Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar opens in an undisclosed place at an undisclosed time in the future. And though the setting is opaque, the film makes it immediately clear that life on Earth is running out. Cities are unseen, populations are low, the military is nonexistent – all that remains is the need for steady farming, and the will to combat the dust that blankets every feasible area. The dust is so thick on Earth that a thin layer of it can be seen on most every surface. On the kitchen table, in the principal’s office, in the car, on the pillows – it’s everywhere. And by now, it’s killed every crop except corn, which we soon learn is too in short supply. Corn is how we’re introduced to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a farmer and single father of two who gave up his career as an engineer, to literally help cultivate the Earth.

Although Interstellar will likely be remembered as a “space movie,” credit needs to be given to the way Nolan handles the first act of his film. The editing is brisk but patient, the characters are almost universally melancholic, and rarely share fond memories of days past. There’s a distinctly Terrence Malick vibe to these opening scenes, which, without warning, quickly evolve into something far different.

A string of seemingly random events helps Cooper and his young daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), discover that NASA has been secretly prepping a new mission to save humankind. The mission: travel to three newly-discovered planets and determine if human life is sustainable on them. Cooper is the only living (and/or willing) NASA pilot, so he’s recruited by his former mentor, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), to lead the mission with Brand’s daughter (Anne Hathaway). Cooper accepts the task, but struggles to say goodbye to Murph as he’s unable to tell her when and if he’ll ever return.
Once the mission commences, Interstellar becomes the new standard for the space film. With each passing scene, it feels as though Nolan and his crew had a keen interest in changing the game, or, at the very least, abandoning the rules and creating new ones. This is chiefly evident in Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score, perhaps the finest he’s ever composed. His music, all but void of the standard orchestral strings and thundering drums that accompany most big movie scores, is truly its own character in Interstellar. There are moments, for example, when the music is intentionally louder than the actors’ dialogue, as if the score is meant to act as a character with a more dominant voice. It’s one of the finest modern musical scores I can recall; an essential component to Interstellar’s overall greatness.

But, of course, there are many things in play here. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s wondrous cinematography, Lee Smith’s seamless editing, and the flawless production design and art direction all help create a world that is distinctly new. Christopher Nolan co-wrote the script with his brother Jonathan, and together, they have created a masterful, intricate puzzle of a film. In fact, the inner workings of Interstellar are so detailed that to describe the performances of specific actors would be to reveal too much about the complex plot. If I told you who Jessica Chastain shared scenes with, for example, much of the mystery of the film would be ruined.

Cooper is the first dad Matthew McConaughey has played since his self-imposed “McConaissance” began in 2011. Sure, his work in Mud was a predominantly parental role, but Cooper is a dad’s dad. He loves his kids and appears to live every waking moment with them at the forefront of his mind. Perhaps it’s presumptive of me to suggest that McConaughey drew from his own experiences as a father while playing Cooper, but whatever he was doing, it was clearly working. Cooper is arguably the most emotive work McConaughey has delivered yet. For my money, it’s a far more layered and complete performance than his Oscar-winning turn in Dallas Buyers Club. The actor has showed immeasurable promise in the past three years, and I still had no idea he had this in him.
Our big budget movies are manufactured with the uniqueness of an aged assembly line. The stories, the way the films look, sound, and behave are all interchangeable. The actor’s faces might be different (though, in the world of super hero films, they rarely are) and the character’s names might be altered, but for all intents and purposes, blockbusters have little to offer in the way of lasting contribution. This is precisely what separates a Christopher Nolan film from other films of this size. The man makes big and bold and beautiful movies, with Interstellar being his best blockbuster yet. This is a profoundly unique film, the definition of pure cinema.

Pure cinema. A phrase tossed around a lot these days. The phrase, to me, describes those precious moments in film where everything clicks together. Score, cinematography, performance, direction – every component of the filmmaking process is perfectly married, if only for a moment. Pure cinema is hard to find, and when I discover such a moment, I make it a point to call it out. There’s a scene in Interstellar that defines pure cinema. To the best of my knowledge, it’s a scene we’ve witnessed in nearly every movie that has been set in space: the docking sequence. One smaller vessel docks with another, larger vessel, thereby becoming one. In most movies, the docking scene is a minuscule event; something that shows how characters on the small vessel boarded the large vessel. In Interstellar, the docking scene is a matter of life and death. As I sat and watched the sequence, my jaw literally dropped from the thrill of it all. Zimmer’s organ-heavy music pounded away, the ship spun round and round, characters tried to stay conscious, the organs, the spinning. Beautiful. Alive. Pure cinema. At some point, my dropped jaw became a stunned smile and I noticed that a few tears were running down my face. I can’t remember the last time that happened to me during a movie. A

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62 comments:

  1. This is the great review and articulates the way I feel about the film. It's my favorite film from Nolan and so far my favorite film of the year.

