In director Duncan Jones’ ( Moon) new time-twisting sci-fi thriller Source Code, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a soldier sent into a space of eight minutes aboard a train bound for disaster; a temporal pocket he must inhabit over and over until he unravels either the identity of a bomber — or his own. Fortunately he gets to relive those same eight minutes with his delightful co-star Michelle Monaghan, who plays a passenger on the train in possession of a possible key to Jake’s future. Or past. No, wait, is it the future? Yep, it’s one of those cyclical narratives that revels in its sometimes confounding paradoxes. For Monaghan, who Jones cast having liked her in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it meant playing the same scene, and character, on endless loop; adjusting her performance ever so slightly in reaction to the changing trajectory of Gyllenhaal’s time-tripper. We caught up with the actress, most recently seen in Due Date and Somewhere and soon to star in Marc Forster’s Machine Gun Preacher, and asked her to name her Five Favorite Films. “That’s really hard,” Monaghan laughs, “but I’m sure everybody tells you how hard it is.” Indeed.

 


A Woman Under the Influence (1974, 94% Tomatometer)



My favorite — my number one favorite, actually — is A Woman Under the Influence. [Gena Rowlands] is just… I respect and admire her so much as an actress. I just think that performance is so brave and extraordinary. It was one of those things that, as a woman, as an actress, I kind of appreciate, you know. And also, that film is kind of a really, truly independent film. I think Cassavetes financed it, I think Peter Falk put money into it; kind of no one really believed in it. I was in a film a couple of years ago that a studio would never touch, a movie called Trucker, which was a great opportunity for me; but those sort of movies need to be independently financed.

Fargo (1996, 94% Tomatometer)

 

I really like Fargo a lot. It has everything. I love the Coen brothers. I love Frances McDormand, I think she’s just an extraordinary actress. She’s so funny in that movie, as Marge. I’m from the Midwest, I’m from Iowa; so obviously that accent’s really heightened, but it’s something that I hear every time I go home. It’s something that feels like very much where I grew up; that backdrop is exactly where I grew up. It’s definitely exaggerated but yeah, there’s definitely that, “Oh, oh my gosh” where I come from. And when I go home and after I have a couple of beers you’d probably hear it come out: “You betcha!” [laughs]

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989, 62% Tomatometer)

 

I love Christmas Vacation, with Chevy Chase, and Randy Quaid as well. It’s so funny. Juliette Lewis is in there, too — who I think is genius, by the way, in everything that she’s in. That movie, to me, is so funny that every time it plays at Christmas time I inevitably have to watch it. I mean, every scene in that movie is so funny — when that squirrel lands on the toupee of the grandpa; the kid when he gets on the damn saucer and he flies down the hill, I mean, I just think that’s a really cheesy scene. And I love Chevy Chase. Any Chevy Chase. He’s just got a really funny quality about him, and it’s really subtle — he’s got a little twinkle in his eye, he’s really sort of mischievous. I like him. Just the way he carries himself — he’s really animated without being physical.

Animal Kingdom (2010, 97% Tomatometer)

 

This movie is still my favorite movie of last year, and I think I have to name it because I just thought it was an extraordinary film and I still think about it a lot. I saw it in the theater and it really hit me like a ton of bricks. I think he’s a really extraordinary director, David Michôd. Ben Mendelsohn and Jackie Weaver — every single performance in that I was so impressed with, but in particular just the direction. That’s a director that I appreciate the sense that he allows his actors to just act and have these really quiet moments, and he really just created this world — the atmosphere of that movie was amazing. For a first film, too. The way that he was able to create a level of tension with actors not really saying much or doing much, it was just what he did with the camera. There are not a lot of films where you can just appreciate the camerawork and what a significant aspect of the whole film it is. It was perfectly curated.

Hands on a Hard Body (1998, 84% Tomatometer)

 

I really like documentaries a lot; maybe more than film. I love this documentary called Hands on a Hard Body. It was made in the 1990s, I think. It’s about this annual event that takes place in Texas — it’s kind of like an endurance test of how long you can keep your hand on a truck. And if you are the last man standing, you get the truck. Literally, you just stand, day and night with your hand on a truck, and there’s like 15 or 20 people all standing there. And it’s such a well-done documentary. They feature each person before the program starts; the director comes in and he asks them questions like, “Why do you want to do this? Why do you want your truck?” and it’s just a real, unique look into people’s lives. It’s really powerful and it’s really moving and it’s kind of funny and odd and bizarre. It goes on for, I think, over 72 hours, and it’s really sad as you see this people dropping out. It says a lot about human endurance.

 


Source Code is in theaters this week.

