Skrrt Skrrt in Reverse

There is a claim amongst those who have chosen to go to the cinema to see Christopher Nolan’s latest film Tenet* that it is way too confusing. I get where the attitude is coming from too, since Nolan’s script is basically filled with the continuous dumps of exposition that have made him a notorious storyteller but particularly the stuff focusing on its central conceit is delivered in labyrinthine convolutions that even our Protagonist (John David Washington) needs a minute to digest and calibrate to, something sadly prevented on account of Tenet‘s notoriously poor dialogue sound-mixing**. And speaking of our unnamed Protagonist, the manner in which character or story feels more thin and obligatory than anywhere else in Nolan’s career probably just made viewers feel like it wasn’t worth the work of sorting out that dense stuff.

But, also I don’t really care.

Which is not the same thing as saying that Nolan doesn’t care since I’d claim elements regarding the character of Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) and certain reveals come from a place that assumes we have more connection to the characters than I think it accomplishes. But I do think it’s clear that Nolan just wanted most of the story material to act as stakes or pretext to what he’s really trying to play with.

And what he’s ostensibly supposed to be playing with is time, but what I feel like Tenet is REALLY playing with… something that made it an absolute blast for me and an incredibly swift 2 1/2 hours in the theater… is momentum. Pure forward momentum, with editor Jennifer Lame throwing us right into the first action setpiece to heart-pounding bass rhythm of Ludwig Göransson’s phenemonal score – both replacing Nolan’s long-time collaborators Lee Smith and Hans Zimmer for the first time and making their mark from the first frame. The thrust of Tenet‘s pacing is a thing of which it shares with the best 21st Century action films***, but what I really think Tenet shares most of its M.O. with is The Terminator. That movie – possibly the best action movie of all time – finds a way to keep running forward with its characters while still consistently and regularly dropping new bits of information to deepen what originally began as just as an interminable chase.

Tenet isn’t a chase, though, it is a globe-trotting espionage tale. It is basically Nolan’s attempt at his own science-fiction James Bond picture with areas of luxury porn and villain lairs. Washington proves to be suave and relaxed enough to fill that sardonic secret agent type while still finding room to respond in emotionally plausible ways as he learns more about Kat or his partner Neil (Robert Pattinson, likewise relaxed in a proper sloppy way). It even gladly gives Kenneth Branagh the easiest opportunity to ham up a Russian accent for the sake of cartoonish Bond villain bombast.

And it’s probably here that I confess that my hesitance to sum up the plot is based on wanting to give as little of the twisty plot away as possible since the whiplash of those reveals is part of what launches us just be another of Tenet‘s a plentiful popcorn setpieces of varying scale. Suffice it to say that the Protagonist learns of an eponymous organization that deals with time travel and a potentially devastating future and the movie follows his investigation into the organization while learning firsthand of the method of time travel: objects are inverted in their entropy to a point that they experience the same linear time but in the opposite direction from us. So it looks to the eye (camera or otherwise) like the subject is moving backwards, whether falling up into a hand or being fired into a gun.

Essentially, the camera trick that this conceit recruits into being the star of the film is the oldest in the book: running film backwards (and while I doubt that they actually performed this manually as that is maniacal in the 21st Century, I expect that celluloid purist Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema felt further kindred to that trick by shooting in 70mm IMAX). Here is where it is most impressive that Nolan and Lame are able to make Tenet as a film feel like it’s driving down its path without stopping even in the moments where the sudden change to backwards movement should feel like a gear shift. Van Hoytema maintains the same sleekness with the reversed elements in any given shot as the forwarded elements and the cleanliness of combining the two is completely exciting to experience, particularly in action sequences where we are taken by surprise with what is reverted while Lame just clips each shot ever so slightly so that the abruptness of a cut makes us consistently feel disarmed without losing coordination with the pieces of a sequence.

