Quick Movie Review: Looper (2012)

looper_poster Much like with The Raid, I’d heard pretty much only good things about Rian Johnson’s Looper. The trailers I’d seen looked good and according to post-Cop Out Bruce Willis detractor Kevin Smith the movie was so good that it even made him like Willis again, so that definitely piqued my interest. Plus, who doesn’t love a good time travel movie? I’ve seen some really killer newer entries into the genre lately between Primer and Triangle (I wasn’t as big a fan of Timecrimes).

My wife and I watched this movie over the weekend and I was pretty taken aback by it, something I can’t say about most movies. There were some faulty bits that I’ll get to in a graph or two, but first, let’s talk about all the good stuff. This story is fantastic. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an executioner in 2044 who works for mobsters in 2074 who have access to time travel tech. They have a hard time offing people in the future, so they transport people to the past where a Looper is waiting for them with a blunderbuss and blow the target away. Things go crazy in the film when JGL’s future self  (Willis) gets sent back without the usual restraints and winds up getting away. Willis is on a mission to save his life while JGL just wants to get his old life back. The craziness flows from there.

While I really dug the story, there some story elements that bothered me though. Why do Loopers have such silly guns? Sure a blunderbuss can blow a hole in an elephant, but why not train them to shoot a guy in the head or even use an automatic weapon? I only ask this question because it seems like this detail was added in for the sole purpose of giving JGL a weapon that’s basically useless at the very end of the film. Also, why are they called Loopers? JGL explains in voiceover that it’s because the mob will send the Looper’s future self back for the current Looper to kill, but isn’t that funny naming logic? You don’t name a guy for the last part of his job, do you? I still can’t tell if I have a problem with the telekinesis stuff or not. On one hand, you can just accept is as part of the world, a piece of information that’s put in place and paid off for at the end of the movie. On the other hand, it could be a kind of tacked-on bit of business that’s only there to turn a character who would normally be non-threatening into something you really have to worry about.

Even with the above complaints, I was really moved by this movie. First off, it’s a daring story that goes weird places you don’t expect your basic theater-fare to go. Bruce Willis also stars as a somewhat relatable character doing incredibly awful things to try and save his family. Plus, JGL absolutely kills in the film. He carries the intensity and rawness of his own character while also channelling Willis in ways that don’t seem cheap or hokey. Plus, he really rocks that prosthetic nose and begin to believe he’s almost a completely new person (I kept thinking he looked like Shia at times in the film). And man, that ending. I did not see it coming and it hit me in the gut like heavyweight punch. That’s something else you don’t see often.

If you’re like me and just about everyone I’ve talked to about this movie and want to learn more about Johnson’s life, creative process and experience making this film, check out Kevin Smith’s 2-part SmodCast/SmovieMakers podcast interview with the director (here and here) who also goes into detail on his previous efforts Brick and Brothers Bloom.

I Very Much Enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises

My wife has very kindly offered for me to head over to the theater and watch Dark Knight Rises a few times. I bowed out because it was too late one night, I wasn’t up to the three hour commitment and I just wasn’t feeling up for something so seemingly intense another night, but today I took her up on her very generous offer. As I tweeted before heading over to the theater, I actually can not remember the last movie I saw inside as the few new movies we’ve gone to since Lu was born 15 months ago have been at the drive-in.

Somehow, I’d actually been able to avoid any and all spoilers since the film’s July 20th release date. I might have written about Dark Knight Rises a few times a week for Spinoff leading up to the film, but since then any and all stories have been purely about box office. I’ve scrolled over tweets, avoided emails and even skipped some of my favorite podcasts to stay in the dark. I’m actually shocked it worked.

I don’t think I need to get into too much detail about the plot, but this film picks up eight years after the events of Dark Knight. Batman’s been out of commission since then, vilified thanks to his plan with Jim Gordon while Harvey Dent was turned into the city’s fallen knight. It’s been a good time for Gotham…until Bane comes to town and wants to knock everyone off their collective high horses.

Okay, the rest of the review until otherwise stated will take place in SPOILER country, so you’ve been warned. What I liked about this movie is the journey it took us on, even if it’s not one that’s necessarily the most original. Bruce is destroyed by the death of Rachel from the previous film and doesn’t know how he can go on living when she can’t do the same. This dovetails nicely with the plan he hatched with Gordon, giving Gotham the Batman they deserve. We also discover that Bruce’s distrust of humanity make him automatically deject any plans that might be used negatively even if their primary source could be good. That’s the kind of person her is at this point.

