erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2011 posts

Saturday April 30, 2011

Movie Review: Fast Five (2011)

WARNING: SPOILERS

There was a time when cultural conservatives feared the gender neutral. They worried men were becoming like women and women like men.

Let them come see “Fast Five.”

poster for Fast Five (2011)Seriously. Each gender has become a parody of itself. The women are preposterously beautiful, the men preposterously pumped. I’m sure Paul Walker, who plays Brian O’Conner, is a fairly buff dude, but next to Vin Diesel, who plays laconic car thief Dominic Toretto, he looks like me. And Diesel next to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who plays Special Agent Hobbs, looks like me again. Can the Rock even put his arms down these days? In her review, Manohla Dargis brings up the homoerotic undertones of a fight between Diesel and Johnson but I’d go further. The two men, both bald, rigid and tumescent, reminded me of nothing so much as two erect penises fighting. Someone even makes a reference to a “cock fight.” Freud isn’t even needed anymore.

This is the fifth installment of “The Fast and the Furious” franchise (hence “Fast Five”), the fourth chronologically (it takes place before “Tokyo Drift”), but it’s my first go so I was hopelessly lost.

Kidding.

Apparently at the end of the last movie Dominic was arrested, but at the beginning of this one, as the bus full of prisoners rides that lonely road to the penitentiary, three sports car zoom up, veer around, and force the bus to flip ten times. “Amazingly,” a news reporter says, “there were no fatalities.” Yes, amazingly. One minute into the movie Dominic escapes.

To Brazil, with former rival O’Conner and sister Mia, who’s O’Conner’s girl. There they run into a dude from the first movie, Vince (Matt Schulze — on the buffness scale between Walker and Diesel), who tells them about a job they can do, “a sure thing,” “easy money,” etc. It involves driving a flat-bed truck at high speeds over uneven ground next to a speeding train, using a propane torch to cut a hole into one of the train cars, and driving out the racing cars within. Easy peasy. Becomes more complicated when one of the locals insists on driving the GT40 but Diesel says “Ladies first” and Mia gets it. That’s the moment on which the rest of the movie hinges. Turns out the GT40 hides a computer chip that contains all the drug deals, $100 million worth, of local slumlord Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Apparently Reyes is the guy behind this “sure thing.” He wants to retrieve his chip. What’s it doing there in the first place, on this sports car on a train speeding through Brazil to who knows where? Why are you asking, Brainiac? Lookit Dom drive that car off that train. Kick ass! Lookit Brian hang by one arm from what’s left of the flat bed. Kick ass! Lookit both Dom and Brian fly off the edge of that cliff and crash into the water 200 feet below. Kick—

Actually that last stunt is pretty cool. Time slows, the sound cuts except for the wind, Dom and Brian begin to back out of the car flying through space.

Of course they’d be dead after the crash. They’d be dead 10 times in this movie. Instead they pop up after a few seconds, make a few manly quips, look around to see the bad guys pointing guns at their heads. We’re off and running again. Superheroes are more vulnerable than these guys.

Parts of it aren’t bad, actually. Justin Lin knows how to direct an action sequence, and the script by Chris Morgan shows some wit. So there’s $10 million in drug money in 10 different locations. Do they rob each one? BO-ring! Instead they bust into one drugspot and burn the money. This forces Reyes to gather all his money into one safe location. Unfortunately that safe location is a police station.

By this point, Dom has gathered his team of experts. That’s one of my favorite cinematic devices, actually, gathering a team of experts, but like everything else here it’s done quick and sloppy. Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) is supposed to be the fast talker, for example, but he’s hardly Chris Tucker, and Tej (Ludacris), the safecracker, constantly one-ups him. Gisele (Gal Gadot) is supposed to be the utilities and weapons specialist, but she’s a hottie, Miss Israel 2004, and her most memorable moment is getting Reyes’ palm print, needed to crack the safe, on her ass. Good work, girl. Meanwhile, poor Han (Sung Kang), is supposed to be “the chameleon.” He supposed to blend in with the crowd. Really? In Rio? And how is that a talent? Saddest talent in the world. Might as well hire Joe Lieberman for the role.

