Duncan Jones‘ Source Code, which premiered at South by Southwest this evening (and ended about an hour ago), is an engagingly trippy, somewhat sentimental and yet spiritual-minded sci-fi thriller that deserves a thumbs-up for several reasons, but I was especially delighted that it hasn’t been dumbed down. It’s an exciting nail-biter, but is essentially cerebral in the manner of an above-average Twilight Zone episode from the early ’60s, and is not what anyone would call fanboy-catering or CG-driven, thank God.
(l. to r.) Source Code costars Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monahan and Jake Gyllenhaal, and screenwriter Ben Ripley (far right) on stage at Austin’s Paramount theatre following this evening’s screening.
The rumors were true: this is Groundhog Day with a bomb. Plus a little Sliding Doors, Rashomon (as screenwriter Ben Ripley acknowledged during the q & a) and a touch of Run Lola Run. Notions of reality are constantly being supposed, redefined, fiddled with and scrambled around. It keeps you on your toes but never frustrates or irritates. Jones (Moon) and Ripley work hard to involve viewers but also keep them working, and the pace and the balance are just right.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays a military chopper pilot who doesn’t know if he’s dreaming or dead or what the hell is happening…at first. All he initially knows is that his last memory involved serving in Afghanistan, but now he’s on a Chicago-bound commuter train in a sequence that loops and re-loops and re-loops in eight minute portions. And that a pretty girl (Michelle Monaghan) whom he apparently knows somewhat is sitting opposite him every time. And that some other guy is staring back at him when he glances at a bathroom mirror. And that the loop will always end with a bomb going off and scores of passengers being ripped to shreds.
Between each segment Gyllenhaal finds himself in a small padded isolation chamber of some kind and speaking to an Air Force officer (Vera Farmiga) about what he remembers and what he’s learned. The basic idea, he realizes early on, is to try and eventually figure out who the bomber is, and how to stop him. Because the train bomb is only a prelude, he’s told, and that the bomber, whoever he or she is, intends to explode a nuclear device somewhere in downtown Chicago, so he/she has to be busted in what might as well be called a repeating Source Code realm in order to be stopped in real life.
Source Code director Duncan Jones is on the far left.
What technology allows the train-bomb sequence to be played and replayed over and over? Is Gyllenhaal’s helicopter pilot dreaming, or perhaps a figment of some computer programmer’s imagination? Does Source Code-tripping provide a mere reflection of a fragment of what’s already happened and is locked in, or does it have some vague potential to reconfigure or change the future?
That’s as far as I’m going to go in explaining the basics, but it’s remarkable that so much information is packed into a mere 95 minutes or thereabouts, and yet the film doesn’t feel congested or maddeningly detailed or anything along those lines. Source Code is obviously intended to tickle and tease, but it’s not Rubik’s Cube — bright but non-genius types (like myself) won’t be driven mad.
The only mildly bothersome element is that the CG train explosions could be a little better looking (they don’t seem fully refined), and that two or three trains cars explode in flames despite the oft-demonstrated fact that there’s only one big bomb causing the destruction. And there’s a tone of alpha-emanating happiness at the end that isn’t…how to say this?…absolutely rock-solid necessary and perhaps is a little too happy-fizzy. But it’s part of a worked-out karma uplift element that ties in with death and fate and momentary eternities , and is therefore not much a problem.
A friend just texted me about a half-hour ago that he’s heard that a line has begun forming outside Austin’s Paramount theatre for the 7 pm showing of Source Code. This is what South by Southwest is (in)famous for — everyone, regardless of their station, having to wait in the same damn line, and for long periods of time that eat up your day. I tried to get a pass from a Summit publicist, but he’s all tapped out, he said. I didn’t immediately leap from my chair and sprint down to the Paramount because I don’t care enough to go through the humiliation of waiting over two hours in line. I’ll suffer for 90 minutes but not 120. If I don’t get in, fine. It’s just Source Code — it’s just a time-loop Groundhog Day thing.
