Tenet review

 

Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast : John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Dimple Kapadia, Himesh Patel, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Michael Caine
Genre: Action/Sci-fi/Thriller
Run Time : 2 h 31 min
Opens : 27 August 2020 (Sneaks 26 August)
Rating : PG13

Tenet-poster           One of writer-director Christopher Nolan’s well-known trademarks is the way he plays with time and the perception of time. Memento, Inception and Interstellar all have the perception of time as central themes – even his comparatively straightforward World War II movie Dunkirk was presented in three separate time frames that later converge. Nolan takes his preoccupation with time and how it can be presented onscreen to a new level with Tenet.

John David Washington plays the otherwise-unnamed Protagonist, an elite secret agent. He is roped in to achieve no less than saving the world from destruction. At first, all he has to go on is one word, “Tenet”, and a hand gesture of interlocking fingers. Together with his handler Neil (Robert Pattinson), the Protagonist must unravel an intricate plot that involves a concept called “inversion” – time affects everything in one forward direction, but an unknown person or organization has figured out a way to reverse this effect, imbuing people and objects with the ability to function counter to the normal flow of time. Key to this mystery is the powerful and ruthless Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), whom the Protagonist tries to get to through Sator’s wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), who longs to be free of Sator’s controlling grip. The Protagonist and his allies must cross the world and bend the very fabric of time and space to prevent an unfathomable cataclysm.

Tenet-John-David-Washington-Robert-Pattinson-in-car

Tenet’s reputation as a confusing movie precedes it. Early in the film, one character tells the Protagonist “don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” However, the movie seems to actively want the audience to engage with its ideas and unravel the heady concepts that fuel it. It’s up to each viewer how much effort they want to expend in understanding the movie. Kip Thorne, the theoretical physicist whose work inspired Interstellar, serves as a consultant on this movie too.

Tenet-John-David-Washington-helicopter

It helps to think of Tenet as a Bond movie with all the sci-fi elements layered on top and below that formula. Nolan has made no secret of being a massive 007 fan, with the snow fortress sequence in Inception an obvious homage to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Indeed, Tenet has a somewhat Bond-like protagonist, a Bond villain, something of a Bond girl, globe-trotting action and even a cold open not unlike a classic pre-title sequence in a Bond movie. Tenet almost stubbornly refuses to feel like a generic big studio action movie, even though the promotion for the film included its trailer premiering within the video game Fortnite, and a song by rapper Travis Scott that plays over the end credits, both things one might imagine Nolan baulking at.

Tenet-plane-crash

The action set-pieces are astounding, and all feel satisfying tactile. There is a sequence in which a cargo plane veers off the runway and crashes into a section of an airport which was achieved by crashing an actual plane into a hangar at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville. The other filming locations include Mumbai, India; Olso, Norway; Tallinn, Estonia and the Amalfi Coast, Italy. A car chase filmed on the Laagna Highway in Tallinn, which involves multiple heavy-duty vehicles including a firetruck, is a lavish, kinetic spectacle. The hydrofoil catamaran race combines glamour and thrills the way the best Bond movies do. This is Nolan’s loudest movie to date, with enough major action-driven moments to make the 151-minute runtime pass by at a decent clip.

Tenet-John-David-Washington-Robert-Pattinson-opposite-sides-of-glass

The film’s visual signature is that of people and objects moving backwards in time, contrary to everything else in a given scene. This isn’t something that is especially new, but just like with the rotating hallway fight sequence in Inception, Nolan has taken something that we might have seen before and amped it up aggressively. There are a few satisfying moments in which the film’s concepts play out visually in grand fashion.

Tenet-John-David-Washington-Robert-Pattinson

Like many of Nolan’s movies, Tenet had the potential to come off as cold, but Washington brings a spirited warmth and a liveliness to the proceedings. He is exceedingly charismatic and acquits himself well during the many complex action sequences. He also has excellent chemistry with Pattinson, who is extremely watchable as the Protagonist’s right-hand man. The Protagonist is deliberately left unnamed and in the hands of another actor, could have been a hollow cipher, but Washington has enough charm and gravitas to transcend that.

