Random collection of 2014 films: Interstellar, Selma, American Sniper and Penguins of Madagascar

Spoiler alert in effect.

Interstellar

interstellar.jpg

Rating: Severe

Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley

There was a lot of hype and chatter over this movie before I finally watched it. From what my friend told me, it had similarities to Inception, like the type of movie that would make your head hurt trying to understand it. And I have to agree with that. Even after watching it twice, I’m still trying to piece together what’s really happening (and I don’t think I will fully understand ever haha).

First of all, let me just say that the acting was phenomenal, especially Matthew McConaughey. He so beautifully captures the feelings of a conflicted father who sets out to save his children and the world. The supporting cast, in particular Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway, also do a magnificent job in creating the dramatic and emotional atmosphere. Great to see Matt Damon make an appearance as well. He always appears to be stuck on a random planet, awaiting rescue haha.

While the science is slightly beyond my grasp (despite doing Astrophysics in high school), I think the underlying message is what is more important. The exploitation of Earth’s natural resources is currently unsustainable and while Earth may not die due to blight or starvation or suffocation, it is still a concerning matter. And with that, it explores the concept of what would you do if faced with the decision of saving the earth and staying with your family. It basically explores the human pyche, our defense mechanisms, or survival instinct. What we would do to live and to protected our loved ones. McConaughey’s character put himself in danger to protect his children and those doomed on Earth. Michael Caine’s character was willing to lie, including to this daughter, in order to continue mankind, even at the expense of those on Earth. Matt Damon’s character was willing to forge data and jeopardise the whole mission and kill lives in order to enable him to live. These are all examples of the so-called survival instinct inherent in living creatures. And the way this film explores it very eye-opening. It really makes you think. Not to mention the amazing cinematography and score. It’s very a well produced movie and one that I would highly recommend to watch.

Selma

selma

Rating: Severe

Director: Ava DuVernay
Cast:
David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Cuba Gooding Jr., Common

Being an Oscar nominated film, I was very much looking forward to watching this. And it lived up to my expectations and more. Historical movies have always been hit-and-miss with me, but this was definitely a hit. I came away with a much better understanding of the struggles of African-Americans, even after constitutional change allowed them to vote in elections. I don’t live in America, so my historical knowledge of the country is quite limited. I only know what is mainstream knowledge and what little I’ve learnt from documentaries or films. This movie really opened my eyes to the sacrifice and commitment displayed by Martin Luther King Jr., and by those near him. I’ve always known it was difficult, but never the magnitude and the specific hardships they had to face to overcome this challenge. To lead an uphill battle against discrimination which was so ingrained in the culture must have taken real determination and to do so successfully and without violence is truly amazing.

The honesty and rawness of the story is propelled by David Oyelowo, whose outstanding performance is so convincing and powerful. I don’t know much on the history or background of the civil war or the struggle to gain equality amongst people of colour, but I certainly know a bit more after watching this. The violence is so cruel and degrading and sometimes I wonder how they managed to get through all the trials and tribulations to finally end up electing their first Black president. Truly inspiring to think of the path paved by so many innocent lives and so much blood, sweat and tears to arrive at an equality which should have existed from the outset. It’s a very inspirational movie, with amazing performances and a powerful score, ending with the Oscar-winning song “Glory”.

American Sniper

american-sniper

Rating: Severe

Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman

This was another movie which is based on a true story that I hadn’t even known prior to watching it. It has such a tragic ending and one that I definitely didn’t expect. And what makes it worse is that this happened in real life. The decision to kill a young boy holding a grenade or let your fellow soldiers die is unimaginable. And the repercussions of that decision will haunt you everyday, which is why I think Chris Kyle had a particularly difficult time transitioning back to normal civilian life. That goes for all other soldiers as well. The post-traumatic stress sustained from war takes its toll, and it’s so sad to see that after surviving all the battles, they end up dying or killing themselves when they get home. This movies expertly deals not only with the battlefield but also with life back home, which in itself is another battle, often harder. Soldiers returning from war have to fight with their inner demons to regain the sense of normality they once had, and this takes a heavy toll on their partners and family. But Chris Kyle fought hard and won. It’s a truly inspirational story of how determined a person is to fight a second battle for the sake of their family. I think this movie also highlights the lack of awareness of the struggles of returned soldiers and like the ending of this story, not all people can regain a sense of normality.

The movie itself is not as overtly violent as I thought it would be, considering it is a war movie. I’m glad it focused more on the emotional and psychological impact rather than just fighting and war.

Penguins of Madagascar

penguins

Rating: Mild

Director: Simon J. Smith & Eric Darnell
Cast: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, Conrad Vernon, Benedict Cumberbatch

Having watched the previous Madagascar films, I had some idea of what this movie would feel like. While I’m not a super huge fan of the Madagascar series, it has interesting characters and just enough humour to keep me engaged. Unfortunately, doing a spin-off with the penguins wasn’t enough to provide the same level of entertainment as the original series. To me this feels like a similar approach as Minions and both lack the range and depth of character development as in the originals.

The storyline itself has a good message of friendship, bravery and acceptance. This is displayed through the four main characters as well as through North Wind. The eventual inclusion of Private into the group through his display of bravery and “ultimate sacrifice” (his cuteness that is, not his life), was the highlight for me. I think his character really came into his own and stood out for me. Character development for the other penguins were quite limited. Skipper does learn to appreciate Private more and show his softer side, but no real development.

I think the treatment of North Wind and Dave the Octopus were more interesting. With North Wind, they first appear brave and play the role of heroes who will save the penguin population. But as it unfolds, this braveness is only skin-deep. When needed, they bail at the crucial moment. Of course, in the end, after witnessing the incredible sacrifice performed by Private and the penguins, they do come back and help. But this sends a message that there are those who act tough on the outside but inside, they can be just as scared as others. Looking at Dave the Octopus, again, he may look evil at first glance, but inside, it is revealed that his desire for revenge stems from rejection and jealousy. He is like so many of us, not accepted by society, not the popular one, always in the shadows of those towering over us. And he channels this resentment and anger by undertaking revenge, which is shown to be the wrong way.

Overall, while it conveys a good message, the characters and the plot lack the originality and spunk of its predecessors.

P.S. Bonus points to Benedict Cumberbatch for butchering the pronunciation of “penguins” (penglings and pengwings). I must say I replayed that scene a few times hehe.

Discussion questions:
1. What was your favourite film in 2014?

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