Yesterday Digital Bits editor Bill Hunt posted a discussion with respected Sony restoration guy Grover Crisp about the forthcoming Taxi Driver Bluray (due on 4.5.), which represents a serious restoration effort on Crisp’s part, especially given the input from director Martin Scorsese.
I was naturally most interested in Crisp’s explanation of the sepia-toned/brown blood shoot-out sequence at the finale. As I put it two months ago, “There can be no legitimate claim of Taxi Driver having been restored without the original natural color (or at least a simulation of same) put back in. The film was shot with more or less natural colors, was intended to be shown this way, and has in fact been shown that way for the last 35 years except for the final shoot-out scene. There’s nothing noble or sacred about the look of that final sequence. The fact that it was sepia-toned to get a more acceptable MPAA rating is, I feel, a stain upon the film’s legacy.”
Hunt asks Crisp “why didn’t you restore it to the originally-shot, more colorful scene?” Crisp answers as follows:
“There are a couple of answers to this. One, which we discussed, was the goal of presenting the film as it was released, which is the version everyone basically knows. This comes up every now and then, but the director feels it best to leave the film as it is. That decision is fine with me.”
Wrong! Scorsese’s repeated statements that he’s against showing the film as originally shot and processed and his defending the brown-sepia tones as being part of the ’70s and the climate when the film was released is one of the most surreal, reality-divorced declarations on the part of a major director in motion picture history. I realize there’s no political upside in Crisp echoing this viewpoint, but for any restoration guy to say he’s “fine” with maintaining the look of a film that was altered due to ratings-board censorship is coming from a very curious place, in my opinion.
Crisp goes on to say that “there is an impression from some who think we could easily ‘pump’ the color back into that scene, and that is not as easy as it sounds.” I’m sure he’s right, but note that he doesn’t say it’s impossible. And yet his explanation of the technical particulars does seem to indicate that bringing the shoot-out finale back to real color would be next-to-hopeless.
“The film was not just printed darker, or with muted colors, as some think,” Crisp explains. “There are two sections of the original negative that were removed from the cut and assembled camera negative. One is the long shot where the cab pulls up, Bickle walks over to Sport, they argue, he shoots him, then he walks back and sits on a stoop. That is all one shot that was removed. The second section removed begins with the shot of the interior of the apartment building where he shoots the hood in the hand and all the shots following this down to the final one of the overhead crowd shot outside — that entire sequence was removed as assembled. These two sections of original camera negative were then sent to TVC, a small lab in New York, where it went through a Chemtone process, a chemical treatment that somewhat opens shadows allowing for greater density and lower contrast, for the most part. The exact process was a bit clouded by TVC as a proprietary service, but it usually involved original processing and, at this point, the negative was already finished.
“Whatever the actual processes, what I can say is that they delivered back duplicate negatives of these two sections, with the long sequence, in effect, now an optical dupe and with the desired color and density built into it. So, literally, when printing this film at a lab then (or now), there was no way to grade it and print it the way it was shot. Those muted colors are built into the dupe negative and it doesn’t work to try to print it otherwise. We also searched many times over the years for the original negative that was removed, but to no avail. Likely, it was junked at TVC at the time.”
Last month the fetching one-sheet for Lone Scherfig‘s One Day (Focus Features, 7.8) spurred enthusiasm on top of Scherfig’s respected rep and the wide acclaim that greeted her last film, An Education. One Day, based on David Nicholls‘ 2010 novel and costarring Anne Hathaway and Jim Strugess, is one of those delayed-satisfaction relationship tales (i.e., spanning 20 years) in the vein of When Harry Met Sally.
After graduating from a university in ’88, Dexter (Sturgess) and Emma (Hathaway) “run circles around one another for the next 20 years,” according to one cliche-filled synopsis. That irks me right off the top. Why, I’m asking myself, does any potential couple wait 20 years to figure out that they’re the best match either one can find? Why not take 30 years to come to this conclusion? Or 40? Why not wait until they’re in their ’80s and one of them is on his/her death bed?
