Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Demolition Man": Product Placement Done Right

I have been eagerly anticipating Morgan Spurlock’s latest documentary about product placement in movies. I live in what is politely known as a small market (or no market at all if I’m honest) so I have not had a chance to see the film yet. But the discussion about product placement has always intrigued me. Is it inherently bad for film? Is there a time and place for it in film? For the record, I’m cool with product placement. I fall into the category of people that actually like it because it makes a movie seem more realistic because, let’s face it, we are surrounded by ads in our everyday lives. I didn’t think I had anything to write about the situation since I was so blasé. But then I revisited Demolition Man and realized that there was definitely something to say about all of this.

First off, let’s get into the mindless fun that is Demolition Man. I feel the need to admit that I first watched the 1993 movie when I was nine years old. In other words, I’m a lifelong fan because this movie left a stamp on me that no thoughtful criticism can erase. Anyway, I want to write about the ridiculous awesomeness of the film before I delve into the product placement issue.

Demolition Man is awesomely stupid. (There will be SPOILERS throughout for this film, by the way.) The whole setup of the film, that violent criminals are sent to a “cryo-prison” to be frozen until the future is a delightfully idiotic plot point. Let’s take the worst of our society and freeze them so they can terrorize future generations. Who really thought this was a good idea? Also, who cares? It happened.

Whatever. So John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) is wrongfully frozen along with the hammy villain Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) after an explosion in a violence ridden 1996 Los Angeles. They are both “thawed out” in 2032 San Angeles, a society in which violence (and all physical contact for that matter) has been outlawed, along with meat, alcohol, salt, cussing, and anything else that is “bad” for you. This fascist setup is completely implausible, but let’s go with it. It’s okay to accept the setup of this film because it’s one of the last classic action films of recent years. Demolition Man came out at a time when an action movie could be over the top without blatantly letting the audience in on the joke.

Stallone gets to spout off one-liners and Snipes to gets to guffaw at the very idea of being evil. These elements could only work today if the filmmakers made the movie so over the top that the film could only be a joke or if they acknowledged the audience multiple times. But 90s action movies were great in that they could be over the top without feeling guilty about it. Maybe this is nostalgia speaking, but I really wish action movies were still that simple.

Demolition Man is definitely one of those “future” movies, though. There are plenty of comedic elements that still make me laugh. The machine that tracks cussing is great. The new terminology everyone uses is hilarious. The use of “boggle” for “problem”; “tick tocks” for “minutes”; “joy joy” for “happy.” The air high-fives were a nice touch, and who can forget the three seashells? I still have to sit and contemplate that infernal riddle after every viewing.

Then there are the really dumb elements. Why does a museum keep a full armory of guns, let alone copious amounts of ammo? Did they not see the possible security problems? For God’s sake, they have a functional Civil War-era cannon in that museum! And how about the “scraps,” the underground starving ruffians? Yeah, they are so hungry, which is why they have food stands that sell “rat burgers” and beer. They even have enough surplus food to have beer nuts on the pub tables down there! Watch it again if you don’t believe me. You can even see that freedom fighter Edgar Friendly (Denis Leary) snatch a handful at one point.

Okay, okay, my love is obvious and I could honestly go on for at least another thousand words, but I’ll get to the point. “Demolition Man” actually has a lot to say about product placement if you give it a lot more thought than it deserves. First off, the future is almost completely devoid of advertising. There are no logos on clothing. The cars are all kind of plain and were not cars that you could actually buy in the present. (Unlike Steve Buscemi’s truck in The Island, for example, which was available to purchase when that film was released.) All of the video screens are provided by the fake company “FiberOps.” There is not a billboard in sight. In short, advertising is not necessary in this utopian future.

At this point those of you who have seen the film are shaking your heads and yelling, “Taco Bell!” I know, the fast food chain Taco Bell is actually part of the plot of Demolition Man. That is definitely product placement. But it’s product placement that says something. Taco Bell is not just a restaurant in the future…it is “the” restaurant in the future. As 1990s loving Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock) states, “Taco Bell won the franchise wars.” Hmm, franchise wars or the bidding war? Either way, in the world of the film, Taco Bell does not advertise. Sure, we the audience have to suffer through a strange Taco Bell commercial in which 1990s MTV dude Dan Cortes inexplicably cameos as a jingle singing pianist, but the characters never see a commercial.

