Tag Archives: space

Failed Critics Podcast: Hobbity tosh, Pottery hogwash & Intersellar oh-my-gosh

interstellarWelcome to this week’s super-professional well-researched spick-and-span highly-polished episode of the Failed Critics podcast!

The main release review this week is Christopher Nolan’s $165m space-time-travelling science fiction thriller Interstellar. A film so long, we extended our podcast an extra 15 minutes with the return of our Spoiler Alert section alongside our regular spoiler-free review.

Despite that, there was even time for Owen to take in the first two (well, one and a half) Lord of the Rings films this week; for Steve to reveal exactly why he’s watching through all seven Harry Potter movies; and for Carole to have a meta-meta experience with 90’s slasher sequel Scream 2.

Jon us again next week as we review the acclaimed wartime drama The Imitation Game.

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Into ‘stellar?

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Ever since man has first looked up at the stars, the question has been asked: What do you do when you see a space man? Yes, of course the correct answer is “you park in it, man” (please, please, hold your applause, you’re too kind).

However, for thousands of years, man has written Christmas cracker jokes looked up and wondered what lies beyond the blue skies of our planet’s atmosphere. For most people, it’s only led to further questions. How can “space” exist? Why does it exist? Why do we exist? From religion and faith, to science and theory, everyone seems to have their own opinion on what they like to imagine fills the vast expanse of the Universe and beyond. It takes people way smarter than this bozo to fully comprehend the question, never mind the answer. Luckily, it’s not just people cleverer than me who have thought about this question. There have been people with far more imagination who have been able to put their thoughts and ideas into film and literature.

Most recently Christopher Nolan did so with the terrific Interstellar. Which prompted me to create this article. What other movies are out there that deal with man’s exploration of space and time that are worth watching? Well, here are ten films that I would recommend you start with if you too are into ‘stellar (geddit?!) This list is by no means comprehensive, by the way. I’m fully aware big names such as the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises are missing, as well as this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. This is just 10 films I’d suggest watching if you enjoyed the adventure into space that was Interstellar!


event horizonEvent Horizon (1997) Paul W.S. Anderson’s best film, it tells the story of a crew comprising of captain Laurence Fishburne, doctor Sam Neill, (plus others) who investigate of a spaceship that went missing some years ago called the Event Horizon. It miraculously returned with no crew left on board. It transpires that what happened was not quite as simple as they might’ve first thought. Next to Alien, it’s the perfect example of how to create an intelligent, atmospheric, space-horror. Quotes seemed to be almost directly lifted from Event Horizon in Interstellar (particularly the discussion around wormholes). It also raises interesting questions around what Hell is (or could be?) Complete with great performances, especially those of Fishburne and Neill around the descent into madness. Think of it as Hellraiser meets Alien. A real gem of a movie.


Contact (1997)contact In 1994, Robert Zemeckis released what will probably be the film he is remembered for, Forrest Gump. Well, with the exception of Back To The Future, perhaps. But one film of his that seems to have directly inspired the story of Interstellar is Contact, with its daughter grieving for her father and potential contact with another as yet unidentified life form. Using the relationship between father and daughter, it tries to bridge a gap between science and religion, life and death, between hope and reality. The concept behind Contact and how / what that will be like with other dimensions or lifeforms is handled with grace, whilst Jodie Foster gives a performance worthy of a movie such as this. The cast also features Matthew McConaughey, the star of Nolan’s epic! It’s a shame the ending lets the film down a little, but the rest of Contact is well worth a watch.


europa reportEuropa Report (2013) After a crew are sent on a fact-finding mission to one of Jupiter’s moons (that would be the one called Europa…) they end up finding a bit more than they bargained for. I almost feel like I should disclaimer this movie to people as besides being a sci-fi set mainly in space, it’s also a found footage movie. If you can name another found footage movie set in space that’s better than this (Apollo 18 shouts will not be recognised) then congratulations, but I probably won’t believe you. It takes its time to find its feet, as the crew (Sharlto Copley, Karolina Wydra, Michael Nyqvist etc) slowly grow into their roles, but for a film that takes place mostly inside a tin can, there’s a fair amount of tension and drama to be found. The structure is slightly unsatisfactory and non-linear, but the ending will be what determines whether or not you’ll like this movie. Personally, I found the slightly existential journey surprisingly entertaining.


