‘Interstellar’ is simultaneously a beautiful, grandiosely scaled big-budget science fiction film, and a straightforward story of love and sacrifice. It is filled with terrific performances, masterful special effects, and is all the more intriguing because it raises questions about the meaning of life without providing any easy answers.
‘Interstellar’ is a landmark achievement in cinema. This is true science fiction. It is more cerebral than you would expect a movie of this sort to be, concerned first and foremost with ideas and scientific thought. It has more in common with movies like ‘Contact’, and ‘Gravity’ – pictures that acquiesce to the rules of science rather than discard them for the sake of providing viewers with nonsensical planetary destruction. Aesthetically, the film is very Kubrickian. Narratively, and in terms of feeling, it is very Spielbergian. The result is a strange, but thoroughly impressive hybrid.

In the not-too distant future, Earth suffers from extreme blight that has caused humanity’s food supply to diminish. Former NASA test pilot and widower Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is now a corn farmer taking care of his 15-year-old son, Tom (Timothee Chalamet), and 10-year-old daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy). The movie does a great job of showing us how people live in this inhospitable future and of establishing the father-daughter relationship. Cooper and Murph one day decode messages sent from an unknown force through gravitation waves, which contain binary coordinates in the dust.

The coordinates lead them to a secret NASA installation. Inside the facility, Cooper comes in contact with project leaders Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway). They reveal their discovery of a wormhole, and convince Cooper to pilot the spacecraft for their mission. Their goal is to travel through this unpredictable and dangerous wormhole to determine if there is a habitable planet to relocate Earth’s population. Because this is a movie that respects the laws of physics, the spacecraft doesn’t make a simple jump into hyperspace.

Once ‘Interstellar’ leaves the Earth’s atmosphere (somewhere around 45 minute mark), we are on a science fiction adventure of the highest order. The set pieces, production design, special effects (little CGI, more practical effects), and Hans Zimmer’s operatic score are first-rate. This is an event movie; one that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen with the best sound system possible. I saw it in UltraAVX, and look forward to revisiting it in IMAX shortly. Do not wait for this movie to arrive on Blu Ray or Video on Demand. Even with the best home theater system, the film will lose something when it is shrunk for home viewing. Loyal Cineplex customers may want to consider redeeming their hard-earned Scene points for an IMAX showing; and for everyone else, trust me, the surcharge is worth it.

‘Interstellar’ is a smart film. There are a number of expository scenes in which scientist characters discuss and debate the space-time continuum, quantum mechanics, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, intergalactic technicalities, the existence of higher forms of intelligence, a wormhole which functions as a portal to another galaxy, and the immeasurability of the most powerful force – one that is able to transcend dimensions – love. ‘The Theory of Everything’ may be a more appropriate title to this picture than the watered-down, but well-acted and respectable Stephen Hawking biopic. I was able to make sense of about 95% of it and I think most viewers will find it accessible. I have some questions about the film’s final 20 minutes, but I feel I should reserve them for a spoiler edition blog entry.

In one scene, the crew descends to a planet realizing that the gravitational pull has caused severe time dilation, meaning that every hour spent on the surface of this planet results in the passage of seven years on Earth. As the crew went about executing their increasingly intense mission, I found myself with sweaty palms. They are unable to communicate with their loved ones on Earth in real-time, so they access video recordings. The bending space-time continuum leads to the moment where Coop is about the same age as when he left Earth, but now Murph (at this point played by Jessica Chastain) is an adult – the same age as her father.

Jessica Chastain is excellent. She always is. I was moved by her character – Murph refuses to let go of the feeling of resentment she has towards her father, an anger she nurses into adulthood. She is still convinced that the ghosts from her childhood are real, and that they are still reaching out to her. And if you want to know what I mean by that, you will have to see the movie to find out. The pain Cooper feels for Murph’s despondency is heartbreaking. And for Matthew McConaughey, he has gone from being a rom-com prop to one of the best actors working today. What a year he is having – he has won a Golden Globe and an Oscar for ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, and was nominated for an Emmy for his outstanding work in ‘True Detective’. Expect Oscar nominations in the following categories: Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain), Cinematography, Production Design, Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. Unfortunately, the film will be too polarizing to get a Best Picture nomination.

