Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

Interstellar | Review | Film

Interstellar

Interstellar is not 2001: A Space Odyssey, so get that out of your head right now. Christopher Nolan’s space-bound, more than featured length epic certainly shares some DNA with Kubrick’s classic, but in reality what you get is something quite different.

Interstellar poster

One similarity is that you can explain the basic premise without telling you much about the film at all. In a nutshell, Interstellar follows Cooper, a former pilot and engineer who exists in an age when the human race is grinding to a halt as it is running out of food. Despite culture debunking the Apollo moon landing as a hoax, to focus people on solving the problems on their doorstep instead of looking to the stars, in the end it is the stars which present the only real chance of saving humanity.

This time it’s personal

Coop's family and their battle with blight on their crops feels close to home at times
Coop’s family and their battle with blight on their crops feels close to home at times

Cooper’s own journey, and his relationship with his family is the real story though, with sci-fi merely providing the crisis to put things under pressure. Matthew McConaughey, who plays Coop, is very much the star here, delivering a very relatable and likeable performance in what was a critical role to sell the concept of the story to the audience.

The supporting cast keeps going and going, with the introduction of each new character bringing another “Oh it’s that guy” moment, though this is by no means a bad thing. Jon Lithgow and female lead Anne Hathaway stand out as the strongest performances, as the former fulfills a Jiminy Cricket-type role to Coop before he leaves Earth, while the latter jumps between believing in science and love as the increasingly head-scratching plot progresses.

Matthew McConaughey drives the film as engineer turned astronaut Cooper
Matthew McConaughey drives the film as engineer turned astronaut Cooper

From Nolan past films you may already have an idea what to expect here, leaving the somewhat more obvious Dark Knight Trilogy to one side, there’s always a cerebral element to his films, particularly Inception. You can almost watch the film in two ways: trying to make sense of the science and sci-fi or taking each thing as it comes and focusing on the human element. Nolan does a good job of balancing the two, meaning there is enough to keep a wider range of film fans engaged.

Despite Nolan’s experience though, the final act does require a bit more brain power and could easily lose some, particularly the open-to-interpretation final shot. Not thinking about it all too much is the best way to enjoy it, although a lot of the science is actually fact, even if it is baffling. The perceptive may pick something up early on which reveals more about the finale than Nolan may have intended.

Style or substance?

Without a doubt the film is a visual feast more often than not
Without a doubt the film is a visual feast more often than not

Visually the film certainly lives up to the recent depictions of space, particularly Gravity – in fact the film could be described as a more action-packed version of that very film in some ways, and that’s by no means a bad thing. The depiction of the wormhole, which provides the celestial doorway to far-flung planets, and the black hold found on its far side are particularly stunning, and give you a real sense of scale.

As usual, the silent depiction of space itself (due to it being a vacuum) is incredibly striking, and adds another dimension to some of the action set pieces. The score too does a lot to add to the atmosphere too, with Hans Zimmer stepping away from the somewhat distinctive sound of the past few Nolan films to something more soft and quite haunting in places.

Providing you have the patience for a three-hour film, which can slow down at a couple of points, but not quite enough to lose your attention, then Interstellar is an impressive film with a good sense of scale and solid characters. That said, it won’t set your world on fire, particularly is Nolan’s style of filmmaking has struck a nerve in the past. Much like Gravity it’s a film worth watching for any film fan but only the committed will jump in again to unpick it’s layers.

Rating: 3/5

James Michael Parry

Man of Steel | Review | Film

Man Of Steel 1A superhero story where the main character is practically invincible immediately leads to a conundrum – how can he lose? The answer, of course, is to put him in a situation where he (or she, this is the 21st century after all) is vulnerable.

It seems as if 2013 is the year Hollywood have realised this with Iron Man 3 in the recent past taking it back to his roots and The Wolverine on the horizon promising that when he’s most vulnerable…he’s most dangerous…

Hmm…

In between we have Superman, the original superhero, the all-American all star who stands for truth and justice and The American Way. Of course ‘The American Way’ is something quite different than what it was when the last Christopher Reeve donned the tights, and so the hero has changed as a result.

And so we have our reboot, grittier, more down-to-Earth and more relatable than ever before. If something like that sounds familiar, it’s because it happened a few years ago with DC Comics’ other killer franchise – Batman.

The plot follows Superman’s origins as he struggles through childhood into adulthood (led by Rusell Crowe as Jor-El and Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent), but this time around he barely gets into the grove before peril strikes.

