Rian Johnson

Review: Looper

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The Pitch: Witness to the future.

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 Half Dozen: 6 Most Interesting Looking Trailers For September 2012

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Welcome back to the blog that loves trailers. Wow, I’m really sorry if you’re reading this and thinking, “Trailers? Again?” Due to my continuing commitment to a paid job that keeps a roof over my head and funds my film addiction, but gives me increasingly less time to write about my film addiction, four of the last nine posts on here have been lists of trailers. The bad news to anyone averse to trailers is that there’ll be another one along shortly; for the third year in a row I’ll be living at the Cambridge Film Festival for a week and a half, soaking in everything from the Kristen Stewart starring adaptation of Kerouac’s On The Road to a documentary about a man who makes sushi and pretty much everything in between. In 2010 and 2011 I listed the trailers for everything I’m seeing, and this year’s list – longer than ever before – will be up shortly. But there will be posts this month that aren’t all about trailers. Promise.

But life isn’t all about film festivals, sadly, and the real world still has plenty of cinematic treats to enjoy. It’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt month this month, with Looper (below) and Premium Rush, the Die Hard On A Bike that the world never knew it needed; the new Joe Wright film Anna Karenina, which if it’s at least half as good as Atonement or Hanna will be right up my street; The Sweeney, which has a fantastic looking cast but to which I now have an irrational hatred thanks to the awful Orange “turn your mobile off, slag” trailers running before most multiplex films at the moment; and the new Resident Evil film. If you are keeping Paul W.S. Anderson in work by repeatedly watching these films, then please leave now, we have nothing more to discuss.

There’s a whole host more out this month, much of which will be on the festival list, but for now here’s my pick of the general populace’s best choices this month.

Dredd 3D

I’ve never been a huge fan of comic books; not that I dislike them, I’ve just never really gotten into them. (Apart from buying all four issues of the Robocop vs. Terminator cross-over series for some reason. Go figure.) However, I did have a serious affection for Judge Dredd when I was younger, from 2000 A.D. to the single line strips that would appear in tabloid newspapers. The Stallone version from the mid-Nineties is best forgotten about, but it seems as if all concerned here have tried to keep faithful to the spirit of the original. It’s rumoured that a $50 million take in the U.S. is the minimum requirement to get two planned sequels; come on you lovely Yanks, don’t let us down now.

Tabu

It’s black and white, it’s in the Academy ratio, it and everything else that ticks two out of the three boxes will be compared to The Artist for years to come. The temptation to get a camera and film a black and white, Academy ratio, silent slasher horror comedy just to try to put a stop to that trend has never been greater. (If you’re reading this and you’re a talented director, or a madman with more money than sense, then feel free to make such a film; you’ll be doing us all a service in the long run.)

Paranorman

Why is it that so often these days the best films in terms of adhering to good storytelling principles are animated films? Discuss.

House At The End Of The Street

Jennifer Lawrence might just be the most promising young actress of her generation. Outstanding in Winter’s Bone, it’s not hard to see why she was cast in The Hunger Games and she’s delivered supporting performances in other films which have helped elevate them above their station. So is this the start of her inevitable Halle Berry phase and the descent into bad sequels, or can she enliven this slasher-of-the-month-remake to something more enticing? Let’s hope it’s the latter.

Killing Them Softly

Brad Pitt and Andrew Dominik team up again, after their first collaboration, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. Thankfully, the title of this one is slightly less spoilerific, although I would still expect some killings if I were you.

Looper

Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels in a time travel movie set in the future? Sold. (To be honest, you had me at Bruce Willis.) There were a huge amount of great things about Rian Johnson’s previous film, The Brothers Bloom, and I can’t help but feel it was a decent ending short of being a great film. Take this scene where Rachel Weisz discusses what she collects; if all of Looper is this quality, it’ll be genius.

Review: The Brothers Bloom

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The Pitch: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – The World Tour.

The Review: There’s something odd about people in general – we like to be surprised. We like that twist at the end, we like the intricacy of the puzzle and trying to work it out. But, by and large, we don’t like magic any more. The theatrical men with their grand illusions seem to have had their bubble burst in recent years, partly because society got bored and allowed itself to give away all the endings and secrets on TV specials. So if you’re going to pull the wool over someone’s eyes these days, you need to do a few things right.

Firstly, you need to draw in your mark, and get their attention. Writer / director Rian Johnson sets up the story with a childhood prologue which sets out the principles and the character traits in a very efficient seven minutes, which almost works as the first act of the movie; everything you need as set-up for the rest of the movie’s been tightly but expertly packed in here, capturing both Bloom’s reasons for participating and his disappointment that not everyone leaves happy at the end. This then allows the body of the movie to head off in random directions, but always leave you feeling engaged and connected.

Secondly, you need to make sure your act has polish and professionalism. Two things work in the movie’s favour here – the travelogue locations would make a James Bond film feel proud, landing in one location for just long enough to edge the plot along before rattling on to the next. It takes with it a strong cast who are all having fun with their roles, except maybe Adrien Brody who only gets to drop the melancholy occasionally as the titular Bloom. But Mark Ruffalo, Robbie Coltrane and Maximilian Schell all tuck into theirs with appropriate gusto, Rinko Kikuchi (you might remember her from movies such as Babel) gets to have enormous fun as the mute explosive expert, almost a live action Gromit to the Brothers’ Wallace, and especially Rachel Weisz, the collector of hobbies who gets to show most of them off in a fantastic montage early on.

But thirdly, and most importantly, you need to have your ending ready – the crowd won’t come back if the trick doesn’t reveal itself well. Johnson, both through script and direction, keeps things moving along at pace right to the end, but the travelogue feel and the nature of the layers of the con give a fun, frothy feel, then at the last he attempts to reach for gravitas and danger, and we don’t want it to end that way. It’s as if you’ve watched Matt Damon in Ocean’s Eleven, only to discover the end of a Bourne movie at the climax. Sadly, the ending doesn’t feel as if it’s been earned – there feels one con too few or too many, but either way the Brothers come up just short of a successful show. Better luck with your next mark, fellas.

Why see it at the cinema: The huge amounts of background detail and action in the distance, almost like a Zucker comedy, are best captured where you have the chance to see it all. There’s also enough good laughs to keep the communal spirits up.

The Score: 7/10

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