Thursday, November 20, 2014
The Hopper Strikes Back!
In a recent article for The Wall Street Journal, the success of Christopher Nolan is brought up and why he is one of the most influential directors in Hollywood now. Because of how well his "Dark Knight" trilogy turned out, as well as stand alone works like "Inception," Nolan gets the free reign to make his movies the way that he wants to. Rarely will the film studio get involved on the creative process, allowing Nolan do whatever he wants and get away with it.
Unless your name is Steven Spielberg or James Cameron, this is unheard of in Hollywood.
Though a film director has final say on set, the studio often has the final say. Studios will often influence casting choices, what kind of effects will be used and can even change the script if they want to. But with Christopher Nolan, the studios trust him and his visions. He has proven to not only make box office hits but also make critically stunning pieces of cinema. This is why studios give him full creative control over his own movies.
But perhaps this is not a good thing.
The biggest instance of a director getting creative control over his work is Orson Welles making "Citizen Kane." It worked out wonderfully, but just for that one film. Welles would attempt that in later projects, like "Lady In Shanghai" and the power went to his head and we ended up getting a sloppy mess of a movie.
When you give a filmmaker too much power over his work, there is that chance they will become blinded by their own vision and see nothing but their craft, and not something audiences would enjoy.
If "The Dark Knight Rises" was the beginning of that phase for Christopher Nolan, then "Interstellar" is the downward slope. While the film is a visual spectacle, and to learn that little to no computer effects were used is music to my heart, the film does not have much else going for it. Most of the time it comes across as an ego trip for Nolan, filled with his clichés and redundancies.
In the far off future, the earth is slowly dying. Most of the land cannot be used to grow food and we are running out of supplies. It is estimated that the current generation of children will be the last to inhabit the planet.
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a farmer growing the last of the food, content on raising his kids to survive and adapt. But things change when NASA commissions him to be the pilot of their space ship, ordering him to fly into a worm hole that has opened up near Jupiter and travel to far off planets in search of a new place to call home and save humanity.
If "Interstellar" is anything, it is wonderful to look at. The effects of planets circling celestial bodies, worm holes and black holes look like chemicals mixing underneath a microscope on a grand scale. The worlds they visit are unique and feel alien enough that they are strange yet close to home that they are inviting.
However, upon watching many of Nolan's later films, and even "Man Of Steel" that he helped out with, many strange points start to pop up. In particular, the characters' tendencies to over
analyze everything. In a Nolan film, a normal conversation about going to the grocery store can become a philosophical discussion on what we were created to do.
"Interstellar" is no exception. From McConaughey spouting about adapting, to the parting conversation with his daughter mentioning the last words his wife said to him before she died. Even Michael Caine's constant quoting of "Do not go into that good night," gets tiring after the third time we hear it.
As many others have pointed out before me, this film is unnecessarily long. "Interstellar" is nearly three hours long, and they don't even get into space until over an hour in. Many of the same points are repeated over again, most likely in trying to keep the audience informed of the convoluted plot, and some scenes go no where, especially early scenes with McConaughey mugging it up to the camera.
After a while, I just got fed up with the silly plot and trying to keep up with it for three hours and just wanted to watch the stunning visuals. That is sad considering Nolan has been so good and keeping his stories tight yet imaginative.
Let me be clear - I love Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker. He has given us some breath-taking films over the last few years, including "Memento," "Inception" and "The Dark Knight." But recently, his films have become so full of themselves that it is hard to enjoy them. Rather than taking the time to let the story develop, Nolan decides to get philosophical and artsy. It makes his films feel unnatural and egotistical, and not a sweeping epic with imaginative set ups.
I would describe "Interstellar" as a modern "2001: A Space Odyssey" with a much more convoluted plot. While there are moments where the film takes the time to let the visuals soak in and enjoy the atmosphere, "Interstellar" gets bogged down in its own creativity. Several scenes are unnecessary while others make me roll my eyes in irritation.
Also, I still fail to understand the appeal of Matthew McConaughey. He did not sell me on this role either.
Final Grade: C+
"John Wick" (2014)
I've never cared for Keanu Reeves as an actor. I understand the appeal of Reeves and his likable nature, but I get nothing out of his performances.
Reeves is the worst part of "The Matrix" to me. When I learned they originally offered the role of Neo to Will Smith, I immediately thought that would have been a better movie. Perhaps it's that hint of a surfer-dude accent behind his dialogue, to the point that I cannot take him seriously.
But he's harmless. It's not that Reeves is a bad actor, rather one that does not jump off the screen. He fills the roles that are given to him, with Reeves inserting his usual "Whoa!" or "Gnarly!" factor.
However, his most recent film, "John Wick," gives Reeves a chance to branch out and give his character a bit more depth than normal, and it surprisingly works. Not only does this film see the best Keanu Reeves performance to date, but gives some nice stylized action that leaves everyone satisfied.
John Wick (Reeves) recently lost his wife to a terminal illness and is heart-broken, unsure of what to do now. The day after the funeral, a puppy arrives at his doorstep and he promises to take care of the dog. As Wick moves forward with his life, the world seems to go against him as a spoiled teenager steals his classic vintage car and beats Wick and his puppy up. But this kid does not seem to know who has messed with, as we learn that John Wick has a dark and violent past.
Much like "Guardians Of The Galaxy" earlier this year, "John Wick" is nonstop mindless fun and excitement. Once the story gets going and John Wick's true colors show, the action comes at a frightening pace, with lots of gun play, assassins and the mob underworld. Though the story is rather forgettable and serves to get Wick from 'Point A' to 'Point B' it is forgivable because those points are thrilling.
Part of this is because each action sequence has a unique style that gives the movie its own flair. Most of time, the color pallet is black and gray, except during a fight when bright neon colors are used that pop off the screen. Many of the actors speak in Russian and subtitles are used, but the text uses different fonts, colors and placement that it is eye-catching and adds necessary impact to their dialogue.
On top of all this is a great performance by Reeves. Like with Michael Keaton in "Birdman," I cannot imagine any other actor in this role. Reeves has always been so removed from his roles and so distant that you would think his character has something to hide. But once his car gets stolen and the last shred of civility is gone, the angry hitman inside Reeves bursts out and suddenly that distance makes so much sense.
"John Wick" is able to take a one-note actor and give him a chance to show his diversity.
My only major complaint with "John Wick" was one of the villains, played by Michael Nyqvist and how emotionless he was. Most of the time he sits back and marvels as the feats that John Wick has accomplished. But when he has a chance to be angry, he hardly goes above a whisper and does not seem upset when he should be. He lacks the rage and emotion to pull off this role.
Overall though, "John Wick" reminds me of a stylized action version of Clint Eastwood's 1992 film "Unforgiven." The tale of a killer who attempts live in the regular world, only to be drawn back into his violent and obscene realm. While "Unforgiven" was more about the man and deconstructing the Western genre, "John Wick" is more about being visually impressive and being mindless fun. They have enough in common to make comparisons, but different enough that few will notice.
Final Grade: B