In this manner feints are made in the direction of better movies, then botched or ignored for the next fast thing. Relationships are suggested in a glance. Oh, I bet Gisele and Han get together. (They do.) Oh, I bet Dom gets together with that police chick. (He does.) Meanwhile, the Rock plays the Tommy Lee Jones/Ed Lauter role: the cop hellbent on catching the heroes who winds up aligning himself with the heroes. It's a parody of an action movie. Of course the name of one of the production companies responsible for this thing? “Original Film.” There’s no irony in Hollywood.

It goes zoom-zoom but a sadness permeates “Fast Five.” There’s such need here. We need speed, we need beautiful ass, we need arms the size of tree trunks. You can calculate how small and slow and alone we feel by how big, fast and macho everything is on screen.

Vin Diesel and the Rock about the rumble in "Fast Five"

Cock fight.

Posted at 09:51 AM on Apr 30, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Thursday April 28, 2011

Movie Review: The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

WARNING: IN RE: SPOILERS

Imagine you’re a rich yuppie who likes raping high-end prostitutes and then cutting them up with your custom switchblade. Imagine you’ve killed at least one girl this way and gotten away with it because they pinned the crime on some Latino schmuck now doing a life sentence in San Quentin because his lawyer—someone no one’s ever heard of, who works out of the backseat of his Lincoln Continental, for shit’s sake—got him to cop a plea. Then imagine, oops, your luck runs out. The latest girl you’re trying to rape and stab to death bonk-bonks you on the head and the cops arrest you for assault. Bummer, dude. On the plus side they think it’s an isolated incident, not part of a chain of beatings, rapes and murders. And you’re rich, you’ve got a family lawyer from a high-powered law firm, and you could hire anyone, even Gerry Spence, to be your criminal defense attorney. So who do you hire?

You hire the Lincoln lawyer, of course.

Poster for Lincoln Laywer (2011)Why would you do that? Didn’t he get the Latino schmuck to cop a plea to a crime you know he didn’t commit? So if he couldn’t get an innocent man off, why would you think he’d get your guilty ass off?

Ah, but that’s not the point. The point is that this shitty lawyer, whom we’ll call Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey), will do some investigating, probably with his investigation team of Lorna (Pell James) and Frank Levin (William H. Macy), and they might just discover the parallels between this case and the Latino schmuck case and put 2 and 2 together. Which means you’ll be up for murder.

Hey, wouldn’t they be worse?

No, but dude, you forgot attorney-client privilege! When the attorney finds this shit out, he can’t say shit.

But wouldn’t that be true of any attorney? Why hire the one who’s most likely to find out you’re a serial killer?

No, see, he has to defend you. Cuz that’s like his job, man.

But can’t he simply quit the case? Can’t private attorneys quit cases before trials begin? Particularly if one case is adverse to a client in another case?

No, but ... think of the mind-fuck, man. I mean, you’d be totally messing with that dude’s mind. First you’d make him realize that he made an innocent man plead guilty; then you’d make him defend you: a guilty man. You’d be totally messin’ with him.

So wouldn’t that make him less effective? And wouldn’t your freedom rely on his effectiveness?

That’s the great thing! Lincoln lawyer turns out to be the bitchingest lawyer around. He’s got, like, biker clients, and he’s bribing parole officers and court policemen. And that family lawyer? Played by the warden in “Shawshank Redemption”? Lincoln lawyer starts smokin’ on his ass with the law and shit. And the prosecutor of the case? Played by the coach in “Glory Road”? He really doesn’t know shit. He just sits there, doesn’t even object, but he’s got, like, a hot prosecutor chick with him, with hot glasses and all. And Lincoln lawyer, he’s got a smokin’ hot ex-wife, played by the chick who played the stripper in “The Wrestler,” and they doin’ it all the time even though they exes. Plus he’s got a black chauffeur who’s totally street smart.

But I still don’t get why the Lincoln can’t quit the case. It hasn’t even gone to trial yet.

No, but he’s got a plan, man. See, he’s going to get the dude off, cuz he’s ethically bound to do it, right? But he’s gonna plant the seed so the police will realize preppy killed that other chick and the Latino dude is totally innocent. So he’s gonna get him off and put preppy behind bars for the original crime. Two birds, right?

But don’t the police wind up arresting the rich serial killer, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), for only one night? Then they let him go? And doesn’t Louis then try to kill Haller’s family?