Speaking of jingle singing, Demolition Man has more up its sleeve than just a clever excuse to have the characters eat at Taco Bell. It turns out that in the future popular music (as well as musical attention spans, apparently) has gone extinct. Everyone just listens to old commercial jingles. Brilliant! It fits the bland future’s simplistic nature while also giving the film an excuse to promote some products.

Which brings me to the actual advertisements in the film. Just because there are no current ads in the future does not mean they are nonexistent. Huxley loves the past, which means she loves ads. Some of the first ads we see are in her retro office and home. Those jingles are all from the past. Demolition Man represents a world that is above advertising to the point that it is only used for entertainment. The signs in Huxley’s office and home aren’t selling anything. Who would be the audience for that (ignoring the actual audience watching the film, obviously). And the jingles? Some of the products would actually be outlawed. I know some people would question the meat value of Armour hot dogs, but the company claims they are meat and meat has been banned in San Angeles. What good are ads for an illegal product? When was the last time you saw an ad promoting heroin in the present?

There are more ads in the film, but they are underground with the scraps, literally beneath the rest of humanity. The scraps are a poor group, but they still have enough electricity to power up their Bud Light neon sign. They have also painstakingly kept a 1970 Oldsmobile in tiptop condition and Pennzoil helped out a bit since a sign for the company is featured in the background. Strangely enough, it’s the Olds that melds the advertising of both worlds. When Huxley and Spartan burst above ground in the car to give chase to Phoenix they find themselves in the middle of a…you guessed it: Oldsmobile dealership. A dealership may not be an ad but it does prove that there are still competitive car companies and competition means advertising. We don’t see it, but it has to be there.

I’m not claiming that Demolition Man is without its corporate influence. It obviously is. But it is the rare movie that understands the necessity of product placement and plays around with that fact. What’s most impressive is that the film doesn’t get meta about it. The filmmakers didn’t have the opportunity to be meta back then since that new subgenre of film didn’t exist yet. Instead, they had to find a way to use product placement in an interesting way. That deserves a bit of credit. Just compare this film to other futuristic films. Minority Report is great but that film is swarming with product placement. Hell, at one point Tom Cruise goes to a mall to hide out. And how about the holy grail of futuristic films: Blade Runner? Coca-cola, anyone?

Looking back, Demolition Man may not be a classic example of an action sci-fi film. It may not even be a “good” movie. But when it comes to product placement, the filmmakers made it work in efficient and amusing ways. Nostalgia makes the film a classic in my eyes, but the film’s treatment of product placement deserves some attention no matter your opinion of the film itself. But give it a try anyway, because it’s a very fun movie…even if you hate Taco Bell.

Random Thoughts…because I just have more to comment on.

Jack Black is in this in one of his “blink or you’ll miss it” 90s roles.

Aren’t the names great? Spartan, Phoenix, Friendly. Do they mean anything? Maybe, but who cares?

Another product placement: As soon as Spartan thaws out, one of the first things he asks for is a “Marlboro.” Not a cigarette, but a specific brand. What a Neanderthal.

The film itself isn’t meta by today’s standards, but it is interesting how Huxley serves as the audience. I still laugh every time when it gets to the scene in which she exclaims how great it was when Spartan paused to make a “glib remark” before he killed a scrap.

I loved how Benjamin Bratt, the quintessential future man, was so easily turned to the dark side of advertising and decadence. In one scene he’s disgusted. In the next, you can’t tell him apart from a side performer like Jesse “The Body” Ventura.

And finally, Friendly, that future man with a past sensibility, gives a rant in which he mentions Jell-O and Playboy. How fitting than outcast should mention brand names.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"The Conspirator"

The Conpirator - Directed by Robert Redford, written by James D. Solomon, story by Solomon and Gregory Bernstein, starring James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, and Danny Huston - Rated PG-13

"In times of war, the law falls silent."

Historical dramas are a bit rare in the blockbuster era. Movies that deal with the non-violent aspects of history aren’t easily marketable and don’t appeal to younger audiences. Thankfully a movie like The Conspirator can still sneak its way onto the big screen. (Unfortunately, though, it has been largely ignored by the movie-going masses since its release a couple weeks ago.)

The Conspirator tells the overlooked story of Mary Surrat (Robin Wright), the boarding house owner who was accused of conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln and others (Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward were targeted as well, but were not killed). The film is basically a courtroom drama set during the angry months following Lincoln’s death. That is the most important factor in the film, the main theme being law vs. vengeance.