This week, we’ve got a wide variety of choices, mostly fresh from the theaters. First up, we’ve got the winner of the AU Golden Tomato award, a slick little crime thriller that should please most. Then we’ve also got a highly rated thriller starring Ryan Reynolds, a heist flick with a big cast, a prison showdown between Edward Norton and Robert De Niro, another “is it real or fake” mockumentary about a teen losing his virginity, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut, and a documentary omnibus film based on a popular nonfiction book. Then, to top it all off, we’ve got brand spanking new Criterion Collection editions for a couple of classics by Samuel Fuller. So dig in and see if anything tickles your fancy.



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Animal Kingdom

If you’re a regular visitor to RT, then you’re possibly already aware of this small Australian film that captured the attention of critics all over the world. One of the ten best-reviewed limited release films of 2010, as well as the top film from Australia, Animal Kingdom is a crime drama that paints a portrait of Melbourne’s seedy underbelly. The story focuses on Joshua “J” Cody (James Frecheville), young nephew in the Cody crime family, and his initiation into the “family business.” J becomes the subject of investigation by a police officer named Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce), who attempts to lure J against his family. Critics felt that the cast all performed superbly, and with a well-written script and a steady, kinetic pace, the Certified Fresh Animal Kingdom (96% on the Tomatometer) proves that Australia’s cinema is not to be ignored. If you’re into gritty crime dramas, this is definitely worth checking out.



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Buried

2010 saw the release of a handful of one-location thrillers, like Devil (an elevator) and Frozen (a stalled ski lift), but possibly the best-reviewed one of them all was a little-seen indie thriller that took place primarily inside a coffin. Ryan Reynolds stars as a man who wakes up to find himself buried alive with nothing to help his situation but a lighter and a cell phone. With air dwindling, he must quickly figure out why he’s been buried and who did it. Films like this depend heavily on the acting chops of their stars, and critics say that Reynolds holds the movie together terrifically, helping to create a gripping drama from a premise that could easily have lost its novelty quickly. At 85% on the Tomatometer, Buried is Certified Fresh, so don’t let its minimalist setting fool you; this is a thriller worth checking out.



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Takers

It’s difficult these days to make a heist movie stand out from its predecessors, being that so many plot twists and turns have been explored in the genre. Unfortunately, despite featuring a cast that includes everyone from Matt Dillon, Zoe Saldana, and Idris Elba to recording artists Chris Brown and T.I., Takers ultimately falls prey to conventional heist movie clichés and poor characterization, leaving little for the viewer to indulge in aside from a few explosive set pieces. Dillon and Jay Hernandez play detectives Jack Welles and Eddie Hatcher, who are hot on the trail of a gang of organized bank robbers led by Gordon Crozier (Elba). When an old crewmate (T.I.) thought to be in prison is released, he talks the gang into one more heist, and plenty of double crosses ensue. Takers only rang true to the critics to the tune of a 29% Tomatometer, but the other constant with heist movies is that, even if they are derivative, they’re usually still a bit fun to watch, so you might save this one for a rainy night.



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Stone

The prospect of seeing Edward Norton and Robert De Niro square off with each other just doesn’t have the appeal that it did a decade ago. Back then, De Niro was coming off of performances in Casino, Heat, and Ronin, and Norton was hitting his stride in films like Rounders, American History X, Fight Club. So it wasn’t a surprise when 2001’s The Score, featuring both actors, was a hit. Fast forward to 2010, when Stone saw De Niro as a retiring correctional officer named Jack Mabry who takes one last case, namely that of Gerald “Stone” Creeson (Norton). In an effort to secure an early parole, Stone manipulates Mabry with mind games and instructs his own wife, Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), to seduce Mabry as part of the deal. Critics are largely split on Stone, but most agree that its premise is a tad farfetched and, despite a solid cast, veers wildly into strange territory. Not exactly a crowdpleaser, but if you’re a fan of either actor, you may still enjoy it.



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Freakonomics

In 2005, a non-fiction book took the country by storm, examining several sociological phenomena from the perspective of economics, or, as pointed out by authors Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, the study of incentives. Four years and four million copies later, a number of critically acclaimed documentary filmmakers, from Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) to Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) to Seth Gordon (King of Kong), were brought together to illustrate on film the principles featured in the book. While the results were both thought provoking and often humorous, critics felt that viewers might be better served by reading the book, which offered the same sorts of stories, but with greater insight and more detail. Nevertheless, the film still earned a decent 66% Tomatometer, so for those who just want the crash course, this should do just fine.



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The Virginity Hit

Directors Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland succeeded in writing one documentary-style film last year, The Last Exorcism, and that one did pretty well for itself, both critically and commercially. This wasn’t the case, unfortunately, for the film the duo directed, namely The Virginity Hit, the chronicle of one teenager’s quest to lose his virginity, as told via handheld home video cameras and cell phones. Though it’s unclear how much of the story was staged for the production, and how much of it was genuine (much like another similar film, Catfish), Matt (the teen in question) and his buddies occupy the screen like real life versions of characters from a Judd Apatow movie. Unfortunately, critics were not impressed by what they saw, calling the film shallow, uninteresting, and crass, despite a few funny moments. Maybe worth a look for the supremely curious, but probably not something that’s got widespread appeal.



