By no means is it a film for everyone. I can absolutely understand people not liking it. There is not a single film that appeals to everyone. What I cannot understand though is people calling it a bad movie. I really feel that it deserved all the oscars it won.

9/10

A humble reviewer’s thoughts on films

I’ve been thinking of creating this blog for a while, but I hesitated. My main concerns were that I wouldn’t have time to update it regularly and that nobody would read it. Well, maybe I don’t need to update it regularly after all and maybe it doesn’t matter if not many people care about it. I’ve been writing reviews on imdb.com and no one seemed to notice, so I though I might as well create my own site, express my thoughts and share it with people. You never know, they might find it interesting and if they don’t, it’s not such a big deal. I believe that a writer’s (or blogger’s) main purpose is to express himself, rather than pleasing others.

We’re only six days into 2017 and the beginning of a year seems to me the perfect timing to start something new. This is my first post and it feels great! I’ll be posting my reviews, top 10 lists and other thoughts concerning cinema here hoping that one day I will be able to reach people who share the same enthusiasm about films as me.