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.

Some Thoughts on True Detective

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I might as well cut right to the chase – I am totally addicted to HBO’s True Detective.

The fact that I enjoy this show doesn’t come as a surprise; once I heard that Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey were attached to this anthology series I was pretty sure that this show would be up my alley. But what I was not prepared for was how totally in to the show I am. It’s been a very long time since I was legitimately excited for a show and anticipated it airing week to week. But that’s exactly how I feel about True Detective; while I used to dread Sunday nights, since they inevitably lead to Monday mornings, my sadness at the upcoming work week is delayed until after True Detective ends.

I didn’t actually get around to watching True Detective when it premiered and wound up having a mini-marathon Presidents’ Day weekend once I had finished binge watching House of Cards. Anticipating that I would like the show, I wanted to wait until it had my full and undivided attention. I have developed the nasty habit of not really watching TV shows, but rather listening to them while I do other things. Sadly, this has not seemed to diminish the enjoyment of a lot of the programs that I currently watch – even only paying half attention I know what is going on, though admittedly I probably miss some details. But I had the sneaking suspicion that True Detective was going to require my full attention and that I would want to savor everything that was going on. So I was going to have to turn off the computer/tablet/cell phone and just give it my undivided focus.

That instinct was dead on, since there is so much to savor in True Detective. The series spans 17 years and follows Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Harrelson) as they hunt a possible serial killer in the backwoods of Louisiana. While the murders are in and of themselves interesting, that’s not really what True Detective is all about. Rather, the show is really a showcase for these two characters and how their relationship changes over the years. These are very different men and they are coming to the case from very different places; because the show covers such a long period of time, the viewer gets to see the long-term ramifications from the decisions that they make and the ebbs and flows of their partnership. Because True Detective is an anthology series, it can tell this one contained story and really flush out who Rust and Marty are. McConaughey and Harrelson are at their best and truly shine in this show; McConaughey has the obviously flashier role as the more philosophically minded Rust, but Harrelson is also doing so solid work as the gregarious Marty. There is more to both men than initially meet the eye and True Detective does a really nice job of not only taking on some of the clichés of other police procedurals but of also making the viewer aware of the many unreliable narrators in this story. In True Detective, the murder case is almost secondary.

That doesn’t mean, however, that their attempt to track down the serial killer isn’t a compelling story. While in the first few episodes the story was less central to the character and world building, I’m now completely fascinated with the twists and turns that this investigation has taken and have spent more time than I’d like to admit analyzing scenes and dialogue, trying to figure out who the Yellow King is. I am not alone in this regard, as the Internet has been spinning all sorts of conspiracy theories as to how this story will ultimately be resolved. The last time I spent this much time focused on trying to crack the code of a show was Lost; hopefully this show will do a much better job of resolving the mystery that it has set forth. To date, some of my hunches have been proven right, while others seem to have been dead ends. I am so sad that this show is ending this Sunday, but man have I enjoyed the ride.

Of course, True Detective isn’t a perfect show; it has it faults. The characters beyond Rust and Marty are not particularly developed – while some people have focused on how women are written on the show, I think that this is a universally applicable critique. This in and of itself isn’t problematic, especially if the show is intended to just focus on the two leads, but there are some characters that I just wish that we knew more about. As Marty’s wife Maggie, I particularly wish that Michelle Monaghan had a little more to do. The plotting sometimes leaves a little to be desired – some of the early episodes move especially slowly, which can be discouraging to people trying to get into the show. The good so outweighs the bad on True Detective that ultimately, these issues don’t matter to me. I’m completely in the tank for the show.

To say any more about the show would really ruin the experience; if you aren’t watching the show or gave up, I strongly recommend giving it a chance. The entire first season is only eight episodes and it is well worth the investment of your time. For those that are all caught up, here are some links to tide you over until Sunday’s big reveal.  It goes without saying that spoilers abound, so click with caution.

  • This video makes fun of our obsession with The Yellow King – turns out he was hiding in plain sight.
  • You can get the Kindle version of The King in Yellow for free on Amazon. The show refers to this short story collection a lot.

