Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

Movie review: ‘Inside Out,’ ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’

Joy and Sadness in 'Inside Out' (photo Disney-Pixar)

By Tim Lammers

“Inside Out” (PG) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)

There are five main emotions in mind, quite literally, that drive “Inside Out” – fear, sadness, anger and disgust – but it’s joy you’ll be jumping for at the conclusion of the movie, featuring one of the most original, mind-bending storylines to come out of Hollywood since Christopher Nolan’s brilliant dream adventure “Inception.”

Unlike “Inception,” “Inside Out,” of course is meant for audiences big and small since it’s the brainchild of Pixar, and it’s easily one of the best offering from the computer animation giant since “Up.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the director and co-writer of that Best Animated Feature Oscar winner Pete Docter, whose career with his third feature effort (his debut came with 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.”) continues to soar.

“Inside Out” takes place in the mind of Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias), a rambunctious 11-year-old girl on the cusp of adolescence. Her actions are driven at a console by five emotions in the headquarters of her brain: Joy (Amy Pohler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), and those emotions are about to get very mixed.

Still adjusting to her move with Mom (Diane Lane) and Dad (Kyle McLachlan) from Minnesota to San Francisco, Riley’s mood turns from happy to very sad and distant when Sadness begins to touch her core memories, which are each contained in tiny spheres. If an effort to keep Sadness at bay, Joy and her polar opposite are accidentally tossed headlong into the long-term memory of Riley’s brain, leaving only Anger, Fear and Disgust to help the girl navigate through her new surroundings. Attempting to find their way back to headquarters, Joy and Sadness find themselves struggling to keep Riley’s happy memories intact, not yet realizing that every emotion – not just Joy – is needed to guide the growing girl through life.

While “Inside Out” is a great companion piece to “Inception,” the audience for it is much broader. True, it’s very thought-provoking, and the narrative may be hard to grasp for the youngest tots in the audience, but what they will see develop in front of them, as Riley revisits her young life through various core and long-term memories of her life, will entertain them nonetheless. It goes without saying, of course, that the computer animation is brilliant, and the film’s vibrant colors and action is only illuminated by the film’s top-notch 3D presentation.

Beyond the youngest of audience members, kids 9 and above will better identify with the emotional weight that carries “Inside Out,” and naturally, adults, who experienced these emotions for many more years, will be the ones most moved by the movie. Life is full of many emotions, and you’ll get to relive them all again here, with joy and sadness – adding up to laughter and poignancy – at the forefront of this wonderful moviegoing experience. It may even change the way you look at things.

“Inside Out” is preceded by the Pixar short, “Lava,” which follows the song of a lonely volcano looking for companionship over millions of years. Driven by a touching Hawaiian tune penned by writer-director James Ford Murphy, look for “Lava” – as well as “Inside Out” – to be mentioned early and often as sure bets to be nominated (if not eventually the big winners) during awards season.

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“Me and Earl and The Dying Girl” (PG-13) 3 1/2 (out of four)

While the title sounds pretty ominous, there’s no question Alfonso Gomez-Rejon pulls off a masterful balance of humor, heartbreak and hope with “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl,” an irreverent comedy drama that tackles a difficult subject matter with surprising results. It’s easy to see how the film captured both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, bringing an independent filmmaking spirit to a film a major studio would be leery to make.

Thomas Mann stars as Greg, an awkward Pittsburgh high school senior who’s managed to stay invisible his whole life. His only activity is making off-kilter spoofs of famous movies with his “co-worker” Early (RJ Cyler), a neighborhood kid that he won’t call a friend in fear of getting too close to him. Greg inadvertently begins to come out of his shell, though, when his Mom (Connie Britton) demands that he consoles Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a fellow senior who’s been diagnosed with cancer. First showing up out of obligation, Greg and Rachel become fast friends, and along with Earl, they experience life’s uncertainties as “The Dying Girl,” as Rachel is called, faces a tough treatment regimen in a bid to save her life.

Naturally, people are going to want to compare “Me and Earl to the Dying Girl” to last year’s teen cancer drama “The Fault in Our Stars,” but thanks to the film’s offbeat humor and tone, it couldn’t be any further from it. Yes, there’s a very serious underlying theme to the film, but the approach to the film is anything but ordinary.

