Archive for April, 2011

No Matter Your Reality this is Good Science Fiction

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on April 12, 2011 by JonH

I like science fiction movies that are ambitious; Scifi that explores topics and issues that have been with us for millennia. You know, the big questions: how is man different from animal and what it means to be human (2001); what is subjectivity and identity (The Ninth Configuration); what’s the nature of reality (The Matrix).

These are meaty topics that, to me, deserve introspection. And when a movie throws these things at us, it doesn’t always have to answer the questions it raises. In fact, it’s probably better if it doesn’t. That way it doesn’t have the final word: if the movie is good enough, it will provoke dialogue as well as introspection.

Source Code is one of these movies.

Kind of like Groundhog Day on acid, Source Code is the story of Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), an American helicopter pilot who wakes up on board a train with absolutely no recollection of how he got there.

A woman sitting across from him named Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) seems to recognize him and calls him by the name Sean Fentress. His reflection is also that of another man. As Colter/Fentress tries to piece together what’s going on the train explodes killing everyone onboard.

Stevens then wakes up seated inside some sort of device. A woman identifying herself as Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Fariga) appears on a computer screen inside the device. Her questions and descriptions only heighten Stevens’s confusion. He’s told he must find the bomb on board the train he was just on before it detonates. Before he can orient himself he wakes up on the train across from the woman again. These events unfold multiple times, with Stevens becoming more aware with each passing time. Sounds sufficiently sci-fi, but it gets better.

As multiple events are experienced, Stevens implores Captain Goodwin to let him speak to her boss, a man named Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright). Rutledge reveals that Stevens is part of a program called Source Code, an advanced program based on Quantum Mechanics and parabolic calculus.

This is where the movie could have been guilty of what lesser science fiction stories have been accused of: invoking some magical doodad or theory that somehow “explains” away the fantastic ramifications of the technology being used, but instead this is where it begins to open itself up to interpretation.

As far as my interpretation goes the source code implies what phycists call the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. This theory posits that for every reality there are alternate realities, which are just as viable as the one we currently inhabit but we’re virtually unaware of. Without giving away too much of the plot, it seems that Captain Stevens is somehow able to leave one reality and continue on in another without transgressing any rules. As a consequence this raises interesting questions as far as the nature of reality goes.

Source Code was directed by Duncan Jones (see Moon review) and written by Ben Ripley.

There are moments of sentimentalism in the film that I thought it could have done without, but in the context of the Many Worlds Interpretation goes, this is virtually unavoidable: if life is messed up in one reality perhaps it’s better in the next. How can it not turn out good? Or does it?

However you slice it though this movie has plenty for diehard fans of scifi to sink their teeth into.

I came across this interview with writer Ben Ripley after I’d finished writing this review, and wanted to post it because it gives some insight into the thinking that went into writing the story.


Hey Dumas, it’s more than just a Chocolate Bar

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , on April 11, 2011 by JonH

The Edmonton Citadel’s production of The Three Musketeers

The first scene bursts out of the gates with a young, shirtless D’Artagnan (played by Eric Morin) dueling his father in a frenetic final lesson in swordplay prior to setting off for Paris to join the fabled Musketeers. The action is spirited, and for the duration of the play, it never really lets up.

Rife with political intrigue, sword fights, conspiracy, sword fights, love at first sight, sword fights, and action – plenty of action, The Three Musketeers, like the classic Alexandre Dumas book from which it was adapted, is unrelenting.

The dark side of all of this going on is that the story gets somewhat convoluted. That’s not a problem with a book – you can always go back and clear up any misconceptions you may have, but a play is a different thing. It moves by quickly. My only saving graces were the people that came with me, and thanks to our discussion during the intermission I was quickly brought up to speed. With my new found insight into Cardinal Richelieu’s cunning manipulation of the king, the queen and her relationship with the British nobleman Lord Buckingham the second act came together quite nicely; albeit resolving itself much quicker than the drama took to develop in the first act.

The play’s director Tom Woods in the role of Cardinal Richelieu, and Adrian Proszowski as King Louis were definitely the standouts in terms of acting. Woods portrayal of the cardinal was second to none and commanded your attention whenever he was on scene. Proszowski likewise garnered your attention by supplying most of the comic relief as he played the king very much like a traipsing nincompoop. (Special mention goes to Ashley Wright as Porthos; especially when bookending his portrayal of the ebullient musketeer with his earlier role of the dour, and insecure Charlie Aiken who is involved in an incestuous affair with his sister in the play August: Osage County.)

But not all is high praise and lofty lauding. I struggled with Eric Morin as D’Artagnan, the idealistic upstart. He played the character as too impetuous, and quick to get offended. It seemed like everyone was pissing him off and calling his character into question causing him to overreact and want to duel. After three or four duels this got old quick.

