Review- Rio

Rio (20th Century Fox)

For any viewer, regardless of your experience, academic acumen or whatever other qualifications you may have, there will invariably be occasions where a film plays into a sensitive area for you where it’ll either excel with flying colors or fail miserably, perhaps to a greater degree than it would otherwise, due to your personal experience. In the case of Rio it was targeted on my radar early on for two reasons: first, and the lesser of the two reasons, for my love of birds and conversely my loathing of smuggling but it hit home more because it’s set in Brazil, a nation of which I am a dual citizen.

Having been one who grew up cinematically with only Carmen Miranda and the anti-Lambada propaganda film The Forbidden Dance as major reference of American interpretations of Brazil onscreen my apprehension is understandable. Not that there’s anything wrong with Carmen Miranda but any icon can be turned into a stereotype in the wrong hands.

Suffice it to say that most of my concerns are addressed by the fact that one of the film’s writers and its director is a Brazilian, Carlos Saldanha. Yet, you also do not get a Disney-fied Saludos Amigos or Three Cabelleros rendition of Latin America, you have in the narrative of this film a setting which actually plays a role, which is rare but also one that is presented without frills and bereft of commentary. You see the glitz and glamor of Rio, the natural beauty, the beach life, the skyline at night, carnaval but also the favelas and in a minor way, crime. It’s a subtle but accurate portrait that doesn’t impose itself above the story. It shows the good and the bad. So with that personal concern overcome I can begin to address the rest of the film.

When dealing with animation set overseas there are invariably headaches of logic. There’s always the minor bugaboo of when do you float a word in said foreign language that English speakers will readily recognize? How many Brazilians and/or actors of Hispanic descent do you include in the cast? Now, there’s only one Brazilian in the principal cast, however, considering that many Brazilian actors have recently been cast as either Hispanic or “Vaguely Foreign” characters (such as Rodrigo Santoro himself in Love Actually) it all comes out in the wash.

In fact, quite a lot the voice talent does quite well either toeing that line or just being convincing that it makes you forget. Jesse Eiesenberg conveys the stressed, caged bird in the wild well and also has the unexpected task of struggling/learning to embrace his newfound culture. Anne Hathaway, perhaps more than any other name actor in the cast, vanishes behind the veneer of her character. Thankfully she is given license to sing and the few seconds of Portuguese she’s asked to speak sounds good.

The rest of the voice cast does rather well as a whole also. One of the most distinctive and hardest voices to overcome is George Lopez’s but his shtick with his wife is funny enough such that you eventually forget. While Tracy Morgan always sounds like himself it works in tandem with his character so well that it doesn’t matter. Will i. am provides the most consistent comic relief and perhaps the most overlooked voice work belongs to Jake T. Austin, perhaps best known for his work on Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place, he convincingly comes across as not only a Brazilian kid but also one who’s younger than he is.

The story of this film resolves itself quite neatly. It gets just the right amount of complication what with the smuggling plots getting aided with a scene-stealing performance by a Cockatoo (Jemaine Clement, who thankfully is also allowed to sing). Events head for the collision course you hope they’ll have and while there are dueling love plots and a heist everything thing has its proper priority within the infrastructure of the narrative. There’s more going on here than meets the eye with many of the villains not willing to do their own dirty work, such that you can see how it may be described as a mess but it truly does all work towards one end.

And that end is truly one of the more graceful and visual I’ve seen in some time. You realize the film is all but over and there are at least three questions/open ends you’re wondering about that are addressed in a few shots and wordlessly, without any lengthy denouement. It’s a thing of beauty of behold.

Moreover, it’s a musical that’s actually musical, meaning there are a few musical numbers where characters breakout and sing but not once does it seem random and forced. The score is tremendous and very present and when it’s not there it’s replaced by source music, which is usually a new take on a Brazilian standard. It’s another example of the synergy of location. The score is indigenous without feeling forced or trite. Even incorporating Samba beats the score and source music still underscores the action tonally.

I typically leave the 3D commentary for near the end when I do see something in 3D. I did see it as such and my general feeling is that right now animation, specifically animation by the biggest studios (Disney/Pixar, DreamWorks, Fox/Blue Sky) is usually your best bet for getting the most bang for your buck 3D-wise.

