Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

It seems like an age-old cinematic question: what would you do if you knew the end of the world was near? Most films depict riots, looting, crazy parties or on the other side of that coin, romantic or reconciliatory last ditch efforts to make you go, “Aww.” Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, starring the cute and lovely (respectively) Keira Knightley and Steve Carrell, is a film that also has all these things, but with just the right amount of humanity to make it go down easy.

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Faced this time with a Tim Burton-esque sounding threat: an asteroid named Matilda that is headed for Earth, Steve Carrell finds himself in his usual comedic stature here (e.g. Little Miss Sunshine, Crazy Stupid Love) – he’s depressed and questioning his life and what it’s all been worth. It’s such familiar territory for him that there’s even a moment in the outtakes of the film where he cuts the scene before the director because he thought he could do a better take. Carrell is a talented actor, there’s no question about that, but I’m frankly a little tired now of the character he is always forced into. I’m all for comedy-via-self-deprecation, but there’s got to be something else he can do. Maybe a Robin Williams turn like in One Hour Photo would do Carrell good, and he could hone his acting chops on a character not so nice and empathizable for once.

Keira Knightley seems oddly less typecast than usual in this film, but maybe that’s because I’m more akin to her brooding romantic character creations which I’m generally fond of, even if the period pieces do get a wee bit old after a while. She’s a good fit for the character and her British lilt is charming and works given her character’s driving ulterior motive (she wants to visit her parents in England before the end of the world).

As fate would have it, mere weeks before their demise, these two soul mates finally meet. She helps him realize what he’s been missing all his life, and he helps her on the same front. The nice things about the movie is, it doesn’t make these characters necessarily perfect for, or a good balance for each other, but it makes them the kind of people who are willing to accept the other for their good and bad qualities and stick by them no matter what happens. They really do become friends before they ever realize their love for each other, and that’s subtly what leads them to even realize it.

The pacing and story of this film is superb. We knows there’s an imminent countdown to their fate looming over everything, and even when we start to wonder if that’s just all been forgotten by the filmmakers, the next scene throws a curve, declaring via news report that the asteroid’s actually a week early in its arrival. There’s no overly drawn out cinematic need to anticipate the inevitable – the audience is already anticipating it. In fact, I was literally in disbelief the whole way through, thinking there was surely going to be some red herring at the end that enabled the asteroid to just miss Earth, and everyone would get to live happily ever after. But then, I know I wouldn’t have been happy with that ending after a while, because how simple, painless and obvious would that be?

No, the filmmakers stick to their guns and go out on a poetic note even, in a denouement of scenes that will surely have you welling up with tears, if not full on crying into your shirt sleeves. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World may be easy to pan for many film critics, but I found it a refreshing take on the end-of-the-world movie and a smart, funny examination of what we really are as humans: fools, not so much scared of the end of life, but scared of living life, and consequently trying to always be something we’re not until we finally realize it’s too late.

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Looper

Looper is one of those films you want to watch a second time just to make sure you caught everything that should have revealed itself the first time around, but didn’t. It’s not a singularly perfect movie, but it’s well produced, scripted and acted. Joseph Gordon Levitt and director Rian Johnson work together well, and after such an awesome debut as Brick, there was little doubt in my mind that Looper would disappoint – and it doesn’t – it even further builds upon and establishes his directing style which Roger Ebert questioned a lot after his viewing of Brick.

Admittedly, I was hesitant about the science fiction aspect of the story and how Johnson would be able to handle the special effects in a first-time-out kind of film, but it’s all done with style and purpose (the latter of which is sometimes very hard to find in science fiction special effects-driven films). Johnson’s film is coolly cyclical and Levitt plays the part of a young Bruce Willis very well. Willis is, of course, Willis, but with a little less machismo and a lot more heart.

The story is dark and inevitably doomed from the start. I don’t normally do this, but it’s important to know the plot if you’re going to read this review. If you don’t here’s a really nice breakdown courtesy of ScreenRant. Once you learn the plot you can quickly pick up where it’s going, but the beauty of the filmmaking is the ending (even though in the back of our minds we know how it has to end) is still a surprise! I’d call that the touch of a budding directorial genius. Shades of Christopher Nolan are even in there, recalling back before Nolan was obsessed with overblown masterpieces.

Films akin to Looper can become easily convoluted and quickly weighed down (e.g. Source Code), but Looper seems carefully thought out, and even if there are flaws in the story, the film is so engaging overall that it will likely go unnoticed. Levitt is coming into his own in the action genre too; between this, Premium Rush (which, by the way, is not a bad film in terms of car chase sequences), Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, he’s cutting his action chops on some heavy-hitting and intense work.

