REVIEW: Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar poster

Interstellar poster

Normally, this blog wouldn’t review a science fiction movie. But some James Bond fans fancy the notion of Christopher Nolan directing a 007 film (while others despite it). And Interstellar’s director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema has been tapped to photograph Bond 24, to be directed by Sam Mendes.

A number of reviews have discussed at length Interstellar being inspired by the Stanley Kubrick-directed 2001: A Space Odyssey. That influence is undeniable. But Nolan appears to have done other homages.

One is based a 1979 movie by journeyman director Gary Nelson, which more than once referenced Dante’s Inferno (Google it and the answer should be evident. Additional clue: it had a John Barry score). Another, of two small figures fighting amid a barren landscape, seems to be composed similarly to a famous shot in director William Wyler’s 1958 Western film, The Big Country.

What’s more, books also play an important role in Nolan’s film. For example, the camera lets you see a Charles Lindbergh biography, reinforcing the movie’s notion of exploration and adventure. Actually, the importance of books goes beyond that, but we won’t mention more to avoid spoilers.

All of this may be coincidence, but we’re reminded of a comment by the director Stanley Donen in a documentary that nothing in a movie is by chance. He was talking about a famous scene in the musical Singing In The Rain (and how a street stage was made to ensure puddles would form when a rainstorm was simulated). But Donen’s comment is applicable to almost any movie.

Anyway, Nolan likes a big canvas for his films. Interstellar — which takes place on Earth, the solar system and beyond (just like 2001) — is as big as you could want. The story concerns a dying Earth sometime in the future and a last, desperate attempt to ensure mankind can survive, even if it’s not on its home planet.

And yet….

Somewhere in the last third of the movie, Nolan’s story seems to get away from him. Stanley Kubrick, in 2001, made no attempt to explain the movie’s final act. You either went on the ride or you didn’t. Nolan provides striking images but some of his explanations are hard to follow even if the viewer is paying rapt attention.

Interstellar certainly is an emotional film, with a major theme of a father’s relationship to his daughter (and a woman’s relationship to her father). It’s also, technically, a well-made film. Still, there are too many twists in the 169-minute film. Interstellar is by no means a failure, but it seems as if, at some stage, a fresh eye was needed.

Which brings us to one of the reasons for this review.

At first glance, it seems unlikely Nolan will ever get his chance at directing a Bond movie. With Nolan, you have to hire his posse, including his producer-wife Emma Thomas and his screenwriting brother Jonathan Nolan. Christopher Nolan has tremendous control over his projects and it seems unlikely Eon Productions co-bosses Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson would yield the complete control Nolan yields. But who knows for sure?

As for van Hoytema, he delivers interesting images. So he’ll likely do fine on Bond 24. Van Hoytema has confirmed his involvement with Bond 24, according to a STORY on the MI6 James Bond website.

Interstellar, try as it might, is not the second coming of 2001. It’s an interesting attempt to be different than usual fare studios churn out. But, this being the movie business in the 21st century, it still leaves itself open for a sequel. So it’s not that different. GRADE: B-Minus.

Chris Corbould confirms he’s on Bond 24 crew

Chris Corbould, who’s worked special effects on a number of James Bond films, confirmed on Twitter he’ll be part of Bond 24′s crew.

Corbould has Bond special effects credits going back at least as far as 1987′s The Living Daylights and ACCORDING TO HIS IMDB.COM ENTRY did uncredited work on some Bond movies before that.

He’s also worked with director Christopher Nolan (winning an Oscar on Nolan’s 2010 film Inception) and is part of the crew of Star Wars: Episode VII.

Here’s what Corbould’s Tweet looked like. It was only his third post on the social media network.

Goldfinger: the first ‘A-movie’ comic book film?

Goldfinger poster

Goldfinger poster

Here’s a thought as Goldfinger celebrates its 50th anniversary. In a way, the third James Bond film may have been the first “A-movie” comic book film.

Before Goldfinger, comic book films existed as serials. Lewis Wilson, father of Eon Productions co-boss Michael G. Wilson, played Batman in a 1943 serial, for example. Serials would run for weeks in 15-minute or so installments ahead of the main feature.

Goldfinger, of course, was based on Ian Fleming’s novel, not a comic book. Still, some Fleming novels seem to draw their inspiration from pulp adventure stories (also a source of inspiration for comic books).

