Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Four Lions: Did You Hear The One About the Suicide Bombers?

Charlie Chaplin skewered Hitler. Woody Allen lampooned Fidel Castro. Now, a Brit satirizes suicide bombers.

Comedy has always been about pushing boundaries. Political comedy has always been about exposing the absurdities of both world leaders and international enemies, as well as poking fun at our attitudes toward hot-button issues.

Last year’s comedy Four Lions, recently made available to rent or stream, manages to poke fun at suicide bombers by both exposing and humanizing their idiocy.

Four Lions is about a group of British jihadists who plot to bomb something in Sheffield, but can’t agree on what (a mosque? the internet?). They not only lack sophistication, but also intelligence. One mistakes chickens for deformed rabbits. Another is coerced into hitting himself in the face to prove his own point. While a third disguises himself in a market as a woman by putting his hands over his thick beard. These are not brilliant masterminds. But they believe in something and are committed to bumbling their way toward achieving their goal. It just so happens that their goal is martyrdom.

Chris Morris makes his directorial debut with a biting farce that is potent in its mix of absurd dialogue and sight gags and character development. This is no slapstick comedy with one-dimensional characters.

The strength of Four Lions is that it takes characters, whose goal typically makes us think one-dimensionally, and turns them into likable idiots, each with his own personality, family, and friends. It also takes death seriously; the fact that these explosives could go off if not handled carefully is of frequent concern. By the end of the film, I realized I wanted these characters to fail, be foiled, or to turn around and go home. I won’t tell you what each character decides to do, but I will say their plans inevitably fall apart.

These days words like ‘suicide bombers’ or ‘jihadists’ are buzz words that are likely to turn one away from a film, much like ‘anti-Semitism’ with Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. Morris has successfully created a comedy that is topical while not targeting any one group; it is apolitical in this sense. It’s a film that has been compared to a range of films stretching from Dr. Strangelove to The Full Monty. Like all good comedies, you’ll want to list off all the best bits after seeing Four Lions – and you may even tell your friends about it. Whatever your response, you’ll be glad you got past its touchy synopsis and gave it a chance.


Should you see it? Rent (or stream)

Four Lions is available on DVD, Blu-ray, or Netflix Watch Instantly.

A Couple Copes with Life After a Death in Rabbit Hole

One day you turn down one block instead of another and you think you might’ve been going 26 or 27 miles per hour instead of the posted 25. You see a dog run out into the road and you swerve left instead of right.

Now, let’s say you’re home with your toddler playing in the front yard. You hear the phone ring inside. You forgot to bring it outside, but the phone is only ten feet from the door so you decide to quickly run in and grab it. When you do, the family dog sees a squirrel and runs out into the street, the toddler following after.

What follows these simple choices from either scenario ends up changing your life forever. Maybe you ride a bus home from now on, too afraid to get behind the wheel again. Or spend your Monday evenings going to a support group.

These are the things that the film Rabbit Hole, starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, touches on in very subtle and reserved ways. It is a story about a married couple who’ve spent eight months silently grieving over the death of their son without talking about it. Their marriage is afflicted by a void between them that has grown as they cope in their own separate ways.  But when the wife's sister (Tammy Blanchard)announces her pregnancy, the couple is forced to deal more openly with their grief.

Rabbit Hole is a film that sounds heavy, too much to bear on a Saturday night. While it might be an ‘in-the-mood’ picture, it isn’t as intense as the subject matter would lead you to believe. That isn’t to say it’s a light-hearted film, only that you aren’t given some mawkish death scene, for example. In fact, this film is completely free of melodrama. It’s sincere and poignant, but not a chore to wallow through.

Nicole Kidman plays Becca, a woman who has become emotionally distant, apathetic, and bitter. She resents her husband for what she perceives as being partially responsible for their son’s death (after all, it was his dog that ran into the road), therefore is unable to give or receive comfort from him. Their weekly support group is touchy-feely in all the wrong ways for her. We learn as she does that the only thing capable of giving her any comfort is what gives the movie its title – but I won’t give what it is away.