Mann, Cyler and Cooke are all terrific in the title roles, which are bolstered by strong supporting turns by Britton, Nick Offerman (as Greg’s Dad), Molly Shannon (as Rachel’s Mom) and Jon Bernthal (as Greg and Earl’s favorite teacher). It may not be the easiest film to watch, but “Me and Early and The Dying Girl” is full of zest and a wonderful celebration of life.

Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Minnesota radio stations.

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‘Christopher Nolan: Moving Through Time’ retrospective

INTERSTELLAR

By Tim Lammers

This week I had the wonderful opportunity to see filmmaker Christopher Nolan in Dialogue with Variety’s Scott Foundas at the Walker Art Center’s film retrospective “Christopher Nolan: Moving Through Time” in Minneapolis.

In conjunction with the event, where all nine of Nolan’s films are playing through May 24, I had the opportunity to write for the Walker a retrospective piece on the director based on the interviews I’ve done with him over the years. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s only appropriate that Christopher Nolan’s May 5 visit to the Walker Art Center came on the heels of the dizzying release of the latest teaser trailer for “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.” Fresh off his own trek to the outer reaches of space with the spectacular sci-fi adventure drama “Interstellar,” Nolan 38 years ago was, like countless moviegoers worldwide, forever impacted by the George Lucas’ 1977 space opera. But unlike most starry-eyed fans, Nolan was inspired to expand the “Star Wars” universe in his own cinematic way, and in doing so, he was inadvertently laying the foundation for a legendary, Lucas-like career of his own as a writer, producer and director.

“I started making Super 8 films when I was 7 years old,” Nolan told me in 2006, in the first of four conversations we would have about his films over the next eight years. “My first few films were little action-figure extravaganzas, and soon, as ‘Star Wars’ came out and changed everything, my movies were ‘Star Wars’ ripoffs for years, with spaceships and action figures. They were little, mini-epics. It was great fun.”

Read the complete interview on the Walker Art Center’s website.

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Interview: Jonathan Nolan talks groundwork of ‘Interstellar’

Matthrew McConauhey in 'Interstellar' (inset Jonathan Nolan)

By Tim Lammers

If you found yourself desperate to watch “Interstellar” again after you caught the sci-fi epic on the big screen, Jonathan Nolan is thrilled to reopen up the rocket hatch for another ride on home video.

In fact, the heralded screenwriter, who co-wrote the critically acclaimed blockbuster with his director brother, Christopher Nolan, told me that the two crafted the screenplay as such so movie fans would want to see the film again, hoping they would absorb even more details the second time around.

“That’s the way my brother and I grew up watching movies. If we found one we liked, we watched it obsessively,” Jonathan Nolan, who goes by Jonah, said in a phone interview Monday. “If we found more detail in the second and third viewings, that really became the hallmark of a great film to us.

“With ‘Interstellar,’ there were extra challenges there involving mind-bending physics and the science that we grounded the film in, and that took us years and years to figure out on our end,” Nolan added. “It’s a film that has a density to it on that level, and hopefully it will be enjoyed more and more on that level as you begin to understand the rule-set and some of the concepts that are quite alien the first time through them. Space-time curvature and time warps are a lot to wrap your head around.”

Interview: Christopher Nolan talks ‘Interstellar’

New on Blu-ray and DVD (Paramount Home Media Distribution), “Interstellar” stars Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, a former pilot and engineer-turned-farmer in an unspecified time in Earth’s future. Climate conditions reminiscent of the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s have eliminated much of the world’s food supply, and blight has eradicated wheat and farmers can only grow corn.

Following an odd ghost-like occurrence involving his youngest daughter, Murph (MacKenzie Foy), Cooper finds his way to the now secretly-funded NASA, which  tells him that his children’s generation will be the last to survive on the dying planet. Prompted by his old colleague, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), Cooper is asked to pilot an interstellar mission to another galaxy in hopes of finding a world where the human race can survive. The catch is, the widower will have to leave Murph and her older brother behind, perhaps never to see them again.

“Interstellar” also stars Anne Hathaway as Brand’s daughter, Amelia — a doctor on the spacecraft whose emotional vulnerabilities cloud the mission — and Jessica Chastain as the adult vers

ion of Murph, who has grown up resenting her father because she felt abandoned.

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With a narrative that ties together such elaborate concepts as wormholes, black holes and the idea of love transcending the boundaries of space and time, Nolan no doubt tackled with his brother  their most ambitious project to date with “Interstellar”; and we’re talking the same brothers who brilliantly penned mind-bending complexities into such films the last two chapters of the “The Dark Knight” trilogy, “The Prestige” and “Memento” (Jonah penned the original short story, while Christopher wrote the screenplay).

