Interstellar, a review

A veteran of crafting films bridging the gap between financial success and critical acclaim, there was no reason to doubt Nolan could do it again. Coming off the success of the Dark Knight films and Inception, the bar was set high for his first venture into space. The result is a magnificently beautiful homage to sci fi classics such as 2001: Space Odyssey, presenting a tour de force in aesthetics and striking set pieces if nothing else. After witnessing this ever escalating progression of extraordinary circumstances and scenarios you can’t say Nolan wasn’t ambitious.

While the locations, design and scope are indeed inspired, the basics such as dialogue and character motivation are less than stellar. The film is disappointingly shallow, like a beautiful photograph it’s stunning to look at but ultimately two dimensional. The film concerns itself far too often with vague references to spirituality, which in of itself could have been an interesting concept, but at no point does the film ever earn the overly dramatic exposition. The film would have benefited much more from subtlety in these areas, leaving it enigmatic and open to interpretation, instead of bluntly proclaiming the ubiquitous supremacy of love. Even with these blemishes the viewer’s interest is never lost, skilfully utilising the gravity of the situations rather than any poignancy or empathy for the characters to propel the film.

4/5 – Excellent!
Despite certain flaws, the film is supremely tense throughout, managing to maintain the suspension of disbelief. While excelling in this area it leaves the viewer wishing Nolan had striven for more depth; that the script had received the same level of care as the visual design. In the end the journey is more satisfying than the destination.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel, a review

Take a decidedly quirky comedy converging around a purloined painting, sprinkle in some Hollywood talent, and you have yourself an intriguing premise. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a delightfully charming piece, following the misadventures of concierge Gustave and his newly found lobby boy protégé Zero. As the viewer is taken through a stylised 1930s pseudo-Hungary, the many larger than life characters (usually played by well know faces) make the film a joy to watch. The series of curious events that unfold in the already eccentric world take the film to many exciting, and always funny, places.

The story is told through a young woman in the present day reading an autobiographical novel (The Grand Budapest Hotel) about the author in 1968, who in turn is listening to an enigmatic man’s story about his childhood in the 1930s. While seeming strange in concept, the switching between eras combined with narration from the future is utilised to produce a captivating storytelling experience. The film manages to  punctuate this storytelling technique and usual frivolities with surprising touches of black humour, creating a refreshing juxtaposition.

Although the acting is superb throughout, many roles are little more than cameos from the impressive cast, with the actor’s familiarity to audience ultimately being distracting. In this strange Republic of Zubrowka however, who’s to say that isn’t the desired intention?

4/5 – Excellent!
The idiosyncratic characters, locations and situations provoke a real fondness for the world Wes Anderson has composed. Although not always laugh out loud funny, the perpetual light-hearted tone and enticing plot make for a fun ride.

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Gravity, a review

A film lauded with critical appraisal, Gravity promised a lot, especially for a venture carried solely on the performance of Sandra Bullock and a universe of CGI. The film takes the concept of a catastrophe in space and cherishes it, being extremely conservative with what it deems necessary. The result is a genuinely intense and exhausting visual experience, making you content that you’ll never have to experience a spacewalk.

Alfonso Cuarón’s combination of hard science fiction and extremely long panning shots builds a unique, cold atmosphere, reflective of the silent desolation of space. The technical accuracy and lack of hasty transitions give a sense of realism and scale that extenuates the pressure, making the opening line of ‘Life in space is impossible’ seem strikingly factual. However at no point does the film feel compromised in service of the meticulous realism. Both Clooney and Bullock give sublime performances, knowing exactly how to deliver their lines in situations where overacting would seem inevitable. In a similar fashion the 3D is carefully understated, with the greatest compliment being that it didn’t stand out.

The film manages to concisely deliver almost all this information visually, taking a refreshing stand against insulting exposition in which films are compelled to explain everything. It gives the film an air of maturity and respect; mirroring the temperament that allows the astronauts to survive in the uncompromising void of space.

5/5 – Extraordinary
Lack of control and the resulting tension are the backbone of this stunning film, creating a beautiful disaster in contrast to the space ballet of 2001: Space Odyssey. Where the moon landing made a generation reach for the starts, Gravity will make you thankful to be safely on terra firma.

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The Great Gatsby, a review

I preface this review by saying I have not read ‘The Great Gatsby’, only knowing of how revered this great work of American literature is. From watching Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation I saw glimpses of an impressive narrative, if only underdeveloped characters and plot points could have better communicated it.