Yeah, but Lincoln lawyer’s a step ahead, yo. He sends family away, gets his chauffeur to get him a gun, and brings in the biker dudes to mess with preppie. Mess him UP.

But some of the crimes, the murder of Frank Levin, for example, right before the trial began, were commited by the mother, right? Frances Fisher? That’s the twist at the end. Mick Haller thinks he’s safe, but suddenly there’s Mommie Dearest holding a gun.

Yo, that skinny bitch NUTS. Plugged my boy. But he got her back good. And in the end he slinging it but still riding that Lincoln.

And that’s the end of the movie.

Word.

Yes. My word.

Posted at 06:29 AM on Apr 28, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Tuesday April 26, 2011

Movie Review: Of Gods and Men (2010)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“Of Gods and Men” is a monastic movie. It’s filmed as unaffectedly as the Cistercian monks lived their lives, and gave their lives, in Tibhirine, Algeria, in 1996. It documents their modest activities in a modest manner. We see them carry firewood and clean floors. They pack honey, miel de l’Atlas, and sell it at the local market. They farm, tend to the sick, help procure visas. They study—both St. Augustine and the Koran. They pray and sing hymns and psalms. A true review of the picture would be written equally modestly, using short, plain sentences, but I know myself too well and promise nothing.

Poster for "Of Gods and Men": "Des hommes et des dieux" (2010)Going in, I didn’t realize Xavier Beauvois’ movie was based upon a true story. From a 1996 article in The New York Times:

French and Algerian authorities said today that the bodies of seven French monks killed by the rebel Armed Islamic Group had been found near the monastery south of Algiers where they had been kidnapped two months ago. ...

The murders set off a wave of public outrage in France, and 10,000 people, led by Prime Minister Alain Juppe, marched on Tuesday night to Trocadero Square, where the Declaration on the Rights of Man was signed nearly a half century ago, for a moment of silence.

The Armed Islamic Group ... has been waging an armed struggle with the Algerian Government since 1992 ...

We get that armed struggled by and by. Between visa paperwork and evening prayers, the head of the monastery, Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson), a tall, spectacled man who likes to walk in the woods and feel the bark of trees, meets with local leaders, who complain about a recent murder: how a new breed of religious insurrectionist slit a girl’s throat and threw her off a bus for not wearing a hijab. “For a veil!” one of the leaders says with disgust. “They say they’re religious but they’ve never read the Koran.” Christian listens, worry in his eyes.

Shortly after, cars and vans pull up at a construction site, and the foremen, later identified as Croatians, have their throats slit. The news quickly descends on the monastery, along with people and advice. The monks are told they need military protection but Brother Christian makes a stand. “Je refuse,” he says.

That line sounds great, and even better in French, but this is not a Hollywood movie with its love of absolutes. The monks’ courage is tinged with fear. Their faith is tested by doubt and silence. At a round-table discussion, the first of many, they discuss the problem of both leaving and staying: “We were called here” vs. “I didn’t come here to commit collective suicide.” Things are left undecided, life continues, fear remains.

One evening, as Brother Paul (Jean-Marie Frin) goes to lock the gate, those fears are realized. A group of terrorists, led by Ali Fayattia (Farid Larbi), burst in with machine guns drawn and demand to see “the Pope.” Told they have no Pope, he declares, “The leader! Who’s the leader here?” Christian emerges, nervous and upset. He tells Fayattia no weapons are allowed inside a house of peace. When Fayattia tells him his weapon never leaves his side, Christian nods, says, “We’ll talk outside,” and moves past him. By the gate, Fayattia demands the doctor, Brother Luc (the superb Michael Lonsdale), to care for one of his men, who’s wounded, but knowing Luc’s age and health, this, too, Christian refuses.

Fayattia: Vous n'avez pas le choix. (You don’t have a choice.)
Christian: Si, j'ai le choix. (Yes, I do.)

The movie keeps coming back to not only the desirability of choice (the right to choose) but its undesirability (the weight, the difficulty, of choosing). “J’ai le choix” leads to How do I choose? What do I choose?