Kidman is a great actress capable of nuance and emotional weight. However, her synthetically-enhanced lips now occasionally belie the sincerity and authenticity she reaches for in these domestic dramas. How can we believe someone to be your average grieving mother next door when, at just the right light, her lips look like shiny balloons? Unfortunately, it’s much harder than it used to be to completely invest oneself emotionally in her performance. That said this is her best performance since 2003’s Dogville.

Aaron Eckhart, on the other hand, is much more credible and disarming as Howie. His performance as the grieving, yet functional husband, never once feels like an act.

Will they fall apart or find a way to move toward being happy again? It’s a question that gnaws in the background of this film and, like every other angle of this couple’s tragedy, is never shoved in our faces. John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) has crafted an adaptation of the stage play that is tasteful and sensitive to its subject matter (it helps that the playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire, wrote the script). Rabbit Hole may not inspire or bring a smile to your face, but it may touch and connect with you. After all, most domestic dramas try much harder with far fewer results than this one.


Should you see it? Rent

Rabbit Hole is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Film Faves: 1996

Welcome to another edition of Film Faves!

For those who are new, each month Film Faves counts down my favorites in a given subject of film.  Rather than listing only ten followed up by a list of Honorable Mentions, Film Faves mostly sticks with a list of twelve favorites and leaves it at that.  This is not intended to be an objective 'Best of' list, but a way of both expressing a subjective love of film while also writing about a slew of older movies.

This month I am continuing my retroactive march through the ages with a look at the year 1996.

On with it!

This was a year of hits of both mediocre and favorable quality.  Of the former, films like Ransom and Twister both hit the top of the box office.  Of the latter, well, I'll get to those later.

The awards circuit seemed to favor The English Patient, Shine, and Secrets & Lies.

I believe it was the first year that the cast members of the TV show Friends attempted to cross their star power to films.  Jennifer Aniston starred in the Edward Burns film She's the One, David Schwimmer starred in The Pallbearer, Matt LeBlanc starred in Ed, Lisa Kudrow co-starred in the Albert Brooks film Mother, and Courtney Cox starred in Scream.  While Cox had the more successful film that year, Aniston would go on to have the bigger success of all her castmates starring in such films as Office Space, Bruce Almighty, and Marley & Me.

1996 has some creative lows including Chain Reaction, The Crow: City of Angels, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Jack, Jingle All the Way, Joe's Apartment, Kazaam, Mars Attacks!, Mr. Wrong, The Phantom, Space Jam, Spy Hard, Striptease, Tremors 2: Aftershocks, and The Trigger Effect.

On the plus side, there were some highs including Big Night, The Birdcage, The Craft, Evita, Fly Away Home, Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, Happy Gilmore, I Shot Andy Warhol, Lone Star, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Rumble in the Bronx, Sling Blade, Swingers, A Time to Kill, Tin Cup, Trainspotting, as well as the aforementioned awards winners.

But here are my favorites of...


12. Fargo

This is probably my second favorite Coen Bros film (True Grit is #1). It’s a brilliant little tale about how money can corrupt even the quaintest of us. It starred William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, and Frances McDormand. McDormand played one of the decade’s best characters, a small-town sheriff who’s pregnant, but much cleverer than appearances would seem. Fargo isn’t brilliant for its story as much as its characters, as is often the case in Coen Bros. films; the characters here are so distinct as to be unforgettable. It’d been more than a decade since I last saw Fargo until recently and, while the details of the story were fuzzy beforehand, the characters always left a mark.

11. Looking for Richard

This little-seen documentary is one of the few of the ‘90s to have the magnetism and accessibility of so many documentaries of recent years. In it, Al Pacino, with the aid of friends and fellow actors, uses rehearsals, table reads, re-enactments, street interviews, and more to try to understand, appreciate, and find relevance in Shakespeare’s works, specifically Richard III. Sound boring? Not with Pacino holding our hand along the way, as well as a cast of thespians as impressive as this one: Alec Baldwin, Kenneth Branagh, John Gielgud, Rosemary Harris, James Earl Jones, Winona Ryder, Kevin Spacey, and Harris Yulin. This film successfully conveys the love of acting and the craft these participants so rarely are given the opportunity to express on camera. It’s a joy to watch – and you’ll feel smarter, too!

