"Duncan Jones has skills; he's an architect of emotional dislocation." Elvis Mitchell in Movieline: "The filmmaker reenters that purview where he left it — in 2009's Moon — for his new thriller, Source Code. It works for a while: The sci-fi action film has as chilling an introduction as you'll see this year. Jones's talents even tie in with the film's premise: Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself in another man's body, and has to continually relive the same eight minutes before a bomb detonates on a Chicago-bound train until he can figure out how to stop it. It's horror on a loop — laboring to sift through where and who you are while trying to piece together a mystery with a running clock."
"Source Code lacks the eerie quiet and gallows humor of Moon, and there's nothing here resembling Sam Rockwell's bravura performance as a lonely lunar colonist," finds Slate's John Swansburg. "The new film has less Bradbury in its blood and more Bruckheimer: There are adequately staged explosions, a perfunctory romance between attractive young people (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan), and a not-entirely-surprising surprise ending. This is a movie that's out to win a weekend, if only an early spring one."
But it's "a propulsive ride worth your popcorn dollar," argues Aaron Hillis in the Voice, "not for its preposterous genre tinkering but for its refreshingly humanist take on a high-concept gimmick."
"What is it about our times (or cinema) that provokes existential crises in some of the more interesting action heroes?" asks Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Like the running men in the Bourne movies and in The Adjustment Bureau, Stevens [Gyllenhaal's character] doesn't just jump through action-flick hoops, he also confronts some Big Questions — Are we alone? Are we free? Do we have free will? — the importance of which become clear as the outlines of Stevens's true circumstances are revealed. In classic films noirs, the characters rarely have real choices; their paths are riddled with bullets and preordained. 'Build my gallows high, baby,' Robert Mitchum says to the femme fatale (Jane Greer) in the glorious Out of the Past. She and her co-conspirator, fate, comply… Jones did lose me at the messy finish, if only on the level of logic (rarely a deal-breaker for me in science fiction), but he makes it easy to follow Stevens as he toggles between realities. Better still, he makes you want to do so."
More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 5/5), Ty Burr (Boston Globe, 3/4), Ed Champion, Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3.5/4), Nigel Floyd (Time Out London, 3/5), Scott Foundas (Film Society of Lincoln Center), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 3.5/5), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Robert Levin (Critic's Notebook), Paul Matwychuk, Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Keith Phipps (AV Club, B), Mary Pols (Time), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Anthony Quinn (Independent, 4/5), Tim Robey (Telegraph, 3/5), Nick Schager (Slant, 3/4), Tom Shone, Adam Sweeting (Arts Desk), Scott Tobias (NPR), Jim Tudor (Twitch), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York, 3/5), Mike Wilmington (Movie City News) and Adam Woodward (Little White Lies).
Interviews with Jones: Durge Chew-Bose (Interview), Nigel Floyd (Time Out London) and Ben Fritz (LAT). John Walsh profiles him for the Independent. Gill Pringle talks with Gyllenhaal for the Independent, Kyle Buchanan chats with Monaghan for Vulture and Sean O'Neal interviews Farmiga for the AV Club.
"Slower than a speeding Defendor, less powerful than a loco Kick Ass, and unable to resist the urge to leap from tone to tone in a single shot, Super is as scatterbrained as a chicken and just as likely to fly," writes Logan Hill in Vulture. "If this film can be compared to a superhero, it's Rogue from the X-Men: a compulsive parasite that sucks up the essence of so many other superheroes it loses any semblance of its own identity."
The gist, courtesy of Karina Longworth in the Voice: "When a local crime boss (Kevin Bacon) lures away his wife (Liv Tyler), lifelong pushover Frank (Rainn Wilson) — under the influence of a bizarre Christian kids' TV show and a sci-fi-style encounter with something like God — starts to make himself over into a real-life superhero. On discovering that the weird guy who frequents her comic-book store is, in fact, the masked man making his way into the papers as the Crimson Bolt, young nerd Libby (Ellen Page) insinuates herself as his sidekick and would-be girlfriend."
Writer-director James Gunn "has described Super as an adaptation of William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience," notes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, "complete with superhero costumes and comic violence, and he's not kidding about that nearly as much as you'd think. Another way of translating it might be to say that Gunn has taken the loser-hipster characters from Ghost World and transported them into the splatterific, grade-C genre universe of Troma Films. (The comparison isn't random; Gunn wrote the screenplay for Tromeo & Juliet, infamously earning $150 for his work, before moving on to the Scooby-Doo live-action films of the early 2000s.)" And, of course, to his own Slither (2006).
