Looper (2012 film)

If you flip this poster upside-down, Bruce Willis gets the lead, and the movie is now titled : “Repool”. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean anything.

Time travel movies never make sense. No one has ever written anything that doesn’t have at least one big plot hole. “Looper” is no exception to this rule. However, Rian Johnson (writer/director) did a fine job in avoiding the vast majority of common pitfalls that come with incorporating time travel into a plot. If you aren’t careful, you can easily get mired down in sorting through the details of logical impossibilities, and subsequently, the movie falls apart quickly. By choosing to acknowledge the existence of these fallacies, and politely ask the audience to not dwell on them, Johnson succeeds in keeping the plot intact just enough to deliver a compelling storyline. There are two scenes where characters assume the voice of the writer, essentially speaking to the audience when they say : “Don’t try to understand time travel, it will only make your head hurt. So, just accept that it’s real, and enjoy the ride”. While not a terribly creative solution, it is nonetheless, an acceptable and effective one.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays young Joseph Simmons, while Bruce Willis plays old Joseph Simmons. The make-up was convincing enough to bridge the gap between the two actors who really don’t look much alike. Also, for this particular character, a natural, cutesy Gordon-Levitt baby face would not have looked tough or haggard enough for the part. In short, the make-up was a double win.

Jesus, don’t look too closely!

The acting in this movie was pretty excellent across the board. The biggest risk in a project with this kind of budget, is to cast an untested child actor in a central role. With Pierce Gagnon playing Cid(The Rainmaker), this gamble paid off big time. He was outstanding. With the wrong casting for this role, this movie could have easily drifted off into a sea of cheese. Pierce showed the full range – first, evoking some serious rage, and then squeezing out the waterworks. Pretty cool to watch.

Emily Blunt played the role of Sara(Cid’s Mother), and did well enough. For some reason, the scenes where she hacked away at a stump, stood out to me as unintentionally hilarious. If someone told me that I chopped wood “like a girl”, I imagine this is what it might look like. It seemed like it took every ounce of strength she had to swing a 6 pound axe.

Reenforcing female stereotypes one swing at a time.

Jeff Daniels plays “Abe”, the only character in the movie whose motivations made no sense. As a side note, I can’t seem to detach Daniels from his role as Harry Dunne in “Dumb and Dumber”. It’s much the same way I can’t separate Keanu Reeves from his “Ted” Theodore Logan character. I guess if you do a convincing enough job playing a dumbass, I can’t erase the echoes of that character from my memory – no matter how big of a departure you make. But, that’s my problem. The problem with the “Abe” character, is that it’s unclear why he would give a rat’s dick about following the orders of his future bosses. Why wouldn’t he simply go find the baby versions of his bosses and kill them? Or, if they weren’t born yet, go and kill their parents. I mean, he’s supposed to be a conniving, murderous criminal, right?? Or better yet, if you have knowledge of everything that will happen for the next thirty years, pull a “Biff” from “Back To The Future 2”, and basically take over the world by having more money than anyone else.

“Someone please explain to me why I don’t make any sense.”

I think they could have been a bit more thoughtful with that aspect of the story. But, whatever. I guess this is a minor point, and since the filmmakers were mindful enough to concede defeat, I’ll let it go. So if you go to see “Looper”, and you can find this forgiveness Rian Johnson so delicately asks of you, then there’s a good chance you’ll be able to thoroughly enjoy the rest of this uniquely crafted thrill ride.

Overall Rating :  8.4/10

– JA

The Master (2012 film)

Even when life is viewed through a kaleidoscope, it doesn’t change the fundamental reality of what you are looking at.

I first heard about the “The Master” several months before its release. After reading the synopsis, and finding out that it was going to be a thinly veiled slam on the cult of Scientology, which would be written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix), I could not have been more excited. I am a huge fan of PTA’s previous works “Magnolia”, “Boogie Nights”, and particularly, his latest crowning jewel ; “There Will Be Blood”. However, unlike his previous works, “The Master” is missing something. Unfortunately, it’s a big something.

Before we get to what was missing, let’s take a moment to recognize what was still there. Most of PTA’s movies do a great job of capturing the finer details of any given scene with a hyper-realist approach. His movies consistently make me feel like I’m watching a piece of history unfold before my eyes. This is quite an accomplishment, considering what we are really watching : a bunch of overpaid actors blurting out lines on a closed set. “Boogie Nights” simply oozed the essence of the 70’s / early 80’s. And I don’t know what kind of extensive research was done for “There Will Be Blood”. But, my god, did he capture an astonishingly detailed account of what life might have been like for an “oil man” at the turn of the century. “The Master” continued this theme of immersing audiences in a visceral experience, this time using post WWII America as a backdrop.

“Right over there. That’s where I want you to drink some paint thinner, fingerblast a sand prostitute, and then feverishly masturbate into the ocean, okay? And give me PASSION god-damn it!”

Another strength that PTA has as a director, is squeezing the best performance possible out of his actors. Granted, when you are working with the likes of Daniel Day Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Cruise, and Joaquin Phoenix, it makes your job a lot easier. But, don’t forget, he’s also drawn max talent from non-Oscar talents like Burt Reynolds, Kevin J. O’Connor, Mark Wahlberg, and Heather Graham. Whether you like his movies or not, this guy knows how to motivate. And “The Master” is no exception. Hoffman plays cult leader Lancaster Dodd brilliantly. And Phoenix’s virtuoso performance as wack-job Freddie Quell, is a shoe-in for a best-actor nod. Between his sicko half-grin laugh, and his bizarre, elbows-forward posture, portraying this character seemed to go beyond just “acting”. If I were one of the actors who had to get beaten up by Freddy(there are several), I would be genuinely frightened by the whimsical ferocity of Joaquin Phoenix, not just his character.

The calm before the storm

Hoffman and Phoenix developed a terrific rhythm together as actors, and it became quite gripping to watch them play off eachother. In particular, the “don’t blink” scene, and the prison meltdown scene made me think that perhaps PTA yelling “cut” would not have yielded any change in the actors personalities. However, if it wasn’t for this caliber of acting prowess, I’m not sure how anyone could sit through a movie with pacing this lethargic.

Which brings me to my main gripe with the film. Where’s the meat?? I mean, nothing really happens. While the style points and acting chops are great and all, at the end of the day, this is really just a two-hour character study. There is one small payoff at the end, when Dodd finally realizes that Freddie is beyond his grasp of control(while Freddy comes to accept that Dodd is completely full of shit”). But, overall, nothing compelling ever happens to our characters. What was missing in all of this magnificent artistry, was the most important variable : an entertaining story. I’d much rather watch poorly acted, drab characters dwelling within a gripping storyline, than watch fascinating characters, brilliantly acted, with very little happening to them. So, was this a good movie? Yes. Would I watch it again? Probably not. I’ll just revisit the best scenes again on Feburary 24th at 7pm on ABC.

Overall Rating : 6.8/10

– JA