Interstellar

A Ghost Story (2017)

This is not a horror film.  

Before you think it is, A Ghost Story is not a horror film, it is anything but. Although Ghost appears in the title, it’s rather a comic ghost that situates itself throughout the best part of this film.

One of the first things I noticed about A Ghost Story was the ratio setting of the screen, as David Lowery encloses the screen in a box awash with a vintage-esque filter. This was actually really effective and almost became a window in the relationship of C (Casey Affleck) and M. (Rooney Mara)

Through this lens, we see C and M living in their quaint suburban house, but what unfolds is a strange devoid between the two of them for some unspoken reason. Suddenly the idyllic relationship between C and M is thrown into the abyss as C is killed in a car crash. But this is when the Ghost comes into the story.

At the morgue, M identifies the body and leaves. But Lowery holds the scene for an extraordinary amount of time with the body and it rises becoming the titular ghost. He returns the house C and M lived in and watches M as she tries to deal with the passing of her husband. Lowery has a tendency to hold his shots for a significant amount of time and he continues this trend, holding the shot where M eats the pie. The stillness of this shot is incredibly, especially as the Ghost watches on mere metres away.

Instead of becoming a terrifying story about the ghost, it rather begins to transcend time as the ghost watches M leave the house and the new residents that move in after him. These moments pass by like seconds, as the Ghost watches them through piano lessons, Christmas and mealtimes.

Throughout the 90ish minutes of film, the film is mostly devoid of speech, but it rather about the movements of C as the Ghost. Lowery does lace the screen with beautiful and picturesque shots, including the shot where the house is torn down and the Ghost is stood there amongst the rubble, almost contemplating the destruction around him.

As well as being almost devoid of speech, A Ghost Story contains the perfect blend for the score, between the natural sounds of suburban life to the soundtrack and score becoming increasingly enchanting as the Ghost passes through the future in a matter of seconds.

During one of the new tenants, Lowery chose to have a lengthy nihilistic speech interjected into the film, which worked perfectly. Considering the Ghost glides through these peoples lives, almost as though nothing matters when all is said and done.

A Ghost Story isn’t packed to the gills with narrative, but it’s not about the narrative completely, but rather the interesting premise of this time-travelling ghost and essentially the message that time does continue when we are gone, regardless of what we can try to do to stop it. The performances displayed by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck are brilliant, because it’s not about the speech and over-egged performance, but the nuanced movements that are displayed by the duo that makes the distance in the relationship believable.

A Ghost Story on a large scale worked, but I doubt it will be challenging for a spot of top film come the end of the year. But through the subtle performances and lengthy shots, David Lowery has really created a window into this relationship and the perception of time. Although A Ghost Story slipped into the realms of Interstellar towards the end, it managed to keep it’s footing. With the picturesque scenes throughout and enchanting music, A Ghost Story will definitely be a more memorable picture than most I’ve seen recently.

Dunkirk (2017)

War is hell. Absolute hell.

And that is exactly what Christopher Nolan has chosen to portray in his latest venture, Dunkirk. However, unlike Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge with their glorious actions sequences, Dunkirk rather takes on a subdued approach to the war.

Christopher Nolan is an absolute visionary of a director, with his back catalogue including Interstellar, The Prestige and the Batman trilogy. It’s an absolute change of pace from showing the quest to leave the planet, to the evacuation of Dunkirk, a key point during the Second World War for the British forces.

What’s always been interesting in Nolan’s filmmaking is that he shows a diverse range of how to tell a story from Momento to The Prestige. He chooses to have Dunkirk shown in a linear method with three intersecting stories from the air, the sea and the ground. And that is where we find Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) running the streets of Dunkirk eluding German fire as ‘We Surround You’ flyers cascade around him in one tense sequence.

And the tension doesn’t stop there. For the entirety of the film, the tension never takes it foot off the pedal. The constant changing of the tempo between the land, the sea and the air was crucial to keep the tension at boiling point throughout Dunkirk.

Christopher Nolan also manages to convincingly display glimpses into the hellishness of war, channelled mostly through Cillian Murphy’s shell-shocked soldier and his apprehension to continue heading into battle. But also the recognition from the civilian perspective, as Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his father, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), share a nuanced nod to not disclose information to the shell-shocked soldier aboard.

The narrative choice is possibly one of the most interesting choices, but it is key for the tension to be kept at a high level. But what is more interesting there is a certain absence of a traditional protagonist held within the film, but rather having The Mole, The Sea and The Air being characters within their own right and having characters placed throughout.