"Super exists in the no-man's land between indie quirk and raw exploitation, and when it works, it's thrillingly off-balance," finds the AV Club's Scott Tobias. More from Ty Burr (Boston Globe, 3/4), Ed Champion, Scott Foundas (FSLC), Nathan Heller (Slate), Stephen Holden (NYT), Elvis Mitchell (Movieline, 5/10), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 1/5) and Nick Schager (Slant, 1.5/4). Sean O'Neal talks with Page for the AV Club and Miranda Siegel interviews Wilson for Vulture.
"Aesthetically, Insidious operates at the level of a decent high school video project," writes Ben Sachs in the Chicago Reader. "Of course, technical sophistication isn't the final arbiter of artistic merit; plenty of cheap, shoddy movies can be well worth seeing. Some thrive on odd performances or funky camera work; others are enlivened by enterprising filmmakers who know how to work the material to their advantage. In the 1940s, Poverty Row directors like Edgar G Ulmer (Detour, Strange Illusion) and Joseph H Lewis (Secrets of a Co-ed, So Dark the Night) created a weird, nightmarish intensity from minuscule budgets. In the 60s and 70s, regionally produced drive-in horror items like SF Brownrigg's The Forgotten (aka Don't Look in the Basement) and Frederick R Friedel's Lisa, Lisa (aka Axe) overcome their amateurishness through a surprising wealth of local color. The workaday spirit of these movies can be irresistible; watching them can be like enjoying a drink at your favorite dive bar. Insidious is both costlier and blander than any of these examples, yet it fitfully evokes the pleasures of low-budget genre filmmaking, especially when it's introducing its knowingly worn premise. As the film's generically pleasant family moves into its suburban dream home, you can sense director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell (who collaborated on the first Saw movie) champing at the bit to reveal that the place is haunted. Once the scary stuff begins, though, the movie is pretty joyless, an endless series of spooky-looking people jumping out of nowhere and into the frame."
Josef Braun notes that "a major switch in tone and tack occurs at the film's mid-point. The Lamberts move house but the shadowy figures keep a-comin'. What was previously only suggested, sometimes rather effectively so, suddenly becomes all too visible and really, really dumb looking. Steam punk heavies, a red-faced boogeyman and many kooky, pancake make-up wearing, formally dressed phantoms turn up, looking like rejects from Carnival of Souls… Barbara Hershey arrives on the scene, conjuring horrorphile memories of The Entity, but ultimately for no special reason. Much of what's set up during the first act gets shelved… Insidious can't quite decide what it wants to be, though the real problem is that what it promised to be might have been so much more satisfying."
More from Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 2.5/4), Steve Erickson (Nashville Scene), Ed Gonzalez (Slant, 2.5/4), Mike Hale (NYT), Kathleen Murphy (MSN Movies, 3/5), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 6/10), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 2/5), Nick Schager, Carlos J Segura (Cinespect), Henry Stewart (L), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B) and Martin Tsai (Critic's Notebook). Interviews with Wan and Whannell: Canfield (Twitch), Patrick Kevin Day (Los Angeles Times), Aaron Hillis (GreenCine Daily, audio, 15'19"), Charles McGrath (NYT) and Stephen Saito (IFC). For Film Comment, Wan and Whannell list their guilty pleasures. Jen Yamato interviews Hershey for Movieline.
"Circo has the succinct haunting contradiction of a good Steinbeck story, perhaps something out of Tortilla Flat," suggests Chuck Bowen in Slant. "This conflict isn't melodramatically trumped up by crude editing shorthand; it arises from scenes we see of the day-to-day practices of erecting and taking down a circus, of putting on the show itself, of trying to drum up support from broke villagers, and of simply maintaining a degree of privacy and dignity during the long-cramped road trips. [Director Aaron] Schock exhibits the feel for casual yet revealing details that suggests the potential of a major filmmaker."
"For over 100 years, the Ponce family have been circus folk, scattered into small ensembles that that tour the parts of Mexico where people are often too poor to pay admission," explains Noel Murray at the AV Club. "One of those circuses, Gran Circo Mexico, is run by Tino Ponce, who inherited it from his father (who still receives most of the proceeds). Each new generation of Ponce children has grown up learning how to contort their bodies and take care of wild animals, but not to read or write beyond what's absolutely necessary. So as attendance dwindles, Tino's wife is pushing him to make some changes, for the sake of their kids and for his own financial future."
