SXSW 2011: Source Code

Duncan Jones was probably bombarded with a number of offers to direct a big studio movie following the release and cult success of his directorial debut, “Moon,” but there’s something about his decision to choose “Source Code” as his follow-up that tells you a lot about the kind of filmmaker he hopes to become. To some extent a companion piece to “Moon” in that they’re both morality tales about technology, Jones has succeeded in taking yet another high-concept premise and spinning it into a captivating thriller that’s both incredibly simple in execution and yet brain-teasingly complex the more you pick it apart. A thinking man’s sci-fi film with real mainstream appeal.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Cpt. Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot stationed in Afghanistan who wakes up suddenly to discover he’s riding on a commuter train headed to Chicago. The twist? He’s in the body of a man named Sean Fentress, and before he can figure out what’s going on, the train explodes. But Stevens isn’t actually dead, and when he awakens in a strange capsule seconds later, he’s greeted by a woman named Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), who informs him that he’s part of a military experiment that’s trying to stop a terrorist attack in Chicago. Using a computer program called the Source Code, they can send Stevens’ consciousness into the body of Fentress for the last eight minutes of his life, granting him a unique opportunity to examine the scene of the crime before it even happens, in the hope that he can identify the bomber and prevent a second attack on the city. But as Stevens gets closer to tracking down the culprit with each new pass, he sets his mind on saving his fellow commuters (including Michelle Monaghan), despite the fact that the creator of the Source Code (Jeffrey Wright) tells him it isn’t possible.

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That might sound like an awful lot of information to process, but “Source Code” isn’t nearly as confusing as it lets on. With the exception of one exposition-heavy scene at the beginning of the film that tells you just about everything you need to know, the rest of the movie is split between Stevens’ investigation of the train’s passengers via a time loop that always ends with him dying, and communicating with the people running the mission. Of course, there are several twists and turns along the way, but Jones doesn’t hide his hand particularly well. Two of the film’s biggest revelations are not only predictable, but pretty obvious if you just pay attention, and though it would have ruined a lesser movie, “Source Code” is still engaging even when you know how it will end.

You wouldn’t think that a film about a guy experiencing the same eight minutes over and over again would be very interesting (even “Groundhog Day” took place over the course of a day), but Jones manages to prevent the loop from feeling monotonous by making every trip into the Source Code unique. He also relies greatly on star Jake Gyllenhaal to keep the audience invested, and it’s one of the actor’s best performances to date, providing the character with an Everyman quality that allows him to be serious without being humorless. The rest of the actors are just pawns in the story, but Vera Farmiga does add some depth to the thankless role of Stevens’ sympathetic handler. Not that the movie requires especially strong performances to work, because the real star is Jones himself, who proves here that he’s more than just a one-hit wonder. Your reaction to the movie will ultimately vary based on how you feel about its ending, but for fans of the sci-fi genre and time travel in particular, “Source Code” doesn’t disappoint.

  

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“Please, can’t I at least save the hot one?”

In what looks like another engaging science fiction drama from Duncan Jones (“Moon“), Jake Gyllenhaal is forced to relive the same unfortunate eight minutes, via computer-assisted time-travel, in search of a railway bomber in “Source Code.” For some reason, he seems to want to save Michelle Monaghan from her already past death. The rest of the passengers on the train aren’t weighing on his mind as much. Jeffrey Wright and Vera Farmiga costar.

Thanks to noted writer, cartoonist, and filmmaker Peet Gelderblom for this one.

  

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Mubarak ho, Mr. “Robot”-o

Though there’s been some bombshell television news today, it’s been a blissfully slow news 48 hours regarding the movie world. True, Mike Fleming had a couple of scoops yesterday. His short list of possible “Superman” directors is fun — I’ll take Duncan Jones please, though Matt Reeves would be okay, too.  Also, though I remain impressed by her work, having just seen another terrific performance by Chloe Moretz at a screening last night of “Let Me In,” the fact that she’s got another nice gig as “Emily the Strange” is interesting but not exactly earth shattering. So, I’ll forgo the end-of-week movie news dump.

Instead, we’ll spotlight what have to be the trailers of the day, if not the week. According to Anne Thompson, it apparently started from a tweet by the very busy former “Lost” showrunner Damon Lindelof, who’s heading to India and will be checking out what has to be one of the most lavish Bollywood films ever in terms of effects. It’s a superheroic science fiction tale involving, well, a robot, a giant snake thing, an enormous number of guns, and, of course, big time musical numbers! Here’s the short trailer and some brief TV spots Thompson ran.

Also, just about the time Thompson put up her post, I was alerted by friend-of-the-blog-and-blogger Randy R. to a another, slightly more musical comedy oriented trailer that was running on the site of Ms. Thompson’s comics counterpart, Heidi MacDonald.

Gotta love Bollywood: something for everyone.

Just for the record, “Robot” is directed by Shankar (though it’s such a common name I’m not 100% sure if this is the same Shankar who crafted the hugely popular  “3 Idiots,” though it seems like a reasonable bet) and stars Aishwarya Rai and Rajnikanth who I gather is known as simply Rajni and is a superstar. The music is by A.R. Rahman who is easily the best known composer of Bollywood music here in the West for his terrific work on “Lagaan” and also as the double-Oscar winning composer of the music for “Slumdog Millionaire.”