Christian, armed only with faith and truth, gives Fayattia a choice: he can bring his man to Brother Luc or he can seek care elsewhere. Then he suggests asking around about the monks and he’ll find they’re modest men of modest means. Finally he quotes from the Koran: “You shall find the closest to you in love and kindness shown to the believers are those who say we are Christians, for among them are priests and monastists, and they are not arrogant.” When Christian finally mentions that that night is Christmas Eve, the birth of the savoir, Fayattia, as stern as ever, actually apologizes.

That’s the scene but I haven’t conveyed its power. The refusal is made from a position of weakness, the apology from a position of strength. All of it solves nothing, least of all the monks’ dilemma.

They are basically caught in a civil war and are metaphorically being shot at from all sides. A government official, urging them to leave, says, “Your courage will be exploited,” and blames the civil war on the vestiges of French colonialism. When Christian tells neighborhood leaders that the monks feel like birds on a branch, wondering whether to take off, the leaders, who want them to stay, disagree with the metaphor and substitute a Christian one. “No, we are the birds. You are the branch.”

The monks vote to stay in "Of Gods and Men" ("Des hommes et des dieux" (2010)

The most profound angst is felt by Brother Christophe. Olivier Rabourdin, the actor, has a tough face, but Christophe, the character, has trouble locating his inner toughness. When Christian tells him he needn’t fear for his life because he already gave his life, to Christ, Christophe admits, “I pray ... and I hear nothing.” We see him in the attempt. The others hear him in the attempt: “Help me, help me, don’t abandon me.” Tensions mount. Washing dishes, Luc makes an offhand remark. “Fuck off,” Christophe says, and walks away. I believe it’s the film’s only profanity.

We don’t see enough of Luc, by the way, who has a wise, quiet charm. He’s gentle with patients and impatient with government officials questioning his patients. “I’m not scared of death,” he tells Christian at one point; then adds with a smile, a touch of monastic jocularity perhaps: “I’m a free man.” In an early scene, he sits on a bench in the winter sun talking to a local girl about love. She wonders what it feels like, and we, or the romantics in us, suspect she’s in love. When he gives her a description of love that is both simple and beautiful—“Something inside you comes alive...” he says, “but you’re in turmoil, especially the first time”—she responds, No, she’s never felt that, and certainly not with the boy her parents want her to marry. “Oh, c’est ca,” Luc answers. She asks Luc if he’s ever been in love and he answers, yes, several times. “Then I experienced an even greater love and I answered that call. Sixty years ago.” It’s such a beautiful scene I didn’t want to leave it. It shows us not only how much these Christian monks are part of the life of this Muslim village but why. They don’t proselytize about Jesus’ love; they quietly demonstrate it.

Scene from "Of Gods and Men": Brother Luc talks of love

Later we see the same girl farming with Brother Christophe; then we don’t see her so much. One wonders what happens to her, this modern Muslim girl, caught between a corrupt government and reactionary revolutionaries. It can’t have ended well.

It doesn’t for the monks. Christian is asked to identify the body of Ali Fayattia, captured by the military, mutilated by villagers, and his response before the body—sadness and prayer—irks the military official. Suddenly the monks are dealing with raids from the government, and helicopter hoverings from the government, but in the end it’s the Armed Islamic Group, A.I.G. (those initials are never good) who kidnap them. Earlier, when contemplating what to do when the terrorists came, Luc jokingly suggests hide-and-seek. “On peut jouer à cache-cache?” He also declares the elfin Brother Amedee (Jacques Herlin) fit after a medical exam with the words, “You’ll outlive us all.” Both jokes are prophetic. Brother Amedee hides from the terrorists beneath his bed, and when seven of the nine are taken, he outlives them all save for Brother Jean-Pierre (Loïc Pichon).

The final scenes in "Of God and Men": "Des hommes et des dieux" (2010)

Is the Tchaikovsky too much? In the scene before the kidnapping, Luc nonchalantly plops two bottles of red wine on the kitchen counter, and plays, from a beat-up tape recorder, Tchaikovsky’s Grand Theme from “Swan Lake.” The monks drink, slowly, and slowly enjoy each other’s company, and come to tears. Some think the scene too much, in its echoes of the Last Supper, in its apparent foreknowledge of death, but I found it beautiful: not only for itself, but for how it highlights, retroactively, just how modestly these monks lived their lives. For them, a glass of wine, and tape-recorded Tchaikovsky, is an event.