Surrat is defended by Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), a former Union soldier who doubts his own client’s innocence. Of course as Aiken starts to investigate Surrat’s involvement his mind starts to change. The story really picks up as Aiken finds the deck stacked against him. It seems that everyone (particularly Secretary of War Edwin Stanton [Kevin Kline]) wants a quick trial that ends with death sentences for as many defendants as possible. The main conflict of the movie boils down to this: should due process be followed even when the nation is in a crisis?

That conflict makes the movie a bit political. But The Conspirator is still a movie first and a statement second, so more on the politics later. As a movie, The Conspirator manages to be entertaining. There is a wide cast of characters portrayed by an impressive cast. Mainly, though, the film works if you have an interest in history. There is much effort to give the film an 1860s look from the costumes to the locations and, more importantly, to the lighting of the film. Normally lighting isn’t an element that jumps out at the viewer but here the reliance on sunlight and candles gives the film a distinctive look. Director Robert Redford also tries to spice the courtroom proceedings up with pans and zooms, but these little touches ended being a bit on the distracting side.

The camera movements were a slight annoyance because they were unnecessary. If you’ve paid to see this movie you know what you’re in for: a courtroom drama in which most of the action consists of dialogue. The Conspirator succeeds because the court case is riveting and, especially if you’re not very educated about the event, it maintains a bit of suspense throughout.

The performances help out quite a bit as well. James McAvoy does a fine job of first showing contempt then compassion for his client. And he handles the typical courtroom speeches quite well. Robin Wright adds a nice steely resolve to Surrat. Kevin Kline shows equal parts patriotism, gravitas, and self-righteousness as Stanton. There are many other examples since the cast includes small roles from the likes of Shea Whigham, Stephen Root, James Badge Dale, Evan Rachel Wood, Norman Reedus, Danny Huston, Colm Meaney, Tom Wilkinson, and Justin Long.

That last name might throw you off a bit and it should. Long is a decent enough actor and he’s fine in this film, but he’s just a distracting presence here. Some comedic actors are just too typecast to make the foray into dramatic roles. But that’s not even it. Justin Long can’t pull off a period piece in which he has a big moustache. He just looks goofy.

Long shouldn’t have been there and there are other things that could’ve been cut from the film. The locations are nice and all, but there are far too many establishing shots in which McAvoy rides up to a location and makes his entrance. Once is fine to establish the location, but after that it’s okay to simply cut to him at the location rather than make the audience watch another minute roll by in which a character approaches a place he has been multiple times before.

The above problems are miniscule, though. Overall, The Conspirator is an entertaining historical drama. It’s fairly accurate as well. Of course there are some instances where the film moves away from history (some people are cut out, etc.) but if you want a complete historical account you should read a book about it anyway.

What makes a movie like The Conspirator truly work isn’t exact historical accuracy anyway; it’s the ability to apply past events to current ones. The whole idea of the law being suspended a bit in times of great stress can be applied to multiple scenarios: the treatment of Japanese in America after Pearl Harbor, or the stereotyping of Muslims after 9/11. Some may cry “Liberal!” at that notion but regardless of your politics you can’t deny parallels to history. It is possible you will disagree with the statement this film makes, though. There are certainly people out there that feel our laws shouldn’t completely apply to all citizens depending on our country’s situation.

There may be some who disagree with the film’s statements, but it would be hard to deny that The Conspirator is a well made film that can spark conversation. With the summer movie season about to kick into high gear, you would do well to check this out, because there aren’t many thought-provoking movies hitting the multiplexes in the near future.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Scre4m - Directed by Wes Craven, written by Kevin Williamson, starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette - Rated R

"How meta can you get?"

Horror sequels have gotten out of control. It just seems to be the same old crap churned out year after year and the filmmakers seem blissfully unaware of the crap they are producing. That isn’t a statement about horror films right now…that statement applies to the cinematic atmosphere when the first Scream came out. Add the terms “reboot” and “remake” to that complaint and you have today’s scary movie situation. The original “Scream” was entertaining and original because it acknowledged that it was a slasher movie and played with audience expectations. And after a couple of goofier sequels and a ten year hiatus, Scre4m is here to mock the horror genre again.

Scre4m (by the way, it sickens me a bit to type that stupid title with the “4” replacing the “a,” but that is the actual title) takes meta to the extreme. This movie is so meta that at one point a character actually asks, “How meta can you get?” If you’re new to “meta” as a film phrase, it basically just means that a movie acknowledges that it is a movie, stopping short of having characters flat out staring into the camera and addressing the audience (although that happens sometime, too).

