Now you might not think a dystopian future with humanity on the brink of extinction, space travel, wormholes, black holes, ice planets and astronauts are your typical date night movie but let’s actually look at all of the facts here!  If you and your date/partner/spouse are somewhat intelligent (and as you’re reading this website, I must assume that you are) and want a movie that makes you think and aren’t just there for the kissy-feelies, well, then, you’re in luck.

Interstellar as already mentioned takes place on an Earth in the not too distant future that has become increasingly hostile to humanity.  The planet has been ravaged by a “blight” that has gradually and over time consumed all of our regular food staples, leaving corn as the only farm food available to us (I’m assuming, although its not mentioned that fishing and livestock are still options, although one would assume both would be in more and more limited supply).  Dust storms ravage the land with clouds literally blanketing the horizon  and it in this setting that our story takes place although it eventually takes us to lands even stranger.

Matthew McConaughey’s character (Cooper) is a failed astronaut and a widower living with his father in law, son and daughter on a farm in the American Midwest when he manages to decode a signal literally written in the dust.  This message leads to a hidden NASA base where Matthew meets his old Professor and mentor played by Michael Caine (Professor Brand).  Brand has been searching for a way to save humanity and informs Cooper that NASA has been receiving signals from somewhere near Saturn.  These signals & gravitational anomalies led them to a wormhole through which they dispatched a ship to see if there was any possibility of finding another home for humanity.  They have determined that on the other side there are three planets that could be possible refuges’ and they need Cooper to take another shuttle and team to find the right home so that humanity can survive.

I guess you could say that while the graphics and cinematography are exceptional and the slow burn to a eventual climax is quite good – this is just your standard, run of the mill SciFi movie isn’t it?  What makes it a good choice or option for Valentines Day?  Well, I think the answer to that question will be a bit clearer below when we explore a little bit about the history of Valentine’s Day, where it came from and realize that it isn’t just about romance but it is about love.

J.C. Cooper, in The Dictionary of Christianity, writes that Saint Valentine was “a priest of Rome who was imprisoned for succouring persecuted Christians”

There is an additional embellishment to The Golden Legend, which according to Henry Ansgar Kelly, was added centuries later, and widely repeated. On the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he would have written the first “valentine” card himself, addressed to the daughter of his jailer Asterius, who was no longer blind, signing as “Your Valentine.” The expression “From your Valentine” was later adopted by modern Valentine letters. This legend has been published by both American Greetings and The History Channel.

With thanks to Wikipedia

English: Actor Matthew McConaughey at the 83rd...
English: Actor Matthew McConaughey at the 83rd Academy Awards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you’re seeing Cooper and his young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy playing young Murph) stumble into humanity’s last efforts to avoid extinction, it’s just a parade of tropes and contrivance and feels tired and old.  Once Cooper leaves Earth however?  Well that’s where the story really begins and beauty takes over.  Nolan is nothing if not experienced in showing how men are simply that … not gods or supreme creatures, but flawed individuals who make mistakes and when it’s infused with a dash of impending doom it’s taken to particularly sinister places.

Cooper is an ambitious dreamer – someone who’s either a century too late or a century too early and is stuck in a dead end role as a farmer.  He sees no real hope for adventure and when he gets an opportunity to travel back into space, he really doesn’t think too long and hard before jumping at it regardless of the impact it will have on his family.  However over time while he’s on the mission he gradually comes to realize that his acknowledged rationale for going – to give his daughter and family a future – is in reality the true reason that he is there.  His love for his daughter and family drive him when he should have died many times over and while it is not a romantic love, it is a love for family that truly makes him reach the prize.

Brand’s daughter (played by Anne Hathaway) meanwhile is on the shuttle with Cooper and while her romantic interest for one of the earlier (unseen) astronauts from the first mission is acknowledged – she does not let this entanglement get in the way when a hard decision needs to be made.

In addition to Cooper’s love for family, you can’t discount the sacrifice made by Professor Brand to ensure that not only does his daughter survive him – but by making this mission possible he can save humankind itself.  There is no greater sacrifice than the one that Brand makes.

So as you can see, while you might not have the “normal” romantic reasons to think that this movie is your standard Valentine’s day movie – all of the standard elements that you would expect to see are actually there, in addition to which you can add a whole host of other factors and one of the most graphically intense and enjoyable movies currently in the theater!

For the past 14-years, the X-Men movie franchise has been churning out stories loosely based on Marvel’s seminal comic book series. X-Men: Days Of Future Past (DOFP), the 7th instalment in the movie franchise is without a doubt the most “comic-booky” chapter, which immediately places it in the top tier of the X-movies. Although this is a film that will certainly appeal to a very wide audience, I suspect that die-hard X-Men fans may still be left wanting.