Do you think the show is going to stick the landing? Can the resolution of this story possibly live up to the expectations? Do you have a favorite theory as to who is behind these murders? Sound off in the comments below.

Oscars 2014 – Running Diary

Well, the Oscars have come and gone and I have to say, I was a little underwhelmed with last night’s telecast. I don’t know if it was because I was so certain of many of the winners or that Ellen DeGeneres just wasn’t that funny. I giggled a few times during the ceremony, but there were also a lot of awkward moments where things just didn’t see very polished or well thought out. For a bunch of people who get paid to read lines for a living, there sure were a lot of teleprompter errors. And while there were some momentary moments of joy and happiness, for the most part no one seemed all that happy to be there. Enthusiasm was definitely a rare commodity. Maybe it was the weather; the people of Los Angeles are not used to that much rain.

I’m not sure which of these factors mattered most, but all in all I was pretty bored by the Oscars. Thank goodness I had my pal Kristin and a plate full of poutine to keep my energy up. As always, I jotted down my thoughts as I was watching the ceremony:

8:30 pm – Thank goodness. We can finally turn the channel from Giuliana Rancic and the E! red carpet coverage. I know people love her, but I can’t stand that woman. The only excitement was when Jennifer Lawrence fell getting out of her car:

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JLaw should be carried around like Justin Bieber.

Also of note from the red carpet – Benedict Cumberbatch can photobomb like a boss:

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Watch Ellen’s monologue here.

8:31 pm –Ellen makes her first (and hopefully last) joke about the weather. Sorry peeps – the rest of the country has been buried under snow all winter; we are not sympathetic to a little bit of rain.

8:32 pm – The real Captain Philips and Philomena are in the audience. No word on if the real Wolf of Wall Street got an invite.

8:33 – Liza Minnelli did not seem amused to be compared to a male Liza impersonator. I dug the blue hair, though.

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8:34 – Step away from the bronzer and hair dye, John Travolta.

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8:35 – If I ever decide to try my hand at stand-up, I want Julia Roberts in the audience. She laughs enthusiastically at anything.

8:39 – You probably should be able to use your context clues, but if you haven’t seen The Wolf of Wall Street and were confused about Ellen’s joke involving Jonah Hill – he shows his (fake) penis in the movie. (“Jonah Hill is here tonight. He is nominated for Wolf of Wall Street. You showed us something in that film that I have not seen in a very, very long time.”)

8:40 – “And now…our first white presenter.”

8:41 – Best Supporting Actor kicks things off. Lots of talented people in this category.

8:42 – Not a surprise – Jared Leto and his beautiful hair win for Dallas Buyers Club.

 

8:44 – Sweet shout out to his mom. That was a pretty perfect speech. Well done, Jordan Catalano!

8:45 – I have no idea who came up with this Leto/Buddy Christ side by side, but God bless them.

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8:46 – Interesting blue jacket on Jim Carrey

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8:48 – “That magic I’m referring to is LSD.” That actually made me laugh, for possibly the first time all night.

8:49 – A montage? Already? We’re barely 20 minutes into this thing.

8:50 – Kerry Washington looks absolutely gorgeous. She’s got kind of a Grecian vibe going on.

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8:51 – Pharrell is officially trolling us with this hat. But I’m excited to see him perform “Happy.”

 

8:52 – Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep, and Amy Adams are getting down.

8:53 – I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen the audience get up and dance during the Oscars before. Well done, Pharrell.

8:54 – Where do I get a pair of the sneakers that Pharrell is wearing?

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8:57 – Best costuming goes to The Great Gatsby. The winner apparently came in costume.

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9:00 – Sadly, Bad Grandpa’s Oscar dreams have been dashed.

9:03 – Harrison Ford is out now to introduce three of the Best Picture nominees. He sounds very bored with the whole thing.

9:05 – I’m not sure what’s happening right now – I’ve been distracted by the dreamy Channing Tatum.

