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Time Travel

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Roll Over Einstein? Not so fast.

‘We tried to find all possible explanations for this,’ the report’s author Antonio Ereditato of the Opera collaboration told BBC News on Thursday evening. ‘We wanted to find a mistake – trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects – and we didn’t.
When you don’t find anything, then you say “well, now I’m forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinise this”.’

As broke everywhere last week, CERN appears to find evidence of neutrinos moving faster than light(!) — time travel possible which would, well, basically rewrite the laws of physics and make. (See what I did there? Anyway, kind of a big deal!)

Fermilab is currently trying to reproduce the results, but for now, the scientific community is, shall we say, skeptical. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I think it will be perceived in retrospect as an embarrassment that this claim received so much publicity–the inevitable consequence of posting a preprint on the Web.

Update: Sorry, aspiring Marty McFlys: As expected, rumors of relativity’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Here’s the rub: “[T]he distance that the neutrinos had to travel in their reference frame is longer than the distance that the neutrinos had to travel in our reference frame, because in our reference frame, the detector was moving towards the source.” Thus, thte experiment “helps to reinforce relativity rather than question it.

Groundhog Train.

If Hanna was Run Lola Run meets Bourne meets True Grit, then Duncan Jones’ enjoyable B-movie Source Code — another film that has sat in both the viewing and reviewing queues for several weeks — is Groundhog Day meets Deja Vu meets Quantum Leap. Jones’ second film is nowhere near as great or gripping as his heady sci-fi debut, Moon, but it doesn’t really aspire to be either. Instead we have an amiable and breezy popcorn flick that hits at about the level of a quality episode of Amazing Stories, and I mean that as a compliment.

The agreeable, low-key feel of Source Code matches not only its two leads, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan — both of whom have their usual affable guy/girl-next-door appeal about them here — but also the patron saint of the reliving-the-past-so-we-can-make-it-right genre: Scott Bakula, formerly of Quantum Leap. (He’s here not just in spirit — Bakula also has a voice cameo late in the film. Well-played, Mr. Jones.) And if you enjoyed the time-traveling do-gooderism of Dr. Sam Beckett at all back in the day, you basically know what you’re getting here — A slightly longer and more high-budge episode of the show (alas with no Dean Stockwell — although Vera Farmiga is here, doing a lot of talking to a television screen, and Jeffrey Wright has fun muttering and puttering around in the background as a mad scientist of sorts.)

If for some weird reason you’ve never seen Quantum Leap, the conceit of Source Code is this: Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) — a helicopter pilot who thought he was on duty in Afghanistan — wakes up on a train bound for Chicago, sitting across from a comely brunette (Monaghan) who seems to think he’s a teacher named Sean Fentress. Eight minutes later, before he can disentangle what’s happened to him or what’s going on, that train goes boom, killing all aboard. Then Capt. Stevens wakes again to find himself strapped within a futuristic-looking metallic pod, a la Jodie Foster at the end of Contact, with a military handler (Farmiga) trying to ping him over the radio. Most expensive training simulation evar?

Sort of. As the disoriented captain soon discovers, Stevens is actually the Army-donated guinea pig for a new time-traveling technology called (wait for it, wait for it) Source Code, which allows him to relive the last eight minutes of a dead man’s life — but only for informational purposes. In this case, his charge is, a la pretty much every season of 24, to figure out who the bomber of the train is before, in real time, he or she can strike again in downtown Chicago. And so Stevens dives back in, and in again, until he knows exactly when the coffee get spilled and where the gun on board is, all the while developing a closer rappaport with Monaghan. Is it possible he could use Source Code to change the past, rather than just learn from it, and save her life? Be a whole lot cooler if he could…

So, like I said, Quantum Leap — although there’s a lot of Groundhog Day here as well, particularly as Stevens gradually hones his eight-minute runs through trial and error (and learns how to get on the good side of some of his crustier travelmates.) More than anything, tho’, Source Code feels like an exercise in video game logic. Replace the train blowing up with “you have been eaten by a grue,” and for all intent and purposes Stevens is just playing an Infocom game here (or, for the unplugged, reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book.) And so there’s not much sense of danger here in Source Code — The pleasures to be had are less of the will-he-beat-the-ticking-time-bomb variety than of watching someone work out a “Bombing on the Orient Express”-style text-adventure puzzle.