Bane is a whole different animal, one whose MO feels like a living breathing thing throughout the movie because we’re only hearing and seeing it from other peoples’ perspectives for the most part. I thought that was a really interesting take on him: you basically only know him by his actions and his speech, not because you know anything about him or his past. The way that his plan not only confirms the fears Bruce always had about the tech getting into the wrong hands but maybe also that you might as well get some good out of things even if they can be abused for evil (that’s not said anywhere on film, but something I thought while watching). I will say that the voice took some getting used to. It almost sounds like someone dubbed in a funny voice in that opening scene, but gets a little less cartoony as it goes on. I also had a hard time understanding him a few times, but that didn’t really bother me. You tend to understand the point he’s trying to convey.

I also want to talk about Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake. Man, I loved this character and his arc. He’s Bruce Wayne if he wasn’t rich, an orphan who learned later how to hide his anger at what happened to him and his parents, but eventually decided to do good by joining the police force. How he goes from that to freedom fighter could have been a whole movie in its own right and one I would have watched. I also enjoyed Anne Hathaway’s performance. She really dug into her bag of actor tricks going from flummoxed demure maid to femme fatale in no time flat, something that could have felt slopping in the hands of a lesser actress. She’s the bad guy side of the Bruce Wayne/John Blake model: poor kid taking what she needed to survive and never really stopping, but wanting to.

Making the proceedings even more entertaining for me was the fact that some of the Batman comics I read growing up were the basis of this story. I’m seen lots of comic movies and really enjoyed them, sometimes going back later and reading the stories they were based on, but I really can’t explain to you how much a part of me the long form Bane story Knightfall meant to me. Those were the first Batman issues I ever collected. I devoured the parts of that story I could find and it lead me to buying Batman comics for the next 20 years almost. But that’s not all, the movie also includes elements from the No Man’s Land story that saw Gotham cut off from the rest of the country and even some of the Bane/Ra’s al Ghul stuff that came about in later issues. I was even retroactively remembering how things fit in with my comics after we found out who Miranda Tate really was (facepalm, of course it was her!).

The movie wasn’t perfect though. Like I said, Bane’s voice was pretty cartoony at times, to the point where I was trying to figure out what animated character he sounded like. It doesn’t help that I have no idea what Tom Hardy sounds like normally. I also thought some of the larger crowd fighting was a little weak, specifically outside city hall, though the bouts between Bane and Batman were always gnarly. OH, and how awesome was it seeing Batman and Catwoman fighting awesomely side by side?! Oh, right, I’m on complaints. Let’s see…oh, Batman took an awful lot of very previous time to stop and say goodbye to Catwoman and Gordon when flying the bomb out, didn’t he? It reminded me of a much less campy version of that famous scene from the 60s Batman movie where he’s trying to get rid of the bomb.

Speaking of the end, I thought it was very curious. Going in, I knew that this was going to be Christopher Nolan’s last Batman film (unless the famously tricky director is playing with us once again), but I was also assuming that this would be the last Batman movie set in his movie universe, like Warners would just scrap it and start over again with a new idea. But that’s pretty silly isn’t it? In comics, sometimes a writer leaves and blows everything up, leaving the next guy to pick up the pieces and sometimes there’s a really smooth transition. It seems like Nolan was giving whoever comes after him a very easy access point. They can clearly move forward with the John Blake developments or bring our hero back any number of other ways. Heck, Nolan could even still produce like he’s doing on Man of Steel, that would give him time to work on whatever his next original project will be. I don’t know any of the answers here, but I like having the questions running around my brain.

End SPOILERS. So, yeah, I really enjoyed this movie. It didn’t grab me right away in the beginning, but kept winning me throughout and by the end, I was completely in, rooting for Gotham and believing that one man really can make a difference. I was so pumped on the way home I had to make sure to watch my speed. I also bought in hard to the idea that you have to make sacrifices to help change things, you can’t just hide behind whatever’s safe or even your family because you’re just making a crappier world for your kid to live in if you’re not helping change things.

