Tag Archives: space

Nolan and Escher at the MFA

17 May

 

What Artist M.C. Escher And Filmmaker Christopher Nolan Have In Common

To complement the perception-warping lithographs of M.C. Escher currently on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, curator Carter Long and the smart folks over in the MFA’s film department have put together “Math, Mind and Memory,” a retrospective of Christopher Nolan’s films. The program launches on Wednesday, May 16 with Nolan’s debut, “Following” (1998), and concludes on May 31 with the British auteur’s 2014 planet-hopping odyssey, “Interstellar.”

If the crossover connection between surrealist graphic designer and alternate reality-conjuring filmmaker doesn’t immediately make sense, consider Escher’s continuous stairway to nowhere, “Ascending and Descending.” Its endless bend of perception and geometric form could easily be mistaken for a storyboard cell pulled from Nolan’s dream-thief thriller, “Inception” (2010), in which streetscapes and buildings get folded in on themselves, even inverted, creating an endless maze of concrete and tarmac that beguiles as it overwhelms. (The film plays on May 24 and 25.)

On the left, M.C. Escher's "Ascending and Descending." On the right, a still from Christopher Nolan's "Inception." (Robin Lubbock/WBUR and MFA)
On the left, M.C. Escher’s “Ascending and Descending.” On the right, a still from Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” (Robin Lubbock/WBUR and MFA)

More thematically, the Dutch artist’s famous “Drawing Hands,” where one hand sketches the next into existence while that hand conversely draws its creator, plays with the sense of time and origin. It’s the chicken and the egg conundrum visualized in evocative 2D (though the deeply layered shadowing lends a rich 3D effect). Something similar is explored in Nolan’s “Interstellar.” The humanity-saving space mission sails off into the fourth dimension of time and space density, creating a scenario in which children out age their parents. (“Interstellar” screens May 20 and 31.)

The retrospective, which includes the latter two of Nolan’s popular Batman films, “The Dark Knight” (on May 26) and “The Dark Knight Rises” (also on May 26), rightly recognizes the director’s box-office brilliance. Who else makes thinking-man thrillers that regularly gross more than $500 million? But the MFA series also more aptly shines a light on Nolan’s early efforts and influences.

“Following,” shot in noirish black and white and on 16mm guerrilla style, unravels agendas within agendas as a wannabe writer (Jeremy Theobald), who follows random people for muse material, gets tangled up with a dapper petty criminal (Alex Haw) and an aloof woman with a Marilyn Monroe-perfect coif (Lucy Russell). The ever-twisting plot complicated by love triangle implications cast wafts of Danny Boyle’s gritty early work, “Shallow Grave” (1994), and is a clear blueprint for Nolan’s sophomore effort, “Memento” (2000). Continue reading

The Martian

1 Oct

Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara and Aksel Hennie portray the crew members of the fateful mission to Mars in

The much anticipated big screen adaptation of Andy Weir’s hot-read “The Martian” finally lands in theaters this week.

For local boy Matt Damon and director Ridley Scott, it’s a respectable go, but for science and NASA, it’s an unequivocal win. Following the film’s release those chem and bio books on high schoolers’ nightstands will get a little sexier.

For those not familiar with Weir’s self-published e-book that became a New York Times bestseller, it takes place in the short near future, when manned flights to Mars are doable and entails the ordeal of an astronaut left for dead on the Red Planet, who then must survive for four years until the next mission from Earth arrives. The major must haves, air and water (no, it’s not prescient of the findings) are relatively “easy” to ascertain.

The big gotcha is food, as the pup-tent bivouac is only stocked with enough rations to feed a crew of six for 60 days. If you’re doing the math and forecasting, that’s the joyful brain bait Weir imbued throughout his novel. The book has been hailed as one of the best pure science, science fiction books in a long while (Weir, a former programmer who worked on the Warcraft video games was reared on a steady diet of Arthur C. Clarke).

Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard (“World War Z” and “Cloverfield”) however don’t have reams of paper or time to stop and explain the not-so-basic math, chemistry and biology solutions that propel “The Martian,” but what they do have are digi-logs, so that Damon, playing left-behind spaceman Mark Watney, a biologist by trade, can speak directly into GoPro cams or any of the myriad of the recording devices sprinkled throughout the space tent known as a “hab” and the rover, an all-terrain SUV on steroids.

To explain how Watney gets marooned and rises from the dead would be doing the uninformed a disservice. It’s smart and sharply done in both mediums, as is how Watney is discovered alive on the far off planet by satellite wonks at NASA (there’s no comms that can reach that far to squawk real time). But all these golden plot nuggets come directly from from Weir’s blueprint. What’s missing is the looming sense of dread that so effectively filled other recent deep space conundrums like “Gravity” and “Interstellar,” let alone the imposing power of loneliness like Tom Hanks so convincingly evoked on a similarly remote and desolate body (an island on Earth occupied by a volleyball) in “Cast Away.”

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Interstellar

8 Nov

‘Interstellar’: Never too far from pastiche, no matter how far Nolan flies it into space

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Our planet is dying, and somewhere out in space lies the answer. That’s the lead-in to “Interstellar,” which could be a prequel to the post-apocalyptic film “The Road” with its giant dust storms sweeping in and suffocating vegetation and crops, leaving only corn as a viable source of food – and it too is on the verge of extinction. The clock is ticking. When the last ear is harvested, what what will man do to survive in the giant dustbowl?

110714i InterstellarThe good news for all our collective futures is that farmer Matthew McConaughey is a former NASA pilot; the bad news is that NASA no longer exists, but through a paranormal, “Close Encounters” kind of interference, the southern drawling actor’s Cooper is pointed to a grid point on the map not too far away where the vestiges of the space agency – and the hope of humankind – reside with Michael Caine and his daughter, Anne Hathaway. Cooper is the only one with mission experience, and before the clock ticks any further he and Hathaway’s Amelia Brand are on a turbo-charged space shuttle-like vehicle and heading toward a black hole. Continue reading

Gravity

4 Oct

‘Gravity’: Amazing visuals, hairbreadth escapes but a story that never quite soars

By Tom Meek
October 4, 2013

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Some might wonder how the director of “Y Tu Mamá También” and “Great Expectations” (bet you forgot about that 1998 foray starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke) arrived at a space odyssey such as this. Likely the international success of “Y Tu Mamá También” opened a few doors for director Alfonso Cuarón, and his follow-on, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” which was the best segment of the overheated wizard series, enabled the Latin auteur to play freely with special FX and blockbuster-aimed gadgetry. Two films later he capitalized on that and wowed critics and audiences alike with the bleak future-scape thriller, “Children of Men,” registering perhaps the first perfect fusion of grand vision and epic scale in the new world order of digital filmmaking.

100413i GravityDevelopment of “Gravity” began shortly after “Children of Men” (in 2006) and took nearly six years to complete because of the need to invent technology to make the film possible and the degree of complexity and time required for some of the special effects, which are far beyond typical green-screen chicanery. For what’s onscreen and the $80 million budget spent, it looks like every minute and every penny was poured into every scene. The film is nothing short of a miracle in filmmaking and should be held as such.   Continue reading