SOURCE CODE. As in his debut, Moon, *Source Code* finds director Duncan Jones (aka Zowie Bowie, son of rock star David Bowie) working within a sort of deconstructed genre framework, then allowing his protagonist to become the prime mover, thereby humanizing what could easily become a boilerplate popcorn movie.
In this case, US Army Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a Chicago commuter train with no idea how he got there. He doesn't recognize anyone around him, including the beautiful woman sitting across from him (Michelle Monaghan) with whom he had apparently been in conversation. In fact, he doesn't even recognize himself. Just as he establishes all of this, the train blows up and kills everybody on board.
Stevens then wakes up in his flight suit, strapped to a pilot's seat in some sort of weird cockpit, completely disoriented. Gradually, with the aid of Air Force Capt. Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) who speaks to him via a TV screen from an unknown remote location, he regains his bearings and comes to understand that he is part of a highly advanced military operation that enables him, or at least his consciousness, to be inserted into the body of someone recently deceased for the last eight minutes of that person's life. His assignment is to re-enter the train and find the bomber so he can be stopped before completing his next terrorist gambit. Then it starts to get complicated.
Enough synopsis; the movie reveals its story arcs much more concisely than I could hope to. Rather than using over-sized effects or protracted expository dialogue to expand the movie's themes, Jones keeps it pretty simple. There are elements of science fiction and action thrillers at play, but because the director takes an old-fashioned approach, the movie manages to transcend genre tags while also hitting those vital beats that make genre pictures fun and flexible -- even capable of true originality if handled delicately enough.
And Source Code succeeds well beyond my expectations on that front. It is taut and clever and suspenseful, but also a surprisingly effective exploration of human isolation and the importance of community and family, with some well-placed digs at the dehumanizing effects of the military-industrial complex to boot. 94m. Rated PG-13 for some violence including disturbing images, and for language. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.
INSIDIOUS. This was by far the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the movie weekend; it's been a long time since I was creeped out by a movie this way. Without lowering itself to gross-out horror or cheap tricks, Insidious put me on edge from the first frames and kept me there.
The Lambert family has just moved into a handsome old house in the suburbs. Dad Josh (Patrick Wilson) is a high school teacher, while mom Renai (Rose Byrne) stays home to work on her music and raise the three kids. One day their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) suffers a fall in the attic and fails to wake up the next morning. He lies in a coma-like state for months, during which strange, frightening occurrences become commonplace in the Lambert home. They eventually move, but it turns out the house wasn't the problem after all...
It would be a disservice to the movie to give away the second half. I will say that the story goes in some refreshingly original directions, neatly side-stepping the familiar territory of demonic possession and exorcism. The performances are solid and understated across the board, and Wilson and Byrne are especially effective as a couple facing the staggering burden of a child who they are desperate but unable to help.
Director James Wan deserves commendation for the light touch and disciplined, deliberate pace he maintains throughout the movie. He gives us scares often enough to keep us guessing, and refuses to rush to the pay-off he knows he has in store. A really fun, smart little horror picture that gets it right without trying too hard. 98m. Rated PG-13 for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
HOP. At some distant other point along the continuum of genre movies is this sad reimagining of the Easter Bunny myth.
E.B. (voiced by Russell Brand) is the heir to his father's Easter Bunny throne, but all he really wants is to be a rock drummer. So he uses the mystical travel tube on their Easter Island (wink!) compound to bounce to Hollywood, where he falls in with a 30-year-old deadbeat named Fred O'Hare (James Marsden). They meet David Hasselhoff and screw up a job interview and get chased by dogs. Eventually the movie ends.
Brand's voicing of E.B. is actually pretty winsome, but the script and performances are so shallow and lifeless that whatever charm he brings to the affair doesn't have a chance at resonating. Most of the supporting characters are distinctly unlikable, and the O'Hare family seems strangely meanspirited, like a bunch of pill addicts or something.
Meanwhile, there's a coup in the works at the Easter Bunny workshop, engineered by the power-hungry lead chick Carlos, who the usually great Hank Azaria plays (voices) as a borderline offensive Latino stereotype whose machinations and murder-attempts go essentially unpunished. Tragically, the audience for this abomination was much larger than for Source Code or Insidious, both of which are recommended without reservations. 90m. Rated PG for some mild rude humor. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.
