I also did one with the titles of SIFF 2011 films as well.
This year I've seen a somewhat lower number than normal of films appearing at the festival. Just thirteen if one doesn't count older films. Here's a list of each along with some of my thoughts. I particularly recommend adding Another Earth, Womb, and Simple Simon to your to-do lists for the festival. Sound of Noise is also something I think you should think hard about before skipping. Belle Epine worked for me as well when I caught it in Vancouver last year. Hopefully I'll have a chance to see more before the start of the festival in order to offer some additional recommendations.
I haven't made my personal list of interesting things to see yet. Four things that will be making my schedule based on title alone are; The Most Important Thing in Life is Not Being Dead, Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, Fuck My Life and Vampire.
Really curious about what other folks have seen and what they're looking forward to. Would appreciate your thoughts in the comments section.
So, without further adieu...
- A Screaming Man (Chad) - The picture follows a former swimming champion now in his 60's who works as a pool attendant in an upper class hotel in Chad. Around him swirls the civil war which he tries to avoid, paying off people to keep his son who also works at the pool safe from the draft. When the hotel is privatized things begin to change and the small, but calm world he inhabits begins to unravel. Humiliated by having to change jobs he a series of decisions are made in response that he may live to regret. The film won a jury prize in Cannes this year and is definitely a well made film that boasts a fair degree of subtlety combined with starkly contrasting environments between inside and outside the hotel world. I was hooked effectively early, but I felt as things spiraled further it pushed a bit too far into the melodrama camp for me to truly love. Great though to see something from a part of the world that in my experience is under-represented at times on the festival circuit.
- Another Earth (USA) - One of those fine films that uses a science-fiction premise to tell a story mainly about the human experience. How would we feel if we learned there was a second life-sustaining planet in our universe? What if it was in our own solar system, rotating just out of sight, always blocked from our view by the sun? Well, of course like the people in the film we'd probably name it Earth 2 in a show of extreme geo-centrism. But if and when that day comes be sure to pull over while driving before staring at the new planet (suddenly visible due to a gravitational shift) in the night sky. Because if you don't you may cause a catastrophic accident that results in the death of someone's wife and child. Brit Marling plays a student who on the eve of her college career makes that mistake, killing a man's family. Years later she goes to apologize and ends up more deeply involved than intended. In the backdrop of this looms slowly revealed "reality" of Earth 2, which at least for a while has been a literal mirror image of our own. What opportunities does it pose for those who have lost, for those who want to speak with another version of themselves? Big issues such as these are explored implicitly in what other than the fantastical device is truly a small, very personal story. An extremely well executed one. If you can catch a double feature of this and Womb I think you'd be investing time on some of the best low budget dramas with sci-fi themes in a while.
- As if I am Not There (Ireland) - I saw this in Palm Springs and honestly my recollection of it is a little fuzzy. The festival description does jog my memory somewhat about the based on a true story film - "A harsh dose of realism about the Bosnian War of the 1990s, this drama chronicles the fate of a schoolteacher forced into sexual slavery by Serbian soldiers." And what I recall is a very well done, but incredibly brutal story told in a disturbingly realistic way. It's not a movie I would recommend but if this is what you're seeking I suppose it delivers. Just don't go expecting anything to be sugar coated for the audience.
- Belle Epine (France) - I actually missed this one the first time through the list of SIFF films, mainly because it was titled differently when I saw it in Vancouver last year where it was presented as Dear Prudence. What's it about? A young girl's mom dies. Dad takes it hard and sort of disappears. Older sister is missing in action. Young girl acts out while trying to make sense of it all. Being a French film various attractive people take their clothes off. Not an easy film to watch (nudity excepted) but a well done small film.
