Sunday, August 21, 2011

Out-Source(d) Code

I have had a DVD copy of Source Code on hand for some time now but I decided to pop it in the VCR today.

Verdict: I have decided this could have been a really good movie but, alas, it is just okay.

About two decades ago, I was a huge Doom addict and a major part of the appeal of that game was getting killed over and over again but each time learning enough to eventually complete a level. And I thought it would be really cool if you could actually send a soldier into a dangerous situation, have him do recon, and then, when he inevitably gets killed, reboot him and have him do it again. It is a peculiar but beguiling brand of invulnerability.

And I thought the movie could have done with a lot more of that. For instance, I wish Captain Colter Stevens (as played by Jake Gyllenhaal)'s deaths and reboots had been more visceral. Further, I could have done without the exposition - where Stevens asks and is told stuff. In fact, I could have done without all of Stevens' back story because it is irrelevant to moving the story forward. Ditto for the "boy-meets-girl" subplot involving Michelle Monaghan. The whole enterprise could have been moved forward strictly by what Stevens learns during his eight minute source code sorties.

What should be the focus of the movie - finding a mad bomber - is actually a "McGuffin" - as the filmmakers appear more interested in questions of dying, existence, unfinished business and "what is fate?" - big questions all - but questions that have no business in this movie. I wish the filmmakers had trusted the audience more. Or, perhaps, I wish they had trusted us less.

Some of the problem, I suspect, is the casting of Gyllenhaal. As blasphemous as this sounds, this would have been a much better movie if Keanu Reeves had been cast as Captain Stevens. This movie requires Reeves' blank, zen-like athleticism. There is almost too much going on in Gyllenhaal's eyes; in his face.

The same can be said of Vera Farmiga's casting as Air Force Captain Goodwin. As an actress, she is so intelligent and sensual, her face is so full of "stuff," that like Captain Stevens, you just want to know more about her and it is distracting.

Michelle Monaghan, however, is perfectly cast as Christina Warren, the girl Stevens meets on the train. She is so centered and present that you will believe a man would die for her - and do it again, over and over, until he finds a way to save her.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hail Caesar!

Rarely has a hero's journey been as finely delineated as it is in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar, as essayed by Andy Serkis, is a great cinematic creation. From his birth as the only spawn of a genetically re-engineered mother to his grabbing the mantle of a full-scale primate rebellion, the digitally rendered chimpanzee is as full blooded as Kenneth Branaugh's Hamlet and as fully realized as Paul Robeson's Emperor Jones - yet there is nothing tragic about this hero.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Wisonsin State Fair?

This is an open letter to Jim Stingl of the Milwaukee Journal regarding his Sunday, August 7th opinion column:

Mr. Stingl,

The recent events at Mayfair, Riverwest and State Fair can be construed as a cry for help or a call to arms, but it should not be dismissed as "wilding" youths who should be put down with extreme prejudice.

Ignore the root cause of these escalating public eruptions at your own risk.

I have heard so many funny, contradictory and simply wrong-headed things in the aftermath of this incident. To those people who pronounced they would not be attending the State Fair - now is the safest time to go. To Police Chief Flynn who "beefed" up police presence at African World Festival, thank you but it was not necessary - for the second year in a row, African World Festival was the chillest location in Milwaukee - although all the officers I encountered seemed to be having a good time.

Take Knuckle-headed Alds. Bob Donovon and Joe Dudzik (please!) - Tweedledum and Tweedledummer - who had the unmitigated gall to opine in a joint statement "Let's face it, it also has much to do with a deteriorating African-American culture in our city. Are large groups of Hispanics or Hmong going out in large mobs and viciously attacking whites? No."

To which I respond, give Hispanics and Hmongs fifty years of the treatment African-Americans have suffered in this city and they will be "wilding," too. (Funny thing: whites don't tend to flee when Hispanics and Hmongs move into their neighborhoods. Could it be the hair?)

I challenge any race to endure generations of poverty and lack of job opportunity - and by that I mean constant rejection for any the most menial of positions and not be just a little bit perturbed. During the Reagan Depression, I was unemployed for two-and-a-half years and - despite being a high school honors student with five years of work experience - I could not find a job at a car wash. So, imagine, if you will, what is a high school drop-out with no work experience is up against.

What are we, as a people, to make of studies done all over the country where blind tests prove employers are more likely to hire a white ex-con than a black college graduate Where does that put your prospects if you are a black high school drop-out or a black ex-con? How do you pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you don't have any boots?

I constantly tell my children - both on academic scholarship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and both graduates of Milwaukee Public High Schools - that the only difference between poor, uneducated black people and poor, uneducated white people, is that poor, uneducated white people have jobs (the same apparently applies to Hispanics and Hmongs).

We are currently being governed by the evil spawn of those who fled, politicians inbred in Waukesha and Washington Counties. These elected officials, who have only second-hand - and tainted - knowledge of Wisconsin's inner cities, believe in a "get tough" stance that not only hasn't solved the problem, it hasn't contained it. And, mark my words, it will spread further.

If those marauding youths did nothing else on a steamy Thursday night in West Allis, Wisconsin, they made you look. Unfortunately, they could not make you see.