The film kicks off in the not too distant future where mutant hunting killing machines named Sentinels have decimated the mutant population as well as turned on the human race that created them. Knowing that their defeat at the hands of the Sentinels is inevitable, and proving that at least one member of the team was familiar with the plot of The Terminator, the remaining band of X-Men rally together for a last ditch effort to save humanity. The remaining X-Men send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back into the past so that he may prevent the assassination of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the individual whose murder is the catalyst that leads to the initiation of the Sentinel program.  Wolverine returns to 1973 only to find the era’s team of X-Men fragmented and the remaining members emotionally defeated. Armed with the knowledge of the future apocalypse (as well as terrifying bone claws that protrude from his knuckles), it is up to Wolverine to reunite a young Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) and young Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) at the height of their rivalry.

In movies based on comics, directors often feel that they have to put a unique spin of their own on their superhero film’s mythology and in the process, often strip the film of the familiar elements of the series that fans connect with. This time however, Bryan Singer (returning to the series after a 10-year absence) has lifted a classic X-Men story straight from the pages of the comics and translated it about as well as can be expected in a 2-hour film. Sadly, the majority of the mutants in the film have Lilliputian character arcs. The majority of X-characters in DOFP mostly just get to show their range of quickly bad-ass leather clad poses before quickly producing agonizing death faces at the cold dead hands of a Sentinel. Regardless of their limited screen time, it is still cool to see so many characters given a moment to shine on screen. Including so many characters in the film adds to the scale of the conflict and makes me feel like there are other stories going on in this expansive world while we happen to focus on this particular band of villains and heroes.

The true heart of the movie lies in the scenes shared between Xavier and Magneto and it is in these few moments where DOFP transcends being just another action flick. McAvoy and Fassbender leave it all on the table and their opposing terrorist versus freedom fighter philosophies convey enough earnestness to both their causes that much of the audience will leave the film questioning who the heroes and the villains of the film really were.

DOF is n extraordinary visual smorgasbord of commotion, and exactly what a comic-book movie is meant to look like. Seeing Iceman create a track of ice and slide across the screen was a dream that I had given up on after viewing X-2. CGI has advanced to the point where it is cost effective to render the powers of even C-list characters like Blink and Sunspot without the risk of bankrupting the studio. The battles between mutants and sentinels are just as epic as anything inked on a comic panel. What particularly stood out was the clever way that the film depicts the ingenuity of each character in the way that they use of their powers. A C-list character like Quicksilver was able to hi-jack the movie with his frantic prison break antics while Magneto ripping a baseball stadium from its foundation and using it as a barricade was as epic as anything seen on film this year. This is clearly the antithesis of the hyper realistic take on comic books displayed in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films.

The weakness of the previous X-Men films has always been an inability to capture the camaraderie shared within the X-family and sadly this movie is no different. I can understand the complexity of trying to script a film with such a multitude of beloved characters without giving someone the short end of the stick. Earlier films the eschewed the family dynamics of the X-Men completely, making the series into what felt like the Wolverine show. Fleshing out Wolverine and placing him as the anchor of the franchise relegated everyone else to the roles of mere asteroids in his planets orbit. Fans that are familiar with the X-Men universe understand that singling a character out to such an intense degree conflicts with the team components that are essence of the series. The X-men tales often cover complex themes about coming of age and finding out how important finding your true family is when you exist in a world that doesn’t understand you. Fans have adored X-Men stories for over 50-years for the soap opera type plot twists as well as the tender moments amongst characters that take place between all of the action. When opening up an issue you are just as likely to see a story about an uneventful Friday night spent on the couch, eating pizza and discussing break ups, as you are to see spandex clad heroes fighting maniacal villains. In DOFP, the stakes always feel so high that the film never takes its foot of the gas pedal to explore the quieter moments. Last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy blended several unconventional yet compelling characters together into one dysfunctional superhero team that carried the weight of saving the universe on their shoulders, resulting in a hit film that completely out “X-Men’d” the X-Men movies.

Despite being the franchise that ushered in the age of the blockbuster superhero movie, in terms of being good overall films the X-Men series is a very late bloomer. As someone familiar with the X-Men universe, I found the film to be a fine superhero movie but not a great X-Men movie. As much as I enjoyed this film, I still couldn’t help but wonder if the X-Men, with their vast array of characters and numerous social themes might just be better suited for an HBO miniseries.  The franchise seemed to have corrected course with 2011’s First Class reboot and refocusing the series attention on the dynamic relationship between young versions of Erik and Charles seemed to help the series find its narrative groove. Now that the films now have an engaging emotional centerpiece to go along with its stories about a ragtag group of misfits co-existing in this expansive mutant world, I feel like the foundation for an authentic X-Men story is now properly set in place. Although this is not the version of X-Men that I have been waiting to see represented on the big screen, I walked away from DOFP with a smile on my face and optimistic about what will come next.