Being smart business people, DC decided that the now legendary Christopher Nolan should be involved in kick-starting their other over-tired icon.

Nolan wasn’t keen to jump fully in bed with another potential trilogy so soon after The Dark Night though, and herein lies the first stumbling block of the film.

Despite being written by Nolan with oft-collaborator David S. Goyer, the film was, in the end, directed by Zack Snyder.

Snyder’s track record is troubled at best, from the heights of Watchmen and 300 to the unfocused mess of Sucker Punch, and in this – only his sixth film – the result is just as inconsistent.

Man Of Steel - General Zod
Kneel before Z….oh wait, that was the other guy.

In the action scenes, Snyder is in his element, and the plot takes a backseat as Supes tackles antagonist General Zod (Michael Shannon) at high speed and high CGI. In the slower moments, the film fights against the shakey cam and action scenes to stay grounded enough (literally) to connect with its audience.

One stand out scene sees Jonathan Kent sacrifice himself for his family, and its these rare moments which justify the films existence overall.

The action and drama are not un-inspiring, and the cast do a fantastic job of hanging everything together, but there are more than a few moments where the film tries to hard, and has a feeling of desperation to prove itself.

With an IP as widespread as Superman, it’s inevitable that there are comparisons. Is newcomer Henry Cavill better than 2006’s Brandon Roth? Or even the legendary Mr Reeve? Does Shannon match up to Terence Stamp’s Zod?

Quickly you find it doesn’t matter – this is a very different world. Although 2006’s Superman Returns was hardly a camp 80s affair, filming began before Batman Begins, and Batman Begins changed how people look at superhero films forever.

So, like Spider-man before it, Superman had a makeover and a harsh dose of reality, and it does him the world of good. Despite looking like a slightly more square-jawed Hugh Jackman when first introduced, Cavill does well to make the role his own and step out from the shadow of Reeve, something Routh chose not to do, and equally the rest of the principle cast follow suit to great effect.

The unexpected aspect of the film is that it isn’t really an origin story for Superman at all, in fact it’s the origin story for Clark Kent, beginning his journey as a reporter at The Daily Planet.

In the end, the film breaks through its shortcomings to exceed expectations and delivers an experience which is better than it had to be, but not quite as good as it could be.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

13 for 2013: Our most anticipated films, music, gaming, technology and cyberculture | Entertainment | This Is Entertainment

The fun and games of 2012 is behind us, so it’s time to stop doing Gangnam Style, put down your ‘New’ iPad and think about all the exciting things which will clamour for both your attention and your wallet this year. Here are 13 things we are really looking forward to:

  1. Ingress (Available Now)

Screenshot_2013-01-03-07-50-32It might seem strange to start with something which you probably haven’t heard of, but its mysterious nature is what makes it interesting. Currently search giant Google is beta testing an augmented reality app, which calls for users to investigate the world around them using their phone as a scanner.

Using the software from the Google glasses demo released last year, the team have come up with a narrative based around CERN’s Higgs Boson experiment. To request an invite for the beta go to the Ingress website (but expect to wait a few weeks). Expect more on the site in the coming months as we delve deeper into the mystery.

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  1. DmC: Devil May Cry (11 January)

dmcWhile the obvious candidate for the crown of ‘anticipated game of the year’ is Grand Theft Auto V, we decided to avoid tackling Rockstar’s media-teasing monstrosity and talk about some of the smaller hitters, beginning with DmC, a reboot of Devil May Cry.

Danté is back, now with a harcore-fan-outraging new look, and a more user-friendly play and combat style. Developers Ninja Theory haven’t held back in taking the series’ ingredients and throwing them in a blender to make a more dynamic and edgy game, not that it’s tricky to make a demon hunter who is half angel and half devil look edgy. What we’ve seen so far looks impressive, though the team have an uphill struggle to convincingly gain ground in the third person slash-’em-up arena.

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  1. The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law (21 January)

Wolf's LawAfter a stunning debut album from the Welsh three-piece, they are due to strike back this year with their second album. The band perform amazingly well live, and their songs have that element of originality mixed with a few familiar pop tricks which make them compulsive listening.

Lead vocalist Ritzy’s voice is immediately striking and the synergy in the group is second to none. First single ‘The Ladder is Ours’ picks up where the first album left off and drives the band’s music forward. Expect some well received live performances on the back of this CD later in the year.

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  1. Bad Religion – True North (22 January)

True NorthHardcore punk rockers Bad Religion continue to churn out albums at an alarmingly consistent rate and this latest effort is looking to be no exception. First single, ‘Fuck You’, has all the uncompromising energy and attitude you could expect from a punk band who have been making music for over 30 years.

