Interstellar – A Review

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Sigh…..again with the outer space.

As I explained in my review of last year’s Gravity, I’m not really one for the space movies. It’s just not my jam and much like war movies, I always dread when Hollywood decided to crank another one out in the genre. I’m not guaranteed to dislike space movies – I actually thought Gravity was decent – but the cards are stacked against them. I was admittedly not very psyched to see Interstellar; not only was the subject matter not my favorite, but the film is really long. Clocking in at two hours and forty minutes, Interstellar is a time commitment. I had planned to see Interstellar closer to when it opened, but called a mulligan when I wasn’t in the mood for that kind of time commitment. It took the lure of the World of Beer and hanging out with a friend that I haven’t seen in a while to finally get me in to the theater for this space epic. I even dropped the big bucks and saw the film in IMAX; that’s unheard of.

Ultimately, I’m still not sure how I really feel about Interstellar; there were parts of the movie that I really liked, parts that just didn’t work for me and parts that I simply did not understand. There were moments where I was riveted to the (giant) screen and there were moments where I was ready to blow my brains out because I was so bored. In the words of Charles Dickens, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I’m still unpacking all these competing ideas to decipher where I ultimately come down on Interstellar; I think it’s an ambitious film that doesn’t quite live up to its own ambition. The things it does well it does really well, but there are enough flaws that Interstellar doesn’t succeed in what it set out to do.

The Earth in Interstellar is nearing the end of its ability to sustain human life. Widespread hunger is on the horizon as crops continue to die out and massive dust storms rage across the land. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA test pilot and engineer turned farmer who lives with his father-in-law (John Lithgow), teenaged son Tom and young daughter Murphy. Cooper is recruited to participate in a secret mission to save humanity by traveling through a newly discovered wormhole to find a planet in another galaxy that can sustain human life. In order to secure his children’s future, Cooper will have to abandon them for the mission and thanks to the different rates of time, they may even be dead if and when he returns. Accompanied by his crew, Including Anne Hathaway and Wes Bentley, Cooper tries to find a place to recolonize the people of Earth. That’s as much as I can explain without spoiling a lot of surprises in the film or without running into some of the science stuff that I don’t fully understand.

There were plenty of things in Interstellar that are impressive – first and foremost, this is a film that is beautifully shot. Especially in IMAX, there are some spectacular visuals in Interstellar. I may not be all that interested in space, but there is no denying that when filmed right it provides a gorgeous setting for a film. The acting is also as solid as you’d expect from a cast that boast several Oscar nominees. I didn’t even mind Anne Hathaway that much and we all know how I feel about her. McConaughey is unsurprisingly the anchor of this film and does a nice job with all of the emotion of Interstellar. The film dips a bit too much into sentimentality in places for my liking, but the actors manage to prevent it from spinning into complete saccharine nonsense.

Interstellar is also a film that constantly surprised me; I had my suspicions about how things would turn out, but there were several moments in the movie that I absolutely did not see coming. There is an actor that I like that has a surprise role in Interstellar –his/her presence in the film has not been widely publicized – and everything related to that particular storyline was totally unexpected. I enjoy not being exactly sure where things are going and on that front Interstellar did not disappoint.

On the other hand, there are also a lot of things in Interstellar that gave me pause. There is absolutely no need for the film to be as long as it is; while there are moments that are thrilling in the film, there were also points where I thought about heading for the door. I could easily trim 30 minutes from Interstellar without doing any damage to the story – there are pointless diversions and plots that wouldn’t be missed if they were removed. It’s a slog in places and that kills some of the momentum of the film.

One of the knocks on Christopher Nolan as a director is that he doesn’t do emotion very well. Interstellar is Nolan’s attempt to change that, but the execution is not as polished as he may have hoped. While there are moments of sentimentality in the film, more often than not they feel forced. I may have reacted the way that Nolan intended, but I also saw him pulling the strings in manipulating me. There were some Speilbergian turns in Interstellar, which isn’t all that surprising since Speilberg was originally attached to the film. You may feel something while watching the movie, but it just doesn’t feel completely earned; corny dialogue and emotional shortcuts hinder what Nolan was trying to do.

