Movie Review: Interstellar

November 9, 2014

Interstellar (2014)
169 minutes
Rated PG-13
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine

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Grade: A-

Chris Nolan has directed some challenging, mind-bending films before but never was one so ambitious as Interstellar. His lengthiest film to date deals with a whole lot of the unknown: fifth dimensions, alternate galaxies, time traveling, space theories and formulas, etc. One thing that I give Nolan credit for is that he doesn’t attempt to dumb down any of the material that likely will be too confusing to grasp after only a single viewing. Is Interstellar perfect? No, far from it. But it’s fascinating on so many levels that you just have to marvel at it.

Set in the future, Cooper (McConaughey) stumbles upon a NASA station and is convinced to pilot a spacecraft into space to explore planets in a new galaxy that could possibly inhabit humans to save mankind. The current Earth is in bad shape due to “blight,” which has made agriculture obsolete except for corn. Experts such as Professor Brand (Caine) suggest that there are only a few decades left for humans to stay on Earth before all of their resources run out. Cooper leaves behind his loving family of his daughter Murph, son Tom, and father-in-law Donald to try and save the human race, and more importantly his loved ones.

While it takes a while for Interstellar to set up the plot, what happens after will continually keep you in awe. Whether it’s the visuals of traveling through a wormhole or the sight of a tidal wave so tall it’s mistaken for mountains, the special efforts are stunning. But one element of the film (and a theme that Nolan is obsessed with) that must be mentioned is how time is bent after Cooper and his crew travel through the wormhole. I’ll try my best to explain this essential part of the movie.

The time on Earth moves faster than the other side of the wormhole that Cooper explores. There is also a black hole called Gargantua that slows time down even more based on how close you are to it. So for every hour Cooper spent on the first planet they researched, seven years will have passed on Earth. If that doesn’t get your brain going then I don’t know what will. This reminds me of the time element in Inception, how every layer that you dive deeper into dream land happens within moments of the outer layers. This is something that Cooper is specifically concerned about since he has every intention to keep his promise to Murph to come back home to Earth. But if he stays on that planet for too long, he could easily out-live her within several hours.

There are plenty of twists and turns that Nolan takes us on during his sci-fi space epic, but not all of them will be met with the same reaction. It’s already becoming clear that Interstellar is quite the polarizing film. Some people will love it and feel the third act is brilliant, while others will feel cheated, or confused, or frustrated at its tidiness through time-traveling loopholes and theories. Whatever the case, you’ll certainly need a good amount of patience to sit through this film.

One thing I found intriguing about Interstellar is its lack of a true antagonist. There are people who do questionable and bad things throughout, but none can really be considered an antagonist. Usually, these type of films focus in on the depth of the characters and depend on feelings instead of plot, but Interstellar’s heaviest aspect is its thick, layered plot. But I cannot say that there is a lack of human emotion during the film because of the connection that Matthew McConaughey expresses with his family. The scene when he’s watching the series of recordings his family has left him while he’s gone is truly heart-breaking and McConaughey does an excellent job at selling it. Every character has something at stake, and even the ones you thought had nothing to lose really might have the least to gain.

While I won’t spoil the movie’s conclusion, I’ll say that to me it was quite a stretch to comprehend. I didn’t dislike the ending, but at the same time it lacked the great conclusions of Nolan’s past such as Memento, The Dark Knight and Inception. Here, we’re challenged to accept the slightly far fetched ending of Interstellar, but for those who can accept it will be rewarded with a very satisfying end to one hell of a ride. Interstellar has the feel of a roller-coaster: those who love it will definitely be eager to revisit it as many times as they can, as soon as possible. But those who don’t will likely never want to go through the experience ever again. Where do you stand?

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2014 CMA Awards

November 6, 2014

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As a Country music fan, I tuned into the CMA Awards last night and pretty much got everything that I expected the three-hour long telecast to be. First and foremost, I don’t think any Country music fan watches the CMA Awards for the awards, because to be completely honest it’s all a bunch of crap. As much as I dislike the Emmy awards because they’re nominating the same people every single year with the majority going to the same winners, the CMA awards are the exact same thing. But I’ll get into that a little bit later.

The main reason I tune into the CMA Awards is for the musical performances, but I must admit that even this year’s telecast was a bit of a downer. Is it a coincidence that a lot of the Country music stars currently have singles that are ballads? But even if that’s so, couldn’t they play a hit that’s more upbeat to wow the crowd and to get our feet tapping at home? That’s why I thoroughly enjoyed Little Big Town’s “Day Drinking” and Dierks Bentley’s “Drunk on a Plane” last night the most. They’re fun, up-tempo songs that’ll have you singing (or whistling) way after you hear it. Instead, we got “Dirt” from Florida Georgia Line, “Lonely Tonight” by Blake Shelton, “Shotgun Rider” by Tim McGraw, plus many others.

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Even the hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who gave a great opening monologue by the way, performed their ballads “Perfect Storm” and “Something in the Water” respectively. Sure, not every Country song can be about drinking and trucks, but I’d rather have that than songs that I like to listen to while falling asleep. On top of that, the CMA Awards always showcases a number of collaborations, but last night even those suffered the same fate as straight up boring. Country outlaw Eric Church toned down for a duet with George Strait for “Cowboys Like Us.” And also Kacey Musgraves performed “You’re Looking at Country” with Loretta Lynn. It was great seeing collaborations, but neither of them were interesting at all, but at least they avoided the awkwardness of Miranda Lambert singing “All About That Bass” with Meghan Trainor, and Little Big Town’s performance alongside Ariana Grande.

So with a lot of the performances being underwhelming, I guess we have to focus in on the awards that were given out. I don’t mind Miranda Lambert because she does have a great amount of songs, and she has an essence about her that most Country women lack, but five years in a row for Female Vocalist of the Year beating out the likes of Carrie Underwood is just too much. But like I said, it’s just like the Emmy’s. Also, five years in a row for Blake Shelton winning Male vocalist of the Year? Give me a break. The CMA is in love with that married couple and their infatuation hasn’t faded away one bit in half a decade.

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There was certainly a lot of Miranda love throughout the evening, but I was glad that she didn’t snag the Entertainer of the Year award. That went to the well-deserved Luke Bryan who has easily been Country’s megastar the past few years. His greatest asset is being completely humble and excited when he still wins these accolades, just as if it were his first song to make it on the radio.

Despite the lack of entertaining performances and diversity of award winners, it was still a good night to be a Country music fan. Like Vince Gill said as he was accepting the prestigious Irving Waugh Award of Excellence, one of the greatest things about Country music is how close all of the artists are with one another and the camaraderie everyone shows. Whether they’re high-fiving each other or singing along to someone else’s song, there is simply no community as close as the Country music one. And as a Country music lover, I can vouch that it evident throughout every Country music concert I’ve attended. It’s a huge lovefest again and again, no matter who you’re watching or who’s sitting next to you. It’s the community that makes the whole experience more than worthwhile.


Movie Review – Birdman

November 5, 2014

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
119 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis

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Grade: A-

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu has made only four films since 2000, Birdman being his fifth feature film. For those who are familiar with Iñárritu, his films are very heavy, but he has a great talent for style and the ability to drive home the film’s theme. In Birdman, he focuses on how mainstream blockbuster films are destroying the creative minds of those who simply want to tell great stories, but might not have the chance to do so. This feels like a very personal film, and the way Iñárritu shoots it brings us into the lives of all the characters in a dazzling way.

Beginning with Riggan Thomson (Keaton), he’s an aging actor whose fame comes from the super-hero Birdman franchise, but after decades he’s trying to bring himself back into the spotlight by writing, directing and starring in a Broadway play adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. He’s betting his entire future (including his house) on this play, which is about to start its previews before opening night. The play’s cast includes Lesley (Watts), another aging actor who always dreamed of being on Broadway, and Mike Shiner (Norton), a gifted actor who has a reputation of beating to his own drum, usually to the director’s disapproval.

There is also Laura, Riggan’s girlfriend; Sam (Stone), Riggan’s daughter who is fresh out of rehab; and Brandon (Galifianakis), Riggan’s manager and seemingly the only sane one who tries his best to be the glue that keeps the whole production together. That’s the basic set-up to this whirlwind of a film. It’s known that the lifestyle of a theater actor can be quite hectic, especially during rehearsals, previews, and every moment in-between. Birdman captures the chaos of backstage, the methods of rehearsals, the intense nerves leading up to when the curtains open, and the family/relationship drama mixed in. But the way Iñárritu decides to present us with all of this chaos is what truly makes Birdman a must-see film of 2014.

You’ve probably already read about it, but in case you haven’t the majority of the film looks like one, single take. Obviously that’s not the case because that would be insane, but with the magic of digital editing the film really feels like one long tracking shot, moving from room-to-room, scene-to-scene. There’s no doubt that the film is made up of extended tracking shots glued together, and every shot is impressive in its own right, but shooting the film this way truly captures one of the most difficult aspects about being on Broadway: continuity.

Aside from the style of Birdman, the film boasts a number of great performances, notably from Michael Keaton. It’s impossible not to see the parallels between Keaton’s role in Birdman and his past fame with the Batman franchise, but I feel that makes everything even more compelling. In addition, Ed Norton and Emma Stone give fantastic supporting performances, two people who put on an act when they’re around Riggan but can strip down to the core of themselves when they’re alone on the rooftop of the theater.

Birdman revolves around Riggan Thomson’s world and everyone in it is one way or another affected by his actions. But even from his girlfriend, ex-wife, and to the theater critic, Thomson is haunted by the voice and ego inside his head telling him how he’ll always be known as the Birdman from his past movies. It’s a thought that every actor has to have throughout their career and the film goes the distance to show the risk of pulling the plug on a money-making franchise to seek out critical acclaim. Is it worth it? Just see how this film ends and then ask yourself again.

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The Walking Dead – “Slabtown”

November 3, 2014

Season Five, Episode Four

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Grade: B-

Question: Did we really need an entire episode dedicated to Beth? It was uncertain from last season whether she would be alive or dead, but as television rules permit, if you don’t see a character die then they’re probably still alive. What happens is that she winds up being rescued by a group of survivors who have been shacked up in a hospital. There’s Officer Dawn, the leader of the group who has a rule of “you take, you give back.” It’s not the worst rule to enforce during a post-apocalyptic world, but everyone there isn’t as nice as they seem.

There is Doctor Edwards, who is friendly with Beth at first but shows a vicious side to him when he gives Beth the wrong information so she can poison the only other doctor in the hospital. Then there’s the evil Officer Gorman, who just wants to rape Beth from the start. But Officer Dawn is the one to pay attention to during this episode. She has the whole group tightly wound and has a routine where the officers go out to save those that are hurt for Doctor Edwards to try and save. Why? They could always use more bodies in the hospital to help out and if they save you, well then you certainly owe them. Beth wants to leave, but Dawn won’t let her because she still hasn’t paid off her debt to them.

I like the whole idea of the group at the hospital, but in the show’s perspective I don’t know how well this is going to play into the season. At this point, we got rid of the Terminus story-line completely within three episodes, and that was a place I wish we could’ve explored further. How long are we going to stay with the hospital group? I’m only wondering because they’re not the most compelling to be around, and even though they seem to be functioning within certain rules, I don’t know how that place hasn’t fallen apart yet. And seriously, if Beth is going to be the one to tear them apart, then that’s another reason why I’m surprised.

The clash between Beth and Dawn is worth thinking about, which is the only good thing about this episode aside from the very ending. With Rick’s group they’re traveling from place to place, mostly walking on the road where danger lurks around every corner. So when Dr. Edwards complains that he’s bored, Beth tells him that he’s lucky to feel bored. But Beth soon realizes that the people there aren’t living, they’re waiting to die. I get what Beth’s saying, but I don’t know if one way is better than the other.

Dawn is protected by the walls of the hospital, but they’re not proactively trying to do anything to improve their situation. I don’t know if Dawn believes Beth when she screams that no one is coming to save them. You need a reason to keep living because without hope, you have nothing. Rick is somewhat being proactive by moving forward, but again he’s putting his group at a much higher risk being out in the world rather than safe behind walls (though I guess that hasn’t really fared well for Rick in the past). Meanwhile Abraham and Eugene are the most active in pursuing change for a better world by traveling to Washington D.C., since they claim they have the cure. An interesting question that the show is asking is, who would you follow?

And then at the end, Beth’s escape plan doesn’t work for her (though she does get her friend out even though he had one good leg) and she’s forced back into the hospital just in time to see a new patient they brought in to save: Carol. Boom! So I guess we’re not done with the hospital story-line, but it’ll be fun to see Carol and Beth together again.


The Walking Dead – “Four Walls and a Roof”

October 27, 2014

Season Five, Episode Three

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Grade: A-

I said it before and I’ll continue to say it again, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the fifth season of The Walking Dead. Since the show has disappointed me in the past, I still remain skeptical that the quality of the season can keep up with itself, but so far so good. We’re three episodes in and every episode has been some really solid television.

What TWD is doing here is providing us with a story-line and not jumping too far away from it. The first episode is where our group of survivors manage to escape Terminus. The second episode presented us with Gabriel and the remaining people from Terminus who have captured Bob and are feasting on his left leg. But Bob gets the last laugh when he shows the group that he’s been bit by a zombie! Though we haven’t been with Bob for too long, he’s always been a good character, and in “Four Walls and a Roof,” he’s the star.

But first off, what does happen if you eat an infected human? Everyone’s already infected, so would that even matter? The Terminus crew doesn’t want anything to do with Bob, so they drop him off at the church where the rest of the gang are questioning Gabriel, blaming him for the disappearance of Bob along with Daryl and Carol. Gabriel was certainly shady during the last episode, but he gives an incredibly convincing story for why he’s been weird this whole time. He sinned when he wouldn’t open the locked church doors to people crying for help, and just allowed the undead to have their way with them. It was a really great performance from Seth Gilliam.

Moving on, the old TWD would’ve dragged out the conflict between Gareth vs. Rick, such as when The Governor’s story arc lasted over a season. But out with the old and in with the new! We get our showdown when Gareth thinks he outsmarts Rick. Rick and his goons leave the church to go hunt Gareth and the Terminus crew, leaving the church practically unarmed (Carl and Tyreese were the main defense). But just as we thought Gareth was going to get his revenge, Rick and company return and brutally kills them… and I mean brutally! What was interesting about this sequence was how Gareth tried to explain, again, how they weren’t always cannibals. I would still love to see the rise and fall of Terminus in some kind of web-series or something, because that story-line fascinates me.

Anyway, Rick saves the day and continues to be the complete bad-ass that he is while living up to the deal to give Abraham Glena and Maggie (along with Abraham’s people) to go travel to Washington D.C. Does this split of the group going to mean we’ll finally slow the pace down some? Are we going to bounce back-and-forth between the two groups, or will they dedicate whole episodes to both? Whatever the case, the ending certainly got my heart pumping when Daryl finally returns to the church grounds. But is Carol with him? All he does is call out to whoever he’s with that it’s okay to come out. Who is he with?! Is it Morgan? Is it Beth?

Like I said above, the episode belongs to Bob with a great performance by Lawrence Gilliard Jr. Everyone says their goodbyes to him and he particularly thanks Rick for bringing him into the group. But the scenes between Bob and Sasha are ones that have been some of TWD’s finest emotionally driven scenes in its whole run thus far. It’s the world of TWD and every character knows it. You can fight so hard to remain by yourself, unwilling to love in order to never feel that hurt when you lose someone. But it’s clear that the only way to keep moving on is if you have a reason to, and what better reason to than spending your life with someone you love? Unfortunately for everyone in TWD, there doesn’t seem like things will get any easier anytime soon.


Movie Review: Gone Girl

October 27, 2014

Gone Girl (2014)
149 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike

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Grade: A-

For the record, I have read the novel before seeing the movie. It shouldn’t matter but it’s a fact that it does, especially with a plot that contains plenty of twists and turns. You can never relive that first time experience with a great story, whether you read it or you view it. So for me, I loved the book and as for the film, it was a very worthy adaptation.

Novelist Gillian Flynn also wrote the film’s screenplay, something pretty rare in the movie business. She does a great job at splicing up her book, eliminating some characters and plot points, but still retaining the dark tone and the twisty story full of surprises. Of course, David Fincher does a great job as director, truly engaging us in the action and also in the mystery that lurks behind every corner of every scene. You feel uneasy without knowing what’s being said is a lie or the truth. You feel even more uneasy when you start to understand the characters’ motives. This isn’t a film for those who love happy endings, but I think that’s pretty obvious right from the get-go.

