The Clash Film Column: Interstellar, Mostly

Well, it is Kind Of A Big Deal…

No mucking about, straight into it, then…

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The Big Film: Interstellar

Christopher Nolan has admitted that he won’t watch Gravity until Interstellar has shuttled off into the public consciousness. It’s a curious statement, as Alfonso Cuarón’s film is one of the few notable sci-fi movies not to have flickered as an influence for Nolan’s own intergalactic adventure. It’s even more notable for despite their surface similarities, they’re almost polar opposites: Gravity’s bare-boned plot was top-loaded with every awe-inspiring visual trick known to man, while Interstellar prioritises existential philosophy over thunderous visceral thrills.

Interstellar suggests that Nolan wanted to create a work that encapsulates everything, like some grand end game of cinema. As such, it’s a film that feels desperate to convey verbose scientific reasoning and heart-rendering emotion with spectacular imagery and the ominous silence of the great void that is space: all within a framework of recognisable tropes of sci-fi and family drama which would feel pretty darn traditional if those genres weren’t zapped with a tricksy realignment of dimension and time.

This isn’t a film that benefits from its audience being forewarned about the details of the plot, given that much of the dialogue hammers home the explanation of exactly what’s happening and why. Simply: climate change threatens Earth’s very existence, yet the discovery of a wormhole raises hope that a new, hospitable planet can be discovered. It leaves Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) in a quandary: can he abandon his children to lead a quest that can potentially save mankind?

In many respects, Interstellar makes a successful grab for such transcendent designs. The precarious juggling act of marrying technical jargon with brooding, intellectual thinking points and the melancholic gloom of paternal mortality works well enough for each trait to hold your attention without compromising the validity of one of the others. Indeed, there’s enough stimulation from those issues for the near three-hour running time to melt away like the auditorium has its own innate issues with special relativity. And, of course, everything from a gargantuan tidal wave to a frozen planetary surface looks stunning.

Yet it’s also a work riddled with minor weaknesses. The underdevelopment of Anne Hathaway’s character Amelia is a particular problem given that it’s her character that comes closest to elucidating the inevitable (clichéd) interface of science and love. But there are a host of other mini-clangers: the robots feel like a cross between 2001’s monolith and a smart fridge that’s voiced with the wonky humour of C-3PO; there’s an early narrative leap of faith that has no place in a film with such leanings towards the cerebral; and an entirely necessarily but wholly dull detour into mathematical equations seems like an outtake from the mostly forgotten TV crime drama Numbers.

Such problems, however, are so scattered across the sprawling (if mostly taut) duration that they’re not hugely problematic. Like an antidote to Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, which crammed all of its failings into a ruinous third act, Interstellar is nevertheless too flawed to be a true masterpiece – yet it’s also inherently more fascinating than any blockbuster has the right to be. Much like space exploration itself, this is a three-steps-forward-one-step-back experience, but one whose ambition will offer inspiration for the future.

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Also Out: Say When

“We won’t be forced into the boxes that society wants us to fit into.” That’s what director Lynn Shelton is saying right now in her new film Say When. She speaks on behalf of females everywhere who feel constrained by the roles of bride, mother, grown up, woman – and the expected behaviours built into these definitions. And bravo to that. But there are problems with Say When that make it less than successful. For starters, Keira Knightley’s character is tough to like.

We’re introduced to Megan following a flashback to student antics 10 years ago. She’s 28 and meeting friends she’s been close to since those heady uni days. One of them is getting married – and this is her hen party. It soon becomes clear that Megan considers herself different, superior even. And, to be fair, she is – anybody would struggle to identify with this group of two-dimensional stereotypes. Striking up an unlikely friendship with teen Chloë Grace Moretz, she checks out of her life for a week to reassess.

Underwritten characters with exaggerated characteristics designed to create sympathy for Megan’s plight have the opposite effect and undermine the film’s cause. Megan’s actions and haughty attitude throughout are also problematic – we’re never really on her side, while the final nail in the film’s coffin comes in the form of a May-to-December romance that reinforces Hollywood’s belief that older women are redundant.

Similar in tone to Knightley’s last indie rom-com Begin Again, Say When is carelessly executed and instantly forgettable. Words: Kim Taylor-Foster

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Also Out: Nightcrawler

LA. 2am. Dogs bark, a garbage can topples, glass smashes, sirens wail and amidst it all is the lurking figure of an emaciated Jake Gyllenhaal. And while it is Gyllenhaal that we see, it’s not the Gyllenhaal we know. His portrayal of the frenetic outcast, Lou Bloom, is a more than accomplished transformation of character. No longer do we see the Hollywood heartthrob. Instead, we see a man of rakish proportions, slithering through the soulless LA night: thief, loner, roving reporter, law-breaker and borderline sociopath.

Bloom’s impulsive personality and compulsive attitude get him – and us – nose to nose with the blood and grit of LA’s streets. And while that would be enough to break some men, Bloom is nothing if not determined, and his mind is set on success – and detached enough from society to ensure he gets it. Morals be damned: the ethics of the industry of journalism, as is loyalty to the handful of desperate souls (Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed) who get sucked into his world of deceit and manipulation.

But when the dust settles and the sirens stop, Nightcrawler is a fascinating glimpse into the desperation and depravity of underground crime journalism and offers a new peak for Gyllenhaal as a character actor. Words: Gareth Kolze-Jones

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Halloween already feels like a long time ago but it was only last weekend, which explains why Ouija (pictured) is the biggest new entry at the UK box office at #2. Its Rotten Tomatoes profile is worth a chuckle. Those damn Turtles are still at the top, with new entries including Nightcrawler at #6, a strong opening for Mr. Turner at #7 and Daniel Radcliffe’s Horns at #11.

The Lennon Project has commenced filming with newcomer Gregory Barr portraying John Lennon. It promises to depict, “for the first time ever, the actual events as they unfolded the fateful night John Lennon was shot and killed in New York City on December 8th 1980.”

As last week’s film column was dedicated to Halloween horrors, we missed the chance to feature Daniel Radcliffe’s rapping. But here it is again, if only to pose the question, “Whatever happened to MC Lars?”

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Words: Ben Hopkins, except where indicated

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