  

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No fooling, it’s Thor’s-day at the movies

I don’t usually do these kind of posts on Thursdays, and it’s April Fools’ Day. However, there’s simply too much apparently non-joking, actual movie news to leave for Friday. So, here we go.

* Of course, in Hollywood, it’s not always easy to spot the April Fool’s story from the real thing. That’s why IESB frontloads their big possible, eventual scoop today with all sorts of promises that they’re not joking. Anyhow, it appears that #1 cult creator Joss Whedon, most recently of “Dollhouse” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” fame, is supposedly on the short list to direct “The Avengers,” currently being penned by Zak Penn.

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If you’re skeptical about this, you’re far from alone. Just check out the slightly quizzical reaction from Whedon’s robotic and slavishly devoted cult — of which I am a known member — over at Whedonesque. (I’ve even forgiven Whedon for listening too much to Rahm Emmanuel and selling out to big pharma and not fighting hard enough to keep the public option in the health care bill….Oh, wait, wrong blog.) Still, Whedon’s known for staying in touch with his fans. I strongly suspect that, if the story were completely unfounded, he’d have posted something about it by now.

One creative point. Some fans seem skeptical that a collaboration between Penn and Whedon could work. Well, of course, Whedon has actually done any number of rewrites and polishes on other people’s scripts — a lot of folks give him credit for most of the wittier portions of “Speed” — and though Penn has been involved with some pretty conventionally dull flicks in his day, he’s not completely lacking imagination and humor. His little seen 2004 comedy-thriller mock-documentary, “Incident at Loch Ness,” has some remarkably hilarious moments,  most of them courtesy of Werner Herzog, playing himself and also taking a cowriting credit. If Penn’s good enough for Herr Herzog, he’s perhaps good enough for Joss Whedon.

* Speaking of “The Avengers,” the movie about the only actual deity in the group, “Thor,” is currently in production and director Kenneth Branagh talked about the film and his affection for the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby/et al comic books in today’s L.A. Times. This was not some random publicity glad-handing but a deliberate effort to squelch some unpleasant — and, to my ear, unlikely — rumors being reported in the tabloid press which allege open on-set criticism/anger directed at newcomer-lead Chris Hemsworth from venerable master thespian Anthony Hopkins, presumably relating to the 26 year-old star’s relative lack of experience, at least compared to Hopkins.  Hopkins, who’ll be playing Thor’s even more venerable dad, Odin, and Branagh have strongly denied the rumors and painted a picture of a happy set.

I was fairly impressed with Hemsworth’s work in the opening of “Star Trek,” so I tend to lean towards the official story here. He’s also a veteran of an Aussie soap, “Home and Away,” and history teaches us that soap vets tend to become pretty good actors when actually allowed time to learn their lines properly and develop characters. I don’t know much about Hopkins on a personal level except that he’s gotten this far in his career without these kind of incidents being an issue that I can think of. I suspect it would take a titanic lack of talent/ability to visibly annoy him at this point.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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Another awards non-shocker: “The Hurt Locker” takes BAFTAs

Jeremy Renner in Really, the headline here tells the tale about last night’s awards from the English equivalent of our Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “The Hurt Locker” won six awards from the Orange British Academy Film Awards (which makes me wonder what other colours British film awards are available in). As described by Indiewire’s Peter Knegt — who also kindly provides a complete list of the awards — they include Best Picture, a directing award for Kathryn Bigelow, as well as for Mark Boal’s screenplay, editing, photography, and sound —  the better part of the whole behind-the-camera British enchilada. And, no, I don’t think that sounds very appetizing, either. Not quite all of it, though. For example, “The Young Victoria” got the awards that usually go to period dramas, costumes and make-up.

Perhaps almost as predictably, the main acting awards, however, did go to more local talent. Specifically Colin Firth won for his performance as a man in mourning in “A Single Man” and Carey Mulligan for her teen learning some hard, yet kind of fun, life lessons in “An Education.” Still, the BAFTAs bowed to standard practice by giving the supporting actor awards to Mo’Nique of “Precious” and Christoph Waltz of “Inglourious Basterds,” yet again. (Also truish-to-form, Mo’Nique wasn’t there.)

Best British film went to the highly praised “Fish Tank,” which happens to feature “Basterd” secret weapon Michael Fassbender opposite Kierston Wareing and newcomer Katie Jarvis. As for the lastest from the onetime Mr. Kathryn Bigelow, “Avatar,” it met the once traditional fate of well-regarded science fiction movies at the Oscars, and only got a Best Visual Effects and Production Design awards but, of course, is only making a double gazillion dollars. Aaah. Geeks may be take some solace, however, in learning that “Outstanding Debut By A British Writer, Director Or Producer” went to Duncan Jones for his intriguing feature debut, “Moon,” a small-scale space tale like they used to make.

Sam Rockwell in

  

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