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Thursday, June 16, 2011

New Movie Releases Roundup For 16 June 2011

With this week's films being released a day early this week because of a public holiday and my total lack of reviews for other sites, I thought I would get this up early. 

Source Code is the second film from director Duncan Jones and it proves once again that there is a whole lot more to the man than simply being  David Bowie's son. Before you know it, I'll even be able to write a review of one of his films without mentioning this undoubtedly cool fact. A few years ago, Jones gave us Moon, a low budget science fiction film that showed that it's still possible to use the medium of cinema to tell good, old fashioned science fiction stories that are, in the end, as much about humanity as they are about aliens, advanced technology and space travel.

Since then we have had a very impressive resurgence of smart sci-fi in the forms of Inception, Never Let Me Go and - sorry haters, I'm going to say it - The Adjustment Bureau. Source Code may have a much larger budget and more of an action-thriller plot than Jones' first film but it proudly continues and builds upon this trend.

Like those films, it is also one that you should know as little about its plot going in as is humanly possible. It combines elements of Inception and Groundhog Day, while exploring the very tried and true science fiction idea of a multiverse - and endless chain of parallel universes - and how our actions may or may not shape our destiny. As for the film's many revelations and twists and turns, I'll leave that for the film itself to reveal as it unfolds breathlessly over its tightly controlled 90 minute running time.      

Mind you, it is not entirely without flaws, to be sure, as some of its plot relies a bit too heavily on contrivance and coincidence and its central premise makes less sense the more you think about it. Also, while the inclusion of a romance between the two lead characters played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan is a smart one in that it gives the film a certain amount of emotional focus, it doesn't quite live up to the heady sci-fi/ romance mix of The Adjustment Bureau or Never Let Me Go.

Whatever it may get wrong, though, is nothing in comparison to what it gets right. Source Code is still an excellent slice of science fiction that is by turns smart, thrilling and humane. Jones' direction is often understated but that only allows the odd extended tracking shot or Inception-like, reality-bending special effect to truly shine. The performances too are faultless throughout - none more so than the brilliant but all too often undervalued Jeffrey Wright who somehow turns a "Basil Exposition" role into something truly memorable. More than anyone else, though, it is undoubtedly Duncan Jones who is the true star here and between this and Moon, he has more than proven himself to be a genre director to watch. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Now, whether you're a science fiction fan or not, Source Code is clearly the film to see this weekend. Especially when you take into consideration just what else came out this weekend. Jumping The Broom is particularly bad.

It is, I suppose, easy to dismiss it as yet another of those cynically marketed "made for African American audiences" melodramas on which Tyler Perry has made its name but, in this case, it is the underlying racial tension that provides Jumping The Broom with its only source of interest. Beyond that, there is very little to recommend about the film. It's story of impending nuptials between two people from very different worlds is nothing we haven't seen done better before and its uneasy mix of overwrought drama and lame comedy will have you quickly longing for the rich black/ poor black antics of the Fresh Prince of Bell Air. It also features a cast of characters that range between the bland and the insufferably awful (Loretta Devine has never been worse as the groom's painfully overbearing mother).

It is, as I said, only the racial tension that stops the film from being a total flop. There is a moment in the film where the issue of slavery comes up during an argument between The bride's well-to-do mother and her less-privileged counterpart. The "jumping the broom" of the title is an old slave tradition that the latter wants to honour, while the former sees it as an outdated tradition, foreign from her own modern day life, but it is her revelation that her ancestors were actually slave owners that truly strikes a nerve.

Here the film finally has a chance to rise out of the muck and go somewhere interesting, somewhere shocking even, tackling head on the cultural divide between American blacks but it clearly doesn't have the courage of its convictions as it quickly moves away from this volatile subject back into bad sitcom comedy and even worse soap operatic drama.

Speaking of innocuous nonsense, Jim Carey's latest, Mr Popper's Penguins is another kids release that might work for its intended audience but, if it does, it will certainly have more to do with the penguins than Mr Popper.

Carey plays a successful real estate broker (the Mr Popper of the title) whose life - not to mention his relationship with his ex-wife and estranged kids - takes a sudden turn towards the unexpected when his explorer father leaves him a crate of penguins to look after. Carey, to his credit, is much more restrained here than one would expect him to be and he and the rest of the supporting cast (including the likes of Carla Gugino, David Crumholtz and, would you believe it, Angela Lansbury) hold their own well enough but this is the penguins' film.

Displaying their own individual personalities and trained to mimic humans and other animals, these adorable feathered creatures are sure to thrill and delight kids of all ages. Which is just as well because the human parts of the story are significantly less impressive. The comedy is staggeringly unfunny and the heartwarming character drama veers wildly between sweet and cloying, adding up to a film that is destined to be little more than a barely remembered after thought in the canon of kids films. The penguins may be enough for some but everyone else will have to wait for next week for a kids film that is genuinely worth their time.

Also released this week is James Cameron's Sanctum that is apparently quite bad and has nothing to really do with James Cameron who is presumably too busy developing Avatar 2 to bother with an irrelevant little horror flick. I haven't seen it though so you'll hear nothing more on the subject from me. 

Best Film of the Week: Source Code. Easily.
Worst film of the Week: Jumping the Broom.    

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