No sophomore slump for director Duncan Jones. His latest film, the Jake Gyllenhaal/Michelle Monaghan starring sci-fi thriller is even better than is debut film “Moon”. Never straying far from the emotional connection of his main characters (which always lends the loopy sci-fi genre a welcome sense of identification), the film works so well as a thriller because I actually wanted this couple on a bomb-laden train to survive. Through a series of recurring events timed to 8 minutes, Gyllenhaal is the root of a government experiment sending him back in time (or memory rather) to uncover the source of a terrorist attack on a tram outside Chicago. Redundant, of course, as he relives the same eight minutes of time over and over but never boring, director Jones emphasizes each segment with an exciting new perspective. Upping the ante is Gyllenhaal’s human nature curiosity to figure out why he’s involved with this experiment in the first place. All of this comes together in a taut… and even sweet… mind bending finale.
Dissonant piano chords… a bleached out, flat visual style…. And a title card that literally jumps off the screen with aggression… James Wan’s “Insidious” starts out as a slow burn horror movie and evolves into something pretty disturbing. The moments early on- involving the ominous use of a baby monitor and the horrific sounding voice it picks up- more than make “Insidious” an enjoyable haunted house story for people wanting to jump a bit. And then, when Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell begin to explore ideas of astral projection, demon channeling and dream walks into hell in the second half, “Insidious” becomes something altogether terrifying. I give the filmmakers credit for not playing it safe. This is not the usual horror movie and (thankfully) a huge departure for Wan and Wannell with their “Saw” franchise, completely devoid of blood and gore. In the final 30 minutes, “Insidious” travels to some insane places and I found it genuinely unsettling, much like Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses”. Both films use the standard genre to spin their own macabre tales replete with odd images and unique editing styles that propel shadowy craziness into new heights. A new midnight cult classic for sure and one of the first great viewing experiences of 2011.
Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy” continues on his penchant for meta-cinema of the highest order. Alongside his great 1991 film “Close Up”- which dared to mix up cinema, voyeurism and documentary with head spinning acuity- “Certified Copy” follows a couple, writer James (William Shimell) and antique dealer Elle (Juliette Bincohe) as they (possibly) first meet and then spend the day together playacting a relationship with both themselves and strangers in the sunny Italian countryside. Trying to decipher whether their relationship truly is real or not (which the beginning gives hints to both sides of the coin) seems inconsequential. “Certified Copy” is Kiarostami inverting the meet-cute romance genre into a war of words, body language and imagination. Binoche is simply brilliant here, running the gamut of emotions with ease.