David Fear in Time Out New York: "Wisely, Schock's portrait of this gypsy-like troupe doesn't fixate on how traveling circuses are virtually obsolete — that's a given — or even how the Ponce family vainly keeps this tradition alive. Instead, Circo zeroes in on the interpersonal strife within this collapsing clan — an angle that only occasionally lifts the film above confessional exotica. For every poetic silhouette or deliriously dizzying shot of an underage twirling acrobat, there are dozens of straight-to-the-camera testimonials that, insightful or not, quickly become numbingly repetitive. Humanistic pathos should trump footage of high-wire acts and hot-shot flourishes, but perhaps a complementary three-ring mix of these elements would give this family drama a deeper impact."
More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Ed Champion, Ernest Hardy (Voice), Mark Jenkins (NPR) and Matt Singer (IFC).
"It's easy to see why the Danish director Susanne Bier's brutal drama In a Better World has its admirers, among them this year's foreign-language Oscar voters," grants New York's David Edelstein. "Like Bier, we all dream of living in a kinder, gentler world but are forced to contend with the barbaric behaviors of this one. We know that the quest for retribution destabilizes societies and poisons our souls. But we also know that bullies must be stopped. Bier dramatizes our ambivalence so earnestly that it's tempting to give her awards rather than admit that the movie is a crushing bore." More from Halim Cillov (Cinespect), Matt Connolly (Reverse Shot), David Fear (TONY, 2/5), Ed Gonzalez (Slant, 1.5/4), AO Scott (NYT), Ella Taylor (Voice), Martin Tsai (Critic's Notebook) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 6.5/10). Stephen Saito talks with Bier for IFC.
"Recalling both the process-oriented cinema of Lisandro Alonso (minus the precise attention to detail) and Faulkner's As I Lay Dying (without the humor), Alistair Banks Griffin's Two Gates of Sleep devotes the bulk of its running time to observing two brothers transporting their mother's coffin to its final resting place," writes Andrew Schenker in the Voice. "As a work of narrative fiction, the film is too little invested in character to make the occasional intrusions of plot meaningful, while its editing is overly elliptical and its actions too perfunctorily observed to make it work as a documentary study of human activity." But for Robert Tumas, writing in Slant, "the final moments of this epic are reward enough to warrant the toil of the quest."
Nick Schager in Slant: "Describing or discussing Rubber, a film about a telekinetic killer automobile tire, is apt to make it sound like an inspired bit of absurdist lunacy; to endure it, on the other hand, is to experience the mind-numbing limits of a goofy one-note joke." More from the New Yorker's Richard Brody, who finds Rubber to be "a strikingly clever parody of bloody road thrillers of the 1970s," Ian Buckwalter (NPR), Ed Champion, Manohla Dargis (NYT), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 2.5/5), Karina Longworth (Voice), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 2/5), Matt Singer (IFC), Scott Tobias (AV Club, C) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 2.5/10). Interviews with director Quentin Dupieux: Aaron Hillis (Voice) and Stephen Saito (IFC).
Wrecked opens with "Adrien Brody waking in a crushed car, deep in the mountains where there are no roads, his leg pinned under the dashboard and his memory fucked," writes Michael Atkinson in the Voice. "Corpses surround him, and the days begin to pass. As he might have with Buried and 127 Hours, Rod Serling could've winged this baby inside of 24 minutes, but that doesn't mean [director Michael] Greenspan, in his feature debut, doesn't have a death grip on the lean scenario's opportunities for texture and atmosphere: Because it's so carefully parceled out and so evocatively framed (in widescreen), Wrecked is an absorbing ordeal, perhaps less for its survival narrative than its metaphoric heft." More from Josef Braun, Eric Kohn (indieWIRE) and Nick Schager (Slant, 1/4). Bilge Ebiri talks with Brody for Vulture.
"Trust is directed by David Schwimmer (yes, that David Schwimmer), who's on the board of directors for the Rape Foundation in Santa Monica, California," notes Paul Schrodt in Slant. "The movie plays less as a drama than a dramatization, an A-B-C guide to what happens when you give a 14-year-old daughter with sexual insecurities a MacBook Pro." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 4/4), Eric Hynes (TONY, 1/5), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 8.5/10), Nick Pinkerton (Voice) and Nathan Rabin (AV Club, C).
"Anyone bewailing the near-absence of tacky family films inspired by Easter need bewail no more," announces Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "Hop has arrived to fill the void."
The Boston Globe's Ty Burr and the Chicago Reader's JR Jones round up local goings on while Criterion highlights repertory events happening all over.
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