Johnson’s film is a confident, science fiction / action / thriller, so much so, it even plays with the romance genre in a tasteful and purposeful way. There are two sort of oddly linked love stories in play: Willis’ love story is uniquely tied into the film (remember Willis is the the same character as Levitt – just older in the future); and, cagily, Johnson weaves in yet another love story with the young Willis (played by Levitt), as he takes refuge in a rural farmhouse with one ax-wielding Emily Blunt. Her character soon evolves to a central plot device and she is a good fit for the role sans her inconsistent American rough-and-tumble accent which she tries to produce.

Altogether, I find you won’t be disappointed by this film if you’re interested in a smart story, fraught with action, suspense, just the right touch of science fiction and a couple of old fashioned romantic sub-plots. The effects work won’t be seen on the same level for everyone, but more importantly, they’re appropriately used. Just wait… you may even find yourself coming back to film some day in the future.

Ridley Scott’s Prometheus

George Kuchar (1942-2011)

Underground / experimental filmmaker George Kuchar (one half of the Kuchar Brothers) passed away September 6th. If you like the work of Guy Maddin, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas, and Kenneth Anger, you no doubt feel the ripples of this great loss to avant-garde cinema as much as I do. For the uninitiated, but cine-curious, this doc is a great starting point…

There is an awesome obituary from the New York Times on him here.

Predators

Growing up as a kid, Predator was one of my favorite films. Seeing it with my dad on cable and watching the lone Schwarzenegger tear through the Guatemalan jungle with his Gatlin gun and gusto, switching between predator and prey with the cloaking alien is pretty much grounds for an awesome film. It was simple and direct in its story and purpose that it allowed its audience to just enjoy.

Predators (not to be confused with Predator – the original film in this series from 1987 that I referenced above) is pretty similar stuff. Its sort of like a poor cross between a remake and a sequel, the problem is remakes (and sequels too) usually build on the cool factor of the previous film(s). You know, raise the bar, so to speak.  Enhance the special effects, enhance the scale of the action sequences. Predators fails to do any of that. In fact, in a way it sort of actually regresses.  Too disappointed to even put this in essay format, below are my bulleted thoughts on why.

Things I liked about Predators:

  • The heat-sensor look and “Predator-vision” POV wasn’t changed from the 1987 film.

Things I didn’t like about Predators:

  • The trailer implies that there are like an army of Predators lurking in the woods hunting the humans. In the film, it appears there’s only three.
  • Topher Grace just happens to be carrying a scalpel?
  • Casting
  • Lack of special effects. I mean come on, it’s a freakin’ alien movie. I understand wanting to remain true to the original film which was gunfire, explosions and fighting, but I’d rather watch the original for that then pay $10 for this.
  • Topher Grace’s fortuitous turn as a “bad” guy. I think I laughed aloud.
  • These are supposed to be the “top predators” from Earth, but only one of them seems to have any true predator-like skill.
  • What happened to the last Predator dog?
  • I don’t like rape jokes.
  • Was that supposed to be a “Lost” joke at the beginning?
  • Why would Royce (Adrian Brody) cover himself in mud (so as to hide his body heat), but then use fire to camouflage himself? Wouldn’t his body show up blue against the orange fire on the Predator’s heat-sensor vision? Logically, he was defeating his own purpose, yet the film would have us believe otherwise.
  • How come if they’re not on Earth, but on some other planet, the doctor knows what kind of flower the poisonous one is? And furthermore, why does everything look like Earth? And how can they have our atmosphere?

The Prolific Mr. Reznor

I’ve been on about the debut EP from Trent Reznor’s new band How to Destroy Angels for most of May now, and finally you can download the whole record for free from the band’s website! A tangible, hand-holdable copy will be available to purchase on July 6. This is what the electronic copy’s cover art looks like:


This is what the physical copy’s art will look like:


In other Reznor news, he’s apparently working on new NIN music, and has also just released (rather late) a theme for the newest addition to the metallic and violent Japanese cult-horror franchise Tetsuo, this time called Tetsuo: The Bullet Man. You can download it here. Trailer below. Probably not suitable for the kiddies.

The Adjustment Bureau

I’ve seen some reviews of this film complaining it’s Philip K. Dick “lite” or that Universal is trying to push this as a romantic comedy, but that is ridiculous. I think director George Nolfi’s take on Dick’s story looks extremely intriguing, and seeing as though I no longer have my regular Thursday night Fringe indulgence (the exact same concept of the “watchers” exists in Fringe), I’m gonna need this film to be finished sooner rather than later.


Nolfi is new to directing and I can’t say for sure how tight his story will be and how well groomed his major studio-backed production will look (some of the night scenes in this trailer are lit way too stagey), but the film has a distinct writerly quality about it in the visuals and in the dialogue which helps it feel fresh. Nolfi’s previous gigs has been as a writer for some big action flicks you’ve no doubt seen (Ocean’s Twelve, The Bourne Ultimatum), so if there’s anywhere this movie should excel it should be story. The film hits theaters September 17th.