Friday, 8 April 2011

Source Code

Captain Colter Stevens finds himself assuming the identity of a school teacher on a train journey which is 8 minutes away from being blown up by a terrorist. As it turns out, Stevens is part of the Source Code, a military project which sends recruits into the last 8 minutes of a deceased persons life for a specific mission. His mission? To find the bomb on the train and to find the bomber, somewhere onboard the train, in order to prevent a further attack on downtown Chicago? Can Colter Stevens uncover the bomber, or will he be distracted by a potential love interest or his own back story?

Duncan Jones aka Zowie Bowie, son of David Bowie, declared himself in a grand stage by giving us Moon 2 years ago, an intriguing sci-fi thriller, which said that science fiction had a future beyond alien invasion films. Unfortunately, the teaser trailer and the poster seemed to peg this latest offering as nothing more than the latest 'Inception meets...' film, containing dream levels and some kind of sub-reality level which will pigeon hole it as merely another rushed out Inception capitalising film. So has Source Code surpassed its assumptions and created its own audience? Well, considering this came out the same week as Sucker Punch (Inception meets Music Videos), this film clearly makes a name for itself by separating itself from the crowd by being delightfully unique and really solidifies the reputation of its emerging director.

Don't get me wrong, on a basic level, Source Code is Inception meets Groundhog Day, as Colter Stevens is repeatedly sent back inside the Source Code to relive the same 8 minutes over and over again but with different consequences each time as a result of the 'independent factor' with Stevens being able to break continuity and do whatever he wants/needs to do in the 8 minutes. However, it surpasses that typecasting by becoming a genuinely intriguing mystery/thriller with an added love story. After Sucker Punch, I'm so glad to say there's another film that's gotten the 'dream levels' thing right and has done it well enough to separate itself from Inception and really make a name for itself, even though no-one will see this, choosing in favour to see the film with girls running around in kinky uniforms. For shame, UK viewing audience, for shame...

What makes this film great is the mystery, or rather mysteries, that run through it without confusing the audience: Who is the bomber? What is the Source Code? Where did Colter Stevens come from? Can Stevens change the present/future? It actually keeps you guessing and intrigued throughout its brief 90 minute run time. I mean, this could have run longer and played out its various mysteries a bit longer, but it completely fits into this 90 minute slot, it doesn't drag at all and it comes out better for it. It remains a compelling hour and a half of blink-and-you'll-miss-it action which you can't afford to take your eyes off of in fear of missing some sort of key or hint towards solving one of the films various questions it asks of its audience.

Jake Gyllenhaal is expected to carry the film, and does so extremely well, switching from confusion inside the Source Code to... Well, confusion outside the Source Code in the real world as well, but he does well and, after Love and Other Drugs and Prince of Persia, this serves as a welcome return to form. As far as the female leads go, Michelle Monaghan does well as the love interest in the severely restricted role she's given, but it's Vera Farmiga (of Up in the Air fame) who really makes the most of the absolutely rigidly ruled role she's given by giving a mere bit-part real character and emotion. Go, Vera!

Overall, I'd highly recommend this, definitely above Sucker Punch and a lot of the films currently on offer at the UK box office. It's pretty inventive given the presumptively-repetitive storyline, and gets the most out of it that it can without becoming slow and boring. Expect this to be Duncan Jones's last semi-independent sci-fi flick, he's bound to be snapped up by a Hollywood studio to lead some sort of major franchise after this, so make the most of the mind-bending narrative he offers up here, because my God it's worth the effort you'll be forced to invest in this.

Rating: ****

Friday, 1 April 2011

Sucker Punch

Baby Doll is a young girl wrongly sent to a mental asylum by her abusive stepfather and scheduled for a lobotomy in 5 days time to stop her revealing the truth about her stepfather. As she awaits her fate, she escapes into a dream world where she dreams she’s a dancer trapped in a mob-run brothel and meets Amber, Blondie, Rocket and her older sister Sweet Pea. Together, they plan to escape both the imagined brothel and the real asylum by gathering a map, fire, a knife, a key a fifth item to be revealed...

Zack Snyder has definitely developed a look: Highly stylised, comic book inspired visuals with plenty of sweeping camera movements and slow motion shots. So far it’s worked well for him; his remake of Dawn of the Dead and his two graphic novel adaptations (300 and Watchmen) went down well with critics and audiences (even his animated owl movie went down OK last year), and now we have Sucker Punch which represents Snyder’s first film based on an original story. So can Zach Snyder, Superman’s director-to-be, write a film as good as he can film it? Based on this evidence, he should probably stick to letting other people come up with the story.

Sucker Punch look stunning, visually it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Snyder film. Story wise though, it’s terrible, it really is. It saddens me to say it too, because it has all the elements of a great story: Inception-like dream levels and complexity, a group of hotties kicking ass and taking names, Alice in Wonderland-like fantasies, a group of hotties, 300-meets-Watchmen-like fight scenes... Did I mention the hotties? It takes all of those elements and combined them to create something which is absolutely sinfully boring. It’s shocking that something so full of action and gorgeous women struggles to keep a viewer interested but unfortunately it really struggles, and the only way it manages to keep attention focused on itself is by being loud. Very loud.

I imagine that after Inception went down so damn well last summer, major studios started pushing forward any film with dream layers in it. In Sucker Punch, we’re treated to three levels: You have your real world where Baby Doll is trapped in the asylum, the first dream layer where Baby Doll hatches the escape plan with her cohorts, and when the girls are trying to acquire one of the items needed to escape, we enter the second dream layer (the dream within a dream) where the girls acquire the items through a variety of different scenarios. This is where the fantastical becomes the maniacal. Steam powered Nazis! Robots! Dragons! They’re all here, and make absolutely no sense being in the movie. They’re nice sequences, and the fighting is all well choreographed and looks good, but it’s going to lose a large percentage of the viewing audience. Plus, because they enter this dream level to retrieve an item, it makes these segments seem like computer game levels embedded within the film, mini-quests on a variety of different maps with different bad guys. It worked in Scott Pilgrim because it was funny and appropriate, it doesn’t in this

As far as the acting goes, no-one’s particularly great, they all do their jobs with the fighting and the action and the looking sexy. They aren’t helped by some decidedly dodgy dialogue. Emily Browning (Baby Doll) carries the film well enough with plenty of loving/pervy looks at her face and other parts and only Abby Cornish kind of half stands out as the older sister who’s against the escape plan then comes on board, really clich├ęd stuff here. There’s also a really quite random cameo in this. I won’t ruin it, because as far as I know, his name hasn’t/doesn’t crop up in any of the adverts or promo material, but I’ll say it was lovely to see him even in a minor role, but then sad to see his small part underwritten. He has 2, maybe 3 lines and they’re still corny. Sad.

Overall, Snyder has created a 14 year old boy’s wet dream: Scantily clad women, gun fights, sword fights, steam powered Nazis, dragons, robots, bombs, everything a teenage boy would need to happily satisfy him and keep him locked in his bedroom for weeks. The soundtrack combined with the flashy visuals makes this seem like a 100 minute music video, and thus it holds no real substance: Definitely a choice of style over substance. As far as reports that Snyder may be taken off the Superman franchise because of this, they’re rubbish: Sucker Punch isn’t truly terrible, and he isn’t writing Superman, he’ll make it look flashy with Nolan taking care of the words and the story. I was so looking forward to this, and it saddens me to say this film truly lived up to its name: This movie was a real Sucker Punch.

Rating: **