2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)2001 I couldn’t really let the opportunity to recommend one of the greatest ever movies – not just sci-fi movies – pass me by without at least name-checking it. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, shot one year before the actual moon landings (that if you believe some conspiracy-nuts, the man himself shot in a studio) is more of an exploration of life and being than it is about space travel, but if there’s a sci-fi movie released post 1968 that isn’t at least in some minor way influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey, I’d be very surprised. Cerebral, contemplative and exceedingly beautiful. If you want to hear me rave about this film yet again, check out our Stanley Kubrick Corridor of Praise podcast.


solarisSolaris (1972) For the more cultured film fan, Tarkovsky’s very – very – art-house science fiction film about a living planets attempts to contact a man orbiting it will be one of your favourite sci-fi movies. The problem is, of course, how do you communicate with something that you have no way of understanding? In my Decade In Film article for 1972, I mention Ludwig Wittgenstein who proposed that “if a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand it”. If our frames of reference are so far apart, so completely different, how could we possibly hope to even know when an alien species is attempting to communicate, never mind actually understand what it’s trying to say? The Fermi Paradox suggests that if aliens exist, why haven’t we heard from them yet? Well, perhaps they do try to contact us, but we don’t realise it. This is one of the driving principles behind Solaris, and beyond its 167 minute run time including lingering shots of ponds and motorways, and absolutely astonishing cinematography, it tries to answer some of these philosophical quandaries.


Moon (2009)moon A breakthrough semi-indie production in 2009, Moon stars Sam Rockwell as a worker on a lunar station coming to the end of his three-year stint. I suppose he has what can be described as a crisis of personality as his shift draws closer to an end. Atmospheric and remarkably well written, if at times a little bit silly, Moon is a very entertaining movie. Similar to one aspect of Interstellar, it deals with being in space and having no reliable means of contact with Earth. Whilst there’s a heck of a lot more to Duncan Jones‘ relatively low budget British BAFTA nominated movie than simply isolation, it would seem almost rude not to suggest fans of Interstellar give it a go. 


this island earthThis Island Earth (1955) The 1950’s heralded a new age in sci-fi movies. The likes of Don Siegel and Jack Arnold probably led the pack with films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came From Outer Space (in 3D no less!) However, This Island Earth by Joseph Newman was an incredibly ambitious project. It had a somewhat turbulent production history, which resulted in Jack Arnold himself being brought on board as an uncredited director. The sections of the film set on distant worlds and intergalactic battles became a bit too expensive and was shorter than planned, but it’s still admirable for the intention behind the film as well as its anti-war messages. It’s also a lot of fun in that cult-50’s sci-fi movie kind of way.


A Trip to the Moon (1902)trip to the moon There’s a huge amount of things one could say about this wondrous, imaginative, inventive and wholly original fantasy story made over 110 years ago by the inspirational Georges Méliès. From a technical point of view, Le voyage dans la lune is splendid. Suffice to say, it’s very impressive; from the special effects of the exploding moon people, to the incredible! science!-exclamation!-mark! The illusions Méliès crafted required true imagination and creativity. He was one of the first to create a movie such as this, of course! Even now, this short film is fantastic – in every sense of the word.


loveLove (2011) After writing my car off in February this year, I began the long commute to and from work via bus. During this time, BBC iPlayer kept me from grinding my teeth to stubs on my journey. I downloaded a lot of movies and documentaries to my tablet from iPlayer, some I’d heard of, some that were completely new to me, such as this mixed bag. I read the premise via the app, thought it sounded like it could be a really neat little indie sci-fi… and in part, it was. There’s strands that run throughout about isolation, human connection and indeed love, that are thought provoking and unique as an astronaut finds himself stranded on a spaceship. But, at the same time, it comes across as a meandering, dull, bewildering mess. You will either love or hate the soundtrack by Angels & Airwaves. It may have worked better as a short film as it does feel like a pop video, but it is atmospheric and definitely unlike a lot of other movies on this list.


Gravity (2013)gravity I’ve purposefully left Gravity until the end of this list for a couple of reasons. One, you’re probably sick of seeing comparisons between Gravity and Interstellar by now. They were after all released by the same studio (Warner Bros) on the same date (7 November) and are both about space and gravity. The other reason is, just about everybody interested in seeing Gravity has by now seen it. However, the second best film of 2013 (according to Sight & Sound’s readers poll) in many ways laid the foundations for Interstellar. A sci-fi story that was taken seriously by critics, particularly at the big award ceremonies, and features some mind-boggling special effects. The story may be pretty simple, threatening to hold back what has the potential to be an all-time classic, but it is one of the best modern sci-fi’s and if you get a kick out of Interstellar, then Alfonso Cuarón’s film (clocking in at just ever so slightly over half the run time of Nolan’s blockbuster) should tick a few boxes for you. Oh, and watch it on as big a screen as possible. In 3D if at all possible. Honestly. 3D.


And that’s that! If you have any suggestions of your own or think I’ve missed some vital inclusions, or even if you have any recommendations for me, just post them below. You can find Owen’s Interstellar review here, and he will also be talking about it with Carole and Steve on the upcoming Failed Critics Podcast!

