Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

Film Review: Interstellar

Interstellar

With the Earth’s food supplies running out, farmer and former astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) travels across the universe in search of an alternative home for Earth’s inhabitants.

There are few directors whose films generate as much excitement as Christopher Nolan’s. And for good reason. With a back catalogue to date including Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception, Nolan might not be prolific but he certainly knows how to make a film.

Which brings us on to Interstellar, his most ambitious project yet, which given the head fuck that was Inception, is no mean feat.

What starts off on Earth as a relatively low key drama soon expands to the far reaches of our universe and beyond. Space exploration in films is of course nothing new but here it feels special for the most part, and some of that is down to the film being routed in realism. Sure, some of the science may not totally add up, but much of the film (the first two thirds in particular) feels plausible and not beyond the realms of possibility. It’s both exciting and scary to think this may one day become science fact rather than fiction.

Space exploration is only one aspect of the film, however, and as with the majority of Nolan’s films, Interstellar has family at its heart. It owes a debt to Robert Zemeckis’ Contact in this respect, knowing all the while that Cooper’s daughter Murph (but weirdly not his son) is at the forefront of his mind. It adds some emotional weight to the story that hasn’t worked for some but I thought gave the film a more human feel.

Black Hole in Insterstellar

Unfortunately, this good work is partly undone by some pretty hefty plot contrivances and whole strands of story that simply don’t work. Matt Damon’s brief storyline, for example, just feels forced and unnecessary, whilst trying to work out how Cooper ended up finding the NASA headquarters and being involved in the mission makes less sense than anything else that happens in the film.

But what Interstellar lacks on plot and script, it more than makes up for in ambition and grandeur. It looks absolutely stunning for a start, particularly some of the shots in the depths of space, whilst its final act is a brave one for a mainstream blockbuster. It does things other films would be afraid to do and should be applauded for that. It takes its cues from 2001: A Space Odyssey and whilst it does fall some way short of Kubrick’s masterpiece, it’s still quite the spectacle.

All the actors give decent performances with Matthew McConnaughey, Anna Hathaway and Jessica Chastain all handling their roles pretty well. None are particularly spectacular but do what they need to do when they need to do it.  However, it’s Mackenzie Foy as the young Murph who truly sparkles and adds some real emotional clout to the film. Foy’s character is central to everything happening to the film and fortunately she carries such pressure with ease.

Interstellar is not Christopher Nolan’s best film but is still a film to be appreciated, if just for its technical achievements. Like Gravity, it may not have the strongest script but is a visual marvel and will make you realise why you fell in love with cinema, particularly if you’re a sci-fi can. See it on the biggest screen possible and just drink it in.

Pros

  • Amazing cinematography
  • Pure cinema at times
  • Great performance by Mackenzie Foy

Cons

  • Some horrible plot contrivances
  • Some sections *cough* Matt Damon *cough* just don’t work

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film review: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

With great power comes great responsibility.

Yes, yes, that’s a whole different suit o’ spandex, but it could so easily apply to the pressures surrounding Christopher Nolan approaching The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan rebooted a Batman franchise that was in dire need of an overhaul and did so to an effect that no-one could have expected. Batman Begins brought us Batman’s origin story and perfectly mixed action and sentiment, whilst The Dark Knight introduced Heath Ledger’s Joker, creating one of the most memorable comic book film villains ever. Many have hailed TDK has the greatest superhero film of all time, so just how do you follow that?

It wasn’t too long before we were introduced to Bane, the beefcake who was to take over villainous duties from The Joker, duking it out with Bats amongst literally hundreds of extras, showing that Nolan clearly wanted to show people that he was thinking big. We also got told that a certain Miss Selina Kyle would make an appearance and then the trailers arrived featuring some huge explosive set pieces. It seemed as if Nolan was right on track to concluding the series in spectacular fashion.

We pick the story up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight with Gotham in a time of peace following the work done by the late Harvey Dent and Batman seemingly gone forever. Bruce Wayne is doing a Howard Hughes and has become a recluse in Wayne Manor. However, following the emergence of the terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), who is plotting something terrible for Gotham, Wayne decides to suit up once more to put a stop to his evil plotting.