A translation question: How did “Des hommes et des dieux” in French become “Of Gods and Men” in English? Why not “Of Men and Gods”? My friend Jake raises a more telling point: Is the plural of God, or dieu, necessary in either title? The film suggests, at various points, one God for us all, all religions, particularly at the end. As the camera focuses on familiar monastery rooms, now empty of life, we hear the letter Brother Christian wrote in event of his violent death. That letter, translated into myriad languages, is akin to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”: a strong Christian stance to violence and immorality.

He begins:

Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country; that the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure; and that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion.

He ends with words so beautiful I have nothing to add:

My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me naïve or idealistic, but I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father's and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you, too, friend of the last minute, who knew not what you were doing.

Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell, which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both.

Amen. Insha'Allah.

Posted at 08:55 AM on Apr 26, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Friday April 22, 2011

Movie Review: Source Code (2011)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The real tension in “Source Code” isn’t whether Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) will be able to find the bomb aboard the commuter train heading to Chicago that kills 200 people on a beautiful spring morning, nor whether he can find the bomber, or bombers, so a dirty bomb won’t obliterate 2 million people in downtown Chicago later that day. No, the real tension, halfway through the movie, is this: How are they going to give us a happy ending?

We know, by this point, that the latter bomb probably won’t go off (Hollywood won’t allow it post-9/11), but we also know that the former bomb has already gone off. That reality can’t be changed. Capt. Colter? He dead. The girl he likes? She dead. So if both leading man and leading lady are dead, how do we get the happy ending requisite of modern Hollywood movies?

Source Code posterI’ll start at the beginning. (It’s a good place to start.)

Stevens is an Air Force pilot stationed in Afghanistan who wakes up one day on a commuter train heading to downtown Chicago, opposite a pretty girl, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), who calls him Sean, and tells him, “I took your advice. It was good advice. Thank you.”

A soda pop can is opened, a woman spills coffee on his shoe, the train conductor asks for his ticket, which, despite his protests, is in his breastpocket. He’s freaking. He feels sick. With the train in the station, he stumbles through the car, past a gold watch salesman and a guy in a letter jacket who finished third in some “American Idol” for standup comedians, and goes out on the platform for a breath of fresh air, where a red-haired cyclist returns a dropped wallet to a departing passenger. Stevens asked the cyclist, who is also departing the train, the name of the city in the distance. “Chicago,” the kid says with a bemused look. Back on the train, the pretty girl, Christina, treats Colter’s pain, his identity crisis, as a joke, and he retreats into the bathroom and splashes water on his face ... which isn’t his face. He checks his wallet. It’s the wallet of Sean Fentress, teacher, the face he sees in the mirror. Now he’s freaking even more. Outside the bathroom, Christina consoles him. “Everything’s going to be okay,” she says. At which point the entire train, and all the people in it, blows up.

Nice open.

At this point, Stevens is transported into a stark, gray pod chamber, strapped to a chair, where he communicates, via video screen, with U.S. Air Force Officer Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), who tries to acclimate him to his surroundings and assignment. He says he’s in Afghanistan. No, she says, he’s on another mission. He asks her about the simulation he’s going through. No, she says, it’s not a simulation. A figure, a man with a cane, sometimes shows up on the video screen, annoyed, uncommunicative, presses some buttons, leaves. His name is Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright). He exudes a scientific distance and fussiness. “Find the bomb,” Goodwin tells Stevens, “and you’ll find the bomber.” Then she sends him back to the train and we get “I took your advice” and the coffee spill and the ticket punching all over again.

Basically the movie is part “Inception” and “Groundhog Day,” with some “Speed” tossed in.

So if Stevens isn’t experiencing a simulation, what is he experiencing? Rutledge, when forced to communicate, uses the not-bad metaphor of a light bulb: How it continues to glow after it’s been turned off. The mind is like that, he says. It continues to work for approximately eight minutes after you die. So Stevens is inhabiting the last eight minutes of Sean’s existence, with whom he was a good synaptic match. Except he’s not doing the things Sean did. He has free will. In this manner, the third time on the train, he finds the bomb, in an air duct in the bathroom, and by the fourth time in he’s scoping out potential bombers. Because that bomber will strike again, and soon.