Perhaps what I found most distressing was Morin’s voice. It, like most of the other voices in the play, was conspicuously North American, but his had the added distraction of being somewhat whiny and devoid of subtlety. These factors conspired to pull me out of the scene whenever he spoke. And, more than a few times, I found myself rolling my eyes as a result.

However, what was particularly impressive about the play was the efficient use of a fairly austere set, the large size of the cast, and the well choreographed fight scenes.

The set consisted of the main stage with two flights of stairs, stage left and stage right, leading up to a balcony with a door beneath it that served multiple purposes. The stage, in conjunction with effective lighting, was made to feel, at various times like a market, a room, an inn, and a rain swept straight away for the actors to ride imaginary horses. Incidentally, the riding scenes are very well done, simultaneously evoking humour, as well as an appreciation for how well the actors, in conjunction with stage direction, can pull something off so effectively without props.

Considering the size of the Maclab theatre stage, the choreography of the various battles was fantastic. What makes it even more impressive is that in a year where an actress is applauded for training as a ballerina (Natalie Portman in Black Swan) we get the opportunity to see a number of actors who obviously trained equally as hard to ensure that their handling of swords is as convincing as Portman’s use of the pirouette.

Additionally, at one point there were more than eight combatants simultaneously dueling, but it never really felt too crowded. Each actor occupied the right place at the right time, and no one seemed to step on anyone else’s feet.

Although not my favourite play, The Three Musketeers did entertain. I wasn’t a big fan of the canned music, or some of the acting, but the stage direction, the lighting, the costumes, and the actors’ placement on stage at key times did create a unique spectacle for the audience. Overall worth seeing and an enjoyable night out.

Another Slow Day at the Office – At Least I’m Not in this Guy’s Predicament.

Posted in Review with tags , , , on April 1, 2011 by JonH

127 Hours recounts the shocking true story of how climber/adventurer Aron Ralston (played by James Franco – see above) becomes trapped after he slips and falls into a cavern crushing his right hand between the rock face of a crevice and a boulder that became dislodged and fell alongside him, and the extremes he resorts to in order to survive.

Be forewarned, in addition to the one above, there are some HUGE plot spoilers coming up.

The opening scene shows Ralston moving about his apartment grabbing gear for an upcoming adventure. Throwing things into his backpack, almost as an afterthought, we’re meant to think that planning ahead isn’t his thing. The shots are wonderfully frenetic. From the camera angle showing his water bottle overflowing as it fills beyond the top to the shot of his hand reaching blindly into his cupboard to try and find the Swiss army knife that eludes his grasp, they’re deliberate and well executed by director Danny Boyle. They’re an obvious foreshadow of things to come. In addition, the action, the mood, and the music all stand counterpoint to the more somber, and central moments, of the movie.

Unfortunately, as those somber moments come they do so almost anticlimactically. He hikes; he slips on a branch; he falls into a hole, says ouch, and so it begins. His reaction to having his hand crushed is almost demure. I would have screamed bloody murder, and you would have too.

With minimal provisions including a climbing rope, less than a litre of water, a dull knife, and a video camera at his disposal, Ralston immediately begins trying a free himself providing videotaped evidence as he does so.

As the days wear on, and consistently more and more elaborate means to do so prove futile, Ralston begins to succumb. From hallucinations to desperate fantasies, as the basics of sustaining life begin to dwindle his regrets become manifest, and play out in very subtle ways. Because he’s lonely, cold, injured, and no one knows where he is, he’s preparing to do die.

I found how documented his predicament with his videocamera to be an exceptionally interesting part of the movie. Granted, it’s purportedly done as a means to confess his regrets to his parents, but in the context of our present day prediliction for documenting everything from what we’re eating to what we’re feeling his videography was especially eerie. I have no doubt that if I were suffering a similar predicament I would be talking to myself as way to pass the time, but to have the wherewithal to videotape things takes it to another level. I’m not sure why – it just does.

It’s hard to believe that this is based on a true story, and that someone could have as much fortitude (and courage) as Ralston had to do what he did. From drinking urine as means to hydrate himself to documenting his tribulations on the video camera he brought along with him, the film effectively portays his anguish and desperation.

However, even though there are things in the film that are done quite well (in addition to the intro, as dehydration sets in, he fantasizes of water, Gatorade, pop. Beer – anything liquid), there are things that it misses out on, and this extends beyond his reaction to having his hand crushed. For example, emotionally, I think they missed the mark somewhat. There were no moments that made me think of things I may have done in the past that I regretted, or reminded me of things that I was lucky not to have gotten hurt by.

The opportunity for introspection is something that movies offer us when we think about them. It puts things up on the big screen, which either confirm or deny conceptions that we have about life. It allows us a moment to be sympathetic, or the opportunity for empathy. Despite James Franco doing a good job portraying Ralston, I don’t think the movie as a whole made me feel any of those things.

I have to say I wanted to like this movie a lot more than I did.

For a more detailed description of the events, check out Aron Ralston’s blog