Tenet-Elizabeth-Debicki-Kenneth-Branagh

Nolan is not known for writing women especially well. Debicki’s Kat is a better-developed, more interesting character than many others. She still is a damsel in a degree of distress, but gains agency in an interesting way and has a strong hand in moving the plot forward. Branagh, who also featured in Dunkirk, sometimes plays the evil oligarch role a bit too broadly but is often legitimately scary.

Tenet-exploding-opera-house

There’s a scene in Looper in which the Older Joe tells his younger self that he would rather not explain the mechanics of time travel, otherwise they would end up sitting in the diner all day making diagrams out of straws. Tenet sometimes feels like Christopher Nolan making diagrams with straws, but it also benefits from the director’s “blank check” status – after his various successes, he gets a blank check to make whatever kind of movie he wants. Tenet is perhaps just a touch more opaque and headache-inducing than it needs to be, but it is also an invigorating cinematic experience. Just brace yourself for the hundreds of “Tenet explained” videos that will be popping up on YouTube in the coming months.

Summary: The singular vision of an accomplished filmmaker, Tenet is as perplexing as it is visually stunning, something that will leave audiences discussing it even as their heads spin.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Going in Style

For F*** Magazine

GOING IN STYLE 

Director : Zach Braff
Cast : Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Joey King, Ann-Margret, Christopher Lloyd, John Ortiz, Matt Dillon Peter Serafinowicz
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1h 36min
Opens : 20 April 2017
Rating : NC16 (Some Coarse Language and Drug Use)

Here in Singapore, senior citizens have been urged to use their SkillsFuture credits to take courses in I.T., languages, cooking and crafts. There is yet to be a SkillsFuture course on bank robbery. In this comedy, lifelong friends Willie (Freeman), Joe (Caine) and Albert (Arkin) find their pensions funds dissolved after the steel mill they work for undergoes a restructuring. Joe, who found himself caught in a bank robbery, proposes that the trio steal what is rightfully theirs from the bank. While Willie seems open to the idea, Albert is adamant that the plan will fail. Through his ne’er-do-well former son-in-law Murphy (Serafinowicz), Joe contacts Jesus (Ortiz), who is a part-time pet store proprietor and part-time thief. Jesus trains Willie, Joe and Albert in the art of the heist, so they can pull off the audacious robbery and retrieve their hard-earned pension.

Going in Style is a remake of the 1979 film of the same name, directed by Martin Brest and starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. Adapted by Theodore Melfi of Hidden Figures fame and directed by Zach Braff, this remake is amiable if rather toothless. This is obviously aimed at moviegoers of a certain vintage, with the filmmakers taking care not to make things too depressing even as in the film touches on how the elderly get gradually forgotten by society and are taken advantage of by financial institutions. Even though its characters are shown smoking weed and one is depicted post-coitus, it’s far from an edgy enterprise and is likely to be a hit with the retirement home set.

This is nothing short of a top-shelf cast, the film’s three leads having all won Oscars. The characters’ personas are generally in line with how we perceive each actor: Caine plays the steadfast team leader, Freeman is warm and has a twinkle in his eye, and Arkin is the curmudgeon who’s grumpy and caustic but ultimately well-meaning. These actors have no problems garnering sympathy from the audience, and while nobody will be nominated for Oscars for this one, their camaraderie is fun to watch.

There are recognisable names in the supporting cast too. Ann-Margret, the Oscar-nominated triple threat pinup of the 60s, is entertaining as a grocery store employee who makes romantic advances towards Albert.

Matt Dillon plays it straight as a dogged FBI agent on the bank robbery case, while Christopher Lloyd is hilarious as the guys’ senile friend Milton. Milton is a one-joke character, the joke being “he’s crazy because he’s just so old”, which isn’t exactly tasteful but is in line with most of the characters Lloyd has played in his recent career.

