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.

50/50

How much bad can you really say on a film about a young, redeemable guy who gets Cancer? I suppose not much really, but fortunately there’s very little bad to say about this new comedy/drama from Jonathan Levine. 50/50 is an inspired and inspiring look at a young man, and one with virtually no character flaws, who learns that he has a life-threatening tumor at the base of his spine. Well, that much you got from the trailer I’m sure.Watching the film in it’s entirety though, doesn’t really offer up anything that’s unique to the trailer; it’s actually a pretty predictable and even-toned film. The problem is, many of the funniest lines you’ve already seen in the trailer, and even some of the more tender moments too. Everything else is sort of meaningful filler.


Sure, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character has a moment of near mental breakdown, that’s new from the trailer (and much welcomed), but still not unexpected. Even worse, some of the scenes from the trailer are not in the actual film! Personally, I hate when that happens. It’s like, if you’re going to cut a trailer before you even have a final edit on the film, either someone’s time management skills in your post unit are lacking, or you’re marketing waaaaay too early.

The best aspect of the film is the balancing act of comedy and drama displayed from both the filmmaker and the actors. Anna Kendrick is just adorable and stands out as the near perfect girl to Gordon-Levitt’s near perfect guy. Interestingly, every character in the film finds themselves leaning on, or needing to lean on another, even the father plagued by Alzheimer’s can be said to have a moment or two of neediness. The film is really all about loyalty and how to be there for someone (and let someone be there for you) when one is in a time of need. Levine, however, fails to let his main character ever get too far away from his illness (save, one trippy, weed-infused-Macaroon induced interlude), and most of his ordeals seem to gravitate around his need to just not be alone during this horribly scary time in his young life. Fortunately, Levine sees where this obvious romantic storyline could easily and quickly develop to, and diverts it quite well.

The story and the plot will no doubt captivate audiences and win over anyone who has a heart, but honestly, if it wasn’t for the heart-string-tugging subject matter, this film would not be getting all the critical attention it has been since it’s release last weekend. All of the principle actors have been in much funnier and even somewhat heartwarmier films in recent years: Gordon-Levitt in 500 Days of Summer, Kendrick in Up in the Air, and Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, but regardless this is great date movie material and well worth the time and ticket prices in the current market of films this month.

What to Watch in September

It’s a tough cinematic world out there, but I care about the readers of this blog and only want them to spend their hard earned dollars on the good films, so here’s a (sorta) completist’s guide to the 2011 Fall Season of films – starting with September. My plan is, around the middle of each month, to post the next month’s domestic (limited and wide) film releases – while of course providing my own two cents on it. The indicators should be pretty clear: if it’s got a line through it, it does not have my recommendation. That said, give it a chance if it comes on cable someday.

September 2

  • Apollo 18 by Gonzalo López-Gallego. Watch it and think about how we’ll never get to go to space again. Which is ok I guess since there’s monsters up there.
  • Seven Days in Utopia by Matt Russell. Looks like a cross between Doc Hollywood and Tin Cup.
  • Shark Night 3D by who cares. It’s sharks in 3D.

September 9

  • Bucky Larson: Born to Be A Star by Tom Brady. Nick Swardson plays the socially-outcasted son of two adult pornstars.
  • Contagion by Steven Soderbergh. Eh. Pretty sure I saw this almost 10 years ago, but it was called Outbreak.
  • Warrior by Gavin O’Connor. Looks like a possibly edgier, indier version of The Fighter, although the MMA thing is getting old.

September 16

  • Drive by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan – there’s no way I’m missing this.
  • I Don’t Know How She Does It by Douglas McGrath. A classier comedy for the SITC set?
  • The Lion King 3D by Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff. So The Lion King is getting not only a Blu-ray upgrade, but a limited theatrical release in 3D!? Oh Disney, your vaults are so leaky!
  • Restless by Gus Van Sant. The story of a terminally ill teenage girl who falls for a boy who likes to attend funerals and their encounters with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII.
  • Straw Dogs by Rod Lurie. This is one of the most painful films for me to list here. In general, I loathe most remakes of anything, but especially a remake of a film that was absolutely perfect to begin with. Peckinpah would roll over in his grave if he knew someone bastardized his (possibly) best – and most controversial – work to make an easy sale to the teenage torture-porn audiences who should just be left to their Final Destinations and $5 popcorn. Haven’t seen the 1971 version of this film with Dustin Hoffman? Try and get your hands on that first and check out my review of it here.
  • The Whale by Suzanne Chisholm. Endearing doc which looks like a cross between Free Willy and The Cove.