The animated feature film has become more of a box office and aesthetic presence than it ever was. It has truly grown in leaps and bounds over the history of cinema as something that was virtually a one-studio specialty to a medium that has become, at long last, a bona fide Oscar category. Having said that the category has been virtually monopolized. It’ll be very hard to justify that this year with Rio entering the fray I think.

As I may have said before, I now treat sitting through the end credits like a standing ovation. Considering the fact that I was so apprehensive about seeing it in the first place, I truly did not expect to watch this film all the way to its literal conclusion. Rio is a tremendously effervescent film that actually manages to capture some of the spirit of the city in a very honest way.

10/10

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Review- African Cats

African Cats (DisneyNature)

Ever since the inception of DisneyNature there has been a social awareness angle to all their nature documentaries due in part to the fact that during these films initial week of theatrical release a portion of the box office has gone support a wildlife conservation fund. This social awareness has in the previous three films crept into the narrative but this film avoids that self-conciousness, which is good. They’ve realized that almost any nature documentary has an environmental aspect now regardless of your conservationist and/or Global Climate Change stance, especially when you release the film on Earth Day.

What’s not as good is that cinematically it doesn’t stack up to prior installments. There are quite a few reasons for this.

It almost goes without saying that the cinematography in this film is great. If you’re making a nature doc and you don’t have at least a few breathtaking shots and a handful of “How’d you get that?” shots you haven’t really done your job. In some cases it could’ve been better in terms of working with the edit and clarifying action and sometimes shots were intimated at by narration that didn’t exist.

The only reason I bring the comparative aspect of it into play is that a) this is the same team that brought Earth to the screen and b) the films in this series regardless of director have shared some similar traits in construction.

One of the larger issues the film faces is balancing the amount of narration to include. It seems as if there was too much included and it makes me wonder is there was more written simply because they knew Samuel L. Jackson was going to be reading it. Many times in the film I mentally omitted extraneous portions of narration. Far too many times for it to not be bothersome.

Aside from the sheer amount of dialogue that was included there were scripting issues such as not naming any of Kali’s, a powerful lion, sons.

Perhaps this decision was made due to the fact that this is a film that was dealing both with cheetahs and lions and there were two rival factions of lions to include. The balancing act between the two, or three really, was quite precarious and the overlap was very minimal. This is unfortunate not only because the cheetah’s tale, which I found to be more interesting, got the short shrift.

This film is at times a moving an intimate portrait of wildlife on the African Savanna that only slightly miscalculated the use of some of its elements. It, while focusing on cats, did manage to include many other species that inhabit the area and convey information about their behavioral and migratory patterns.

African Cats is well worth viewing both for entertainment and altruistic purposes but it just falls short of maximizing its potential.

7/10

Review- Win Win

Paul Giamatti and Alex Schaffer in Win Win (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

When writing a review I am not one who revels in deliberating on flowery prose with which to acknowledge the contributions of actors in a film. This is not to say an actors contributions to a film are insignificant, the prevailing reason for this fact is that as wonderful or irrelevant as a performance is, my opinion usually boils down to the narrative and how well it functions. However, on occasion you’ll find a character-driven piece that is so perfectly cast that it bears mentioning front and center.

That’s the case in Win Win. This film is all about its characters and each of the actors assigned to their respective characters could not be more well-suited, it’s quite literally pitch perfect. Paul Giamatti plays a more humbled and down-to-earth character than he’s usually given to toy with. The vulnerability there allows us to identify with him even when he makes mistakes and we know it at the time. He is flanked by friends who despite very different outward personas hide hurts from which they seek refuge. Each is played brilliantly by Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor respectively.

The mentions of the cast will continue as necessary but I can proceed because what works best in this film is that it never devolves into a self-indulgent character study but allows the plot to flow from the characters.

It takes a sufficient amount of time to develop the characters and then allows the information to progress the story rather than have the plot move ahead and character development is left chasing. A prime example is Alex Shaffer’s character, he first shows up as a complication in Mike’s (Paul Giamatti’s) plan then we learn who he is, he wrestles to have something to do and then we discover he’s good. Director Thomas McCarthy’s gamble to find an actor who was a wrestler first paid off big time, as Shaffer plays the role of a disaffected teenager to a tee and adds more dimension to the role than perhaps was even written.