That latter part is particularly most admirable of Lame’s involvement and one of the most underrated things I find about Tenet and probably the biggest reason I wasn’t bothered by the lack of clarity with regards to the why or how is its clarity regarding what’s happening in a moment-by-moment sense. For one thing, halfway through the film we are introduced to a color-coding with red and blue in a subtle moment regarding what state certain characters are in during a particular moment and this is later given an overt reminder with a specific lighting of an industrial set. For another, Göransson gladly utilises backmasking in moments where the Protagonist or Neil (and thereby we as an audience) are meant to be experiencing the inversion ourselves, giving us an aural experience that matches the visuals of a world moving the opposite way as us, while still maintaining a steady bass beat all throughout to keep us drawn in (I imagine that this comes particularly from Göransson’s background as a hip hop producer and man does it result in possibly the best score for a Nolan movie to date).

None of this negates how obstructive the dialogue mixing is, particularly when I mentioned above that consistent reveals feel just as much a part of the momentum as the action itself. But I definitely found myself catching up to each moment with enough focus. “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” is the button to one of our central exposition scenes and I have to say that that philosophy worked well for me watching Tenet. It is like most other Nolan pictures in that if you stop to give it too much thought and it will eventually fall apart (this is even true of his most-acclaimed picture, The Dark Knight). But if you are willing to just pay attention and get ahold of what’s going, you will have good time just swaying with every swing that it throws you on. If you’re not down with that, well then you may as well be playing the movie backwards.

*Which to those who have decided not to go to a movie theater, my due respect to you. I understand it is a theater-by-theater case regarding the measures taken while we’re still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic but the theater I went to (which I will not name) did not feel as safe as I’d hoped and I don’t think there’s another release coming that I intend to go to a cinema to watch for the next several months. I had a great time as the review should indicate, but I am conflicted about my act and will not be recommending anyone to go to a movie theater as long as COVID is active in their area.
**Nolan has claimed that this is deliberate to add subterfuge and confusion. I honestly find that kind of shitty.
***Mad Max: Fury Road, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum are the ones that I think of when I say that, none of which Tenet is even close to the level of, I am sorry to say but not too sorry.

Hey guys, it’s me, videogameDunkirk

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This late after its initial release (though there is indeed the possibility of an Oscar season rerun given its certainty in the Best Picture slate at this point in a weak year), it doesn’t really matter to housekeep what format exactly I saw Christopher Nolan’s World War II picture Dunkirk or what I’d recommend it in. But just for formality’s sake, I may as well state I was lucky enough to catch it in both regular 70mm projection and in IMAX digital format*. And celluloid purists be damned, after watching it in IMAX, I cannot imagine living without bigger format accommodating the full breadth of most of the imagery (one of the storylines most obviously was not shot on IMAX due to the clear logistics of the scene and so it’s in a 2.20:1 format opposed to the rest of the IMAX 1.90:1. The switch may be jarring to some, but what isn’t kind of jarring about Nolan and editor Lee Smith’s choice of editing style, anyway? I’ll get to that in a bit, but I just want to point out that while most of the imagery cut by the popular 70mm 2.20:1 version of the film is essentially empty space of sea and sky, that goes a long way in implying the length and distance our characters have from safety. Which ratchets up the tension in an anxious way.

That tension coming from portraying the real-life 1940 evacuation of British soldiers from the French shore of Dunkirk as the unseen German forces surround them during their invasion of France in World War II. And being a Christopher Nolan film, one of the mainstream filmmakers most fascinated with playing around narrative structure, the story of Dunkirk’s desperate waiting game and evacuation is told through three different strands and timespans: The Mole, following a week of the novel-named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he attempts to find a way out of the mass of sitting ducks that is British soldiers trapped on the beach with on-edge private Alex (Harry Styles) and the uncommunicative Gibson (Aneurin Barnard). The Sea, following a day of the civilian ships commissioned from Weymouth to help the evacuation effort, amongst them Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and Peter’s friend George (Barry Keoghan), who end up finding a shell-shocked soldier stranded in the ocean (Cillian Murphy) who tries to force them to turn away from Dunkirk. And the Air, following three spitfire pilots (Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, and an uncredited Michael Caine in order of importance) as they fly for an hour to give air support to the departing ships and protect them from the hawking German stukas.

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The intention is clear – Nolan wants a comprehensive look at the experience of the fearful lives in one of the most fearful moments in European history – made all the more clearer in the fact that none of these characters have much to inner life within them except the desire not to die, leading more to audience proxies for experiential intensity than any deep entities. Such was the source of much criticism towards Dunkirk and while they’re entitled to their opinion, I don’t really have a problem with it. I’m sure most audiences can relate to not wanting to die.