10. Primal Fear

Primal Fear is a largely ignored courtroom drama about a hot shot lawyer who defends an altar boy accused of the brutal slaying of an archbishop. It surely ranks among the worst movie titles of 1996 and is just this side of being another rote courtroom drama. What distinguishes the film from that its cast: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Edward Norton, John Mahoney, Frances McDormand, Andre Braugher, and Maura Tierney. Even better than that: the film makes you think it’s just another vehicle for Richard Gere to show off that twinkle-eyed charm. But by the end, it dawns on you this was Edward Norton’s show the entire time. He was roughly 27 when he played the stuttering 19 year-old altar boy, his debut performance. Norton left quite an impression and his career sky-rocketed afterward.

9. Mission: Impossible

The first in this franchise based on a ‘70s TV series is probably the most interesting because, unlike John Woo’s sequel or even J. J. Abrams’ superior take, it’s the least straightforward, the most complex, and the most intelligent – yet still remains exciting. And it works. Nobody expected a film based on a property about a team of spies would kill said team within the first fifteen minutes! Cynics will scoff at the focus on Tom Cruise – or use the star’s current personal life as excuse to dismiss it. I think that’s shallow and very unfortunate for them because Brian de Palma succeeded here at making one of the best TV-to-film adaptations yet.

8. Independence Day

This film was a phenomenon unlike anything to come before in a long time. The ads promised a huge cast that would get picked off in a series of apocalyptic explosions and battles with aliens. Who would live? Seeing a bunch of likable actors survive or perish was part of the excitement of this spectacle. Independence Day (or ID4, as the marketing nonsensically called it) was a true event film, the kind we rarely see these days. You absolutely HAD to see it on the big screen (this was a decade or so before large flat-screen TVs were commonplace). Thankfully, it ended up being every bit as fun, quotable, and jaw-dropping as it promised to be.

7. From Dusk Till Dawn

I remember gathering with my friends back in my high school days to watch this film about a dozen times. We were helpless against its relentless violence, attitude, and Salma Hayek’s table dance. I hesitate to describe much of the film’s story, in case you haven’t seen it, but I will say that a traveling family of three run into a ruthless duo known as the Gecko Brothers (played by George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) who force them a contact at a bar across the Mexican border. Trouble ensues from there. From Dust till Dawn is such a fun film that takes a wild left turn halfway through and the Tarantino/Rodriguez collaboration (Robert Rodriguez directed) is a great example of a friendship that would later bring us Grindhouse.

6. Star Trek: First Contact

I grew up with the Star Trek franchise, but this was the first to feel like an exciting action film. If you liked J. J. Abrams’ reboot Star Trek then you’ll probably enjoy First Contact. It is quite distinct for its mix of Invasion of the Body Snatchers flavor and time travel story. Director and star Jonathan Frakes had a lot to juggle, but he nailed it, creating the best Next Generation film. This one is up there with Wrath of Khan as my favorite Trek films.

5. Scream

Dare I say this is among the best horror films I’ve ever seen? Last weekend opened the door to a series that was firmly shut (both in story and commercially) over ten years ago. While I’ve heard the latest is decent, I’ll always favor the original (however, I’m one of the few that’ll go to bat for Scream 3). As it’s been mentioned quite frequently recently, the horror genre was pretty much running on sequelitis and derivative crap – save for an occasional Stephen King film – by the mid-‘90s. Then one of the most legendary minds of the genre, Wes Craven, revived it while simultaneously skewering it. Non-horror fans will not only appreciate the film’s humor, but also that this slasher film is less about gory killings than creating suspense. This has always helped set Scream apart from the Friday the 13ths and the Saws, which focus more on creative and gory kills than character and story. Plus, Scream has one of the best casts of any horror film ever. It’s a great time.