- Bellflower (USA) - Everyone knows that the end of a relationship can feel like the the world is collapsing. And not in that cool Buffy to the rescue apocalypse sort of way. Bellflower takes that feeling and gives it physical heft in the form of a flame throwing car and the violent revenge fantasies of its creators. Which also involve a flamethrower. But I may be getting ahead of myself... Continuing the recent trend of personal little mumblecore movies with an unusual hook (Cold Weather, Monogamy), Bellflower takes that concept and ratchets things up to eleven. Or possible twelve. But what it didn't quite do is hook me into the story - and all the talk about tricked out cars and the end of the world perhaps unfairly sets one up for a very different movie. The gritty yet artistic look of the film is definitely interesting to behold. I sort of liked all the characters and their puttering around. However when things went super disturbing my interest began to wane. The raw intensity was impressive but thinking back I don't feel as though my mind could wrap itself around the pictures daring and violent narrative jump given what I'd seen about the characters previously. It's a film probably worth trying - just didn't entirely work for me personally.
- Bibliotheque Pascal (Hungary) - The film Bibliotheque Pascal is many different things. It's Hungary's national submission for the 2011 foreign language Oscar. It's a sumptuously shot film with aspects of magical realism throughout. And mixed into this is some jaw droppingly nasty people and plot points that made me question the point of the entire exercise. As this awesome IFC.com review accurately calls out (in addition to imagining the surreal pitch meeting that led to the filmmakers getting funding) one thing you cannot call this movie is the standard cookie cutter story many film goers complain about. I'd suggest you read my full review if you're interested. As a story it's absolutely original - and has a strong visual style that's compelling. But, for all the beauty and sadism displayed I couldn't find anything that made me intellectually interested in the proceedings. I'll be first to admit that some deeper aspect of the content may have gone completely over my head. I liked the fantastical elements, felt many of the performances were strong (creepily strong in the case of Pascal the owner of the slave camp/brothel) but as a full experience things didn't click for me. I just kept feeling as though I was missing the point of the proceedings.
- Detention (USA) - Directed by Joseph Kahn of (apparently) music video fame this was one of the things I was most psyched to see at SXSW. Afterward though I I was not a big fan. This slasher/teen romantic comedy/sci-fi explosion mashup earns my respect for balls to the wall kitchen sink filmmaking. It just failed in the more personal category of actually entertaining me. The phrase "hot mess" comes readily to mind. I have to admit I laughed a few times, and I have a want to be supportive of folks who take an insane vision and try to get it onscreen without compromise. In the end I found it pretty underwhelming most of the time. Lots of visual slickness onscreen, but didn't pull me in. I won't really attempt to describe the film - because if you do enjoy it the voyage of discovery is probably going to be a big part of why. Let's just say that Kahn works within a framework of a teen slasher film and then branches out from there with attempted hyper-kinetic energy. According to the post film Q&A at SXSW it's possible I just didn't get it because the kids today are so much smarter and hipper than myself in the prior generation. Which came across as pretty ridiculous to me. As they explained it was way cooler that their retro point of reference was the 90's vs. the 80's. Even though pretty much all the 90's films they referenced were themselves paying homage to films of the 80's (don't even get me started about the Some Kind of Wonderful desk carving reference). I'm a sucker for films playing with other films, teen shenanigans, and pop culture bizarro mashups. So this leaving me flat makes me think it's not really a very good film - as I'm so easy in all the covered genres. But perhaps you'll feel differently. As an earlier generation might have said - whatever...
- If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Romania) - If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle was Romania's official entry for the 2011 best foreign language Oscar race. While I thought it was somewhat interesting to watch I'm fairly certain you'll be wasting your money if you bet on it to win this year's award. Contrary to the compulsion people seem to be having to compare every film set within a mile of a prison to last year's masterpiece A Prophet this is an entirely different sort of film, and on a much smaller scale. Though to be fair - it does take place in a prison. I didn't come away feeling this was a film that would stick with me long term - and the most interesting part for me was a sense of the setup of a Romanian medium security incarceration facility. Slowly paced I suspect some would describe it as boring. For me it's a decent film, well acted by the lead but not interesting enough to put in a "must see" category.
