Friday, November 21, 2014

"Interstellar" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Interstellar," the DVDs "The History of the Eagles, "Million Dollar Arm" and "Le Chef" as well as Oprah's book, "What I Know for Sure."  I also bring you up to date on my "1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project."]

Interstellar



Another one of those "gotta save the earth" flicks.

Earth has fallen victim to overpopulation and famine and become a futuristic dust bowl.  Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former NASA engineer and test pilot who now runs a farm and cares for his son, Tom, daughter, Murphy (the excellent Mackenzie Foy) and father-in-law, Donald (John Lithgow).  Inexplicably (well, there is a reason - it's a ghost and that is explained much later in the film), he is drawn to a mysterious location surrounded by a chain link fence only to discover it is the home of his old employer, NASA.  It's being run by Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) who is trying to come up with a way to save the world - or at least its inhabitants.

Cooper discovers that Brand has come up with two ways to save the world.  Plan A - finding another planet and moving as many humans as possible to it and Plan B - using frozen embryos to colonize another planet. The only problem with Plan A is overcoming gravity to launch a ship large enough to get people there.  But Brand is working on an equation that should solve that problem.  The BIG problem, though, is the fact he has been working on that equation for 40 years.

Anyway, I think those are the plans. Most of the time, I wasn't sure what they were talking about.

Already another mission - Lazarus - was embarked upon to look for a habitable planet and three were identified, but those folks haven't returned. Now another craft must make the journey to those planets to see what's up. Cooper agrees to pilot the craft knowing full well he must leave his children behind and may not see them again for years, which turns out to be true. 

Cooper and his crew, Brand's daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway, an odd role for her, by the way); scientists Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi); and TARS, the robot, which brings to mind Hal in "2001: A Space Odyssey" find themselves on one planet where they age seven years for every hour they spend there.  They run into some trouble and spend too long expending some 20+ years.

Cooper's daughter, Murphy was 10 when he left and resentful that he was leaving her and now that those years have passed, she is an adult Murphy (Jessica Chastainand she is even more resentful - resentful as hell, in fact.

There is no denying that Christopher Nolan has produced a visual masterpiece.  It was no small feat to make this film. So I give him props for that.  And Hans Zimmer's music showcases the film beautifully, though at times it's a bit over the top. 

To fully appreciate those aspects, it's a must to see this film in IMAX. 

However, that's the good news.  What lets this film down is the convoluted story and the preachy script. When characters have to do as much explaining as they do in this film, you know there is a problem.  Sometimes it sounded like someone was reading from a physics textbook. That is, when they weren't expounding on the nature of love and how love conquers all, even time and space, and quoting Dylan Thomas.

I am stunned that almost every critic is worshiping this film.  Are they too afraid to say they didn't understand it?  Well, I'm not.  There are more holes in this story than black holes in space.  I like thought provoking films, and I like to be challenged.  But when I think "Huh?" half a dozen times during the course of a film, Houston, we have a problem. And if a critic has to say (and one did), despite the almost three hour length, this film needs to be seen again and again to fully understand it, then that should tell you something right there.  The critics may love it, but the people sitting in the audience with me were laughing AT it.  As we exited the theatre, I heard one person say, "That should win comedy of the year." 

Ironically, despite my confusion, there is nothing overall wrong with the science here.  In fact, a physicist consulted on the film.  And even Neil deGrasse Tyson approves, for the most part.  That's not the problem.  The problem is HOW it was all portrayed.

Matthew McConaughey may have won last year's Oscar for "The Dallas Buyer's Club," because it was right in his "Alright, alright, alright" wheelhouse, but when it comes to delivering heartfelt, preachy speeches, he was not up to the task. He wasn't believable and he was over-acting, as were many of the actors. However, I don't blame them completely.  It wouldn't be easy for the greatest of actors to deliver some of those lines.

I was a huge fan of Nolan's "Inception" and "Memento," and those were not "easy" films.  I think he is a brilliant filmmaker, but he lost me on this one.  It's just way over the top, way too melodramatic, and way too long.  It took 90 minutes before anything happened and during the second 90 minutes, only a couple of things happened.

However, that's not to say there weren't some exciting moments.  The planet with the huge waves provided some excitement as did Cooper and Mann (Matt Damon) fighting on the planet that was really Iceland (I knew because I've been there).

It's not a stretch to compare this film with "2001: a Space Odyssey," but it also reminded me of "Star Trek" and "Gravity," all of which I liked better.

Rosy the Reviewer says...It's beautiful to look at, beautiful to hear and with a stellar cast, but even all of that cannot change the fact that this film is overwrought, overlong, over the top and - dare I say it? - boring.