In Fleming’s novel, Goldfinger’s henchman Oddjob was already over the top. With the film, that increased. A gold bar bounced off his chest without causing Oddjob harm. Harold Sakata’s Oddjob crushed a golf ball to show his displeasure with Sean Connery’s Bond. The henchman used his steel-rimmed hat to kill with precision. Oddjob, for a time in the Fort Knox sequence, bats Bond around like a cat playing wth a mouse.

Nor did the comic book style action end there. Bond’s tricked out Aston Martin became the inspiration for “spy cars,” with far more weaponry that a few extras the novel’s Aston had. The deaths of both Oddjob and later Auric Goldfinger could be described as comic book like. It was as if Jack Kirby of Marvel Comics drew the storyboards.

The difference, of course, was this all occurred in a $3 million A-movie where the audience could see the story all in one night.

Goldfinger’s success certainly was felt in the 007 series. In Thunderball, Bond flew a jet pack and in the climatic underwater fight had an oversized air tank that had additional weapons. You Only Live Twice included a helicopter snatching a car with a giant magnet and Blofeld’s volcano headquarters set that cost more than it took to produce Dr. No.

The success of such movies demonstrated audiences had an appetite for such uber-escapist sequences when executied in an entertaining way. You could make the case that Goldfinger blazed a trail that the likes of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and, yes, movies based directly on comic books, exploited.

The path from Connery’s Bond to, say, Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man may be shorter than it appears.

The most obvious sign: director Christopher Nolan, a self-described 007, adapted Bond bits (the Bond-Q briefing evolved into Bruce Wayne getting new equipment from Lucius Fox) into his three Batman movies. Director Sam Mendes in Skyfall returned the favor, saying Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight influenced the 2012 007 film.

Happy 100th birthday, Bill Finger

One of a number of productions that would have been impossible without Bill Finger

One of a number of productions that would have been impossible without Bill Finger

Feb. 8 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of comic book writer Bill Finger, who probably should be credited as the co-creator of Batman. Without him, a number of productions, including 2012′s Skyfall, the most recent James Bond movie, wouldn’t have been possible.

Artist Bob Kane had an idea, of a Bat-themed character. But it was Finger who, among other things, changed a plain mask to a cowl, devised the Bruce Wayne true identity, the Batman back story, the Robin back story, and….well, you get the idea. It was Finger who devised much of the Batman mythos.

Without Finger, there wouldn’t have been Batman serials in the 1940s, no Batman television series in the 1960s, no Batman movies in the 1980s, ’90s and 21st century — at least nothing remotely in the form that people know them.

Indirectly, the 007 film crew also owes Finger a debt. Sam Mendes, the director of Skyfall, is on record as saying 2008′s The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan, inspired elements of the 2012 007 film. That extends to Thomas Newman’s score, which in places sounds similar to the Batman music Hans Zimmer produced for Nolan.

Thus, without Bill Finger, there’d be no Nolan Batman movies and Skyfall wouldn’t be the same film fans remember today.

Finger, who died in 1974, less than a month before his 60th birthday, still doesn’t get officially credited as creating Batman. (Although there is a campaign to try to change that in time for Batman’s 75th anniversary.) But there’s little doubt Finger’s impact lasts long after his death.

Questions about a (possible) Nolan-directed 007 film

Logo of Syncopy, Christopher Nolan's production company

Logo of Syncopy, Christopher Nolan’s production company


WARNING: This is very much putting the cart before the horse. Nobody has said Christopher Nolan *will* direct Bond 24. The U.K. Daily Mail has reported only that the director has been *approached* about the job. Bear all that in mind before reading the following.

This week, the Daily Mail newspaper in the U.K. reported that Christopher Nolan, director of three Batman movies from 2005 through 2012, had been “approached” about directing Bond 24.

The writer, Baz Bagimboye, had a number of scoops about Skyfall, the most recent 007 movie, that proved to be correct. So, it got the attention of a lot of fans. If Nolan eventually signs on the dotted line, it raises a number of questions about Bond 24. Among them:

1. What happens to writer John Logan? Logan was brought in by director Sam Mendes to rewrite Skyfall. Eon Productions originally announced that Peter Morgan would collaborate with scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Eventually, Morgan left without getting a screen credit. But Logan evidently impressed somebody because he was hired to write Bond 24 and Bond 25 while Purvis and Wade departed the series.

