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Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Interstellar Review and The New Norm For Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan is my favorite director of all time. I will blindly go see any movie the man makes. Hell, I went to see Man of Steel in part because his name was attached to it. It was my blind faith that I even went to see Interstellar in the theaters at all. Nolan was coming off of his worst movie since his debut of Following, The Dark Knight Rises, and the trailers made Interstellar seem horrible and boring as shit. I was neither looking forward to nor excited to see Interstellar. But this was still a Christopher Nolan film, and as such, I needed to go see it.

And bow howdy am I glad I did.

The reason I will go see any movie that Christopher Nolan makes is because between 2000 and 2010, the director had one of the greatest runs in the history of American cinema. You would have never guessed that a man responsible for the 1998 indie film Following would go off on the hot streak that Nolan did. (At one point, and it still might be, Following was streaming on Netflix. I watched the first half hour of it and I had to turn it off because it was so bad and it was not compelling).

But then came 2000's Memento, Nolan's break out hit. Memento is a smart, neo-noir modern day classic that has the "gimmick" of being shown in reverse. Although, I actually hate the word "gimmick" when it comes to Memento. "Gimmick" implies that the film is cheap and it doesn't earn the rewards it gives you as an audience member. I prefer to think of the backwards film making as a creative and inventive plot device that not many people can pull off. The Academy seemed to agree with my phrasing as it gave Christopher Nolan a nomination for Best Screenplay that year.

Nolan's follow up to Memento was 2002's Insomnia. Truthfully, I only saw Insomnia once and that was right when it first came out, and I remember really not liking it. However, my tastes in film and filmmaking have improved tremendously since then as well as my appreciation for Nolan's craft. Insomnia has a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes with 76% of the fans saying they enjoy the film.

Nolan's next film was 2005's Batman Begins. This film not only resurrected the DC property from the dregs of hell where Joel Schumacher left it, but began the revolution of action movies (we'll get to that in a moment). Batman Begins is a really, really good origin story that digs the deepest into why a playboy millionaire would want to dress up in rubber suit and fight crime at night. Batman Begins is also very grounded in reality (for a superhero movie) that helped legitimize the genre.

Christian Bale teamed up with his Batman Begins director for a second time for Nolan's next film, 2006's The Prestige. I think The Prestige tends to get lost in the shuffle when it comes to great movies and Nolan flicks. I think in part because it's only Nolan's fourth best film at best (and I personally might have Batman Begins over The Prestige) and in part because the Edward Norton vehicle The Illusionist came out at almost the exact same time and ruined Nolan's thunder. With all of that being said, The Prestige is a really good film. It has smart and well-defined characters, greats moments of genuine tension, and an M. Night Shymalan-esque ending that doesn't feel cheap, and instead feels earned thanks to the tireless work Nolan gave you beforehand.

The next film Christopher Nolan directed during his hot streak just so happened to be his best film yet- 2008's The Dark Knight. Not only is The Dark Knight my favorite film of all time and a true modern day classic, but it revolutionized cinema. Christopher Nolan "Nolan-ized" Batman as well as action movies in general. He started it with Batman Begins and solidified it with The Dark Knight. Oh, and the film's Best Film snub at the 81st Annual Academy Awards changed the way we vote for Oscars now.

Christopher Nolan has a very specific vision when it came to his portrayal of the Batman universe and action movies in general. Nolan's films, his Dark Knight trilogy in particular, is very dark and gloomy. It's heavily focused on the characters and the effects of their actions, and his films have very little humor in them. Nolan also uses as little CGI as possible in his films and prefers IMAX filming to 3D. This helps his films stand the test of time longer.

The last film in Christopher Nolan's arsenal was 2010's Inception. To date, Inception is still the greatest film of the decade (albeit it wouldn't be hard to convince me that The Social Network deserves that honor, but still....). The film is extremely complex both in its straightforward story, its symbolism, and the allegory it makes. Just read my review here to find out everything you need to know about Inception. I'll fully admit that I'm a sucker for science fiction films, but Inception is just an incredible piece of film making from the script to the cinematography to the score to the editing. Everything (oddly enough except for maybe the acting) is perfect.

Inception is where Christopher Nolan's streak will probably end. And that's OK. Nolan made 6 films in 10 years, 5 of them really good, while two of them belong in the Film Hall of Fame. Also, the greatest film of all time was made during this streak. Mainstream creativity is very limited. Musical acts really only have three good albums in them (at most) before audience starting claiming "their new stuff isn't even as close to being as good as their old stuff". TV shows, sitcoms in particular, have a very short shelf life because fans start claiming it Jumped The Shark. The fact that Nolan *only* made 5 above average to great films is a huge accomplishment that almost every director should be proud of.

