Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Interstellar

As a wise man once said, space is big. Really big. Christopher Nolan's latest blockbuster shows us just how mind-blastingly, frighteningly vast space really is, but also manages to anchor its cosmic vistas in a very simple, very human story of love and loss.
In an unspecified near future the human race is starving and suffocating as we use up the last of our resources and watch our crops wither and die in a global Dustbowl. Former NASA pilot, widower and father of two, Cooper ( Matthew McConaughey ) receives a mysterious message that prompts him to abandon his farming life and sign up for a last, desperate attempt to save humanity. As part of a small crew of scientists and explorers, Cooper blasts off into the endless reaches of outer space, to pass through a wormhole into a new galaxy and, hopefully, to find a new home for humankind. The biggest problem with this mission is relativity: travelling at impossible speed across the universe and skirting around the awesome gravitational force of the new galaxy's black hole ( "Gargantua" ) means that time passes far quicker for the astronauts than it does back on Earth. Cooper may save his species but lose his family...
I'm not the greatest Christopher Nolan fan  -  I found his Batman movies too joyless and the likes of Memento and The Prestige were obviously well-made but didn't drag me back for repeat viewings  -  however, I loved Inception so I was interested to see how he'd tackle the move from inner to outer space.
Interstellar, as it turns out, lives up to the hype. After a first act which establishes the relationship between Cooper and his family and illustrates the seemingly hopeless plight of this depleted Earth, we are then catapulted into deep space. The word "awesome" is seriously overused these days ( and I'm certainly guilty of that ) but this film reclaims the meaning of the word and dazzles us with epic, beautiful images as the crew of the Endurance embark on their impossible mission.The immensity of the universe overwhelms us  -  the spaceship is reduced to a tiny speck, floating serenely past Saturn's rings or plunging into the maelstrom of the wormhole. From a water-covered world, to an ice world, to a mind-boggling trip through the black hole and into higher dimensions, Interstellar is a true successor to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey...
But, whereas that groundbreaking 1968 movie was intentionally unemotional, Interstellar wears its heart on its metaphorical sleeve. Cooper is constantly aware throughout the mission that the chances of being reunited with his children are slipping away as the time-dilation effect of deep space travel separates them by decades. McConaughey is totally convincing as the man-out-of-time ( literally ) who is caught in an impossible situation, and there's also some lovely, subtle work from Anne Hathaway as fellow crew-member Dr. Brand; and luckily their relationship develops realistically while not descending into trite Hollywood obviousness. Cooper's most important relationship, however, is with his daughter Murph as played by Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn at different stages in her life. His guilt at leaving Murph behind and her anger at this perceived betrayal drive the plot along as much as the exploration of brave new worlds. ( Cooper's son, as played by Timothee Chalomet and Casey Affleck, gets far less attention. ) There is also an appearance halfway through the story by A Big Name Actor which came as an unexpected but welcome surprise, his character adding another element of risk to the already tense story.
Things get very metaphysical and emotional towards the end but you feel that the characters have earned the extra-dimensional Deus Ex Machina that provides the resolution. And, after almost three hours of nail-biting tension and apocalyptic visions, the audience has earned it too. Ultimately, behind all the cosmic spectacle and dire prophecies, this is a very optimistic and humane movie with the Right Stuff...
"Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here."

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Fabian Perez 2014

Argentinian superstar artist Fabian Perez is currently doing another tour of the UK, so Sarah and I headed over to the ever-wonderful Whitewall Galleries in Cheltenham to see his latest exhibition.
( And it gave Sarah yet another chance to swoon over the Johnny Depp-alike great man himself. )
As ever, the gallery was rammed with people admiring the artwork and sculptures, drinking free champagne and hoping to meet and greet with the always-approachable and friendly Fabian. The new collection was up to his usual high standards with his trademark cast of sultry, romantic characters in beautiful, atmospheric locations. We were particularly taken by the masked Venetian lady above. The original oil painting was selling for just under £8000, while a pen and ink study for the piece was going for about £1300. Sigh! We just have to keep on dreaming...
We also really liked this one, The Embrace, but I couldn't do it justice in the photo, as a light shining on it tended to bleach out the colours. There's nothing like seeing a painting for real!
Likewise, this painting of Fabian's muse, Saba, is the original, while the piece at the top of this post is a print.
Here's our invitation to the event. James was going to come with us, but at the last minute decided to go out with a mate instead. Kids! Anyway, we had a great time at the exhibition and, thinking of the Venetian lady, went for a lovely Italian meal afterwards. Same time next year...?