But where is Stevens all the while? Whenever he asks, Rutledge appears annoyed and Goodwin betrays a touch of sadness. So on the train, while he’s scoping out other information, he asks Christina to find out about his friend, Capt. Colter Stevens, stationed in Afghanistan, who went missing two months earlier. She checks via smartphone and returns betraying a touch of sadness herself. “Your friend is dead,” she tells him. “He was killed in action two months ago.” For a second, before the train blows up yet again, reality becomes distorted, like a TV signal breaking up, and Colter remembers, in flashes, the helicopter crash. Back in the pod, he seeks answers. “Goodwin,” he says. “One soldier to another: Am I dead?” Goodwin, apparently disobeying orders, owns up. “Part of your brain remains activated,” she says. The capsule he’s in is itself a manifestation, and, with knowledge, it begins to break apart, and Colter, like in a nightmare, seems to get smaller and smaller.

The movie makes an interesting decision at this point. Colter suddenly refuses to cooperate. Time in the real world is running out, and yet for several trips back to the train he does nothing, finds nothing, decides that being used in this fashion when he’s all-but-dead (“You are a hand on a clock,” Rutledge tells him without sympathy; “we set you and we re-set you”) frees him from following orders or caring about the two million in downtown Chicago. I’m not sure if this is a bold decision or a miscalculation. The conventional wisdom is that, in drama, one life means more than two million—we care about Colter, whom we know, but not the two million, who are just a number—but I’m not sure, in a post-9/11 world, that that’s true anymore. The “terror” in “terrorism” is always its randomness, the thought that “It could’ve been me.” In this manner we do care about the two million. They could be us. And why doesn’t Colter care about us? I thought he was the hero.

Either way, it’s a blip. Rutledge plays him an audio recording of his father—with whom he had issues, with whom he wished he could’ve had a better, final conversation—speaking at the funeral about his son’s bravery and self-sacrifice, and his face hardens. “Send me back in,” he says.

This time he figures it out. In past iterations he suspected a Muslim-looking businessman and a student with a laptop, but the bomber turns out to be the very bland-looking dude who drops his wallet. The dude actually does it on purpose. He wants it on the train as evidence that he died on that train. (Although: won’t the wallet be ash after the explosion?) He’s also got a bigger, dirtier-looking bomb in a white van in the parking lot inside a container painted with stars and stripes. Those stars and stripes, and an earlier reference to “racial profiling,” is as political as the movie gets. The terrorist isn’t the worst of them, he’s the worst of us, but, when explaining his motivations he doesn’t sound like the worst of us; he sounds as bland as he looks. He’s destroying Chicago because “the world is hell but we have the chance to start over in the rubble.” That’s it? Seriously?

This iteration ends with the home-grown terrorist getting away in the white van and both Colter and Christina shot and dying in the parking lot (“Everything’s going to be okay,” he tells her, rather than she him); but Colter now has the evidence, which, back in the pod, he relays to Goodwin and Rutledge and the bomber is stopped before detonating the dirty bomb.

Happy ending? Not really. Sure, downtown Chicago is saved and all, but Rutledge, the jerk, is feted, while Colter, our true soldier, is still a fragment of a man, whose memory is to be wiped clean and used again and again in similar circumstances, while Christina, the pretty girl, with whom he’s gotten close lo these many iterations, is dead on the train. Nothing can be done to change that.

Except.

There’s always an “except,” isn’t there? Why not? If you can keep the brain of a dead soldier alive in perpetuity, then transport his mind into the body of a dead train passenger, who’s in the past, and keep doing it until it’s done right, well, who’s to say what you can’t do?

That’s the thing. The technology to do all this is so astounding it’s as if Rutledge is God. Yet the film treats him as he treats Stevens: as a nuisance. He’s a jerk, egotistical, working to do what? Save two million people? With his brain? Big deal. What about the cute boy and girl? Do they get together?

In this regard, Colter has a plan. He asks Goodwin to send him back one more time for those eight minutes on the train. And this time he does everything right. He stops the bombs, gets the gun, handcuffs the terrorist to the train, and bets all of his money, $126, that the comedian can’t make everyone in the compartment laugh. Then he kisses the girl. That’s where this iteration ends. As the eight minutes elapse, Goodwin, as per his request, pulls the plug on Colter and lets him die, and we get a moment frozen in time: with everyone laughing; with boy kissing girl.