- Outside The Law (Algeria) - a family drama following a decades long arc of three brother's lives as they fight for Algerian independence. A solid film that I liked but wasn't utterly blown away by when I saw it. My only issue with it was that it seemed rather familiar - as though I'd seen the film before. Read the description - if it sounds like what you're looking for I doubt you'll hate it. From what I recall it made the Academy's short list for best foreign language film this year.
- Outrage (Japan) - The latest from director Takeshi Kitano takes a look at the complex machinations within a branch of the Yakuza. Following many of the themes you'll see in other gangster films (not a honorable as they pretend to be, the sell the drugs/don't sell the drugs factions, etc.) part of it will be less than new to most viewers. But you may be drawn into the intricate and bloody chess game taking place within the clan. Unfortunately everyone is dressed in dark suits with sunglasses and the motives/sleights are quite subtle. So it's likely you'll feel you're playing catchup most of the film. With some satisfying moments I'd put this squarely in the just "OK" category. Though I did learn two important things (a) when a Yakuza chairman says he will make a pact with you be sure you wait to engage in what is requested until he does make the pact with you - there is a world of difference, and (b) it is not helpful to argue with a Yakuza member that your tongue isn't of the forked variety. As he may correct that in a very literal way.
- Simple Simon (Sweden) - Simon, a teen with Asperger's lives with his beloved older brother. When his older brother's girlfriend leaves him, in part due to the rigors of living with Simon a solution needs to be found. Simon takes it upon himself to find his brother a new girlfriend. Which is complicated by his lack of understand of girls, and his difficulty reading people's emotions. Though is made entertaining by the "scientific" scorecard he develops to find the perfect woman. What follows is somewhat predictable, but still rather entertaining. It could be (and was) called "fluff" by a less charitable soul - but I think if it is then it's well made (entertaining) fluff. With a bright colorful look it's the lightest and most "fun" film I saw in Palm Springs this year.
- Sound of Noise (Sweden) - musical terrorists - a brilliantly original film. Do I really need to say more? Probably not for everyone, and it's not in my top ten of 2010 or anything, but this is one of those things that will never make it to your multiplex yet deserves to be seen. I will admit to maybe being a little overwhelmed by the end, but having a bunch of musical guerrillas burst into a bank shouting "this is a gig!" makes up for a lot. 'nuff said
- Wasted on the Young (Australia) - Well, there's the official description of the film distributed to press "A love triangle at a posh Australian high school spins out of control when a cruel act of revenge is exposed and manipulated via text message gossip. Ben C. Lucas’ debut feature is a sharp commentary about the social networking zeitgeist and its insidious ability to churn reality into a confusing mass of pixels." and then there's my perception of Wasted in the Young. Which does agree that there's a definite Lord of the Flies feel going on. But it felt more slick high concept than deep commentary. Other than some of the absolutely beautiful photography at the start I don't really feel as though there was much to recommend it. When at some point you realize that the level you're most engaged with a film on is about deciphering the texting shortcuts the kids are using to communicate it's not a great sign.
- Womb (Germany) - Womb is really well done, a solid execution of marvelously fucked up premise. Girl meets a boy by the shore - they hang out and grow close until the girl has to move away with her Mom to Tokyo. Years later she comes back and the soulmates pickup - this time with a physical relationship. Then he dies. So she clones him - giving birth to her former lover herself. Yep, as you would imagine everything goes totally fine. No, not exactly... Set in the near future where this sort of thing goes on, with dramatic seaside backdrops and limited dialog this film pulled me into its world. Most positive additional thing I can think to add is that this is a model of showing vs. telling - no musical cues, no big exposition. The film just ensures you know what's going on when you need to without smashing your face into things.
All in all the film is a bit of a trifle - but for me a fun one. It had me laughing out loud hard 3-4 times - guffaws I feel they earned through extended setup of the characters. Plus, how bad can a movie be where the characters produce succulent looking chocolate concoctions? It's not the hardcore cacao porn of Like Water For Chocolate (or Chocolat) but it is going to have you making a note to try that chocolatier near your office again.