While I appreciated the element of surprise in Interstellar, there is a difference between an unexpected revelation and plot holes. I’m not sure that Nolan knows that, as there were several moments in Interstellar where failures of the narrative were covered up by roaring of spaceship engines. I’ll acknowledge that there are parts of Interstellar that I didn’t get just because I hear the word “wormhole” and my eyes glaze over, but these gaps in the story go beyond that. There are many instances where outside the science of the film, the actions of the characters make little to no sense. These aren’t minor details, but things that impact the events of the story; I won’t spoil anything here, but this article from Business Insider highlights some of the problems I had with the plot of Interstellar (especially #3 – that drove me batty). I thought the ending of the film was particularly problematic – part of that comes from my meh-ness when it comes to science fiction, but it also felt like a very convenient explanation.

Some other thoughts:

  • I do have one “get off my lawn” complaint – this film, at least in IMAX, is really, really loud. They say that in space no one can hear you scream, but that’s because they are deafened by the score of Interstellar. Look, I have done my time at plenty of rock concerts, but I actually had to cover my ears a few times during Interstellar just to give my eardrums some reprieve. It’s just too much and is a distraction from the film; I could barely make out the dialogue in a pivotal scene over the swell of the music.
  • Anyone who thinks parents don’t have a favorite child so watch Interstellar. It’s painfully obvious that while there is a strong connection between Murph and Copper, his son Tom is basically chopped liver. As the eldest child who refers to her younger brother as “the chosen one,” I can relate.
  • I think the less you know about Interstellar going in, the better.
  • If you have some trouble keeping the timeline straight in the movie, there’s a handy infograph making the rounds that might be helpful.
  • Look, I like Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night as much as the next person, but around the third time it was quoted in Interstellar, even I thought that it was enough already.

I’m probably not the target audience for Interstellar and I’m sure my feelings about the genre contribute to my general ambivalence about the film. If you want to take my thoughts with a grain of salt, I wouldn’t blame you. But while I’d say that Interstellar is an above average movie, it just has too many issues for it to be a great one. I’m glad to see Nolan flex his creative muscle and move a little outside his normal comfort zone; Interstellar simply can’t meet the ambition behind it. It’s a beautifully shot film and has some nice performances, yet there are enough problems with the execution that the film doesn’t always hit the mark. Interstellar has big ideas, but never fully soars.

The Nickleback Effect

Everyone hates Nickleback.

Well, not everyone – someone is buying their cds and going to their concerts – but if you ask most people how they feel about this Canadian band, I’m guessing that 19/20 people are going to have something derogatory to say about them. They are a punchline, an easy joke to make about terrible music. The coo thing to do is mock Nickleback.

I have no explanation for how this came about or where all this deep seeded resentment is coming from. I have made more than my fair share of Nickleback jokes over the years, but if I was really challenged to articulate what it is that I dislike so much about them, I’d be hard pressed to come up with much justification other than “they’re the worst.” It’s not rational. But somewhere along the line, we all just decided that Nickleback’s mere existence was an affront to humanity.

My irrational dislike of celebrities isn’t limited to Avril Lavigne’s husband and whoever else is in Nickleback; there are plenty of famous people that I can’t stand for any clear reason. For me, these people have the opposite of box office mojo; their attachment to a project instantly makes me less likely to want to have anything to do with it. I can’t put my finger on what rubs me the wrong way about them – there is no clear reason not to like them – yet my visceral reaction is displeasure. I acknowledge that this isn’t fair or even a reasoned response (I can be rational about my irrationality), but that doesn’t diminish how I feel. In the words of many an idiotic reality show star, I guess I’m just a hater (a word that no one who has graduated high school should ever use seriously).

So what celebrities are unlucky enough to make my list and suffer from the illogical “Nickelback Effect?” Here are some of the people who have inexplicable earned my ire:

 

Minnie Driver

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I frequently see commercials for NBC’s new comedy About a Boy and wonder why I’ve never given this show a shot. I liked the movie upon which the series is based and it looks amusing enough. I happen to find star David Walton, who I find affable and liked on the short lived series Bent.

And then about halfway through the promo I am reminded that this show also stars Minnie Driver and my instinct immediately is “Nope – I’m out.”

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This one-sided beef with Driver goes back as far as I can remember, but I have no idea why it originated or why she is such an anathema to me. I’d pin this on the fact that she dated Matt Damon back in the day, except a) I’m not 12 and b) I have to be reminded that they were ever a couple. So whatever is the source of my annoyance, I don’t think that’s it.