I’d be lying if I said I found the exercise a complete success, though To begin with, I can’t really read a logic to Lee Smith’s cross-cutting between the timelines. There’s not enough incident to the Mole storyline to believe the whole thing spans a week without narratively jumping a few days while the Air storyline is just an extended flight sequence with occasional interruption by Stuka fire. Neil Fulwood at Agitation of the Mind made mention of peripheral moments in the Mole storyline such as the bodies returning with the changing tide that could have been given more room to allow a tapestry of experiences, rather than just keeping it entirely restrained to two points of view – Tommy or the frustratingly patient commanding officer Bolton (Kenneth Branagh). Smith doesn’t lose all that much momentum, but the temporal parameters just aren’t well-suited by his cutting.

That said, there is payoff. Significant payoff, one of the highlight sequences in 2017 summer cinema where the film is aware of the exact timepoint where the three storylines will be colliding and not only is the moment heightened and intense, but the movie’s anticipation of this begins to double down on pacing into the moment like a quickening perception of time, the sort of “holy shit!” fright you get entering a car crash. And boy oh boy does somebody have to give Smith all the credit for that.

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Credit as well given to cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema in providing the sober reality of the entrapped situation with sandy greys and browns and blues without ever losing the sharpness of the imagery with the delicacy of a war photograph. The blues only inhabit the empty distance when Bolton declares how easily he can see home from the port. And aiding that photography in filling in the atmosphere is a sound mix of distant booms and explosions to jolt the viewer’s heart for every time the Germans thwart the desperate British troops’ runs for safety for punctuation or promise an endless chaos even beyond our characters’ occasional apparent safety. Or the stuka sirens alone signifying the dread growing in the coming gunfire to rain on our helpless subjects, doing a better job of that than the atonal paste of noise that Hans Zimmer’s score attempts to provide and then tries to pile on the hamfisted nature by establishing a progressive beat click. Beyond Zimmer’s work, Nolan and company have provided a comprehensive observation of the terrors of Dunkirk that pulls every clear technique short of gore to interject anxiety and stress into the film.

Dunkirk is truly not a waiting game of a movie, it’s full of motion and energy in a despairing and dire premise. And that energy forces the sort of violent shakes that an audience must respond to. It’s the sort of detached presentation that you forget the whole context until its second-to-last note of a bored reading of Churchill’s speech, but it’s not devoid of sentiment when it opens with a character who we are meant to assume will wipe his ass with Nazi propaganda or a character who we sadly witness die is venerated by his local paper. And it’s not as though the actors don’t do what they can to allow their sense of self shade the characters’ response as human (best performed by Rylance, Styles, Branagh, and Keough in that order). But it is a schematic adaptation of a historical event transformed into a vehicle for audience fright without any nationalism or patriotism (probably ideal in the context of Brexit). Some may find that a bit exploitative, but for me, at least on my first two viewings, I found it thrilling enough to bring me to empathize with every single face in the crowd of soldiers on that beach.

*I was indeed frustrated that the sole South Florida IMAX at the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Science and Discovery didn’t have it in IMAX 70mm, but there’s a very embarrassing rumor that explains why.

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25 for 25 – Why So Serious?

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I have it on relatively reliable authority (my mother) that I’ve been obsessed with superheroes since I was a child. Like go to the toy store with my mom and ask only for superhero action figures. Be taken to the comic book store by my dad and just grab whatever comic looked the coolest. Namely Batman. Especially Batman. At the risk of being basic, Batman was my favorite superhero as a child and even when I couldn’t understand the English words, I’d love witnessing him come to life from the art of Neal Adams and Kelley Jones (my very first Batman artist) growing up and how shaded and somber he’d look. I hate to say it but darkness is so much more interesting than brightness (captivating as brightness is, which is why I liked Superman a lot too).

I think child me is happy to have his love for Batman validated by the new decade (though I would be curious how he would be if he lived in 1989, when the first wave of Bat-Hype came about). For The Dark Knight is perhaps one of the biggest cinematic events that I have ever lived through and – unlike Titanic and Avatar – one that has its influence spread all over pop culture into this new decade since. For which I’m really glad I wasn’t writing about movies at the time so I could turn around in retrospect and comment on the effect.