I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from the trailer which seemed to mix humor with ultra-violence. As it turns out the film mostly plays things straight. Meaning a fair amount of low budget gore and considerably more decapitations than Miracle on 34th Street (at least the original - have no clue what effing goes on in the 1994 version). That said there are small bits of comic relief in the mix. Some of them seem to be decidedly local in jokes- but it's super fun at a meta level to analyze while watching how folks from the Netherlands approach this Hollywood staple for home audiences.
In terms of a European take on this sort of film interestingly enough they tone down the nudity. Which I wouldn't have expected. Especially as the opening scene involving gift giving wherein the professor notes they'd set a new record of 4 simulated phalluses being exchanged that year. If that nudity comments sounds suspiciously like a complaint - well it sort of is. It's not a fatal flaw - but perhaps something to consider for the sequel...
Ah - so you want to know more about the story? There's a rogue undead bishop from hundreds of years ago who has the nasty habit of terrorizing Amsterdam via wholesale slaughter every 28 years or so on December 5th. He and his minions come down the chimney and kill the family and snatch up any children they can find. The youngsters are then spirited off to Spain - for reasons never explained (though leading to one of the funniest lines by a police office who worries out loud about the international politics between the Netherlands and Spain when they try to take out Santa). These massacres are then covered up by the authorities with the assistance of the Catholic Church who has enough scandals to deal with without some zombie ex priest in the news.
Onto this backstory the filmmakers graft what seems like a familiar cast of young adult characters. Some will die, one will fight the supernatural evil with a grizzled cop whose colleagues think he's crazy (no, not played by Mel Gibson) while an adorable girlfriend will worry on the sidelines. Most of the characters perform their duties well, and I particularly liked the young lead couple. The end is suitably dark, though the final climax could possibly have been more satisfying. Notwithstanding my comment earlier about lack of thrills the film did have me jump a few times. Serious horror fans likely won't be taken in that way - but overall I think it's a nice break from more serious dramatic film - either during a film festival or on a Friday night. Especially if you're in the mood for a decapitation or two. And we all have those nights, right?
2011 Festival Trailer from SIFFtv Testsite on Vimeo.
The rest of my review (and yes, it's positive) appears at Three Imaginary Girls. While you're there please thank the folks at the Northwest Film Forum for booking such great stuff. Plus even if you don't like the film from what I hear their new bar is now open...
Not every film was a masterpiece, and yes - most of us will feel very old in an audience stuffed with filmmakers under the age of 22. But the energy and the quality made it well worth checking out. Unfortunately, I'll be out of town for most of the festival but I'm hoping to catch at least one of the sessions between trips.
The festival was founded by Jesse Harris who in true Logan's Run tradition is only 25 himself. OK, that's not a great analogy unless Jesse was that character who ran so as not to be killed on his 21st birthday. Or something like that, hey - I haven't seen that movie in a very long time. Mr. Harris is in attendance throughout and seems to be serving as a very positive (albeit now older somewhat) role model to the attendees.
The overall schedule is up on NFFTY's website. Unfortunately I can't point to a list of films I'd recommend. I've seen Followed by James Kicklighter who was kind enough to shoot me a preview before the festival. It's an adopted from a short story work involving a social message told through zombies. And it left me unsettled (in a positive way) all the way through.
If you like film and you might be up for a positive collaborative atmosphere with the chance to maybe see someone brilliant before they became huge I encourage you to checkout NFFTY. Who knows maybe the next Xavier Dolan or Emily Hagins will be among the presenters (and yes, I know there's a sizable difference between those two). Tickets through passes are available - all at a very reasonable price. If you're like me, by the end you'll be wondering why SIFF hasn't set aside at least one of those youth sessions to let Jesse Harris curate it.