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    1. Thanks Luke! Definitely one of my favorite films of the year as well. Such an accomplishment. I loved everything about it.

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  2. Great as always my friend. I saw the film on a 4k presentation as I don't have the money to drive 20 miles to see the film in 70mm which I'm sure is an experience.

    I had a few qualms with the film regarding some parts of the third act but I still think it's an incredible film as it is quite daring and is willing to ask big questions. Even as it is very emotional as McConaughey is once again killing it and yes, it is a better performance than Dallas Buyers Club.

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    1. Thanks man. I'm going to check out your review in a bit here too. I was lucky enough to see it in 70mm, and wow, what a sight. It was so weird to see little scratches on the film again. I honestly, have no idea the last time I saw a movie on actual film. There's a richness to it that is inarguable.

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  3. Wow, great review :) I'm glad the hype didn't ruin it for you! I'm getting the vibe lots of people were disappointed simply because it wasn't the next 2001.

    That docking scene was amazing, really edge of your seat stuff. Hans Zimmer's score was just the icing on the cake!

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    1. Thanks so much! I actually do think this is the next 2001, but I thankfully didn't expect that going in. I'm not much of a fan of the sci-fi genre, but this one of the best films of its kind that I've ever seen. No question.

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  4. Fantastic review man. It's been quite a while since I've had that kind of an unforgettable experience in a movie theater. Interstellar is a masterful film and I've enjoyed how you managed to sum up the elements of its brilliance. It's pure cinema indeed. As you loose yourself through this magnificent cinematic universe Christopher Nolan has created, you realize you've stopped breathing and there are tears in your eyes at the same time. THIS IS A FILM FOR THE AGES. We deserve films that ambitious, that daring, that brilliant.

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    1. YES! Absolutely, we deserve films this big and ambitious and brilliant. Very well said. And thanks so much for the kind words about my review. This was a hard one to write about, simply because it's so damn huge. But man, I'm so thrilled that we see eye-to-eye on this one. Loved it.

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    2. Oh yes, man, I love it too. I'm equally thrilled as you and you really did a great job there. But what a shame that we may have to wait for, I don't know, the next Christopher Nolan film maybe to watch a film THAT big and ambitious. There should be much more films really that would make for an EXPERIENCE as huge as this, films that you couldn't possibly watch on your i-pad before you go to sleep. Plus, I have to say that personally I love the fact that this film has been so divisive with critics and has caused so many discussions because it clearly shows what an impact Nolan has on his audience through his work. I really love that.

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    3. I too love that the film has been so divisive. I mean, as much as I loved Boyhood (it's still my favorite of the year) it was kind of strange that nearly EVERY review was positive. In some odd way, full agreement makes it hard to fully discuss the film. Obviously, Interstellar is different. We're going to be debating this one for years and years.

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    4. I mean right? Hell yeah man! So awesome to see we see eye-to-eye on this as well. It's the divisive, polarizing, controversial work that's more fun to talk about and actually offers more to talk about than the films everyone's raving about. Besides the latter ones tend to disappoint on some level pretty easily. We need "A tree of life" or an "Under the skin" once in a while. In fact, I'd be glad to watch movies like these every day! It's so great when a film and a piece of art in general can cause such debates because it really shows how special it is.

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    5. Debate is healthy, I agree. Agreeing with each other all the time would just be boring.

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  5. I liked Mr. Nolan's attempt with this movie, and found a lot of the visuals to be very good. I just was not impressed with the end material. Interesting you mentioned Malick because I thought the movie had too much dialogue for it to be compared to one his films

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    1. Hey man, fair enough about the end. But yeah, I definitely felt a distinctly patient, Malick vibe to the first act of this movie. I loved how it took its time.