 

Ryan Reynolds

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I know that plenty of girls find him dreamy, but whenever Ryan Reynolds is on the screen I have an overwhelming desire to punch him in the face. Like, I’m legitimately angry that I have to deal with this guy. I even hate his stupid hair. Actually, the hair might have a lot to do with this – my loathing seems to ebb and flow depending on how floppy his hair is. The distaste never completely disappears, but he becomes slightly more palpable dependent on his stylistic choices.

Why do I feel this way? I have no godly idea. He actually seems like he’s a nice enough guy. There are plenty of people who are deserving of such venom. On the surface, he doesn’t strike me as one of them. Sure, he makes some crappy movies, but I haven’t held that against other people. Maybe if he would just let me punch him just once, I’d get this out of my system and get over this.

 

Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway

I’m hardly alone on this one – somewhere around 2012 everyone decided that they were over Anne Hathaway. She’s clearly talented, but there is just something about her that people find off-putting. The problem is, it’s kind of intangible what it is exactly that drives people so batty. My best guess is that she seems to want to be liked so badly that it actually has the opposite effect. It comes off as calculated and desperate to some. My irritation dates back to before the Oscar seemed like a legitimate possibility (don’t tell me that you watched The Princess Diaries and though that you were watching a future Academy Award winner), so while her recent Tracy Flick-like behavior certainly hasn’t helped matters it isn’t my sole reason for disliking her. I was delighted when I recently heard some stories about her from college that were less than flattering (turns out that I am three degrees of separation from her). She just has a certain je ne sais quoi – if je ne sais quoi is French for irrationally hatable.

 

Jamie Foxx

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Talent isn’t necessarily in dispute here; I actually can tolerate Jamie Foxx the actor. When he’s playing a role, I can forget that I don’t like him. But as soon as I have to deal with Jamie Foxx the person, all bets are off. When he’s just being himself (or the version of himself he plays in public), I’m instantly riled up. And not in a good way. If he’s on a talk show or at an awards show, I tend to flip the channel to not have to endure his foolishness.

 

Jerry O’Connell

Jerry O Connell

I take it back – I don’t want to waste my punch on Ryan Reynolds; I want to use it on THIS GUY. Intellectually, I know that he isn’t even worth the energy to dislike but I can’t help it. It’s instinctual. I don’t even know enough about him to have grounds for finding him distasteful, but reason isn’t necessary.

 

Ellen Page

Ellen Page

I’ve liked some of her movies and I fully support her recent decision to publically announce that she is gay. Kudos to her for being her true self. But there is still something about her that has always bugged me. It might be her voice and speaking pattern, but that isn’t defined enough so I can’t absolutely say that is what it is that irks me. This reached its full boiling during Inception, but it had been simmering for a while.

 

Jennifer Morrison

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I don’t think that it’s a total coincidence that I started to really dislike How I Met Your Mother as soon as Morrison showed up for an extended arc. Sure, the show was beginning to decline in quality, but her mere presence made me a lot less tolerant than I would have been otherwise. She was a large reason that it took some urging for me to watch Once Upon a Time. I just don’t like her – and my distaste for her only increases when she’s a blonde. But whatever her hair color, not a fan.

I genuinely feel badly that I don’t like these people for no apparent reason; I like to give people a fair shake and in these instances the celebrities in question surely didn’t get that. But obviously I don’t feel badly enough to stop irrationally hating on them. I don’t see that changing in the near future. I try to explain this behavior away with the fact that I’m just more perceptive than other people and I’m picking up on something subconsciously that others are missing. After all, I have irrationally hated Shia LaBeouf forever and we all know I turned out to be right about him. So perhaps time will prove me correct with some of these people. I could definitely see Jerry O’Connell doing something smarmy.

Now it’s your turn – what celebrities do you irrationally dislike? Sound off in the comments below.

Les Misérables – A Review

That seemed like a whole lot of drama over a loaf of bread.

When I was in 7th grade, I missed a lot of school (don’t worry – this is going somewhere). That year wasn’t a very happy one for me; our grade was divided in half and most of my good friends had a completely opposite schedule than I did, which means that our classes didn’t overlap nor did our lunches. When you are 12 and you don’t see your friends all day at school, this is a big.freaking.deal. I still had friends of course, because I’m kind of awesome, but I hated that all my old friends got to hang out all day without me. I was also kind of bored with my classes at that point. There wasn’t much that we were doing that was all that challenging. For the first time ever, I didn’t look forward to going to school. Boredom and being unhappy paired together manifested itself in me not feeling well a lot and me missing more days of school that year than in any other. I totally rebounded in 8th grade – I skipped a year in math and science and was reunited with all my pals – but 7th grade was not a ton of fun.