But things can change, as Morgan can attest. Christopher Nolan is fond of writing his own movies, either by himself (Inception) or collaborating with his brother Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer (the three Batman movies or the upcoming Man of Steel, which was produced by Nolan). If Nolan comes aboard, will Logan stay or go?

2. Do other members of Nolan’s posse also participate? Nolan has a production company, Syncopy. That logo ended up being featured at the start of the third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, along with the logos of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures. Ditto for Man of Steel. The Syncopy group includes Emma Thomas, a producer who’s married to Nolan, and Charles Rovan, another producer. Also, Nolan frequently collaborates with Wally Pfister as director of photography. Pfister is directing Transcendence a movie scheduled for a 2014 release.

While Eon may be interested in Nolan’s services as a director, would it also hire Nolan-affiliated producers such as Thomas and Rovan? Eon, led by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, has its own group of supporting producers, including Gregg Wilson, the son of Michael. On the other hand, Eon has probably would be open to hiring Pfister. That would be similar to Skyfall, where Roger Deakins was brought on as director of photography because Mendes wanted him.

3. Would Hans Zimmer be the newest 007 composer? Zimmer also works frequently with Nolan. Again, that’s a situation similar to Skyfall, where Thomas Newman was hired as composer because of his relationship with Mendes. A Zimmer-scored Bond 24 might be similar to Skyfall in other ways. Mendes said that Nolan’s The Dark Knight from 2008 influenced the 2012 007 movie. Some tracks of Newman’s score (particularly the Shanghai sequences and the action sequences at the Macao casino) sounded similar to Zimmer’s music for Nolan’s Batman films.

4. What would the running time of a Nolan-directed Bond 24 be? Probably not short. Batman Begins was 140 minutes, The Dark Knight was 152 minutes, Inception was 148 minutes and The Dark Knight Rises was a whopping 165 minutes.

UPDATE (May 22): The Latinos Post Web site has a short article about actresses Nolan has cast in various movies and whether they could become part of the cast of a Nolan-directed Bond 24.

Daily Mail says Nolan `approached’ about Bond 24

Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan

The Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye, who had a number of Skyfall scoops proven correct, is reporting that Christopher Nolan has been “APPROACHED” ABOUT DIRECTING BOND 24.

Here’s an excerpt:

Christopher Nolan has been approached to direct the next 007 movie.

It’s early days, but informal talks have begun between Nolan, his representatives and the powers behind the James Bond pictures, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G .Wilson.

The story is less that definitive. There’s a later line that says, “But as one of my Bond experts commented: ‘It does no harm for Broccoli and Wilson to talk with Nolan, even if nothing happens this time round.’” Still, Skyfall director Sam Mendes commented how his 007 film was inspired by Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight and there are similarities between the two films.

You can CLICK HERE to see Bamigboye scoops that were proven correct, including that Naomie Harris’s character turned out to be Moneypenny.

IF Bamigboye is correct this time, it’s possibly another sign Bond 24 is more likely for 2015 than 2014. Nolan, director of three Batman films from 2005 to 2012, is committed TO DIRECT A SCIENCE FICTION MOVIE SCHEDULED FOR RELEASE IN NOVEMBER 2014.

We’ll see if anything happens of all this. To read the entire Daily Mail story, CLICK HERE.

YESTERDAY’S POST: More signs Bond 24 won’t be out until at least 2015

A (very belated) Skyfall review

Skyfall's poster image

Skyfall’s poster image

Back in November, HMSS intended to put out a “best of” issue that included reviews for Skyfall. For real-life reasons, that didn’t occur. This is one of the reviews intended for that never-produced issue, written shortly after release. After the review, there’s an epilogue.

One of the most satisfying moments of Skyfall makes no sense from a logical standpoint.

Daniel Craig’s James Bond whisks Judi Dench’s M from an assassination attempt by Silva (Javier Bardem), the film’s villain. Bond takes his superior to some sort of storage facility where an Aston Martin DB5 awaits.

That moment gets a big rise from theater audiences (at least the three times I saw it). But is this the same car that Craig-Bond won in a poker game in Casino Royale? Was it subsequently outfitted with the exact same gadgets (at least the machine guns and ejector seat) the car had in Goldfinger?

