Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Review: Source Code

One of the ways Call of Duty is superior to life is its respawn feature. When you die, you’re just right back at it a few seconds later. A little wiser and more aware of your surroundings, and a whole lot more driven to assault-rifle the 15-year-old who talked about your momma as he blew off your head and teabagged your virtual corpse.

Source Code takes the respawn and runs with it. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as an Army pilot stuck with a mission to identify a terrorist on a Chicago train. His mysterious commanders implant his consciousness into the mind of a schoolteacher, giving him eight minutes to flirt with Michelle Monaghan, assault passengers at his whim, surf the internet with slow-loading smartphones he swipes from passers by, dart his eyes around in frantic worry and, if he has any time at the end of all that, try and find the guy who destroys Chicago.

Under no circumstances is Gyllenhaal to rescue Monaghan or the other doomed passengers. The technology, dubbed Source Code, is only meant to dig up info that can prevent crimes, not alter the past. But little do the Source Code masters realize that Gyllenhaal is a bad boy who plays by his own rules.

There’s plenty working against the film. There’s no drama to the proceedings because there’s nothing really at stake since Gyllenhaal is allowed infinite continues. The only way the movie can possibly end is by Gyllenhaal succeeding. On the other hand, you know he’ll fail for the first few dozen times, otherwise the movie would be about as long as a Looney Tunes short. Thus the film amounts to watching a person who’s very bad at a video game and not all that interested in completing it just sort of muck around until he lucks into success.

On top of all that, the plot dynamics make little sense, avoiding important metaphysical questions such as where the consciousness of the teacher goes when Gyllenhaal is at the controls or how creepy it is that Vera Farmiga, Gyllenhaal’s commanding officer, looks so much like Jake’s sister Maggie.

Despite everything working against it, Source Code works. It’s partially because of Gyllenhaal’s determined yet befuddled performance, as well as the star-crossed chemistry he generates with Monaghan, and partially because of all the secrets and contradictions the film has little intention of exploring or explaining. Director Duncan Jones, whose last effort was the equally confounding Moon, just has a knack for this kind of cinematic mindgame.

Either that or he owns and operates Source Code technology that lets him go back in time and tweak his films again and again until they convince you that they make sense and are more cohesive and compelling than they should be.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Review: Red Riding Hood

This review is up at OK.

Amanda Seyfried’s eyes are so big that when she confronts the Big Bad Wolf, he’s the one who says “What big eyes you have!” They are so big that they’re visible from the moon, and when Seyfried looks toward it, the microbes that live in the water droplets there mistake the eyes for full moons, turn to werewolf microbes and behave as though they’re starring in awful movies that are like Twilight but not as good.

And in a curiosity of the cosmos, the same thing has happened here on earth, so there’s this movie called Red Riding Hood that’s like Twilight, only not as good.
Consider that statement for a bit. Like TWILIGHT, but not as good. That’s being like Muammar Gaddafi, but not quite as tactful at handling protesters. It’s being like AT&T and dropping more calls. It’s like being like Ke$ha only not so classy.
Movie magician Catherine Hardwicke, who did such a great job with Twilight that she wasn’t brought back to make any of the sequels, manages to pull off the impressive feat, completing a cinematic axis of evil that also includes The Nativity Story. Billions of years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Larry King had just filed for his AARP card, Hardwicke was a promising director, who made the coming-of-age classic Thirteen.

Perhaps she’s discovered that there’s a lot more money in telling low-quality, condescending stories rather than socially relevant indie tales. I can’t blame her for selling out, given the fact that I would gladly perform a one-act play based on the life of Count Chocula for $100 and a few boxes of cereal – or best offer – but it’s sort of sad to see that Hardwicke’s standards are as low as mine.

At least she had good taste in choosing mega-eyed Seyfried, who plays the title character, somewhat disappointingly named Valerie. She lives in a dank village in the 16th century or so, before PETA was around to discourage citizenry from killing off the last of an endangered species – known to scientists as the Poorly Computer-Animated Werewolf.