Since Nolan's Decade of Dominance, he has made two films: The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar. When The Dark Knight Rises first came out, I saw it in the theaters three times. Once during opening weekend in IMAX, once with my wife, and one other times with friends. After 3 viewings, I still ranked The Dark Knight Rises as my 11th best film of 2012 (albeit 3 spots down form my original rankings) and I gave it three and a half stars.

However, two years later, I can't even recommend Nolan fans go out and see The Dark Knight Rises. I am now of the mind set that every movie has plot holes in it, but you just ignore or overlook them in the good movies. I think upon closer examination, you can find a butt load of plot holes in The Dark Knight, but nobody cares or will even think about it upon first (or even fifteenth) viewing because of how compelling the final product is*. That's just not the same with The Dark Knight Rises. There were several glaring plot holes in The Dark Knight Rises that I noticed upon my very first viewing that I almost got angry at myself for not liking The Dark Knight Rises more. Then this article came out and I will never be able to watch the film the same way again. There are absolutely a lot of good parts in The Dark Knight Rises (if there weren't, it would be weird that I saw it 3 times in the theaters) but it's not only below par for a Christopher Nolan film, it's below par for a superhero/action movie. It's Nolan's first real mulligan and the first step towards Nolan's career seemingly taking itself into a new direction.

Great movies filled with a lot of plot holes seems to be the new norm for Christopher Nolan. There's a lot of glaring and obvious plot holes in Interstellar as well. I wonder if Nolan is doing the same thing he's always done, and the way he tells a story is the same, but his knack for creating a compelling movie is waning. This in turn causes the audience to notice his plot holes more whereas they didn't early on in his career. Another theory I've heard that I like is that Christopher Nolan has become so huge that he's just surrounded himself with "yes-men" and people who refuse to critique Nolan they way they used to. Certainly after you make the one-two combination of The Dark Knight and Inception, it's difficult to say anything to the contrary if you work with Nolan.

That's what makes Interstellar so frustrating. By the way, for all of my Nolan bashing, I really liked Interstellar. After I watched the film, my immediate reaction was "that was great". The film is about two hours and forty-five minutes long, but you need every aspect in there to tell the complete story. So while I was bored by the first act, I appreciated it after watching the second and third acts.

The fear I have with Interstellar is that I won't like it in two to three years the way I've grown disdainful of The Dark Knight Rises. While I didn't get as angry with the plot holes in Interstellar as I did with TDKR, I did notice many glaring plot holes and wonky rules Nolan unnecessarily created for this world. Interstellar takes place in the future of America, and Nolan asked himself, "what would it look like if we ran out of food." The issue is that the society without food that Nolan wanted to show isn't very well thought through. It seems as if he had the end goal in mind without really thinking about what got him there.

However, for all of the negatives that you could say about Interstellar, there are many more positives. For starters, the acting is great. Matthew McConaughey continues the McConaissance and delivers another stellar performance and new Nolan muse Anne Hathway is so spectacular that it makes you curious why there was ever a backlash at all.

Nolan also has a great feel for every technical aspect of the film as well. Because Nolan filmed on location and with large sets, the film looks incredible and the special effects are marvelous (feel free to take note James Cameron). Hans Zimmer's score is brilliant as always and newcomer-to-the-Nolan party Hoyte Van Hoytema did a really good job with the cinematography (although I really wish Wally Pfister was doing Interstellar instead of directing the garbage that was Transcendence). And for all the problems with the script, Nolan delivered a climax that was amazing and made it well worth the journey and gave us his best ending to a film since Memento. Not a trivial matter, Nolan also managed to give us a great movie robot, which I think is really difficult to do in 2014.

But with all of that being said, Interstellar is by far and away a step down from Christopher Nolan's Decade of Dominance. I don't think Nolan has it in him to give us a film as good as Inception, or even Batman Begins, and I think it's unrealistic for us to expect a film as good as The Dark Knight ever again from Nolan. And that's perfectly fine by me. If Nolan continues to give me films as good as Interstellar for the next ten years, then I'll be a happy man.
* I think one of the best examples of this is the 2014 Indie science fiction film Snowpiercer. There's a lot of assumptions made about this world and a lot of plot holes you have to overlook to buy in to this world the director creates. I bought in immediately so I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I have a friend who was immediately thrown out of the movie from the get go, never bought in, and therefore absolutely hates Snowpiercer.



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