Still, the movie is good fun, not the least since Gyllenhall (who’s already done time as [spoiler] an already-dead time traveler in Donnie Darko) moves along the story at about the pace of the audience: The script is a smart one — Once Stevens understands the ground rules, he runs with it, trying the things that you or I might try to sort his way through the situation.

Now, that being said, the movie’s ending doesn’t make much sense when you think about it. (It’s also unwittingly creepy, in a Being John Malkovich kind of way, if you take time to remember that somewhere before all this started there existed a teacher named Sean Fentriss.) But, hey, it’s a time-travel flick. More often than not, the logic is going to break down at some point regardless. Take it for its B-movie worth and Source Code is a fun, smooth, and involving ride, and a perfectly fine way to spend 90 minutes on a spring or summer day. And if you really like it, you can go ahead and relive it again — just watch out for the grues.

Groundhog Train.

In the trailer bin of late, Amtrak rider Jake Gyllenhaal is stuck in a moment he can’t get out of in our first look at Duncan Jones’ Source Code, also with Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright. Looks a bit too much like Tony Scott’s Deja Vu for my taste, but Jones has already earned the price of admission for this one with Moon.

Now We’ve Done It.

Don’t say we weren’t warned: In the wake of the historic particle smashing by the LHC earlier this week, strange and potentially life-threatening anomalies have been reported all around the world, and they’re increasing in both magnitude and frequency. “Dr. Isadora Chin, a spokeswoman for the SCP Foundation, said that several of the anomalies had been granted ‘Euclid’ and even ‘Keter’ status, the designation for life-threatening manifestations of unusual size or behavior…Several have already been relocated to an observation facility in Black Mesa, New Mexico, she said.

(Maybe Black Mesa? That was a joke, ha ha, fat chance.) Y’know, to be honest, I blame the time travelers from the future who should’ve come back and prevented these catastrophic rips in the fabric of space-time. Bang up job, you effing slackers.

Frat to the Future.

To get in the proper mood for Steve Pink’s ’80s throwback (in more ways than one) Hot Tub Time Machine after a long week at work, I made sure to sidle up to the bar just beforehand — conveniently located, at my “local” (Regal Gallery Place in DC’s Chinatown), just below the theater — and knock down a shot-and-pint (of Jamesons and Guinness respectively, of course.) And my best advice for those of you still thinking about testing these bubbling, lurid, time-traveling waters: Better make that a double.

My feelings about Hot Tub Time Machine are pretty close to how I came down on The Hangover last summer. It’s got some funny moments, sure, and I admire its throw-everything-and-see-what-sticks, Anchorman-y approach to humor. (This is vastly preferable to the “let’s make the audience better people in three acts” schtick that was in comedy vogue for awhile — See, for example, Anger Management.) It’s also sort of a kick to see John Cusack, after fighting it for decades, willingly slumming back to his Savage Steve Holland years, and, I’ll concede, the “I want my two dollars” joke made me smile.

At the same time, and maybe even more than The Hangover (which is no small feat), Hot Tub Time Machine feels like it was penned by and for the Bill “Sportsguy” Simmons nation. You could argue its casual misogyny, homophobia, and dumb raunchiness-for-the-sake-of-it is all part of the return-to-the-’80’s experience, but my guess is it’s really all about catering to the army of 21st century mooks that enlist under the Sportsguy’s standard. I mean, do you know the street value of that mountain? (As an aside, I actually think Simmons is a decent writer, and am crawling through his Book of Basketball at the moment. The problem isn’t his talent or his bball savvy, but his judgment and his (lack of) taste. Nor do I blame him for creating mook culture — he’s just one of its clearest expressions.)

More on the mookness of it all in a bit, but, first, the high-concept gist: Just like The Hangover, we have three friends (Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson) and a hanger-on (Clark Duke) trying to find themselves by taking a memorable, life-altering Lost Weekend — only this time, it’s in The Past. Adam (Cusack) has just been dumped by his girlfriend and has his Second Life-addicted nephew (Duke) living in the basement. Nick (Robinson) is a once-promising singer who gave up his dreams for a girl and now spends his day as a personal trainer for dogs. (He touches poo. Ha. That’s funny. Poo.) And Lou (Corddry), the Galifianakis of the bunch, is a perennial loser who may or may not have recently tried to kill himself. (A wasted Corddry plunking out ’80’s power-chords on his dashboard is funny, and one of the many ways he often rises above the material here.)

So, because of Lou’s maybe-meltdown, this ungainly foursome head back to the ski resort idyll of their youth for some manly bonding. Problem is, the Great Recession has hit hard and the place has gone to hell — there’ll be no skiing the K-12 here. And, just when the weekend seems like a total wash, our heroes stumble into the hot tub in question and stumble out 24 years earlier, in the year of our lord 1986 — Adam is still with the “Great White Buffalo” he never should’ve dumped, Nick is still rocking the Kid-‘n’-Play-style hi-top, Lou is…well, still a loser, and Jacob the nephew shouldn’t even exist, and thus has a phasing-in-and-out, Marty McFly in Back to the Future II problem. (And speaking of the McFlys, Crispin “George McFly” Glover is skulking around too, as is Chevy Chase.) Fire up the day-glo and the hair metal, y’all, ’cause it’s time to partay like it’s the MTV era…

And so they do, meaning all the fashion faux-pas and Wang Chung-ish blasts from the past you might imagine from living in the Eighties. But, while there are still a few funny moments here and there, this Hot Tub loses steam and falls ever more flat the longer they spend in the Me Decade. I find legwarmers and Members Only jackets as ridiculous as the next guy, but there are only so many “lordy, the sartorial sense was terrible back then” jokes you can make over the course of two hours. And, other than that, the movie just meanders through its second half without much purpose, or even much sense. Cusack ingests enough shrooms to give the good doctor pause, and is playing Sixteen Candles kissy-face with Lizzy Caplan half an hour later.

And then there’re all the fratboyisms and mookish behavior. To be clear, I wasn’t offended by Hot Tub, per se. (Case in point: I put Jackass in my top 100 films of last decade.) And, to be sure, the sensibilities were different back then in Ronald Reagan’s America — just look at much of Police Academy or Revenge of the Nerds, or even the aforementioned Back to the Future, where, as @kellyoxford recently noted, George wins Marty’s future mom’s heart basically by stopping her from being date raped.

Still, by too often resorting in puerile shenanigans — look, Rob Corddry just got pee on his face! — and particularly in portraying every gal that comes along (Caplan aside) as a dim-witted sex toy, the movie just feels lazy, half-assed, and, well, mook. I don’t want to be the Billy Zabka of this tale, but, while I’m all for nostalgifying the ’80s for a few laughs, at some point, quite frankly, it’s time to grow up.

No more paradoxes.

‘Things aren’t getting better; they’re getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality,’ said Hagel, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. ‘It’s like they’re just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we’re losing in Iraq.’” Two quality links via the consistently splendid Follow Me Here: First, Republican Senators McCain and Hagel call out Dubya on the war. Between this and “Freedom Fries” Jones, are the floodgates opening in GOP-land?

And, on an altogether different note, physicists cast doubt on the possibility of time travel paradoxesWhen Greenberger and Svozil analysed what happens when…component waves flow into the past, they found that the paradoxes implied by Einstein’s equations never arise. Waves that travel back in time interfere destructively, thus preventing anything from happening differently from that which has already taken place.” (Well, looks like time-traveling historians won’t need to worry about any Primeresque recursions, then.)

Time out of Mind.

What would you do if you had a time machine, albeit one that only lets you travel backward for as long as you’re willing to sit in a souped-up cardboard box? Well, chances are a lot of us may end up taking a page from Abe and Aaron, the two well-dressed, Wired-subscribing, jargon-spouting, and thoroughly scientifical protagonists of Primer. Find a way to impress your friends, make a quick buck on the stock market, that type of thing. But, frankly, figuring out what to do is the least of your problems, because pretty soon you might have other ideas, in which case you’ll get in the way, and then you’ll have to be taken care of.

Confused? Not as confused as you’ll be after leaving this intriguing and perplexing sci-fi flick. Written, directed, produced and acted in by Shane Carruth on a purported budget of $7000, Primer flaunts its incomprehensibility from the get-go, as Abe and Aaron speak in technobabble riddles while cannibalizing their home appliances to construct a strange device in the latter’s garage. Soon enough, they discover their bizarre gravity-defying invention can run without batteries for a time and has a strange side-effect on weebles, one that might have some interesting and remunerative real-world applications…

And then things get really confusing, as multiple Abes and Aarons begin living out the same time period, often working at cross-purposes to each other. Seriously, with the possible exception of the MIT guys who threw the time travel conference, I don’t think anybody’s going to be able to piece together exactly what happens in this movie the first time through. But, the general inscrutability of it all is part of the atmosphere. We never really understand what’s going on, and I could see some folks getting frustrated with this film — usually, incomprehensibility is not a strong suit in movies. Still, for some reason, Primer works as a heady sci-fi tone poem about the cryptic (and dire) consequences of mucking about with the timestream. Mostly unfathomable, sure, but if you’re a fan of the genre, it’s definitely worth catching sometime…perhaps yesterday.

No Jacket Required.

Attentive observers of the sidebar might have noticed that I caught The Jacket over the weekend. If I don’t write about it now, I just might forget it completely. Amiable enough as a genre exercise, The Jacket is ultimately a fluffy, ephemeral B-flick. While containing elements of Jacob’s Ladder, 12 Monkeys, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it ends up falling somewhere between an average episode of Quantum Leap and any episode of Touched by an Angel.

The story doesn’t make much sense, even by the liberal standards one must accord time travel tales. But here goes: After befriending a small child and her mother (Kelly Lynch, looking haggard) along the side of the road, recent Gulf War vet Jack Starks (Adrien Brody, better than the material deserves) manages through a series of unfortunate events to get himself locked up in a mental institution somewhere in what looks to be Stephen King’s Maine. At this asylum, despite the concerns of the resident Good Doctor (Jennifer Jason Leigh, not HST), the staff Bad Doctor (Kris Kristofferson, grizzled-as-ever) insists on pumping patients like Brody and Daniel Craig (crazier here than Rhys Ifans was in Enduring Love) full of drugs and locking them in a morgue cabinet for hours at a time. During one of these sessions, Brody’s Starks finds he can visit “the future” (2007), where he encounters the girl he met by the side of the road…all grown up, Knightley-esque, and troubled to the core (you can tell she’s troubled, I presume, because her mouth is open all the time — Knightley pulls off a decent American accent, but that’s about it.)

Got all that? Well, if it doesn’t make sense on the page, it doesn’t do much better on screen, and there are several more narrative jags to go. I don’t want to give the ending away, because that’s all there really is here, but it has very little to do with the first half of the film, in either tone or content. What begins as a dark psychological thriller — the audience spends a lot of time as a mote in Brody’s eye while he writhes and whimpers in the dark — becomes a rather saccharine (and creepy, given Brody and Knightley’s first meeting) romance along the lines of Always. All in all, The Jacket looks menacing but turns out to be harmless — I guess it might make for a decent enough afternoon rental if you’re bored enough. (And here’s one last tip, Brody, next time you find you can travel back and forth through time, think Biff in Back to the Future II.)

His Darko Materials.

“I can do anything I want. And so can you.” So, with or without Frank the Bunny, I went to catch Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut Friday afternoon. While still very enjoyable, a lot of the fun of the film (reviewed earlier here) is in not knowing what exactly you’re in for, so the movie admittedly does lose a step after another viewing. And, like the official website, the Director’s Cut has a Midichlorian problem…elements of the film that are better left unexplained are now laid over with pages from Grandma Death’s time travel tome. As a result, some of the more memorable scenes (particularly the “Mad World” montage at the end) suffer. Still, if you haven’t seen DD (or, like me, saw it only on DVD), it’s a genre-bending marvel that’s definitely worth checking out on the big screen. (The film now also includes the deleted scenes from the DVD, such as the excised Watership Down subplot, and several shots of a 2001-esque eyeball, as seen in the trailer.)

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