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  6. I'm seeing this one Friday with the rest of my class and can't wait. This review has me so hyped up to see it (and this is after the one kid who saw it said it was a masterpiece). It looks amazing, even though I've heard and read some critical backlash against this film saying that that is all it has - this review has hyped me back up.
    I also have to point out/thank you for your statement regarding blockbusters today in this review. I have this conversation with other kids in my classes and this is one that, while it may have crossed my mind at some point, I definitely would not have been able to articulate in the way you did (which is elegant and well said by the way) - so thank you good sir!

    Also, Birdman and Nightcrawler were both amazing!

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    1. I'll be very interested to hear your thoughts on this one. It's just so damn... big. Really great stuff. So happy you like Birdman and Nightcrawler! 2014 is kind of killing it at the movies. Feels good haha.

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    2. This was certainly an experience. I don't think anyone in my class was any less than blown away by what we witnessed up on the screen lol. I thought the majority of it was just fantastic (Matt Damon - dude, wtf!) and the effects were just jaw-dropping. The black hole sequence had me grinning from ear-to-ear lol. Though I think the last 15-20 mins were really just kind of silly after everything that had happened prior to it, I still think it's a fantastic piece of work.

      My mom happened to see it Fri. night and said she hated it though lol. Went right over her head (her words).

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    3. It's funny how this one appears to be straight love it or hate it. A good friend of mine, whose tastes usually mirror mine, didn't like it at all. But hey, fair enough, you know? I enjoy being on the loving side of polarizing films.

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  7. Glad you liked it!

    "these opening scenes, which, without warning, quickly evolve into something far different" - Until I read your review, I had forgotten how lost I felt at the beginning of the film. Quite an accomplishment, on Nolan's behalf.

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    1. Hell yeah man, an accomplishment indeed. I think it'll be easy for people to overlook those scenes, but they really, really impressed me. Did you like the movie as a whole?

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    2. Oh yeah! It was great. Certainly not my favorite of his, but I was hooked throughout.

      Oddly enough, most critics that I have seen probably liked it more than me. Considering that I love Nolan films so much, this experience is quite strange. Typically, I'm begging people to like a film!

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    3. Yeah, I know what you mean. I actually think I liked it more than most, but I tend to be that way with his films as well. I just love the man's BIG style.

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  8. Great review man! I'm so glad you loved this one, as most reviews have been less kind. I had a similar experience, and I'd easily call this one of the year's best and most powerful offerings. It's a shame that McConaughey will probably get little recognition for giving arguably his best performance to date. I just hope Nolan finally gets a Best Director nod.

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    1. Awesome man, so happy we agree here. I think McConaughey will go overlooked - which is okay with me, I suppose. Kind of a bummer that he won last year, because if he hadn't, he'd be a lock for a nomination this year. But I'm with you, I would LOVE for Nolan to get a nom.

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  9. I am an unabashed Nolan Fanboy. So I love what you say in your second last para. Just because he makes blockbusters doesn't mean his films are not important. In fact, as you said, that is exactly what makes him great. He has found a way to make blockbusters that are far more than run of the mill blockbusters. He is setting up standards. Hollywood needs someone like that. We viewers need that.

    I loved Interstellar right up to the end especially while Matt Demon is in equation but I had problem with "You were my Ghost". But I never form my opinion on a Nolan movie just after one watch. I have learned from experience that I always, always love them more on re-watches. Lets see how this goes.

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    1. I can fully understand why people don't like those two sequences you mentioned, but I dunno man, it just worked for me. Everything worked for me. And I agree, I always love Nolan's films more when I go back and revisit them. They never get old for me.

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  10. I agree Interstellar deserves praise for score, acting, visuals, editing. Maybe it's just me, it hurt my enjoyment slightly that the story borrows story ideas from other sci-fi, and the ending was too neat and tidy for me. I still enjoyed it, was never bored. Happy you loved it so much Alex!

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    1. You know, it's funny, one of the reasons the sci-fi genre rarely works for me is because those movies always seem to borrow too heavily from previous, better films. I could definitely see the influence of other films on Interstellar, but I actually didn't have a problem with them. Everytime the camera cut to outside of the ship, and we saw lights zooming by, I wondered how long he was going to hold the shot. Thankfully, he held it just long enough to echo 2001, but not long enough to be painfully obvious.

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  11. I liked what you said about the score being its own character. That's very true, even if it bothered me when it drowned out the actors at times. I think this might be the most emotional I've gotten in a Nolan movie as well. I legitimately cried during a part of it.