Christopher Nolan Is Awesome

I’m not sure if Memento or Insomnia was the first Christopher Nolan movie I ever saw. I think it was when I saw 2000’s Memento my freshman year (2001-2002) of college (on DVD), but I’m not 100% sure on that because I definitely saw 2002’s Insomnia in the theater while home from college. Of course, I had no idea who Nolan was at the time, but both movies greatly affected me. I had seen plenty of movies that play with viewer perception before seeing Memento (like Usual Suspects or Lost Highway), but it quickly cemented itself in the vaunted list of movies that are awesome. After seeing Inception last night I thought about watching both movies again, but the thing about Nolan films is that they’re incredibly intense. After watching his movies, you not only feel like you’ve gone on a journey with the lead, but also feel drained because of it. With that in mind and the lateness of the hour, I decided to do something else and checked out his first feature-length movie called Following (1998) on Netflix Instant.

But first my thoughts on Inception. Don’t worry, there aren’t spoilers in here, but if you’re like me, you might want to keep avoiding any and all talk of the movie before seeing it so nothing gets ruined. I recommend that, actually. Anyway, I loved this movie. It’s just so versatile. The dream stuff is fascinating and really well thought out (you can tell Nolan has worked everything out in his head even if it’s not all on the screen). It’s just such a damn smart movie, there’s so much to think about and talk about. I just finished reading Cinematical’s list of theories and plot holes about what was actually going on. Honestly, though, I don’t really care. I just enjoyed sitting there and absorbing the whole experience (though the theater we went to had the volume up too loud and the screen seemed to be vibrating almost, which was less than ideal). What surprised me though was how action packed the movie was. You’ve got some superhero-ish fighting that made me wish Joseph Gordon-Levitt had played Spider-Man and a James Bondian winter assault that was just fantastic (actually better than anything in a Bond movie). And the whole thing is just so damn taut. You’re trying to keep up with the layers and the timing and the van is falling and what the hell was that and oh my god WALK FASTER! It’s really a stellar film that was expertly edited.

Okay, I can’t completely avoid SPOILERS, so here’s the only problem I had: how come the kick of flipping in the van (in the accident, not when it went off the bridge) didn’t wake anyone up? Also, how does a kick work if your physical body isn’t being kicked? I understand that the sedative allows inner ear functions to stay intact, but if you’re asleep in the dream world (which would put you two layers down) why would a kick work on you, especially if your inner ear isn’t actually being effected because you’re flying on a plane? I’m not saying these are plot holes, just things I didn’t get and might understand better when I watch the movie again, which I most certainly will when it comes out on DVD. For now, though, I’m just going to let it marinate.

I’m still kicking around the idea of doing a Nolan marathon thanks to Memento and Insomnia being on Netflix Instant and his two Batman flicks being in my DVD collection, but instead of watching something I’d already seen, I went with Following, a movie about a writer who winds up following a thief who befriends the writer and teaches him the ropes of breaking and entering. The film doesn’t have the same heady concepts as Nolan’s later films, but it’s by no means your average film. There’s a lot going on here with scenes being told out of chronological order, characters changing appearances and, as you might expect, bad things happening to the male lead.

I’m not sure if it’s the black and white-ness of the movie or the big city setting, but the movie kept reminding me of Darren Aronofsky’s Pi which came out the same year. They’re very different movies told in different styles, but they feel thematically similar as the two leads are following their obsessions down roads that get them into some trouble.

I really should give the movie another watch because I was kind of tired and not giving it my absolute full attention, but I think I ended up understanding the whole thing after some initial confusion (thanks to the non-linear storytelling).

Nolan’s first and last movies are pretty different, but you can tell they’re made by the same guy. With both movies, he starts chronologically later in the story and then jumps backwards in time to explain things. With Following, it’s the main character actually telling someone else what’s going on, with Inception, it’s in medias res and we eventually catch up. I’ve always been curious about this form of storytelling because it contains a bit of a spoiler, but you don’t really understand it until later on. For instance SPOILER in Inception, we see old Saito in the very beginning. We don’t know what it means at first, but once we’re told that dying in the dream world puts you in limbo where you get old and crazy, we know exactly what’s going to happen to Saito, so you spend the rest of the time he’s around wondering when he’s going to die. I wonder why some storytellers reveal their hand like that, but Nolan–in both movies–does an excellent job of dropping you into the story, giving you some clues and giving you so many other things to think about that you tend to forget those opening scenes, sometimes desperately trying to remember them to try and figure out what’s happening (were those his kids on the beach? did we see their faces? what happened to the top when the old man spun it? and on and on and on).

Writing this post has made me want to watch his filmography again which I could do today if the mood strikes. The only movie I don’t have easy access to is The Prestige, but that’s okay, 6 out of 7 ain’t bad.

UPDATE: Just saw that Insomnia actually isn’t on Netflix Instant. Not sure if I completely made that up or what, but sorry about the misinformation.