~ John J. Bennett
ARTHUR. Remake of the 1981 Dudley Moore comedy stars Russell Brand (see Hop above) in the title role. Arthur is a spoiled, drunken man-child dependant on his nanny (Helen Mirren). He's heir to a large fortune if he marries heiress Susan (Jennifer Garner), but he prefers inspiring tour guide Naomi (Greta Gerwig), and must choose between love and money. 110m. Rated PG-13 for alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language and some drug references. Opening at the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.
YOUR HIGHNESS. Randy costumed fantasy/comedy from director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) with Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down) and James Franco (127 Hours) as princes Thadeous and Fabious on a quest to save a princess (Zooey Deschanel) from an evil wizard (Justin Theroux) with help from kick-ass warrior Princess Isabel (Oscar-winner Natalie Portman). 102m. Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity, violence and some drug use. Opening at the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and the Fortuna.
HANNA. Joe Wright (Atonement, The Soloist) directed this Bourne-esque thriller starring Saoirse Ronan as teenager Hanna, raised in a Finnish forest by her ex-black ops dad (Eric Bana) who trained her to be an assassin. Pursued through Europe by a relentless intelligence operative (Cate Blanchett), she must struggle with teen angst issues like, who am I? 111m. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language. Opening at the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and the Fortuna.
SOUL SURFER. True story of young surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack, then persevered to become a pro surfer. AnnaSophia Robb stars as Bethany; Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt play her parents. 105 m. Rated PG for intense accident sequence and some thematic material. Opening at the Broadway.
The Morris Graves Museum's First Thursday Film is WELCOME TO SHELBYVILLE, a PBS Independent Lens doc about a small Tennessee town dealing with demographic change as the economy fails and a new president is elected.
Tuesday at the Eureka branch of the HumCo Library, Wynston Jones introduces HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, the John Ford classic about working class life in Wales, as part of the April Based on the Book film series. (See the Calendar for more on the film and the series.)
Also on Tuesday, at the Arcata Playhouse, it's a benefit screening of BLOOD OF THE AMAZON, a documentary about a doctor working with indigenous Ecuadorians using mushrooms to break down petroleum from the largest land-based oil spill in the world. Proceeds go to the Amazon Mycorenewal Project.
It's Take Back the Night week at HSU next week, a collection of events that includes a couple of films: Monday in Founders Hall 111 (5 p.m.) they screen THE MEN'S STORY PROJECT, about a Bay Area storytelling circle with a mission to "support healthy masculinities and gender equality and to help eliminate gender-based violence, homophobia and other oppressions intertwined with masculinities." Wednesday, April 13, 7 p.m. again in FH 111, it's BOYS DON'T CRY with Hilary Swank in the sad story of transgendered teen Brandon Teena, followed by a discussion about sexualized violence within and perpetrated against the queer community.
On a lighter note, on Sunday the Arcata Theatre Lounge is showing THE MUPPET MOVIE, the first big screen musical adventures of Jim Henson's Muppets: Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and all the rest.
~ Bob Doran
BATTLE: LOS ANGELES. The aliens would have invaded here, but the weather in SoCal is too nice to pass up. Rated PG-13. 116m. At the Broadway.
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: RODERICK RULES. Mom and dad force the wimpy kid to bond with his brother and chief tormentor Roderick. Parents just don't understand. Rated PG. 100m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
LIMITLESS. If you take revolutionary pharmaceuticals to combat your writer's block, beware the consquences. Rated PG-13. 106m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
THE LINCOLN LAWYER. Matthew McConaughey plays a lawyer. He drives a Lincoln. There you go. Rated 119m. At the Broadway.
PAUL. Two sci-fi geeks meet a smart-ass alien. Together they hilariously alter the universe forever. Rated R. 116m. At the Broadway.
RANGO. What chameleon doesn’t dream of becoming a swashbuckling hero? Rated PG. 107m. At the Broadway and Garberville.
SUCKER PUNCH. Travel into a young girl's vivid imagination. How good is this movie? Drop the "er Punch." Rated PG-13. 120m. At the Broadway.