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Jack Goes Boating

Philip Seymour Hoffman has had his share of success in front of the camera, and he’s also an accomplished theater director, so the next natural step for him was to direct a film, and that brings us to Jack Goes Boating, Hoffman’s directorial debut and a film adaptation of a play of the same name. Hoffman plays the titular Jack, a limo driver with a penchant for Reggae music, who’s introduced to Connie (Amy Ryan) through Jack’s friend Clyde (John Ortiz) and his wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). As Jack and Connie grow closer, Clyde and Lucy simultaneously begin falling apart, and both couples must learn how to come to terms with these new developments. Hoffman played Jack in the original stage production, and the script for Jack Goes Boating was adapted by the writer of the original play, so there is some authenticity to the picture, and critics appreciated the honest characterization, giving the film a respectable 67% Tomatometer score. There is a little bit lost in translation from stage to screen, but it’s a well-acted romantic dramedy that should be perfect for some.



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Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss – Criterion Collection

Samuel Fuller has never been a stranger to controversy, the most well-known case of which probably revolves around the production of his anti-racism themed 1981 film White Dog, which, ironically, was suppressed by Paramount Pictures for fear that the film would mistakenly be considered racist. But even as far back as the 1960s, Fuller was making excellent films about unpopular subjects, and two of them get the refreshed Criterion Collection treatment this week: 1963’s Shock Corridor and 1964’s The Naked Kiss. The former centers on a journalist who checks himself into a mental hospital in order to investigate a murder, but ends up slowly going insane himself; the latter is a satire of suburbia that sees a prostitute moving to a prim new town to start her life over, only to discover that it harbors its own dirty little secrets. Both films are offered in DVD and Blu-Ray formats, with Criterion’s typically outstanding special features, including archived TV interviews, a documentary on Fuller himself, and illustrations and essays.

This week at the movies, we’ve got elite mercenaries (The Expendables, starring Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham), a journey of self-discovery (Eat, Pray, Love, starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem), and a geek-turned-hero (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, starring Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead). What do the critics have to say?



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The Expendables

Sly Stallone directs and stars in The Expendables, and he’s got a veritable army of your favorite action stars along for the ride, including Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, and Terry Crews. Sounds like a rip-roaring good time, right? Well, critics say that while this old-school action flick is jam-packed with star power and explosions, it’s sadly short on imagination and decent plotting. Stallone stars as the leader of a band of mercenaries who’ve been hired to take out the puppet dictator of a fictional rogue nation. The pundits say The Expendables delivers some impressive, impossibly over-the-top action that harkens back to Sly’s 1980s heyday, but it’s a stale, humorless affair. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we run down Stallone’s best-reviewed movies.)



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Eat, Pray, Love

Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love made her the darling of book clubs across the nation, for obvious reasons: her witty travelogue acted as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for readers longing for globe-trotting, tasty meals, and a little amore. However, critics are less than enchanted by the movie, which, despite the luminous presence of Julia Roberts, is skin-deep and cliché-ridden. Roberts stars as a well-to-do woman who, after a painful divorce, travels the world in search of spiritual actualization and — of course — romance. The pundits say Roberts is magnetic, and the scenery is often breathtaking, but Eat, Pray, Love is short on profound insights despite its overextended runtime.



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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World a comic book movie? Is it a video game movie? It’s both, and much more, say critics, who find this irrepressible action/comedy tough to resist. Michael Cera stars as Scott, an unemployed layabout whose life changes when he meets Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) the girl of his dreams. However, in order to win her, he must defeat her seven evil exes. The pundits say the Certified Fresh Scott Pilgrim sometimes suffers from excess, but what glorious excess it is — director Edgar Wright has fashioned a fast-and-furious miasma of pop culture references that’s heartfelt and very funny, sure to delight geeks and non-fanboys (and girls) alike with its manic, inspired sense of fun.


Also opening this week in limited release:

  • Animal Kingdom, a drama about the fall of an Aussie crime family, is Certified Fresh at 93 percent.

  • Neshoba, a documentary about the murders of three Civil Rights workers in 1964, is at 88 percent.

  • Peepli Live, a satire of contemporary Indian politics and media, is at 75 percent.

  • Tales from Earthsea, a fantasy anime feature from Goro Miyazaki (the son of the legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki), is at 48 percent.

  • Salt of This Sea, a drama about an American woman who attempts to find her Palestinian roots, is at 33 percent.

  • La Soga, a drama about a secret police hitman who has a crisis of confidence, is at 25 percent.

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