The dialogue in this film is funny and like everything else is character-driven. Nothing is flippantly tossed out for a laugh but everything grows out of who we learn these people are and how they’ll react to given situations. Jackie, Paul’s wife (Amy Ryan) is a prime example of this. A lot of her dialogue is hysterical but only within the context of who we discover she is and not inherently.

The characters get introduced to in drips and drabs such that we quickly, without being spoonfed, discover what makes them tick. The family dynamic is introduced with a triad of scenes each punctuated in profanity, the depths to which Terry (Bobby Cannavale) is suffering from his divorce is revealed slowly and almost as an aside and even wrestling, which ends up being a major component of the film, doesn’t get thrown into the mix straight away.

The film benefits greatly from having a very tight and neatly structured script that paces itself to perfection. Aside from making sound and effective narrative decisions it is great mechanically. As I was watching it I wondered if Newmarket Press had picked it up for the Shooting Script series (it seems it has not but hopefully it will).

The title of the film reflects itself in the narrative in a subtle way in as you get the resolution you wanted. Yet, it’s the manner in which it’s handled that’s the most satisfying. It’s not a sappy or stereotypical ending. Ultimately, the characters end up with what they want but not how they expected to get and not without sacrificing.

The climactic conflict that needs resolving to get to said point is also very well dealt with. To put it simply it’s wordlessly and cinematically resolved. There are times in life when we know words are futile and an action must either be forgiven or not and life must go on. This is even more true in cinema and few films realize and this one does.

This is a great serio-comic film that resonates with truthfulness and is the rare film I’d categorize as a must see.

10/10

Review- Scream 4

Emma Roberts in Scream 4 (Dimension)

Scream has always been, and will always be, perhaps the most reflexive of all properties. You can call it self-referential, meta or reflexive, whatever you want that’s what it is and it’s not about to change and what’s better is that it’s not about to start apologizing for it. So that much at least is a given and should be expected and now to see how it operates within that milieu is another story entirely. I, for one, believe it does very well there.

The horror genre is living a very interesting time and we all know what ancient Chinese curses say about those. It like many other genres in film are embroiled in a perceived plague of sequels, remakes and what have you. The inherent value or lack thereof of said trend is not in question here it just is a fact. Similarly, the genre may be more recognized and known than it ever has been. Whether loved or reviled almost any horror property now is scrutinized and analyzed to the nth degree. Attendance at conventions just keeps rising. Even if you’re not a certified aficionado you have at least enough familiarity to watch this film and get what they’re driving at, regardless of if you like where it’s going.

That is said to postulate this theory: that the rules of the horror genre and whether or not you know them aren’t enough to breathe life to a new Scream. Another hook is necessary and aside from always offering commentary on the genre, which it perhaps has never done so well as it does in this film, it needs a topical hinge to cling to, as it kind of always has in the past as well. It finds that as well in this installment and that’s what elevates it just above an enjoyable piece of escapist entertainment.

This film escapes many of the trappings that other horror films fall prey to almost by definition. The cast is rock solid top to bottom and they really help pull you into the tale, as much as you can be pulled in by a film that constantly reminds you that you are watching a film, however, that has always been the most ingenious thing about the series is that the audience is perhaps never more aware of the fact that they’re watching a film than when watching a horror film so this franchise addresses that head on each and every time and shifts it out of the equation.

What this also does is de-emphasize the whodunit aspect of the narrative, which is kind of old hat in any and all films, such that you don’t see it as much anymore, but it is a staple of this series as well. Whether or not you crack the identity of the new Ghost Face is rather irrelevant in the end because after the who always comes the why and as I may have intimated above I absolutely love the why. I will not divulge that as it might inadvertently give away the who but a good motive is also very important and this film does have that indeed.