NFFTY 2011 Trailer
I've not seen the original Fubar - nor do I think it's strictly necessary to understand what's going on. Like the characters portrayed the plot isn't altogether that complicated. Or so the filmmaker initially would have you believe. The two lead characters are Terry (David Lawrence) and Dean (Paul Spence) heavy metal super slackers who appear to have PhD's in drinking and shooting off their mouths inanely but far lesser abilities in any other adult life skills category. To get a sense perhaps picture a far less family friendly version of Wayne and Garth.
Dean seems to have faced two major problems in his life (not counting his innate lack of motivation and general intelligence) (a) a battle with testicular cancer which left and him hanging solo, so to speak and (b) an atrocious singing voice amplified by an extreme lack of self-awareness regarding the deficit. Terry's problems appear harder to categorize so directly. Neither appears to have let Dean's health problems slow down their party lifestyle.
As the picture opens Dean is celebrating his fifth year cancer free in the house that he and Terry are about to be evicted from. Into the already noisy affair comes their buddy Tron (Andrew Sparacino) whom within a few minutes of arriving promises them high paying jobs if they head up north to the oil sand fields of Fort McMurray, Canada. Oh, and and sets off a chain of events that results in their house simultaneously being demolished whiled bursting into flames. In the aftermath, unable to deal with living out of their car Dean and Terry make the drive up to Fort McMurray with an expectation of making some serious coin.
Not altogether surprisingly Tron isn't all that excited to see the pair. Tron likes to talk big but he's protective of his reputation and perhaps intelligently vaguely concerned Dean & Terry will screw things up for any crew that employees them. You see, "the Mac" can be a cruel mistress. Unfortunately for Tron the pair cannot be dissuaded. After a brief but extremely memorable training course the Fubar guys are legit to do oil pipelining work. The quality of that work is consistent with everything else the pair seems to do ... fucked up beyond all recognition.
Michael Dowse manages to take such an unbelievably unlikeable pair and stealthily bring enough humanity into the mix that I actually felt something for their third-act travails. I don't want to give any of the story away, but both of the guys end up with even more relationship, financial and health issues than I'd have thought possible at the intro. It's rare for a film to make up ground with me - but I'm pretty glad I didn't give up after the first 20-30 minutes. In short as the pair enter into relationships and deal with their serious life shit I eventually realized I was both laughing occasionally and cared about the outcome. Towards the end that things skirt dangerously close to the line of being poignant.
My understanding is that the first Fubar film felt more like a straight documentary (though it wasn't). Fubar II does have a reality show style - but it doesn't slavishly cling to every convention of the mock genre. Except in that it does feel fairly raw and real. I'm pretty sure I'm not exactly the target demographic for this fare, but overall it had a surprisingly emotional impact at the film's conclusion. Though it's hard to believe the film has a human core when Terry and Dean are sharing some of trademark wisdom ranging from "Knowledge of non-knowledge is power" and (only slightly paraphrasing) the travel fact that "the last row in the Greyhound is the finger-banging row." But that's OK, because that's where the occasionally laughter at the somewhat lovable losers is born.
I didn't truly dig Fubar: Balls to the Wall. But I will say that it revealed far more than I expected after the opening sequence. If you've been exposed to the characters previously and found them appealing I'm pretty sure you'll want to seek out this sequel. If you enjoy crassness as an art-form then Fubar is also potentially worth a shot - I mean Dean does dry hump an improbably large pile of beer crates.
I have a feeling to give a truly informed opinion I should be able to compare this to Larry the Cable Guy or something similar. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I do have some limits in what I'm willing to expose my brain to. At the end of the day I'd say watch the trailer (below). The film isn't nearly as good as the cutting of the trailer would have you believe. But if you decide to see it just commit (or just give'r) and take it all the way through. I'm pretty sure that's what Dean and Terry would want you to do...
Fubar: Balls to the Wall will be available on April 19th on Blu-ray and DVD.