“For me, and I can’t speak for Chris, the ambition was to try to tell a story that certainly wouldn’t encompass, but pointed to the full scope of the human experience,” Jonah Nolan explained. “Most of the films you watch, with a handful of exceptions — ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ being one of them — concentrate on one protagonist and one storyline. But really, the human story for me — especially when I looked at the achievements of NASA and the scientists involved, and the scientists from Newton onward, building the work of the work of ones that came before them for thousands of years — was really a generational story.”

So, Nolan said, while McConaughey’s Cooper is “one protagonist in the piece,” there’s ultimately something going on that’s much bigger than him.

“The real protagonist is humanity, and the work that we do that we hand from one generation to the next in the hopes that we might survive and maybe even prosper,” Nolan said.

Ground zero

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of “Interstellar’s” history is that the film did not originate as a project for the Nolan brothers. In fact, one of the film’s producers, Lynda Obst and world-renown theoretical physicist Kip Thorne (who was a consultant on the script and was an executive producer), first hired Jonah Nolan to write the script with Steven Spielberg attached to direct.

Once the opportunity came for Christopher Nolan to direct the film, Jonah Nolan said his brother didn’t scrap what he started to build things from scratch, but continued to add layers to the foundation of his younger sibling’s narrative.

“When I worked with Kip, Lynda and Steven, I brought some ideas to the table and they brought some, and when Chris came to the project, he brought some of his own,” Nolan said. “Often what happens with my collaborations with Chris is, he gets in there and takes one of my ideas and puts his own inimitable spin on it, or adds a beautiful idea of his own.”

One of the biggest changes Christopher Nolan made to the script, Jonah Nolan said, came with a recalibration of the ending of the screenplay, giving it a much more powerful emotional punch.

“The ending to my script was quite pedestrian in comparison to his, and what Chris added to it had the scope and scale of the emotion in the film. It was so beautiful,” Nolan observed. “We have a really fun relationship because he gets to take my ideas and twist them around, and I get to take his ideas and twist them around. We surely think alike in a lot of ways, but he has his own unique perspective.”

And in the case of “Interstellar,” that perspective of being a parent drove Christopher Nolan and eventually, Jonah.

“Most of the work I did on ‘Interstellar’ happened before I was a parent or even married. But when he started working on the script, he had lots of kids and brought that perspective to it,” Jonah Nolan said. “He was bringing the perspective of a father to the storyline, where I was kind of guessing the emotions you would feel with a real acuity. The script clearly benefited from that. It’s always a great experience collaborating on a project with him for that very reason.”

While Christopher Nolan has yet to announce his next project, Jonah Nolan is well into his. The filmmaker wrote and directed the pilot episode of his new HBO series “Westworld,” starring the likes of Anthony Hopkins, James Marsden, Ed Harris and Thandie Newton. Created by Nolan and his wife, Lisa Joy, the re-imagining of the 1973 sci-fi favorite starring Yul Brynner film will debut sometime this year.

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Christopher Nolan to appear at Walker Art Center career retrospective

Christopher Nolan and Matthew McConaughey on the set of 'Interstellar'

Celebrated filmmaker Christopher Nolan will be the subject of the Walker Art Center’s Dialogue and Retrospective series in May in Minneapolis, the museum announced this week.

Nolan, who most recently directed and co-wrote with his brother, Jonathan, the sci-fi blockbuster “Interstellar,” will kick off the retrospective, “Christopher Nolan Through Time,” with a Dialogue with Variety’s Scott Foundas May 5 at the Walker.

The Nolan retrospective  is a huge deal for the Walker, which kicked off its Dialogue series 25 years ago with Clint Eastwood, which I attended. Since then the movie program at the museum has hosted career retrospectives with the likes of Jodie Foster, Tom Hanks, Joel and Ethan Coen, and most recently, “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen.

Read more about the Nolan retrospective here. In addition, check out the interview I did with Nolan for the theatrical release of “Interstellar” last November. The film, which is now available on digital platforms, will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray (Paramount Home Distribution) next week. Also, look out for my interview with Jonathan Nolan for the home video release next week.

See below more about the Christopher Nolan retrospective on the segment I did Friday on KARE 11 in Minneapolis.