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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Interstellar 2014 * * * Stars

InterstellarDirector: Christopher Nolan
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway

God bless Michael Caine. I mean who doesn't like Michael Caine. Here's the problem though: He's 81 years old and Anne Hathaway who's 31, plays his character's daughter in Christopher Nolan's latest film. And oh yeah, 23 years pass in said film and Caine is still alive. Wow, he looked pretty good for someone who's reached 104. Uh huh. Anyway, these are some of the aspects that had me scratching my head during 2014's highly ambitious, yet highly imperfect, Interstellar.

Watching Nolan's two hour-plus space opera, you can tell that he revisited 2001: A Space Odyssey a few times to obtain a similar vision. His visual palate in regards to "2001" is realistically assured yet sort of conventional. So to counter on screen any nods toward the late, great Stanley Kubrick, Nolan also provides his own unique look via his cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema (The Fighter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). Add a plot over plot over plot screenplay co-written by his brother (Jonathon Nolan) and you've got an exhausting, science fiction epic that could have easily been concocted by the Wachowski brothers (or brother and sister if you've been on a desert island). "Odyssey" was made over forty years ago and it forced you to ask questions about time and space. It was just a blueprint where as Interstellar pretty much answers those questions for you. Does that make this fall release a ballsy, forceful masterpiece? Not quite. But it's too involving, absorbing, and monstrously canvassed to not garner my recommendation. Oh and did I mention that Nolan has John Lithgow included in his casting (he plays the main character's father-in-law). Lithgow was in "2001's" sequel entitled 2010: The Year We Make Contact. A subtle wink perhaps? Sure why not.

Interstellar plays like 1998's Armageddon in a let's-get-in-a-spaceship-and-save-the-world kind of fashion. But Armageddon gives off the feeling of a silly, hyper-active popcorn flick. Interstellar because of its confusing, intricate screenplay, is something completely different. It makes you want to take a note pad with you so you can write stuff down. Are we talking classroom science lecture? Maybe. Are there zingers and comic relief included? Not so much. Nolan's other mind bender Inception, delved deep in the realm of dreams and the quote unquote, "collapsing of a dream." Compared to Interstellar, Inception doesn't even scratch its surface. Just paint-by-numbers fodder to be honest.

Structured without any containable buildup between scenes on planet Earth and scenes that take place in galaxies that are far far away (the spaceship stuff harbors over 75% of the film's running time), Interstellar begins by depicting astronaut turned farmer, Cooper (played by a miscast Matthew McConaughey who gets his veritable Keir Dullea-on going where no man has ever gone before, literally). The planet is desolate with dust storms and food shortage. The only hope for mankind involves an expedition by which a shuttle takes off through a wormhole finding other planets that humans might be able to survive on. This mission brings Cooper out of retirement and pairs him with a geographer (an underused Wes Bentley as Doyle), a physicist (the excellent Ann Hathaway), another physicist (David Gyasi), and a robot named TARS (just think a friendlier HAL 9000 with walking, outward appendages added on). Cooper, without any real notice, accepts said mission and must leave his intelligent, spunky daughter ("Murph" played with mature vigor by Mackenzie Foy) and his co-farmer son (Timothee Chalamet as Tom) behind.

The scenes where McConaughey's Cooper is on a certain planet for three hours and at the same time (according to time dilation), the Earth has surpassed 20 plus years, are absolutely surreal. I remember hearing about this concept in grade school but it really hits home in Interstellar. This along with Hans Zimmer's intimate film score, are a couple of the vehicle's strongest attributes.

But as mentioned earlier, there's the weird realization of Matthew McConaughey in the lead role. I don't know what it is but I just can't see him as an actor playing an astronaut. I mean I'm not faulting the guy. He no doubt gives an adequate performance and well, he's already obtained his coveted Oscar (for the frail transformation of an AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club). There are times though when I still feel like I'm watching his Wooderson burnout from Dazed And Confused. He's got that aw shucks thing going on and in my mind, it doesn't quite translate towards NASA. Also, the documentary devices by which various people are interviewed at the beginning of Interstellar's bloated running time are sort of tacky, cliched, and out of place. These interviews involve elderly people briefly explaining what transpired many moons ago via Earth's awaited demise. Why this dated concept is still used in today's cinema baffles me. It just seems so ten to fifteen years ago in style.

Nevertheless, Interstellar is the type of movie that drains you by the time you walk out of the theater. It works on a visual level despite a script that has enough inconsistent sci-fi jargon to spin your head the wrong way (you can also add on Dylan Thomas poetry overkill as well). And the dialogue readings got to the point where if a cast member uttered the words "plan A" or "plan B" one more time, I was seriously gonna lose it. Oh well, anything directed by Christopher Nolan is worth a look. He's a sophisticated, disciplined filmmaker who's near failures are better than most director's successes. So to end this review, I'll say this: Interstellar is decent but in a sense, not quite a "stellar" affair.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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