4. Romeo + Juliet

Baz Luhrman’s take on the tale of star-crossed lovers is the most exciting to date. The first five minutes alone, full of fast-paced editing and a loud, epic score still makes my jaw drop. This film starts out by practically punching you in the face. One could credit this film’s success to its direction: it’s frenetic, creative, with a bold color palette, unforgettable locations, and a great soundtrack. But credit really must also go to a cast that turned something that could’ve seemed like little more than a gimmick into a worthwhile translation of Shakespeare’s text. Paul Rudd, John Leguizamo, Paul Sorvino, Pete Postlethwaite, and, of course, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes are all spectacular. Besides, how can one hate on a film that legitimately made teens interested in such (arguably) incoherent, yet essential pieces of literature?

3. The Rock

Welcome to the Rawk! This is my favorite Michael Bay film. Yes, I usually hate majority of what the director represents, but the guy is capable of making a genuinely good action film – and The Rock is his best (Transformers would come 2nd). An affable FBI chemist (Nicolas Cage) is roped into a secret mission to team up with a former inmate of Alcatraz Island (Sean Connery) to break in to the former prison and stop a flipped general (Ed Harris) who threatens to kill the San Francisco population for a cause. The Rock is one of the coolest action films ever made with one of the greatest car chases I’ve ever seen, an amazing cast that brings more than one dimension to their characters (I would argue Ed Harris’ General Hummel is one of the best villains of the ‘90s), and some great dialogue writing (fire off your favorite quote… now!).

2. Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell is perhaps my favorite anime. I first saw it in college, which involved analyzing the film. It blew my mind. Here was a film with a very simple plot, yet with more philosophical discourse than exposition so that it’s easy to lose track of who’s who and what’s going on. In a future Japan, many government agents have replaced parts of their bodies with cybernetics – some agents are more cybernetic than others. When a hacker called the Puppet Master begins hacking humans and secret agent cyborgs, three agents work together to find and stop him. Along the way, they discover there’s more to the situation than just a talented mind. Ghost in the Shell not only is proof that animation can go beyond the Disney template and tell stories for adults, but it also serves as a great sci-fi film that asks questions about what defines a soul and makes us who we are. A great amount of attention is spent on building the world this story exists in, including a two-minute sequence of a bustling, tech-heavy Tokyo that ends on a shot of a mannequin. Also, Ghost in the Shell contributed to the Kick-Ass Sci-Fi Heroine Club with Kusinagi, a cyborg who will blow your head off and then analyze her own humanity (or lack thereof). Ghost in the Shell is exciting high-brow entertainment at its best.

1. Jerry Maguire

Forget the You-complete-me’s and the You-had-me-at-hello’s, although that is good stuff in the context of the film. Jerry Maguire is a sports film about self-improvement and taking a risk on someone.  The film begins with the epiphany that the main character has lost his way. So, he advocates a business model that is more personal and less greedy and gets fired for it. Maguire (Tom Cruise) doesn’t turn into an amazing dude immediately upon his Mission Statement all-nighter; he just becomes a better businessman. He has quite a way to go as a man. It is through his relationships with Dorothy (Renee Zellweger, who’s never been more amazing) and his only client Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr. who won an Oscar for his role then quickly lost his way) that Jerry slowly learns to become a better man. After watching this film again recently, it’s incredible to think that this was Cameron Crowe’s next film after Singles, a film that has its strengths but isn’t nearly as solid. Like that film, Maguire certainly is a product of its time, but it has aged better and is anything but the saccharine love story many remember it to be. Some great work by all involved made for one of the best films of 1996.

So, that's the year that was 1996.  Did I overlook any films?  What were your favorites?  Be sure to vote on the poll to the right or write me on Facebook or at

Next time on Film Faves: "Houston, we have a problem!" 
"What's in the box?" 
"Who is Keyser Soze?" 
"Finish him!" 
It's 1995!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Young Assassin Discovers the World (and Herself) in Hanna

It seems like in the movies if you’re an assassin you’re either pursuing, being pursued, or contemplating how it is you got in either situation. Hanna is the latest assassin-on-the-run film and, while it has its share of incredible action, it is much more than your garden-variety chase movie. That’s because it is directed by Joe Wright, best known for his character-driven adaptations of Pride & Prejudice and Atonement. Here, Wright tries his hand at the action-thriller genre and the result is quite successful.