The comedic aspect of this film is also alive in full force. It is always a bit like playing with fire when trying to balance out the amount of comedy that needs to be inserted into a horror film but the balance is struck here at least to an extent. It’s there and balanced with the gory scenes enough such that you’re never jarred by the lack or pervasiveness of it. It’s omnipresence may dissipate some of the tension but not much of the enjoyment.

The only parts wherein the film falls flat is when it does stupid horror movie things. This being two instances where you’re left wondering how someone is not yet dead. It’s all well and good to have characters act stupid in the Stab vignettes so it gives you something to talk about but to fall into a tedious cliché within your actual narrative is a bit bothersome.

All told, however, Scream 4 is a very enjoyable film on a number of levels, take your pick: If you’re squeamish at the sight of blood; it’s got plenty of that and it looks great too (easily overcoming one of my pet peeves), if you like comedy there are some great jokes in there (My favorite being where the likelihood of Courteney Cox’s marriage is called into question) and if you like a little social commentary thrown in with whatever you’re watching it’s got that too.

8/10

Review- Hanna

Saoirse Ronan in Hanna (Focus Features)

It’s really easy to love a film like Hanna. It takes a tale wherein the plot upon final examination is not all that complicated but it is rendered perhaps in the most interesting fashion that can be thought of. While it may not be the most original tale ever told it still bubbles over with freshness and enthusiasm for its subject matter that makes things seem quite new indeed even though they may not be.

It’s a film that also sneakily incorporates foreign languages and many locales within the narrative but due to this being an action film those averse to reading subtitles may be quickly won over and not cringe during these sparsely scattered scenes. The locales also vary but a journey geographically can be a great way to mirror a character’s journey to understanding about themselves and that’s what’s at the crux of the matter here: understanding. Whether it be for the audience or the protagonist we both start with the basics that we need to be allowed to function and move on from there picking up pieces along the way.

New information always clarifies and adds meaning to the tale as well as raising the stakes such that it’s all very expertly done. Yet we as the audience also are taken on a wonderful journey as we not only seek to find Hanna’s place in this international intrigue but also the motives of one Marissa who is seeking to hunt her down.

The film often balances wonderful action sequences and taut dramatic scenes that have an air of mystery about them as well. It paints it characters interestingly but not blatantly. Marissa being an example, her duplicity is underscored by her ever modulating accent. Yet Isaacs is another illustration. In very short order we see him as flamboyant club owner, then informant and then assassin. This kind of building of character alongside the building of the plot is great and rare to find. Add to that a final destination that Hanna must reach and you have yourself a surefire recipe for a great flick.

Hanna features a much-hyped, and discussed score by The Chemical Brothers. Now ultimately I must say I was won over by this score for two reasons: first, director Joe Wright spotted the film beautifully in terms of where he wanted score and where he didn’t. The opening of the film was quite quiet and there was a wonderful intimacy to it all. Then I did like the music itself is very good, worlds better than was Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross just got an Oscar for, it really puts the pedal to the metal when it has to and gives an offbeat vibe to this film. It does, however, for one section get too intrusive. Now in my A.I. paper I discussed intrusiveness of score. All are to some extent but there is a line I feel it crossed in her escape where it combined with the lighting and editing just made it too much of a music video feel.

Keeping these nitpicks in perspective, however, I’d always rather see a films whose negative qualities come from it trying to hard rather than it not trying hard enough. And that’s what this film did on two occasions. The second such was a scene where Hanna has just arrived at a room in Morocco and having been sheltered she is overwhelmed by the modern conveniences and their noise and fury and the sequences is overwrought and over-edited. It makes its point but perhaps too emphatically.

Ultimately, it must be said that this movie may be standing tall by the end of the year and these little nitpicks may knock it down a peg or two but it is still a great work. The acting in this film is tremendous and not simply for the fact that nearly everyone had dialogue in a language that is not their own. Many if not all the characters had moments that are memorable. Not failing to mention, of course, a screenplay which gives all these characters chances to have their moments but still telling a good and tight story.

There are rarely action films that both get your adrenaline pumping but also allow and, in fact, require your brain to remain functioning and not take that time off and this is one of those films. It’s as smart and well-told as it is exciting.