The world of Scream has been self-aware since the very beginning and there’s even a film franchise based on the events of the first film within the series. Sound complicated? It kind of is, but it’s easier to follow onscreen than it is to read about. If you’re savvy with the horror genre and you’ve seen the previous films you should find plenty to enjoy here.

The whole idea of a meta film works very well for the horror genre and it makes Scre4m stand out from the rest of the pack. One could argue that it actually turns the film into just as much a comedy as a horror film. But hey, if you already like to laugh a bit at the genre, what’s it hurt if the film is in on the joke?

Is the movie actually scary, though? That depends. Scre4m is still your basic slasher flick. People get killed in increasingly violent ways and you’re constantly trying to guess the identity of the killer. Maybe you find that frightening, maybe not. There are also jump-scares aplenty if that floats your boat. It never actually seems like the film is attempting to be a truly terrifying film, though.

The main Scream elements are what make this film enjoyable. The main cast has returned (Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette) and there’s Ghostface, the masked knife-wielding killer. Ghostface has never been a truly terrifying physical presence, but the iconic voice may get to some people still. And the voice is still very funny when he gets angry and lets loose with some ultra-violent threats.

Scre4m is not without its problems, though. It’s very hard to care about any of the new characters. In fact, you end up wanting most of them to die in as bloody a manner as possible. Perhaps that’s the point, but there are just too many new faces to go along with the regulars and the film gets too busy at times and loses focus. Also, this is just a sloppily made film at times. There are pointless establishing shots and some time-editing issues that should’ve been dealt with in the editing room.

You may have noticed that there isn’t even a plot summary in this review. Do you care? You know it’s about someone in a mask killing people and it’s all somehow connected to Neve Campbell’s character. That’s all you need to know, isn’t it? Sometimes watching a self-aware film is enjoyable enough that you don’t need much in the way of plot or character development.

Just being self-aware doesn’t excuse all of the problems, however. It’s cool that a horror film references a lack of character development in most horror films, but does that excuse that particular film from the flaw? No, it doesn’t. But it at least sets the film apart from all the rest. Because of that, in a sea of crazy sequels, reboots, and remakes, Scre4m, stupid title and all, manages to be fresh and memorable. Though this is the second time the series has been a “fresh” entry in the slasher genre. How meta is that?

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

I love the Scream franchise, but I was definitely lukewarm on the overly goofy Scream 3. Thankfully, this one tones down the camp just a bit.

Fans of bloodletting should be pleased; there is an insane amount of blood in a few scenes. It’s always good to see a room completely coated in blood in a slasher movie.

I Still have a problem with one element of these films: how can Ghostface take so many kicks to the face yet none of the potential killers ever shows up with so much as a bruise or a broken nose? No big deal; it doesn’t ruin the films for me or anything, but c’mon.

Thankfully Jamie Kennedy didn’t somehow show up (like he did via an old videotape in Scream 3 even though he died in the first sequel. But they did add a new version of his character who was just as annoying…

Really dug the multiple fake openings…

Anthony Anderson takes a knife to the forehead. Fantastic.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Hanna - Directed by Joe Wright, written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr, starring Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, and Tom Hollander - Rated PG-13

"Kids grow up." I loved the action, the score, the themes, and the glorious long takes of this film.

Quick, you need to get a director for an action movie set to a techno-score by The Chemical Brothers. Who do you pick? How about the director of Pride & Prejudice and Atonement? At first glance, Joe Wright seems like a terrible director for a film like Hanna, but just one scene from Atonement makes it apparent that Wright is perfect for a film like this. The scene in question is the long take on a boardwalk that is one of the more impressive shots from recent film memory. That kind of style is what the action genre needs and, thankfully, Wright employs it in Hanna.

More on the long takes later, let’s hit the basics first. Hanna is a flat out cool film about 16-year-old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement, The Lovely Bones), a girl who has been raised in complete seclusion her entire life by her ex-CIA agent father Erik (Eric Bana). They spend their days hunting and training for some unspoken future mission. The film begins when Hanna decides she is ready for the mission and the outside world. There’s more to it than that, but this film is part mystery so the less you know the better off you are.

