Movie Review: 'Looper' is the best Sci-Fi film of the year

In director Rian Johnson’s ‘Looper’ exists one of the smartest and most entertaining science fiction films in years.  Filled with action, briskly paced, thoughtful, and featuring some fine performances from its leads, ‘Looper’ forgoes the kitschy paradoxes and self indulgent time travel clichés and smartly focuses on solid storytelling.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis portray ‘Joe’…a hit man for an organized crime syndicate that controls time travel. Joe is one of many ‘Loopers’ as they are called, whose job it is to assassinate people. Set in Joe’s ‘present day’ year of 2044, he awaits the arrivals of people sent back in time and he executes them. They materialize, he shoots…emotionless, quick, and bloody.

But now a new crime boss, known as The Rainmaker, has taken control of the syndicate thirty years into Joe’s future. His directive is that all Looper’s contracts (and their future selves) are to be terminated as well. If the premise sounds complicated, it is. But it is also expertly crafted and presented with an ease and intelligent accessibility that should be seen for oneself.

‘Looper’ found its strength in its more modest budget and production values. This isn’t some bloated science fiction effects extravaganza. And that is exactly why ‘Looper’ works. Story, performances, and an intimately interesting and original premise make this film one of this year’s best: and a future classic in the science fiction genre.

As predatory assassins become prey, the film really picks up momentum and never releases its grip. Even the films quieter moments are tense and suspenseful.

Bruce Willis is in fine form as ‘Old Joe’ while Joseph Gordon-Leavitt’s performance adds a distinct credibility to the character of ‘Joe’ as his mannerisms and affect have aptly channeled a younger Bruce Willis. Emily Blunt is fantastic as ‘Sara.’ Blunt infused her character with a spirited toughness and warmth and easily provided the film with its standout performance. Jeff Daniels, Piper Perabo, Paul Dano, Pierce Gagnon, and Garrett Dillahunt round out the supporting cast.

‘Looper’ is an exciting ride! It boasts a uniquely original take on the time travel motif and has been crafted into a dynamic, intellectual adrenaline rush. For those seeking an entertaining and intelligent action movie you will not be disappointed; for science fiction fans it is not to be missed.

With the movie near the end of its theatrical run, I highly recommend seeing it on the ‘big screen’ while you still can. ‘Looper’ is slated to be released on DVD on December 31st.  This reviewer can’t wait to see ‘Looper’ again and add it to his own DVD collection.

 

Movie Review: 'The Prestige' is a Christopher Nolan magic trick

While researching my article on film director Christopher Nolan I decided to revisit and review his 2006 film, ‘The Prestige’.

Sandwiched between the release of the first two installments of his highly-praised Batman trilogy, ‘The Prestige’ is a film about the dark hearts of men and the lengths to which they will go to satisfy their obsessions. The film was written by the film’s director, Christopher Nolan along with Jonathan Nolan and was based on a novel by Christopher Priest.

The story focuses on two competing magicians at the end of the Nineteenth century. Sounds pretty dull, right?

To dismiss this film as a movie simply about turn of the century warring illusionists would be a mistake.

Director Nolan crafted a film that reveals the primal depths of deceit and manipulation that people can be capable of exacting upon each other.

His primary characters of Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (frequent collaborator Christian Bale) were so singular of purpose in their pursuits of mastering the ‘transported man’ illusion that we are transported ourselves into the very heart of obsession and dark desire.

Angier (Jackman) and Borden (Bale) were introduced as internist magicians/entertainers coached under the film’s moral center, Cutter (Michael Caine). What began as a testy competitive relationship between the two young up-and-coming magicians quickly sours irrevocably when Borden’s ego muddies his judgment in a split second decision that ended with fatal consequences.

From that point forward, we witness how a person’s very moral fiber itself can be willfully unraveled at the promise of revenge, glory, and self righteousness. The performances of Bale, Jackman, and Caine are thoroughly compelling and masterful. There are also solid performances from Scarlett Johansson (Olivia), David Bowie (Nikola Tesla), and Rebecca Hall (Sarah Borden).

