Explore time and space with Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar

A review by Brenda Daniels

In a near-future scenario the earth is subject to failing crops and no rain. Massive dust storms cover everything in layers of dirt endangering people’s health and leaving an empty, hopeless pall over mankind’s survival. Enter Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), an incorrigible scientist. Cooper is also a farmer, former astronaut and widower with two children.

One of those children, Murph (Mackenzie Foy as young Murph and Jessica Chastain as adult Murph), encounters what appears to be supernatural phenomena in her bedroom. Someone or something from “beyond” is trying to communicate with her. This scene involving books that fall in a seemingly random manner, and dust that settles in unnervingly systematic lines, is a very important part of the plot, an element that is resolved for viewers only at the end of Interstellar.

In a bizarre mix of science and what appears to be the supernatural Cooper is “called” to embark on a space mission that will save mankind. Joined by Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and others, the astronauts leave earth in search of previously earmarked destinations in order to evaluate their viability as a replacement home for mankind.

They will either return for the humans on earth or start a new “colony” with specially prepared human embryos.

What makes the story fascinating, however, is not the future setting or its intergalactic nature, but its intriguing exploration of the space-time-gravity continuum. Explaining too much here would spoil the adventure for viewers.

Suffice to say that Interstellar is a multi-layered space adventure that also examines the human heart and its capacity (or not) for altruism. Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain give particularly good performances. Michael Caine and Matt Damon also star.

Interstellar opens at all cinemas in South Africa on Friday 7 November. It runs for a lengthy, but absorbing, two hours and 50 minutes.

Matthew McConaughey stars in the gripping new film, Interstellar. Photo: Creative Commons.

Matthew McConaughey stars in the gripping new film, Interstellar. Photo: Creative Commons.

Jessica Chastain stars alongside McConaughey in Interstellar. Photo: Creative Commons.

Jessica Chastain stars alongside McConaughey in Interstellar. Photo: Creative Commons.

Brosnan thrills in The November Man

A review by Brenda Daniels

The November Man is a fast-paced thriller starring Pierce Brosnan in excellent form as abrasive CIA Agent, Peter Devereaux. The film opens in the midst of a tense operation that sees Devereaux on mission while training young CIA sniper, Mason (Luke Bracey).

Although highly accurate, Mason fails to follow Devereaux’s orders and the mission is botched: an innocent bystander, a child, is killed. The elements in this opening scene hint at what is to come in the rest of the film, introducing important strands that run throughout: an intricate plot, high-intensity action, and a surprising underlying theme of relationship. The latter gives The November Man depth and richness.

The main story sees Devereaux called in to perform a difficult mission in Chechnya. When things go awry it becomes apparent that the Russians, Chechneans and two strands of the CIA are all after one woman: Alice (Olga Kurylenko). Devereax’s and Alice’s pasts, and Mason’s former dealings with Devereaux all gradually come to light as the story progresses.

Tension is maintained throughout The November Man and the intricate plot meant I had to concentrate. The relationship element is an important one – one to which Brosnan did eminent justice.

The November Man is a thrilling, engrossing watch. It opens at NuMetro theatres in South Africa on 3 October.

Pierce Brosnan at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. Photo: Creative Commons

Pierce Brosnan at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. Photo: Creative Commons

 

Calvary, an exquisite film

Set in rural Ireland, Calvary is the penetrating story of a Catholic priest, Father James Lavelle (a brilliant Brendan Gleeson), his ministry and his treatment at the hands of his parishioners. Sweeping views of a beautiful, but empty landscape focus in on a small Irish village and a select number of characters, echoing a story that is large in scope but detailed in its focus.

The context is framed by the faceless confession of one of James’s parishioners and the Father’s face-to-face meeting with the same man exactly a week later. In the initial conversation, the confessor tells James that as a child he was abused by a Catholic Priest. He vows to wreak his revenge by killing the, albeit innocent, Father James. What follows is a week of Father James continuing with his normal ministry, but in the face of mounting animosity.

This film could be about the Catholic Church’s sordid history of covered-up child abuse. It could be about its exoneration. It could be about man’s loss of faith in the centuries-old Catholic faith. Or man’s desperate clinging to a purpose higher than himself. On the face of it, the film could simply reflect the ironic Christian reversal of a priest “crucified” for the church’s sins against its own.

Calvary is about all of these and much more. It’s a story about real people and their real, individual struggles. From Father Leary, to the atheist doctor; from the homosexual policeman, to the oversexed housewife; from Father James’s daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly), to others in between.

Every individual is a complex, well-developed character with a past, and with deep serious issues. Father James is just the counterpoint in this well-balanced, exquisitely acted film.

Calvary is a profound film that is a credit to director and writer John Michael McDonagh. It opens at NuMetro cinemas in South Africa on 12 September.

Brendan Gleeson finely plays the role of Father James Lavelle in Calvary. Photo: Creative Commons

Brendan Gleeson finely plays the role of Father James Lavelle in Calvary. Photo: Creative Commons.

Message in The Monuments Men meanders vaguely

A review by Brenda Daniels

The Monuments Men is a World War II drama based on a true story. It recounts how artworks in the form of paintings and sculptures, stolen by the Nazis during the war, were recovered. The film features a cast of big names including George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville and Bill Murray.

Seven men, previously unconscripted because of age, are handpicked by Frank Stokes (Clooney) for their art expertise. They don uniforms right near the end of the war and set out on their mission to find the artworks and return them to their rightful owners.

There are no flashy heroics in this film. The characters are old and ordinary. And their mission of saving artworks seems silly when compared to saving human lives. But, argues their leader Stokes, preserving art is preserving culture. And culture reflects the importance of a people and their achievements.

What the group did recover is indeed staggering. What they helped prevent is monumental. Hitler had plans to build his own Führer Museum. He needed art, books and other treasures to fill it so stole what he needed, storing it up in hiding places. This ragtag bunch of chaps was instrumental in putting an end to his dreams.

Unfortunately The Monuments Men meanders through a vague plot, throwing in some sentimentality and personal suffering just for good measure. This makes what promised to be a fine film slow and unnecessarily long.

The actors do a good job, particularly Cate Blanchett as a sour but helpful source of intelligence. As a group they don’t leave a lasting impression nor do they capitalise on some potential for humour. Although The Monuments Men fails to make more of its noble message, the message does get through and is worth watching just for this.

The Monuments Men opens at NuMetro Theatres in South Africa on 14 February.

MFAA soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle               (Source: Creative Commons)

MFAA soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle (Source: Creative Commons)