The constant training in extreme conditions means that both Hanna and Erik are very lethal. So Hanna features more than a few action scenes. The action genre of late has been all about rapid-fire editing that leaves the viewer more disoriented than wowed. And sure, Hanna has some moments like that, but, more importantly, there are a few of those glorious long takes. The longer takes are impressive from a filmmaking perspective, of course, but they work for two more reasons as well. First, they are very seamless and don’t feel like tricks. They are not show-off scenes, either. Secondly, if a fight takes place in one continuous take, then you can’t do that quick-cut hyper-editing that turns into a blur of flailing limbs coupled with punch sound effects. Instead, when Eric Bana throws a punch, you can tell who he hits.

Music is capable of elevating a film and the techno-score from The Chemical Brothers adds quite a bit to Hanna. The action and the style of the film alone would probably work, but the score really brings it all together. It just seems right to hear cool techno beats during a long take in which Eric Bana takes on multiple CIA agents.

The fairy tale motif is the final key to the surprisingly weird Hanna. Hanna reads from “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” and a decent chunk of the film takes place in a Grimm-inspired theme park. This isn’t some idle connection. Hanna is very much like one of the children from the tales (she simply claims that she is from “the forest” at times); the main difference being that she is a bit more capable of defending herself. Then there’s Cate Blanchett’s character. Not to ruin anything, but the close ups of her teeth are not pointless. The reference to a certain Grimm villain is all but confirmed at the theme park. The fairy tale elements really elevate the film and make it the type of film that will benefit from repeat viewings. They also make the film resonate a bit more on an emotional level.

The emotional appeal is helped along quite a bit by the performances of all involved. Saoirse Ronan has quickly become one of the finest young actors in Hollywood and this performance confirms it. She is believable as both a wide-eyed fish out of water and as a trained killing machine. Bana is solid as her father, providing the emotional core of the film. Strangely enough, the emotionless shells of characters also help out because they are such foils to Hanna and Erik. Blanchett is great as usual as the film’s villain. And Tom Hollander gives an unnerving performance as an odd, sadistic hit man.

Hanna is not without its flaws, however. Hanna’s fish out of water moments provide some much needed laughs in the film, but there are one or two too many scenes in which she is awed by the new world around her. The film felt about ten minutes too long because of those scenes. Some people may be put off by the general style of the film as well as at times it can be overbearing. There are very loud moments with some hyper-editing and camera movement. Although, some (e.g., me) would say the overbearing moments make the film more of an experience at times rather than just entertainment.

Hanna is too weird to be for everyone and just weird enough to be kind of great. This isn’t a traditional action movie due to its score, fairy tale theme, and eccentric characters, but the action itself is very traditional because you can tell what’s happening most of the time. Action fans should give this film a chance. (And don’t worry about that PG-13 rating, violence junkies, I would have bet that this film was Rated R if I hadn’t checked the rating before seeing it.) If you’ve seen a preview and are on the fence with this one, go ahead and jump over because Hanna might just surprise you.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

I am officially paying attention to Joe Wright now. Not that his earlier films are really bad or anything (hell, I haven't even seen The Soloist, and don't plan to), their subject matter just wasn't for me. But I imagine I'll watch his next movie no matter what.

Blanchett is definitely supposed to be the Big, Bad Wolf. The close up of the teeth ("My what big teeth you have.") She kills Hanna's grandmother. And she walks out of a giant wolf's head at the theme park near the end.

“Kids grow up.” I obviously loved this line, mainly for Bana's delivery. I hated that he died in the film, but it was necessary for Hanna to truly move on. By the way, Bana gets an awesome, slow motion fight sequence before his death. The slow motion was there as if to say, "We are making sure you can follow this action scene."

How weird was Hollander's character? Not saying that because his character is gay, it was just his overall appearance, the whistling, that whacked out club he was in, and his dead stare. His character really stuck out in an already weird film. Good on you, Hollander!

Monday, April 4, 2011

"Source Code"

Source Code - Directed by Duncan Jones, written by Ben Ripley, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan, and Jeffrey Wright - Rated PG-13

I just love any movie that has a plot element built in that allows a character to die multiple times.

Writer-director Duncan Jones made a splash with his 2009 debut feature, Moon (it made my top ten of that year). It was an interesting and entertaining sci-fi film and made many people eager to see what project Jones would make next. Thankfully, Jones stuck with the sci-fi genre with Source Code and while he didn’t share a writing credit on this one (it was written by Ben Ripley) it is still an engrossing film with a bit of visual flair.

Source Code is about a secret government project that allows a soldier, Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), to take over a person killed in a Chicago terrorist attack for the last eight minutes of the victim’s life. This is not a time travel movie, though. Stevens can’t stop the attack; he can only search for the bomber so the authorities can stop future attacks. This makes Source Code a sci-fi mystery film for the most part and it is a compelling mystery. Stevens can go back as many times as need be to find the bomber so the same eight minutes plays out quite a bit.