The cinematography by Wally Pfister was gorgeous and was perfectly accentuated by the production design by Nathan Crowley, costume design and sets, and original music by David Julyan.

Like two noted examples of Nolan’s other films (Inception, Memento) ‘The Prestige’ has so much subtext in its storyline that it is truly an intelligent film experience and may even prove more enjoyable in discussion and from multiple viewings.

Intelligent and thought provoking storytelling, terrific performances, beautifully rendered production values, and will keep you guessing from start to finish; ‘The Prestige’ delivers a unique experience that turned a story about competing magicians into an examination into the very nature of obsession.

Abracadabra.

 

Beyond Batman: The films and influence of Christopher Nolan

Film director Christopher Nolan is changing Hollywood. And, as movie goers it’s a change that we should decide to embrace. Nolan is at the forefront of the minor renaissance that’s taking place in filmmaking; delivering thoughtful and intelligent blockbusters.

Nolan’s recent successes with the Dark Knight/Batman trilogy have altered the expectations of what a blockbuster movie is…or can become.

With ‘Batman Begins’ , ‘The Dark Knight’, and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ Nolan has taken an iconic superhero character and imbued that story with deep human emotion, presented an epic scale in those films worthy of their history, and has almost single handedly affected the way that future genre films are marketed.

If you haven’t yet seen the early promotional posters for ‘Oblivion’ or ‘Star Trek: Journey Into Darkness’, the resemblances to the Batman marketing strategy is obvious. And warranted.

What Nolan has accomplished with his still relatively small body of work is astounding. He makes movies that are grand in scale, require active participation by and reward his audience for their efforts, are thematically multi-layered, and are intelligently and brilliantly entertaining.

Each of Nolan’s films, from ‘Memento’ in 2000, to ‘The Prestige’ in 2006, and through ‘Inception’ (2010) and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ this past year; each are classics in their own right. There are layers of depth and subtext not only in the storytelling, but in the performances themselves which reward the film fan for multiple viewing. Christopher Nolan has seemed to perfect the art of providing big, glossy, mega-budgeted movies that actually have heart and substance.

Nolan’s central characters seem to be overwhelmed by obsession and personal demons. Somehow, these anti-heroic traits don’t prevent us from connecting with and even rooting for his protagonists.

From Leonard  “I have this condition…” Shelby in ‘Memento’ to Leonardo Di Caprio’s control obsessed Cobb character in ‘Inception’, (and obviously Bruce Wayne/Batman has some issues) Nolan has a gift for making these people appear real despite their unpleasant natures and overwhelming obstacles. They are flawed, have dubious pasts or agendas, but are extremely accessible to the viewer.

Perhaps what we’re witnessing is the ‘second coming’ of adult dramatic film as a popular blockbuster. In the early 1970’s a young director named Martin Scorsese ushered in a similar movie making renaissance along with directors like Francis Ford Coppola and William Friedkin.

Each of these directors found the  pulse of the film going public that craved more adult stories made with a grand scale and scope. Similar to the long standing relationship between director Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro, Nolan seems to have found his preferred anti-hero in Christian Bale and his story’s moral compass in Michael Caine. Bale and Caine appeared in all three recent ‘Batman’ films as well as ‘The Prestige.’

What is exciting as a movie fan is that Nolan is still in the early stages of his career. His successes from the Batman franchise have carried over into his attachment as producer on the upcoming Superman reboot: Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’ and has given that film extra buzz and credibility just through Nolan’s involvement.

He has also been rumored to have an interest in the James Bond franchise and his future involvement in the DC Comics/Warner Brothers ‘Justice League’ film(s) is hotly debated amongst film fans.

Christopher Nolan’s next project, whatever it turns out to be will be met with strong expectations and high anticipation. In the meantime, film fans, enjoy the moment. There exists a working film director whose films entertain, challenge, and often reward the viewer with beautifully produced and well written films that showcase terrific actors and are often thought provoking adventures.

The monetary achievements and mass appeal will likely inspire better quality films in the immediate future. Nolan’s successes have created a template for film studios and producers alike. ‘There’s money to be made in well made, entertaining movies? Let’s make more of those.’ I can only imagine being spoken in Hollywood boardrooms as you read this.