Looper

Looper Science fiction movies like this don’t come along very often.  Though Looper has all the hallmarks of the genre, such as time travel, futuristic weapons, and head-scratching plot twists, it offers something rather unique among its peers of late: a unique and compelling story with enough grounding in a familiar reality to keep even casual moviegoers interested.  This smartly directed actioner-slash-head-scratcher does not dwell on the ins and outs of its central conceit too long, and instead focuses on keeping the pace solid and the action tight.  Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works as a Looper, whose job it is to dispose of the scum of the earth…from the future.  30 years from now, when targets are captured by criminal organizations they aren’t just offed and dumped in a river like in The Godfather.  Instead they are sent back in time where Loopers blow ’em away and burn the bodies.  No fuss, no muss.  What could possibly go wrong?

All is well and dandy for a while, and Joe goes on living his shallow life of partying, doping, and hooking up with women at the local strip joint until he finds himself staring down the barrel of his blunderbuss at a particularly troublesome target: himself.  This, in Looper parlance, is known as “closing the loop.”  It’s the point at which a looper paradoxically ends his own life, thus resigning himself to three decades to live, until he is captured by the criminal organization in the future which sends him back in time to the present, at which point he shoots himself in the chest.

Confused?  Try this trick: just don’t think about it.  This sentiment, trite as it may be, is actually recommended to us by Joe as he converses with his future self in a diner.  Older Joe (Bruce Willis) urges his younger self to not dwell on the whole past/present/future thing too long, and soon afterwards the two of them are firing weapons, breaking windows, and dodging bullets like one would expect in any action movie.

Instead of dwelling on the nuts and bolts of temporal displacement and other quantum conundra, it’s best to just enjoy Looper for what it is: a smart, well-paced above-average popcorn flick with a healthy dollop of cerebral icing on the cake.  Think of it as this summer’s version of Inception, but a bit more dark and a lot more violent.

Following Joe’s failure to close his loop, he finds himself on the run from his boss Abe (Jeff Daniels, chewing through scenery worse than Willem Dafoe in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. But gosh, it sure is good to see him in a grumpy-old-man role like this.) who simply will not tolerate this sort of failure from anyone in his organization.  Joe escapes to a remote farmhouse where he encounters someone who may, or may not, hold the answers to some of the questions that have plagued his future self for years.  The resulting shootouts and climax are taut and emotional, with a particularly poignant performance from child actor Pierce Gagnon that is certain to have some parents in the audience squirming in their seats.  Topping things off is Gordon-Levitt’s pitch-perfect imitation of Bruce Willis, which is so nuanced it ought to earn him an Academy Award for Impersonating a Co-star.

Looper doesn’t have the weight-of-the-world heaviness of Terminator 2, the flat-out action of Aliens, or the suspense of Predator.  But its tight narrative and thought-provoking questions almost earn it a presence among its cinematic counterparts.

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Inception

It’s my last post as a non-married man! Which also means I’ll be off enjoying some sun and the beaches of California, so I’ll be taking a break from movies for a bit, but I couldn’t think of a better film to leave off with than Inception.

When it comes to film, there are films which succeed at being acknowledged works of art (2001 a Space Odyssey), and films which succeed at being entertaining (Bubble Boy – That movie cracks me up.). Occasionally you find films which succeed in both regards. Inception is one of these films.

Christopher Nolan (director of Memento, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Prestige) comes off of the worldwide success of The Dark Knight, not with another Batman film, but by returning to his roots with the keep-em-guessing twist and turns thriller where the audience literally has trouble keeping track of what’s up and what’s down, but has a heck of a time enjoying the ride.

LEO!

The film follows Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mercenary thief, who can is hired to acquire something extremely valuable for his clients – secrets. He does so by entering a shared dream state with the target, and then proceeds to utilize the context of dreams to pursue his objective, and literally steal the information from their own mind.

On his latest job, he runs into some trouble with a particularly resourceful target, Saito (Ken Watanabe), who entraps Cobb into doing a job for him with the promise of a new life. Saito enlists Cobb to do something many believe to be impossible – plant an idea within the dream of a target in order to affect their conscious decisions, a.k.a. Inception.

Cobb recruits a team of dream specialists – Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) his right-hand man, Eames (Tom Hardy) the Forger, Yusuf (Dileep Rao) a specialist in sleeping drugs, and Ariadne (Ellen Page) the builder. Each specialist has a particular role within the inception plot, and to give any more information in how it plays out would be to ruin the very mind-bending twists and turns of Nolan’s cleverly executed film.

As with so many of Nolan’s works, Inception relies heavily on exposition, much of which is carried out through the introduction of Ellen Page’s character to the team. She’s a fresh-faced college kid looking for all the answers, and her questions provide much-needed answers for the audience as they get on board with the premise. However once the audience becomes familiar with the concepts, Nolan hits the gas and it’s an action-packed ride to the finish.