A few weeks back I went to see Kevin Smith's new film Red State at the enormous McCaw Hall. Not the smaller one next door that has become SIFF Cinema. Nope, the huge space that typically hosts things such as the Opera. A few years ago I went to the SIFF opening night film Battle in Seattle there. I don't recall the acoustics being quite so horrible at the time, but it's not really making me look forward to SIFF using it for the opening night film again this year. Crappy audio notwithstanding it was a fun night out. First off I got to hang out with a variety of film loving folks before the picture. And then after that meetup I enjoyed both the film and Mr. Kevin Smith holding court for an extended Q&A post screening.
I was a little dubious going in about Red State - not really so much because of the film itself, but mainly due to the fact that seeing it on this leg of its release tour cost almost $80. For those not following the mini-saga, Smith is engaged in an interesting bit of self-distribution with his latest release. His plan has been to tour personally with the film, collecting premium fees at large venues across the country. That's not altogether unheard of cost wise, as the price for the film plus Smith Q&A wasn't that different than what folks paid to see him live on tour without a film. In October after he has recouped the cost of production (I believe around $4 million) then Red State will get a more traditional release across the country. This style of self distribution isn't unheard of - it's a larger scale take on what Crispin Glover has been doing with his odd art films, and from what I've read in an earlier cinematic era the concept of renting a theater and taking home the gate for yourself was pretty common.
Red State kept me vaguely disturbed all the way through - and in a good way. There's not a central protagonist to follow, which may contribute to viewer unease. The basic outline of the story is that three high school buddies travel to a nearby town with the goal of triple teaming (sexually speaking) a woman they met on the internet. But all is not as it appears and they end up prisoners of a very violent Christian religious cult who's not too pleased with homosexuals, or heterosexuals other than their family members for that manner. Compounding things the boys making the amateur mistake of not telling anyone they were off to a random sex hookup and setting up an emergency "call the police if you don't hear from me by ..." plan. So basically they're quickly up the creek without a paddle. Somehow the plot manages to mix John Goodman in and a variety of other actors you're sure to recognize before things are through. I don't really want to talk more about the story other to say it certainly held my attention. And don't go expecting a comedy.
Given the title and the thinly drawn vision on a far more violent version of the infamous Phelps family it's easy to assume beforehand that Red State is intended as a political statement. I'm sure if you think about it enough there's something to that - or if not you could find a way to extract a message. But I chose to see it more as entertainment than statement - and at that level is worked pretty well for me. It's not a "fun" watch, and some of the characters approach caricature. It's dark material and the ending may divide some (personally I dug it). But it kept me pretty much guessing the whole way through and as a piece of escapist thriller-esque drama it was solid. I definitely wouldn't try to talk you out of seeing it in October, even if you did not like his earlier films.
The post-game Kevin Smith was very entertaining. It seemed as though by this stop in the tour (Seattle was the second to last screening) he had most of his patter down, to the point of being slightly repetitive. But from the intro where he told the audience he'd be in the back live tweeting the show, and that he'd setup his webcam to upload the flick to BitTorrent ("I'm full service guy") to later on where he gave a unique statement of the value of needing to make film ("you've got to want to fuck your art in a Denny's bathroom") Smith's natural storytelling abilities shown through (to the point of almost sparkling). These days he spends hours a day talking for free on the Internet via his SModcast network. I'm not a regular listener, but after the show I did start downloading a few - I think that even if as threatened Smith only makes one more film after Red State there's gonna be a lot of compelling audio content coming from him for years to come...
The Video Interview
A week or so after the show Spencer Fornaciari the co-host and editor in chief of The Macguffin Podcast invited me to do a video review with him about the film. Perhaps to partially make up for peer pressuring me on twitter to pay up to see the film in the first place ;-) Regardless of the reason it was a lot of fun to riff on film on and off camera with Spencer in the upstairs of the legendary Scarecrow Video.
I did learn it's probably better to get some sleep beforehand next time and not go on camera with horribly dry eyes. But independent of the fact that I feel I sort of look like an overweight bobble-head doll with blinking issues I enjoyed the overall experience. I've embedded our interview below. You can click through to YouTube for the high-def version. Not that I look any better in that one....