You see, I mentioned in my X-Men review that the door was opened for superhero movies as a trend by the one-two-three success punches of Men in BlackX-Men, and Spider-Man causing everybody to run for comic book properties, but 2008 was the year comic book movies took their most important and recognizable shapes and began being recognized as legitimate arts for cinema. Iron Man supplied the universe-obsessed irreverent lively bright comic book films while The Dark Knight became the nihilistic sober-minded revisionist drama mode. Every superhero movie, even the ones that people claim to do something different like Deadpool or Logan, have the success of one or both of these movies in their DNA (like Deadpool‘s character focused, small-scale irreverence being a child of Iron Man‘s right down to the unorthodox action hero choice, while Logan‘s helpless nihilism is The Dark Knight in a Western setting).

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I think it’s very safe to say The Dark Knight may have made the bigger splash on how superhero movies can be taken seriously and its box office appeal (being the fourth movie to break the $1 billion barrier before it became a regular thing) and its subsequent critical acclaim leading to an outcry for its lack of a Best Picture nomination that led to the Oscars expanding the slate to up to 10 movies. Consensuses call it among the best movie of the 2000s, IMDb lists it as the fourth best rated movie since its release, and it’s roundly considered the best superhero film ever made.

Let’s get my opinion on it straight: it’s not my favorite superhero movie. Hell, it’s not even my favorite Batman movie. Hell, it’s not even my favorite of the Batman films directed by Christopher Nolan, of which The Dark Knight is the second part after Batman Begins (my favorite). And I wouldn’t hesitate in thinking it’s a somewhat overrated film (I am of the reducive attitude that any pop culture with that amount of popularity has to be overrated, whether Citizen Kane or The Beatles). If I’m recognizing the flaws that truly hold me back from considering it perfect, there’s infamously plodding dialogue (“NO MORE DEAD COPS!”, “Have a nice trip. See you next fall.”, etc.), the prisoner’s dilemma incorporated into the climax, and most grievously the double-edged sword of Nolan grounding the film making it feel more derivative of crime pictures (namely Michael Mann’s work) and having Wally Pfister’s cinematography downplayed after the expressionist wonder of Batman Begins‘ construction of Gotham City. Now, it’s Chicago. The Dark Knight calls it Gotham, but it’s totally Chicago. And that removes a lot of magic.

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Now that’s what I don’t like about a movie I love, so I’m gonna talk about what I do love. Grounding Batman in the real world may not be as pretty as I’d like, but it still provides a more effective narrative hook to follow – now we have legalities and public perception to worry about for our Dark Knight Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale), GCPD Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) trying to reel in the chaotic carnage of The Joker (Heath Ledger). And these factors aren’t just mentioned once and never shown up again, Batman’s arc revolves around whether or not he can retire so that Dent – the cleaner non-vigilante image for Gotham’s hero – can take over the fight that wears him down so.

There’s Nolan and Pfister’s expert usage of action setpieces. I know that’s not a popular opinion, but hell with it, I think Nolan and editor Lee Smith are the only people who have been able to follow through on Paul Greengrass’ famously kinetic physical action editing style that portrays and compels the viewer into feeling in the action while still giving a sense of confusion and incoherence without losing ourselves. I can’t imagine anybody trying to convince me the truck chase scene in the middle of the film is a poorly-edited scene and we do realize the opening bank robbery that introduces us to the Joker is kind of the favorite sequence of most viewers for a damn reason.

Aiding that editing by giving it its rhythm is one of the first scores that introduced to the idea that Hans Zimmer could not be bad in his collaboration with James Newton Howard. While much of it is just a re-packaging of leitmotifs served better in Batman Begins, it is indeed the Joker’s theme – a savage, slightly percussive undertone wonderfully described by Zimmer as “razor blades on cellos” – always able to tighten up a listener and briefly blasting horns in a consistently interrupted way as it climbs in intensity and puts our mind to the ticking timeclock Batman has to beat in order to overcome all of the Joker’s obstacles and beat his games.