Was Inception without its weaknesses? No. The ending, for one, draws a strong line and lands firmly on the side of artistic, leaving many theater-goers with a twinge of dissatisfaction. You can see where the director was going, but you kind of wish he’d just played to the masses and gone with a more satisfying conclusion. Don’t want to say any more about it, when you see it, you’ll understand.

I’m a fan of soundtracks, and Hans Zimmer has done his fair share of scores I enjoy. He and Nolan have had a good partnership going for a while now, so his involvement on Inception should come as no surprise. The music is extremely similar to that of Dark Knight, and the deep blaring horns start to get a bit excessive after a while. There’s a brilliant parody of this on YouTube combining Dora the Explorer and Inception, and the blaring horns get called out. Pretty priceless.

You have to wonder if there was a pool going as to how many times these guys would hurl during filming.

The visuals are amazing in this film. Nolan clearly had a vision that exceeded what’s been done before. The film had a Matrix-esque quality to its originality of visual effects. But at the same time, many of the visuals are presented in Ariadne’s first venture into the dream world, where she begins to play with being able to manipulate the dreamscape. After that, the concept of being able to manipulate the dreams to extreme effect seems to get lost. It’s like the fact that anything and everything can happen in dreams is swept to the side in order to provide a more efficient plot device. I wanted Nolan to do more to push the envelope. He shakes things up, and connects some interesting ideas, but he could have gone farther.

The performances were excellent. Nolan rounded out his cast with several familiar faces to his films – Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow – Batman Begins) plays Robert Fischer and Michael Caine (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Prestige) plays DiCaprio’s father. I’m always a fan of Ken Watanbe’s work, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is really finding himself a good breadth to his work. Plenty of rumors are flying as to his potential as the Riddler in Nolan’s next Batman film. One has to mention Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) and really, Ellen Page finds yet another chance to flex her acting muscles in another genre.

This film was witty, it was intriguing, it kept me guessing and kept me interested throughout. It was 2.5 hours long and I barely noticed, which is always a good sign. It finds a nice balance between the artsy and entertaining, giving itself some substance without getting too tied up in the pursuit of cinematic art. Most of all, this film is original. Something we see far too little of these days. Nolan may find inspiration from older classic films, but the execution on top of this core is purely Nolan.

I’d recommend seeing this one on the big screen, although the IMAX wasn’t anything to stand up and shout about. So maybe save the few bucks and see it on a regular screen.

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(500) Days of Summer


Director Marc Webb may be getting all the buzz as Sony’s new choice to helm the next “Spider-Man” franchise set to start filming soon, but only because of his gem of a film that won over audiences and critics earlier this year.  “(500) Days of Summer” is one of those films that came out of left-field for me.  I had little expectations for it, although I knew it was supposed to be pretty good.  To my surprise, this intelligent indie became my favorite “romantic comedy” in quite some time.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, carrying the reputation of one his generation’s best young actors, plays Tom Hansen.  Tom is a young adult with little motivation as a greeting-card author with no girlfriend–until he meets Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), a complex and mysterious young lady taking a new job at the office.  He’s instantly attracted to her, and the two eventually embark on a complex and mysterious relationship that defies the typical boy-meets-girl formula.  Tom is head over heels while Summer keeps just enough distance, creating a quiet tension between the two.

Throughout the course of the movie, the plot never strays into predictable Hollywood territory.  Marc Webb and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have crafted a very funny and emotional film that keeps things completely real, close, and honest.  Rarely do audiences get treated to such an interpersonal and understanding ‘romance’ (especially revolving young people) without a hint of the mundane or any cliche to bog it down.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is certainly one of the best young actors out there, and Zooey Deschanel compliments him every step of the way.  I didn’t quite know which direction this movie was going, but it was funny, effective, and truthful. This is the date movie of the year, and the past few years. 

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Killshot

killshotSynopsis: Beautiful Carmen Colson (Diane Lane) and her ironworker husband Wayne (Thomas Jane) are placed in the Federal Witness Protection program after witnessing an “incident”. Thinking they are at last safe, they are targeted by an experienced hit man (Mickey Rourke) and a psychopathic young upstart killer (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The ensuing struggle will test Carmen to the limit. (IMDB)

Review in short: ‘Killshot’ is consistently interesting and also consistently messy. It has a top-notch cast and a respected director (John Madden, Shakespeare in Love) at the helm, but the troubled production doesn’t allow for a clear vision. The film doesn’t know whether to follow the protagonists or the villains. The performances are decent, although Gordon-Levitt veers a bit over the top. By its finish, the movie is merely okay, better than expected, but not as good as it could be–it feels exactly like a made-for-cable thriller.

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