‘Interstellar’ is a movie of astonishing beauty, one that appears to have been directed through a wormhole of its own circuitous design. It left me drained and thankful for the experience. To be sure, this is one of the most ambitious films ever made (it is by far, Nolan’s most ambitious film, and this is the guy who spent 10 years on ‘Inception’). It has been a few days since I have seen it, and I feel as if I am still processing it. Yes, there may be scientific inaccuracies. But, last time I checked, this genre was called “science fiction”. Yes, ‘Interstellar’ is shamelessly sentimental. So what? It is also bold, and thrilling; and if I have to employ every trick I humanly can to prevent myself from sobbing uncontrollably, I think it is reasonable to say that this is a warm, and emotional experience. One of the best films of the year. QED.

John Wick

John Wick


A longtime bad guy leaves the life of crime only to find himself back in it to settle a final score. Chances are you have seen this kind of movie before. But not like this. This back-to-basics action flick is a throwback to the pre-CGI action era of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzengger. ‘John Wick’ is worth a trip to the theaters (and worth the IMAX surcharge) thanks to some dazzling action choreography, stylish visuals, and an unexpectedly solid performance from Keanu Reeves as the titular character.  

Keanu is 50 years old and is only now starting to look like an adult. He slips back into the action star role comfortably. Well, he hasn’t been gone that long. Just last year, he was in the little seen and very underrated ‘Man of Tai Chi’.  

I have always liked Keanu (and even attended the Keanu Reeves Retrospective at the TIFF Bell Lightbox early last year). He is in no great rush to give you Capital-A acting. He has never displayed much range, and mostly appears Zen-constipated, but his cool detachment is the perfect fit for this character. And, of course, he is game for the physically demanding stunt work.

Oops, I realized I forgot to mention the plot. John Wick is a bad guy who does bad things to bad people. He retires from his life of crime to live a regular one with his wife. She dies from an unspecified illness, and all he has left of her is a puppy she sent to him as a posthumous gift. After Russian thugs kill his puppy and steal his 1969 Mustang, John Wick returns to his former killing ways as he sets out to find and kill those responsible.  

The dog-killing scene was horrifying and didn’t sit well with me. I think a simple dognapping scenario would have given the character enough of a motivation for revenge. Also, we don’t see John Wick’s wife as a fully realized character. She is an idea – an image on a smartphone video. But, her death precipitates everything that follows and gives our anti-hero and us an inherent reason for the bloodshed. What the movie lacks in narrative depth, it makes up for in highly stylized violence; once the main plot has been established, the film consists of John Wick taking out rooms full of guys who should know better than to be in his way.

There is such a high level of technical craftsmanship deployed by directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch that I was shocked to discover ‘John Wick’ is their directorial debut. They know how to frame action. The action doesn’t call attention to itself; thankfully, there isn’t a single shot of slow motion, nor is there much use of the stomach-turning shaky-cam that reduces many contemporary action sequences to visual disarray. Accompanied with Kaleida’s ‘Think’ (and many other terrific soundtrack choices), the filmmakers (both veteran stuntmen) give us a sense that we are watching a bloody, ultra-violent Fred Astaire MGM musical.

Unfortunately, the violence does get repetitive and the film suffers in comparison to ‘The Raid 2’ from earlier this year; ‘The Raid 2’ did a masterful job of incrementally upping the ante before arriving at its breathtaking, and exhausting climax. Here, the stakes remain stagnant throughout and we witness a series of expertly choreographed action sequences, but they don’t build upon each other; one sequence doesn’t try to outdo the standards established in a previous sequence.

But even with this shortcoming, the production design of the picture remains an eyeful. A lot of care and attention to detail went into crafting this fully realized conspiratorial underworld. When John Wick is in mourning, the visual palette consists of desaturated colors; in latter scenes involving the criminal underworld, the colors (particularly green and red) really pop out. And to give a sense of this fully realized world, let me just say that the assassins use gold coins as currency. There is also an upscale downtown hotel that caters to assassins; it appears to be a place of demobilization. Business cannot be conducted within the confines of this establishment, and breaking the rules can have serious consequences.

Despite some talk about karma, the film’s ambitions are aesthetic, not moral; ‘John Wick’ has no delusions of grandeur. This is the sort of R-rated action thriller I found myself missing (and the sort of picture I was hoping ‘The Equalizer’ would be). Hollywood seems preoccupied trying to service its teen-friendly market. Costly CGI action has put old school ruthlessness to rest. I hope to see more movies like ‘John Wick’. And less PG-13 action pictures – the rating is mostly an invitation of half measures and tepidness. QED.