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And that means addressing, finally, the elephant in the room: the much-mythologized penultimate performance of Heath Ledger as Batman’s Clown Prince of Crime arch-nemesis – the first acting performance nominated for an Oscar posthumously, the second awarded the Oscar, the subject of much speculation that the role was dangerous enough to cause Ledger’s premature death (speculation I honestly find tasteless and disrespectful to his abilities as an actor). He’s fantastic, personifying destruction and chaos in such an unexpected manner. He knows he owns each scene he appears in and drives it as far as he can, an energetic but never light or bouncy presence in the film that brings sickening darkness from his attire (provided by Lindy Hemming) to his grungy makeup to his lip smacking. He gets the closest he can to being believable in this pseudo-real world environment without losing the theatricality of a cinematic portrayal and his lack of restraint is not overzealous but measured. Sure, the other performances are fine, but people go to see The Dark Knight at this point for Ledger and it’s only serendipitous that Nolan’s movie surrounding him is also absolutely great.

I called the movie overrated, sure. But it doesn’t mean it’s not solid, intelligent popcorn cinema full of power and thunder. It’s bleak and operatic nihilism in the most accessible fashion, even moreso than No Country for Old Men. And while some of its gravitas has to have been informed by Ledger’s unfortunate death, that gravitas is still there and makes it compelling to watch without any guilt.

I mean, it’s been nearly ten years. I’m kind of gracious I gave the 16-year-old who first walked out telling his dad “I think it’s my favorite movie” time to figure out above all the overhype if The Dark Knight is still a great movie and I think the answer is loud yes. Sure, I’m not gonna call it one of the greatest comic book movies or of the 21st century and in the end I like my comic book movies bright and bouncy. But if The Dark Knight were a bad movie, it would not have survived the test of time. No, its grandioseness as a dark superhero picture in the post-9/11 world has leaked itself into so many films trying to copy some of that summer movie mojo and honestly none of them have been able to do much more than pale in imitation.

There can only be one Dark Knight.

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Didn’t Go Gently – Interstellar (2014/dir. Christopher Nolan/USA)

I’m going to be straightforward with my main thesis. If you take nothing else from this here review, you must take this bit of advice: Should you choose to see Interstellar (and I do recommend you do in the end, alongside BoyhoodInterstellar has proven to be THE event movie of the year – quality aside) and if you’re close enough to a genuine IMAX theater (not the fascimiles that have been parading around with the brand), either see the movie in 70mm IMAX or do not see the movie at all. I’m seriously not settled yet from having witnessed the movie as an all-encompassing experience and from what I understand out of how video resolution and aspect ratios work, any other way of watching Interstellar will result in cropped imagery.

Which is a big fucking pet peeve as a filmmaker. Hiding something that clearly is wanted to be seen by the artist.

But don’t watch Interstellar in 70mm IMAX because you’d piss me off otherwise, watch Interstellar in 70mm IMAX because Interstellar is so ambitious of a picture (I believe it to be Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious film yet – edging out The Dark Knight Rises) and large of a beast that you deserve to have it surround you, not in front of you.

That aside, let me get to the real meat of my experience with the movie.

I’m 100% certain I only like Interstellar because I wanted to like it.

Sounds stupid, right? That’s kind of how most people should feel about any movie. Well, I’d think the quality of a movie is what is supposed to provoke your final opinion when it comes to anything and well, Interstellar is not really devoid of quality so much as it is all over the place.

The successes with the films are potent – the visual imagery is astonishing and the main cast is what keeps the movie afloat via Herculean effort.

The failures are however, similar to Nolan’s previous film The Dark Knight Rises (again, also ambitious), a giant wreck rivaling the image Percy Shelley drafted of the Ozymandias ruins. That is to say, they are large. Obnoxious. And clearly the work of a great artist who is losing his touch (and I know there’s a cynicism that runs through me when it comes to talking about Christopher Nolan’s works, but I do feel The Prestige and Batman Begins alone validate Nolan as a filmmaker even if he’s never been one of my favorites).