September 20

  • Pearl Jam Twenty by Cameron Crowe. A cineaste’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll filmmaker (ok, along with maybe Pennebaker and Scorsese) pulls together a new rock doc on the 90s other Top 40 grunge band, Pearl Jam. You know, the ones who instead of making kids want to do drugs and commit suicide, made them want to surf and stand up to bullies? Apparently, they’ve been around for 20 years now. Problem is, if I go see this, I’m just going to feel fucking old. PS. The soundtrack is released on this day as well, and it includes 30 pages of liner notes from Crowe himself.

September 23

  • Abduction by John Singleton. Decent looking action suspense flick which fits neatly into the fringes of the summer blockbusters. Nothing you haven’t seen before story-wise, but a chance to see Team Jacob’s (Lautner’s) acting ability in something other than stilted-werewolf-lover-boy for once.
  • Dolphin Tale by Charles Martin Smith. Another Free Willy in September comes you (and your children’s way)! This one looks more like a good tearjerker for the adolescents and their moms than The Whale, but at least this one will probably have the prospect of ending on a high note.
  • The Double by Michael Brandt. Political intrigue and the usual pairing of a retired CIA Operative and a younger FBI agent to help heighten the tension and provide something mid-life crisis moviegoers can sink their teeth into. Think Hollywood Homicide in… Detroit?
  • Killer Elite by Gary McKendry. Standard issue action flick, but one with a cast that I admit I’m intrigued to see play off each other: Statham, De Niro and Clive Owen (with a ridiculous Magnum P.I. throwback mustache). The updated version of “Rock You Like a Hurricane” in the trailer is not adding any points though.
  • Machine Gun Preacher by Marc Forster. First of all, I’ll watch anything by Marc Forster. He has a sensibility to rooting out the most unique films which appeal to both the marketing people and the critics. It’s a beautiful thing. This one stars Gerard Butler as a (I think) a real life reformed drug addict/biker who finds religion and makes it his life’s devotion to help the children of impoverished and brutalized Africa. The poster, however, looks a little goofy.
  • Moneyball by Bennett Miller. Hollywood takes a shot at revitalizing the sport of baseball by bringing in Brad Pitt and the only character Jonah Hill seems to ever play anymore – the bright, young, employee with fresh ideas on an old line of work. Looks a little too Any Given Sunday via Jerry Maguire for me though.
  • Red State by Kevin Smith. Holy crap. I’ve been waiting for this movie since 2008. What else can I say?
  • Weekend by Andrew Haigh. British indie romance about a gay couple who do pretty much nothing exciting looking for an entire weekend. Touted as an “Audience Winner” at SXSW this year – don’t let that get your hopes up. A good percentage of what they program is geared towards one specific type of hipster audience and most of the films are either pretentious or ridiculous or both. Example: MacGruber. This one looks a bit like Medicine for Melancholy only not with a black, hetero couple in the States.

September 30

  • 50/50 by Jonathan Levine. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of my favorite young male leads and playing off another of my favorites – Anna Kendrick – makes this made-for-hipsters dramedy all that much more enticing. 
  • Courageous by Alex Kendrick. Overwrought drama about four law enforcement officers.
  • Dream House by Jim Sheridan. Rock solid lineup of actors, with the always-solid directing of Sheridan (ok ok, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was a joke) makes this a no-brainer. Additionally, this will be Sheridan’s first stab at helming a horror flick!
  • Margaret by Kenneth Lonergan. Anna Paquin plays a woman who witnesses a bus accident which turns out to change her life. Honestly, this could be hit or miss. I’ve grown used to Paquin as a mind-reading vampire lover, so it may be a hard transition for me in this real-world-rooted drama, but then a film produced by the trio of Minghella, Pollack and Scott Rudin can’t be all bad.
  • Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols. This film looks just plain awesome. Michael Shannon is always great as the tight-lipped, emotionally-repressed characters he exudes, but the austerity and manipulation of the dramatic elements in this film make it no question as to why it garnered praise at Cannes, Sundance and other fests. Be sure to give it a shot if you see anything in September.
  • What’s Your Number? by Mark Mylod. Anna Faris churns out another romantic comedy where she gets to trip, fall and look goofy. 

Did I miss anything? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list.