Title track ‘True North’ reveals more, and gives a sense of the overall tone of the album itself, somewhere between the blisteringly quick songs of early days with albums like Incomplete and the philosophy of The Process of Belief.

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  1. Windows Surface Pro (28 January TBC)

Windows Surface ProWe’ve already waxed lyrical about Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 8, and what more could you want? Windows 8 in a handy portable package of course. The RT version of the Windows Surface tablet has been out for a few months and has sold “modestly”, but many IT enthusiasts are holding off for the full ‘Pro’ version, which runs standard windows programs as well as Windows‘ own tailor-made apps.

With boosted specs and plenty of positive reviews of the RT version already circulating, this could be the technology purchase of the year (well it’s less likely to be replaced in a few months like a new iPad might in any case).

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  1. New(ish) gaming IPs: Remember Me (May 2013) and South Park: The Stick of Truth (March 2013)

Remember MeDespite the Xbox 360 nearing the end of its life (see point 11), there are still new IPs coming to the console which look promising. South Park: The Stick of Truth, though not entirely new since it is based on the South Park cartoon series, is the first which cartoon creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been directly involved with throughout (reportedly because they were sick and tired of bad South Park games). The game riffs on the classic staples of turn-based RPGs and is sure to have plenty of the sort of laughs and cultural references the TV show is known for.

Remember Me is Capcom’s take on manipulating reality by changing people’s memory in the near future. The game features a protagonist called Nilin, a ‘memory hunter’ who has lost her own memory and is on a quest to get back what she’s lost, while forcing people to kill themselves through memory manipulation along the way. The game is being handled by newcomers Dontnod Entertainment, but reception to the game so far has been promising, so hopefully this won’t be a case of all shine and no substance like fellow near-future jaunt Syndicate was last year.

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  1. Star Trek into Darkness (17 May)

Star Trek into DarknessZachary Quinto and Chris Pine reprise their roles as Spock and Kirk as we go Star Trekking once again, this time with the help of Sherlock Holmes, well, Benedict Cumberbatch. Star Fleet is under direct attack this time around, and Cumberbatch, who plays an unknown character who may or may not be linked to classic Trek film The Wrath of Khan‘s Khan.

The first teaser trailer shows all the destruction and drama you have come to expect from J.J. Abrams’ reboot, and with the acting talent in the mix it would be difficult to not make this the cinematic spectacle of the year. At least unless a bunch of superheroes turn up…oh…

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  1. Man Of Steel (14 June)

Man Of SteelZack Snyder directs the latest in a long line of Superman films, but this time, for the first time ever, Superman himself is British. Jersey-born Henry Cavill, who you may have seen in The Tudors TV series or 2007’s Stardust, dons the red boots in a familiar tale, retold.

Not much to get excited about you might think? But with Christopher Nolan on Producer duty, the studio must be keen for some of his success with The Dark Knight Trilogy to rub off on Man Of Steel.

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  1. Comic book films return (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (4 Oct USA), Kick-Ass 2 (19 July), Thor: The Dark World (Nov 8), Iron Man 3 (26 April), The Wolverine (26 July))

Christopher Mintz-Plasse in Kick-Ass 2Superman isn’t the only superhero doing the rounds this year of course, there are a bunch of sequels on the way to astound and delight us all. Of these the most exciting is Kick-Ass 2, which sees Kick-Ass, Hit Girl and Red Mist all return, with original actors Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Morentz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, for another round of crude and comic caped action.

This time Red Mist is seeking revenge, as teased at the close of the first film and Jim Carrey also makes an appearance as Colonel Stars and Stripes. With so many dark and ‘mature’ style superhero flicks flying around it’s good to have something like this as an antidote.

(No Kick-Ass 2 trailer just yet I’m afraid, but Iron Man is shaping up nicely too).

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  1. Reading Festival 2013 (23-25 August)

Reading Festival 2012With organisers Festival Republic kicking off the hype train early this year, we already know that Eminem will be one of this year’s Reading Festival headliners. Also in the mix are Alt-J, Deftones and Sub Focus.

The event always pulls in some of the greatest acts in the world for the year and the atmosphere is difficult to beat for a full weekend festival. Plus following the re-jig and re-brand last year things will be running even more smoothly, leaving more time for drinking and moshing than ever before.

