Sunday, April 10, 2011

Two Recent Movies: Source Code and Paul

Source Code is director Duncan Jones’ folow-up to 2009’s acclaimed Moon, unseen by me.  He acquits himself well here, though not spectacularly, directing a script he did not write where the flaws are mostly in the script.  The film is a clever, fairly satisfying little thriller, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a soldier in a special program tasked with uncovering the terrorist responsible for bombing a commuter train in Chicago.  The plot is full of twists and turns the whole way through, with information meted out miserly to keep up suspense, so any further plot details are spoilers.  Everything is appropriately taut and engaging the whole way through, but I had a few problems with the ending.
[SPOILERS] The politically correct nature of the villain is to be expected at this point, I suppose, though that really only makes it more predictable because we know it could never be a Muslim or vaguely Middle Eastern-looking person.  What’s a little more galling is the cracks at the military-industrial complex, for they are also boring, as well as being clumsy and dumb.  Jeffrey Wright’s character is a genius and a hero, considering what he has created and helped prevent, so the film’s insistence on demonizing him is puzzling and smacks of ideology triumphing over narrative logic.  These are minor gripes, though.  What’s more off-putting is the nature of the film’s denouement.  After a satisfying climax where the killer is found and Gyllenhaal has completed his mission and found peace in death, the film insists on giving him a happy ending in love with Michelle Monghan.  But if this is real, as the film clearly states, an actual reality in another dimension, then what happened to the man whose body Gyllenhaal was inhabiting?  Did he just die?  Have his existence snuffed out by Gyllenhaal, who has the right to do that because he’s the main character?  Because that’s pretty disquieting and odd.  Plus, it suggests that Monaghan will eventually realize that Gyllenhaal is not who she thinks he is, as he has no experience teaching social studies and is now an entirely different person.  And is he just going to remain in this new body for the rest of his life?  And if Wright’s invention really does create different dimensions, doesn’t that change everything?  Like, not just every other iteration that we’ve already seen, but also the whole future?  That just seems like a weird plot thread to leave hanging--not really an intriguing implication, more a fig leaf thrown out to try and cover up plot holes.

I did like all the footage of Chicago, though, where I’ve spent a lot of time.  And the Metra commuter trains, while renamed were easily recognizable, which I found rather exciting, considering how many times I’ve ridden trains like that into the city.  I’ve never seen a Dunkin Donuts on one of those trains, though.  Maybe I just wasn’t riding the right ones, but that suggests a lot more room in the cars than there really is.
Rating: 6/10 stars.  I was going to go with 7, but then I looked at my review and realized how flawed it really was.  It was fun though.
Paul is another collaboration between comic actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who have previously appeared together in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both directed by Edgar Wright.  This film, co-written by the duo, is unfortunately not directed by Wright but by Greg Mottola, previously of Superbad and Adventureland.  That is only one of the film’s problems, but it is perhaps a central one.  Wright could have made this film a good deal more exciting and entertaining than it is, simply by his editing, if nothing else.  Other problems include the casting of Seth Rogen as the titular Paul, a diminutive green alien who speaks perfect English and likes to party.  Rogen makes the character somewhat funny, but never really interesting, and he mugs so much that when he tries to show the character’s softer side--of which there is a surprising amount--he usually botches it, and we don’t care emotionally for anyone at all.
Also problematic is the movie’s surprisingly virulent attack on Christianity.  Krisitn Wiig plays a woman raised by an emotionally abusive fundamentalist father whose faith is first shaken, then completely destroyed by the appearance of Paul.  This is depicted as a liberating experience, as Wiig decides she’s now capable of cursing and fornication, and proceeds to engage gleefully in the former and pursue awkwardly the latter in mildly humorous ways.  Paul claims that his existence “only disproves every Abrahamic religion in their entirety,” which is nonsense, but the film supports this wholeheartedly.  I can respect an honest, intelligently atheist film, but this is neither.  It’s arguments are little more than a couple of jokes, and it sets up a straw man depiction of Christianity (including a Creationist argument for a 4000-year-old Earth, which no one actually believes--even Archbishop Ussher’s infamous dating of Creation to Sunday, Oct. 23, 40004 B.C., would yield 6,000 years) before taking it down in a quick, mocking manner.  Of course, the whole argument is moot because Paul doesn’t really exist in the first place, so he can’t prove or disprove anything.  So it amounts to a mere mocking portrayal of religion, with nothing else to say.
Fortunately, Pegg and Frost can make anything funny, and they give their characters a real sweetness and likability that the movie as a whole doesn't quite achieve.  The rest of the cast is filled with funny people, but most of them are only mildly funny here, and a major cameo at the end falls flat.  The movie’s still pretty fun, and its low-key attitude is in some ways a welcome reprise from the insistent, bombastic comedies so common at the moment.  It’s attempt to be character-driven and humane doesn’t really work, though, and it comes off a little bland instead.  Pegg and Frost are still the best comedy duo in movies at the moment, and I’m looking forward to their next collaboration in Tintin as Thomson and Thompson.  This one just gets a “meh” from me, though.

Rating: 5/10 stars.

1 comment:

  1. Yes overall it was not that funny nor very exciting.
    But enough for the fans of SF movies and the many references to them.