The Pitch: Jon’s Addiction.
The Cockney Rhyming Slang Review: Due to the graphic and adult nature of the content of this film and my desire to make this as much of a PG (or 12A) blog as possible, I have replaced the stronger terms in this review with Cockney Rhyming Slang. Most of the translations are courtesy of whoohoo.co.uk and londontopia.net.
A friend of mine once asked me why being called a merchant banker was an insult. His reasoning was that everyone does it, so why would anyone be offended to be called one? Maybe there’s still a social stigma to anyone who prefers merchant banking to good, old fashioned Posh ‘N’ Becks, possibly some deep seated religious conscience. Strictly speaking, there’s nowhere in the Bible that condemns merchant banking, but it does condemn certain sexual practices, and (especially for men) there’s an association between merchant banking and Frankie Vaughn, as many men feel the need for a bit of Frankie to get themselves in the right state of Chinese Blind. It’s easy to take the moral high ground and to Barnaby Rudge those who do, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first film for the Stevie Nicks attempts to understand what makes a young man want to play with his Uncle Silly while watching Frankie.
As well as directing Gordon-Levitt is the la-di-da of his own film, the Jon of the title, a young man who’s disenchanted with the physical nature of his physical relationship with twist’n’twirls. He’s in the rub-a-dub every night with a different twist, but ending up in Uncle Ned with them is never as satisfying as the time on his own with his pistol and shooter. When he meets Scarlett Johanssen he tries to be a better old pot and pan, but he’s soon falling into the same old patterns, patterns repeated in his weekly confession at the left in the lurch. He gets his strong New York passions from his dad Tony Danza, while his sock and blister Brie Larson sits silently in judgement. The only person who truly seems to understand him is fellow student Julianne Moore, a few donkey’s ears older than JGL and the only one who doesn’t seem to sit in judgement.
Gordon-Levitt follows the typical path for this kind of jackanory, surrounding his Jon with other alpha males, but the Frankie remains resolutely off the Betty Grable when it comes to getting under the true nature of his Barney Rubbles. While he makes some interesting decisions as a director, the script is generic and Jon starts out as little more than a caricature. He’s a Max Factor of credit and gradually shades in Jon with levels of detail, but it’s the performance more than the storytelling that makes Jon feel real. It’s not helped by Scarlett Johansson, who also seems to act in one too many stereotypes and it’s difficult to orange peel anything much for either of them. It’s only when Julianne Moore shows her Chevy Chase that Don Jon starts to generate any kind of depth or satisfying narrative arc.
So Don Jon is an odd hybrid, of an exploration of onanistic pleasures, a coming of age story and an unusual turtle dove story. It doesn’t have anything profound to say about merchant banking, Frankie Vaughn or Posh ‘n‘ Becks but it does at least see the other aspects of its story through to a reasonable conclusion. It’s a mixed start to JGL’s directorial career, and you can see what he was aiming for to a point, but it’s all a touch predictable and safe, which is quite an achievement for such potentially offensive subject matter. Let’s hope that this is the start of a long career : I Adam and Eve that young Joe’s got plenty of talent but next time I hope, with no small sense of irony, he shows slightly more orchestra stalls.
Why see it at the cinema: If you didn’t feel you got enough cinema discomfort from watching Blue Is The Warmest Color, here’s an ideal opportunity to test your tolerance for sitting in a room full of strangers while topics not normally discussed in polite conversation are brought up repeatedly.
What about the rating: Rated 18 for strong sex and sex references. Also has a tiny bit of bad language and some joint smoking, but even so it’s far from the most extreme 18 rated film I’ve seen and there’s very little dwelling on the material at hand.
My cinema experience: Having missed this at my local Cineworld, I ventured further afield to catch both this and Captain Phillips at the Cineworld in Braintree. A good job I was only seeing two films, as the car park appears to have a six hour limit (so no seeing seven films in a day here). It appears to be a newer Cineworld, as the seats were still comfortable and I managed to find plenty of legroom in both screens, and there were no sound or vision issues in either film. The only slight downer was that I was actually sold a ticket for Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa instead of Don Jon, so had a mad dash to the concessions desk after Captain Phillips to find someone to tell me which screen I was actually supposed to be in.