Quick Movie Review: (500) Days Of Summer (2009)

I was not surprised that I liked (500) Days Of Summer. It had a lot going for it. First off, I have a gigantic crush on Zooey Deschanel (she even sings in the movie!). Second, I’m a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (especially the way he’s handled his career even though I don’t always like his movies, I respect his choices). And third, the Totally Rad Show guys all liked it. So, yeah, as it turned out, I liked the movie a lot, which is funny because the plot is somewhat similar to that of The Wackness, which I reviewed a few days back and didn’t really like. Allow me to explain. The story is told from G-L’s perspective for the most part and follows him on his journey through love and heartbreak with Deshanel (Summer), who isn’t as into him as he is into her. The plot sounds simple and tired, but it’s not thanks to the way director Marc Webb tells the story. For one thing, it’s told in scattered order jumping back and forth through time in the 500 days G-L found himself fawning over Deschanel. We also get these wonderful flourishes that step out of reality and show the viewer things from more of an emotional perspective. There’s a mini documentary about love and, in my favorite moment in the scene, G-L walks out of Deschanel’s apartment and then the city turns into a drawing and then starts disappearing until it’s just his silhouette standing there. Sure, they could have just showed him smiling, but these kind of moments make this more than just an average movie. There’s another full-on dance number and a scene where G-L dances with a light-up sidewalk like a Michael Jackson video (this may even be in the same sequence with the city fading away, I can’t quite remember). And I’m glad these moments are there, because it’s not always easy to see G-L struggling so hard with a job he doesn’t really care about and, more importantly, a girl who doesn’t necessarily care about him as much as he does her. Em didn’t like the almost-ending, which I won’t spoil and kind of comes out of nowhere, but then the very end of the movie wrapped things up really well and in a clever way to boot. I will warn you that this isn’t an easy movie to follow if you’re not paying attention because it does jump around so much. So, this one’s highly recommended and kudos to Webb, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

My New Favorite Recurring SNL Skit: What Up With That?

SNL has been pretty hit or miss this season, but we just saw a rerun of the Joseph Gordon-Levitt and I realized how much I love the Keenan Thompson-starring What Up With That? skits. They’re pretty simple and the same almost every time. Keenan is the host of a BET talk show. There’s always three guests, two of which are real celebs (not the hosts) playing themselves and then Bill Hader playing Fleetwood Mac frontman Lindsey Buckingham. Keenan keeps breaking into song, getting inspired by whatever the first guest is talking about all the while, more and more people jump out dancing, singing or playing instruments. My favorite is Jason Sudekis who is always decked out in a red Adidas track suit and doing 80s hip hop moves. It’s fairly nonsensical, but it kills me every time. Here are all three skits available on Hulu in chronological order.

Of course, the very first clip actually ruins my above description because only James Franco plays himself in this one from October 17th which Gerard Butler hosted. This was the first one I ever saw and it killed me.

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Here’s the episode from the Joseph Gordon-Levitt hosted episode on November 21st. Al Gore and Mindy Kaling from The Office are the guests.

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This is actually the dress rehearsal from the episode that premiered on December 19th. This was the James Franco episode and the talkshow guests are Mike Tyson and 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer. I used the footage from the dress rehearsal because it has some sick dance movies by Tyson himself.

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I Kind Of, Sort Of Liked The G.I. Joe Movie

In an interesting twist of fate, I had just found out I was getting the DVD for G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (2009) from Netflix the very same day we recorded the podcast for War Rocket Ajax. Those of you who have listening to it might remember the long conversation that some of the guys, including my buddy and Topless Robot honcho Rob went back and forth about the ridiculousness of the movie. And yeah, it was ridiculous. Like Rob said, this is the world’s greatest fighting force and they send only a handful of guys to defend Paris. But, like I said, I kind of liked it.

Now, please understand, this isn’t a great movie. I’m not even sure it’s good, but I had a good enough time watching it. When I was a kid I loved G.I. Joe. I remember watching the cartoon, but that’s not where my memories come from. Those would be from the toys. I had a pretty good number of action figures, vehicles and playsets all of which I would spread across my living room floor and play with for hours. We also had a fireplace made up of individual rocks, so that was the perfect place for some epic battles as well. Anyway, seeing as how all the toys (or guys as I used to call them) were tossed into a shoe box, I didn’t really know what their names were and I played with them long past when the cartoon was done, so they were just “the Cobra Viper who’s painted orange and blue” and “the guy with the beret.” I would also play with my older cousin’s Joes when I would visit my Grandma in Cleveland (as well as his Transformers), so there were even more characters I played with but didn’t really know.