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Doctor Who Reviews Roundup: Tombs, trees and a tiny Tardis

My Doctor Who reviews have got lost in the time vortex yet again but, using cutting-edge temporal physics and huge amounts of Artron energy I've managed to re-materialise them here for your reading pleasure, just ahead of the series finale. The lengths I go to for this 'ere blog...
Flatline
After plunging into 3D for the 50th Anniversary last year Doctor Who explores another relative dimension in this creepy episode. People are mysteriously disappearing from a Bristol council estate and the Doctor is trapped inside a dimensionally-challenged Tardis, leaving Clara to step up and solve the riddle.
Although this episode seemed superficially similar to worst-21st-century-Who-story Fear Her ( I'm yawning just thinking about it ) it turned out to be a small-scale treat with some clever ideas ( 2D creatures invading a 3D world ), fine performances from the leads ( "I'm the Doctor, but you can call me Clara" ) and a genuinely disturbing, unknowable enemy in the Boneless. And the Addams Family gag had us all roaring. On the evidence of this episode and the previous week's Mummy story, scriptwriter Jamie Mathieson is a welcome addition to the Who writing team. In fact, this series is notable for new writers, with excellent work from Peter Harness ( Kill The Moon ) and also the newbie behind the next episode...
In The Forest Of The Night
Frank Cottrell Boyce was a surprising choice to write new Who as he is primarily known as a children's author and the writer of the 2012 London Olympics' opening ceremony. However, with this unusual story he has created something new for the show, a truly different take on the old "invasion of Earth" plot, with some genuinely magical moments. I couldn't help but think of Where The Wild Things Are as a world-wide forest grows overnight to cover the planet, and Clara, the Doctor and Danny find themselves in a London overwhelmed by trees...
Almost harking back to the twisted fairy tale vibe of Matt Smith's first series, this story is a beautiful exploration of primal, childhood fears of the deep, dark woods with just a twist of that 12th Doctor harshness. Capaldi's Doctor is in fact showing more signs of softening here, interacting on a surprisingly human level with Danny's pupil, Maebe, the young girl whose visions are the solution to the arboreal apocalypse. Clara's character, on the other hand, is seen to be drifting further from humanity ( due to too much time spent with the Doctor? )  -  more concerned with the mystery and the wonder of the crisis than protecting the Coal Hill School children. Director Sheree Folkson creates a gorgeous vision of an unnaturally leafy London and hopefully is another talent ( like these new writers ) that the show can hang on to.
Dark Water
At last we have a two-part series finale again! It's been a long time. In this episode the mysterious Missy ( the ever-crazy Michelle Gomez ) finally takes centre stage as we see what she's been up to for these past 11 episodes. And it's not good.
The story starts with a shock as Clara's boyfriend, soldier-turned-maths-teacher Danny Pink is knocked down and killed by a car. ( That'll teach him to mess about with his mobile instead of watching where he's going! ) Consumed by grief, Clara demands the Doctor bring him back  -  "Time can be re-written" and all that. The Doctor goes one better, however, and attempts to break into the afterlife to find him...
This episode does indeed dive into some very deep, dark water for a perceived "family" show: we see a truly frightening version of an afterlife, where the dead are still conscious and linked to their earthly bodies; our friend Clara is so obsessed with saving Danny that she betrays and threatens the Doctor for her own ends; and the Doctor finds he is, er, out of his depth as Missy reveals her plans and her identity. This is a very brave and unsettling story, pushing the boundaries of what the show can be about and showcasing some very adult themes of grief and bereavement, leading even the usually-supportive Radio Times to call it "crass and in bad taste."
There are a couple of developments in this story that I can't really believe  -  Why would the rationally-minded Doctor even believe in an afterlife, let alone try to pilot the Tardis there? And why would he help Clara after she had treated him so badly, grief or no grief? These questions weren't enough to spoil this tough, challenging story for me but they were a distraction. That said, there was plenty to enjoy here, all the same: the grim, funereal atmosphere; the emergence of the Cybermen from the dark water tanks; the impressive realisation of the Nethersphere; some trademark Moffatt humour sprinkled on top of the chilling implications of the plot.
And, as I type this, there are only a couple of hours to go until the finale airs on BBC1. Can't wait...

Four Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or outraged critics ) ...that goes for all 3 episodes above :-)

Soundtrack: The Last Words Of The Great Explorer by TV Smith's Explorers


Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Halloween!











Sigourney Weaver in Gotham

No, not the TV show :-)
These are a few great pics from a photo shoot Sigourney recently did for the magazine Gotham, a "What's On"-type of publication for New York City. With all the talk in the media lately about celebrities and their image / body-shape issues it's refreshing to see Sigourney still looking beautiful at 65, an unashamedly mature woman, wrinkles and all...

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