The Score: 6/10
The Review: Is it possible to know that you’ll love a film before you even see it? If I look through the list of my favourite films, then certain types of films keep cropping up: action movies, thrillers, science fiction and in particular time travel movies. Despite their tricksy ways with time, everything from The Terminator movies to Twelve Monkeys has been a particular favourite of mine over the years, and Back To The Future still retains its place as my favourite film of all time. But it’s not just the possibilities of time travel that cast their spell over me, it’s the rich tapestry that each of these films uses time travel to weave, in each case skilfully combining different story elements into a compelling tale. But for each of those classics, there’s a Timecop or an A Sound Of Thunder. So does Looper have all of the required elements to add it to the classic list?
First, there’s the setting. Looper raises the bar on other time travel movies by having no passage set in contemporary times, and using that to derive its unique selling point. Think of most time travel movies and they consist of characters from our time travelling forwards or backwards in time, or vice versa. Looper is set entirely in the future, and predominantly in two different futuristic years; time travel, having been invented by 2074, allows the criminal underworld to dispose of their evidence by sending it back in time thirty years to 2044. Loopers are the clean-up crew of the relative past, instantly killing off the criminals of the future as they are sent back in time, then cleanly disposing of the evidence. They do this in the knowledge that one day, they’ll be the one on the mat facing them on the other end of the a giant gun, at which point the loop is closed, with a pay-off sent along to help the last thirty years of their life run smoothly. And heaven help anyone who doesn’t manage to close their loop when their future self comes visiting…
In addition to the entirely futuristic setting, it manages to be an entirely convincing futuristic setting, regardless of the time period, feeling both a natural extension of current times, but at the same time suitably lived in. Not since Minority Report have we seen such a well thought out and absolutely convincing future setting, with not a single detail feeling out of place. That feeling of reality is also down to the characters, who while feeling totally of their era have issues and problems which are universal, even if they are set up by time travel shenanigans. The biggest trick for any film set across two periods to pull off is a convincing pair of actors playing the same role at different times, especially when one of those actors has one of the most famous faces on the planet. But thanks to some convincing prosthetics and the power of the actors concerned, you will never doubt for one second that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a young Bruce Willis; an impressive trick to pull off when they have so many scenes together.
Two things have elevated those other time travel movies to classic status: their mind and their soul. By their soul, I’m thinking of the tone of the story, the emotions that support the narrative, be it the comedy and romance of Back To The Future, the pulse-pounding threat of the Terminator or the poignant inevitability of Twelve Monkeys. Looper has a sense of humour, in keeping with director Rian Johnson’s previous films (Brick and The Brothers Bloom) but also an occasionally sick and sadistic touch, more darkly comic, revelling in the abilities of messing with characters who straddle two time periods. It also has soul, revealed in the second half of the movie which takes in a complete change of setting – and one which may prove to much of a right-angled turn for some audiences revelling in the futuristic nature of the backdrop to deal with – but one which allows the acting talents of Emily Blunt and young newcomer Pierce Gagnon to shine.
The other aspect is the mind, the high concept which instantly nails the story in your mind. What would you do if you went back in time and met your parents? Or if you were the mother of the future saviour of the human race, but spent your life hunted because of it? Looper’s hook seems to be initially whether you’d be able to kill your future self if the price is right, but in that Emily Blunt-based second half reveals itself to be something more basic and profound. The time travelling logic is as nebulous as that of many of its classic forebears (trying to make sense of timelines in most time travel movies will leave you scratching your head if you look too closely, and Looper actively plays with these expectations), but that shouldn’t detract from writer / director Johnson’s achievement; to create a time travel film which calls back in subtle ways to the greatness of its forebears, but also creates a unique vision with a mind and a soul all its own. I suspect people will still be talking about this one thirty years from now.
Why see it at the cinema: Movies like this are made for the big screen, and the sheer level of incidental detail in the background of the first hour needs to be seen as big as possible to truly appreciate, but it’s also best seen with an audience, as you’re bound to want to talk about it afterwards.
