Archive for Christopher Nolan

Impossible But Necessary

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2014 by dcairns

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“That’s impossible!” “But necessary.” — a very exciting exchange in Christopher & Jonathan Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR.

It reminded me of seeing SON OF PALEFACE as a kid — did I mention this before — a decisive moment in my young life — Bob Hope has to support a jalopy with a missing wheel, holding it up with a lasso rope round the axle WHILE STANDING IN IT as they drive through the prairie. As Roy Rogers rides off to retrieve the rogue wheel, Hope calls after him — “Hurry up, this is impossible!”

I swear, prairie-like vistas opened up for me, universes of possibility. If you can make a joke out of the impossibility of the story your telling, surely you can do anything?

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There aren’t jokes of that kind in INTERSTELLAR — in fact, one of the discredited tropes the film insists on using is a comedy relief robot who has been programmed to be funny. Comedy relief characters in general are a discredited trope since nearly everybody is funny sometimes and nobody is always funny — having a wisecracking droid is just inviting me to question why the Nolan gestalt didn’t program some humour into the human characters, even though that wouldn’t quite be fair because if you have Matthew McConaughey you’re going to get a little wit sneaking in somewhere.

So, no world-changing jokes, but plenty of impossibility, which is par for the course in this kind of thing, and there’s arguably nothing sillier than GRAVITY’s inescapable cloud of debris a planet wide, which I forgave fairly readily. This movie didn’t wow me like GRAVITY but it has lots of impressive spectacle, ideas, actors, plot twists…

The impossibility bothers me a bit — intimations of mortality — when we make films about saving the Earth, we seem compelled to make them absurdly unrealistic. I loved WALL-E, but the human race returns from space at the first appearance of a little sprout, which grows in an upturned refrigerator in defiance of all photosynthesis and sense, and somehow the arrival of thousands of fat people is supposed to make things BETTER? I guess that’s covered by a line in INTERSTELLAR about not telling little kids that the world is ending, but I would be more cheered by hopeful fables that have some element of plausibility. The Bokononist subtext of all these reassuring fantasies seems to be that we’re all fucked.

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We didn’t see INTERSTELLAR in IMAX, alas — exchanging the free tickets we got after an interrupted screening of THE BABADOOK, I got us seats near the front because close = big, but Fiona then made me move back a few rows (early screening, lots of spare seats). After DARK KNIGHT RISES I was looking forward to seeing Michael Caine blubbering on a screen the size of a football pitch — when that bottom lip starts to wobble, you really need Sensurround for the full magnitude — but we settled for booming sound — Nolan follows the Kubrick-Cuaron model, no FX in space, but Hans Zimmer booms away to fill most of the silences.It’s one of those scores where you can hear the temp track filtering through, but quite effective.

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Some have suggested that the movie shows that Nolan is not, as has been argued, a cold director — I think it shows that he still has some way to go if he wants to be either Kubrick on the one hand or Spielberg on the other. Teenager Mackenzie Foy deserves a miniature Oscar for providing the film’s emotional core, which has to be passed on, relay-fashion, to a succession of other actors as her character grows up — a trick the movie manages surprisingly well with megawatt starpower casting and flashbacks and… other sequences which prevent us from losing sight of Foy altogether. Weirdly, though, the ending, which should be gigantically moving, is fobbed off onto another character altogether, and then NOT DELIVERED. The big emotional scenes don’t happen. I think the Nolans see this as British restraint, but it feels it’s more a discomfort with demonstrations of emotion — which is odd, since we get some more blubbering from Caine. There are plenty of emotional scenes, but insufficient PAY-OFF to a fantastically powerful and protracted drama about a father separated from his children.

Speaking of explaining things — the movie has a really intriguing start, foregrounding the best actors (though it’s nice when Hathaway and then Damon turn up later — Nolan may have actually noticed that AH was the best thing in his third BATMAN — a breath of lightness amid th suffocating clouds of noxious testosterone and doominess), but once we get to space stuff, the authors have apparently given up on any desire to have exposition emerge dramatically and plausibly. There isn’t too much “as you know” dialogue where one character patiently outlines information already familiar to the other, who inexplicably doesn’t say SHUT UP YOU BORING FOOL — but there is a hell of a lot of “As you should know” dialogue, with astronaut McConaughey, for instance, inquiring what will happen if an airlock malfunctions — I think that would have been covered in basic training. Justifiably reticent to infodump the science around a boardroom table, the writers parcel it out in digestible bundles in order to let you grasp vital facts just as they become relevant to the unfolding events, but it’s hard not to notice that our hero must be a remarkably incurious man to have traveled in space for two years to reach a wormhole without knowing what a wormhole is, and that’s only one of the least egregious examples.

