Interstellar – Blu-ray Review

MM and MC

I’ve tried to explain to you all before why Interstellar is worth your time and now it is out on a variety of shiny discs I think it bears repeating. I’ve watched every single one of the special features so my opinion is valid and should be respected.

Film
In the near future life on earth has become almost untenable as crops fail and dust storms barrel across the landscape. Thanks to a bizarre gravitational anomaly astronaut-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles across the secret residual base of NASA; an organisation now seen as frivolous in an age where farming comes before scientific exploration. After a bit of exposition from Michael Caine Cooper finds himself travelling with a small crew through a wormhole in search of a new planet that can sustain life and ensure the future of mankind. As Cooper travels on his interstellar journey his science-loving daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy & Jessica Chastain) stays behind on Earth growing up fast without her parental unit. Thanks to the relativities of space and time as days pass in space years are flying by back on Earth. Cooper and his crew not only have to contend with running out of fuel but running out of time to find the new home for the human race.

On the big screen Interstellar was an absolute marvel. The music was original but somehow timeless, the visuals were stunning and unlike anything I had seen before, and the sheer ambition and craftsmanship from director Christopher Nolan was admirable. Though some sitting close to me disagreed it was love at first sight for me and Interstellar. It was not a perfect film but it was an experience I wouldn’t forget soon. Sitting down with the Blu-ray on my less than stellar TV I was a little nervous that the experience would be tricky to replicate.

I needn’t have worried. While I wasn’t going to be able to create the visual impact of a 70mm print at home I dimmed the lights and let the film do its work. The picture was crystal clear on my vintage flat screen with the scenes on Earth looking suitably grubby and dust-covered while the planetary visuals were sublimely realised in cold sterile clarity. My non-existent sound system even managed to do some justice to Hans Zimmer’s excellent organ-based score which lends the film a religious feel befitting a film with the fate of our species at its core.

You may despise Interstellar, some certainly do, but for those willing to turn down their scorn temporarily there are moments of real awe to be had. Even on your TV at home.

For more pro-Interstellar rambling please see my full review.

Christopher and Matthew

Extras
Once you’ve finished the film allow yourself a short comfort break before getting stuck into the special features as the two-disc Blu-ray is full of the things. Proceedings start with a 50 minute documentary about the real scientific theory that went into the making of Interstellar that will fascinate or bore in equal measure depending on just how much physics you are willing to indulge in for the sake of cinema. I can take a lot of physics so was very pleased with this in-depth look at black holes, relativity, and space-time. Lovely stuff.

From there we get no less than fourteen featurettes of decent length detailing every aspect of the production from physical and computer generated effects, through farming and simulating zero-gravity, to recording the music in an actual church. On a Christopher Nolan film as much is done without the aid of computers as possible and a lot of what I had assumed was CGI was actually done for real. It’s hard to appreciate all this while watching the film itself so the extras allow the hard work to be fully appreciated.

As with the physics I know not everyone wants to get too stuck into the behind the scenes but for my fellow nerds there is plenty to enjoy here.

Everyone else can be quiet.

Interstellar is out now on DVD, Blu-ray, and super-special-Blu-ray. Extras vary depending on which one you buy.

Interstellar – Film Review

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Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to this review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Before we begin I would like to flag up that I will be referring to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at various points throughout. Such a comparison may seem obvious, lazy, or unhelpful but I hope you will trust me when I say that comparing this latest Sci-Fi epic to The Greatest* Science Fiction Film of All Time™ helps to put the film, and its critique, into context. Happy? Then I shall begin.

A few generations from now the world is not the technologically advanced utopia we have come to expect. Instead our planet is slowly dying. All crops fail apart from corn as dust storms roam across the harsh landscape of America. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former pilot and engineer whose time is now best spent running a farm with his children, Murph (Mackenzie Foy & Jessica Chastain) and Tom (Timothée Chalamet & Casey Affleck), and their Grandfather (John Lithgow). While Tom is happy enough following in his father’s footsteps Murph is fascinated by science. Sadly this is a world in which the scientists have failed and government money is better spent feeding the population instead of inspiring a generation.

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Life is dirty and bleak; Cooper seems resigned to the daily struggle to put food on the table and keep dust out of his children’s lungs. After a certain series of events too convoluted for me to explain here, Interstellar‘s own large black monolith, Cooper and Murph stumble across the secret base of what is left of NASA. Now headed up by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) NASA are not looking for a way to save the world but for a whole new planet for our species to move to. With the help of a wormhole pioneering explorers have already travelled to distant parts of the universe to find a viable planet but now one final scouting mission is needed to travel through the wormhole and see how they got on.