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  1. The next Xbox (Q4 TBC)

The next Xbox?The Xbox 360 has now been on shop shelves for seven years, with hardware older than that, and in some places it’s beginning to creak at the seams. The lack of big game release dates after May this year leans heavily towards a hardware reveal at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, after a decidedly by-the-numbers affair last year.

The gaming community are beginning to cry out and despite manufacturer Microsoft’s claims in 2010 that the console was only half way through it’s life cycle, the clock is ticking. The time makes sense for the company too, since they won’t want to risk falling behind rival Sony‘s next release, which is still unannounced.

At present no concrete news has come out about the next Xbox console, despite rumours being rife, but whatever happens it is likely to slot effortlessly into its parent company’s efforts with Windows 8. The question is, will they strike while the iron is hot?

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  1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (13 December)

The Desolation of SmaugAfter the success which Peter Jackson had with the first instalment of The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, we have our fingers firmly crossed he can keep up the momentum for a further two films. The subtitle for this year’s film, The Desolation of Smaug, would suggest this is the chapter in which Smaug is vanquished, but what does that leave for film three?

The multi Oscar-winning director is doing it for the love at this point, so it’s hard to see him making a misstep at this stage, but the real draw for this next film is the returning cast, all of whom shone in part one. How can you say no to more Gandalf?

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  1. The digital entertainment tipping point (TBC?)

The final point in our list is more speculation (speculation you say? On a blog? Outrageous!) around the subject of digital distribution. It might not be something to look forward to if you are keen on polishing the boxes on your CD shelf, but the digital revolution is happening right now. In music in particular the market is struggling to cope, as consumers begin to buy songs online through the likes of iTunes more and more.

The BBC recently reported that in 2012 CD sales fell by 11.2% overall, with sales of physical copies down 20% to 69.4million, compared to a rise or 14.8% for digital, bringing its total up to 30.5million. Surely the day we see digital in the majority isn’t far away?

In gaming and films too things are changing, as more people stream or watch films online, sometimes through games consoles, and various on demand services such as Netflix providing access to thousands of films without the bother of popping down to Blockbuster. Games on demand on Xbox remains uncompetitively priced, but avenues such as Valve’s Steam platform are proving more popular than ever before.

The interconnected nature of technology is making viewing entertainment easier every year and this year could be the time when we start to see the digital future really come into its own.

A Digital FutureJames Michael Parry

Escapism vs Realism: What is Entertainment? | Film and Gaming | This Is Entertainment

Some people might insist that entertainment as an entity exists as a ‘way out’ from the stresses and hardships of everyday life, but why then do games and films so often strive to be ‘realistic’?

Surely if we just wanted to escape from reality (without turning to hallucinogenic substances), then the most attractive prospect would be to jump into something completely different from our everyday lives.

Take Super Mario for example. One of the quintessential platformers, there aren’t many of us who navigate pits of lava, turtles throwing hammers and flatten grumpy-looking, mushroom-shaped creatures on a daily basis.

Later Mario titles have arguably become even more unrealistic, adding talking fire extinguishers and intergalactic flight, and the titles sell in the hundreds of thousands. Perhaps this argument is a foregone conclusion then?

Not quite so simple in 2012. According to vgchartz.com, role-playing epic Diablo III takes the top spot, a clear point for the escapism camp, and three different Mario titles are in the top ten. On the other hand Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 remains at sixth and eighth on the multi-format global sales chart after a massive 39 weeks on sale.

MW3 is a game which seeks to immerse you into a world of guns, shooting and slow-motion breaching (before more shooting). While this isn’t the sort of thing the average person would get up to on a day to basis (we hope), it is presented in a highly detailed and ‘realistic’ way. From here it’s easy to begin to appreciate how blurred the lines between escapism and realism are.

In the first days of console gaming there was no chance of you mistaking Pac-Man for a real person just wandering down dark alleys looking for pills and trying to avoid his dealers – the poor guy was made up of about 12 pixels and didn’t have any legs – but now with the level of detail capable my modern technology you can very nearly almost be lured into thinking there really is such a thing as dragons from the likes of Skyrim.

In film too the harsh realities of the past decade or so have bled through into Hollywood’s presentation of much-loved characters. Batman successfully shed its campish past for Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005. British institution James Bond followed suit and underwent a gritty reboot the following year with Casino Royale. Spiderman too returned to his more ‘real’ comic book roots for Andrew Garfield’s turn as the webslinger only this year.

Clearly escapism for escapism’s sake still exists, exemplified by the mere existence of The Expendables 2, but the new normal seems to be geared towards giving consumers a dose of reality.