I went to see Source Code with low expectations, thinking I'd have a few laughs at the expense of a preposterous plot dressed up in pseudo-science mumbo jumbo involving a powerful "source code" that can send one back in time to relive the last eight minutes of someone else's life. As someone who deals with source code on a daily basis, I can tell you this is a capability I have not yet come across.
If I had done my homework and learned that Source Code was directed by Duncan Jones (Moon), I would have known to expect more. Source Code isn't quite up to Moon's high standard, but it delivers an engaging thriller while establishing a surprisingly poignant connection with the plight of its central character, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.
Source Code opens with an aerial shot of a commuter train rushing through the anticipatory morning glow of sunny fields and streams outside Chicago. It's a new day and the train is full of folks ready to meet it. The camera circles around from a distance then swoops in to bring us on board as Gyllenhaal wakes with a start. An engaging young woman (Michelle Monaghan) sits across from him, thanking him for the advice he gave her. Her name's Christina. She knows him. Only problem is, he doesn't know himself. He's Army Capt. Colter Stevens, helicopter pilot, and his last memory places him in Afghanistan. Now he's someone else -- Sean Fentress, teacher.
What follows is eight minutes of dislocation and rising panic intercut with instances of everyday happenstance shot with a clarity designed to burn these details into our memory. Coffee gets spilled, someone opens a pop can, an office worker drops her papers in the aisle. We're going to be seeing this again.
Stevens has no idea of how he got here and as he darts about looking for clues, a worried Christina catches up to him, reaches out … and then a fireball from a terrorist bomb rips through the train and immolates all on board.
Stevens wakes again, in a flight suit, strapped inside the dark ruins of some indistinct, but vaguely high tech capsule. Wires hang, water drips -- where is he? A female military officer (Vera Fermiga) appears on a monitor in front of him. She addresses him as Capt. Stevens and she's all business. Where was the bomb, she asks. Did he see who set it off? Concentrate.
He is in the source code -- a simulated, parallel universe created from the afterglow of the last minutes of memory captured from the brain of one of the dead victims. A super-secret military research project has built this capability using "parabolic calculus" and all sorts of other stuff we wouldn't understand. Whatever.
The train exploded just an hour or two ago. Whoever did it threatens to set off a nuclear device in the city in a few hours. If they can figure out who did it, maybe they can stop him before he kills thousands.
Thankfully, they have this new tool that allows them to send someone back to replay the last eight minutes on the train in search of clues. It's not a strict playback. The person they send back is free to act within the parallel universe, interact with the passengers, etc. -- he just can't change the outcome. It's a handy gadget. One more thing: the guy they send back also has to be recently deceased himself. Or, more precisely, in some kind of artificially maintained limbo of not-quite-dead-yet but definitely on the heavenly express. Bummer.
And so they send Stevens back in, over and over again, to try to solve the mystery. He can't save the people on the train. They're already dead -- and that's too bad because he's falling for Christina. He can't save himself either. But maybe he can save others. And maybe he can have one last word with his father, who thinks he's already gone, and with whom he's had a falling out just before returning to Afghanistan.
Jones pulls this off because once we get past the whopper of a premise, we have tight action and a mystery that follows its internal logic. But there's more to it than thriller. As in Moon, we're confronted with a character who, through the unfolding of weird plot elements, comes to understand that he's become utterly isolated from the rest of humankind and now exists solely as a tool in the service of unseen others. Sam Rockwell's character in Moon learns that the earthside wife he gets video messages from and to whom he plans to return soon has actually been dead for twenty-four years and he's just a disposable clone with a short lifespan. Capt. Stevens is similarly cut off -- he's (almost) dead and so is the woman he's falling in love with. The only person who understands his situation is his source code controller and it's not clear who's side she is on. (The robot, Gertie, played a similar ambiguous role in Moon.) Maybe the controller can help him escape, but what would he be escaping to?