Caine shares some sweet moments with his onscreen granddaughter Joey King, and it’s additionally amusing because Alfred is Talia al Ghul’s grandpa (The Dark Knight Rises is five years old, we can spoil it all we want). The Jesus character could’ve easily been a bad case of racial stereotyping, but Ortiz fleshes him out well, and the character is depicted as being competent and ultimately good-hearted, even given his criminal actions.

Going in Style is light-hearted if a touch too sentimental at times, and because of its powerhouse cast, can’t help but feel slightly underwhelming. Because so much time is spent with the characters just hanging out before the heist is even proposed, the intricacies of the planning, execution and aftermath of the heist seem rushed through. However, thanks to the overall likeability of its cast and glimmers of wit, Going in Style is easy to go along with.

Summary: You’ll be forgiven for expecting more from a cast of this calibre, but Going in Style’s reliable, talented leads make this a fairly enjoyable old time.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

Now You See Me 2

For F*** Magazine

NOW YOU SEE ME 2

Director : Jon M. Chu
Cast : Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Mark Ruffalo, Jay Chou, Daniel Radcliffe, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Sanaa Lathan
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2 hrs 10 mins
Opens : 16 June 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

The Four Horsemen ride again with new tricks up their respective sleeves in the sequel to Now You See Me. It’s been a year since the events of the first film, and Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Franco) have been lying low, awaiting instructions from The Eye, the secret society into which they were inducted. FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) attempts to keep up the charade of pursuing the Horsemen while secretly leading them. Replacing Henley Reeves, who grew tired of waiting, is the enthusiastic Lula (Caplan). The Horsemen’s new mission is to expose the unethical practices of smartphone manufacturer Octa, but a spanner is thrown in the works by Walter Mabry (Radcliffe), Octa’s reclusive co-founder. The Horsemen find themselves in Macau, and must seek the help of magic shop proprietor Li (Chou) as Mabry forces them to pull off a nigh-impossible heist. In the meantime, both former benefactor Arthur Tressler (Caine) and magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) seek their vengeance on the Horsemen.



            Jon M. Chu replaces Louis Leterrier in the director’s chair for the second instalment of what studio Lionsgate is hoping shapes up to be their next big franchise. If the first film offered up flashy spectacle and a plot comprised of puzzle pieces that did not quite fit together in hindsight, Now You See Me 2 gives audiences more of the same. The screenplay by Ed Solomon ties itself into knots that do not untangle despite giving the appearance of doing so. This might seem like a film that imagines itself to be far smarter than it really is, but the more likely scenario is that the filmmakers are well aware that these movies will not hold up to scrutiny and that audiences will be content with revelling in the moment. Chu brings slickness and swagger to the proceedings that ever so slightly papers over the gaping plot holes. The director’s dance movie expertise is evident in several sequences that are elaborately choreographed, but ultimately more dizzying than dazzling.

            The first film’s greatest asset was its cast, comprising actors whose charisma and charm could almost rival that of Danny Ocean and his 11, if only the Four Horsemen weren’t outnumbered. Isla Fisher was unable to reprise the role of Henley Reeves due to her pregnancy, so Henley was written out and Lizzy Caplan steps in as new character Lula. The danger with these characters is that being showmen, they’re all egotistical and obnoxious to different degrees. Harrelson seems to be having twice as much fun as before, but comes across as irritating rather than actually funny. Atlas’ haughty, twitchy nature is something Eisenberg has no problems conveying, but Atlas has had to eat some humble pie since the events of the last film, and Eisenberg convincingly portrays that character development too. Caplan is a likeable performer, but her “over-eager new girl” shtick does also wear on the nerves after a while.