The Score: 10/10
The Review: I reckon, if hard pushed, we could all remember a particular dream we’d had at some point in our lives. Our brains, for some as yet unknown reason, go off on flights of fancy while we’re asleep, and some we can remember as clearly as events that have happened to us. When I was just a child, I had a dream that Tim Brooke-Taylor, ostensibly one of the gentlest men in show business, beat me up in my back garden. I once dreamed for two weeks solid, and in every dream everyone in that dream had a dog with them. I once stood on the runway of an airport and watched as a 747 crashed and exploded at the other end. And I once had a dream that I was in a purple room with no doors or windows, and that I was hungry.
What our subconscious is doing, rather than giving us Daliesque landscapes to run about in with four headed giraffes and unlimited naked orgies (although if you are dreaming that, well done and can I come and live in your head?), is giving us variants on the world we know, grounded in reality but extrapolated further. What Christopher Nolan has seen is the potential to play around in your head, but assuming your head is the extrapolated reality dream world, and not the Dali-giraffe-orgy one. So if you’ve heard that this is a David Lynch-like study of what the potential of dreams are, then you’ve heard wrong. Dreams are merely the canvas for what Nolan is attempting to construct.
I can only assume that he reads and studies Heath Robinson and M.C. Escher during the day, then eats a fair bit of cheese before bedtime, because what he has constructed is an intricate and complex adventure within that space. Into that world, he’s deposited one of the finest rosters of actors since The Dark Knight (and some Nolan regulars, including Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine get varying length turns here), but although most of them, especially the lesser known such as Tom Hardy, shine with what they’re given, the movie is anchored around Leonardo DiCaprio. Aged 35 and finally starting to show it, this and Shutter Island have seen his acting achieve a new level of nuance recently and he’s comfortably able to take the weight of the emotional hooks the movie hangs on him.
There are two key women in DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb’s life, Ariadne (Ellen Page) and Mal (Marion Cotillard), and it’s his interactions with the two that drive the plot forward. And here’s where any attempts to explain said plot are likely to come off as completely futile, even if they weren’t likely to spoil things. This is a global movie, filmed in seven countries on four continents, and once it’s established the basic rules in the first fifteen minutes, it starts running and almost never stops. It’s a heist movie, but that’s about all you get to ground you; then the rules are gradually layered on over the next hour or so until we’re in a world completely of Nolan’s construction, at which point he launches the key heist.
A key trope of horror movies, occasionally edging into science fiction, is that of the dream within the dream. Wake up and you then realise you’re still dreaming. What Nolan has done is take this a stage further; debates rage about the merits of 3D when it comes to the visual dimensions, but what Inception does is take the dimensions through the plot, and specifically through the heist that forms the last hour or more of the movie. So you get Bond movie, sci-fi action, conventional action movie and even psychological thriller, with all of them running at the same time but at different rates, and events in the levels filtering up and down. It’s a five dimensional action movie, done for the most part without the ridiculous over-cranking of a Michael Bay, and in that sense it’s never less than brilliant.
But there are concepts and ideas running through this that, once your pulse has steadied from the action beats, will try to engage your mind. The emotions of the movie are all wrapped up in that dimension – there is a huge depth of emotion here, but in the same way as the secrets that the character’s minds lock away, it’s not immediately accessible and you will be required to fully open yourself up to the experience to get the most from it. Thankfully, the quality of the direction, acting, editing and script will allow you to do that if you’re willing. And just to show he’s not tired of it, having done a whole movie by giving us layered variations on what we’ve seen before, he takes another route. Not the deliberate cliff-hangers of his Batman movies, or the twisty-turniness of Memento or The Prestige, here we get the debate ending. A simple choice from the last shot which will define you and what you want to take from the movie, and is bound to generate healthy pub debate for as long as Inception is watched, whether that be ten minutes or fifty years.
Why see it at the cinema: This is bold, thought-provoking cinema at its action-oriented best, and it was intended to be seen in the cinema. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the reaction of your fellow cinema-goers to the final shot is worth the price of admission alone.
The Score: 10/10