BaneAll the major players are back for more; Alfred (Michael Caine), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), etc, but we also get the introduction of a few new faces. Of course there is Anna Hathaway’s Selina Kyle (not Catwoman, technically), but we also get Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake, a young cop in the mould of Jim Gordon, and Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate, a businesswoman desperate to get a nuclear energy programme up and running with Mr Wayne. These new characters add plenty more depth to the story, having various different influences on the final outcome. Of all the new additions, it’s Selina Kyle that is the most significant. Many believe Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman to be pretty definitive but Hathaway is superb as the feline femme fatale, managing to successfully capture the good gal/bad gal dynamic that is so essential to the character.

Then we come to Bane. The previous villains in the trilogy were all very much human characters in the comics, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch for Nolan to drag them into his real world imagining. However, Bane is a little different. Although still human, he is traditionally of superhuman size with stupendously large muscles. Enter Tom Hardy. Hardy’s physique has become rather renowned after turns in Bronson and Warrior, so it’s no surprise to see him chosen to join the Inception reunion. Much had been made about Bane’s voice in TDKR but the problem was negligible; the evident post-production dubbing has ironed out much of the issue, with only a couple of instances that may leave you trying to work out what was said.

Bane is a fine addition to this Batman’s Rogues Gallery, along with Ra’s Al Ghul, Scarecrow and Joker, and most certainly makes up for the abominable portrayal of the character in Batman & Robin. However, much of his actions build up to something that doesn’t really take a near 3 hour film to tell, and there is a feeling with the main plot of a little style over substance. It looks fantastic throughout and the set pieces are certainly impressive, but they feel a little shallow at times and we rarely feel the true peril that Gotham is supposedly in; Bane’s motives remain unclear for much of the film, which does leave a certain sense story being sacrificed for plot. The film, and particularly its climax, also descends into cliché at times which detracts a little from a franchise that has laid a foundation of doing things differently.

The action is nicely punctuated with more touching moments to give a change of pace and give the film a more of a Batman Begins feel; Bruce and Alfred’s emotional showdown is a highlight of the trilogy, and even Bane isn’t completely immune to a tug on the heartstrings. Alfred is the trilogy’s emotional core and once again he provides the perfect grounding for Bruce’s daredevil lifestyle. Over the three films, his story is arguably the most poignant of all. There are some plot threads however that feel underdeveloped that do nothing but add unnecessary confusion to an already packed plot.

It was always going to be difficult for Nolan to top TDK but he has done tremendously well to create a film that offers action in swathes but also a level of sensitivity that was missing from the previous film. TDKR is more character focused, harking back to Begins, which offsets the action set pieces perfectly. It might lack the originality of Begins and the depth of TDK, but TDKR is a fitting sign-off to a trilogy that has reinvented comic book adaptations and has shown that Christopher Nolan can handle both the power and responsibility bestowed upon him.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Batman Begins and The Dark Knight revisited

With The Dark Knight Rises concluding Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, I thought I’d go back and revisit the two films that preceded it, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Warning: contains spoilers for the four people who haven’t seen either of these yet.

Batman BeginsBatman Begins

Before Batman begins, Batman’s origin story hadn’t really been explored to great extent and the franchise in general was in dire need of an overhaul. As such, Batman Begins was the perfect Batman film for its generation. Taking a much darker and more realistic tone than previous films, it brought Bruce Wayne and Batman into our world rather than, as in the past, taking us into his.

There’s something special about an origin story. Maybe it’s because we get to see the normal person (us) transformed into something greater (what we aspire to be), but whatever it is, Batman Begins is the perfect example of how to go back to a story’s roots. Pretty much everything important gets covered; we see where Bruce’s fear of bats comes from, we see the death of his parents, and then his transformation into Batman. However, it’s this final point that is the film’s most intriguing storyline.