Rhodes’ charade is up and the audience knows that he is not only on the Horsemen’s side, but actively leading them. Ruffalo gives the role far more effort than it deserves, and his presence does elevate the material. Quite amusingly, Ruffalo becomes the latest Hollywood actor who has to pretend to be adept at speaking Mandarin Chinese. As the primary antagonist, Radcliffe isn’t exactly easy to buy as someone who would be able to run rings around the Horsemen. The actor has explored his darker side in other film and stage projects, but there’s supposed to be menace behind Walter’s smile, menace that Radcliffe is unable to muster.



It’s abundantly clear that Chou’s inclusion and the Macau setting merely serves to pander to Chinese audiences. Veteran actress Tsai Chin (not to be confused with the Taiwanese singer of the same name), who plays Li’s grandmother Bu Bu, is a far livelier screen presence than Chou. The film calls upon Caine and Freeman to provide gravitas while not doing very much at all, something the iconic actors do without breaking a sweat.

            Now You See Me 2 alternates between being supremely entertaining and frustrating. There’s glitz, glamour and eye candy effects work galore, but twist after twist after twist does not a truly engrossing thriller make. That’s the paradox: it does not hold up to close examination, yet invites audiences to do so. Ultimately, your enjoyment of Now You See Me 2 is contingent on just how willing you are to be taken on a ride. You’ll get bamboozled, but you just might have fun in the process.



Summary: Now You See Me 2 doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the first movie convinced general audiences that making sense isn’t the goal here. The goal is to entertain while misdirecting, and this has entertainment and misdirection in spades.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

The Last Witch Hunter

For F*** Magazine

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER

Director : Breck Eisner
Cast : Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Michael Caine, Julie Engelbrecht, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson
Genre : Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 106 mins
Opens : 22 October 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Something wicked this way comes, and the only thing that can keep it at bay is the last witch hunter. Vin Diesel plays Kaulder, a warrior of the Order of the Axe and Cross who has dedicated his life to pursuing and incarcerating practitioners of dark magic. Kaulder lost his wife and daughter to the Black Plague and, having been cursed with immortality by the Witch Queen (Engelbrecht), has walked the earth for 800 years. His loyal scribe and handler, the 36th Dolan (Caine), is retiring and passing the torch to the rookie 37th Dolan (Wood). As the evil Belial (Ólafsson) carves a path of destruction through New York, Kaulder must team up with a witch, something he never thought he’d do. The “good witch” in question is Chloe (Leslie), the proprietor of a “witches only” nightclub. As he uncovers an ancient conspiracy, Kaulder must battle the powers of darkness to prevent a new plague from being unleashed in New York.

A “did you know?” factoid about Vin Diesel that always pops up is that he is an avid Dungeons and Dragons player and his old D&D character Melkor was a witch hunter. This might be the ultimate form of wish fulfilment for its star, but few others are likely to get anything worthwhile out of The Last Witch Hunter. A ho-hum urban fantasy adventure film that is content with trying nothing new, this is the very definition of uninspired. Recalling the Nicolas Cage duds The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Season of the Witch, this tale of a mystical warrior waging a secret war that the hoi polloi are oblivious to is as rote as they come. Director Breck Eisner, whose most high-profile film so far is the 2005 flop Sahara, comes off as little more than a hired gun whose ambitions here do not extend past making Diesel look cool.

We’ve seen many films laden with heavy-handed exposition. In The Last Witch Hunter, practically every other line is heavy-handed exposition. The history of the secret order, the different powers witches possess, the tragic backgrounds of various characters, it’s all spelled out with much laziness and little finesse. The film’s screenwriters have a track record of hokey supernatural action flicks: Cory Goodman wrote Priest while Matt Sazama and Buck Sharpless penned last year’s Dracula Untold. The solitary hero, the ancient council of elders, the long-dormant evil about to rise again, it’s all frustratingly derivative. There are plenty of computer-generated creatures and landscapes and technically-speaking, the film is fine, with veteran cinematographer Dean Semler keeping the movie from looking too cheap. The practical makeup effects on the Witch Queen are detailed and creepy, but whether it’s swarms of bugs, swirling flames or thorny roots springing forth out of the ground, we’ve seen this all before in some form or another and there’s nothing really worth getting excited about.