Naturally Cooper is the best man for the job and after some contemplation, and vehement disagreement from Murph, he blasts off into the void with Amelia, Doyle (Wes Bentley), and Principal (David Oyelowo). As Cooper and company search for a new home for the human race they are forced to confront whether a human can truly put the interests of mankind ahead of personal safety and the lives of their loved ones. In an adventure involving relativity, the fifth dimension, and interstellar travel Christopher Nolan bends space, time, and your mind.

But is Interstellar any good?

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Whatever my fellow audience members may have thought about Interstellar they have to admit that it is an ambitious and brave endeavour. Well… brave in the way a film can be; lives are not being put at risk here. The ambitious bravery comes in the form of including tricky science for the audience to absorb and risking people not understanding what is going on or simply getting sniffy because the science isn’t 100% accurate. It’s a difficult line to tread, teetering between incomprehension and derision, but for my money Interstellar succeeds. To fully understand the plot one has to take on a certain amount of understanding of relativity, the concept of time as a resource just like fuel, and experiencing the world in dimensions beyond time. In my opinion Nolan manages to get the basic scientific principles across well enough that nobody who is paying sufficient attention will find themselves adrift. Go to the toilet at the wrong moment though and you may want to borrow somebody else’s notes.

As for those who feel the need to take Interstellar to task for not being 100% scientifically robust, as happened with Gravity, I have very little patience. I am assuming that this a modern trend to make people feel superior by allowing them to apply derision to films that are otherwise enjoyable. No Interstellar should not be used in a science lesson but I wouldn’t use 2001: A Space Odyssey either. Did Kubrick get assessed badly for suggesting that evolution was sparked by the arrival of a large black obelisk or were critics able to accept this as a forgivable plot device essential to the story being told? Science Fiction is what it is because it is not factual. It is fiction. What is important is that the film in questions takes its own fictional science seriously and does not contradict itself. Interstellar has its own rules, explains them, and applies them. Turn your nose up and I will confiscate your light saber.

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Rather than debate the laws of physics I suggest you instead just enjoy the unimaginable visuals and infectious sense of adventure that Interstellar has in abundance. Films with this scope and imagination are few and far between and should be appreciated as such. What Odyssey lacked in emotional weight (or baggage) Interstellar is bursting with. While Odyssey‘s Dave struggled in space without any sign of a family, his wife only appearing in a sequel (played by Mary Jo Deschanel), McConaughey’s Cooper is constantly aware of his family back home on Earth. The weight of the mission to rescue mankind is made apparent through the adversity experienced both in a distant galaxy as well on the planet we call home. Interstellar wants to tug at your heart as well as muddle your mind and is mostly successful. While I did feel the struggle felt by Cooper and family occasionally the Nolan brothers’ script pulled a little too hard. One particular speech by Hathaway’s Amelia is more likely to deliver sniggers than sniffles. Bend space and time all you like but don’t over deliver on the sentimentality. In a film with two prominent female scientists it is a shame that one finds herself compromised by emotions.

The overall effect of Interstellar is one of awe. Despite some flaws the film as a whole is a visual feast and dramatic juggernaut that explores the flaws of humanity as much as it does the far reaches of the universe. Below you will notice that I have given the film a full five stars and I do this not because it is a perfect feature or my greatest film of the year, let alone all time. I give it five stars for ambition and execution. For trying something a little different. You may not like it; it might be too convoluted, too simplistic, or just try too hard for your tastes but hopefully it will give you at least one moment when your eyes widen in surprise and wonder.

Interstellar is in UK cinemas from 7th November 2014.

*Arguably/allegedly

Lawless – Film Review

Lawless is the story of a gang of bootleggers in prohibition-era Virginia whose booming business in bootleg moonshine is threatened by the arrival of a new deputy in town. I honestly wish there were a little more to the plot than that but sadly this is what we have to work with. Any subplots are so underdeveloped I don’t want to raise your expectations around them.

“Based on a True Story” is normally a signal that a real life event has been taken and distorted beyond recognition in order to turn it into thrilling cinematic fare. It would seem that this step was skipped as Nick Cave wrote the screenplay for Lawless as while the film may well be accurate it turns a story of drink, corruption, gangs, romance, and violence into a painfully dull two-hour slog.

Shia LaBeouf takes the lead as Jack Bondurant, the young enterprising member of the bootlegging gang and our narrator. LaBeouf is at his least irritating in this role but still isn’t particularly convincing as anything but the affable fool. Tom Hardy is good as ever as his brother Forrest Bondurant and provides a few laughs with his performance as a big strong man who gets flustered around women. Sadly Hardy is given little to do beyond grunt and wander round in a large cardigan from H&M. Saying that compared to the way Jessica Chastain is treated Hardy should be grateful for the character development he gets.

