Interstellar is an ambitious science-fiction film that strives to get the science approximately right while tempering it with a warm father-daughter relationship. Matthew McConaughey stars as an ex-astronaut who's now a cornbelt farmer in a near-future Dust Bowl II. He doesn't like farming, but climactic changes are making Earth untenable for humans, and every food crop is precious. The only hope seems to be finding another world to colonize. McConaughey dominates the screen with his space-cowboy persona, and the excellent supporting cast includes Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon, and Jessica Chastain. In its epic scope, storyline, and length (almost three hours), this movie invites comparisons with Stanley Kubrick's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). But Interstellar is tidier, leaving no room for interpretation. That choice doesn't necessarily make it a worse film, but it will likely provoke less discussion, so it's unlikely to become another classic.
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Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is dynamiteone of the best films of 2014. Michael Keaton plays a has-been action-movie star who's trying to make a comeback by writing, directing, and acting in a serious Broadway play. No more plot summary is necessary, because this film is all about the acting, cinematography, and suspense coiled by the play within the play. All the performances are revelations. Keaton has never been better; Naomi Watts nails the role of his long-suffering ex-wife; Emma Stone reveals new talent as his recently rehabbed teenage daughter; comedian Zach Galifianakis transforms himself into an intense dramatic actor; and the always-excellent Edward Norton almost steals every scene he's in. All this energy needs no further amplification, but Mexican director Alejandro Iñárritu (Biutiful, 2010, Babel, 2006) amps it up anyway by editing the film to appear as nearly one continuous tracking shot. The unusual score adds still more tension with its barrage of drum solos and a perfectly calibrated piano piece comprised of single notes without accompaniment. It'll be a crime if this movie doesn't gather Oscar nominations for acting, cinematography, film editing, sound editing, visual effects, and original score.
Before I Go to Sleep is yet another spin on the Hollywood affliction that's as common as the fluamnesia. This time Nicole Kidman plays the sufferer with the blank-slate mind. She remembers new things for only one day, then forgets them overnight. And, of course, she's trying to solve a mystery: How did she become so damaged? Was her husband (Colin Firth) to blame? Or her brain doctor (Mark Strong)? Or a forgotten person who may be named Mike? It's a dandy puzzle that has her wavering back and forth, and you will, too. Although the performances are good and the amnesia angle is above average, a similar story was done better in Memento (2000). They would make a great double feature.
Fury stars Brad Pitt as an American tank commander fighting in Germany in the waning days of World War II. The plot is classic war movie: hard-nosed sergeant (Pitt in top form) shapes up bright-eyed young replacement who gets his first baptism of fire. Unlike movies made by the actual WWII generation, however, this one strives for greater realism. That means more gore, of course, but it also tries to show the soul-hardening effects of mortal combat. These tank crewmen are beyond war weary; war is their normal life now. We won't be surprised by anything they do, which is portrayed most effectively by a nerve-racking scene in which they barge into the apartment of two young German women. Writer/director David Ayer artfully extends this scene much longer than you can hold your breath. But as the film rolls toward its climax, the old war-movie clichés emerge, and you'll almost wish these soldiers will die heroically so they won't have to face a bleak life of maladjustment back home.
>> See more mini-reviews, including Kill the Messenger ... The Giver ... Boyhood ... Lucy ... Magic in the Moonlight ... Begin Again ... Godzilla ... Edge of Tomorrow ... Maleficent ... Finding Vivian Maier ... The Grand Budapest Hotel ... The Monuments Men ... 12 Years a Slave ... Her ... August: Osage County ... Lone Survivor ... The Wolf of Wall Street ... American Hustle ... Inside Llewyn Davis ... Nebraska ... The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ... All Is Lost ... Ender's Game ... and many more!
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