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Movie Review Catch Up – The Babadook, Nightcrawler & The Imitation Game

With December and Christmas bringing a sleigh-load of work with it (I realise this makes me sound like Santa Claus), I’ve not been able to get my thoughts down on some of the films I’ve seen. So here they are in one festive bundle.

The Babadook

The Babadook

A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

Being a well-known wimp when it comes to horror films, I was incredibly trepidatious about checking out Australian horror film The Babadook but it turned out to be one of the more enjoyable horror experiences I’ve had of recent years.

Rather than your common or garden jump scares that litter most modern horrors, The Babadook has a creeping sense of unease rooted in issues that many may find familiar, mixed with the supernatural and the uncanny. It’s this sense of familiarity that helps the film really get under your skin, and those who have children may well feel it hits close to home.

When stripped down there’s little here that hasn’t been done before (haunted house, possessed child, etc) and it does stray into cliche territory on occasion, but an interesting subtext surrounding depression and the brilliantly-designed Babadook monster itself help it to rise above any problems those cliches bring about.

It’s not going to reinvent the horror genre, but The Babadook is a rarity in that it actually has substance and something to say rather than just relying on trying to make your jump.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

When Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story.

One of the things that made David Fincher’s Gone Girl interesting was its commentary on today’s media, how it’s produced and how we consume it. However, as Gone Girl had that as something of a secondary message, it’s very much the central focus of Nightcrawler and it does it brilliantly.

In a way it’s the more serious, sinister side of Anchorman and the instant nature of 24-hour rolling news, as well as the competition between news agencies and channels. It’s a murky, morbid world, but one that we’re happy to lap up and exposes the voyeurs in many of us. It’s like slowing down in your car to get a peek at a nasty accident.

Smack bang at the centre of all this is Lou Bloom, played superbly by Jake Gyllenhaal. Lou is a clearly troubled fellow who lacks social skills, but his desire to do whatever it takes to get the right shot makes him dangerous. He’s an anti-hero of sorts and despite his major flaws, there is something sympathetic, almost admirable about the character and Gyllenhaal must take a massive amount of credit for that.

It’s not often that a film makes you appreciate such an awkward, unsettling character but Nightcrawler does just that. It’s also an interesting comment on modern news and society, and suggests that we’re just as much intrigued and fascinated by what Lou does as we are abhorred by it.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game

English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), helps crack the Enigma code during World War II.

It’s unfathomable to think what the world would have been like without Alan Turing, and yet many still don’t realise just how influential he was in ending World War II. However, what’s even less well known (and just as unfathomable) is the inhumane treatment of Turing at the hands of the UK government simply because he was gay.

The Imitation Game balances both these elements of Turing’s life and does an excellent job of hitting all the important points, which is perfect for those who have little knowledge of Turing. However, it takes very few risks and never goes into too much detail about either side of his life, which might not satisfy those wanting something a little meatier and in-depth.

What really elevates the film, though, is Benedict Cumberbatch’s brilliant performance as Alan Turing. His awkward, arrogant manner isn’t always likeable but is magnificently handled by Cumberbatch and those hailing it as a career-best performance wouldn’t be being too hyperbolic.

It does verge on the wrong side of sentimental at times, but this is more a celebration of Turing that plays to the masses rather than anything deeper and darker. If nothing else The Imitation Game will bring Turing’s story to those who weren’t previously aware of it and encourage them to dig deeper into one of the most important men of the 20th century.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Source Code – A lesson in how to screw up an ending

There be spoilers

Quick run down on the plot of 2011’s Source Code for those who need it: Helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself on a Chicago-bound train, except he’s not who he appears to be and has assumed the body of teacher Sean Fentress. After Colter/Sean freaks out a bit, the train explodes.

Source CodeStevens then wakes up in an unfamiliar cockpit and is contacted by a woman on the other end of a TV screen who explains to him that the explosion was a real event that happened earlier that day and that he was sent to an alternate reality that lasts just eight minutes using a machine (the Source Code) in an attempt to discover the identity of the train bomber so to prevent a subsequent attack. Colter is then sent back to the train several times, each time with exactly eight minutes to discover who it was that blew up the train.

I think that just about covers it.

