Source Code (PG-13, 2011, Summit Entertainment)
There’s no saving the passengers of a train that exploded en route to Chicago’s Union Station. But thanks to the vaguely-but-sufficiently-explained Source Code technology, Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is able to freely and repeatedly explore and manipulate a lifelike simulation of the train’s and its passengers’ final eight minutes. His task is simple: Piece together enough clues to prevent an imminent dirty bomb attack in Chicago’s downtown. But until he does, he’s stuck in the virtual body of one passenger and forced to relive the explosion more times than can be good for the psyche. It’s like a futuristic, wholly nightmarish sequel to “Groundhog Day.” And for Colter, what you know is actually the good part. “Source Code” initially seems poised to be one of those movies that simply repeats itself ad nauseam until Colter cracks the riddle. But in the first of a handful of seriously pleasant surprises, that isn’t the case at all. Getting specific would spoil the mystery of where “Code” eventually goes, but the destination transcends the conventions of the thriller genre and even the genre itself. The last act is, to put it kindly, absolutely preposterous and impossible to believe regardless of your belief-suspension abilities. But given how crazy the premise is in the first place, and given how much fun that absurdity creates in the last act, who cares? Michelle Monaghan, Michelle Monaghan and Jeffrey Wright also star.
Extras: Writer/director/Gyllenhaal commentary, trivia track, two behind-the-scenes features.
Trust (R, 2010, Millennium Entertainment)
Fourteen-year-old Annie (Liana Liberato) thinks she’s found someone special after meeting Charlie online. But Charlie has a confession to make: He isn’t really 16 like he originally said. No, he’s 20. Actually, that’s not true — he’s 25. And when he cops to being 25 before finally asking Annie to meet in person, you already know that’s a low number, too. You also know that what happens next can’t be anything short of awful. Here, however, is where “Trust” steps away from the glut of other movies that have broached the same subject. Rather than turn a very serious and very real parental nightmare into an absurd thriller that sells authenticity down the river in favor of entertainment, “Trust” confronts the nightmare head on and saves its best work for what, in more careless movies, would be considered the aftermath. He might be the catalyst, but this isn’t a movie about Charlie. Rather, it’s about Annie, her mother (Catherine Keener) and especially her father (Clive Owen), whose emotions understandably cover the spectrum, back over it, and run it over again. The fate of Charlie won’t be spoiled here, but it’s almost inconsequential: “Trust” is the rare movie that recognizes the gulf between catching a criminal and healing the damage caused by his crime, and it demonstrates that understanding with incredible skill and three performances you won’t soon forget. No extras.
The Matrimony (NR, 2007, Palisades Tartan)
When Junchu (Leon Lai) lost the love of his life (Bingbing Fan as Manli) to a freak accident, it created a void even Sansan (Rene Liu) — whom he ultimately married out of obligation to his mother rather than love — couldn’t fill. It doesn’t help matters that Junchu has a secret room devoted to Manli that he keeps locked and off-limits to his wife. It doubly doesn’t help when Manli returns as a ghost — and, with Sansan’s blessing, hatches a plan to assume Sansan’s body in hopes of being with Junchu again. Believe it or not, it’s just crazy enough to work — and not just for the first and second wheels. “The Matrimony” is a ghost story like so many other ghost stories, which means it often goes sideways when and as you expect it to. But between the first and second shoe dropping, we’re treated to a story of three lives and the torment all three endure for loving someone they can’t have. Junchu’s madness and Manli’s selfish plan start making just a little sense when the movie illustrates their respective losses as well as it does. But the surprising star of the show is Sansan, whose outsider status in her own home and marriage is so insurmountable that she’s willing to consider being possessed just to get an inkling of what it’s like to be lover. The conditions and results of her wish won’t be spoiled here, but “The Matrimony” has no trouble with the payoff after working so carefully on the buildup. In Mandarin with English subtitles.
Extra: Cast/crew interviews.
Park Benches (NR, 2009, IFC Films)
“Park Benches” begins with a story about a man — a lonely man, if the “Lonely Man” banner hanging from his apartment window is to be believed. We don’t actually know, because we don’t actually see him — only his banner, and only from the viewpoint of office workers speculating about his fate from the building across the street. It’s 20-plus-minutes of scenes devoted to someone who, for all we know, is no one, and it’s a fitting way to kick off a movie that you might say is about nothing. “Park Benches” brings an absolutely loaded French cast (Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Candelier, Mathieu Amalric and Chiara Mastroianni, among numerous others) along for the ride, and it’s busting at the seams with thoughtful, funny, clever, cute, vitriolic and every other kind of exchange between one person and another. As a picture of a neighborhood come alive and a validation of the face-to-face communication some fear is endangered, it’s never, regardless of mood, wanting for energy. At the same time, “Benches” meanders — really, really meanders. Even for a movie designed in the short-story mold, it wanders. Sometimes that means meeting characters once and never again. Sometimes that means an odd block of scenes set in a hardware store. Mostly, it means the exchanges outlive the characters, who are well-conceived but rarely built to endure. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you value storytelling over idea sharing, your patience might be tested. In French with English subtitles.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, international tour footage, uncut Brico-Dream videos (makes sense after you see the movie).
The Task (R, 2010, After Dark Originals/Lions Gate)
You can call it horror, but at this point, it’s safe to classify “reality TV show that goes sideways and threatens to kill all the contestants” as its own genre. The premise has grown so tired so quickly that it’ll take something absolutely, crazily brilliant to make it interesting again. For a moment, “The Task” flirts with doing just that, funneling its premise into a twist (no spoilers) with all kinds of fresh potential. Instead, the story quickly plateaus, and while the movie uses a good scare tactic (having contestants complete tasks by facing their worst fears) to keep it from dragging too badly, it still stalls. But any disappointment that lies there pales in comparison to “The Task’s” final bow, which finds it achieving that moment of brilliance before losing its nerve, sending it back and settling for an ending that’s both supremely derivative and too much of a curveball to deliver a satisfying payoff. The squandered potential would be unfortunate under any circumstance, but it’s that much worse when a movie sees it, grabs it and elects to let it go.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.