Tag Archives: Space

“INTERSTELLAR” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

A space odyssey led by Christopher Nolan. 

The first time I watched Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, I knew I had found something special, but didn’t know if I fully comprehended everything I saw. I just finished watching it a second time, and now I understand I’m not supposed to comprehend everything I saw. Interstellar is mesmerizing and breathtaking, a highly ambitious and exhilarating journey taking you through the far reaches of time, space, planets, wormholes, black holes, stars, and anything else in space that you can think of. But just like space, it is also vast and daring, reaching for a vision that it cannot possibly hope to grasp. That’s okay. It’s better to aim for too much rather than too little.

Based off of an idea conceived by theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, Interstellar takes place in the distant future, where the Earth is slowly dying and the only source of sustainable food is by growing corn. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), is an aerospace engineer-turned-farmer just trying to make it day to day with his small family, consisting of his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow), his son Tom (Timothée Chalamet), and his daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy). Like the great astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Cooper dared greater things in his younger years. He wanted to fly. He wanted to explore. He wanted to traverse and discover new spaces that he hasn’t seen before. Now he’s only concerned about making sure his family survives.

One day, him and Murph discover a secret space station that has been hiding NASA, which has been operating in secret since the world state of health has declined over the years. When Cooper finds out that the Earth will soon be unable to sustain life and that his daughter’s generation will be the Earth’s last, Cooper is recruited on a daring space mission to find a new planet that is able to sustain and save the human race.

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Interstellar is a testament to the quality of film that Nolan is consistent in making. It has all of the elements that you appreciate in all of his films. It has a grounded, human story intertwined in a brilliantly woven, thought-provoking plot. It has well-rounded, relatable characters that you root for and admire deeply. It has incredibly breathtaking visuals, created with the same visual and cinematic sense of style that is unique only to Nolan’s movies. And it has plot twists the size of Mount Everest, taking complete 180 turnarounds when you least expect it. You will not see the end of this movie coming.

Interstellar is up to par with many of Nolan’s other works, including The Prestige, Inception and The Dark Knight. If I’d continue on about those qualities, however, I’d be writing the same review for those films. It’s easy to write about the things you’ve already seen: I’d like to write about how this film is different from Nolan’s past work.

For one thing, the performances are the best they’ve ever been in any of Nolan’s films, and the heart of this film’s emotion comes from that of Matthew McConaughey. I love how his character is represented in this film, and I especially love how McConaughey handles him. He isn’t handled as a bold science-fiction action hero similar to the likes of Han Solo from Star Wars or James Kirk from Star Trek. He’s more human than hero, a vulnerable and quietly suffering man who just wants to go home to his daughter, but knows he has a greater duty in fighting for the Earth’s survival. I’ve always appreciated the humanity Nolan has always instilled in his characters, but somehow McConaughey reaches an emotional depth much deeper than that of his predecessors. I like seeing McConaughey jumping from such polar opposite roles as this from Dallas Buyers Club, yet giving the same dedication and credibility to both characters. He has proven himself to be an extremely versatile actor, whether it be for small, independent films like Dallas Buyers Club, or big Hollywood productions such as Interstellar.

I am also led to believe that this is the most scientifically accurate out of any of Nolan’s other films. Working closely with Kip Thorne on how accurate the film would be, Nolan worked hard to realize both his vision and Thorne’s, abiding by Thorne’s recommendations and notations as closely as possible. His representation of a wormhole in space. His portrayal of relativity to time and space. Thorne has gone on record to say that there is one major scene demonstrating high artistic freedom, and that is when Cooper visits a planet that has “ice clouds”. This film is intensely interesting and fascinating, and the coolest part to me is knowing that most of this was reviewed by a well-known physicist who has deemed it all possible.

Side note: please excuse me for using the word “coolest.”

There are a few weaknesses to mention. As a Nolan film, it is expected to be extremely complicated, and I admit to needing to see the film multiple times to even begin to understand it. I know many others will have a harder time at understanding it than I did. There were a few slow lulls in the film that detracted from its steady pace, and there were severe sound mixing issues at the beginning of the film that I noticed almost immediately. I’m no sound expert, but when the music is so loud that I can’t even hear what a character is saying, I think you need to fix something before you release the film.

I think it was the third act that really sold me on this film, the last half of the story that compelled me to believe that this was a very memorable journey, and it was. I won’t go into the particulars for the sake of spoilers, but I will say that Nolan is a master at orchestrating thrilling and tense-heavy climaxes. Sure, I would like that to persist throughout the rest of the movie, but I won’t complain. I appreciate Nolan’s ambition, if I appreciate nothing else.

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“GRAVITY” Review (✫✫✫✫)

“In space, no one can hear you scream”

We fade in on a list of statistics about space as the edgy synthesizer music builds in the background.  The earth rotates at a speed of about 1000 miles per hour.  The temperature is about -273 degrees celsius.  There’s no gravity.  No oxygen.  No air pressure to carry sound. No one to hear you scream or cry for help. Nothing to save you if your suit fails to sustain you. Nothing to stop your momentum if you’re flying in the wrong direction. If you get into trouble out in space, you are all alone. Life in space is impossible.

This sort of tension and desperation is felt on an emotional level so intense in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity that I feel like I’m in space experiencing the same things that these characters are experiencing, not watching the chaos unfold from mission control.  The plot follows three astronauts who are working on repairing a satellite in orbit. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a mission specialist who is working hard at repairing the satellite on her very first space mission. Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is an experienced space veteran who is retiring after this final expedition.  Shariff Dasari (Paul Sharma) is a flight engineer who carries a photo of him, his wife, and child inside his suit.  Early into their mission, the team gets a warning from mission control, saying that there is debris from a missile strike on a Russian satellite orbiting the earth, but that it shouldn’t collide with their trajectory.

Now if that isn’t a case of foreshadowing, I don’t know what is.  Eventually, the debris sets off a chain reaction of destruction, and it eradicates the shuttle that they came on.  Shariff is killed, Kowalski loses communication with mission control, and Stone is left desperately hanging on to her life as she floats aimlessly away from their space module. When Stone and Kowalski eventually meet up again, they have to race against time and fate as their oxygen levels continue to deplete, and need to find a way home before they are truly lost in space forever.

Man oh man, where to start.  Gravity is a film for a generation, a picture that is so convincing and so believable in its approach that its nearly impossible to think that it wasn’t even filmed in space.  It is visually stunning, emotionally gratifying, immensely captivating, and surprisingly involving, a picture that latches you on in its first shot and doesn’t let you go until hours after you’ve left the theater.

Who is responsible for this feeling of attachment and interest?  Why that is director Alfonso Cuaron, of course, who co-wrote the script with his son Jonas. Cuaron, who is most known for his mainstream films including Children Of Men and the third Harry Potter movie outdoes himself here. Not only has he made a compelling and visually breathtaking science-fiction film that visually challenges that of Avatar and Inception: he’s also made a emotionally captivating story with the human interest equivalent of Argo or Captain Phillips.

Oh, I’m not saying he isn’t already a great director: lord knows he’s delivered as much visual and emotional appeal as he did with Children Of Men and Prisoner of Azkaban.  But Gravity is head and shoulders above anything else he’s done in his entire career. Why? Everything in the movie is immaculate and intentional, from the physics and dangers of space to characters emotions and complexions. Look at the delicacy and the concentration on Cuaron’s shots. Look at how well he orchestrates a scene, whether a large, imposing space station is crumbling all around Earth’s orbit, or a astronaut is just awkwardly fitting herself in tight corridors around a space station. In each shot, there is interest, there is intricacy, and there is involvement. Whether its a big, intimidating destruction scene or a small conversation between characters doesn’t matter. The interest remains, and its boy does it keep your attention.

Visually, the film is unparalleled, hooking you on with all of its space-station grandeur and elegant scenery of earth from outer space. Part of this no doubt goes to the visual effects team led by supervisor Tim Webber, but a large accreditation needs to be made to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski, who collaborated on Cuaron’s other films including Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien. Lubeski, who was nominated for an Oscar a few years ago for Terrence Malick’s Tree Of Life returns with the same artistry and craftsmanship that made him an artist in his own right. The camerawork in the film evokes a feeling of both reprehension and serenity, the same eerie feeling you get when you watch the slow, steady moments building up in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It works in conjunction with the film’s plot and with Cuaron’s handling of it, a marriage of collaboration so essential that its doubtful anyone could be as fluid or as controlling as Lubeski is, not even Wally Phister’s steady, reliable camerawork from Christopher Nolan’s Inception or Dark Knight trilogy.

High praise, I know, but it’s well deserved. The visual effects alone have not made this movie. It’s Lubeski’s intricate framing and filming that not only captured these great shots, but intensified them, evoking the anxiety and unease of space just as much as the visual effects and sequencing does.

Bullock and Clooney are affectionate and grounded in their performances, pun intended.  Going in to the movie, I was really worried that the both of them were going to phone in their roles and just let the visuals take over, much like the Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich action movies you see nowadays. Boy, was I wrong. Their characters are real, charismatic and likable people in their own right, people who you’d probably like to sit with and share a conversation with over at Starbucks. Their chemistry is infectious with each other, as memorable and dynamic as the relationship Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon shared with their crew mates during Ron Howard’s Apollo 13. You don’t only care for these characters because of their situation: you care for them because they are human beings, because they have hopes, dreams, and letdowns of their own and you want to see them make it through all of it.

This is what I love most about the movie: not just that it handles itself well as a science-fiction movie, but it handles itself well as human drama, period.