Normally Christopher Nolan allows the screen to be drenched in the characters, giving them time to be invested in, but the narrative method doesn’t allow this as time became a key factor in each of the segments. But there comes in the brilliance of the cast behind Nolan’s Dunkirk. Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh managing to exhibit the perfect amount of emotion that is needed regardless of how bleak the situation is and regardless of the screen time, especially when Home arrives.

Long-standing music collaborator Hans Zimmer chose to intertwine his score with occasional ticking, giving that reminder time is incredibly precious in these situations. This motif is carried throughout the three segments, as Farrier (Tom Hardy) keeps a close eye on the time to gauge his fuel.

Dunkirk is an incredible piece of filmmaking and Christopher Nolan showed a wonderful skill of narrative structure as the film progressed through it’s 100+ minute runtime and the motif use of time. The cast gave unbelievable performances, especially for the screen time each member received. It is potentially the tensest I’ve been in a cinema when watching a film and it was incredible.

Without the need to show the explicit war sequences, Christopher Nolan managed to give Dunkirk an incredible feel for the war by the incredibly loud action sequences from the get-go. By having the air sequences shot incredibly close to the nose was great and incredibly effective for what was needed on the screen. Overall, there’s little to dislike with Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan continues his incredible visionary filmmaking and remains one of the best directors in the business today.

Moon (2009)

There is something about films involving space that has always peaked my interest. One of my favourites is Danny Boyle’s space epic Sunshine and I have enjoyed the very peculiar Solaris, the whimsical adventure of The Martian and the mind-bendingness of Interstellar. So naturally, I am led to Duncan Jones’ directorial debut of Moon.

Funnily enough, Moon is set on the moon, but set in the future where mankind has figured out how to harvest the moon for a renewable energy source. This kind of work would surely take a massive workforce, right? Wrong. Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the lonely operator for Lunar Enterprises aided with his robot pal, GERTY (Voiced by Kevin Spacey) that can display emotions through yellow faces. (See Below)

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What was really enjoyable about Sunshine was the immersive element created by Danny Boyle, but also the claustrophobic feeling of the Icarus spaceship. Moon adopts these elements, but also has the effects of isolation on Sam alone during his three-year contract with Lunar Enterprises. Sam is two weeks away from getting off that rock and being reunited with his wife and daughter.

The madness of isolation creeps up on Sam as he goes about his daily routine, talking to his plants and imagining fictitious relationships between them whilst watching television shows and building a model town. Sam sees a woman sitting in his chair and burns his hand in one instance, highlighting that maybe his mind is beginning to get the better of him.

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Sam Rockwell is brilliant in this role as he depicts perfectly this madness, but also for his performance in the rest of the film. (Which I cannot really speak of due to spoilers) But also Duncan Jones manages to negotiate both the vast landscape of the moon, but also the solitude of Sam, confined to the bunker.

As the film ticks over its 90-minute runtime – which was perfect for the film of this calibre – Sam discovers that everything is not right on the Lunar Enterprise base. He has a crash in the rover, whilst trying to mend one of the unmanned harvesters. After this crash, he overhears a conversation between GERTY and Lunar Enterprises, which sets off the alarm bells in Sam’s head. (Especially as the live satellite is meant to be bust)

Although the story isn’t that groundbreaking, it makes for interesting viewing all the same for how Sam Rockwell’s Sam Bell interacts with the story. But I think the importance of Moon is not the story, but rather the acting on show from Sam Rockwell and showing a range of emotions throughout the film.

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It’s worth noting that it’s clear to see Jones’ has taken influence from 2001: A Space Odyssey with the similarities between HAL 9000 and GERTY, and to some degree even sounding the same. And the inclusion of an orchestral piece near the beginning, before being moved into an array of bleeps and sonars integrated into the soundtrack.

Duncan Jones’ Moon is an interesting and enjoyable piece of filmmaking. With the likes of Sunshine, Interstellar and Solaris he has continued this trend of keeping me intrigued with films involving space and the very different ideas throughout the range of these films.

Although more depth could have been explored regarding Lunar Enterprises, Duncan Jones could’ve intentionally left their exploits open-ended for discussions. Regardless, the star of the show is Sam Rockwell by a mile, but Jones backed him every step with the claustrophobic bunker and the incredible effects of the Moon, including a crackin’ shot of the Earth.

The Martian (2015)

First things first. There has been a huge delay since my last blog, apologies for this as my laptops been out of order. I’m eager to the wheels rolling on this blog again.