Diesel doing the tortured action hero thing is as yawn-inducing as it sounds. Unlike the character of Riddick, there is scarcely any mystery to Kaulder. This is meant to be someone with a richly storied past, having witnessed things few would believe over his 800-year-long existence. Instead, Kaulder comes across as pretty boring and for an old hand at this witch-hunting business, he falls for some basic traps throughout the film. We get a sense of how noble he is through an offhand comment about how the Salem Witch Trials were wrong, and there are also frequent dream sequence flashbacks to Kaulder in happier times frolicking with his late wife and daughter in an effort to make us feel something for him. It doesn’t work.

Leslie’s Chloe fulfils the role of the woman who gets pulled into the hero’s quest by dint of possessing an item or skill he requires. There are moments when the alluring feistiness Leslie brought to the part of Ygritte on Game of Thrones can be glimpsed, but the character is mostly perfunctory. Through Chloe, Kaulder comes to learn that “not all witches are evil”, yet another shop-worn plot device. Leslie and Diesel also have no chemistry to speak of.

Caine is only in very little of the movie, playing the mentor figure in all but name because Kaulder is of course a lot older than he is. Diesel calling Caine “kid” is kind of amusing the first couple of times, but this dynamic doesn’t get fleshed out. A film of this type needs a charismatic villain, perhaps someone larger than life, but Engelbrecht and Ólafsson are non-presences as the Witch Queen and Belial respectively. Thanks to his perennially youthful demeanour, Wood is still playing the fresh-faced kid sidekick at 34. This is probably the most conventional project he’s taken on in his quirky post-Lord of the Rings career.

A tepid production line affair, The Last Witch Hunter is an attempt at spinning yet another franchise for Diesel, because the tiny indie project that is the Fast and Furious films apparently isn’t paying the bills. The mythos is half-baked and this doesn’t feel like a substantial world waiting to be explored. The Last Witch Hunter isn’t based on a series of books, comics or video-games, but it still smacks of a crippling lack of originality and audiences will return from this hunt empty-handed.

Summary: Vin Diesel fails to conjure up any magic with this generic urban fantasy adventure flick that ought to be far more entertaining than it actually is.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kingsman: The Secret Service

For F*** Magazine

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE 

Director : Matthew Vaughn
Cast : Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Taron Egerton, Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Jack Davenport, Mark Strong, Michael Caine
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 129 mins
Opens : 12 February 2015
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language and Violence)
The gentleman spy – judging from Hollywood’s preoccupation with rough-and-tumble gritty action thrillers, it might seem like an archetype that has gone out of style. Kingsman: The Secret Serviceendeavours to bring it back. Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, codename “Galahad”, a member of the elite independent clandestine organisation Kingsman. When it comes time to recruit a new Kingsman, Harry sets his sights on Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Egerton), a ne’er do well from the wrong side of the tracks. Eggsy is put through his paces, subjected to the rigorous Kingsman training and selection process, picked on by most of the other recruits but finding a friend in the form of Roxy (Cookson). In the meantime, a global threat surfaces in the form of megalomaniacal tech billionaire Richmond Valentine (Jackson), hell-bent on unleashing a catastrophe only Kingsman can foil.

            Kingsman: The Secret Service is adapted from the comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. Director Matthew Vaughn previously collaborated with Millar on Kick-Ass, to smashing results. Just like the bespoke tailored suits showcased in the film, Vaughn is a perfect fit for the source material. Between this and X-Men First Class, he more than proves he’s worthy of directing an actual Bond movie. While Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman have changed a fair bit from the comics, there are still nods fans of the book will enjoy, such as Mark Hamill playing a supporting role – Hamill was one of the kidnapped celebrities featured in the comic. Kingsman: The Secret Service is filled with playful homages to classic spy-fi staples, such as The Avengers, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart (listen out for the line about the shoe phone) and of course the early Bond films. There are even shout-outs to Dr. Strangelove and The Shining. In the midst of making all those references, Vaughn manages to imbue the movie with an identity all its own, tossing several surprises into what seems like a very familiar spy yarn.