9/10

Review- Soul Surfer

AnnaSophia Robb in Soul Surfer (Tristar Pictures)

Soul Surfer is an interesting film that may not yet have found its audience yet for a number of reasons but if I were a betting man, and there were bets on such things, I might be inclined to back this film as one that would find an audience through video over the years to come. It’s kind of a weird property looking at it from afar: a surfing film, which is also a biopic with a religious element to it being released in April. It’s essentially a summer film that didn’t want get buried amidst blockbusters and is trying to make some waves (yes, I can be punny, sue me) in a rather tranquil time.

None of the above is meant to sound like an indictment of the film. The fact of the matter is I truly enjoyed how multi-faceted I found the film to be. When you try and tackle too much in a film it can turn into a mess but when you can connect on disparate elements and tie them together then you’ve got something really good on your hands.

Looking at it from each perspective let’s see how the film works: firstly, there’s the surfing element under the larger umbrella of sports film. As has been said frequently, the best sports films aren’t really about the game, thus, they can hit home with the largest possible audience. However, it must be said that this movie is a sneaky good sports film. Due to the different things the film is trying to accomplish there isn’t a tremendous amount of time dedicated to the varying facets of a sports film but they get it spot on with the most important one: this film communicates in spades the love of the game and it’s mostly through cinematography, sound editing and a really well-written opening voice over, which stands head-and-shoulders above the voice over opening from the Best Picture nominee The Blind Side.

There’s also a sports rivalry, which as a subplot can either add depth or become an encumbrance on the narrative, it does the former and never gets in the way too much. As does the very chaste and timid love interest, just a little more humanity without over-complicating things. The ultimate example of its excelling in its sport movie mold is that it emphasizes, in the end, the joy of competing over that of victory better than most.

The personal journey works as well to fit the biopic mold. The stasis is well-established and then shattered and a new reality must be dealt with. There is also a very brief and practically perfect amount of time spent in the woe-is-me phase of her story. You also get a refreshingly good self-improvement montage and wonderful, if foreseeable, epiphany.

With regards to the religious aspect of the film it’s there, it’s a motivating factor in her recovery, it’s something Bethany questions and leans on. The film handles this very well not only in keeping it and making it a more true biography but adding some depth to the character and avoiding getting overly preachy and pedantic. Some films it seems can’t deal with any type of spirituality in it without it becoming a spiritual film. It’s an element that folds in very well.

If there’s anything that can be said against the narrative it’s just that there is a certain amount of evenness to it. The three facets while working well together allow you to stay on a rather even keel until the final competition. Yet it’s still a fun film to watch regardless of your investment level.

There is also some very impressive CG work done with the missing limb, it’s the best kind of CG work because it’s functional and doesn’t become the film. The sequence of the accident is also rather stunning and one of a few very well-handled and dramatically-rendered sequences in the film.

Much of the cast in this film does very well and the performances run rather deep down the line. You get three very strong performances just out of the family. AnnaSophia Robb has been mostly unseen since Race to Witch Mountain and before that Bridge to Terabithia but she shows here a rather seamless and graceful transformation to an adult role, and a leading one at that. It’s also wonderful to see Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid not just working but doing great and in a quality project. They each have their own moments to shine here. Ross Thomas and Chris Brochu play the usually jovial, supportive brothers but do have their dramatic moments. Kevin Sorbo also plays a refreshingly low-key and sympathetic character here and Jeremy Sumpter has a small part but plays one big scene wherein he shows flashes of greatness and how he is one of the most under-utilized young actors in films today.

Soul Surfer is a very enjoyable film that you should try to see on the big screen before it’s theatrical run ends.

8/10

Review- Hop

Hop (Universal)

Hop is a funny and entertaining enough film that tries to assert itself as the go-to movie for the Easter holiday and for lack of any real competition, at least for the moment, it just may get to be that. In the end though I wish that considering the likelihood they’d take that mantle by default they tried a little harder to create more of their own inventions. Many of the affectations of the story are merely transposed from Christmas traditions and modified to fit Easter motifs. There certainly were other twists like chicks working in the factory and being underlings such that an egg sleigh with chicks flying it rings kind of hollow.