Andy Weir’s novel The Martian is the basis (funnily enough) of Ridley Scott’s newest venture. In parts, I loved the book, as the Sol entries from Mark Watney were possibly some of the funniest chapters I have read in a long time, whilst at the same time being the most intriguing with the Robinson Crusoe-esque endeavours that Mark Watney found himself in. The biggest issue with the book were the slower chapters containing NASA, and I thought this was going to be the biggest problem that Ridley Scott faced when taking this story onto film.

He did it. Superbly.

I had my apprehensions about this film when it was first announced, maybe because I had just finished the book and loved it, but also because I wasn’t crazy about Ridley Scott’s last work Exodus: Gods and Kings and I wasn’t impressed with Matt Damon’s Dr Mann in Interstellar. This was all washed away within the first five minutes of the film as we join the Ares 3 crew on the big red planet carrying out their operations and tasks. Ridley Scott dove us straight into the vast expanse of the planet with awe-inspiring scenes (but also gave a sense of isolation during later scenes with Watney by himself) and the chemistry between the crew felt genuine, which I find it is rare in film with such a large array of actors and actresses.

The Ares 3 has to abandon their mission as an upgraded storm begins to envelope the site, but during their emergency evacuation Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by debris and sent flying. He is presumed dead, much to the dismay of Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and the five remaining members head home. Mark Watney survives and begins to (and I quote) ‘Science the shit out of’ his situation.

As he is presumed dead, NASA are surprised to see things around the Hab moving. They realise that Watney is still alive which counts on Annie Montrose (Kristen Wiig) and Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) retracting their press conference about a dead astronaut. NASA begin a contingency plan to try and save Mark Watney, before he dies of starvation. A short while into the film, Watney and NASA then establish communications between the two, and then come up with the plan to get to the Ares 4 site to be rescued.

With the all assemble of actors and actresses, my initial impression was that it was going to be a hoard and messy for screen time, however, Scott directed everyone superbly whilst making sure the  main star was still Matt Damon. And that is what he was, the focal point to this film. My opinion on Damon has been very up and down recently, but The Martian is one of his finer films recently. Supported fantastically by the other cast members, especially the stone-faced Jeff Daniels as Teddy Sanders.

Mark Watney’s cocky, arrogant and witty attitude was something that shone through in the book and I initally thought this might be difficult to convey onto the silver screen, however, Matt Damon acted this out perfectly and even added to it. The distaste for Commander Lewis’ disco music to the big ‘I am’ with senior Botanists that he managed to cultivate potatoes on a planet where nothing grows. This made for the witty, arrogant persona that Mark Watney’s character is remembered in the book for. But Damon and Scott even added the emotional side to this character by dressing up his message to Lewis about his parents, and other things that I shall not being discussing due to a hint of spoilers involved in them.

(A hint of spoilers may be present here)

My hat goes off to Ridley Scott as well due to the ending. Even though I knew what was going to happen, Scott still made it the tense, edge-of-your-seat ride that people go to the cinema to watch. The climatic scene was incredibly well directed and literally found myself tensing as the scene played out. It was a joy to watch unfold.

(End Spoilers)

If I was to have a problem with this film. It’s a very small tidbit. Purely because I’ve read the book, the depth that Andy Weir went into was vast and brilliant. Now for obvious reasons Scott didn’t have this luxury, however some key parts of the story were left out, for example the reason for drilling holes into the top of the rover was a mystery without having read the book. And the complex routine for preparing his trip to the Ares 4 mission site.

That is me nitpicking though. Other than that the film was thoroughly entertaining and was paced well throughout, especially the transition scenes between Watney and NASA. The tense scenes, although few and far between, were replaced by the clever wit of Watney and the scenes in NASA, including Rich Purnell (Donald Glover) acting out his manoeuvre and Sean Bean’s Mitch Henderson explaining about the Council of Elrond (what an absolutely glorious scene this was for Lord of the Rings fans). The music was excellent with the disco vibe ringing through, as much as Watney hated it.

Of course, I could go on and on about my love for this film, because I cannot remember the last time I went to the cinema and enjoyed seeing a film this much. The supporting cast was spectacular, from Jeff Daniels, to Kate Mara and Aksel Hennie, to Donald Glover and Benedict Wong. As far as I am aware I don’t think there was a weak performance. And of course Ridley Scott’s work to create these vast expanses of Mars was just mesmerising and was fantastic to watch unfold on the screen.

In short: 

I really, really, really enjoyed this film.

8/10