Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Weekend Box Office Figures

Thanks to Box Office Mojo, just for still being available!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Quantum Meditations on Interstellar

The rotating black hole where a lot of the action
in Interstellar takes place. In the film several habitable worlds
orbit the thing: In reality this thing would have
an accretion disc scintillating with gamma radiation.
Not the most comfy neighbor.

Alright, I FINALLY got out and saw Christopher Nolan's latest epic. Went out and caught an 11:30 p.m. Screening in 70mm IMAX, in fact. I admit I am reacting the way several of my friends did to it: I'm very impressed by the spectacle, the visuals, and the ideas behind it, but at the same time I'm sawing back and forth between thinking it is a brilliant film and it's nonsensical hooey.

Set in a near future where a blight is destroying food crops, Matthew McConaughey is a farmer/retired astronaut who is brought (by some mysterious processes) into piloting a mission to find a new world for humanity's survival. There is wonderful stuff to be seen, beautiful stark alien worlds, impressive sets and fine acting all around.

I'm going to points early with this one:

Interstellar versus 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 is a film about cold, rational protagonists, a crazy computer and distant, mysterious aliens. Interstellar is a film about warm, emotionally driven protagonists, warm, friendly computers, a crazy human villain, and distant but very helpful aliens. In this way it hews nothing like 2001 and a bit too closely to Contact, complete with Matthew McConaughey.

• One of the intrepid astronauts is Anne Hathaway as Brand, dark eyes and short hair and not a lot of smiling. She does a great job in this film, but If I were to condense the second act of Interstellar I'd say it is driven by two HUGE mistakes-- both based on some poor decision-making by Brand.

Poster For NEW, John Harden's short film.
That's me in the credits!
• I just finished supervising the visual effects for a short film called NEW directed by John Harden. Had it's premiere in Healdsburg last week, in fact, quite the wonderful occasion. (Thanks, everyone.) I think anyone who has ever made an indie film or short has to deal with the zeitgeist effect: the way near-identical themes can pop up in movies or other works that are otherwise completely disconnected. There is a whole segment near the end of Interstellar that is nearly note-for-note the same as one in NEW-- so much so I found myself saying “what the hell?” out loud. Strange-- but it may bolster some of the theories this film expounds on extra-dimensional connectedness.

• This is one of the few times where the musical score (by Hans Zimmer) drowned out the dialog. It happened quite a few times. There was enough score for several Christopher Nolan films, IMO.

• One of the central themes of Interstellar is the redeeming and mysterious aspects of love. Love, apparently, is an emotion which exists, and can travel at, a higher dimension, like gravity. The theory that there are forms of matter that interact with our three-dimensional universe only through gravity, like dark matter, is prominent. The love thing is as yet unproven-- though I HOPE it can.

David Brooks of the New York Times said a frisson of fundamentally opposed ideas-- love and science-- is what imparts a strong mystical feeling to Interstellar. I have to agree. It's a film that derives it's inventive energy from meditations on matter, space, time, life, death and love. All profound stuff. But when read against the grain, Interstellar is also about the struggle of two worldviews: Science and Storytelling. Kip Thorne (the physicist who is also executive producer) is pushing hard science: singularities and the arrow of time and gravity are major players in the film. On the the hand is Christopher Nolan and the forces of Hollywood narrative film, which demands a story based on the human condition. We see it all: Love in all it's forms (family, romantic, even love of humanity), big hugs, Jessica Chastain crying a lot, heroes and villains, madness and selfless sacrifice. Hollywood needs the science to open up the story into the existential realms of theoretical physics and give it a unique feel. Science needs Hollywood to communicate abstract cosmological theories, as mind-blowing as they are, in a way that won't turn it into a dry lecture.

Brand (Anne Hathaway), about to make one of her several very
unfortunate bad calls. This is a nice look at a non-IMAX
scene in the film: scope bokeh, shallow focus.
• Seen in IMAX at the Metreon in San Francisco. The 70mm IMAX process was as good a way to see this film as possible. Nonetheless, it was not as good as it could have been: the image was dark, the colors were muted. I don't know if this was the result of a worn-out 14-Kilowatt IMAX projector bulb or if the film was post-corrected for a dark, monochromatic look. There was goddamn green horizontal emulsion scratch running along the bottom fifth of the screen: it reminds me that any attachment I may have to real film projection is sentimental, not practical. Christopher Nolan films in IMAX can be a little abrupt to watch: It switches from an anamorphic shallow-focus 2.35:1 wide scope frame to a super-tall, crystal-sharp 1.4:1 IMAX frame at unpredictable times. When the picture got big I found myself peering down towards the bottom of the immense screen: “Wow, lookit all that extra picture down there...”

••• SPOILER ••• question (which I'm softening to be as un-spoilerish as possible): like all good films of this genre, there is a frammis, a macguffin in the last half of Interstellar, an oft-stated, near-mystical dingus that is the key to the survival and success of everyone everywhere. We all know what it is-- but at no time do they say how it works. It's effects are so unexplainable it may as well be a big switch that gets flipped from “we're all doomed” to “everything's gonna be fine.” Anyone out there want to take a whack at this?