Looper

October 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

Typically I get a very uncomfortable feeling whenever I see “time travel” being advertised in a sci-fi film. Time travel is one of the great deus ex machinas that just permeate the sci-fi genre and has had mixed results. Sometimes you get a good yarn like “Back to the Future” or a silly but smart little ditty like “FAQ About Time Travel”; sometimes you get a pretentious laborious bore like “Primer”. In “Looper”, Rian Johnson tries his best to not focus on time travel as much as characters. Much like what he did in his brilliant film “Brick”, Johnson balances character study with high concept plot devices.

It works enough in “Looper” overall, although I must admit the first act of this film is very dizzying and in some ways, downright sloppy. The film revolves around a story about time traveling being outlawed in the year 2074 but there is a crime syndicate that utilizes what are known as “loopers” to assassinate any target of the crime bosses (sent back to the past) and have cases of silver strapped to their backs. Our hero, Joe (played marvelously by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is one of these loopers. In rare instances, you are going to come face to face with your old self and will have to kill yourself, ultimately. This is known as “closing a loop”. A futuristic megalomaniac known as the Rainmaker is trying to close all loops; so Joe’s older self (Bruce Willis) tries to warn Younger Joe and tell him he can change their paths if he can kill the Rainmaker when he’s still a boy. It leads Younger Joe to a farm in which a woman named Sara (Emily Blunt) is protecting her son (Pierce Gagnon, in a role that should receive Oscar attention if there’s any justice in the world). The three of them actually form a unique bond, and this is where the strength of the film lies.

But it takes a very, very long time to get to this farm, and that is the biggest weakness in the film. This is not a film that stresses time travel; and yet, there is way too much exposition in the beginning of the narrative that makes you think there will be some sort of reveal or twist at the end that never comes. Instead, we do get a very deeply involved three way plot between the before-Rainmaker Cid, Joe, and Sara. I feel like if the film was simply these three on the farm most of the movie, it would’ve been stronger. There are so many ancillary characters that don’t lead anywhere and a few red herrings that almost seem like they would’ve been weeded out after a table draft of the shooting script. It doesn’t necessarily take away from the overall enjoyment of the film, but it does make it seem longer than it probably should.

Johnson didn’t seem to have these pacing problems when making “Brick”. Perhaps he was a bit too ambitious with this film. It still works overall, and it’s still dazzling at times, and completely enthralling as a thriller. It just buckles under its overly complicated storyline and sometimes gets weighed down too much by exposition. I feel as though if this film were tighter, it would’ve been close to a masterpiece.

I can accept it as a fine sci-fi thriller with some great character scenes that are so rare in sci-fi films, or mainstream films in general, and recommend it based on the simple fact that it does deliver when it needs to.

My rating: :-)

The Expendables 2

September 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

In the 1980’s, there was an entire subgenre of action/adventure that was dedicated to roided up hunky heroes killing bad guys and loving every minute of it. The kings of this subgenre were definitely Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and to an extent, Bruce Willis. The three of them were icons of machismo in that decade, bringing back the identity of the alpha male in lead roles for blockbuster films. The three of them even ran a restaurant business together–we all have to remember Planet Hollywood. I personally enjoyed the Hollywood Club. The one disappointing thing was, though, the three of them never shared air time in a movie together.

Well, in 2010, Stallone decided it was better late than never to bring them all together in a big, bombastic action lark, “The Expendables”. Unfortunately, the chemistry wasn’t all there yet in that film, and Arnold only shared a brief cameo with Willis and Stallone that was meant to be funny but came off more as awkward. The film itself seemed to take itself too seriously considering what it was supposed to be, which was just a big dumb action picture. There was an unnecessary heavy-handed (and heavy drooled) scene with Mickey Rourke, who was basically evoking his Randy the Ram character from “The Wrestler”, and the characters weren’t fully fleshed out yet.

Here, the formula and chemistry finally comes together. This movie is fun. The cast seems to be more at ease with each other; it helps that they can all speak English (letting Li have a small role in this film was a great choice). The bickering, snarkiness, and good natured ribbing between Stallone and Jason Statham is much more amusing than it was in the first film. The two really seem to like each other more as people in this one. Lundgren is also more entertaining…he was a bit too brooding in the first film. Here, he’s more of a comic foil, and that works fine. I liked the new additions of some younger blood with Liam Hemsworth and Yu Nan. And another thing missing from the first film that fits perfectly here?

