Looper (12/31/12)

LooperMovie Three Hundred Two

In Looper, time travel is used by the mafia to dispose of people and a young hitman soon finds his future self his target.

In 2074, time travel is illegal and used only on the black market by criminals looking to dispose of bodies. They send the victims back 30 years, strapped with cash where a hitman known as a “looper” on the other end finishes the job and collects the payment from the body with the only condition being that the victims do not escape. When a looper’s time is finished, his future self is sent back for the younger looper to kill; this is known as closing the loop.  Joseph Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper whose future self, Old Joe (Bruce Willis), as his hit but Old Joe escapes. Old Joe and Young Joe meet at a diner and Old Joe says is looking to stop a mysterious figure in the future known only as The Rainmaker who is the one closing all the loops. Young Joe finds some coordinates from Old Joe and heads to an isolated farm where Sara (Emily Blunt) lives with her young son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), who Old Joe believes may be The Rainmaker.

I went into Looper with very lofty expectations. Though I missed the theatrical run, I have seen nothing but glowing praise for the film since its release. I’m afraid that my expectations were not quite met by Looper though I did thoroughly enjoy most of it. Time travel is both Looper’s biggest asset and point of contention for me. Looper is a bit of a refreshing take on time travel and it gets away from many of the quirks of telling a time travel story, but it also kind of crudely pushes aside the belief that Old Joe can exist.

Let me explain, and I assure you this is not a spoiler – For Old Joe to exist in the future, Young Joe would have to kill him in the past. The same scene with Old Joe escaping plays out in the film with Old Joe getting killed, thus allowing Young Joe to grow old and live his life to become Old Joe. I was able to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the rest of the film, but while talking in the diner, Young Joe asks about time travel and Old Joe gruffly talks about how it’s too difficult to explain and then they move on. I understand that time travel is a difficult concept to portray but something about this didn’t jibe with me. Also, don’t try to figure out if anyone else in 2034 is from the future, I did and it was futile and may even hinder your enjoyment of the story.

Time travel quibbles aside, I found Looper to be extremely well made. Joseph Gordon-Levitt with his makeup on looks remarkably like Bruce Willis. Gordon-Levitt even has most of Willis’ mannerisms down pat, it’s a lot of fun to watch. Pierce Gagnon, the youngest actor in Looper by about 20 years, possibly gives the best performance of the film. Writer/director Rian Johnson creates a very believable setting, all things considered, and makes Looper a smart action film, a combination that unfortunately doesn’t seem to come along very often.

I give it 4 completely awesome Mondo posters out of 5.

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(500) Days of Summer (7/31/12)

(500) Days of SummerMovie One Hundred Seventy Eight

A man and woman’s entire meeting, friendship, relationship, and breakup are detailed during the (500) Days of Summer.

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works at a greeting card company when one day, he sees the girl of his dreams, Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Instantly in love, Tom makes it his mission to be with Summer and over time, the two become friends. Summer is reluctant to be in a relationship, but her and Tom become more than friends. After their breakup, Tom seeks advice from his best friends and younger sister, Rachel (Chloe Grace Moretz) on what to do. The story is told in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth between the stages of Tom and Summer’s entire relationship.

According to the omniscient narrator, (500) Days of Summer is not a love story, simply the story of “boy meets girl” and since we know from the start that Summer and Tom break up, I suppose that is true. I strongly hesitate to call this a romantic comedy and while it does have the necessary elements of a rom-com, it is decidedly not a “chick flick”.

Had this film been made in the 80s, Tom would have almost certainly been played by John Cusack but Joseph Gordon-Levitt does an admirable job. Zooey Deschanel plays her usual cute, quirky self here but since this was the movie that kind of put her on the map, she is a bit more subdued than she is in that annoying Apple commercial. I think all of us have known girls like Summer, perhaps even dated one and I certainly can relate to Tom (though I wish I had his sense of dress). Having such a funny, realistic story really makes (500) Days of Summer a really enjoyable film.

Marc Webb, who recently directed the Amazing Spider-Man, is at the helm for (500) Days of Summer and his style works brilliantly with the characters and the drawings done on screen. The way the story plays out and the title card animations indicating the number of day reminded me a bit of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a connection I hadn’t made before but Eternal Sunshine is fresh in my mind now. Since relationship movies are practically a dime a dozen, when one stands out, it’s usually a good thing. (500) Days of Summer has the right amount of kitsch, humor, and sadness to make it memorable even if you don’t care for Zooey Deschanel.

I give it 4 life becoming arts out of 5.

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The Dark Knight Rises (7/20/12) [Spoiler-free]

Movie One Hundred Seventy Two

The Dark Knight Rises concludes Christopher Nolan’s spectacular Batman trilogy with Bruce Wayne donning the suit of Gotham’s hero for perhaps the final time.

Picking up eight years after the end of The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises has Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) living in seclusion, except for Alfred (Michael Caine) of course, after he uses Batman as a martyr and sets Harvey Dent up as Gotham’s real hero. During a party at Wayne Manor, Bruce finds a young woman stealing his mother’s necklace and taking his fingerprints. Bruce soon finds out this woman is Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and she is selling Wayne’s fingerprints for a plot by Bane (Tom Hardy) to bring down Bruce Wayne and also Gotham city itself. With the assistance of old friend Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), “hotheaded” rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and board member Miranda (Marion Cotillard), Bruce Wayne must come out of the shadows to become Batman and save Gotham before Bane destroys everything.

There are no doubt going to be people that walk away from The Dark Knight Rises disappointed, it’s inevitable. And yes, there are some disappointing things about the film, but nitpicking aside, it shows some of the strongest filmmaking of the trilogy and I would say it actually exceeded my expectations by a fair margin. Christopher and Jonathan Nolan have pulled out all the stops for The Dark Knight Rises and I will say that the action grabs you by the throat early on and doesn’t even let up, though the film throws a lot at you to begin with so that helps keep you on your toes.

While I did not view this film on an IMAX screen (I will in a few weeks, though) there is obvious care taken to filming and I could safely guess which portions of the film were shot for IMAX. The sets are somehow even grander than The Dark Knight and Gotham feels larger too. Both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were filmed here in Chicago and The Dark Knight Rises was filmed elsewhere (Philadelphia, I believe Pittsburgh) so that may play a part in this. Most surprising for me was the high quality acting, Michael Caine especially. It would be forgivable for a comic book film to have the actors mostly phone it in, but the actors all truly deliver here. The only exception would possibly be Tom Hardy as Bane…

Which leads me to my few nitpicking gripes about the The Dark Knight Rises. Bane is my biggest peeve since he sounds like a cross between Hardy’s earlier role in Bronson and Sean Connery doing a Peter Sellers impersonation. Obviously test audiences had a hell of a time understanding Bane when he talked, so they made his voice this way on purpose and it sits high in the mix too. At least he is clearly audible. My other main gripe is that the CGI is a bit uneven. Nolan is fantastic at using real sets for his stunts so maybe the CGI portions just stood out because of this, but I thought some of the bits looked a bit flat.

I was not expecting to be surprised by The Dark Knight Rises and yet I was. Several times, in fact. While Christopher Nolan may not be returning to Batman films anytime, I hope he and and his brother are at the very least creative consultants on the next set of Batman films. In case you are wondering if I prefer this film over The Dark Knight, it’s a close call. In fact, I would rate all three of Nolan’s Batman films 5/5 so technically I can be noncommittal and say they all tie! I will be seeing The Dark Knight Rises again very soon and I honestly cannot wait. This is a real contender for best film of 2012.

I give it 5 Pee-Wee Herman narrates the trailers out of 5.

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