REVIEW: Interstellar

Interstellar

Interstellar
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Bill Irwin

It was only a matter of time before Christopher Nolan made a space epic. In Interstellar, he treats the universe in a similar way he treated dream-space in Inception; that is, he plays boundless absurdity with such straight-faced showmanship and serious sense of purpose that the movie feels much bigger and more important than it actually is.

Interstellar is about Matthew McConaughey saving humanity from the dry near-apocalypse of climate change.  He plays Cooper, a widower engineer-turned-farmer who lives in the Dust Bowl of the future with his father-in-law (John Lithgow) and two children.   It’s easy to tell that Cooper’s daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) is his favorite, though we’re not with her or her brother Tom (Timothée Chalamet) as children long enough to really understand their relationship.

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REVIEW: Promised Land

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Promised Land
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Written by: John Krasinski & Matt Damon (screenplay), Dave Eggers (story)
Starring: Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski and Rosemarie DeWitt

Promised Land is a message movie about fracking just like it was marketed, but exactly what that message ends up being is somewhat surprising.  It’s more about the fading myth of small town life than it is about grandiose environmentalism, and its biggest asset is surely the atmosphere of the rural Pennsylvania town that representatives (Matt Damon and Frances McDormand) from the big, bad, generically-titled corporation Global descend upon to pluck up land on the cheap for digging.

There isn’t much blood in Gus Van Sant’s latest film, though, but there is quite a bit of swindling.  Damon and McDormand are two screen presences often associated with kindheartedness, which they subvert here in the way that they intend to manipulate the poverty of the town by putting on a smile and exaggerating the numbers.  One of the best scenes in the movie comes toward the beginning, when they enter a convenience store on the outskirts of their target town to try and attempt to dress the part (they buy flannel shirts).

What Promised Land does exceptionally well is embed us in the ebb and flow of small town life with tactful, precise observations.  From a bar competition where outdrinking the bartender earns free drinks for everyone to holding town hall meetings in a gymnasium before the varsity basketball game, Van Sant expertly illustrates not just modern rural America, but also the presence outsiders have on it.

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Steven (Damon) spends most of the movie trying to use the town’s charms and habits against it.  This becomes more evident when an environmentalist (John Krasinski, who co-wrote the script with Damon) shows up to vie for the town’s affections before the town votes on whether or not to support Global’s fracking invasion.  The script mostly avoids grandstanding and preaching, and though it is clearly against the controversial drilling practice, the allure of money in tough economic times is undeniable.

Because the movie’s stance on the issue evolves and expands with Steven, it’s mostly about reconciling what he does for a living with whether or not he can live with himself.  The answer to that questions is fairly obvious if you’ve seen a movie before, but for the most part it avoids manipulating emotion and condescending to intelligence like its main characters do.

Van Sant is good at balancing the naturalistic acting from all the performers with his knack for visual detours to give us a break from their talking.  He is a director who, like Steven Soderbergh, oscillates between bigger, studio-backed endeavors like Milk and Good Will Hunting to lower budget indies like Elephant and Paranoid ParkPromised Land, with its big marquee names and its overtly didactic premise, is definitely more of the former.

This isn’t to say that should be held against this movie.  Van Sant has made great movies of all sizes, which makes his directorial touch somewhat illusive.  Here it can be found in the time lapses in a diner and the slow motion pan of a little league pitcher to reveal Global’s logo on the back of his uniform.  Promised Land is not a great movie, but it is assured and at times surprising in its tackling of the issue at its center.

Grade: C+

SPOTLIGHT: Matt Damon

Matt Damon is one of the hardest working, most consistently superb screen actors working in Hollywood today.  He’s one of the few people working inside the modern-day studio system who has yet to fully succumb to a large pay day.  Even looking at his page on IMDB, you see he has 5 films slated for release in 2011, the first of which was The Adjustment Bureau. His name on the marquee was enough to draw studio money to a film otherwise filled with lesser names.  Since his big break in Good Will Hunting, he has evolved into a full-fledged movie star without losing his passion-project sensibility.  Whether he’s chasing down the truth in The Bourne Trilogy or partnering with Clint Eastwood, you have enough faith of his ethic off-camera to enjoy what’s about to be in front of it.