***DVDS***
You Might Have Missed
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)
 

 History of the Eagles,
Parts 1 and 2 (2013)

 
 

Two part documentary on the legendary rock band.

The Eagles defined the 1970's with their soft bluegrass harmonies. Glenn Frey is behind this documentary of the band and so, of course, the viewpoint is his, but it still feels like an honest depiction of the rise and fall of an iconic band.  Don Henley was his co-partner in the band and also weighs in heavily.

What makes this rock band documentary stand out is the footage.  Director Allison Ellwood has done a wonderful job of working in still photography, home videos and studio recordings to give us an authentic depiction of the rise and fall of an iconic band and the friendships that were lost due to the stress and egos it took to keep it all going. One spectacular scene has Glenn Frey and Don Felder arguing on stage DURING A CONCERT with Frey saying he was going to kick Felder's ass when they got off stage.  Felder is seen running to his limo and quitting the band.

But their success was not immune to what hundreds of other bands have gone through: internal tensions, drugs and road weariness.

Glenn Frey and Don Henley started out backing Linda Ronstadt in her early incarnation.  With her blessing they went off to start their own band bringing in Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner and eventually Don Felder. When Leadon and Meisner exited they were followed by Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit, who constitute the band now.  Meisner no longer had the confidence to hit the high note at the end of "Take It To The Limit," to the point that he quit the band, so Schmit from Poco stepped in.  An interview with Felder during the latter part of the documentary is especially poignant as he is visibly upset at how it all turned out.  Likewise, Joe Walsh is candid about his drug addiction and eventual recovery, but he still comes off as a rather sad character.

Each band member, past and present, is highlighted along with talking head interviews from Jackson Browne, Bob Seger, Linda Ronstadt, David Geffen and other industry insiders, all who figured prominently in the rise of The Eagles.

Part 1 is two hours and Part 2 is another hour but if you love The Eagles or just a great documentary the time will fly by.  Heck, even if you didn't love them, you will love this film.

Rosy the Reviewer says...This is definitely Frey's and Henley's story to tell but, hey, it was their band.  It's still a fascinating look inside the ups and downs of an iconic American rock band.


 
Million Dollar Arm (2014)



A down on his luck sports promoter (Jon Hamm) decides to try to tap cricket players from India for some Major League Baseball recruits.

J.B. Bernstein (Hamm) is a rather slimy but struggling sports agent who gets the bright idea one night while flipping back and forth between watching Susan Boyle on "Britain's Got Talent" and a cricket match (I'm still wondering how he got those British shows on his American TV) to hold a talent competition in Mombai, but for baseball pitchers. Those Indian cricket bowlers (that's what they call the guys who throw the ball in cricket) should be able to be trained to play American baseball, right? And there is a whole market untapped market in India. From Susan Boyle to a finding Major League pitchers through a pitching competition in Mombai seems like a stretch, but this is based on a true story so who am I to judge?  The competition is to be called "The Million Dollar Arm" and the prize is $1,000,000 if any of the winners are signed to a Major League contract.

Lake Bell (whom I love and who has yet to make the acting breakthrough she deserves) plays a medical student renting a cottage from Bernstein and gee, do you think a romance is in the offing?  Duh.

Alan Arkin plays a surly baseball scout who doesn't think much of this idea and sleeps through most of it and Aasif Mandvi plays Bernstein's business partner, Ash, who provides a few laughs.  But Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal are charming as the recruits who Bernstein thinks he can turn into Major League stars.  Sharma you may recognize from "Life of Pi."

Once back in the United States, we get the stock "fish out of water" scenes as the boys discover pizza and are amazed at Bernstein's wealthy, LA lifestyle and a very predictable outcome.  There are the usual stereotypes but nothing really offensive.  This is Disney after all.

Rosy the Reviewer says...This is Disney so don't expect anything deep, but it's an enjoyable family film.


 

Le Chef (2012)
 

An older chef with a Three-star Michelin restaurant joins forces with a young novice chef to save his restaurant.

Jackie Bonnot (Michael Youn) wants to be a chef, a chef like his idol, Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno), who runs a three-star Michelin restaurant, Cargo Legarde.  Jackie is such a fan that he knows all of Lagarde's menus from the past, has an encyclopedia knowledge of gastronomy, a discriminating palate.  So why does he have such a hard time keeping a job? Jackie is also a perfectionist whose standards don't work out so well in local diners for people who mostly want French fries, so he keeps getting fired much to the consternation of his girlfriend, Beatrice, who is also pregnant.  So he settles for a job painting an old folks home. 

