Saturday, 29 September 2012

Movie Review: Looper

Title: Looper
Director: Rian Johnson
Year Released: 2012
Running Time: 118 minutes
Classification: R (MA15+)
Genre: Science fiction, Action/Adventure, Thriller

It was the premise that hooked me: a hitman's next target is his future self. Will he kill himself or let himself go? Whatever the outcome, it's a great concept. Thankfully, it's also a concept done well. Looper is one smooth sci-fi caper and a welcome breath of fresh air in an era of sequels, prequels, reboots and remakes.

So the year is 2044 and Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who looks strange but fairly convincing in Bruce Willis-ifying make up with extra thick eyebrows) is a looper, an assassin who kills and disposes of mob targets sent from the future. The world is a grim place, with rampant crime and poverty, but it's also close enough to ours to seem possible. Life is pretty routine for Joe until he finds out that the future crime king, the Rainmaker, is “closing the loops” - that is, sending the loopers' future selves back in time for assassination. When Joe's future bad-ass self (Bruce Willis) is sent back, he escapes assassination. The various conflicts between young Joe, old Joe, the mob and eventually Sara (Emily Blunt) provide rich fodder for suspense and moral dilemmas, making for a smart and intriguing film.

If the time travel aspect seems daunting – don't worry; the film is easy to follow and explains what you need to know. As old Joe says, you can just figure out the diagrams and stuff later on. I'm just going to say that I love time travel stories and have noticed that there are usually two types (as depicted in fiction). First, there's the closed system kind (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Gargoyles), in which there is only one reality – any attempt to change the past is impossible, as it will just bring about the things that were meant to happen. Second, there's the infinite possibilities kind (Back to the Future, The Lake House), where you can change the past, but this creates paradoxes or alternate realities. Looper belongs in this second group and it has paradoxes. My advice? Don't think too much about it unless you're a fan of headaches or you like playing “spot the paradox” or “why don't they just do [x]?”. Whether this bothers you is a matter of taste, but I'll say that it's closer to Back to the Future than The Lake House in terms of making sense.

The film has a slick feel to it, but it's not like your typical Big Action Movie. Sure, it's fast-paced and most of Bruce Willis' scenes involve him being Bruce Willis (in a good way), but there are also slower moments and sparse-looking shots that bring an almost art-house or dramatic vibe to the movie. The world-building is solid as are the performances, including child Cid (Pierce Gagnon). I liked that all the characters had their own motivations, were interesting, and worked well with and against each other in the grand scheme of things. As an aside, one aspect I should warn you about is the violence and gore – the fate of Seth (Paul Dano) is the stuff of nightmares oh my god.

However, I get the feeling that Looper won't stick around in my consciousness for too long. Not sure why, but I felt like there could have been something more, or that something was missing – it felt a little cold, almost clinical. Despite the moral and emotional issues at hand, I didn't really connect with the characters. The plot somehow felt too straightforward at times, despite the time travel and the twists (only a few of which were obvious to me). I also feel like it's the kind of movie I don't need to rewatch any time soon. I can't put my finger on why this is so and am willing to chalk it up to subjective taste.

Looper is fresh, intelligent and definitely one of the better movies I've seen in recent times. I'm probably biased towards it since I've been craving some original high concept sci-fi, but I don't care, it hit the spot like a cool glass of lemonade at the end of a hot day. Rian Johnson's done a fine job and I'll definitely be watching out for his future projects.

Alex's Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Title: The Dark Knight Rises
Director: Christopher Nolan
Year Released: 2012
Running Time: 165 minutes
Classification: PG-13
Genre: Drama, Action/Adventure, Science fiction

The Dark Knight Rises is the last of Christopher Nolan's dark and gritty Batman films, and though it may not surpass the excellent The Dark Knight (2008), it at least matches the standard of Batman Begins (2005). While some may argue about whether the film is true to the Batman character, I would say that Nolan's interpretation should be appreciated for what it is, and for me, The Dark Knight Rises is a satisfying conclusion to one of the better movie trilogies in recent times.

The first thing I'll mention is that it's best to have seen the previous movies (or at least know what happened) before watching this one. It's possible to follow the film without the prior knowledge, but it'd be kind of a waste, and you'd be confused for at least part of the film.

So what happens? To sum up the premise without giving too much away, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a crippled recluse since the events of the last film, but finds himself being drawn back into the Batman persona when Gotham is terrorised by a masked fellow named Bane (Tom Hardy). A partially recycled Inception (2010) cast play out the other parts in the drama, and the story is enriched by the fact that each character has their own story arc and motivations.