9:10 – We’ve now entered the portion of the evening where we trot out an older celebrity so that they can act like a whack job. This year’s “winner” is Kim Novak, who clearly has had a lot of work done.

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9:11 – I think they do this to scare the celebrities as to what their future holds; sadly, even celebrities eventually age.

9:14 – Frozen wins for best animated feature. Novak thinks that this is American Idol and drags out the announcement of the winner.

9:17 – Another montage.

9:21 – Emma Watson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are adorable. Can we get them to start dating?

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9:22 – Gravity wins its first of what I predict will be many Oscars.

9:23 – Now Zac Efron is here to present. We have apparently entered the “youth” portion of the evening.

9:24 – Efron is proving right now that it’s hard to be pretty and talk at the same time.

9:25 – Karen O to perform “The Moon Song” from Her, which I loved. Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend accompanies her. Hipsters everywhere rejoice.

 

9:26 – Without the context of the movie, I’m not sure this song works as well.

9:27 – I do appreciate that she took off her shoes, though I hope that she doesn’t forget them on the stage.

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9:33 – Worth noting -Jason Sudeikis cleans up nice.

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9:34 – Kate Hudson should still be in time out for derailing Matthew McConaughey’s career for nearly a decade with her silly romantic comedies.

9:36 – Enough with the crowd work, Ellen.

9:38 – I’m looking very smart now that 20 Feet From Stardom won Best Documentary Feature.

9:39 – Darlene Love is making a solid case for background singers everywhere:

 

9:40 – Ha! Kevin Spacey comes out to present in character from House of Cards.

9:42 – Weird that Angelina Jolie is in attendance and they aren’t showing her when she won an honorary Oscar.

9:49 – The Great Beauty wins for Best Foreign Language film; guess I know what’s going to the top of my Netflix queue.

9:50 – I am so incredibly bored and we’re only a little over an hour in.

9:51 – Tyler Perry? Really? He gets to present?

9:52 – I’m pretty sure that Perry just completely skipped over the introduction of Her. Either that or I lapsed into a coma and missed it.

9:54 – That was not nearly enough Brad Pitt. Can we just have him stand on stage for the rest of this?

9:56 – U2 performs “Ordinary Love”

 

10:00 – Have we really resorted to selfies to liven this show up? Because nothing is more fun that watching people take photos of themselves.

10:03 – OK, I’m game – I’ll retweet this celeb filled photo:

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Reports are that Liza Minnelli tried to sneak her way into this photo. A-List only, Liza (unless you are Lupita’s adorable brother, who totally crashed the party)!

10:04 – I do love me some Michael B. Jordan. Texas Forever!

10:06 – I’m just not sure how I feel about this colored jacket trend among the men. Even Chris Hemsworth is in on the action:

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10:07 – Another one for Gravity – Best Sound Mixing.

10:08 – I’m now arguing with Kristin’s hubby that my rejection of the tinted tux jacket is not at all a rejection of Chris Hemsworth. He can wear a paper sack and I’d still be thrilled.

10:11 – Chritoph Waltz is here to announce Best Supporting Actress. He needs to be in another movie stat.

10:12 – I think the camera man is drunk; that shot was all sorts of messed up.

10:14 – Hooray! Lupita Nyong’o for the win. Well deserved!

 

10:19 – The consensus among our group is that the new ABC show Resurrection (which they are endlessly promoting) looks creepy as hell.

10:23 – OK – I’ll concede that the pizza delivery bit was pretty funny. I enjoy Brad Pitt running around handing out plates and napkins; he’s a stand-up dude. But seriously people – make sure the pregnant woman gets some pizza.

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Side note: Turns out that was a REAL pizza delivery guy.

Further side note: Brad Pitt was totally digging that pizza:

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I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of carbs in the Pitt/Jolie household.

10:26 – We all agree that it would be fun to hang out with Bill Murray.

10:27 – Harold Ramis shout-out gets big cheer. R.I.P., Harold.

10:28 – Yet another win for Gravity. My picks are looking pretty darn good.