Chuck. Norris. Yes, he’s only in a bit role, and he also looks a tad uncomfortable. He does borrow a “Norris”ism from the famous internet meme. But it’s cute because Norris is so genuinely nice that he seems to be enjoying having fun with himself. I would’ve liked to see him perform a roundhouse kick to the face of someone, but that’s OK. We do get a few good ones from the villain, who is very nicely played by Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Everyone is right at home in this film, and it really comes off the screen so we can just sit back and watch the sparks fly. The plot, which is the weakest element of the film, revolves around a mission to nab something from a safe, and it gets taken by Van Damme and his crew, and the gang has to retrieve it. We never really know why this thing is important, but this is one of those movies that when you start trying to break it down, you’re just going to get lost in plot hole hell. So don’t think about it.

This film is the definition of a popcorn movie. But it seems to be more self aware, and I like that Stallone handed off the directing duties this time. It’s great to see these guys still be abe to carry a film, even though they’re too old to do it without a little help. It’s sad in a nostalgic way–growing up these guys were just awesome. They’re showing they’re mortal, and they’re not exactly aging well. But their sense of humor is in the right place here, although some of the self-referential stuff gets a bit drawn out (the “Rambo” line was useless).

If you’re up for some brainless action candy, this will not disappoint. It’s a good excuse to get out of the house for a few hours, and it’ll put a smile on your face to see that these aging hunks still got it.

My rating: :-)

Surrogates

September 28, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

The premise of this film is nothing we haven’t seen before. I was immediately reminded of a lot of different films, such as “Blade Runner”, “Strange Days”, “Total Recall”, and even “The Terminator”. The idea revolves around our own feeling that we need to create a perfect self, since we are so full of flaws. Of course, this is primarily driven by aesthetics. Our imperfections on our body, and nothing else, has driven this human race to go through incredible lengths to make ourselves look better. In this case, you can do so by creating a “puppet” of yourself, and hook yourself up remotely to this “double” of yours. They’re known as “surrogates”, and almost 90% of them look like they were spawned from the Bret Easton Ellis universe. You can live out your wildest fantasies with these things, and if they die? No worries. You aren’t affected. You can just buy another one.

Until one night, an operator is killed along with his surrogate. And the operator just happens to be the son of the creator and former CEO of the company that makes them. The FBI is brought in, and the main team on the case includes Agent Greer (played by Bruce Willis); of course a covert plot is uncovered, and just about everything you can imagine from a garden variety action thriller ensues.

The film begins almost like “District 9” does, with a series of “explanatory” scenes that bring us up to date on the technology and progression of the “Surrogate” project; but that would be the only similarity I’d draw between the two. Where “District 9” blatantly has a purpose and an agenda, “Surrogates” plays around and dances around a lot of interesting themes and doesn’t delve into any of them. Instead the film just delivers a tired plot and an underdeveloped theme of losing your identity and self through these robots.

There is a collection of humans, known as Dreads, that have “reservations” as it were, where no surrogates are allowed. Their leader is The Prophet–and would you guess that he’s got dreadlocks? I mean, that is pretty much a guaranteed symbol of enlightenment and power. But there’s a twist with The Prophet–one you can see coming a mile away if you’re paying attention in the least. But again, these scenes with the Dreads are very trite and predictable, and nothing really interesting happens with them.

There could have been a lot to this movie. I’m guessing the graphic novel series it’s based on digs more into the themes of human insecurity and our thirst for beauty and youth. The film only runs at 90 minutes, so there wasn’t a lot of room for these different ideas to grow. But then why make the film? Why did we need another action film with a flimsy who-dun-it story and a pathetic excuse for a car chase climax?

And while I’m on a roll, why does every single IT/Computer hacker have to resemble Harry Knowles? Seriously. Have some imagination!

While the film is an utter disappointment for what it could have been, it does deliver in some respects. If you were missing Bruce Willis with hair, for one, you get to see that. Also, there are some interesting scenes between him and his wife, about their deceased son. But overall, the movie takes itself too seriously and it doesn’t develop itself enough to really care about these characters, nor does it give you any sense of discovery about human worth and whatnot.

But what did you expect from the screenwriters of “Terminator Salvation” and “The Game”? I hope not much.

My rating: :?