Partial to a red-hooded coat that a werewolf hunter played by Gary Oldman hilariously refers to as “the harlot’s robe,” Valerie juggles the loves of two upright, devoted boys – one for each gigantic eye – stares downward and delivers monotone lines in the patented Bella Swan tradition of misunderstood teen angst.

I applaud the movie for its historical accuracy. Back in the 1500s, villagers didn’t speak English as we know it today. They instead used a dialect that consisted of vague British accents and employed King James Bible-speak to form passive-voice sentences that consisted entirely of plot exposition.

If you’re not won over by that fascinating love triangle, also a Clue-like mystery at hand as to which of the villagers is actually the werewolf in disguise. The key to solving the riddle is to keep an eye on Col. Mustard and the candle stick, especially when he nears the parlor. I congratulate the movie for making me guess wrong, as well as for managing to erase the reflections of the cameramen and crew from Seyfried’s humongous eyes.

Here’s hoping Hardwicke can top this masterpiece with her inevitable adaptation of Jack Jumps Over the Candlestick.

Starring Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman and Billy Burke. Written by David Johnson. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. 96 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Review: The Adjustment Bureau

This is posted at OK.

You wouldn’t know it because your life is unimportant and you lack tiger blood and Adonis DNA, but a gang of business suit-wearing agents with magic fedoras keep watch over the populace. They step in to set things right whenever a major historical figure is about to stray off course and create a butterfly effect that will destroy society and make the NFL lockout happen.

In the film they’re called the Adjustment Bureau, but what they really are is the Cock Block Bureau. The fellas really, really, really do not want high-powered politician Matt Damon to introduce Pocket Damon to super-important modern dance artist Emily Blunt, so they stop at nothing to keep the would-be lovers apart.

The Adjustment Bureau pulls out all the stops. They hang around the couple at parties, refusing to leave even after Damon and Blunt drop all sorts of hints, yawn dramatically and say “it’s getting late.” They show up during dates and share Damon’s super embarrassing Rocky Point spring break stories. They even refuse to play the good wingman and hook up with Blunt’s fat friend.

Well, not really. But they totally would do all that, given the opportunity. Acting with all the grace and tact of Steve Urkel, the Adjustment Bureau kills the mood with two methods: stalking and threatening. Every time Damon meets Blunt and gets super-romantic, in comes the Adjustment Bureau to tell him he’s got to dump her with no explanation. Which makes this movie the perfect date movie, because if you ever decide you’ve had enough of whoever you watch the movie with, you can just bail without an explanation and they’ll attribute your behavior to the Adjustment Bureau rather than you being a cowardly dick.

Adjustment Bureau agents have but two weaknesses, shared with Frosty the Snowman and the aliens from Signs. Take their magic hats away and they’re unable to maneuver through a system of doors that connect Yankee Stadium center field with the Statue of Liberty. And place them anywhere near water and they’re as clueless as that Gadhaffi character in Libya. Good thing their boss, the Chairman, whom we’re told over and over again without actually being told is actually God, didn’t place them on a planet that’s 70 percent water where it rains constantly.

Instead of gazing into one another’s eyes and declaring “Let’s honeymoon at Sea World!” Damon and Blunt partake in a game of cat and mouse that is every bit as much fun to watch as it is to make fun of. Damon is as Bourne-ey as Jason Bourne when he judo-chops hats after Adjustment Bureaueans, and even Good-er than Good Will Hunting when he flings sweet, sweet PG-13-safe flirtations at Blunt, who is allowed to keep her British accent for most of the movie and shakes her groove thing well enough to merit an audition on Hellcats.

Although I liked the movie, I must say I am disappointed that I’ve yet to do anything to merit an Adjustment Bureau intervention. Surely it must be because I’ve lived my life so perfectly, so they just nod and approve of all my actions. Either that or I just spend so much time in the shower that they get bored and leave.

Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery and Terence Stamp. Written by George Nolfi, adapted from a story by Philip K. Dick. Directed by Nolfi. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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I sat down with Chris Illuminati for this podcast about the finer points of parenting.