Hammering Out... Interstellar

Hammering Out... Interstellar

Hammering Out... is a series of movie reviews featuring a lively he said/she said discussion between John and Julie.  Next up: INTERSTELLAR.

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JOHN: Movies don't come much bigger or more ambitious than Christopher Nolan's latest epic blockbuster, Interstellar.  It is a Movie with a capital "M."  And, whether you love it, like it, admire it, or have issues with it (maybe all of the above), there's no denying that Nolan has provided you an experience.  One to chew on, digest, and discuss with your friends.  The kind of movie that inspires you to read all the reviews, commentary, and cast/crew interviews.  As someone who sees roughly 150 movies in the theater each year, trust me when I say that's a rarity.

Interstellar runs 2 hours and 45 minutes long, and it earns that length.  It's never boring, and doesn't drag.  Sure, the pacing can be a bit scattershot - slow in some areas, too quick in others - but it moves at a swift clip, and keeps the viewer enthralled in its spell.  The subject matter is about as huge and important as a movie can possibly get.  The script, co-written by Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, tells the story of a group of astronauts sent into space to travel into another dimension in order to find a new planet to live, and, in the process, save all of humanity from a dying Earth.  Like I said, big stuff.

But, Nolan seems to have unlocked new layers to his directing arsenal.  Long admired and sometimes criticized for his cool, clinical style, Interstellar marks a departure for him.  It's more openly emotional - I was close to tears during several moments - and also quite funny.  The astronauts are accompanied on their mission by super-smart, sentient robots, who can be programmed with various honesty and sense of humor levels, and the TARS robot, in particular, adds some much-needed levity to what is otherwise a very intense and focused movie.

There's a lot to discuss here, and I'm just getting warmed up.  But, before I start running on ad nauseam, I have to ask - what'd you think?  Is this the Best Picture of the year?

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JULIE: I went into this movie knowing, really, not much about it. I saw the preview a few times, but really didn't digest it. I figured that it was a Christopher Nolan movie and that was all I needed to know. Then you, John, told me that some of the reviews had been less enthusiastic than anticipated and that the running time was nearly three hours. Couple all that with the fact that I had to go to Navy Pier to see it, and the odds were not ever in its favor. In fact, I was kind of expecting to fall asleep.

But I didn't! I loved Interstellar. Was it perfect? No. Let's get the "bad (which was not all that bad)" out of the way first. The ending felt...forced and a little overly happy, too neatly tied up, too "well, isn't that convenient." Also, this movie might be a little tough for people who are resistant to sci-fi and for people who feel the need to point out flaws in any movie that uses time travel as a device (or maybe this movie will make them very happy, because people who nitpick the rules of time travel are the kinds of people who are happiest when they're complaining).

What I loved about the movie was, yes, the humor and the heart. It's a story about family, first and foremost, and Nolan does a great job playing up the different inter-generational relationships. The cast is great and full of big name stars in small roles. And if you just like going to movies for pretty things to look at, this movie will not disappoint you. The spherical worm hole (is it concave? is it convex) is very cool looking and reminds me a bit of the pensieve in Harry Potter, and anything that makes me think about Harry Potter is a good thing.

And since I'm the kind of person who loves to complain about gender disparities in film, I will say that even though there were a lot more men than women in this film (heck, even the robots were dudes), the female characters (all both of them) are not tokens. They're not marginalized. They are strong and they are heroic. So, there's that. This is not going to devolve into a Dawn of the Planet of the Apes discussion.

Where does Interstellar land on your 2014 best movie list?

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JOHN: For a while there, I was thinking I was going to crown it the best.  [Side Note: don't claim any movie is the "best" at this time of year because every other movie that comes out is a good one.]  But, yeah, without getting into spoilers, I'll say that the last 25 minutes didn't quite stick the landing, so I had to downgrade it a bit.  Then again, I don't know the proper satisfying ending for a movie like this.  I agree with you that if people want to get down into the nitty gritty science and pick it apart and point out its flaws, they'll be able to, but that just seems like such a dead-end endeavor when there's so much else going on.

I disagree with you though that this is a tough movie for people who are resistent to sci-fi.  I think it's very accessible to audiences, even if some of the technobabble may fly over their heads.  A lot of it certainly flew over mine.  But, this is not 2001, no matter how much Nolan may have been inspired by that masterpiece.  You'll be able to walk out and put the pieces together, and it's ultimately more interested in the human element than the sci-fi.

I like that we haven't even really talked about the individual performances yet.  That's not to say they're bad or even adequate - far from it, Matthew McConaughey is a perfectly cast Everyman and instantly pulls you into his character's orbit, Anne Hathaway gives a smart, subtle performance, and Michael Caine is, well, Caine so he's awesome - but a Nolan movie is so much about the story, the visuals, the grandeur, the music, the EXPERIENCE, that the acting can't help but be an afterthought, even if when it's at the forefront.

What else?  Favorite moments?  Least favorite moments?  Should we put a SPOILER ALERT on this sucker?

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JULIE: My favorite part was the aliens. Just kidding. There were no aliens SPOILER ALERT. My least favorite moments happened at the end, pretty much the last three or four scenes. I think the movie could've ended in just as satisfying a way if a certain person were not involved in the proceedings, just to be vague about it.

I think my favorite part was when they find one of the original Lazarus astronauts on one of the planets. It's a nice reveal, there's a ton of tension, and the scenery is gorgeous.

What were you favorite/least favorite scenes? Also, should we rate this sucker? On a scale of 2 Broke Girls characters from Han to Kat Dennings's chi-chis, I give this movie one and a half Kat Dennings chi-chis.

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JOHN: Nolan must be rolling over in his bed right now, knowing that all his hard work resulted in somebody walking away from the movie only to give it a rating like that.  But, hey - that's how you roll.

SPOILER ALERT: I loved the portion where they go to the water planet, where every hour they're there is 7 years in Earth time.  That's such a crazy concept, and it was fun to try and wrap my brain around it.  Even better is when McConaughey's Cooper gets back to the ship to learn that 23 years have gone by and watches video messages sent from his kids over the years as the cascade of emotions floods over his face.  Awesome moment.  Least favorite?  Probably the stuff at the end.  There's a speech from Hathaway earlier in the film about the power of love that also sort of had me rolling my eyes.

It seems appropriate given the role baseball plays in the movie, but I liken Interstellar to Nolan swinging for the fences, hitting a long shot way back, it's got a chance...and it hits the wall.  The runner still scores though on an inside-the-park home run.  A for effort.  A for ambition. A- for execution.  On my star scale, I'd give it 4.5 out of 5, and I look forward to seeing it in the theater again.

One thing's for sure: you have to see this one in theaters.  The bigger the screen, the better.  IMAX was definitely the way to go.

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