            Kingsman: The Secret Service is a throwback to the above-mentioned shows and movies and in a Tarantino-esque way, spy movies pop up as a subject of discussion in the film itself. Of course, Vaughn was never going to play it straight and that wicked, subversive streak he displayed in Kick-Assis in full force here. Vaughn takes palpable delight in juxtaposing the cultured high-society world of countryside mansions, 19th Century brandy and Saville Row tailors with lots of swearing and graphic brutality. Brace yourself for impalements, severed limbs, exploding heads and even someone getting bifurcated by way of bladed prosthetic leg. Most likely on the strength of Kick-Ass, Vaughn has managed to convince the studio bigwigs to let him go the full, gleefully R-rated hog instead of having to pull his punches and deliver a softer, friendlier product.

            The single sentence “Colin Firth kicking ass” is really all the promotion and marketing this movie needs. Expertly playing on his public persona as an evergreen Mr. Darcy, it is an absolute thrill to see the Oscar-winning thesp take out a bar full of street toughs with calculated efficiency. The physical training that the actor underwent pays off, and it really doesn’t feel as if Firth sat out the action sequences for a stunt double to take his place. One jaw-dropping, blood-soaked scene has been compared to the martial arts in The Raid, the camera-work kinetic and jittery yet stopping short of incoherent and nausea-inducing. Firth is able to bring a lot more to the role past that casting gimmick, admirably lending genuine pathos when it is required.

            This reviewer was worried about how Taron Egerton would come off in this film, as the role of the “unrefined mentee” who is taken in and shown the ropes is usually played one of two ways: insufferably annoying or just really bland. Egerton manages to be neither and does make for a convincing street kid, possessing just enough bad boy swagger without it being ridiculous. As Roxy, Sophie Cookson is appealingly spirited and cool; it’s to Vaughn and Goldman’s credit that they don’t force a predictable romance between Eggsy and Roxy into the movie, their relationship actually more satisfying for it.

            Samuel L. Jackson has the time of his life here – for an actor who’s in everything from direct-to-DVD dreck to the biggest blockbusters, he isn’t given to sleepwalking through roles. His lisping, charismatic supervillain is a hoot – it’s to Jackson’s credit that he’s able to balance the menacing and funny sides of Valentine. It also helps that Valentine’s henchwoman Gazelle (Boutella), giving new meaning to the term “blade runner”, is distinctive, graceful and terrifying. Mark Strong lends a gruff authority and trustworthiness to the role of Merlin, Kingsman quartermaster and the supervisor of the recruits’ training. It’s also fun to see Michael Caine in this – this reviewer assumed that he would merely show up as the Kingsman head and not have much to do beyond that, but there are a few more layers to “Arthur”.

            If there’s one major element that lets Kingsman: The Secret Service down, it would be the film’s reliance on sometimes-unconvincing computer-generated imagery. Sure, it’s heightened and has no aspirations to realism, but cheap-looking CGI can still pull an audience out of it. This is most noticeable during a scene set at the edge of space involving a satellite that has to be shot down. Still, the intricately-choreographed stunt work, including Firth’s martial arts mayhem and one of the most exciting skydiving scenes in recent memory, do make up for it. In Kingsman, genre aficionados will find a spy flick that’s as fresh as it is nostalgic and will come away thoroughly entertained.