The main reason they don’t “happen” for so long, it turns out, is immaturity, booze and general asshole-ish tendencies on the part of Dex. I’m suspicious of any Amazon.com reviewer for the usual reasons, but Gregory Baird scared me with the following:
“Dex goes from being the person you like ‘in an ironic, tongue-in-cheek, love-to-hate kind of way’ (in the words of his agent) to someone you (or at least I) can’t abide somewhere around the hundred-page mark. Self-involved and pleasure-seeking, he’s the kind of guy who ‘isn’t sure sure that struggle suits him’ when pondering a career path. Indeed, the only reason he wants a career at all is so that he can have a line to impress women with. When his self-absorption leads him to angrily think to himself that ‘he has better things to do’ than be at his beloved mother’s deathbed, it goes too far.
“Emma is the only person with the capacity to affect real change in Dex, and is reduced to (eventually) acting as the vehicle for his recovery. So her story stagnates. We are meant to believe that Emma can’t fall in love because she has already fallen, irretrievably, for Dex. [Except her] total love for Dex is inexplicable. It doesn’t make sense.
Yet another reviewer calls the dialogue “is absolutely terrific — the couple have a teasing/kneedling way of talking to each other and the repartee between them remains funny and fresh throughout.”
I just feel a mite concerned — nothing more. I say this as an ardent admirer of Scherfig’s (she’s exceptionally smart and talented), and as someone who tumbled big-time for An Education and had a very good time with Italian for Beginners.
Searching Google Maps for Meavy, England, where Steven Spielberg was shooting War Horse a few weeks ago, led to me the ancient village of Wells, about 90 minutes to the northeast. There was a moment in a London office of British Airways 30 years ago when an agent said my last name, and that instant I realized that only the British can pronounce it properly. I had unknowingly mispronounced it all my life. I’ve tried to convey how it sounds with pheonetical mimicry, but it doesn’t quite work.
Wells, incidentally, is not to be confused with Tunbridge Wells, which Claude Rains, in the role of Dryden, referred to at the end of Lawrence of Arabia. Prince Feisal (Alec Guiness) asks his opinion of the conflict between the Arab Council and the situation created by the Sykes-Picot, and Dryden/Rains replies, “Me, Your Highness? Well, on the whole, I wish I’d stayed in Tunbridge Wells.”
Update: The SXSW coupon credential software screwup has been solved, or at least overridden and put to bed. Thanks to all concerned.
Previously: “Wells to SXSW press office: I find it mildly idiotic that SXSW insists that credentialed SXSW journalists fill out a form in order to redeem a coupon that excludes them from having to pay $500 or whatever for the privelege of covering SXSW. I presume you know that no other film festival in the world requests this kind of thing.
“In any event I filled everything out and tried to do it as correctly as humanly possible, but after pasting in the code [that was supplied by your office an email] in the ‘redeem coupon’ slot the software told me “that coupon does not exist.”
“I guess I’m going to have to come down to the convention center and haggle this out with someone. Wonderful system you guys have here. I was so impressed I felt I just had to share.”
Videos of the Japanese earthquake-tsunami tragedy have a quality that disaster-fetishists like Roland Emmerich have never been interested in. Commenting on the visual aesthetics of a terrible devastation like it’s an entertainment of some kind may sound offensive, but this has always been my first reaction when videos of this sort appear. CG-infected Hollywood is more interested in amplifying and intensifying — in making the ComicCon culture go “kewwll!” –than recreating the truth of nature’s wrath.
Paramount theatre, 713 Congress Ave., Austin — Thursday, 3.10, 10:25 pm.
Cool little general store on Congress. Nice people, fair prices.
“Fires the heart and excites reflections in the minds of all… the architecture of a civilization is its most enduring feature, and by this structure shall Texas transmit herself to posterity.” — Temple Houston.