10:30 – Anna Kendrick and Gabourey Sidibe here to introduce Best Editing, though I’m hoping this turns into an episode of American Horror Story: Coven.

10:31 – Whoopi seems to be wearing some cool red shoes under her dress.

10:32 – Ah – they are part of a Wizard of Oz tie-in. The Oscars were ahead of me.

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10:34 – Pink? Was Beyoncé busy? No disrespect to Pink, but she wouldn’t have been the first person I thought of for this.

 

10:38 – Pink did a nice job, but why exactly are we doing a tribute to The Wizard of Oz? This show is moving slowly enough without filler.

10:42 – Well, they finally got Ellen to wear a dress.

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10:43 – Jennifer Garner and Benedict Cumberbatch are having a competition for sharpest cheekbones. I think I give the edge to Cumberbatch.

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10:46 – Another freakin montage.

10:47 – It’s clear that we are using a very liberal definition of “hero” for this montage. Kevin Bacon in Footloose doesn’t strike me as all that heroic.

10:53 – Glenn Close is here to introduce the “Bring Out Your Dead” segment, which is fitting since she looks like she is dressed to go to a funeral.

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10:54 – Interesting. They kicked things off with James Gandolfini.

10:55 – I’m glad that they muted the audio and gave all the people featured in the In Memorium segment the same amount of screen time. I hate when this turns into a popularity contest.

10:55 – Philip Seymour Hoffman gets the power position at the end of the segment.

10:56 – Why have Bette Midler sing now? This is more wasted time – and a song from the 80s. Get current, Oscars.

11:02 – If you are wondering about the weird add-on memorial for Sarah Jones as they were going to commercial, she was a camera assistant who was killed on the set of Midnight Ride on February 20th. There was an online campaign for her to be included in the full Memorial segment.

11:08 – Well, Travolta just butchered the hell out of Idina Menzel’s name. Dude – you had ONE JOB tonight. Learn her name.

11:09 – Menzel sings “Let It Go.”

 

11:17 – We’ve just seen someone hit for the cycle and complete the elusive quest for the EGOT.

11:20 – Dear Lord – there are still six more awards to go. Shoot me now.

11:24 – When Robert DeNiro gets one of the biggest laughs of the night, you know an Oscar telecast isn’t doing well.

11:26 – 12 Years a Slave for Best Adapted Screenplay. Got that one wrong.

11:27 – Yay! Spike Jonze wins Best Original Screenplay for Her.

11:28 – Jonze’s speech was confusing – I thought he was thinking DeNiro and Penelope Cruz, which made zero sense.

11:29 – A skateboarding joke? C’mon Ellen – you are better than this.

11:34 – Sidney Poitier looks old for the first time. He always seemed so timeless to me, but he’s certainly moving slowly.

11:40 – A “Sweating to the Oldies” reference? Who in the hell is writing these jokes?

11:44 – As was preordained, Cate Blanchett fulfills her Oscar destiny.

 

11:46 – Blanchett throwing a little Girl Power into her speech. Good for her!

11:49 – Jennifer Lawrence manages to walk out on stage without incident.

11:50 – Alright, Alright Alright! Matthew McConaughey is an Oscar winner!

11:51 – Leonardo DiCaprio is the Susan Lucci of the Oscars. I guess he’ll just have to be content with banging supermodels for the rest of his life. Poor guy.

11:52 – I am trying to decipher his speech for clues related to True Detective. Tell us who The Yellow King is already!

 

11:55 – Here’s Razzie award winner Will Smith to announce Best Picture and bring this bloated ceremony to an end.

11:56 – Ellen’s monologue was right – Hollywood isn’t racist. 12 Years a Slave wins!

11:57 – Steve McQueen is so happy. Good for them.

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11:58 – Um…you may not want to start playing a guy off once he starts talking about slavery. Just an idea.

12:00 – Hooray! It’s over. Now I can go to bed. So sad that my beloved American Hustle got a big old goose egg.

What did you think of the Oscars? Were you as bored as I was? Sound off in the comments below.