Bruce goes off around the world in hope of learning the skills to bring justice to Gotham and is taught a variety of martial arts and ninja skills by Ducard (who later turns out to be the mysterious and supposedly immortal Ra’s Al Ghul), a member of the League of Shadows. This is where it gets really interesting as we actually see Batman learning his skills. Before we have just had a Batman who is resilient, skilled in hand-to-hand combat and can seemingly disappear at will. Now we see how he apparently learnt all of that badassery.

Origin stories can be tricky to do in that the filmmaker needs to include how the superhero came to be but also a further storyline involving an antagonist (or in this case two). This can lead the film to be a little on the long side (looking at you The Amazing Spider-Man), but Batman Begins manages to balance the two distinct parts of the story perfectly without stringing things out unnecessarily.

The villains chosen for Batman Begins are also excellent picks. Batman has a substantial rogues gallery and the duo of Ra’s Al Ghul and Jonathan ‘Scarecrow’ Crane work superbly together; Ra’s symbolises the father that Bruce lost as a child whilst Scarecrow represents the theme of fear that runs throughout the film. Both villains are suitably different enough to provide variety in their characters and both Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy play their respective roles very well indeed.

And then at the end of the film we get the tease of a certain someone’s calling card that, along with the anarchy ensuing throughout Gotham, sets up the following film perfectly.

The Dark Knight

The Dark KnightThe first Batman film to actually drop the ‘Batman’ from its title, The Dark Knight always promised to be something a little different. We knew from the end of Batman Begins that The Joker was going to be Batman’s key adversary but no-one really envisaged just how much of an effect the character would have on the film and the entire Batman franchise as a result.

Heath Ledger had been a controversial choice to play the Joker with many unable to see him in the role of Batman’s oldest and most famous enemy. However, Christopher Nolan clearly saw something in Ledger that most did not and it wasn’t long before it became clear that Nolan knew best. Whilst Jack Nicholson’s Joker was considered a near perfect take on the character, it’ll be Ledger’s portrayal that will forever be the benchmark.

Ledger’s death as a result of an overdose of prescription drugs prior to the film’s release was a tragedy and ensured an even greater air of mystery surrounding the part. There were reports that he had locked himself in a hotel room for weeks on end to prepare for the role and that the whole experience had had a detrimental effect on his mental state. Whatever really happened, Ledger gave a performance so absorbing that it will go down in history as one of the greats. Some have said he was overrated in the role, but he wasn’t. He simply wasn’t. Everything from his licking his lips facial tick (originally an irritation at the face paint, but Nolan liked it so have him carry on) to the variations in his vocal tone comes together to create a truly unsettling performance, but one that perfectly exemplified the Joker.

Elsewhere, The Dark Knight continues to carry on the excellent foundations laid by Begins. Michael Caine and Gary Oldman reprise their superlative supporting roles as Alfred and Jim Gordon respectively, and we get the introduction of district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). The only blot in the copybook in terms of continuity was Katie Holmes not reprising her role as Rachel Dawes, although Maggie Gyllenhaal did a fine job as her replacement.

Dent is a fine and necessary addition to the roster, although the Two-Face side of the character feels somewhat underused. It’s not until we near the end of the film does Dent transform into Two-Face but seemingly within the blink of an eye he falls to his death and the character doesn’t really get a chance to fulfill its potential. However, to incorporate that would require a longer story and with the film already feeling a little on the lengthy side, there wasn’t really much space to cram in any more.

Many have argued that The Dark Knight is the finest superhero film of all time and it’s hard to argue with that, although some have since passed that accolade onto Avengers Assemble. The Dark Knight Rises has a lot to live up to, but just as long as it doesn’t try to emulate its predecessor but rather try and build upon it, it should do just fine. Nolan has created two masterful comic book adaptations; who would bet against him doing it again?

Words: Chris Thomson

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Film review: The Prestige

“Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.”

The Prestige

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are two aspiring illusionists working together in Victorian London, but when Angier’s wife is killed during an act, the two are torn apart. Hell-bent on outdoing each other, the pair, both aided and hampered by the beautiful Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson), go to extraordinary lengths to prove they are the greater magician.

