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: :-)

Men In Black 3

May 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

I have a continuing dilemma whenever I see that there will be a  new MiB movie released. On the one hand, I have a lot of anticipation that it will be better than the last one that came out; and inevitably, when I see it, I’m always underwhelmed and disappointed that it wasn’t even as good as the last one that came out. Such is the case again with “Men in Black 3”, a movie with just enough ambition to make a smile-worthy film, but tries nothing new to re-invent itself or push its own limits. It goes through the motions and hopes we are pleased. This may work for some people who just want to get out of the house for a few hours and sit in a cool theatre on a hot day (as I call them, “get away” movies); but for me, at least with this franchise, I’m always wanting more. The jokes are predictable, the climax and resolution always seem to leave me empty–and in this case, kind of sour.

This film begins with a  bad guy named Boris “The Animal” (though it’s just “Boris” to you) who is locked up on the moon after being captured by Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). He subsequently breaks out and goes back to earth with the intent to travel back in time, kill Agent K, and start an invasion with his cronies, an alien race known as the Boglodites. Agent K’s original capture of The Animal 40 years ago is legendary because he also installed what’s called the ArcNet, a protective shield that won’t allow the Boglodites into the earth’s atmosphere.

Agent K and J discover Boris’s time travel plot when they are checking out routine alien criminal activity, and when K disappears, J also finds himself in a rip in time that makes him crave chocolate milk, and he soon learns that he’s in an alternate present in which K was killed 40 years ago by Boris. J then has to go back in time to save Agent K to the 60’s.

I’m going to stop here and reveal that I’m instantly on edge whenever time travel is introduced to a plot as a device. It’s so incredibly contrived and overused and because there are so many possibilities and flaws, it winds up being ludicrous and unconvincing. It also usually leads to many, many plot holes. When I was reading about the production of this film, Will Smith had said they had tried everything to make sure that the film’s time travel rules were followed as best as they could. At the same time, the film’s director, Barry Sonnenfeld, admitted they did not have a definitive act 2 or 3 when production began. Well, it certainly showed.

J has to convince K about this plot of Boris (played by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement) going back in time, stopping K’s original arrest of Boris by killing K, and also killing  an alien named Griffin whose race created the ArcNet (Arcadian is the name of Griffin’s race, and Net is pretty easy to figure out) and gave it to K to begin with. Griffin (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) is kind of like a cross between Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, and Robin Williams. He has one of the more memorable scenes when the three of them are in the infamous The Factory (although the Andy Warhol joke is a bit weak, I thought), when he goes on and on about possible futures, confounding Agent J. 

The best scenes in the film involve Agent J (always charismatically played by Will Smith) and the young Agent K (well imitated Jones by Josh Brolin–he has a knack for imitation). We finally see a softer side of Agent K, and find out he did at one point have a love interest, Agent O (played in the present tense by Emma Thompson). That plot is never really explored but it’s probably for the best as it would’ve been far too complicated to sort out in an alien comic action adventure movie.

As relieved as I was that it didn’t become a love story, I was also left unmoved by the main story involving the plot to save Agent K. I’ve enjoyed the two characters through their movies, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I really cared about them. And usually by the time the new movie comes out, the old one has evaporated from my mind. These are not inherently memorable films. While the chemistry is fine, and it’s fun to see some of the antics the MiB go through to catch the bad guys (bowling with an alien’s head, for example), it never really leads to anything that memorable. I also found the villain Boris to be a bit stale at best; and at worst, kind of irritating. You never really get a good read on what kind of personality he has. He’ll toss out a one-liner here or there that makes you think he’s hip; but then he’s stone faced or upset about being called “The Animal”. I also thought that the lack of “place” in the 60’s was a missed opportunity. I get that they can’t go “Austin Powers” on everybody, but what were aliens like 40 years ago compared to now? There could’ve been many possibilities for humor and even some adventure. There’s one flat joke about how the Neuralizer has evolved but that’s pretty much it.

Where the film ultimately fails, though, is the ending (how could you guess?). There’s a twist which I won’t give away–I will just say that it has its heart in the right place, but unfortunately doesn’t have its logic in the right place. Up until that point the film was digestible. Nothing great, but nothing bad. But the twist, with all of its intentions, just falls flat. And you don’t even have to think that hard about it. Almost immediately you will think, “Are they just throwing this in here for the sake of it?”

Sometimes I wish someone would just tell a screenwriter, “Look you don’t have to just throw a twist in there okay?” Just resolve the movie and move on. Sure, the film would still be less than a masterpiece. But it at least would be closer to that than an out of focus Polaroid, which is what “Men in Black 3” ultimately is.

My rating::?