At 93 min runtime, Source Code moves along briskly but, in my opinion, it would have been even better at 92 min. That last minute seemed tacked on and added little to a movie I thought had already come to a satisfying conclusion. See it for yourself and let me know if you agree.
Based on a true story, Kill the Irishman starts with our protagonist Danny Greene (played by Ray Stevenson) tooling around town in his sweet 70s ride. Then we see smoke from the cassette player followed by the car exploding. But wait - it seems somehow Danny, the "Irishman" of the title has survived, and he's shouting to the winds about how it's gonna take more than a bomb to kill him. Then the flashback starts, and Val Kilmer voice begins to tell the tale.
Kilmer, who has unfortunately decided not to star in The Worst Lieutenant, is a detective who grew up with Danny. He explains that Danny was an athlete who didn't enjoy school and and grew up to work on the docks. But he's a reader. And as they say that's fundamental. At least to his success at outsmarting folks. Which he does fairly often when he's not punching them repeatedly.
Long story short, Danny rises through the criminal ranks, tussles with the Italian mafia, finds and loses women and makes loyal friends. Basically the story you sort of know and love. The film is well presented and Danny is likable as a guy who one has got to suspect wasn't quite as nice as he's portrayed. Or maybe he was - what do I know?
I can't really say Kill the Irishman raises the bar on genre mob films. But it's decent enough to watch, so enjoyable enough while it lasts. I don't strongly recommend it, but it's very much you get what you expect sort of affair. So if what you want looks and sounds a lot like Kill the Irishman you'll probably be satisfied with the experience.
For a far more negative, and as I read through equally valid, take there's a fun review by Brandi over at The MacGuffin film blog that's worth reading. Either way we agree that it's the perfect film for the car bomb fetishist.
- Can someone please get that girl a bottle of conditioner for her split ends?, and
- "Marissa Viegler" - the villain of the piece, which came first - her name or the character's accent? It seems to me one was chosen to enhance the other.
Before I get any farther, I should say that even though I didn't really dig this film it's still way more interesting than Sucker Punch if one is stack ranking recent films with violent young women. Pretty much the entire film's story is covered in the trailer - which while making it more likely you'll see the film in the first place, pretty much guarantees that the few genuine dramatic moments will be ruined for you.
The story is about super teen assassin Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) raised by her father Erik (Eric Bana) in the woods with the improbable mission of unseating the women who presumably banished them to a life of hunting with bows and arrows. When Hanna is ready for her mission, she flips the switch of a conveniently available transponder that alerts Marissa to their whereabouts. As expected, Viegler (Cate Blanchett) then dispatches a team of guys in ski masks and machine guns to catch Hanna's father. He splits town wearing a suit in the woods by way of disguise (don't mind me - I'm just a banker out for a walk in the hinterlands). So when the men in black arrive, they take only have Hanna to take into custody. Which of course IS ALL PART OF THE INCREDIBLY OVERLY COMPLICATED PLAN.
The film had me up until Hanna's escape from custody, then things just never recovered fully. My full review is available over at Three Imaginary Girls. But even if you don't skip over there do watch the trailer, it sort of rocks...
On one hand Rubber is an entirely familiar exercise a stalker/killer road movie genre film spanning a desert road trip filled with classic elements right down to the girl watched by the villain in shower during a motel stop. Though it stretches the conventions of the form somewhat by casting the killer as a discarded tire who becomes sentient with the psycho-kinetic powers to make people's head explode. Yes, a tire - as in the thing on your car. And that's not the most unusual part of the film...
And yes, I am thinking about seeing it again :-)
The original review in its entirety can be read via this link. But, I'd just suggest you don't bother with that and see the film this week while you can. It's pretty enough it deserves to be seen on the almost big screen at the Film Forum. Especially as the tag line asks, if you're tired of the unexpected...
For me one of the best parts of repeated re-watching is choosing a favorite character. So far the dude with the count Dracula cape edging towards the top of my ranking.
I know I've got a backlog of recent releases and SXSW flicks to cover. Going to try and make up ground on both this weekend...