Likewise, trouble is brewing for Monsieur Lagarde.  His menu is considered old-fashioned and he refuses to change and embrace molecular gastronomy so prized by the young son of the restaurant's corporate owner (our villain). He has concocted a villainous plan to get rid of Lagarde so he can bring in another chef who will embrace the molecular gastronomy he so loves.  He tells Lagarde if he loses one of his stars, he will lose his restaurant.

Through a series of silly events, this odd couple - Jackie and Chef Lagarde - join forces - Jackie to save his relationship and Lagarde to save his restaurant.  Jackie knows Lagarde's menus better than Lagarde so they work together to ward off the villain.

The film nicely skewers cooking shows and trends and the snobbishness that so often accompanies fine dining.

Reno is a veteran actor you may recognize from such films as "Ronin,"  "Alex Cross," and "The DaVinci Code."  Here he is taking a break from his usual dramatic roles to take a comedic turn and he does admirably. And Youn is a comic talent who made me laugh without saying a word.

This is farce all of the way, a delightful little bit of culinary fluff, a trifle but a good one.

Rosy the Reviewer says...If you liked "Chef" or "The 100 Foot Journey," or just movies about food, you should enjoy this film.  (subtitles)




***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

 
299 to go!


La Belle Noiseuse (1991)



A famous painter who gave up painting finds a new muse and tries to finish a project.

Frenhofer (Michel Piccoli), the great artist, has given up painting.  He gave it up right in the middle of "La Belle Noiseuse," with his wife, Liz (Jane Birkin - yes, she of the Birkin bag), as his muse.  But when three visitors come to call, an art dealer, a young artist and his lover, Marianne. Frenhofer is inspired by Marianne (Emmanuelle Beart who made her mark in "Manon of the Spring" and spends most of the film in the nude) to paint again, thus beginning a painful master-slave relationship that takes a decided turn and examines the very nature of the relationship between an artist and his subject.

Directed by Jacques Rivette, whom Truffaut credits with starting the New Wave, this film won the Palm D'Or at Cannes in 1991.  However, Rivette is not as well know as Truffaut and other New Wavers, possibly because of making long, long movies.

If you want to see a "real" woman as in pre-Brazilian wax jobs, Beart is a beautiful example, but the nudity aside, the film explores the selfishness and loneliness that accompanies the creative process.

Why it's a Must See:  "Extrapolating from a story by Balzac, [the director] and his writers...juggle many themes skillfully.  On one level, the film offers a glimpse into the privileged world of art...[on another] the dance between an artist...and his mostly naked model...Their sessions wheel through many moods: Frustration, aggression, exuberance.  The master-slave relationship shifts.  Slowly, through many trials, an artistic work takes form."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die."

This one should count as two - it was four hours long!  It's a rare occasion when I think a movie should be over two hours long.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I liked it but this is probably one of those films I should have seen AFTER I died because then I would have had more time to enjoy those four hours.



***Book of the Week***

 
What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey (2014)
 
 

What Oprah knows for sure, all in one place.

And there is nothing more comforting than having "The Wisdom of Oprah" close at hand, especially since she is so sure of so many things. 

If you have been following me at all or are a friend or one of my children (who blame Oprah for all of the new child-rearing and other ideas that came from her show that I tried out on them), then you know I am a huge fan.  I wrote a blog post devoted to her last March called "Why Oprah Still Matters."  I wasn't writing that because I was worried that she didn't matter anymore.  I wrote it, because she no longer had her regular show and was now largely behind the scenes and I didn't want people to forget her.  Certainly, Oprah still matters and, actually,  I am waiting for her to run for President.  Of course, why should she, when she wields more power where she is?

Anyway, here she weighs in on "Joy," "Resilience," "Connection," "Gratitude," "Possibility," "Awe," "Clarity" and "Power," and we sure know she has that last one down, and she also knows what she is talking about.  Oprah has spent her career looking to find meaning and passing it on.  I can honestly say I started meditating because of Oprah and that practice has been immensely helpful to me.

Oprah starts the book describing an encounter with Gene Siskel where he asked her, "Tell me...what do you know for sure?...about you, your life, anything, everything..."

That question threw Oprah for a loop and gave her the central question to explore for the rest of her life.

"As you read about all of the lessons I have struggled with, cried over, run from, circled back to, made peace with, laughed about, and at long last come to know for sure, my hope is that you'll begin to ask yourself the very same question Gene Siskel asked me all those years ago.  I know that what you'll find along the way will be fantastic, because what you'll find will be yourself."

Whatever you may think of her, Oprah has used her power and money for good and here she is trying to take us to where she resides.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Go there with her.

 

 

Thanks for Reading!

 

That's it for this week.

 

See you Tuesday for

 

"What I'm Grateful For" 

 

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