The film stars Saoirse (ser-sha) Ronan as a teenager who’s been raised by her father (Eric Bana) in the woods, learning how to live simply, independently, and to become a lethal adversary of anyone looking for trouble. At the age of fourteen, she decides she’s ready to go out into the world, separating from her father for the first time. However, both daughter and father know that there are those who would kill to catch them, so they make a plan to meet up somewhere in Europe. They expose their location in the woods (for inexplicable reasons), one thing leads to another, and soon we’re on the run with Hanna as she eludes a government agency led by Cate Blanchett. But there’s more to Hanna than she knows.

That’s the simple version of this film, but, as I mentioned before, there’s much more to this than a story about a trained teenaged killer on the run. First of all, Hanna has never experienced the modern world, technology, music, or anyone in her age range. This makes for some wonderful character moments as she wanders into civilization (even if it’s Morocco).

Also, there’s a Grimm fairy tale motif that pops up throughout the film. Many elements or hallmarks of those tales manifest in the form of the woodsman (Bana), the wicked stepmother or evil queen (Blanchett), the huntsman (a hired hand played by Tom Hollander), and the youth-centered adventure, not to mention the visual references to the Grimm fairy tales (a storybook and the location of an ally). These all add a nuance to Hanna that is quite different from what one might expect in a film like this.

What’s more interesting than that is Wright seems to be dabbling in existentialist themes. What makes us who we are? Can you be something other than what you’re raised or born to be? What makes us the person we grow up to be: nature or the environment around us? This is specifically explored with both Hanna and the teenager (Jessica Barden) of a family Hanna befriends. The teenager, Sophie, is being raised by nomadic hippie parents, yet is obsessed with pop culture and dresses, talks, and behaves precociously like a pop singer (there might also be a subtle commentary on the affects of pop culture on youth’s personalities here). Hanna and Sophie, who is completely unaware of Hanna’s background, befriend each other because they find their different personalities – Sophie full of Valley Girl vacuity, Hanna a blank slate full of curiosity – fascinating. The story – and Hanna’s journey – takes a welcomed detour to develop this theme for a while, which pays off during the film’s climax when Hanna faces the person responsible for her existential quandary. She ends the film the way it begins, only with the promise of a different kind of journey to follow.

Intriguing as the film is, it isn’t without its flaws. If one were to spend over a decade in hiding in the wilderness, training his child to be able to lethally protect herself from dangerous forces until the day said child was ready to go out into the world, why would one have a device on hand to alert said dangerous forces as to one’s location? I fail to understand the logic behind this. It serves as little more than a device (literal and figurative) to set the plot in motion. Also, Marissa, a silver-tongued viper played with an icy veneer by Blanchett, dispatches a hired thug (Hollander) to catch Hanna, yet said thug simply lets pass every opportunity he has to carry out his order.

However, these are minor quibbles in what is the year’s first great thriller.

If you enjoyed the level of intelligence of such chase films as The Bourne Identity, another film about an assassin who discovers unknown truths about himself, then you’ll enjoy Hanna. It strikes a nice balance between action, character development, and thematic substance. It is a thrilling popcorn film with an energetic score by the Chemical Brothers and, most notably, an intelligence that sets it apart from anything else currently in theaters.


Should you see it? Buy tickets

Hanna is now in theaters.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Remember That Movie: Arthur

It’s a common complaint that Hollywood is a bit too remake-happy, usually setting its sights on good movies. Another remake is being released this week, Arthur, starring Russell Brand and Helen Mirren. I decided to refresh my memory on the 1981 original that starred Dudley Moore to see how well the classic comedy has held up over time. Is it ripe for a remake or has yet another good film been cranked through the remake machine when it should’ve been left alone?

In case you don’t remember, Arthur is about a jolly little rich guy who spends his days in excess and gets himself drunk whenever he is faced with uncomfortable situations. He begins, however, to crave more in life – someone to love. Arthur happens to meet Linda, a shoplifting aspiring actress with a sharp wit and a talent for talking her way out of trouble. Arthur is quickly taken with Linda, however his father threatens to cut Arthur off from his life of leisure unless he consents to marrying a socialite he doesn’t much like. Arthur must decide what is most important to him.

