- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 24, 2011

NEW RELEASES

Source Code

Summit Entertainment

★★★½

You are a U.S. Air Force helicopter pilot, stationed in Afghanistan. You awaken after a mission to find yourself on a commuter train heading into Chicago. The identification in your wallet says you’re a person you’ve never heard of. The other passengers around you, including the lovely young woman sitting across from you, seem to know you, though you don’t recognize them. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you know something is about to happen, something you must prevent. Can you figure out what’s going on in time?

This is just the beginning of the tense, thought-provoking science-fiction thriller “Source Code.” Jake Gyllenhaal (“Brokeback Mountain”) stars as Colter Stevens, a decorated pilot who becomes a “volunteer” in an unusual experiment. Using breakthrough technology, a government scientist (Jeffrey Wright) can “trace” a time code back to the crucial minutes before a violent incident. He is able to place Stevens, under an assumed identity, on the train and use his training to try and uncover clues to the identity of the attacker. But there’s more to the story than whether or not Stevens can save the day and his fellow passengers.

Director Duncan Jones (“Moon”) and writer Ben Ripley have crafted a tightly paced adventure tale that skillfully explores the territory of the heart while stretching the imagination as well. Mr. Ripley’s script engages audiences with just enough theoretical detail to make its science-fiction elements feel credible.

Mr. Gyllenhaal and the rest of the cast, which includes Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga (“Up in the Air”), do an excellent job of highlighting the emotional underpinnings of the story, as Stevens discovers more about the experiment’s darker side.

Extras in the DVD format include commentary tracks from Mr. Gyllenhaal, Mr. Jones (son of David Bowie) and Mr. Ripley, along with featurettes on time-travel science. Blu-ray extras include scientist commentaries on specific scenes and trivia about the making of the film.

A clever and surprisingly moving adventure, “Source Code” is a first-class thrill ride that offers more than meets the eye. MPAA Rating: PG-13, for profanity and violence.

 

Winter in Wartime

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

★★★

In a bleak and snowy village in Nazi-occupied Holland, World War II is slowly grinding to an end. Fourteen-year-old Michael has watched some friends and neighbors collaborate with the Germans while hearing whispers of the bravery of the Resistance.

As “Winter in Wartime” unfolds, Michael begins to find himself caught between his own idealistic visions of courage and the painful reality of the choices war forces upon adults.

Based on a best-selling, semiautobiographical novel, “Winter” follows Michael as he embarks on a harrowing journey involving a wounded Royal Air Force pilot he tries to help find his way back home. Michael finds himself battling contradictory emotions, wanting to share his secret with someone to impress them with his courage, yet also growing increasingly aware of the danger in which he is placing himself and his family.

Actor Martijn Lakemeier is impressive as Michael. He brings a youthful energy and openness to the role that engages our sympathy and wins our rooting interest. At the same time, we see the boy’s dawning understanding of his father and other adults whose compromises he finds confusing and, perhaps, unforgivable.

Martin Koolhoven solidly directs this well-crafted coming-of-age story, despite his resort to some visual cliches, including the use of slow motion, to bring the film to a painful, but honest, conclusion.

Released in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack, the only extras featured here are a “making of” feature and the film’s theatrical trailer. In Dutch, English and German with English subtitles. MPAA Rating: R, for profanity, violence and brief sensuality.

 

BACK OF THE RACK

 

October Sky

Universal Home Entertainment

★★★★

With the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis just completed, an era has ended. As a spacecraft designer and astronaut trainer for NASA, Homer Hickam was one of those who helped make manned space travel a reality. “October Sky” is the stirring and entertaining tale of how his interest in rocketry began and how he fought to make it his career.

Jake Gyllenhaal, in his first major starring role, plays Homer, the son of a coal miner (Chris Cooper). When Homer learns of the Russians’ Sputnik launch from his high school science teacher, Miss Riley (Laura Dern), he and three of his friends begin building and experimenting with rockets and considering college.

His father sees rocketry as a hobby that distracts Homer from his inevitable fate - joining him and his older son working in the mine. A struggle soon develops between father and son, each of whom wants something different for Homer’s future, and the teacher who sees what the father can’t - his son’s intellectual gifts and potential.

Based on Mr. Hickam’s acclaimed autobiography “Rocket Boy,” “October Sky” is a heartfelt tale of doing whatever it takes to fulfill your dreams. Director Joe Johnston draws sincere, affecting performances from his entire cast while unfolding this touching story at an unhurried pace.

Striking all the right notes, “October Sky” is a truly inspiring film that can be enjoyed with the entire family. MPAA Rating: PG, for mild profanity and mild sexual content.

Joe Barber is the entertainment editor for WTOP-FM and a critic-panelist for WETA-TV’s “Around Town.”