Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Great "What If?" Film Trilogy of Spring 2011

All of a sudden, in the aftermath of the Oscar season highs, there's a small slew of films that seem to be rooted in some sort of a sci-fi/fantasy reality version of our own world. Like "The Truman Show", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", "Pleasantville" and, on a more-recent and grander scale, "Inception", these films are about the human drama that unfolds after a certain fantastical premise is introduced and accepted.

These films are "Limitless," "The Source Code" and "The Adjustment Bureau".

These films all seem to be coming out at the same time, so I've decided to make a thing out of it - calling it, "The Great 'What If?' Film Trilogy of Spring 2011," just so that they're all connected in my brain and now feel like one big event rather than just three separate and kinda-not-great movies. Somehow, I think this will make the whole thing more enjoyable. I say "What If?" because, even though every work of fiction can technically be called a "what if?" scenario, these films take something that is basically fantasy, throw it in with some (hopefully) interesting "everyman" characters, and as a result, certain events unfold that have less to do with the actual fantasy element, but - when done well - are engaging because of the characters themselves.

Let's take a closer look at these three films...

LIMITLESS (2011)



Starring Bradly Cooper (A.K.A. that hunky guy from "The Hangover"), Robert DeNiro... and a bunch of people who's names you've never heard before. Director Niel Burger had a small hit in 2008 with The Illusionist (staring Edward Norton, Jessica Biel and Paul Giamatti). The Leslie Nixon screenplay is based on the Alan Glynn novel, "The Dark Fields".

In short, its the story of a man who is given a pill that will allow him to utilize 100% of his brain's potential power, unlike the rest of us mere mortals who are stuck using less than 5%. This is such a ridiculous concept (as using that much of your brain instantly would probably drive you insane and cause your head to explode) that it makes giving into the premise that much more of an act of pure will, but that can be fun, too.

To me, the funniest thing about this premise is that it's pretty much the same story as a 2001 episode of The Simpsons ("HOMЯ"), in which Homer discovers the root cause of his subnormal intelligence: a crayon that was lodged in his brain ever since he was a child. He decides to have it removed to increase his IQ, but discovers that being smart does not necessarily equal being happy.

I think that's pretty much what's going to happen in this film, too.

But here's the weirdest part of the premise: let's say that such a pill actually was created. And as the film seems to suggest, there is really only one single pill that is ever manufactured. Why does THIS Joe-Schmo get to take it? It's a top-secret drug being developed by the government, but somehow this average, everyday, unpublished copywriter is able to get his hands on it and gets to pop it back like a Tylenol... and it works!?

Okay! Sure! Why not? I'm in. Let's see where this goes.

SOURCE CODE (2011)



Starring Jake Gyllanhall, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga, "Source Code" is director Duncan Jones' first foray into the Hollywood Filmmaking machine since his beautiful and original independent film, 2009's "Moon" (Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey), was so resoundingly acclaimed.

"Source Code" is basically this: a guy is sent back in time in order to find out who was responsible for the eventual bombing of the train that he is on. He is sent back exactly 8 minutes before the train explodes and every time he fails to stop the bombing, he dies and wakes up back in his present time. Eventually, he decides that saving the hot girl is more important than his particular mission and goes rogue. It seems a bit like the premise of "12 Monkeys" but we know it's not going to be anything like a Terry Gilliam film.

The ridiculousness: As a human race, we've figured out time travel... and we use it to investigate a recent train bombing? How about 9/11? How about the assassination of Kennedy or Lincoln? How about Hitler!? I suppose there are some severe limitations to the technology. I guess I'll have to check it out to get the whole story.

And finally...

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (2011)



I think this one is going to be the best one.

Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and the ever-creepy, ever-evil Terrence Stamp, "The Adjustment Bureau" is screenwriter George Nolfi's directorial debut. The script, also by Nolfi, is loosely based on a 1954 short story written by Phillip K. Dick, called "Adjustment Team." The film's score is done by one of my personal favorites (ever since he scored "American Beauty" in 1999,) Thomas Newman, and there are also two songs ("Future's Bright" for the opening sequence; "Are You Ready" for the closing credits) by Richard Ashcroft, front man of the British psychedelic rock band, The Verve.

Personally, of all of the aforementioned films, I see this film as the most invested in its weird, sci-fi element but also as the one that delves the deepest into what will probably turn out to be the strongest and most interesting characters.

Here's the premise: When aspiring congressman, David Norris (Damon), meets a mysterious ballet dancer (Blunt), he is instantly smitten and distracted. The whole world turns upside down, however, when a mysterious group of white men in dark suits and fedoras appear and inform Norris that he was not "supposed" to see the woman again - these men are the Adjustment Bureau; the people who keep the course of each and every person's destiny on track. Norris has skewed his own path, and has somehow been enlightened to the existence of the bureau. This knowledge empowers Norris to make a choice - to follow his given path, or to create his own.

The premise itself, although ridiculous in a realistic sense, is much more obviously poetry - a fantasy designed to highlight the battle of free will that we all struggle with; the responsibility of making choices and heading down certain paths in our own lives. And for this very reason, I believe this film has the strongest and most relevant theme out of the "trilogy".

So there you have it. Who wants to join me on this journey in seeing all three films as they come out in theaters!? Please leave comments below and tell me what you thought of any or all of the films discussed here. (Or any others! What the hell!?!)

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