Friday, September 28, 2012

Looper (2012) Review

Looper is not your typical sci-fi movie. It is not your typical action-thriller. It is not your typical Bruce Willis movie. What Looper is cannot easily be defined. I know for sure that it was the most thoroughly entertaining and stimulating movie I have seen since Drive. It features Bruce Willis’s best performance in almost two decades. It is the most intelligent sci-fi screenplay in several years. It is a movie-goer’s dream, and an experience that will stick with you for a while.

The movie is written and directed by Rian Johnson, the filmmaker who brought us the indie film filled with potential Brick, as well as the moderately entertaining comedy The Brothers Bloom. It didn’t take long for Looper to surpass both of his previous features. Looper is just so much different, really showing what a great indie filmmaker can do when he keeps his screenwriting roots while embellishing in a nice budget. While Johnson is certainly a director to watch, it is his screenplays that have marveled me. Brick is very rich and interesting. The Brothers Bloom has its moments of brilliance, even if it is inconsistent and a bit indulgent. Looper is a whole new animal, though. The story, characters, drama, and action are all blended into a fascinating motion picture.
The story of Looper is difficult to discuss without giving too much away. The thing that makes this different from so many other sci-fi or action flicks is that it does not rely on twists to leave its impact. There are surprises for sure, but they are all within the context of the story, not game-changing cliché twists that these types of movies frequent. The story is about Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an assassin in the present year of 2044. Time travel has not yet been invented, but it will be in 30 years. In 2074, criminal organizations are the only ones using the outlawed sci-fi vehicle. Because they cannot dispose of bodies in that year due to tracking mechanisms, they send the bodies with a sack over their heads back to 2044, where Joe and the other “loopers” shoot them immediately and get rid of the bodies. They are rewarded with blocks of silver strapped to the back of each “loop”. When it is decided that their contract will be terminated, their future self is sent to be terminated with gold in place of the silver, a sort of “enjoy the last 30 years of your life” type of parting gift.

When Joe makes the mistake of helping a friend (Paul Dano) who failed to kill his future self, he is forced to either give up his friend or his future. Eventually he is face-to-face with his own future self (Bruce Willis), who has his own motives that young Joe cannot understand yet. Joe must catch up to and kill Old Joe before the mob catches up to him. Should Old Joe accomplish his goals, the ramifications would be catastrophic. If he kills Old Joe, he will be back on track with his gold bars to live the next 30 years of his life with no light at the end of the tunnel, which is really all he wants, not even comprehending how he could eventually turn into the cold-blooded older version of himself that he is trying to outsmart and outmaneuver.
What makes the screenplay so interesting is how Johnson creates his own rules for time travel movies. He does not resort to any sort of standard, which ultimately makes his movie feel more realistic. He opens the movie with a monologue explaining the setting, and despite instances where you will need to take a few moments to put the pieces together or figure out the ramifications of the paradoxes the screenplay creates, everything makes sense. If the audience is familiar with the time travel elements and time continuum vortex, then this will not overly-confuse. Every bit of detail or plot-hole that you feel like you find will come up at some point. Johnson fully immerses the audience in his world, and we come to accept the supernatural elements of the story. There is so much more going on in this film than simply a cat-and-mouse game and time travel gimmicks, though. There is romance, a bit of hard-hitting drama, a few very compelling moral questions, and Emily Blunt hacking repeatedly at a block of wood with an ax. Every bit of the story works, and its flaws are few and far between.

The cast is excellent. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is terrific in his leading role. With all that makeup he does look eerily like a young Bruce Willis. He even gets his mannerisms and voice inflections down. Bruce Willis is awesome. He kicks some serious ass in this movie, but he also is playing the older version of a somewhat emotional character. He wears the scars well while maintaining his brute exterior. Emily Blunt does the best work in the movie, even though it might be her third-best performance this year. Jeff Daniels is great as the mob boss sent back to 2044 to control the loopers. Paul Dano does his thing with limited screentime. Piper Perabo is good as the stripper who interacts with both versions of Joe at certain points. Usually in movies such as these, the cast could phone it in because of the other-worldly nature of the film. These actors truly believe the story they are telling, though. The world Johnson created is not too different from our reality, and because he pays so much attention to the detail of the characters and the rules that he creates and follows, the actors are able to really breathe into their characters, and we actually care about them.
 As far as movies that play around with the time travel and paradoxes go, this might be the most intelligent. Even though I may prefer Terminator 2: Judgment Day, this movie is more directly reliant on the time travel elements for the narrative to work. This film is better than Minority Report, Back to the Future, even Twelve Monkeys. Those were always my gold-standard when it came to time travel, but Looper is just that good, that compelling, and that engrossing. I was hooked from the opening frame until the credits began to roll, credits that were met by applause during a weekday matinee. This movie, coming out in a month that is usually more reserved for the beginning crop of awards-aspiring films, completely stole the show. It is the best movie I have seen this year, and with another viewing, it could easily make a case for being a 4-star film and a year-end top 5-10 film. Yes, it is that good.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Power Rankings: Most anticipated films for the rest of 2012