Oh, I thought. That’s actually … kind of beautiful.

Unfortunately the moment doesn’t stay frozen for long. Colter’s actions—along with Goodwin pulling the plug?—have created ... wait for it ... an alternative reality, in which everyone lives, and in which Dr. Rutledge and Goodwin aren’t even called upon to begin their project with the remains of Capt. Stevens because the train never blows up. Instead it pulls safely into the station on a beautiful spring morning, and boy and girl, Christina and Sean/Colter, look at their reflection in the Bean, that great steel legume in Millennium Park in the Loop district of Chicago, and life and love is new. The End.

Crap, I thought.

Now we have nothing but questions. So if everyone survives … what happens to Sean? His body is still inhabited by Colter. How does that work exactly? Has he just been stomped out of existence? And how will Colter live life as Sean? Sean’s a teacher. Will Colter be able to do that? Teach that? My god, he won’t be able to recognize his mother, father, friends and family. No one. He’s all alone, really. He just knows Christina. Poor Christina. She thinks she’s got a new boyfriend, someone to have coffee with, but she’s really got a man, in the body of another man, who knows no one but her, who will be forced to cling to her for every second of every day. That relationship’s a disaster in the making.

Wait! Doesn’t Colter now exist twice in the same reality? He’s in Sean’s body, hanging out by the Bean, and in his own mangled body, on life support in that pod chamber. And what happens when Rutledge activates him? Will Sean return? Or is he already there—helpless inside his own body? We think Colter’s the hero but maybe he’s really a greedy bastard taking over as many lives as possible. Maybe someone you know. Maybe yours.

And “Source Code” as a title? Could we please please try to be a little more specific rather than so blandly generic?

I still enjoyed myself. I should mention that. The story zipped, Gyllenhaal is good, I fell in love with Michelle Monaghan all over again. I just wished they’d stopped at that frozen moment. I think people wouldn’t mind a bittersweet ending rather than another Hollywood ending. I think we’re getting tired of this shit.

Michelle Monaghan in Source Code (2011)

Colter: Expect to see this look more often as you fumble through Sean's existence.

Posted at 08:17 AM on Apr 22, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Tuesday April 19, 2011

Movie Review: Hanna (2011)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Joe Wright’s “Hanna” is a kind of “Bourne Identity” crossed with “Pippi Longstocking,” an action movie for the European arthouse crowd, but it really works because of the little details. Things like sound, set design, acting, cinematography. Little details.

The movie fades in to white. That’s a change. After several seconds, you can discern a few shapes—rocks, a pond, a swan—but everything else is blanketed in snow. The movie fades into silence, too. For a second, I thought the soundtrack was busted it was so quiet. Then we hear rustlings. Nature is waking up and something is being stalked in the snow. There’s a little girl behind a tree in a forest. No, now she’s behind that tree, with bow and arrow ready, and zing!, right into the side of that caribou. The beast bucks, runs, collapses. She walks up. “I missed your heart,” she says by way of apology, before shooting the animal dead. A second later, as she’s gutting it, she is attacked. By her father. Part of her training.

poster for the movie Hannah, starring Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana and Cate BlanchettWe knew this going in, didn’t we? In a remote area, a father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana), trains his daughter, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), that ethereal presence from “Atonement” and “Lovely Bones,” to be an assassin. Then the daughter is captured and starts killing people. Coo-ull.

Except she wants to be captured. Didn’t know that. In their remote, snow-covered cabin, he trains her to be strong and watchful. He drills her on the facts of the world—how much the blue whale’s tongue weighs and how far its song can be heard—but less on its beauty. She marvels at planes. She wonders what music is like. He’s training an assassin but she’s really a romantic. At night she looks through an old German version of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” and at photobooth pictures of a pretty woman—her mother, one assumes—who was killed, one assumes, by whatever agency his father once worked for and is now hiding from. We later learn the killing took place while Hanna, two years old, was in the back of a car looking through that same “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” An unnecessary touch.