Those failures are a totally imbalanced, half-unintelligible screenplay by director Nolan and his frequent collaborator and brother Jonathan Nolan (I don’t wanna say nepotism, but… Nolan does have enough clout in Hollywood for carte blanche no matter who he uses), a sound mix that sounds like a very very bad rough cut of a home video, a hamfisted attempt to make emotional beats louder than they actually resonate in real-life (but in honesty, when these beats work, they fucking work, so I guess it’s both a pro and con of the film), and sometimes a very blatantly obvious understanding that the space behind the ships the film takes place in are back-projected.

But, hey, it may seem like the deck of cons is stacked against the the deck of pros for the film, but I swear, when it comes to a movie like this, it doesn’t matter. I mean, half of these cons (the script and the emotional anti-climax) are the case in Gravity (whose visuals are not really matched by Interstellar, but to be fair, it takes a hell of a lot to match up to Emmanuel Lubezki and Hoyte van Hoytema’s work here is impressive in its own way), but we didn’t make any real illusions about Gravity was meant to be and it ended up being praised as one of the greatest movies of the past year on its visuals alone.

I don’t see Interstellar earning that acclaim anytime soon, honestly, but its visual work is absolutely astounding. To begin with the outright tangible, so much has been devoted to the reconstruction of what we know on space travel that it’s more through the believability of the confines of the astronauts that we get grounded into the story than the paper-thin characterizations of anyone who isn’t really either Murphy (Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain, & Ellen Burstyn) or Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). And it’s yet another progenitor of the effort to create on-camera effects when it can be done and only allowing CGI effects as can possibly remain devoted to the actor-involving process of living in the scene itself. It feels real because, unlike Gravity, it is real and, even when Gravity still has been the best visual effects of the decade so far, Interstellar at least one-ups the previous film in being completely devoted to itself as a world that the actors can completely live-in without tricking themselves.

In addition to that, there’s something else I have against some of the criticisms towards Interstellar, which is that expectations were already made for the movie to be compared to the visionary classic of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Which is pretty huge bullshit to me, partly because of the bias it brings out in an audience, partly because that’s a very tall order that few movies can meet, but largely because there was really no basis for this comparison beyond very shallow similarities the two films share. Nolan is not really a cerebral director, as much as laymen audiences like to claim, certainly not as much as Kubrick, who is the most popcorn cerebral director we have had yet. Where Nolan is dedicated to simply straightforward synopses and only gets their complexities in the meat of the storyline, Kubrick likes to communicate themes and ideals before any real plot can tie them together. 2001: A Space Odyssey is way too avant-garde to even be compared to what was expected to be a blockbuster science fiction. That shouldn’t have needed to be said, but there it is.

What does resonate as a comparison to me is how similar Interstellar is to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris – attempting to focus a lot more on the human element as the Nolan trademark of dronely shoveling out exposition after exposition gets in the way of that writing-wise. Emotions are what matter most in the end, not the science, which inside provides an initially sterile backdrop to the vividness of the actors’ expressions before leaking out into more and more sharper and dimensioned imagery as extensions to the uncertain atmosphere and heightened tensions the characters face as they go deeper into the wormhole of the film.

But to further explain that, I’d have to go into the story and try to dig it from the cold corpse of that terrible script. In the first act (a lot of people claiming that it is too long and I personally find it taking longer than it should to get to the main plot of the film, but I at least enjoy how it is the closest the film attempts to world-building before fucking itself up – I later found out the first act was the only thing Christopher Nolan didn’t touch of Jonathan’s draft and that explains a lot to me), the Earth is dying in some way and everybody is helpless because apparently the whole country has gone backwards and archaic, disregarding science for the most arduous labor (there’s some sort of common disapproval of NASA in the film – going so far as to have characters claim the Apollo missions were fabricated – but I can’t really put my finger on it entirely as the movie doesn’t make itself clear on this matter. I totally wonder how Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Brian Schmidt, or David Spergel feel on this movie for this reason.). Former NASA pilot Cooper, his daughter Murphy, his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow), and his son Tom (Timothee Chalamet & Casey Affleck) don’t really buy into any of that, but they don’t feel able to do anything than begrudgingly wait to die like Cooper’s wife before the events of the movie. Circumstances however lead Cooper and Murphy (it is painfully hilarious to me how Cooper seems to forget Tom exists for most of the movie and that’s one of the problems with the script) to discover a secret NASA base being hidden from the community and run by Cooper’s former mentor Dr. Brand (another father figure role of just explaining the premise for once-great Michael Caine) and Dr. Brand turns out to want Cooper to pilot a mission into space to find another set of Earths through a wormhole.