This doesn’t mean that the eight minute segments play exactly the same way, of course, but it is populated by the same characters and because of that, the viewer gets to play the part of the detective as well. This is a film that challenges to viewer to watch every part of the screen, searching for clues and/or suspicious behavior. It really makes the movie fun to watch.

At this point you might be wondering about the same time period playing out over and over again. Haven’t we seen Bill Murray in something like this before? And what about this Stevens guy taking over someone else’s body? Is Scott Bakula in this? Yeah, there are similarities between Source Code and Groundhog Day and “Quantum Leap,” but it’s not that big of a deal. If you go back far enough, everything has borrowed from something over time. A film is only a rip off if it doesn’t attempt to be its own film, though. Source Code is certainly its own film with its own ideas and many of those ideas will lead to after-film discussions.

There is one other similarity to Groundhog Day, though: this film has a bit of comedy to it. First, there’s the gimmick of seeing the same thing over and over again. The main character can start to play around with that. Second, and more importantly, these are eight minute segments and Stevens has infinite lives so he can play it out a bit differently each time and sometimes his attempts are a bit humorous.

Some of the humor in Source Code is thanks to the script, but a lot of the credit belongs to Gyllenhaal. He has the flustered part down in the beginning when his character is constantly confused. But he shines once his character catches on and gets into detective mode. Gyllenhaal’s improvised interrogation scenes are very amusing.

Source Code is not a straight up comedy, though. There are a few elements that pack a real emotional punch in the film. First off, there’s Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who Stevens makes a connection with after multiple first meetings. Stevens also has issues with his father. And you start to feel for Stevens himself, who it basically trapped in the titular Source Code until he completes his mission. Side characters have a bit of an arc as well with Vera Farmiga playing Stevens’s handler who develops a bit of a connection to the beleaguered soldier. Jeffrey Wright rounds out the cast as the off-putting boss of the operation.

A sci-fi film with lofty ambitions like inhabiting another person’s existence and traveling to other realities has the potential to be loaded with impressive visuals, but Source Code holds back a bit, to the betterment of the film. The lack of in-your-face visuals allows the focus of the film to remain on the mystery and the emotions of those involved. That’s not to say there are no interesting visual flairs. There are a few cool slow motion scenes and an interesting freeze frame. The show stealer (skip to the next paragraph if you want this to remain slightly unspoiled), though, involves a smooth camera movement followed by someone jumping off a moving train while the camera stays with the character who gets scuffed up in real time. Sure, CG was involved but the scene still had a wow factor to it.

Source Code has ambitions beyond visual flair, though. Not to spoil anything, let’s just say the definition of reality is messed with a bit. This has left some people to bash the film’s ending for attempting to get into deeper issues, but some (including me) will applaud it. This is a movie that could play it safe and stay normal, but dares to go deeper. That’s a rare thing, so you should check out Source Code while you can. It’s easily one of the year’s best films so far.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

The ending brings up some major ideas. First off, the idea of creating these alternate realities. Which reality is the "real" one? Or is there such a thing? After watching plenty of "Fringe" I just accept that there are multiple relalities all happening at once and I can only assume that the Source Code just kind of throws a wrench into the works.

Another thought I had about the ending was that since the reality keeps going after Stevens "dies," then perhaps the film is making a claim about the existence of an afterlife. If you fall into the school of thought that the afterlife could potentially be very much life real life, then Stevens may have entered a kind of personal heaven.

Is the idea of a heaven for a character "too happy"? I can see that argument (I can imagine having that very argument in the past), but it worked for me and I found it to be quite daring rather than an attempt at a crowd pleasing "happy" ending.

Of course, there may be a better argument about this idea of destiny and fate since Stevens had visions of the film's final moments every time he entered the Source Code. But let's say his traveling in and out of the Source Code is basically soul transfer. If so, then maybe he was dabbling in the after life a bit during his trip from Stevens to Fentress. If so, that would explain the ending as the afterlife since he was already seeing glimpses of it.

But hey, these are just theories. I just think it's cool to have a well made film that lends itself to multiple theories.

Finally, the fact that Stevens is dead the whole time may feel like a Shyamalan-like twist, but I felt that it was revealed early enough to remain effective. It didn't feel like a gimmick, either. It really added to the seriousness of Stevens's situation.