So she goes voluntarily. She activates a beacon, there goes her father, and here comes the agents. They are looking for Heller but find Hanna, and bring her in, where the woman we know to be the villainess of the picture, Marissa (Cate Blanchett, chewing scenery like Gary Oldman), all coiffed red hair and gray fitted suits and obsessive teeth brushing, watches with something like orgasmic rapture as Hanna kills one, two, three agents—including an agent pretending to be her. Marissa is Hanna’s target, because she’s the one who killed Hanna’s mother, but Marissa makes Hanna her target. As she was all along.

Step back a moment. So if the idea was to get Hanna close enough to Marissa to kill her, shouldn’t Erik have trained Hanna on Marissa’s likely subterfuges? How about showing Hanna a photo of the woman? A drawing? Instead, Agent A gets it. Along with Agents B. C, D and E, and Hanna escapes into the desert.

This is the part of the movie that bored me the most. The escape is well-done, and it’s a teenaged girl now rather than Matt Damon in “Bourne” or Angelina Jolie in “Salt,” but we’ve seen it before. Using quick-cut martial arts skills, against a pulse-pounding soundtrack (Chemical Brothers), Hanna remains a step ahead of the entrenched Marissa barking orders to find her. Even the institution she escapes from, with its big, concrete, tunnelly things, seems leftover from “X-Men” sets. Yes, she escapes. What happens next?

What happens next makes the movie. In the desert she runs into a fat-faced, teenaged girl, Sophie (Jessica Barden), who starts gabbing about the pop star M.I.A. and how she only knew Sri Lankan, and was Hanna from Sri Lanka and did she only know Sri Lankan? She can’t hide her disappointment when Hanna begins speaking English.

(Hanna, of course, is a true M.I.A.)

I guess we’ve seen this before, too, the introduction of the ordinary family, like ours, who doesn’t know from assassination or martial arts skills, who is about to be completely out of its element, but, again, it’s handled well. They’re kind of fascinating, this hippieish family driving through North Africa. They have moments of lightness and silliness, but there’s tension between father and mother (Olivia Williams), and mother and daughter. They’re trying to get back to basics, but their basics are, to Hanna, a cornucopia. The mother suspects this, shares a bond with Hanna, who, one suspects, is the daughter she’d like to have, rather than the pop-music-loving, short-shorts wearing daughter she somehow wound up with. These people satisfy the main requirement of secondary characters: they don’t know they’re secondary characters.

It’s in the North African towns, oases in the desert, where the shortcomings of Hanna’s training are further revealed. She grew up in all that white stillness. She knew how many other human beings? One? Now there’s tons of people, traffic, camels, noise. I thought she’d be overwhelmed but the movie merely makes her fascinated. She remains an innocent. She isn’t overwhelmed until she rents a room and can’t work the TV, lights, tea kettle. She’s a trained assassin who’s never turned on a computer. Plus she thinks her assignment is done when it isn’t. This second act is mostly about Hanna discovering the world and herself. She’s like Jason Bourne in this way. Both are lethal assassins who don’t know who they are. All of our assassins are innocent now.

The third-act reveals are disappointing. It turns out Heller isn’t her father. She has no father. She’s a product of agency-engineered eugenics, a project driven, as they say, by Marissa, then aborted by Marissa. It gets a little fuzzy here, actually. One assumes she aborted the project, and the subjects, to save her career, but it hurt to do so. The project was her baby. Now her baby lives! Hanna is exactly what she always wanted. Come to Momma.

Is this the third and biggest idiocy of Erik Heller? First he trains an assassin who knows nothing of the modern world. Then he trains an assassin who knows nothing of her target. But overall he trains an assassin. The agency genetically engineered human beings to be perfect assassins, so he takes this baby out of their reach ... and trains her to be the perfect assassin. He creates exactly what they want him to create.

“Hanna” is an arthouse action-adventure film but ultimately too much action-adventure and not enough arthouse. It caves in to our need for speed and thrills, evil and revenge. It can’t conceive of a resolution that is not a face-off to the death between hero and villain.

I’ll still take it. I’ll take it for the opening shots of white and stillness, and for the suggestion of a family life lived on the dusty road. I’ll take it for the extended, single-shot action sequence in the Berlin subway, and the chase through the dilapidated dinosaurs of Spreepark. I’ll take it for the shot of Hanna, head out of the window of a van speeding through Europe, hair fluttering in the breeze.

Posted at 07:38 AM on Apr 19, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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