While it is an enjoyable journey and the ending is ultimately satisfying there’s also a bit of a cop out on the frame. If you think about it the film has to have the resolution it does but it just begs the question why create the frame in the first place? Why not just save that information and have it come as a surprise? It’s a case where simpler would work better.

What does work in this film is firstly the overall plot conceived by Carlos (Hank Azaria) a chick in the factory to try and usurp power. It works both dramatically and comedically thanks to Hank Azaria who is one of the best voice over actors currently working, due in large part to the fact that you don’t automatically know it’s Azaria voicing a role when you hear it.

Truth be told the same must be said for Russell Brand’s portrayal of E.B. I’d seen the preview probably a trabillion times and hadn’t figured out it was him. Thankfully, Brand allows the situations to create the comedy and just plays the character and is rather straight about it much of the time as well so it ends up being a choice that works.

In terms of the live action performances James Marsden turns in good portrayal of an unfortunately named character (Fred O’Hare). This name made even more frustrating by the fact that some of the family scenes were the better jokes and ideas are in the film. Many of these scenes were stolen by Gary Cole, who is hilarious as always.

What really stands out in the film is the animation work, more so on E.B than on the Pink Berets but particularly the combination of it and live action elements which there hasn’t really been too much of. It’s not necessarily a quantum leap in the subgenre but it’s definitely a most pleasant progression.

Hop is an enjoyable and passable way to kill some time even for an adult like me, which is not that much different than a kid, though kids may like it quite a bit more than I did.

6/10

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Sociopolitical Overview (Part 2 of 17)

Photo Credit: Peter Turnley/Corbis, The epitome of hope in the 80s: The fall of the Berlin Wall

When we think of the 90s sociopolitically you can almost draw a parallel to the kind of films that were produced. With Clinton in office the stock market more than doubled it was prosperity galore and yet there was a generation (Generation X followed by Y, how original) that could care less. There were hardly any films that reflected the times we were in because that would be bourgeois, no one really cared they had money in their pocket. Yet there was also nothing to escape unless you count the laughable Lewinsky affair, so film stagnated aside from the occasional blip here and there.

While the 80s were not like the 60s in that there was an issue constantly looming over everyone like the Vietnam War. There were several crucial events in America’s history. Films are the products of our society and the people writing those films for the most part came of age in the 60s and thus, had a higher social consciousness than those who grew up in the culturally devoid 70s.

Being children of the 60s coupled with the fact that escapist family-oriented cinema was in demand for a great part of the decade lead to many of these films having a lot of pie-in-the-sky idealism in them.
The 80s socially and politically were a mess. There was always something. New York was a crime-ridden dirty hole, which is reflected in Ghostbusters, and to some extent Trading Places. At the beginning of the decade there was the hostage crisis and the decade ended with the beginning of the communist collapse. While there were many crises and negative events there was a national sentiment in the nation and a presentiment that gave people a feeling that we could change things, amid all the excesses of the ‘me generation’ there was Hands Across America, Farm Aid and Artists for Africa which were movements by musicians that we could change the world and films like Amazing Grace and Chuck reflect that sentiment.

It was undoubtedly a turbulent time but there was a wind of change in the air. Reagan’s short-sightedness in his term is paralleled by the studio heads. Reagan wanted to give the taxpayers a break immediately and it hurt in the long run while the studios wanted money immediately and slowly the quality of films they were producing would dwindle. Thankfully, the quality did keep coming out until the end of the decade. The political conditions were all aligned for good, even great films to be made. Great films never come out in abundance when the nation is affluent. Pre-packaged hit-me films do, the 80s were a great time to grow up in because you probably weren’t aware of all that was going on around you. Yet I do recall seeing the possibility for change and seeing that something good can occur in this world and I saw it plastered across a large silver screen every weekend.

Note: This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school. It will be published here in installments. This is part two you can read part one here.

BAM Award Winners: Best Soundtrack

Below you will see listed the winners in this category which was awarded from 2004 through 2008. This is the only discontinued award thus far. Part of why it was discontinued is that there was, and likely would continue to be, redundancy between this and Best (Original) Song. Again there is a skill to picking the right pre-recorded song and placing it in a film but is it one that should be included in award list? I’m not sure. If you have an opinion on it one way or another I have included a poll below. If there is groundswell for its inclusion its not too late this year for me to backtrack and create a considerations list for it.

