Friday, 28 September 2012
Rian Johnson is firmly cementing himself as one of my favourite film-makers. His first feature, the intimate neo-noir thriller Brick is one of my favourite films of all time. While his follow-up The Brothers Bloom is a slick and highly entertaining comedy caper. His 'difficult' third film sees him reunite with, Brick star and one of Hollywood's golden boys at the minute, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and action icon Bruce Willis for one of the most unique and best films of the year in Looper.
Set in the year 2044, Looper paints a claustrophobic and bleak vision of our future - not too far removed from Alfonso Cuaron's in the grossly underrated cult classic Children of Men - where the majority of the population are thrown into poverty and the cities are run by the mob. In about 30 years time from this point, the ability to time travel will be invented and instantly outlawed, used only by the wealthiest crime organisations. Joe's (Gordon-Levitt) role as a Looper is to get rid of the bodies the mob send back in time and thus erased off the planet entirely. In my honest opinion it seems like a bit of an arse about face way of going about it, but it's highly entertaining nonetheless. However, everything is thrown into chaos when the mob intend to cut all ties with the Loopers and Joe's future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back for assassination.
With notable contributions in the likes of Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, 50/50 amongst others it feels as though Joseph Gordon-Levitt can do no wrong at the minute. With Looper this is no different, and it was brilliant to see him carry such a frantic, mind bending action film so seamlessly. With the help of some impressive prosthetic work his face was altered to resemble a 'younger' Bruce Willis rather amazingly. Yet it wasn't just superficially, his mannerisms, the tough, gruff voice, that cold demeanour were all mimicked to such an amazing effect.
All the while Bruce Willis got to be well... Bruce Willis. Which frankly isn't a bad thing and, even as The Expendables 2 and RED showed, he's still got the gravitas and panache for the caustic action sequences. Truthfully the vibe and overall themes of the film weren't too far removed from one of Willis' other more memorable films, Twelve Monkeys. The supporting ensemble of Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, a slightly sinister Jeff Daniels, Rian Johnson collaborator Noah Segan and a genuinely creepy contribution from child actor Pierce Gagnon just gave the film so much depth and quality.
Rian Johnson's handling of the feature was truly remarkable, especially as it was so far removed from his previous two films, which were so dialouge heavy but lacking in the visual department. One of the most striking things was the level of violence, and truthfully how it even just got a 15 rating is quite a mystery. It doesn't quite reach the heights of Drive's messier moments from 2011 but it does come very close at times. You get the feeling if Warner Bros want someone to step into Christopher Nolan's shoes to carry on the Batman franchise, Johnson's CV is starting to make a seriously strong case.
Inevitably with the themes of the film you will encounter the odd plot hole here and there, but it just about gets away with it. The time travelling paradoxes of the film aren't nearly as extreme as the likes of Primer (one of the few films to give me a genuine headache) or quite as dumbed down as JJ Abrams' Star Trek. It managed to strike a fine balance of keeping the story predominantly character driven and heavy with the action and sci-fi visuals while also leaving you feeling ponderous of the cause and consequences upon the film's debatable open ending.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis team up for one of the best films of 2012. Its violence is satisfying, its action is most definitely packed, littered with a tonne of quality supporting actors and a truly absorbing story driven by character and not always spectacle. Don't miss.
Looper is in cinemas everywhere now.
Thursday, 13 September 2012
While The Caped Crusader has now taken a deserved leave of absence from the big screen for a while, his legacy still lives on in direct-to-DVD animated adaptations of his comic adventures. There are perhaps fewer comic books more significant and contributed more to the cultural impact on how we view a character today than the works of Frank Miller in the 1980s on Batman. One, which was adapted last year, is the now iconic origin story, Batman: Year One and the other is Miller's dark and caustic swansong for the character, The Dark Knight Returns.
The story, for those who haven't read the original graphic novel, takes place ten years after the last appearance of Batman, who has since retired and grown old and weary as his alter ego Bruce Wayne. He's brought out of retirement upon realisation that Gotham has spiralled out of control and being overrun by a new criminal organisation who call themselves The Mutants. A lot of moments in the film can very much be considered as the groundwork for what Christopher Nolan used in the final part of his cinematic trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.