It has been quite a while since I have seen a really good film at the theater. My number one of the year is still God Bless America, just edging out Moonrise Kingdom. Both are totally solid 3.5 star films, but neither film should be at the top of any list in September. Maybe I just do not live close enough to a major festival, but either way I need something to look forward to. Here are a rundown of my most anticipated films for the rest of the year…

Others receiving votes: Frances Ha, Lincoln, The Man with the Iron Fists, Not Fade Away, On the Road, Promised Land, Seven Psychopaths, Zero Dark Thirty

10. To the Wonder (Terrence Malick). When Terrence Malick makes a movie, I pay attention. Each one of his five films has ended up in my top 10 of its respective year. This film does not necessarily look like one that will continue that trend, but Malick’s track record alone warrants its spot on this list. How did we get so lucky to have back-to-back years with a Malick film?! Whenever we get to its release date (who honestly knows when we can finally see it) I will be first in line.
Release date: sometime in 2012 (hopefully)

9. Wreck-It Ralph (Rich Moore). This is a very personal choice for me. It just looks like so much fun. The idea of it, the clever animation, the voice of John C. Reilly. Has there been a more consistently interesting actor in the last 5 years than Reilly? From Walk Hard to Cyrus to Cedar Rapids to Carnage. The guy is on a roll, and this looks like the animated embodiment of the actor. Much like Jack Black with Kung Fu Panda in that way, but I digress. This is definitely my most anticipated animated film since Toy Story 3.
Release date: November 2

8. Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell). The trailer for this movie is pretty good, but early word on the performances and Best Picture aspirations definitely solidified its spot on this list. Winning the Audience Award in Toronto is nothing to take lightly. Toronto jumpstarted previous unknowns Precious, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, and Hotel Rwanda. This movie is going to be the real deal, and it may finally be that De Niro comeback we have all been waiting for.
Release date: November 21

7. This Is 40 (Judd Apatow). All three of Apatow’s feature films are brilliant, each ending somewhere in or near my top 10 lists. The best one is of course Knocked Up, one of the most watchable movies of the past decade. I never really thought a sequel would come, and supposedly I was “sort of” wrong. A movie about Pete and Deb is sheer brilliance, and I cannot wait to see what people like Lena Dunham, John Lithgow, and Albert Brooks are doing there.
Release date: December 21

6. Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard). I loved the last film by Audiard (A Prophet), and this one seems like a return to more of a Read My Lips (also great) type of tone. Marion Cotillard can do wonders with the right director, and Audiard just feels like the guy to pull the best out of her. Expect a career performance and possibly a second Best Actress award if enough people see it.
Release date: November 23 (limited)

5. The Grandmasters (Wong Kar Wai). I wasn’t really a fan of My Blueberry Nights, but when Wong Kar Wai is directing Tony Leung, few directors are more interesting and colorful. The story is Ip Man seems like something custom built for the duo. I am not sure if this passion piece is a sure-fire 2012 release since there isn’t a trailer yet, but it is set for a Chinese run in December. Hopefully there will be some buzz or awards that will bring it to the States as soon as possible.
Release date: sometime in 2012 (probably LA-NY for awards season)

4. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson). When PTA makes a film (just 2 in the last 10 years), every film buff in the world hypes it to the point that it cannot meet expectations. Somehow, amazingly, PTA makes his films fresh, different, and better than anyone could have imagined. This film looks like it could feature three of the best performances of the year, and the material feels like PTA’s most audience-friendly ever. It has been called a “new American classic”. Maybe this will finally be his world-renowned film that crosses all barriers.
Release date: September 21 (expanded)

3. Smashed (James Ponsoldt). This was one of the big winners at Sundance. I do not really have a solid reason why I want to see this so much, other than I am curious to see how Jesse Pinkman, I mean Aaron Paul, comes off on the big screen. He has all the makings of major movie star if he gets the right roles. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an Oscar-contender for this film as well. Together, they could make one of the most interesting and endearing on-screen couples in years. We will see how it turns out, but if it is anything like Ponsoldt’s debut feature Off the Black, then we are in for something special.
Release date: October 12

2. Argo (Ben Affleck). I have loved both of Affleck’s features thus far, so this was instantly on my must-see list the moment it was announced. In all honesty, it is only a matter of time before Affleck becomes one of the most respected, go-to directors in the industry. He has all the directing talent in the world, and this is easily his most ambitious film yet. The cast, the story, the cinematography all elevate this to being potentially the film to beat at the Oscars. Aside from a late-bloomer like Silver Linings Playbook or Hyde Park on Hudson, this will be the most talked-about film of the year, unless Lincoln and Daniel Day-Lewis can somehow exceed their lofty expectations.
Release date: October 12

1. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino). I really should start to disqualify Tarantino films from my lists. It is almost not fair to compare them to anything else. The original Django is a spaghetti western classic. It is like it was made just to inspire Tarantino to make another masterpiece. The trailer is brilliant. The suddenly legit actor Jonah Hill’s casting is beyond intriguing. I can’t wait to see what kind of roles Don Johnson, Franco Nero (original Django!), and Zoe Bell get. It may finally be Leo’s Oscar film. I have tried to downplay my anticipation, but screw it! Tarantino makes a film and it is instantly an event to start counting down the days to! 98 days and counting!
Release date: December 25

So what do you all think? What is on your must-see list? Let me know!