Regardless of what I now think its validity is now the fact of the matter is the category was once a part of my awards and I am looking to record all winners at the very least. So just because I now find the category dubious does not mean these films deserve their recognition any less.

Without further delay he winners of Best Soundtrack…

2018 A Simple Favor 

2017 Baby Driver

2016 Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

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2009-2015 Award was not included

2008 La Vie en Rose (La Môme)

2007 Hairspray

2006 High School Musical

High School Musical (2006, Disney)

2005 The Chorus (Les Choristes)

2004 Kill Bill: Vol. I

Kill Bill (The Weinstein Company)

Review- Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan in Source Code (Summit Entertainment)

It’s not the easiest thing in the world to assess my feelings about Source Code and most of the reason why is that a lot of those feelings lie most definitely in an ambivalent place. There is surely plenty to like about it and some things to dislike and they are usually on very different ends of the spectrum such that the overall opinion lies somewhere in the middle with the elements of disparate quality pulling at you trying to make you lean one way or another. The bottom line is that this is a good film but there are a few concerns that keep it from getting any better than it is.

What deserves to be complimented first and foremost is the cast of the film. In particular the three main players: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga. The first of which is the most pleasant surprise of the film. Gyllenhaal, in my estimation, had been a member of a group of young leads around his age who in mind were/are infinitely vanilla. Not great, and not terrible but also not bringing anything to the table. There aren’t too many dynamic young actors that bring something new to the table every time out but here he breaks free from those shackles and really shows a lot, which is made even more impressive based on observations I will make later.

Michelle Monaghan, who I had previously became familiar with through, and honored her for, Trucker, is absolutely perfect in this part. When an actress is given the confine of having to play a character that you could fall in love with over and over again and you only have eight minutes in which to do it in, that’s a formidable task and she accomplishes it easily.

Last but not least is Vera Farmiga, who manages to pull out a very good performance despite the fact that her scenes and dialogue are often redundant, which speaks a little to the screenwriting issues found herein. She all too frequently has to battle Colter (Gyllenhaal) and tell him his questions are irrelevant. She needs to have a very thin facade which breaks down over several conversations, in certain regards she has a bigger hill to climb than Monaghan. However, she’s not even afforded the same flexibility of scenario that Monaghan gets.

One of the other major issues of the film is the handling of the Sci-Fi element itself. Science Fiction seems to break off into two distinct groups there is an assumptive brand wherein futuristic or improbable things are occurring naturally and unquestioned, like in Inception for example where the dream-sharing and serums are given or the didactic wherein in a simulacrum of the world we inhabit in the present day is shown to us and a curtain is pulled back to reveal a secret that is explained to the audience. This film chooses the latter path, which in my mind requires a bit more explanation.

This film waits to grant us answers, which is fine because it allows us to identify easily with the protagonist but when we learn about the Source Code program, what it is and how it functions there are still questions that come to mind.

The idea is original and intriguing but it leaves you wanting for a bit too much which in this case is a double-edged sword. Similarly there’s the Maguffin. Now, it’s not necessary that you know its a Maguffin going in, however, I got a little ahead of this film in this regard. Once you realize finding the bomber is not the point of the story it takes too long for the narrative to catch up and after so many episodes it becomes a slightly tiresome exercise. It’s as if the film gets foisted by its own petard because the sequences are too frequent and short to keep the suspense of the whodunit alive.

A good Maguffin is one that is enthralling though perhaps never resolved. The best example is in Psycho. I care about Marion Crane’s early decisions: Stay or go? Take the money or not? I’m also rapt by her trying to elude the authorities. In the end it doesn’t really matter but it’s riveting. Here it gets tired and you’re left waiting for the bigger story to take over.

This is all said to illustrate that this is a good film that could’ve been made much better. With how the film ends, in terms of narrative not handling, it is most definitely a good film. It is just one that mishandled a few key elements that would’ve made it great.

I do have an appreciation of what was accomplished and intended I just wish it could’ve been greater and that was within reach.

7/10