Summary: An edgy, entertaining, genre-savvy spy movie filled with winks, nods, carnage and Colin Firth kicking ass.
RATING: 4 out of 5Stars

Jedd Jong

Interstellar

For F*** Magazine

INTERSTELLAR

Director : Christopher Nolan
Cast : Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Ellen Burstyn, Mackenzie Foy
Genre : Sci-Fi/Adventure
Rating : PG13 (Brief Coarse Language) 
Run time: 169 mins
Following the conclusion of the Dark Knight trilogy, director Christopher Nolan could only head in one direction – up. Way up. In this sci-fi adventure, we journey into the cosmic unknown with engineer Cooper (McConaughey). It is the near-future and with most of its natural resources depleted, earth is dying. NASA scientist Dr. Brand (Caine) ropes in Cooper to embark on a mission through a wormhole in search of a new planet to call home on the other side. Rounding out the crew are Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Brand’s own daughter Amelia (Hathaway). Cooper leaves behind his teenage son Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and young daughter Murph (Foy). Because of the time slippage that results from being near a black hole, Cooper stays the same age while his children back home grow older. The now-adult Murph (Chastain) holds out hope that her father will return home as the situation on earth worsens.

            The marriage of heart-tugging sentiment and awe-inspiring sci-fi spectacle in Interstellarbrings the work of director Steven Spielberg to mind. Indeed, Spielberg was attached to the film in its early stages, with Jonathan Nolan hired to write the screenplay. Eventually, Jonathan’s brother Christopher came on board to rewrite the script and direct. Just as we’ve come to expect from the director, big ideas are tackled in grand fashion. Going to see a movie in the theatre isn’t quite the event it used to be and sure, big-budget blockbusters are a dime a dozen, but Nolan seems keen on delivering a true film-going experience. Shot and finished on film as per his insistence, this is quite a visual feast on the giant IMAX screen, enhanced by theatre-shaking sound effects and Hans Zimmer’s ethereal, techno-tinged score.

            Of course, just as Spielberg’s work is often decried as schmaltzy, more cynical viewers might be unmoved despite the best efforts of Nolan and his cast. There are moments when the seams are visible and the film strains under the weight of its ambition to appeal to both heart and mind. The line “love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends the dimensions of time and space” could be described as “hokey”. Nolan does make full use of the anguish inherent in the idea of time passing faster for one party than the other, having played with the concept differently in Inception. Interstellar attempts to explore the themes of how tenacity and the survival instinct in mankind might be a two-edged sword when push comes to shove.  Interstellaris inspired by the work of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who is the technical consultant and an executive producer on the film (and for whom one of the robots in the movie, KIPP, is presumably named). The film does feel well-researched and credible and once it inevitably enters metaphysical territory, suspension of disbelief has been well and truly earned.

            Fresh off his Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Cluband having broken free from rom-com purgatory, Matthew McConaughey makes an appealing leading man here. Cooper has his eyes towards the stars, refusing to be bound by the mundane despite what society dictates. The scenes McConaughey shares with Mackenzie Foy are sufficiently touching. Any other film would have an obligatory shoehorned-in romantic subplot between Cooper and Anne Hathaway’s Amelia Brand, but that’s not the case here, with Cooper’s arc driven by his desire to return home to see his children while time keeps on slipping. Unfortunately, the emphasis on the emotional core of the movie is at the expense of meaningful character development for the crew of the space mission. The grown-up Murph is still angry at her father for seemingly abandoning her but this is only because she misses him so, something Chastain conveys effectively. We never thought a comic relief robot would show up in a Christopher Nolan movie, but here we have the garrulous TARS, entertainingly voiced by comedian, clown and character actor Bill Irwin.

            Nolan has made no secret of being inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that film’s influence is very much evident here. It would be an injustice to call Interstellar a “rip-off” because of the care taken in realising the film, the photo-realistic visual effects work supervised by Paul Franklin of Double Negative particularly impressive and a shoo-in for the Oscar. As is his style, Nolan played his cards to close to his chest, keeping the production secretive and while there are a few great surprises, Interstellar feels more familiar than one might expect. Perhaps this familiarity makes the sweeping epic with its wormholes and spacecraft that much more accessible.


Summary: Interstellaris a thrilling, moving sci-fi adventure and while the end result isn’t as earth-shatteringly profound as the filmmakers probably intended, it’s still a superb movie-going experience.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong