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Film review: ‘Interstellar’ is stellar

Interstellar, Big Hero 6 score more than $50M in opening weekend

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway star in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” which has hints of many other sci-fi films but has a rather unique message of its own. (No, it is not a rehash of “2001”… And it is better than “Gravity.”)

First, the criticisms that widely are being thrown at Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”: Real people don’t talk that way. The science often isn’t solid, to put it mildly. The plot twists are predictable.

I, for one, frequently pleasantly was surprised by the twists and turns and surprises that “Interstellar” presents us with, including even my not having known that a major star plays an important role in the film, which is filled with stars, both of the astronomical and the Hollywood type, and while I suppose that if you are an astronomer (and not many of us are), you will only be able to dissect the film against your knowledge base, in my eyes “Interstellar” delivers on the sense of awe of the vastness of the cosmos that we commoners see films like “Interstellar” for in the first place.

Sure, Matthew McConaughey has been overused a bit in the movies as of late, but he is a solid lead for “Interstellar,” and one could argue — and I do — that Anne Hathaway’s character actually is, in the end, the most important character in the film.

Tellingly, I think, the scene that I found the most poignant in “Interstellar” apparently is the scene, or at least one of the scenes, that Slate.com’s resident astronomy writer, who reviewed the film, hated the most. He writes:

In a conversation between [Matthew McConaughey’s character] and Anne Hathaway’s character about love, she says that love is an artifact of a higher dimension (what does that even mean?) and “transcends the limits of time and space,” as if it’s a physical force — an allusion to gravity, which, critically to the plot, does transcend dimensions, time, and space. The dialogue here was stilted to say the least, and it gets worse when [another] character talks about a parent’s love for his children, saying, “Our evolution has yet to transcend that simple barrier.” Who talks like that? The movie is riddled with attempts to be profound, but due in part to the clunky dialogue it just sounds silly.

Sure, there is some “clunky dialogue” in “Interstellar,” but it’s meant to be a grand, sweeping sci-fi epic, not a modern comedy whose dialogue never would stray from the vernacular. And the character who makes such a comment as “Our evolution has yet to transcend that simple barrier” obviously has some screws loose, so it’s not surprising, really, to hear him repeatedly speak that way.

Probably the biggest takeaway for me from “Interstellar” is the Mars vs. Venus worldview — and which of the two worldviews, at least in “Interstellar,” turns out to be the most critical to the continued survival of the human species. (I won’t elaborate on any of “Interstellar’s” plot points here, as no reviewer really could do such a summary justice, and as, in the end, “Interstellar” very much is about the effect of the whole, not the details of its parts.)

It’s interesting, I think, that just as McConaughey’s character rebuffs Hathaway’s soliloquy about love transcending the limits of space and time (a rebuff that, in the film’s plot, has some serious consequences and repercussions), so does Slate.com’s astronomy writer. Theirs is a worldview, the Martian worldview, that apparently is dyed in the wool.

It’s an important worldview (and don’t get me wrong; I read the aforementioned astronomy writer’s stuff all the time, and I like it, so I will continue to read it), but it’s only half of the story (at most).

Mars is nothing without Venus, and that, I think, is the central message of “Interstellar” that apparently only we Venusians, like only Anne Hathaway’s character (and the character of the daughter of Matthew McConaughey’s character) in “Insterstellar,” can see.

Even if my Mars-vs.-Venus analysis doesn’t do it for you, “Interstellar” is worth seeing for (again) the sense of awe that a good sci-fi film can instill in us earthbound folk, and I, for one, found its intricate, puzzle-like plot to be fascinating. I like the way that Nolan and his screenwriting brother fairly neatly tie up the loose ends, and I’m fine with “Interstellar” not having explained every little detail and phenomenon, because that not knowing — which is anathema to the Martian worldview — is the stuff on which we Venusians thrive.

My grade: A

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Notes on the Oscars that I didn’t watch

Cate Blanchett holds her Oscar for Best Actress for the film "Blue Jasmine" at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California

Cate Blanchett is not just a pretty face, but a talented actress whose work should have been recognized with a Best Actress award more than a decade ago. Best Supporting Actor winner Jared Leto, on the other hand, unfortunately is just a pretty face…

Jared Leto, holds his Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in "Dallas Buyers Club" at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California

Reuters photos

I don’t have cable television and don’t desire ever to have cable TV, and so I didn’t watch the Oscars last night (this year, for the first time ever, ABC made live streaming available — but only to those in certain markets who already have cable!), but I still have plenty of opinions about this year’s.

First off, it was about time that Cate Blanchett won a Best-Actress Oscar. She was robbed in 1998, when she was nominated for the award for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in “Elizabeth” but lost to Gwyneth Paltrow. I don’t hate Paltrow as so many others apparently do, but she didn’t turn in the best performance that year.

Blanchett was nominated for Best Actress again in 2007 for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” but the academy passed on her again, so last night was the third time and the charm for Blanchett, and she deserved it, as she turned in the best performance of the year, hands down.*

Indeed, Blanchett’s performance is what saves “Blue Jasmine,” which is not one of Woody Allen’s best scripts, even though it earned him yet another nomination for Best Original Screenplay (he did not win, and deservedly so, since the screenplay is a fairly trite rehash).

I’m glad that the members of the academy didn’t snub Blanchett again, this time because they didn’t want to appear to be supporters of child molestation, because to the hysterical members of the pro-Mia-Farrow camp, you see, anyone remotely associated with Woody Allen is for child molestation. (Under this “logic,” not only does Blanchett support child molestation for having worked with Allen, but if you even cast your Oscar ballot for Blanchett, then you, too, support child molestation, by extension.)

“12 Years a Slave” is a worthy Best Picture winner, but I would have been OK with either “Philomena” or “Nebraska” having won (of those two, “Philomena” probably is my favorite).

I saw all of the nominees for Best Picture except for “Her,” “Captain Phillips” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” I would like to catch “Her,” and probably will, but the subject matter of neither “Captain Phillips” nor “The Wolf of Wall Street” appeals to me, and I’m a bit overdosed on Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio as it is (one word: overexposure). (Seriously, though, it wasn’t long ago enough that I saw DiCaprio as the Great Gatsby. I’m good for a while.)

“American Hustle” is an OK film — good, but not great — and “Gravity” and “Dallas Buyers Club” both have been over-hyped. None of those three nominees deserved to be named Best Picture.

“Gravity” is watchable (I saw it at IMAX), but, in my book, fatally flawed by its incredible — literally incredible, as in unbelievable — plot.

“Dallas Buyers Club” also is watchable enough, but come on, it’s like “Philadelphia” meets “Transamerica.” This gay man is as sick of movies about gay and/or transgender people being about AIDS as black folks are sick of movies being about slavery.

That said, yes, obviously the academy is filled with (mostly white) liberal guilt, and so if you make a movie about slavery, AIDS or the Holocaust, yes, your chances of winning an Oscar go up astronomically.

Again, “12 Years a Slave” is a worthy film, as I noted when it came out, but I do believe that (white) liberal guilt boosted it, just as it boosted “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Speaking further of which, I have enjoyed the return of Matthew McConaughey, whose performances in “Bernie,” “Killer Joe” and “Mud” all were good, but it seems to me that the main reason that he won Best Actor for “Dallas Buyers Club” is that he lost so much weight to play the role, which is not quite the same as great acting, but also because he played a man with AIDS, which also sure was good for Tom Hanks (who won Best Actor for the unworthy film “Philadelphia”).

I’d have given Best Actor to Chiwetel Ejiofor** for his performance in “12 Years a Slave” — not out of white liberal guilt, but because I think that he gave the best performance of the year.