The Prestige formed part of a magical double bill in 2006 alongside The Illusionist, but largely thanks to its trio of Jackman, Bale and Johansson it pretty much eclipsed its illusionary brethren. It also had the advantage of having Christopher Nolan at the helm fresh from Batman Begins to lend a bit of narrative nouse that the director has become renowned for. Adapted from Christopher Priest’s novel of the same name, The Prestige is an atmospheric period piece that effectively combines magic’s inherent mystery and intrigue with a plot that constantly keeps you second guessing right to the very end.

Christian BaleThe narrative jumps around between different time periods of the magicians’ rivalry, although Nolan does well to ensure it never becomes too confusing. The carefully crafted mise-en-scene not only creates an intriguing world for the characters, but also elicits a certain dreamlike quality that is equal parts beautiful and sinister. Neither Algiers nor Borden are particularly likeable characters; both have somewhat dishonourable intentions and it’s hard to know who to naturally side with. This, combined with the cinematography and flitting narrative all adds to the feeling that nothing is quite as it seems and that you shouldn’t be so quick to take everything at face value.

The Prestige is a film that definitely warrants a second viewing, presuming you enjoyed it first time round of course. There are some superb instances of foreshadowing, with some being much more subtle than others. Again, this just adds to the film’s mystery and intrigue. And as with ‘real’ magic, these are the things the film does best. The plot itself has a few holes in it here and there, although nothing that will break the film, and the characters can be a little one-dimensional at times. Bale’s Borden is by far the pick of the bunch, whilst Jackman and Johansson don’t exactly give memorable performances. In fact, Jackman’s best moments are when he actually plays Gerald Root, an out of work actor used as Algier’s double in his act.

Although magic is undoubtedly the basis for the film, it also becomes somewhat of a MacGuffin. The real theme of the story is two men with an all-consuming obsession and a friendship not just turned sour, but deadly. The Prestige is an interesting example of art imitating art and one that challenges the audience to question everything they are seeing. With magic it’s the reveal that gets the big reactions, and The Prestige just about delivers on this front. It’s not going to have you open-mouthed in amazement but it will likely leave you with a sense of satisfaction, if indeed you had at all been fooled. But then again, as the quote at the top of this review states, you don’t really want to work it out anyway.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Movie trailer blow out – Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises

For those looking forward to this summer’s blockbusters, the past two or three days have probably seen the excitement levels skyrocket thanks to the new trailers released for Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises. These are probably the two most anticipated films of the year so far, and both trailers give a much more in-depth look at the finished article. Check them out below.

So what do you think? First of all, Prometheus. This is Sir Ridley Scott’s chance to put the Alien franchise back on the map after it steadily (dramatically) went off course, and it looks very much like he’s onto a winner. Each trailer has been more and more epic, and this one doesn’t disappoint, building steadily until all hell breaks loose. It also has a very clever little segment in which Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) tells Fifield (Sean Harris) that the pictograms they’ve found are an invitation. “From whom?” he replies. A title card flashes up – “From Ridley Scott”. Very cool and instantly gets the blood pumping. We also see a lot more in the way of alien life (although no xenomorph life as of yet), with some facehugger style worm and even a couple of Space Jockeys. I just hope that they don’t do something that a lot of prequels do – have technology or anything else that is way ahead of or simply doesn’t appear in the originals/’sequels’ (Read: double-ended lightsabres). Still, Prometheus is shaping up to put Alien back on the map, and it’s about time too.

Right, now onto The Dark Knight Rises. Footage-wise, there’s not been a massive amount released, but thanks to a bit of classic viral marketing, that’s now changed. We see plenty of Catwoman and plenty of Bane (who thankfully is now much more audible), both of which have been kept somewhat under wraps. We also get to see a bit more of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which suggests he’s going to play a bigger role than previously thought, and get a glimpse of The Caped Crusader’s latest method of transport. However, Nolan hasn’t let too much out of the bag yet. Just what will Catwoman’s role be? Why is Bane blowing up half of Gotham? Build up to the film’s release has thus far been a little underwhelming, but this trailer has just reversed all that in a matter of minutes.

Prometheus hits cinemas on 1st June, whilst The Dark Knight Rises is released on 20th July.

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