I point this out to say that I must have been absent the day that all the girls were rounded up and given copies of the Les Misérables soundtrack, because somewhere along the way almost every girl I knew became obsessed with this play and I had no godly idea what they were talking about. I knew that it was a Broadway show, but I didn’t understand what the big deal was or know much of anything about it other than the fact that I had to stare at this poster at far too many sleepovers.

 

It's not easy to sleep with Cosette staring down at you

It’s not easy to sleep with Cosette staring down at you

 

My best friend Sha was among those that was a big fan of Les Misérables and I have vivid memories of being at her house with the Broadway soundtrack playing in the background. Unfortunately the music doesn’t make a lot of sense without knowing the story and I never really knew what character was singing what, so even when she would try to explain it to me it would all just become a jumbled mess in my head. The only song that really stuck out to me was “Lovely Ladies” because I knew it was sung by a bunch of prostitutes and that seemed somewhat scandalous for Broadway, based on my limited exposure to more “kid friendly” plays like Annie. But for the most part I just kept my mouth shut and didn’t let on how little I really knew was going on, just nodding when people talked about Jean Valjean (though I thought that name was a little silly). My friends were probably completely unaware that I assumed the whole play was about prostitutes during the French Revolution (now THAT would have been a musical to see).

At this point, it probably goes without saying that I never saw the play, so while I knew many of my assumptions were not correct the older I got, they weren’t completely displaced. So I walked in to see Les Misérables last night not really sure what to expect or what I actually knew about the story. Unfortunately Anne Hathaway spoiled some of it for me during her interview on The Daily Show when she gave away some plot points, so I had a little more intel than expected, but I still wasn’t sure how this all was going to fit together. I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if Cosette wound up being a lady of the evening (I was really hung up on the prostitution thing). I was kind of prepared for anything.

Ultimately I liked, but didn’t love, the film adaptation of Les Misérables. I don’t think that I fully connected with the music or the story, but the performances were strong enough overall that it was a nice, but long, cinematic experience. Fans of the musical may be more invested in the film than I was; I just don’t know that Les Misérables is my thing.

As I now know, prostitution plays a much smaller role in the story than I had previously imagined. The plot is actually pretty convoluted. I struggled with deciding how to summarize everything that was going on without giving too much away. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread and when he is released twenty years later he must decide what direction to take his life: should he continue to hate the society that has cast him out because of his criminal record and live down to the expectations others now have of him or should he find a way to become a more honorable man? He chooses the latter, breaking his parole and taking on an assumed name. This makes him vulnerable to policeman Javert (Russell Crowe), who released Valjean from prison and whom Valjean must continually prevent from discovering his true identity. When one of Valjean’s former employees, Fatine (Anne Hathaway), falls on hard times (that’s an understatement), he promises to raise her daughter Cosette. When Cosette (played by Amanda Seyfried as an adult) falls in love with a young revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne), Valjean is drawn into the 1832 Paris Uprising. Along the way, a lot of people are pretty unhappy (hence the title).

In my opinion, Hugh Jackman makes this movie. He is really spectacular and turns Valjean into a really interesting character. He basically carries this movie as he is a vast majority of the scenes and the whole thing is a lot more interesting when he is on screen. Anne Hathaway is also pretty fantastic in her limited role as Fantine. She does a wonderful rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” a song even those who are not Les Misérables fans know thanks to Susan Boyle’s performance on Britian’s Got Talent:

 

It is ironic that the first time I realized that Hathaway could sing, she was on stage with Hugh Jackman at the 2009 Academy Awards (I thought he was a great host).

 

While I don’t know that Russell Crowe would have been my first casting choice, I don’t think he’s as terrible as some people are saying. His voice actually grew on me as the movie progressed and I never thought it was out and out bad. I thought he was a little wooden overall in his performance, but I was expecting a real train wreck based on what I had heard. There were probably a lot of better options, but he doesn’t destroy the movie. I was actually less impressed with the vocal talents of Amanda Seyfried as I thought she was a little inconsistent in her delivery. Her vocal range isn’t really my cup of tea anyway, though, so I’d take my critique with a grain of salt.