As Maggie Beauford, employee to the Bondurants and love interest to Hardy Chastain arrives without explanation, is given a token nugget of back story, and then after getting her kit off is relegated to little more than set dressing. Gary Oldman is treated just as badly as charasmatic mob boss Floyd Banner we barely see and who is quickly dropped from the film once he has served his purpose. Mia Wasikowska suffers similarly, providing Shia with an uninteresting and inconsequential love interest but having no real story or personality of her own.

Guy Pearce is given a bit more of a role as the evil deputy Rakes but is for some reason playing him as a panto villain. I half expected him to arrive in every scene preceded by a crack and a puff of smoke hiding his face behind a cheap cloak as the audience boo and hiss. And the hair! Pearce has had his hair combed into such a severe and unattractive parting he can’t be anything but the bad guy.

Even with a pantomime villain I struggled to get behind the gang as while they were pitched as loveable rogues the gang were quite happy to remove a man’s testicles in the name of revenge when the time came. Everything about this film is on one level; there is no depth or meaning to be found. The brothers are bootleggers who experience some trouble and little else happens. All secondary characters are seen only when they directly affect the brothers which would be fine but for the fact that the brothers are unsympathetic and at worst boring. I would have been happy to sacrifice a few scenes of LaBeouf pratting about or Hardy’s non-relationship with Chastain in favour of getting to spend more time with Gary Oldman.

With an anticlimactic climax and a strangely wholesome epilogue Lawless lumbers off the screen with as little fanfare as it arrived. In the film as a whole there is no one to root for and a plot so basic it is impossible to become fully engrossed in. I found myself completed bored throughout and frustrated at the wasted acting talent on display. Too many interested threads are left unexplored and characters underdeveloped. Lawless is not a film we will be talking about in ten years time.

Lawless is in UK cinemas on 7th September 2012

Take Shelter’s Biggest Fake Fans

Earlier this week Movie Mavericks noticed that the positive comments on their Mirror, Mirror trailer post had all come from the same source and were duplicated across the internet. Could social media marketing have reached the depths of posting fake comments? We can’t really tell, but whatever is going on it seems that Take Shelter is getting in on the act if a look at five of our followers is anything to go by.

Last month when I was pushing our review of Take Shelter on Twitter we picked up a few followers and some appreciative tweets, a rarity in itself.

Out of curiosity I had a look at these new followers and they seemed an odd bunch but that’s to be expected. On closer inspection they were all tweeting in an odd way, most repeating a similar tweet about the weather and what to have for dinner, the rest made up of random retweets and identical messages to people about Take Shelter. Could this be a coincidence? There’s nothing too suspicious about a group of passionate movie fans. But then it turned out that they were lying to us.

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Orange Rising Star Award 2012 Nominees

This week the nominees for the 2012 Orange Rising Star Award were announced. With voting handled by the Great British Public, this is the one time we get a say on who wins a proper award. It is our duty as UK citizens and internet based film fans to have that say and vote. Let’s have a completely objective look at the nominees.

Jessica Chastain
Appearing in no less than five films this year, Chastain has burst out of nowhere to become a big upcoming presence in modern cinema. Highlights for me include Take Shelter and Coriolanus.

Eddie Redmayne
With the look of a male Gemma Arterton about him, Redmayne has only one major release this year, and it isn’t out until tomorrow. Still, having the lead role in My Week with Marilyn amongst so many British stalwarts is impressive.

Adam Deacon
A good handful of films out this year and yet the only roles I am likely to have seen Deacon in are the two separate characters he’s played on Casualty. Anuvahood did look amusing though.

Chris Hemsworth
From Home and Away to playing Thor, God of Oversized Hammers, Hemsworth has come a long way in the past four years. FUN FACT: He also did one episode of Neighbours.

Tom Hiddleston
Hiddleston is all over the shop starring in everything from comic book blockbusters to arty family dramas, from Woody Allen to The Deep Blue Sea. His face terrifies me slightly but we shouldn’t hold that against him.

Jennifer Lawrence
Lovely Jennifer Lawrence went on from her Oscar nominated performance to play Anton Yelchin’s love interest twice and to take on the role of a blue X-Person. Soon to be heading up the Next Big Franchise, Lawrence’s star is on the rise.

Felicity Jones
HELLO! No, I must remain impartial. Since getting the nod from us early last year (way before everyone else), Jones has been on a dramatic rise topped by a win at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Not bad for a Brummie.

Chris O’Dowd
After slogging away on Channel 4 since 2006, O’Dowd has hit the big screen three times in the past two years. It was his appearance in Bridesmaids which everyone actually noticed though, providing a much-needed core to a fun but messy comedy.

There are your eight nominees, who will you vote for? We are remaining totally impartial…

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