Nick Dunne (Affleck) discovers on his fifth wedding anniversary that his wife, Amy, (Pike) has gone missing. A police investigation goes under way as Nick, his twin sister Margot, and Amy’s parents become involved. Nick and the police specifically pay attention to an anniversary tradition of Amy’s, an elaborate scavenger hunt that sends Nick to different places of sentimental value. But as the story unwinds, we learn that this supposedly happy couple have a lot of things they both have been hiding from each other.

The film does its best to imitate the novel’s back-and-forth perspective between the present day of Nick and the police investigation, and Amy’s diary entries from the past that leads up to the current situation. Masterfully, the story unravels to reveal more of the puzzle and bit-by-bit we get more evidence to a possible conclusion. This is what the film does best. The plot is so compelling that it’s impossible to somewhat ignore the characters and to be completely focused in on what will happen next. This isn’t a flaw, but it’s a method that can hide some shakiness within the characters that the movie simply doesn’t have time to go into detail about. While Affleck and Pike give very good performances, they’re over-powered by the complexity of the film and the curiosity of finding answers.

Gone Girl is also a film about manipulation, whether it’s the way married couples can manipulate each other or the way the media can manipulate the public’s view on things. And more times than not, it’s very important to be perceived well by the public, especially when you’re a man wanted like Nick Dunne finds himself to be. While half of the story is about figuring out answers to Amy’s disappearance, the other half is about how Nick can use the media to spin the story to his advantage, which he finds out time after time how difficult that truly can be.

This is an intelligent thriller that splits itself into two sub-genres: the straight up mystery thriller and the psychological thriller. While this will probably make plenty of people roll their eyes that the film is too long, with an argument that “They solved the mystery, why is the movie still running?” but what happens after the mystery is solved is just as intriguing as everything leading up to it. Gone Girl isn’t going to be loved by everyone, that’s a simple fact, but for those who want a dark, twisted, smart thriller for the modern age, this should be near the top of your list.

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The Walking Dead – “Strangers”

October 21, 2014

Season Five, Episode Two

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Grade: B

I was surprised about the way The Walking Dead finished the Terminus story-line so quickly, but that seems to be the show’s new M.O., evident with the conclusion of “Strangers” showing the leftovers from Terminus who have kidnapped Bob from the group and are feasting on his left leg, because that’s what cannibals do. The old TWD would’ve waited a handful of episodes until revisiting these villains, but in season five, we’re getting fast-paced action and danger around every corner.

So what’s to make of this? Our group knew they were being watched and now we know by who. While I feel bad for Bob, it’s not like we shouldn’t have expected it. Him and Sasha have been getting way too close for comfort in a post-apocalyptic show, and the way we keep on seeing them showing PDI constantly should’ve been a red flag. Honestly, I thought he was bit by the zombie that popped out of the water, but this is much worse (actually I don’t know. You can debate which is worse). The only couple who has lasted has been Glen and Maggie, and even those two have taken a serious back seat early on this season. Sorry Bob, don’t you know the rules of horror? Never fall in love.

In “Strangers” we meet a new character when the group hears his screams for help. Gabriel is a man of the Bible, dresses like a priest and says he’s been living inside his church until now when he’s out of food. Rick doesn’t trust him and after following these characters for so long, he has plenty of right not to trust anyone. As we spend more time with Gabriel, it’s clear he’s hiding something and he seems to have reason to keep it a secret. But what’s more disturbing? The handwritten Bible? The creepy drawings? The threat scratched onto the side of the church? The speeding hearse? Pick your poison.

I don’t know how quickly TWD will disposs of Gabriel, but I wish they would give him at least a few more episodes because I’ve really enjoyed the religion theme during “Strangers.” It’s something that practically all of our survivors have dismissed. How could there be a God in a world overrun by zombies? But Gabriel surprisingly still has faith. He called for help, and they arrived. Is that enough proof for you?

How long until they realize Bob’s missing? And what is Gabriel really about? TWD is doing a great job at the moment by providing us with a cliffhanger without too much mystery. Come on, didn’t you all think that Bob was just tied up and they were going to have another cheesy close-death call before Bob was saved? I give TWD props for doing what they’re doing in such a whirlwind sort of way. Let’s see if they can keep going at this pace, or we’ll get a long story-arc on the road towards Washington D.C.


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