Since I sit through many a movie, I’ve seen the 7 minute “behind the scenes” feature on Les Misérables more times than I can shake a stick at, so I was well aware that one of the major innovations for the film was that the actors sang each song live, rather than lip syncing to pre-recorded tracks. That decision has proven to be divisive, as some people (including American Idol contestant Adam Lambert) thought that the movie suffered from the raw and “unsweetened” performances. I personally liked it overall as the singing seemed to really match what was going on during the scene and was more expressive, but it also wasn’t as polished. There were times when it was a little difficult to understand the lyrics (though, to be fair, I occasionally have a tough time with understanding what people are singing at a live performance). Your overall enjoyment of the movie may hinge a lot on how much you like the employment of this technique; if you aren’t a fan, it’s a long three hours.

I had far more problems with some of the directorial decisions of Tom Hooper, who won an Oscar for his work in The King’s Speech in 2010. I thought in Les Misérables he used odd camera angles and that he was too fond of the extreme close ups of the actors; if I had to pick Anne Hathaway’s nostrils out of a police lineup, I could probably do it. There was a propensity to shoot the actors from a low angle that was used too frequently and that just wasn’t aesthetically pleasing. I found myself distracted far too often by the visuals of the movie; I’d bought in on the actors singing live, but too many artistic embellishments took me out of the experience.

What I think this all boils down to is that I am probably just not a huge fan of the source material; I don’t see myself going to see Les Misérables when the production rolls into town in April. I just wasn’t that impressed with it. I didn’t mind that it was all kind of depressing – compared to some of the apocalyptic novels I read, this actually wasn’t that bad – but I just didn’t think that there was a lot of character development. Now, perhaps this is a result of changes made for the film, but I didn’t really connect with any of these characters other than Valjean and that was from the sheer force of Hugh Jackman’s performance. I thought the songs and score were too simplistic and uninspired; to my untrained ear, I thought they all kind of sounded the same. I guess I was expecting something more sweeping. This may just fall into the category “not for me” – things that are perfectly fine, but for whatever reason just don’t connect with me.

Some other thoughts:

  • I did really enjoy Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thénardiers. They brought some much needed comic relief to these drab proceedings. If they got a spin-off musical, I would totally go see that. And it was nice to see Bonham Carter in something that wasn’t associated with Tim Burton.
  • There were only a handful of people in the theater at last night’s screening, but we were still in the vicinity of a super annoying couple that chatted through a lot of the film. It was pretty obvious that the guy didn’t want to be there – he could he heard letting out an exasperated sigh every twenty minutes or so – and he even started humming along with the music mockingly for some stretches. He did perk up momentarily when Sacha Baron Cohen appeared, but then it was back to being annoying. She wasn’t much better. They may have both been intoxicated. I seriously have the worst luck at the movies. I did contemplate taking their picture, but he looked like the kind of guy that would punch a girl without any problems.
  • Serious question: Were we supposed to read something into Javert’s seeming obsession with Valjean? Cause it kind of felt like there could have been more to that.
  • I know it is a trope of musicals and movies, but it always annoys me when people fall hopelessly and madly in love after seeing each other from across the room.
  • I’m guessing that Hugh Jackman is super annoyed that Les Misérables came out the same year as Lincoln; Jackman was really impressive, but Daniel Day Lewis is going to be a tough guy to beat come Oscar time.
  • The young man who plays revolutionary Enjolras (Aaron Tveit) also had a pretty stellar voice. He looked familiar to me and it turns out I probably recognize him from his appearances on Gossip Girl. Samatha Barks was also good as Éponine, though she wasn’t given a whole lot to do other than belt out “On My Own.”

If you are already a fan of Les Misérables, you may get way more mileage out of this film adaptation than I did. It was pleasant enough, thanks to Hugh Jackman, but I just couldn’t fully get into the story and I found the extreme close ups and camera angles to be too distracting. I thought it dragged in some places, yet oddly for a movie that was almost three hours long, I felt like there wasn’t a lot of character or plot development. Turns out that not getting on the Les Misérables bandwagon with everyone else back in the day may have been a good decision for me; despite my general affection for musicals, in the words of Austin Powers, “This sort of thing ain’t my bag, baby.”

Les Misérables is nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman) and Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway).