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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Stellar Indeed

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Wednesday November 12, 05:33 pm
Christopher Nolan blends science and sci-fi brilliantly


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Director Christopher Nolan is one of the few filmmakers who’s able to get original and expensive films greenlighted by major studios. Sure, he owes his reputation to the Dark Knight saga, but the quality of his standalone films and his capacity to blend complex ideas with popcorn entertainment is what keeps him in business.

Inception and The Prestige were as good as Hollywood gets, but Nolan clearly has his sights set on surpassing Stanley Kubrick with Interstellar. It’s a phenomenally ambitious film that succeeds in turning quantum mechanics and theoretical physics into narrative framings, but fumbles a bit when it comes to depicting real feelings.

In the near future, climate change and unchecked population growth have severely hampered the planet’s capacity to produce food. Increasingly frequent dust-storms threaten both the crops and any semblance of a normal life. Almost everyone is focused on farming, and science and technology rank low on the world’s list of concerns.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is one of the millions who got a raw deal thanks to the situation. Once an elite pilot, all he does now is grow corn and try to keep the aspirations of his kids in check. This proves particularly hard with his daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy first, Jessica Chastain later), a brilliant girl with a knack for science. Father and offspring find their way to NASA (a clandestine organization these days), because the agency is in dire need of someone to pilot a spaceship through a black hole next to Saturn. Earth is dying, and humanity needs to to find a new planet capable of sustaining life.

Of course, Cooper is the pilot NASA needs, and the main source of conflict in the film is the separation of Cooper and Murphy. The girl is unforgivingly bitter, and the pilot’s efforts to come back to Earth are thwarted at every turn. Much of the tension comes from “time slippage,” as the passage of time in space can be slower than on Earth. And a threatened family reunion isn’t the only thing in peril: all of humanity is going to kiss it goodbye unless Cooper and co. find us a new home soon.

Clocking at a prodigious two hours and fifty minutes, Interstellar features plenty of pluses and minuses. The shortcomings are standard Nolan: underdeveloped female characters (seriously dude, the “dead wife” plot device has to go) and excessively broad depictions of inner turmoil. But the achievements outweigh the film’s deficiencies ten-to-one.

The reviews of Interstellar have been mixed, but that’s because the film is being measured with the same standards as, say, an Adam Sandler movie. The truth is that Nolan is operating on an entirely different level than basically anyone else in Hollywood. Look for the biggest screen in your area, and go to see it now. Then give it a couple of days, and go again.


Beyond the Lights



The name may not tell you anything, but Gugu Mbatha-Raw is having a banner year. The stunning British actress kicked off 2014 in the period drama Belle, as a biracial aristocrat who struggles with segregation despite her status. Now, Gugu is closing the year with the unexpectedly solid melodrama Beyond the Lights.

At first glance, there isn’t anything terribly original about the film. Noni (Mbatha-Raw) is a gifted up-and-coming pop singer who, following a nervous breakdown, attempts suicide. A young police officer named Kaz (Nate Parker, Red Tails) saves her at the last possible second. Their instant connection develops into romance, but the amount of baggage they both bring into the relationship puts it at constant risk of derailing. But their bond is the one healthy connection either of them have, so they decide to press forward.

The character work separates Beyond the Lights from similar fairy tales. Noni’s been raised by a stage mom (a scary Minnie Driver) who sees stardom as the ultimate goal, despite the fact that her daughter would rather become the next Nina Simone than another Ciara knock-off. Kaz, meanwhile, has political ambitions — and if he wants to gain the support of the local spiritual leaders, he shouldn’t be found anywhere near a trainwreck like Noni.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball), one of the very few African-American women to consistently step behind the camera, succeeds at making this fairly farfetched story believable. It’s an example of a relationship in which both participants step out of their parents’ shadows and grow. Beyond the Lights has a positive message, and the way it gets that message across is a lot less stereotypical than you’d imagine.


The One I Love



I’ve been known for playing fast and loose with spoilers: A reader complained bitterly about me revealing the fate of Gwyneth Paltrow in Seven, and one of my editors didn’t appreciate being told about the presence of Thanos in The Avengers’ first post-credit scene. Now I have to review The One I Love, a spoiler minefield featuring a game-changing twist FIFTEEN MINUTES INTO THE MOVIE!

I can say this: as low-budget indies go, The One I Love makes great use of limited resources and transcends the opening gimmick with some provocative ideas about coupledom. The marriage of Ethan (Mark Duplass, Your Sister’s Sister) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men) is on the verge of collapse. Following their therapist’s advice, the twosome heads to a cottage hoping to rekindle the romance. Predictably, these best-laid plans fail to materialize.

For as long as The One I Love focuses on the rocky rapport between Ethan and Sophie, it soars. The question it introduces is a poignant one: would you embark on a relationship with your significant other if you knew his or her real self, the one that only emerges years later?

But first-time director Charlie McDowell feels the need to take a detour to clarify the framing gimmick, de facto spoiling the mood. The explanation is muddled and adds to nothing.

Duplass isn’t a particularly versatile actor, and it’s unfortunate the movie chooses to focus on his character more than the terrific Elisabeth Moss, who’s both more complex and less obvious than her counterpart. Perhaps because the masculine gaze predominates (Duplass, McDowell and writer Justin Lader are difficult to counterbalance), her character gets undeservedly short shrift.

But even with its shortcomings, The One I Love remains above average by having original ideas and gambling with a fairly controversial ending. (Though if you choose to take it at face value, it could be very irksome to the women in the audience.) Just don’t make it a double feature with Gone Girl.  

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