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But I wouldn’t want to put you off seeing it — it has a giant talking Kit-Kat biscuit, some lovely space visuals and sound, and a bit where MM reaches out to push a button, and we see, reflected in his space helmet visor, his gloved hand apparently reach forth and touch his nose. It’s a lovely, silly moment that seems to happen by accident — Nolan in no way intended this to be funny — a glimpse of goofy natural chaos in an otherwise predetermined game.

 

Not a Director

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 16, 2014 by dcairns

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It was kind of sad that TRANSCENDENCE didn’t find an audience, excited almost no interest, it seemed. An unconventional, ideas-based sci-fi film should be of interest, and you’d think the Christopher Nolan connectuon would be enough to ensure it opened. But no.

So it seems unfair to pick on it, especially since I couldn’t actually bring myself to sit through it all. Writing about a film you haven#t watched is extremely bad form. I can’t offer a review of its merits as a film, but it did strike me that one early scene indicated fairly clearly that Wally Pfister, an able cinematographer, was uncomfortable in the director’s chair, like a man in very slidey silk pantaloons.

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Cillian Murphy asks to see Johnny Depp’s supercomputer. So they go to see it. Morgan Freeman and Rebecca Hall come along too. In an establishing shot, with the camera creeping slowly forward down an aisle of humming technology, we see the characters enter.

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And then… nothing. Murphy advances, hits his mark, and stops. The others do the same, arranging into a laundry line composition which can then be cut up into a couple of two shots. The most interesting aspectis that Murphy’s body faces away from the other characters but he turns his face towards them. This is only because the computer interface is in front of him, but we never get a very clear sense of this.

What’s strikingly wrong is that Murphy has come to see something, yet he seems remarkably incurious. He doesn’t look around, he just stops, almost as if there were a chalk mark on the floor, and talks, failing to find a seat or a wall to lean against, or else to walk around and see what’s what. It feels stiff and unnatural. (This is the first film ever in which Rebecca Hall has struggled to bring a lively sense of natural behaviour to a character.)

We also get a couple different sized shots of a computer terminal which Murphy talks to. One shot includes a bit of foreground shoulder, which helps us figure out where it is, but if this is part of a whole wall that Murphy is looking at it might be nice to see more of what he sees.

Others, including David Bordwell, have given precise analyses of the Nolan style, which has only a few strategies for filming talk — the characters stand or sit still and we cut around them, or we track around them, or we track in on one of them as he says something ominous/bad-ass. Those might, on the face of it, seem like the key ways a camera can look at a subject, but if you actually allow the characters to go where they might choose to go if they were real people, a whole wealth of opportunities open up, visually. Or, you could say, a whole wealth of problems, which is how the fearful or inexperienced director might see it. Maybe if Pfister had more experience with other really able directors, he would be freer and more versatile. It’s notable that whenever his shots don’t feature actors, he’s much more inventive.

I wouldn’t give up on him ye, even though I gave up on this film. But I did say on Facebook, “Many films fail the Bechtel test. This is the first to fail the Turing test.”

Overlook

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 30, 2013 by dcairns

(L-R) Andy Serkis, David Bowie, Hugh Jackman

So, here’s the order of events –

We find out we’re screening at Telluride, but we’re sworn to secrecy. The peculiarity of this festival is that nobody knows what’s on until they get here.

Then I realise that the reason the place-name is familiar to me is from Richard Lester’s BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS, where the town is regarded as a kind of outlaw paradise.

Then, through circumstances that may be narrated one day, I get to meet Mr. Lester. Despite being sworn to secrecy, I mention Telluride to him, because, well, I figure Who’s he gonna tell? No, not that, I figure he’s trustworthy. And he tells me about filming there, and how it was one of the first towns with electric street lighting anywhere, because of the generator needed for the mine, and how they featured those streetlights in his film.

Then, looking up Telluride under “locations” on the IMDb, I realise that actual incident, the electrification of Telluride, is recreated in Christopher Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE, a film I actually like better than most Nolan movies (but what it really needs is a big wide CITIZEN KANE shot at the end to actually clarify what has been happening — thinking about it, a big wide shot in that warehouse with a few identifiable corpses floating in tanks — clear everything up beautifully).

And now I’m here. Partying in the Rockies with Francis Ford Coppola, the Coens, Philip Kaufman, Allan Arkush, Robert Redford, Salman Rushdie, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Bruce Dern and David Thomson (who has written our programme notes in typically unconventional and imaginative style) while thunder rumbles in the not-so-distance, The drive up was total SHINING credits sequence material, but my hotel is less like the Overlook and more like the Great Northern in Twin Peaks. As for altitude sickness, I’m not sleeping, I’m breathless, my head aches and I feel weak as a kitten — which is all perfectly normal for me.

The bus driver tried to give me Bruce Dern’s luggage by mistake. Maybe I should have accepted it?

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