Ehhh, forgettaboutit. At least, if you do, Skyfall is a fun ride.

The 23rd James Bond movie comes four years after Quantum of Solace, its predecessor. During Quantum’s production, Eon Productions was *way too serious* about why that movie was important. We were told that 2006′s Casino Royale had such a compelling story the filmmakers had no choice except to begin the next 007 movie immediately thereafter. Thus, Quantum began two minutes or two hours (Eon wasn’t consistent on this point) from the end of Casino. Thus, Eon, in effect, asked the audience to compare Quantum to its predecessor. Except that M had totally redecorated her office and Mathis had gone from being interrogated in two minutes/two hours to again being Bond’s ally. Oops.

Skyfall and its director Sam Mendes don’t invite any comparisons to earlier Daniel Craig 007 movies. Bond was a rookie and now he’s older and seemingly washed up? Forgetaboutit. Don’t worry about the past and take Skyfall on its own terms. On that basis, the new Bond movie is satisfying.

Skyfall isn’t perfect. Bond recruits Severine (Berenice Marlohe) to help him meet Silva. To say he lets her down is an understatement. These things happen but it would have helped to have one shot — just ONE SHOT — of Craig-Bond showing some remorse after Severine ends up dead. You know, like Sean Connery’s Bond with Tilly in Goldfinger or his Bond with Paula in Thunderball. Instead, he displays no reaction but has a chest-thumping, moment of gloating when U.K. holicopters show up over Silva’s headquarters. Meanwhile, Severine’s corpse is slumped over while Bond gloats.

The movie has some first-time 007 contributors. Roger Deakins’s photography is a big plus. The director of photography produces a number of striking images (particularly in the Shanghai sequence) but his best work highlights every wrinkle on the face of Dench’s aging M, making clear that the character has seen too much, done too much and is quite tired and exhausted.

Thomas Newman, not know for doing scores to action movies, moves things along. Newman occasionally evokes both John Barry and the Batman triology directed by Christopher Nolan, which featured music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. Newman, though, is a pro and his score reflects that. Once again, the Bond filmmakers felt they couldn’t put the famous 007 gunbarrel logo at the start of the movie. Newman, though, pulls a musical trick that reminds us of the sequence. There was no good reason not to include the logo at the start of the movie but Newman does enough that the lack of the logo isn’t as bad as it could have been.

Bardem as Skyfall’s villain is mostly a plus but, near the end, goes the proverbial Bridge Too Far. In the climatic sequence, where he has his final confrontation with M, it’s as if Bardem wants to tell the audience, “Look! I’m acting!” We get it that Silva is on the edge. But Bardem just goes too far. He’s like Paul Newman in 1974′s The Towering Inferno where the actor wants to assure his fans he’s not just cashing a big paycheck. In the climatic scene, Bardem should have dialed it back a bit.

The end of the movie, with a new M (Ralph Fiennes) and a new Moneypenny sets up the series to continue while evoking the earlier Bond films. We’ll see what the future has in store but Skyfall works well enough. GRADE: B-Plus.

Anything change after watching it on home video? Not that much. A friend who doesn’t like the movie commented how, in the old Bond movies, the titles would have started almost immediately after Bond hit the water near the end of the pre-titles sequence. Instead, we get a couple of minutes of a morose M, Tanner and other MI6 employees. That’s still not enough and we’re taken to an MI6 window and see it has started raining.

“Cue the rain?” the friend said. “Cue the rain?” He had a point but I could overlook it. But, as posted here before, there are other things that are best to overlook to enjoy the movie. If don’t want to overlook such issues, like the Aston Martin DB5, you’re going to rate it lower, in some cases much lower.

Also, there’s no way the DB5 in Skyfall could have been the same car as in Casino Royale. The steering wheel was on the other side and you’d have to rebuild the car to switch the steering wheel from the left side to the right. The Skyfall DB5 is a tribute to Goldfinger, pure and simple.

UPDATE: Called as Aston Martin dealer. At least on a newer model, it’s possible to switch a steering wheel from the right to the left and vice versa. It would cost in excess of $40,000. Didn’t ask if that was specifically possible on a 1964 DB5.

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