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REVIEW: The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau
Directed by: George Nolfi
Written by: George Nolfi (screenplay), Philip K. Dick (short story)
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery, Anthony Mackie

Let’s get it out of the way early: this is the first good studio release of 2011.  Right out of the movie purgatory that is January and February is The Adjustment Bureau, a science fiction movie grounded in the real world, playing by its own bogus rules.  It’s got the blood of The Matrix rushing through it as well as the eerie atmosphere of a Roman Polanski film.

Another thing this movie has are two excellent star turns from its lead actors, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt as David and Elise.  As they flee God and his army of Mad Men-esque guardian angels (headed by none other than that show’s John Slattery), their blooming romance is totally palpable.  Their chemistry together is the movie’s biggest selling point and also one of it’s key strengths.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: True Grit

True Grit
Directed by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (screenplay), Charles Portis (novel)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin

True Grit is not about the large names behind the camera and on the marquee, nor is it haunted by the ghost of John Wayne.  Above all, it is a fatalistic Western with more dry wit than dead bodies behind its lessons.  It is a tall tale about a small girl and her quest for blood.

Don’t be fooled by Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, or Josh Brolin.  The Coen Brothers know that many who aren’t drawn in by their own names will be drawn in by the names of those stars or fans of the original film that won John Wayne his Oscar.   All the hype surrounding the mystical one-eyed Marshall and his eye-patch has made many lose sight over the fact that this is indeed a film about that 14-year-old and the loss of her innocence by her own accord.

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Eleven movies to watch for in ’11

Sure, there will be plenty of crap released this year just like any other.  We all have another delightful Transformers installment to look forward to in the summer, and the coming winter months are when Hollywood dumps its crap that wouldn’t make money during prime Christmas season.  So, while the award contenders from last year and the buzz-kills duke it out in January and February, here are our picks for what to watch for the rest of the year.

The Tree of Life (May 27)– Terrence Malick has made some of the most visually stunning movies ever to grace the screen.  Film-wise, he hasn’t made as many as other auteurs his age, but his mark is no less indelible.  With The Tree of Life, he will most likely twist audience expectation for what a “summer blockbuster” with A-list stars is.  Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are headlining in this tale about a young boy in the 50s who “witnesses the loss of innocence.”  The hypnotic trailer is almost as vague as that description, but infinitely more beautiful.  It draws you in without ruining it.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (December 21)- Fresh off his hot streak with The Social Network, David Fincher attempts to Americanize the already explosively popular book series and its Swedish film adaptations.  It will be hard for him to do worse than the original Dragon Tattoo movie, which captured the atmosphere but gutted the story of Stieg Larssonn’s original.  The story, about a hacker and a disgraced journalist teaming up to hunt down a serial killer, is the perfect fit for Fincher.  Here’s hoping Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are also up for the dark twists and brooding revelations.

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REVIEW: True Grit

True Grit
Directed by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (screenplay), Charles Portis (novel)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin

True Grit is not about the large names behind the camera and on the marquee, nor is it haunted by the ghost of John Wayne.  Above all, it is a fatalistic Western with more dry wit than dead bodies behind its lessons.  It is a tall tale about a small girl and her quest for blood.

Don’t be fooled by Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, or Josh Brolin.  The Coen Brothers know that many who aren’t drawn in by their own names will be drawn in by the names of those stars or fans of the original film that won John Wayne his Oscar.   All the hype surrounding the mystical one-eyed Marshall and his eye-patch has made many lose sight over the fact that this is indeed a film about that 14-year-old and the loss of her innocence by her own accord.

Continue reading