Monday, November 10, 2014

Things in the Dark

Two new movies came across my bow this week - the action/adventure revenge flick John Wick and the Chris Nolan science-fiction epic Interstellar. What to see, what to see . . .

Seriously - wouldn't you kill for this dog?
 First - John Wick is surprisingly good. It's a film that knows what it is, makes no pretensions beyond that, and works within its parameters quite well. It's cliched (seriously, everything - everything - hinges on a cute beagle puppy named "Daisy" that was a gift to John Wick from his wife after her tragic death), but somehow it manages to make that work, possibly because the movie embraces the silliness of it. First time co-directors David Leith (who is best known for exceptional stunt work on movies such as V for Vendetta, 300, and the upcoming Jupiter Ascending) and Chad Stahelski (who has an equally deep resume on stunt work, including Whedon's Serenity) know what makes an action movie look good and there's nary a shaky hand-held shot in sight. (Thank you!) Keanu Reeves may have limited range as an actor, but here he's in his element (full disclosure - I like Keanu Reeves. There is story after story about him being a genuinely decent, nice guy (click here!) and I think that get shoved aside all too often. Besides, he was half of Bill & Ted, and that counts for something with me.)

John Wick is a revenge picture - Wick is a very talented hit man who got out of the game and lived a quiet, very comfortable life with his wife, who dies not from some other assassin's bullet, but from something as mundane as disease. She knew she was dying and arranged for a puppy to be delivered to her grieving husband after her death so he could have something to love and to help him heal. So far so good, until some piddling kid with a Russian mobster for a father tries to carjack Wick's ride and winds up staging a home invasion where the puppy - well, it's not graphic (wives and girlfriends usually get it worse in these sorts of pictures), but Wick is back in the game. The movie puts together a dark world that has rules, including hotels and clubs that cater to the dark underworld of hired killers and let me just say - awesome customer service! Not for children, but a solid action movie that understands how to film a gunfight so the audience actually knows what's going on in the frame. Tremendous, but highly violent, fun - and Ian McShane!

Interstellar, on the other hand, is less fun. I'm not going to quibble with the science - it's a feature film, not a documentary, and I allow a lot of leeway there, understanding that directors like Nolan are far more concerned with making it look good than making it strictly accurate.


Bad design - way too much surface area
to get hit by debris, but hey! looks cool.
I know I'm going to be in the minority on this one - people love Nolan's movies, which I have often found to be disjointed, hinge on befuddling relationships, and rely far too much on bulk deliveries from the Plot Convenience Warehouse.* That said, Interstellar will be a wonderful movie to snark you way through and, at just under three hours, you'll have plenty of time to be clever. The core problem here is that Nolan is confusing intricacy of plot with depth. A tangled necklace chain can take some patient work to untangle, but then you have it sorted out in front of you. The plot to Interstellar is not worth nearly as much work, although I am gratified to know that there will apparently be no shortage of mascara in space. I could go on and on about the problems I have with this film (and there are many), but let me just hit on four.

1. We need some explanation as to how the "blight" destroying the crops has been able to leapfrog species.  And really - was it necessary to pick on okra?
2. Nolan's use of Ken Burns' Dust Bowl footage is an interesting use of misdirection to get us thinking that the folks being interviewed there are looking back and discussing the timeframe of the movie, not the 1920s and 1930s. You know, the Dust Bowl - the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history that really happened.
3. McConaughey's Cooper hasn't been a test pilot for at least a dozen years, yet he finds NORAD and within three days or so, he's in a spaceship.
4. Thank heavens Cooper didn't prefer a digital watch.

Scientists are weighing in on the hard science of Interstellar - click here  for that view and Vulture has compiled a list of "things in Interstellar that don't make sense" that's a fun read (click here!) if you want to get that point of view.

There's good in this film, too - particularly Mackenzie Foy, who plays the young Murph, Cooper's daughter who is left behind as he goes off to save the world.

I know that many, many people are loving this movie and finding profound questions in it regarding time, space, and love. I'm just not one of them. I've often said that science fiction is the genre that is perhaps best suited to asking those big questions - but no, Interstellar is not a film that does that, preferring to skim the surface, muddy the waters, and direct the audience in how to feel when. Plus, I think it owes an apology to the estate of Dylan Thomas for the heavy overuse of "Do Not Go Gentle." Last bit of snark - could someone PLEASE tell Hans Zimmer that the soundtrack doesn't always have to go to eleven? It makes the dialogue hard to hear, although now that I think about it . . . nevermind.

*I allow that Memento and The Prestige are exceptions to this - both are strong Nolan films that I enjoyed, even as I had to work to unravel the plots.

No comments: