Time travel flick is worth the journey

MovieReview

October 29, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach

Primer Rated PG-13 (brief language); ***

Primer is way too intricate for its own good, bordering on being incomprehensible - it's one of those films that you need to see three or four times to understand fully, which is asking a lot at $8 a pop for theater tickets. But the movie is so audacious in its intent, and it wears its impenetrability so proudly, that it might just be worth it.

At its core, yet another treatise on the inherent problems and conundrums presented by the idea of time travel - what happens, for instance, if you meet yourself? - Primer at least offers a fresh perspective on the venerable sci-fi workhorse, complete with enough labyrinthine twists and maddeningly enigmatic contrivances to get friends arguing for days over just what it is they've seen.

Aaron (Shane Carruth, who also directed and wrote the film) and Abe (David Sullivan) are two of four computer technicians trying to come up with some invention that will guarantee them riches and fame. What they come up with instead is a time machine with a serious limitation; it can only go back in time to the point where it was first plugged-in - useless for seeing a real dinosaur, handy for placing a bet on the horse race that just ended.

The two friends use the machine for their own enrichment, but soon become suspicious of each other (with cause, it turns out) and of the machine, which has unexpected physical side effects. How far they can trust each other, as well as their technology, and whether they should be messing around in either area, is the heart of the film.

Made for $7,000 by Carruth and his friends, shooting on locations that included his parents' kitchen and the local U-Haul storage facility, Primer has proved quite the hit on the festival circuit, where true cineastes delight in nothing more than a film that leaves their collective tongues wagging. The movie may be too precious for mass consumption, but its filmmakers' willingness to assume the best of their audience, combined with its Everyman origins, suggest a movie that deserves a chance.

- Chris Kaltenbach

Around the Bend Rated R (Language); **

Michael Caine plays a charming old eccentric who dies cute - at his favorite Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise - and leaves behind a will designed to bring together his surviving heirs, namely his son, grandson and great-grandson, in ways never possible while he was alive.

Around the Bend is filled to the brim with quirky behavior and hard-fought poignancy, as three generations of a dysfunctional family embark on a road trip to honor the last wishes of the dearly departed. Think they'll come together as the trip progresses? Think there's a big revelation that could threaten all the good they've accomplished? Think dead old granddad was a font of wisdom the like of which no one has seen since Socrates?

What makes the film work better than its nearly unbearable cuteness suggests is the casting of Christopher Walken as the son; the movie has yet to be invented that Walken can't improve simply by showing up. All coiled and ready to pounce, for reasons that remain mysterious until the final reel, Walken's Turner Lair is a penitent looking for someone to apologize to, and his family seems the logical choice. That his son (Josh Lucas) isn't interested is only of slight concern.

This first film from writer-director Jordan Roberts is too forcefully oddball by half, and Caine's grandpa is the sort of dying life-force that exists only in make-believe, where scavenger hunts always work out exactly as planned. Walken does what he can to add substance to this trifle, but even his presence can only do so much.

- Chris Kaltenbach

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