This is a charming little film that’s made wonderful by the relationship between Arthur and his butler, Hobson, played with stodgy relish by Sir John Gielgud. Hobson finds Arthur’s jokes and antics immature and annoying, but he puts up with all of it because he loves Arthur – and he’s fiercely loyal. When someone disparages Arthur behind his back, Hobson dryly fires back, “I wouldn’t know, I’m just a servant. On the other hand, go screw yourself.”

Gielgud spits out such jabs equally among the cast. He frequently throws barbs at Arthur and freely lets his snobbery show upon meeting Linda after Arthur aides in her petty crime and when visiting her father’s house. Hobson is condescending and sarcastic, yet never hateful. The film may be about Arthur finding love, but he’s already loved by Hobson and theirs is the real relationship at the film’s core.

In fact, Liza Minnelli’s role is quite minor as she only appears in roughly five scenes and is somewhat peripheral to the rest of the story. What is her character’s purpose other than to be Arthur’s love interest and to represent the complete opposite of Arthur’s lifestyle? She doesn't compel Arthur to do anything. As a matter of fact, Arthur resigns himself to a life without Linda and commits to his wedding with The Other Woman, Susan (Jill Eikenberry), even momentarily considering offering Linda the role of mistress.

It is Arthur’s father, grandmother, and Susan’s father who push him toward marrying Susan. It is Hobson who nudges Arthur and encourages him to make any positive decisions for himself.

My only problems with the film – and they are quite minor – are that it does seem to have its cake and eat it too at the end. I won’t spoil what happens during the film’s final moments for those who have yet to see it or don’t recall, but it goes beyond pat. A slightly more significant observation I had was I felt like I was watching a late-‘70s, early ‘80s sitcom like WKRP in Cincinnati or something. I tried to look up the specifics of how the film was shot or what the film’s budget was and came up short, but it often looks like a TV sitcom. This gives the film a slightly aged or dated look, but probably no different than, say, the aged black and white in a film like My Man Godfrey, thus not a legitimate criticism. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the story is timeless, but it and the performances have held up quite well after nearly 30 years.

Arthur won two Academy Awards; John Gielgud won Best Supporting Actor and the film won Best Song for ‘Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do)' by Christopher Cross, a decent bit of eighties soft rock. It has since grown quite a legacy. The AFI named the film the 53rd greatest comedy of all time and Arthur Bach is Dudley Moore’s most iconic role.

A sequel was made in 1988, Arthur 2 – On the Rocks. It was considered so bad that Dudley Moore disowned it, and many critics and fans have since ignored its existence. How bad is it? So bad that it included the ghost of one of the original film’s major characters.

Dudley Moore had only starred in a handful of movies before Arthur, most notably 1979’s 10 with Bo Derek. He went on to star in about a dozen more films before being stricken with a rare and untreatable form of palsy.

Before Arthur, director and writer Steve Gordon mostly wrote for TV (this background in TV may account for the film's look). He had a rather brief career after Arthur since, 18 months after his directorial debut was released, he died of a heart attack. Arthur was still playing in theaters at the time of his death.

Liza Minnelli previously made a big splash with 1972’s Cabaret. When Arthur came along, she hadn’t starred in a film since 1977’s New York, New York. Afterward, she would go on to star again with Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy, but little else on screen afterward.

John Gielgud, however, starred in many films before and after Arthur until his death in 2000, most notably Murder on the Orient Express, Gandhi, Elizabeth, and two versions of Hamlet. Gielgud is said to have refused the role of Hobson several times and only accepted when the salary became too big to ignore.

The part of Linda, according to IMDB, was offered to Mia Farrow, Farrah Fawcett, Goldie Hawn, Barbara Hershey, Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, Bette Midler, Gilda Radner, Susan Sarandon, Cybill Shepherd, Meryl Streep, and Tuesday Weld. Also, Kay Lenz of 1986’s House is reported to have lobbied hard for the role.