This is seriously one of the best films of the year. I’m not saying that because it is science-fiction. I’m saying that because it is seriously one of the best films of the year.  Under a different director, a different writer, cinematographer, composer, or even under a different cast, this film could have failed.  It’s hard to take a movie that takes place in an enclosed, blocked off environment separated from society with only one or two characters and make it interesting, and the filmmakers here have accomplished that in spades.

But Gravity is much more than a survival film.  It’s more than a science-fiction film.  It’s an epic and emotional story about an astronaut trying to survive, a woman trying to cope with living, reality, and tragedy, and the unhindered spirit that pushes her to keep living, even when all of the forces of nature tells her that she can’t. It blurs the line between science fiction and science reality and is quite possibly the best space movie I’ve ever seen.

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“STAR TREK” (2009) Review (✫✫✫✫)

To go where no Trekkie has gone before.  

When I first heard about J.J. Abrams rebooting the Star Trek series with another movie outing, my immediate reaction was rolling my eyes.  “Not ANOTHER Star Trek movie!” I remember thinking.  Indeed, wasn’t that everybody’s reaction?  Star Trek lived and had its time, and it seemed like the only people who would enjoy this new release were the Trekkies that were faithful to the series since episode one.

Nothing, however, would have prepared me for how immersive and fantastic this new movie is.  It’s more than just another Star Trek movie: its a science-fiction epic.  It’s an energetic and revamped take on a series that severely needed a new direction.  The story is original, the characters are fresh, and the vision is as bold and fearless as it possibly can be. Its success doesn’t just rely on CGI and visual effects (although believe me, it doesn’t fail in either category).  It’s one of those rare treasures where the characters and their dialogue is more appealing than the action scenes we have to go through every twenty minutes.

The plot originated from an idea that was had way back in 1968.  Back when the series was first spawning its popularity, original creator Gene Rodenberry started early writing for a prequel to his own science-fiction series.  But just like superhero movies Watchmen and Sam Rami’s Spider-man, it was stuck in development hell until finally creative writing team Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman were hired to write the script for the new mysterious Star Trek prequel.

This was a smart move.  They are the same writers behind movies as successful as Mission Impossible III, Transformers, and Eagle Eye, and their proficiency as writers shines here more than ever.  They compose a story as brilliant as it is exciting, a plot that is as action-packed, captivating, explosive, humorous, and in-cheek as possibly can be.  They do more than just adapt this universe: they pay tribute to it.  They pay homage to the classic series, pulling inspiration and ideas from all corners of the galaxy in the Star Trek universe.  We can tell this through tidbits of plot and dialogue that Orci and Kurtzman insert throughout the movie that reveal intimate details of the Star Trek universe we might not have known before, such as how Kirk came to become enrolled in Star Fleet, the origins of Spock, or how James McCoy got his famous nickname “Bones”.

This isn’t just another action film where the characters are just shoved aside for the action and explosions: Orci and Kurtzman are just as careful with developing character and dialogue as they are story.

Still though, if we have Orci and Kurtzman to thank for the vision, we have director J.J. Abrams to thank for the realization of it.  To date, this is only his second time in the director’s chair (his first being Mission Impossible III), but his skills as a filmmaker shine here of blockbuster-esque proportions.  Every minute of this film is fueled by both ambition and excitement, with every minute being tense, exciting, funny, exhilerating, and action-packed all at once.  Nothing is ever dull or boring or repetitious in this film: every second is filled with character appeal and visual spectacle that hasn’t been matched since George Lucas’ Star Wars series, or recently James Cameron’s Avatar.  I cannot recall a single moment in the film where I was bored or irritated.

If we’re talking about science-fiction epics, it flat out doesn’t get much better than this.  Star Trek is a great movie for many reasons, both obvious and not obvious.  The obvious reasons would involve its visual effects, make-up, and art direction.  The film is obviously visually ambitious, and like the U.S.S. Enterprise, transports you to many worlds of visual color, dazzle, fantasy, and wonder that is ever-present in the constantly-changing genre of sci-fi.  Another obvious reason would probably involve the performances: Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto do a great job at portraying the next-generation versions of James Kirk and Spock, and their chemistry with each other reflects their rivalrous spirit with both great tension and comedy.  Eric Bana also, deserves great props as the lead antagonist.  He portrays a villain so passionate and deadly that I pray the Wrath of Khan would never have to face him.

But those reasons makes the movie succeed: what makes the movie thrive are the unexpected reasons.  And those reasons are writers Orci and Kurtzman and director J.J. Abrams.  I’m not saying their careers don’t precede them: I’ve enjoyed Mission Impossible III and Eagle Eye, and I absolutely love the first Transformers movie (although the second one made me want to gouge my eyes out with a toothpick).

But the caliber of this work goes far beyond what was expected for them.  It’s typical to expect a good product from a good team: it’s rare to see exceptional work of this caliber from that exact same team.

Take this from a guy who isn’t a Trekkie.  I’ve seen a few episodes of “Star Trek” in the past, but I never became interested enough to follow the series as a direct fan.  Watching this movie makes me wonder what I might have been missing out on.

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