Interstellar

Incredible visuals, slightly iffy dialogue, a multitude of ideas and thought-provoking concepts orbiting a sentimental plot about a father and daughter relationship told in a slightly non-linear pattern, yet enormously entertaining. Yup, Interstellar is definitely a Christopher Nolan film alright.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

interstellarAn occupational hazard of reviewing films for Failed Critics, whether on the podcast or on these written reviews, is that you see some films you really wouldn’t have otherwise been arsed about. Whether it’s with a slight resentment over the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles last month, Transformers: Age of Extinction a couple months back, or one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, I, Frankenstein, optimistically hoping they’re better than you think they’re going to be, they were all seen by me in the name of this little website.

However, for every time I’ve forced myself out into the cold, reluctantly putting my jacket on and sighing to myself about the next three hours I’ll spend watching something I’ll probably not enjoy, there’s also been times when I’ve made the short walk from the car park to the cinema a bit giddy in anticipation. Given the recent so-called backlash that director Christopher Nolan has received over his $165m project, this past weekend, Interstellar joined the likes of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy and Godzilla on my “fingers-crossed walk from car park to cinema” list. I really, really, really wanted Interstellar to be good. I have not jumped on the anti-Nolan bandwagon just yet. To my mind, he still makes incredibly enjoyable blockbuster movies with more brains than your average multi-million dollar project. But I’ll come onto whether or not Interstellar lived up to my expectations in a minute.

Firstly, the basic plot revolves around Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a single father of two, in the not too distant future. He was once an educated, highly skilled astronaut-come-engineer, but due to the dwindling population crisis and apparent slow death of our planet, necessitating the need for a focus on agriculture rather than scientific exploration, he is now a farmer of corn; one of the few remaining crops not effected by blight or the constant dust storms. His ten year old daughter, Murph (so named after Murphy’s Law), experiences something she describes as paranormal activity in her bedroom; books fly off shelves, figurines break in half and the dust settles in a peculiar pattern. Eventually, the pattern begins to make sense and Cooper stumbles upon a research centre planning to shoot some folks off into space to find a new home across the galaxy after a message from them – and I don’t mean some giant man-eating ants.

And thus begins one small crews journey across space, time and, erm, gravity in order to save their species.

In all manner of speaking, both in terms of the good and the bad, Interstellar is a very Nolan-esque movie. From his first real breakthrough with Memento, to one of our listeners/readers top 10 movies of 2012 (The Dark Knight Rises), and all that came inbetween, his films have all had a certain visual flair. The way they look and feel can easily be recognised as one of his movies within the opening quarter of an hour. They’re epic in their depictions of scope and scale, yet often contain frames with just one or maybe two characters at a time appearing in them. He creates a fantastic realism, and what with a large proportion of this movie being set in space, on distant planets or inside a shuttle with a wise-cracking robot, that’s no mean feat. You get people interacting with each other, as people do, but all the while there’s an element of fantasy about what’s taking place. Some truly astounding visual effects that might even eclipse those of Gravity, released this time last year. It’s almost a type of poetic realism. You know, that realism that occurs when people travel through worm holes. But poetic.

Continuing along those lines, the dialogue also has a balance of authenticity and complete and utter cobblers. Attempts to weight scripts with what could be seen as real science talk is largely superfluous. This is a ship containing three men, one woman and a bendy iMonolith travelling to another part of the galaxy; it’s safe to say that I have already conceded that my disbelief will need to be suspended in order to enjoy this. There’s really not any need to convince me of the whys and hows that this star hopping is actually possible. Although, that said, it was a nice change to not be treated like a complete idiot by a movie. Sure, there’s the typical exposition that you get in all blockbusters these days, but to have explanations that aid understanding without especially dumbing down, for example David Gyasi embodying the spirit of Laurence Fishburne in Event Horizon to explain to fellow crew members Cooper, Brand (Anne Hathaway) and Doyle (Wes Bentley) how wormholes work, was a nice treat. It was relevant, informative but not bogging the film down in droll pseudo-scientific theory.

Whilst these are two things that you could transfer to pretty much any films in Nolan’s back catalogue, one thing that is virtually out of his hands is that of the performances from the cast. The ever-reliable Matthew McConaughey (who would’ve thought that could be a thing three or four years ago – certainly not James) puts in a performance that is (pardon the pun) out of this world (I did say “pardon”!) It more than likely won’t grant him an Oscar for the second year in a row, but for a film of this magnitude with such high profile stars in it (Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon and so on) who are all on form, for him to outshine them in the way that he does is pretty extraordinary.

As said earlier in the review, I wanted this movie to be good. I can see how that might suggest the potential for me to be lying to you – and maybe even myself. However, I honestly do believe that Interstellar, whilst not without its problems, is quite probably the best film Nolan has created… objectively speaking. Everyone has a favourite Nolan. He has seven movies in the IMDb Top 250, with one of those currently sitting in fourth place and a further two in the top 15! He’s an incredibly popular filmmaker and not without reason. My personal favourite may not be Interstellar, but it’s his most sophisticated, well made, and intelligent movie yet. Yes, better than Memento before anybody suggests it.

Owen, Steve and Carole will be chatting about Interstellar (and no doubt Nolan in general) on the upcoming podcast.