Robots, wormholes and art 

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Life imitates art because ideas are always ahead of reality. And science fiction leads the charge because one person's imagination can inspire another's creativity.

Classic sci-fi devices like live-video messaging, or cars that drive themselves, are here now (although we're still waiting on that Back to the Future hoverboard). This doesn't mean every sci-fi movie is going to come true (Mad Max probably will, though) but the link between the imagination of the past and the reality of the present gets stronger every year.

On the other hand, art and commerce have always had a strenuous relationship. Some say real art is always compromised when it's reduced to a saleable commodity, but movies really started out as a commodity, and eventually evolved into an art form so there is a grey area there.

These days the art and culture of independent movies is thriving (digital!!) but things have definitely slipped at the big American film studios. Commerce, greed and pandering to the lowest common denominator dominate Hollywood releases these days (remakes, sequels, reboots, garbage), but the best of American cinema should be coming down the pipe over the next two months as everyone drops their heaters just in time for awards season. And sci-fi is kicking it off.

Interstellar opens this week at the Whistler Village 8. Acclaimed director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception) returns to the screen with a banger cast for a make-it-or-break-it space odyssey wrought with metaphysical ideas and the largest tidal waves in the universe.

The hero of Interstellar is a stoic (and too-perfect to really be that interesting) engineer/father/widower played by Matthew McConaughey (Dazed and Confused) who's barely eking out an existence on a depopulated and mostly destroyed planet earth. Somehow he quickly ends up working with what's left of NASA to make a one-way mission up Saturn's wormhole (which is way comfier than Uranus) to save humanity by finding us a new planet to populate (then probably destroy, as we do). Other astronauts along for the ride include Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada), Wes Bentley (American Beauty) and a requisite team robot. The mission gets pretty hectic as the team visits three different planets/visual setpieces in search of a home while maintaining ties with the changes and people back on the planet they left.

Nolan is not one to rush his storytelling and Interstellar clocks in at almost three hours long but it's still a worthy watch (Matt Damon even shows up!). Familial themes run throughout and there are some serious time/space continuum plays that sees McConaughey's young daughter grow up into Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty). Ambitious, beautiful, and containing a whole lot of story exposition, Interstellar ultimately feels like an old sci-fi novel come to life, or Solaris 3. It's not perfect but it's worth checking out.

Also opening, sci-fi for the kiddies. Big Hero 6 is an animated Disney cultural melting pot based on a short-lived Marvel comic series about a boy and his robot. It's kinda like Iron Man for kids too young to go watch Iron Man.

Hiro is a young dude with an awesome big brother/inventor who creates Baymax, a marshmallowy robot buddy that eventually gets made over into a crime fighting ninja droid to lead a troop of cyber-enhanced kid superheroes on a mission to take down a bad guy. Toss in some common children's emotions like dealing with anger, grief, and puberty and this one will play well to the little ones. It's not groundbreaking but Big Hero 6 is slick and the meshing of eastern and western animation/storytelling styles will keep things interesting even for the adults who have seen most of story points before.

Closing out the sci-fi trifecta this week, District 9 director Neill Blomkamp just dropped the trailer for Chappie, his latest, which is being billed as a Short Circuit remake set in a dystopian future examining what it means to be human amidst the artificial intelligence day of reckoning. And crazy-weird South African rave-punk band Die Antwoord star as the robot's criminal buddies. Blomkamp is a very unique filmmaker and while this one seems to mirror District 9 a bit thematically, as well as stylistically (cheaper, more handheld verite-style camera work), this is definitely one to watch for when it hits screens next March. Providing the machines haven't taken over before then.


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