All of this is a roundabout way to say that I don’t really have a connection to the Joes as characters. In fact, the three most recent incarnations I’ve encountered were the animated movie (SO weird), the Devil’s Due comic World War III (fantastic) and the first trade of the Marvel comics (boring). So, even now, my experience with the characters is pretty much “Cobra Commander is an ass,” “Destro makes weapons,” and “Snake-Eyes doesn’t talk, also likes guns and swords.” That’s a way of saying that I didn’t care that the characters probably didn’t line up with their animated and comic counterparts. That doesn’t mean that I liked the idea of all the characters being inexplicably linked to each other in complicated ways. Duke used to date Baroness. The eventual Cobra Commander is Baroness’ brother. Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes knew each other as kids (that’s in the comics though, right?). I remember there also being talk of there being a romantic relationship between Scarlet and Snake-Eyes, but I didn’t really notice it in the movie. Oh and of course Ripcord had a thing for Scarlett (though who wouldn’t?).

The action scenes were fun and over the top. That’s the kind of craziness I like. Heck, I even dug the accelerator suit chase scenes. Maybe it’s because I went into this movie expecting absolutely nothing and knew I wasn’t going to get insulted like some nerds do, but for the most part I liked it. Having watched it about a week or two back, I can honestly say that it has mellowed better than Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. I liked Transformers 2 while watching it, I’ve had a lot more questions and concerns after watching it, but G.I. Joe still feels about the same.

Oh, one thing that did bug me about the story was the whole turn of character with the Baroness. It’s too bad they wouldn’t let her just be an awesome villain. Take out the nonsense linking her to Duke and Cobra Commander and you’re fine, because you don’t have to explain anything away (why she turned bad). She should have just been bad the whole time. So, not only did we get robbed of the potential awesomeness of Cobra Commander as a villain throughout the whole film, but we also get the Baroness taken away from us as a rad villainess. It’s really too bad. Hopefully, screenwriters will start treating these propoerties like the rich source material they really are and make big action movies that are both fun and good. We shall see.

Halloween Scene: Halloween H2O & Zombie Island Massacre

Hey, even though things aren’t all rosy, doesn’t mean you can’t depend on me for reviews of old movies you’ve either seen or have no intention of seeing. Yesterday, on what will be my last Train-Ing Video in a while, I watched Halloween H20 (1998) for the very first. time. As long time readers will remember, from my posts about the Halloween movies last year, I had seen the first 5 movies in the original series and then watched Rob Zombie’s remake, but I watched Curse for the first time and hadn’t seen H20 or Resurrection yet.

So, it wasn’t a bad movie. It had Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin (from Chicago Hope), Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe (Nash Bridges AND Prison Break!) and Janet Leigh (who I had forgotten was Jamie Lee Curtis’ mom). The whole ignoring-4-6 and being a little too Scream were definitely annoying and don’t make the series hold up in the long run, but I can see how it would be a good introduction to teenagers in the 90s who maybe hadn’t seen the originals yet. I’m not going to really get into it, because, frankly, BC over at HMAD summed my thoughts up pretty well in his review from 2007 (except for the whole “different opinion every time he sees it” thing, cause, you know, I’ve only seen it once).

I do think it would have been cool if this was the end of the original series of movies, but, not having seen Resurrection, but still reading a few things, I know that Michael got better from that decapitation (or it was a paramedic or some such nonsense?). While I’m not planning on seeing Zombie’s Halloween 2 any time soon, I probably will check out Resurrection relatively soon and let you know what’s up.

I also watched a little movie called Zombie Island Massacre (1984) on NetBox this morning. Yes it’s stupid, and SPOILER, no, there aren’t any actual zombies in it (hence the lack of the “zombie” label), but any movie that starts with a white guy in a tribal mask sneaking up on his girlfriend/wife who’s taking a shower, then jumps into Hatchet-territory with a tour group going to see some weird stuff, then it kind of gets into Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things and Night of the Living Dead zones. It really is a pastiche and it’s not bad, but it’s also not good and if you’ve ever seen a movie like this you’ll know what the twist ending will be.

One question I had though: how did they take a bus to the resort’s sister island? I could have easily missed a simple plot point about this, but I still laughed later once I saw the bus. Oh well. It’s got very little gore, but enough nudity to kind of make up for it.