    Great review!

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    1. Thanks Brittani! I honestly don't know if I've ever heard a score drown out dialogue that purposefully before. And I really dug it. A very, very bold choice.

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  12. pure cinema indeed. i loved the emotional arc the most

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  13. It was an incredible film, like you I admired all the various aspects such as cinematography, editing, production design.

    I loved all that, but what I think was perhaps the best thing was the relationship between father and daughter, I honestly thought that was breathtakingly moving. It reminded me of the relationship between father and daughter in the film Contact (highly recommended as well).

    I'm not Hans Zimmer's biggest fan, find his scores repetitive since his Inception days (please don't kill me), but his work here was stunning.

    You say "There are moments, for example, when the music is intentionally louder than the actors’ dialogue", I did notice this, but in only one scene, intentionally or not I, personally, find the affect of this annoying.

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    1. There are echoes of Contact in Intererstellar, though I think Nolan's film is by far the superior one. But still, I agree that Cooper and Murph's relationship was one of the best parts of the movie. It was so very believable. I mean, that goodbye scene was devastating. So real and painful. Thanks so much for the comment, Myerla!

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  14. Its a great film and id agree at some times its breath-taking (though certainly not the next 2001), but again its exploding all across the internet far beyond its own reach. I know you probably don't concern yourself with such easily manipulated sites- but what's your stance on it being voted as no.11 on IMDB's top 250 mere days into its release.

    Me? I think the fans have gone too far, even for their own auspicious track record. The list should be a guide for people to choose great films off to inspire them and even their potential careers in the craft. Something tells me when newbies realise how poorly judged the ratings are they may abandon it forever, which is a real waste of movie enjoyment and potentially talent. Its sad that because of the advent of the internet people nowadays can cite a modern film as the best ever simply with a few accounts and button presses, and leave the masterpieces of old out in the shadows, irreversibly forgotten- and Interstellar irreversibly locked into its sky-high rank.

    Loving the blog btw :) mine is coming on decently as we discussed great to talk about this kind of stuff with people :D

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    1. Nolan's fans are notoriously manic. Interstellar was actually breaking the IMDb's Top 20 before the movie was even released, which is just damn silly. But hey, that's the internet for you. Really glad you liked the movie though, it's definitely a work of art.

      Also great to hear that your site is coming along well. I really like what you've been doing on there!

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    2. Its the fans that actually make me hate myself, because before I even saw the movie when I noticed this on your feed I was wishing "please let it be bad", just so they would perhaps finally SEE how overblown they had made things. Alas, twas not to be, but hell you convinced me to go see it and yes, its damn good. Certainly up there with his best works, though not quite at Memento's level eh? ;)

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    3. For me, nothing will top Memento. That is a milestone film. One people will be talking about a studying long after we're gone. But, honestly, right now Interstellar is my number two. I really loved it.

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  15. Oh this is a beautiful review. I'm seeing the movie tomorrow, hopefully I will be awake enough to appreciate it. I'm very curious about the score - I do adore Zimmer's music but the single released track I heard so far from the movie didn't impress me. But if you say it's great, it must be.

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    1. Thanks Sati! I can't wait to hear your thoughts on this one. And I promise, Zimmer has NEVER done a score like this before.

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  16. I'm just going to copy+paste your review as my own, because those are my thoughts exactly! hahaha, oh man. what a fantastic experience.I loved every single minute of that movie so much that I ignored my bladder pushing against my stomach and the stomach pain itself from it being so big for the entire movie (another way of saying I held in my piss for 3 hours because I couldn't physically bear leaving the theater).

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    1. Ha, that's awesome man. Well, the good news is that I saw it again last night and it was MUCH better a second time. So maybe you could revisit it with an empty bladder this time haha.

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  17. Seriously, I mentioned the same thing you did about the docking sequence in my own review of this one. I felt as though Zimmer and Nolan were almost winking at us with a nod to "2001." Great review, man. I am humbled by your blog all the time. - Kevin

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    1. Wow Kevin, thanks so much. That means a lot to me. Love hearing that you enjoyed that docking scene as well. What a cinematic moment.

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  18. I really love this review, it's beautiful. Interstellar has actually come out where I live, but I have my exams now so I won't be able to see it until next week at the earliest :( Not only that, but the big surprise cameo that comes was completely spoiled for me, which sucks. Anyway, it's nice to hear the praises for McConaughey! Here's hoping Nolan gets his Best Director nod (finally!)