Now then, I was thoroughly enjoying Source Code; it was exciting, intriguing, a pretty original idea; even Jake Gyllenhaal was reasonably tolerable as the protagonist. But then , just as I was gearing up for the credits to role, it went and dropped one of the most ridiculous conclusions I can ever remember watching. The climax was fine; Stevens works out who the bomber is and they prevent a future nuclear attack. Great, well done. Then Stevens asks to be sent back into the Source Code to try and prevent the original bomb from going off, even though he’s repeatedly told that it would make no difference.

But guess what? It turns out that it DOES make a difference. Well, in that particular reality anyway. Cool, nice little twist, especially when he sends a text message to the Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), the woman he’s been liaising with in the ‘real’ reality, explaining that he had managed to stop the disaster. It’s a little confusing to explain but is a lot clearer on screen. Well it is until the denouement and then everything seems to go to shit.

In the Source Code reality, Stevens has disarmed the bomb, tied up the bomber and is pretty damn happy with himself. He has challenged a fellow passenger, a comedian who seems a bit of a dick, to make everyone laugh and has just made a move on his travelling companion Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who Sean Fentress obviously knows but Colter Stevens has had to get to know over the several eight-minute periods. So, they share a kiss, everyone on the train is happy and laughing and time freezes as the eight minutes he is allowed in the Source Code is up.

Everyone loves a happy ending...There. Just leave it there. Credits roll, please. You’ve got the happy ending that the film didn’t even need in the first place, but just leave us with a nice open-ended conclusion. Does time carry on now that he’s stopped the bomb or will that reality, once again, cease to exist after eight minutes? Just leave us to that thought and the film would have been rounded off nicely.

But then time unfreezes again. Everything continues and all those people will continue with their lives without being blown to bits or being turned back into computer code. Erm OK, I can see where you’re going with this. You want to give Stevens a super happy ending and give the audience a reason to go ‘fuck yeah we beat the terrorists and now it’s a big love-in’. Back in the ‘real world’ (it’s easy to make a few Matrix comparisons here), Goodwin has taken pity on Stevens, who we learn is being kept in a military facility on life support following an accident in Afghanistan, and turn off the machines keeping him alive, allowing him to die. But it’s Jake Gyllenhaal and he’s the good guy, the one all the men want to be and the women want to be with. He can’t really die, who’s going to make the audience grin and high-five when they leave the cinema? Forget the fact that Stevens actually wanted to die and had made peace with his dad, whom he had argued with previously, and had helped in foiling a nuclear attack, THAT’S JUST NOT HAPPY ENOUGH! IT MUST BE HAPPIER!

Instead, Stevens now gets to live on in an alternate reality with a new love of his life and everything is marvellous. But wait a second, if Stevens has assumed the body of Sean Fentress, then what the hell has happened to him? The face looking back at Christina is that of Sean’s, but it’s Stevens’ mind inside. Does Sean now just not exist? Has his mind just disappeared into thin air? So, while Christina and Stevens live on in happiness, Sean Fentress’ world is now completely torn to pieces. Just think of his family.

This picture makes as much sense as the film's endingAlso, in this alternate reality that Steven’s now inhabits, the Source Code machine hasn’t needed to be used because he stopped the bomb, but the actual Colter Stevens from that reality is still attached to the life support in the military facility. A little confusing, I know. But if that’s the case, unless I’m very much mistaken, then that means there are TWO Colter Stevens now in that reality. It just doesn’t make sense. My brain hurts.

There could well be an explanation for these points (and maybe I’m just too blinkered to see it), but rather than question the possibility of alternate realities and parallel universes, all I’m questioning is the writers’ ability to successfully craft a decent script. It seems that thought-provoking and coherent storytelling has been sacrificed for a happy ‘Hollywood’ ending that serves no purpose other than to attempt to satisfy the sentimentality of a particular demographic of cinema-goers who, if they had any inkling as to the film’s premise, probably wouldn’t have watched it with those expectations anyway.

Source Code got a pretty positive reception from critics when released, which makes me think I’m completely missing the point of it. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was an interesting concept and well done right up until the last five or ten minutes.  Am I over thinking it or is the ending really as full of train-sized plot holes as it appears? Maybe I’m just not as versed in quantum physics or whatever as I need to be.

Words: Chris Thomson

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