The lead role was also passed around a bit before landing on Dudley Moore. John Belushi, Bud Cort, George Segal, and John Travolta were all offered the part.

The original Arthur may be getting on in years, but it’s hardly creaky. I could see the possibility of making the character a bit more topical and relevant to today’s financial climate, perhaps even easing off the alcoholic element of the character. That wouldn’t necessarily improve the story and it doesn’t appear to be the direction Russell Brand’s remake takes. At any rate, the original Arthur is a charming little comedy that overcomes its minor flaws with ease thanks to performances by Dudley Moore and Sir John Gielgud. It is a classic that needed not be touched.


Should you see it? Rent

Arthur is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Netflix Instant Streaming.

I Wish I Could Save This Film from Blowing Up

Have you ever wished you could relive a moment in order to change its outcome? Maybe you would’ve said “Yes” instead of “No”. Or held back from saying too much. Or given someone another chance instead of giving up. If these were the last minutes of your life, what would you do that you wouldn’t regret? Source Code, the new film starring Jake Gyllenhaal, taps into these universal questions in a thrilling package.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as an officer who finds himself on a train in somebody else’s body. He soon learns he has eight minutes on that train before it blows up, during which time he must discover the location of the bomb and the identity of its maker. Every time he fails he is transported to a capsule where he must debrief his contact (Vera Farmiga) and is then sent back to pick up where he left off before once again being blown up. Why? There is reason to believe another bomb will go off somewhere in Chicago in a matter of hours, killing thousands.

Duncan Jones, director of 2009’s superb minimalist sci-fi tale Moon, has concocted a story that includes all of this, as well as timely anti-terrorist touches and a romance (a passenger played by Michelle Monaghan strikes his fancy) while also being an exciting puzzle for the audience to solve. Detail-oriented audiences may be able to quickly sort the red herrings from the real culprit; I was. But that won’t take much away from the rest of the film since there’s so much more to chew on in the tightly-packaged hour and a half. How did Capt. Colter Stevens get in the Source Code? Who are the people persistently pushing for details yet reluctant to offer any themselves? Is he traveling through time a la Quantum Leap? (Fun fact: a sneaky tribute to the cult TV series is paid by Scott Bakula being cast as Colter’s father) What happens if he foils the bombing?

Jake Gyllenhaal is great as a disoriented soldier who wants answers, but also knows time is short and there’s a job to do. He is at turns heroic, compassionate, and tragic. Meanwhile, Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible III), while an appealing love interest, is given too little to do than to react to Gyllenhaal with befuddlement or shock. As for Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright… well, the less said about them the better – and that’s not a comment on their performances, rather the discretion not to give too much away.

You may be left scratching your head and ultimately disappointed by the denouement; the film derails with an ending that, after much deliberation, I concluded makes no sense and left me with a bitter taste. That’s quite unfortunate, because, like last month’s The Adjustment Bureau, we have a very good thriller that falls short of being the year’s first great film. Source Code’s script, written by Ben Ripley (Species III and IV), falls into the trap of many sci-fi stories, which is to give us too many things in which to suspend our disbelief. The film’s final moments put us over the edge with a reveal or two too many. The script, in effect, mirrors the film's train ride (though I doubt it's in an intentionally meta way), leaving you wishing you could be transported into somebody's body and stop the man responsible for the film's final moments.  Not only that, but one of the characters turns into a villain that comes off as too conventional for a film operating on Source Code’s level.

Source Code is a pretty decent thriller with themes on living every moment as if it were your last and what our lives would be like if we made different choices, as well as asking questions such as “To what extent will we value the lives of the many over the life of one?”. Duncan Jones, with Moon and Source Code, proves himself to be an intelligent storyteller, one who uses sci-fi as a backdrop for compelling situations and characters. He’s also interested in efficient storytelling. Unfortunately, he falls prey this time to crowd-pleasing contrivances rather than letting the story play out organically. Source Code may not measure up to Moon due to its frustratingly disappointing ending, but you’ll at least enjoy the ride before it blows up in your face.


Should you see it? Rent

Source Code is now in theaters.