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The film attempts to portray the exciting life of Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio), told through the experiences of Nick Carraway (Maguire). However the audience is only teased with Gatsby’s intriguing life and inexplicably never indulged. The film puts more priority on gaudy party scenes than creating a rapport with the characters. I did enjoy the visual spectacle of the festivities, especially the use of modern music set against the 1920’s parties, a brave choice that gave the film a fresh edge. However the first half of the film felt bloated with these expendable scenes, almost devoid of any narrative substance. This relegated the second half to characters the audience were not properly acquainted with, and whose actions and ‘romance’ felt arbitrary as a result. The film’s careless execution of characters and plot made it feel undeserving of the source material, depriving the world of a classic film adaptation.

2/5 – Lacking
A film that promises a lot and fulfills very little. By choosing style over substance the viewer is left with many unanswered questions and a frustrated sense of disappointment. 

Star Trek: Into Darkness, a review

Star-Trek-Into-Darkness-ImageAfter the striking success of 2009’s ‘Star Trek’, it is unfortunate that this is a film destined to follow Hollywood clichés. The protagonist, Captain Kirk, is a womanising bad boy who refuses to play by the rules (sigh). This character archetype emphasises the film’s fatal flaw; a distinct lack of risks. While tertiary characters may die, and tensions between factions may be provoked, the film dares not make any decisions of significance which ultimately leaves the viewer feeling unsatisfied. The film’s unwelcome resolutions barely avoid the label of deus ex machina by briefly foreshadowing the solutions, having all the well thought out plausibility of a children’s cartoon.

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the film, as it’s flurry of action scenes manages to be surprisingly funny, bombastic and entertaining throughout. The consistently well realised atmosphere competently satisfies the Star Trek itch. With the budget and expectations of blockbusters such as this you cannot blame J. J. Abrams for making the film he is supposed to. In turn he cannot blame us for being disappointed by the distinct lack of risks taken. I can only have faith that more directors aspire to the achievement of the Dark Knight trilogy, a pairing of not only big budget but creative freedom. Lets hope this isn’t an indication of an incoming by-numbers Star Wars trilogy.

3/5 – Good
A film crafted to be purely entertaining, the problems with this fun ride lie in it being uninspired and ultimately unengaging, only just missing out on 4/5 due to its reluctance to take chances and stand out. 

2001: A Space Odyssey, a review

A veritable classic, this film is hailed as quintessential science fiction. For better or worse, it is impossible to view this film without being influenced by the zeitgeist that surrounds it.

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In simple terms this film is tale of human evolution and intelligence, mysteriously unified by the presence of the black monoliths. The plot is not explicitly disclosed, Kubrick instead prefers to imply it using a masterful combination of music and visuals. This series of beautifully crafted scenes leaves the viewer with the notion that they are witness to something great; a product of sublime filmmaking. This is in stark contrast to films that while initially enjoyable, are ultimately forgettable. This film is engrossing in a completely different way, asking more from the viewer than mere attention. The characters say very little, but convey a lot, with even machines managing to evoke empathy. Kubrick is able to use this minimalistic approach combined with a striking orchestral score to touch on the origins of humanity. Deciphering the allegorical meanings of the film seems purposely bewildering, which for the majority of the film is intellectually stimulating, but in the long final act seems obtuse.

4/5 – Excellent!
Kubrick’s enigma is truly justified when celebrated as a classic, showing the advantages the medium of film can provide, highlighting how if the director has enough vision then truly remarkable things can be achieved.  I can only feel that the film would have benefited from a more intelligible and coherent conclusion.

Side Effects, a review

side-effects-movieUpon watching this film I had no prior information about its themes or plot, thinking it would simply be another Orange Wednesday. Little did I know how pleasantly surprised I would be.

A graceful interweaving of two strikingly different films, crafted to leave the viewer unaware as the true film comes into focus. Initially lulled into believing this film is a critical reflection of medicated America, the viewer is taken on a voyage, finding themselves in the chilling embrace of a crime thriller. The themes of love, revenge and liability are all handled supremely well, being integral parts of the narrative.

4/5 – Excellent!
Going to see this film is highly recommended. Prepare to thoroughly enjoy a gem that is becoming rare in the current array of mediocre cash-ins and sequels.