Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Movie review: Interstellar

Having seen ("endured" is probably a better word) Christopher Nolan's new film, Interstellar, I'm befuddled by the favorable, even exuberant, reviews it has received.

Did I somehow wander into the wrong theater?

Interstellar is a film about near-future Earth, where environmental degradation is slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is an honest farmer and former astronaut raising two children with the help of his father, Donald (John Lithgow). Cooper has been disrespected and unrecognized throughout his life: his wife died years earlier, the all-powerful school board has determined that his son cannot attend college, and the prospects for his daughter seem bleak. Cooper's future stretches before him like the dusty horizon. Nonetheless, he doesn't complain. Doggedly, heroically, he resigns himself to growing corn to feed the unseen masses that rely on his efforts. (He's holding up the world, don't you know?)

What a surprise, then, when Cooper is recruited by NASA to pilot a space craft through a recently-discovered wormhole to locate an alternate home for humanity. It's a risk that Cooper is reluctant to take. It would mean leaving his family. But the brains at NASA, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his biologist daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), prevail upon Cooper's inner martyr, convincing him that the risks he must take are worth it. It's for the sake of all of humanity, after all!

There were so many things wrong with this film that I don't really know where to start. But I guess I'll start with the acting. It was exceedingly poor. The child actors and the entire supporting cast were embarrassingly bad. Anne Hathaway was adequate. Acting heavyweights, Michael Caine and John Lithgow delivered mailed-in performances that really disappointed. (Mr. Caine, if this is all we can expect from you henceforth, just go ahead and retire already!)

But the biggest tragedy of this movie is the damage done to Matthew McConaughey's credibility as an actor. His performance seemed like a half-hearted encore of his role as Detective Rust Cohle from the HBO series, True Detective. His delivery was mumbled and terse, perhaps meant to sound profound, but coming across as lackluster.

All that said, I can understand if the actors didn't put their hearts into their performances. Lithgow and Caine certainly have enough savvy to recognize a shitty script when they read one. And boy did they get one in this film! Director Nolan and his brother, Jonathon, co-wrote the script, which is probably the flick's biggest failing.

The dialog is appalling: stock, stale, uninspired. It's full of "gems" like these:
Cooper: You're ruling out college for my son now? He's fifteen.
Principal: Tom's score simply isn't high enough.
Cooper: What's your waist line? What 32, 33 inseam?
Principal: I'm not sure I see what you're getting at.
Cooper: You're telling me it takes two numbers to measure your own ass but only one to measure my son's future? 
(Har, har, har!)
Cooper: Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.
(Real head-scratcher, that one!)
Brand: Love is the one thing we're capable of perceiving that transcends time and space.
(This one defies further commentary.)  
The characters lack any kind of complexity. There's an R2D2-like robot that lacked even enough depth to be annoying. There are a couple extraneous crewmen that are more robot-like than the robot. The most developed relationship in the flick is the creepy relationship between Cooper and his 10-year-old daughter Murph. In one particularly unsettling scene, Cooper clings to his daughter as she lays in bed, her back to him. Tears stream down his face as he begs the young girl for forgiveness. Uncomfortable!

Although this is billed as a science fiction film, the science of it is inane. Much of it is explained in wooden, expository dialog that kills whatever momentum the film might hope to develop. (This seems to be a habit with Nolan. Remember Inception?) The script uses all the right keywords ("event horizon," "quantum entanglement," and so on) but none of it makes any real sense.

And then, in the ultimate failure, the script relies on a cheap deux et machina enigma to close the loop. I read a review that compared this film's unexplained ending to that of Stanley Kubrik's 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's an offensive comparison and an insult to a master like Kubrik.

Hans Zimmer's score was overbearing and cheap and at times it overpowered the dialog. Worst of all, Nolan used it to cue viewers. "You see? This music is suspenseful! This is a scary part!" God knows, without the score, the audience would often have had no clue how they should feel.

Ten minutes into the flick, I was ready to walk out. It was apparent to me that the film was specifically-targeted to middle-aged men with low self-esteem who feel they've been cheated by life. "You see?" Nolan says, "Even though your daughter hates you and your boss thinks you're an idiot, you're really a hero."

I spent most of the interminable 3 hours and 9 minutes of this film cringing and slapping my forehead. I felt like I should have been wearing a bag over my head when I left. 

Mr. Nolan, two strikes is all you get. Never again, by God!

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