At least the enthralling Lupita Nyong’o wasn’t robbed of the Best Supporting Actress award for her great performance in “12 Years a Slave.” Again, no white liberal guilt there — she earned that award, turning in a performance that probably is the heart and soul of the film. (I love Jennifer Lawrence, who did a good job in “American Hustle,” but this award wasn’t hers.)

And Jared Leto — don’t even get me started on him.

OK, so just as McConaughey won Best Actor for having lost a lot of weight and played a guy with AIDS, Leto won Best Supporting Actor for having lost a significant amount of weight and played a transgender individual with AIDS.

This was the result of full-blown liberal guilt. I don’t see that Leto’s performance was better than was Bradley Cooper’s in “American Hustle” or Michael Fassbender’s in “12 Years a Slave.” It was the transgender person with AIDS angle that did it.

I fully support equality for transgender individuals — I am a gay man myself — but isn’t coddling a historically oppressed minority group in a saccharin, maudlin manner just the flipside of oppressing that group?

Also, just as “Gravity’s” fatal flaw, in my book, is that its protagonist’s fantastic feats are just not believable, in my book “Dallas Buyers Club’s” fatal flaw is its portrayal of the protagonist, Ron Woodroof, as a homophobic heterosexual man with AIDS when, in fact, very apparently those who knew the real-life Woodroof — including his ex-wife — have said that he actually was at least bisexual, but possibly, if not even probably, gay. (Indeed, the photos of him that I’ve seen of him make my gaydar smoke.) Oh, and those who knew Woodroof dispute that he ever displayed homophobia (which, admittedly, a closeted gay man might do, especially in a homophobic state like Texas and in that day and time, to “prove” that he’s “heterosexual”).

Why the apparent change of such an important detail (the protagonist’s sexual orientation)?

Would Woodroof’s story have been less interesting if it had been that of just another faggot who had died of AIDS?

Can you pretend to be respectful of the gay “community” when you change a central character in a “real-life” story from non-heterosexual to heterosexual?

And in Jared Leto’s acceptance speech, he gave an unfortunate (but fortunately brief) shout-out to the “dreamers” of Venezuela and Ukraine. Wow.

On the surface, the “causes” of Venezuela and Ukraine appear to be great bandwagons for a good guilty white liberal to jump upon, but when you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll find that those so-called-by-Jared-Leto “dreamers” are, in Venezuela, plutocratic and pro-plutocratic wingnuts who are just bitter that the socialist president there won the last presidential election — not by much, but he still won. They’re bitter that they lost the election and so they’re trying to force a do-over election (this was done in my state of California in 2003, with the gubernatorial recall election, which was, for all intents and purposes, just a do-over of the previous close gubernatorial election).

I fully expect wingnuts to support the Venezuelan “cause” of toppling a democratically elected socialist president because he is not a right-wing, pro-plutocratic president, but Leto, who presumably fashions himself to be a good liberal, should know better.

And the “dreamers” in Ukraine are largely far-right-wing nationalists, some of them even actual neo-Nazis.

Sure, they have a “dream.” Hitler had a dream, too.

These dreams might be great for them, but others of us, these dreams are nightmares.

Jared Leto, if he wants to be remembered as having been more than just pretty, really, really, really should do his homework before he endorses a “cause” in front of a massive, worldwide audience.

*OK, to be fair and thorough, I  saw all of the performances that were nominated for Best Actress except for Meryl Streep’s in “August: Osage County,” since the film’s previews suggest that it’s a mediocre, sappy film, worthy of perhaps catching on DVD. Still, I can’t imagine that Streep’s performance in that surpassed Blanchett’s in “Blue Jasmine.” My second choice for best actress would have been Judi Dench for “Philomena.”

**To be fair and thorough, I saw all of the performances that were nominated for Best Actor except for Leonardo DiCaprio’s in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” (Hey, if I got paid to see [and write about] movies that I wouldn’t ordinarily see, that would be different!)

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