Problem is, through the relativity of time via dimensions, Cooper knows he will not return to his kids in a timely fashion if he returns at all and Murphy is especially aware of this, later on growing up to become totally resentful of Cooper for going on this mission and leaving her alone.

That’s where most of the emotional center of Interstellar is. How Cooper is only leaving his daughter behind to save her (among others) and how Murphy and Cooper can’t seem to take that separation. That is one of the most unintentional Tarkovsky-ian things I have seen in a film since Tarkovsky has died. I bet Nicholas Winding Refn is jealous. Interstellar does juggle that storyline with the forward attempts to find a new world for humanity to begin again (and several other incidental storylines), but again all of that is totally dismissive to point that Cooper wants to do his job and get back home.

Now the script merely puts this situation forth and hardly expands on it, the Nolans pretending that they have done their emotional growing for the day, but the cast – when given a chance – will give the emotional facets of the arc enough weight. For instance, there is a scene of decision between Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway attempting to be sold as Michael Caine’s daughter), Cooper and company as to the next step in the journey. Brand has some very inexplicable interests that only make me convinced they matter because of Hathaway’s performance and not from the crap about “love transcending dimensions” that she spews out to defend her decisions (I swear to Odin, if I didn’t know better, I’d say Christopher Nolan has never met a person in his life) or a moment that would be impossible to screw up as an actor where Cooper reviews a whole stack of videos from his children that he missed inadvertently that ends up being the best moment in the whole film because of how completely devastating McConaughey’s performance is. Some actors kind of end up not having enough time to be there (like poor Wes Bentley) or just not really being necessary (whatever the fuck Topher Grace thinks he is doing here, it’s little more than a cameo with absolutely no effect on the plot or characters whatsoever), but most of the real players of the film – Hathaway, Foy, Chastain, McConaughey, Burstyn, Affleck, Bentley, David Gyasi – really do enough to make their thoughts apparent and larger than life so that the movie doesn’t come off as fake as it could have been under lesser actors with this screenplay.

And a lot of weight to both the visuals and the moment is given to how well crosscut Lee Smith, a Nolan regular, makes these scenes. I can’t explain too many of these moments without spoiling the movie, but I will say that when the entire third act of the film becomes a jumbled up carnage of moments that don’t know how to present each other juxtaposition-wise, Smith knows exactly how to make the scenes more functional as moments of action. Even a simple moment of looking at an equation on a board ends up feeling like a moment of insurmountable adversity because of how intensely positioned each shot is. But the climax is the true crowning jewel, disregarding the logic of the somewhat unwieldy scene (Kip Thorne was advisor towards the wormhole physics and other scientific topics involved and I hope he feels at least accomplished, because the movie tries its hardest to communicate a diluted form of that science to the audience) to just jump into what Cooper and Murphy feel is necessary to do and making it go as fast-paced as the situation demands without being incomprehensible as a moment.

There are other nitpicks I can make (like how the changing of time is not entirely consistent in regards to what has passed) and there are other strengths I can commend (there’s some pretty satisfying comic relief in the form of TARS – a robot voiced by Bill Irwin who, as an unapologetic Sesame Street fanatic, I identified almost immediately as Mr. Noodles’ brother Mr. Noodles), but in the end the point is clear I hope. Interstellar was a giant conglomeration of brilliance and banality that came entirely from the ambitions of Christopher Nolan and matches the same ambitious jumble done with The Dark Knight Rises. You will notice both what is wrong and what is right while watching the movie and it won’t entirely mesh correctly, but how you react to it in the end is entirely up to you. Go for a good story, you will leave unsatisfied. Go for a visual experience (because audiophiles will be mortified), you will love it.

And you should still see it in IMAX, because with big images comes a big-ass ride. And that’s just what Interstellar works best as. A ride that you only start thinking about after the fact. I almost swore leaving the theater that 500 years have passed – partly because of how overly long the film felt unnecessarily, but gladly due to how much more involving the movie felt than I expected.