Like many of these DC Animated Movies Warner Bros has churned out over the years, this one has stayed meticulously close to the original source material, almost to a fault this time around. Truthfully Miller's take on the character has been a little too extreme for my tastes, he gets away with it in Year One because it's a logical starting point, but his Batman is unique to Miller's own point of view, something which even DC Comics have sort of acknowledged over the years but tried to stay away from - his questionable use of firearms and extreme violence in the story being a particular controversial point with devoted fans. With TDKRs it's a story very much of its time both politically and even aesthetically. There's a sense of anarchy which The Mutants invoke along with their appearance which just screams the 1980s more than the 21st Century, post 9/11 world Batman has found himself in and been immortalised on the big screen by Christopher Nolan.
All that aside however, the voice acting was top notch. Peter Weller's cold, harsh tones really suited this older, battle bruised Batman and was unsurprisingly the stand out performer of the cast. In the quieter, more personal moments, which have always been the highlights of the original tale for myself, Weller is just simply fantastic at evoking emotion out of Miller's stone cold take on the character. Whilst David Selby take on Commissioner Gordon reminded me of Bob Hastings' turn as the character in the original Batman Animated Series of the 1990s. It was a shame though that we weren't given more than just a taster of Michael Emerson's Joker, whom will undoubtedly feature heavily in Part 2 out early next year.
The animation was terrific, and replicate the key moments of the original story to such potent effect. It's probably felt the most cinematic of DC's animated output since their take on Darwyn Cooke's Justice League: The New Frontier way back in 2008, but probably falls short of being as enjoyable as Batman: Under The Red Hood. There's also a couple of pleasant nods to Alan Moore in the background of key scenes, look out for the cover art from Swamp Thing and V For Vendetta buried in a scene which features Jim Gordon in a convenience store.
As good as The Dark Knight Returns (Part 1) is, it also suffers the same problem as all these cash ins to split potentially one reasonably long film into two. What we have here is essentially just half of potentially a good animated film. We won't know how good until the sequel pops up in Spring 2013. Peter Weller's croaky, weary voice lends itself majestically to an older, embittered Bruce Wayne/Batman. The accuracy should delight fans of the original source material, but not likely to turn heads of fans who came in through Nolan's film universe, or even the 90s animated series. Worth your time, but then so is the original book...
The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 is available on DVD/Blu-Ray and digital download from September 25th 2012.
Saturday, 8 September 2012
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan, the story tells of three former high school friends who come together in celebration of their most socially awkward friend's wedding (Rebel Wilson), and in their selfish, petulant ways wonder how exactly their lives got so wrong, and hers so right. Despite this, all chaos ensues on the eve of the wedding night as the bachelorette party quickly descends into an omnishambles of drugs, strip clubs, torn wedding dresses and being reunited with past loves, all before the inevitable redemption scene under a cold sober light.
To be fair the performances aren't quite a loathsome as the concept of the film itself. Dunst excels in playing the icy, uber-b*tch, while Isla Fisher plays up on the coy, naive slightly ditzy role which shot her to minor stardom in her breakout role in the (slightly like-minded) The Wedding Crashers while Caplan equipped with her dour demeanour added a bit of honesty, heart and quick wit to steer a faltering group. Where the film actually excels was in the criminally underused male portion of the cast, such as James Marsden, Kyle Bornheimer and Parks & Recreation star, Adam Scott.
And yes the director did a competent job, I even appreciated the almost John Hughes-esque underlay to the whole thing, but it really was a case of giving the audience the exact same thing we've all seen time and time and time again. It was a tidy, at times even reasonably sweet feature film which shifted the focus off the bride and groom almost entirely. Though constantly playing The Proclaimers - 500 Miles in the final third of the film was maybe pushing my limits a bit.
The saddest thing about Bachelorette was it didn't even try to be ambitious in its delivery. The script never tried to be funnier than Bridesmaids, or more gruesome than The Hangover, and frankly if you're going to be content putting out an average film, in an already over-polluted genre, which has had notable stand out releases already in the last five years, what's the point really? More from the producers point of view, as for all I know Leslye Headland may have written this way before its superior counterparts were even conceived.
Painfully average and largely predictable. The cast didn't let down Bachelorette, the script did. There isn't much else to say or do here. Save your time and money for better films to watch over this Autumn period, or at least films which will stimulate your mind a bit. Shame, because I always root for Adam Scott...
Bachelorette is available on iTunes to digitally download now.