There is a flaw in this plan though – people don’t like it when things get too real.

There has been a lot of fan backlash from the reboot or Devil May Cry: DMC. Undoubtedly the ‘new look’ Dante is grounded in a much more ‘real’ universe, albeit with crazy demonic stuff going on. Many fans of the original games took objection to the re-imagining of the character of someone more grounded and supposedly relatable, while others were just averse to change in the first place.

Tomb Raider too has his the ‘realism’ button pretty hard and there has been plenty of discussion whether it is necessary or appropriate to tackle the issue of rape – even in the context of the development of the character.

Undeniably though, horrible things do happen, and for gaming and films to be taken seriously as artistic mediums, they have to tackle sensitive issues. Film has a clear head start, having delivered countless classics over the years revered as taboo-breakers and genre-definers.

With games, it’s more of an uphill struggle, since the medium already has a long way to go to be respected by fellow industries as more than just ‘something kids and teenagers do’, let alone by the public in general.

Could tackling ‘real’ issues help? Perhaps, but it’s only worth doing if that’s what gamers actually want, which brings us back to the debate in question.

Reality is huge, but imagination is limitless, so with nothing but technical stumbling blocks to hold developers and directors back, entertainment should be striving to push the boundaries and show us things we have never seen or experienced before.

Whether that is something relatable, intimate and personal or off-the-wall, crazy and just good fun is up to us. If we as the people enjoying these products don’t give things which are a bit different a chance, then there will be less chances taken by the big studios, and we’ll miss out on things like Inception on the big screen and Bulletstorm on the small.

In the end, escapism and realism aren’t as much at odds as you might assume from first glance, and there is certainly place for both in the entertainment world – it all depends on what you feel like.

James Michael Parry
YouTubery lovingly embedded from original source. Images courtesy: popchassid.com and setlol.com

Film: Review – Inception

‘Inception’ means ‘beginning’, ‘start’ or ‘commencement’, but that doesn’t shed much light on what Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is all about.
Even if you did read my previous post about Nolan and Inception, little can prepare you for combination of simplicity and complexity of the film itself.
In the film, ‘inception’ is not just the beginning of something, but the principle of planting an idea in someone’s head. The way this is done is through dreams, using the subconscious to control the conscious, which involves connecting people together with a strange briefcase-shaped device which means several people can experience the same dream simultaneously.
The principle which you have to bear in mind watching the film is that dreams always seem real when you’re having them, as DiCaprio’s character Cobb says: “It’s only when we wake up that we realise anything is strange.”
Nolan, who also wrote the film, has never been someone who has embraced CGI in films before, generally adopting a very personal approach to directing, never taking a second unit and often doing shots with a hand-held camera. In Inception though, it’s impossible to avoid, since the story and concepts involved require so much which is not physically possible.
It would be a mistake to think that Nolan has ‘sold out’ with this picture though, since it’s an idea he’s been working on for many years, and it is certainly worth the wait.
The reputation of the director, who also directed The Dark Knight the trailers are keen to tell us, means Nolan is graced with a fantastic cast to sell his story.
DiCaprio, fresh from another deep emotional performance in Martin Scorcese’s Shutter Island, shows us how far he has come from his boyish charms evident in the likes of Titanic and Romeo & Juliet, delivering a gripping portrayal of a character which the audience latch on to and follow through the film, something which is integral to its success.
Ellen Page, of Juno Fame, also delivers convincingly as Ariadne, despite being the token ‘young person’, as does Cillian Murphy as Robert Fischer Jr., who is the victim of the film’s convoluted heist, despite not realising it.
Brit acting legend Michael Caine, in his fourth film with Christopher Nolan, is on wise old mentor duty once again, without his usual comic relief moments, and in fact its Tom Hardy of Layer Cake as Eames who shines in the comedy stakes.
To go in to the story too much would spoil or confuse things, but the film itself is a triumph of Nolan’s skill as a director and passion for story-telling. Those looking for the excitement, action and explosions of The Dark Knight won’t be disappointed, as the film’s climax providing the most nail-biting finale of Nolan’s work to date.
What is more important to the film though is that you’re constantly asking yourself what is real and what’s a dream, which is exactly the question Cobb is constantly dealing with, making you feel quite unnerved at times, but still exhilarated.
Inception is a film which binds genres together seamlessly, going from a heist movie one moment to a tense thriller the next, with some gravity-defying action thrown in for good measure. It must be seen to be believed.
Rating: 5/5