The style and feel of the previous films is maintained, which is to say The Dark Knight Rises is stylish and serious and leaves you with the impression you just watched something intelligent. The relevancy of Gotham's (fictional) social issues to our reality has always been one of the trilogy's great strengths, and this aspect is played up in The Dark Knight Rises. The epic, monologue-y dialogue is still there, and again it somehow works. The story itself is cleverly structured in that typical Christopher Nolan way, bringing together various characters and story-lines to create various conflicts and reveals. It's the kind of film that warrants discussion, the kind of film that rewards you with subsequent viewings.

However, a few days later, when the dazzle of the film's cleverness and stylishness had worn off, I found myself thinking about its flaws. These mainly have to do with the world of Gotham, which straddles the line between fantasy and reality when compared to ours. For me, The Dark Knight Rises crosses the line too far into fantasy, which is jarring given the world established in previous films. Amongst Gotham's gritty realism, you get someone as cartoonish as Bane, who is a physically menacing but often incomprehensible brute with a speech pattern somewhere between Darth Vader and a corny Bond villain. You also have a vehicle that looks like it belongs in Transformers, and then there are Batman's miraculous powers of recovery and the whole thing with the Pit. Especially the Pit. And especially Bane. I realise this is a subjective thing; to others, such aspects may fit perfectly into a world in which something like the League of Shadows exists.

In essence, my problems with the film have to do with the fact I keep comparing it with its predecessor. For all its structure, it felt like the film was composed of a hodgepodge of ideas and plots which fit together as part of a grand scheme, but which don't play off each other in the way that they did in The Dark Knight. This is especially true of the characters. In that movie, the three central characters Batman, the Joker (Heath Ledger) and Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) worked wonderfully together, with each character holding a unique moral position that was challenged by the others. In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman has to deal with the ridiculous Bane and cat burglar Selina Kyle (who I can't help but see as Anne Hathaway, with the usual Anne Hathaway perkiness/snarkiness combo), neither of whom prove to be as interesting or challenging as Harvey Dent and the Joker.

In the end, the only characters I cared about were the ones who had been in previous films and maybe Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). I liked this movie, but when you compare it to The Dark Knight, it's a bit of a let down. While you've still got an intricate plot and dark realism, the characters – particularly the villains – just aren't as compelling. But hey, it's still a good film and a good ending to the trilogy. I, for one, will be looking forward to marathoning all three movies in years to come.

Alex's Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Movie Review: The Vow

Title: The Vow
Director: Michael Sucsy
Year Released: 2012
Running Time: 104 minutes
Classification: PG-13
Genre: Drama, Romance

In this movie, an uncommonly attractive couple are injured in a car accident. The wife (Rachel McAdams) forgets all about her husband (Channing Tatum) and the husband tries to make her fall in love with him again. Though this premise is rife with potential, The Vow takes the easy path in how it deals with the couple's issues. Still, it's a pleasant film, romantic and good for when you want to give your brain a rest.

The pre-accident relationship is a perfect one, with a sweetness that's almost cavity-inducing. But hey, that's the fantasy, and it shows how our couple ~belong together~. When Paige forgets about Leo, you want them to get back together again.

I did like how their problems were fairly realistic – in fact, the most unrealistic part of it all was how upset Paige was upon discovering she was married to Channing Tatum (because she has eyes). But while their struggles post-accident ring true, they're not particularly challenging or dramatic. They're the kind of problems that would suck in real life, but make for mildly boring viewing. I found my attention drifting away every so often to ponder such exciting topics as whether I should do the laundry tomorrow and what I should eat for dinner. It's that kind of movie.

But hey, whatever, it's a nice-looking film with pretty colours. From the snow at the beginning to Paige's art to their improbably neat house – it's all quite aesthetically pleasing. This is, of course, in addition to our aesthetically pleasing leads. Indeed, if not for their looks and their acting, the film could have been a lot worse. Rachel McAdams is lovely as Paige, and though I have heard a lot about Channing Tatum's acting ability (or lack thereof) I thought he was fine as Leo; the slight awkwardness suited his character and the only unconvincing part of him was his being in the music industry.

It's simple romantic fare, dull yet enjoyable, idealised yet believable (probably because of the banality of it all). I wouldn't make a movie night out of this, but it'd be perfect viewing for when you're sick or when you're doing some kind of menial chore in front of the telly.

Alex's Rating: 3/5