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    1. Thanks Aditya! I really hope Nolan lands a nomination as well, but it's a damn tough year, so who knows. Bummer the cameo was spoiled for you, that was a genuinely solid surprise. Thanks so much for the compliments about my review!

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  19. Which are your favorite SF film made after 2001?

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    1. Top 10 since '68 (off the top of my head):

      10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
      9. Inception
      8. Blade Runner
      7. Brazil
      6. Children of Men
      5. Terminator 2
      4. Interstellar
      3. Alien
      2. Solaris (Soderbergh's version)
      1. E.T.

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    2. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Gravity, Avatar, District 9, Sunshine, Moon, Total Recall (1990), Planet Of The Apes (1968), Donnie Darko, Stalker, Twelve Monkeys, The Fly, Jurassic Park, The Thing (1982), The Matrix, maybe Star Wars 5, one of the Star Trek films, Wall-E. Solaris isn't better then Solyaris still brilliant. Terminator 2 for me isn't like a sci-fi, The Terminator IS a real sci-fi because it established that futuristic world. A insane theory tells that Interstellar is a prequel to WALL-E.

      Do you like any of the many Star Trek films?

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    3. All good picks. By and large, the sci-fi genre isn't for me, including all of the Star Trek films. Just not my thing.

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  20. Alex, you're such a fantastic writer! I appreciated your shorter review that really summed up the overall plot as well as your feelings on it without getting too detailed or weighed down by opinions and discussions and plot holes. Excellent write-up!

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    1. Wow, thanks Kristin, that's so nice of you! I really appreciate it!

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  21. This film isn't my favorite sci-fi of the year. This film is my favorite sci-fi of all time. Nolan do it for me. More I watch his films, more I love them and also more I hate them(but Memento gets better and better). But this film have all I love about sci-fi. When the film is full Nolan I love it more. The film got better and better more I watched it. Was magic. Many hate this film. This is in my top 10 of ALL-TIME.

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    1. Such a great film, I can't wait until it comes out on Blu-Ray and get to enjoy the special features. A masterpiece.

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    2. Do you think this is the best Nolan film?

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    3. No. That'll always be Memento for me. I can't ever imagine him topping that. Though I do think Interstellar is his number 2. And I LOVE all of his films.

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  22. I definitely agree with you calling this film pure cinema. I was amazed on how well Nolan did at making this film and it shows that great films are still being made. After the film ended, I was just in awe.

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    1. YES! Exactly. So glad we had such similar experiences with it.

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  23. Oh its been a while! Hi Alex, I hope all is well my friend!
    I finally saw Interstellar and couldn't help but take the chance to express how much I agree with you on this film.
    It really worked for me and as I can tell by your excellent review, it did for you as well. I found the film... big (I think that's the right word for it) and bold, it was more than just the typical sci-fi which I loved, it was deep and touching.
    The '23 years of footage' scene really got to me. Nolan played it out perfectly and McConaughey's reaction was authentically heartbreaking. I found everything in that scene so real. I was so invested in it, both emotionally and personally (later continuously replaying it in my head) that it was only when I looked back on it as a performance and not as a real moment that I was recognized what a great job McConaughey had done. Man he was good.
    The film was fantastic, one which causes you to think about it for hours on end afterwards. I am so glad you liked. Once more we are reminded that Nolan never fails to impress and surprise his audience.
    Anyways I hope everything to do with Wait is falling in place- if not I know it will (I'm sure everyone knows it will). I have faith in your great talents (did I mention how much I love the poster? Just by looking at it I am already taken to a film that I know will be... (excellent? breathtaking? yes, and) real, and those films are worthwhile). Another great Alex Withrow masterpiece is approaching- can't wait.
    Hmm, this is a long comment that sort of strayed away from talking about Interstellar, sorry about that.

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    1. Hey there! Thanks for stopping by, I so look forward to your comments. That footage scene CRUSHED me. And I love that Nolan kept his cries mostly silent - it really added depth to the moment.

      And man, thank you so much for the kind words about Wait, they mean so much to me. They really do. Thrilled you like the poster. I'm definitely going to be writing about it more over the next few months. Should be hearing back from festivals in the next several weeks! Thanks again my friend!

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