Movie review: ‘Interstellar’

In Christopher Nolan’s newest sci-fi extravaganza, Interstellar, Einstein’s general theory of relativity is carefully explained: The closer you approach the speed of light, the slower you age relative to humans on earth. Well, I have a corophoto 1llary to this quantum hypothesis: The closer you come to Interstellar, the more likely it will seem that all activity slows … to … a … grinding … halt.

That’s surprising, considering how jam-packed with noisy activity this three-hour (yes!) adventure film is. There are rocket launches, beautiful trips through wormholes, breathtaking by-the-seat-of-your-pants landings and countless other mind-bending trips through Nolan’s inventive and VFX-fueled brain. Truth be told, though, Nolan has never been much of a storyteller. He’ll spend lots of time acclimating us to characters, then rush headlong through complicated technical points essential to the plot. (Does anyone but him really understand Inception?) Interstellar eases us into its story. We’re never told exactly when it takes place (though apparently later in this century), but eventually we learn that the earth is becoming a desert and mankind will die off unless other habitable worlds are colonized. Matthew McConaughey, a widower with a clingy daughter (played as an adult by Jessica Chastain), is chosen to lead the search alongside Anne Hathaway.Much of the mechanics of the mission are disregarded, though it’s altogether possible they were stated plainly but the editors deemed it far less important than Hans Zimmer’s intrusive score and pulsating sound effects that effectively drown out even the internal dialogue in your head. It’s a sonic assault.

Nolan makes a lot of peculiar choices: There are near countless shots of the outside of the spaceship, but usually seen only from the same angle along the length of the fuselage — it’s like having a window seat on an airplane and trying to figure out what your journey looks like from the outside. He also resorts to some heavy-handed imagery (a potential savior of the species named Mann? Really?).

Ultimately, though, Nolan is less interested in the science than in the humanity. The development of McConaughey’s character — across time and space — is poignant and highly emotional. But last year Alfonso Cuaron got us there in half the time (82 minutes!) with Gravity, while Kubrick explored the position of humankind in the universe a generation ago with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Interstellar isn’t as good as either of those films, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit. “Good” may be the enemy of “great,” but don’t write it off entirely.

Three stars. Now in wide release.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Film award nominations: Golden Globes, SAGs and more

In the last 24 hours, two major groups have announced their nominations for some of the film awards of the season — the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globe Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Add to that Film Independent Spirit Awards, and the landscape is shaping up.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association, of which I am a voting member, will announce our winners next Tuesday.

More on the nominations after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: “The Dark Knight Rises”

I’m not sure how dark of a knight Batman is, but director-writer Christopher Nolan certainly seems to be comfortable with his dark side. In Batman Begins, he posited the tragic origins that led Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) to adopt a secret identity and scours the streets as a vigilante on the side of right. In that film, Batman’s mentor and later nemesis, Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) saw the bleak, stylized city of Gotham as a diseased boil of humanity that needed to be erased. It was an almost Faustian dialectic, with Luciferian Ra’s in a face-off with God-like Batman, arguing with biblical vehemence over whether mankind could — should survive.

Then came The Dark Knight — a longer, crazier movie that really did explore the two sides of mankind (represented, late in the film, with the villain Two-Face). There, Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker — a character without an apparent alter ego, a raging id unleashing meaningless chaos on a city of beings he held in contempt. There was no reason, no logic behind Joker’s trail of havoc; he was torturing the citizens of Gotham (which now looked less like a comic-book fortress and more like New York City) with mind games merely to prove an obscure point about human failings. Unlike Ra’s, his mission was merely destructive.

With The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan seems to be attempting to bridge these similar but unconnected attacks of Gotham into a unified principle. Once again, the villain is a demonic, Joker-like entity operating entirely on evil impulse. We learn a little about Bane (Tom Hardy), who lives his entire existence behind a mask that gives him the skull-like appearance of a tiger perpetually gnashing its fangs. Who he is seems almost irrelevant again — it’s what he represents, the lesser angels of mankind.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones