Friday, September 28, 2012

Not What You Expected: Looper

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Writer and director Rian Johnson, (someone I think I should marry just because, seriously, Rian and Rain?), came out of the gate strong with the movie Brick, a flick I appreciated more than I liked, finding its placement of noir style and dialogue into the mouths of babes a little grating after a while. He stumbled with his second feature, The Brothers Bloom, an uneven period comedy, but has come back strong with Looper, his third film, a violent sci-fi story about time travel. And really, that only touches the surface of its subject matter.

I went into the movie a little annoyed with it. I found the stills and trailer featuring star Joseph Gordon-Levitt made up to look like a young Bruce Willis kind of laughable, and feared it would be nothing but a distraction.

And honestly, it is...for about 15 minutes, until the real Bruce Willis appears, and you start to appreciate the impersonation Levitt is actually doing. (Which, for the record, would have been good enough without the CG and make-up.)

Here's the thing: Looper isn't the movie I thought it would be. I'd avoided reviews, and only watched one trailer, so as far as I could tell going into it, it was going to be a twisty time travel movie about young Bruce Willis hunting old Bruce Willis, who had been sent back from the future to be killed by young Bruce Willis. Shootings, chases; chases, shootings; maybe some half-naked women.

And, indeed, the movie is that. Partially. But about halfway through, it starts to go in a different and unexpected direction, and I was genuinely surprised by it. It's not a "twist," per se, but in the interest of possibly retaining that element of surprise for someone else out there, I'm going to avoid talking about the movie's second half.

As for that first half: It's good, if somewhat grim. Set in a future where time-travel hasn't yet been invented, but will be invented in that future's future, life is pretty bleak. The homeless populate the streets, (and, somewhat amusingly, are often referred to as "hobos"). No one really seems to be living the high life, but "loopers" come close.

While time travel will be invented in the future, it will also be outlawed, and you know what that means: Only the outlaws will use time travel. In that future, the criminal syndicate will use time travel as a form of assassination. Apparently, killing someone in the future is hard because of...body tracking? Or something? (It's best not to think too hard about it.) So, instead, they send their victims back through time, where they are then killed by assassins known as "loopers," who kill and dispose of the bodies, in exchange for nice bars of silver.

Joseph Gordon Levitt is Joe, a looper who's also got a bit of a drug problem, and big dreams of visiting France.

Of course, time travel murder does have its potential problems, one of them being that eventually, the loopers of the present will be the loopers of the future, and they need to be gotten rid of, too, "closing the loop." And sometimes, a looper ends up having to assassinate himself.

Which is what happens to Joe...or at least what's supposed to happen, until old Joe knocks out young Joe, and goes on the run. Old Joe wants to change his future, so that he can avoid some of the tragedies he goes, went, I mean, is going to go through?

If you try to think to hard about this time travel stuff, it'll fry your brain, something that is dutifully noted by Abe (Jeff Daniels), the crime lord sent from the future to make sure the loopers of the present play by the rules. And letting a future looper live in the past isn't playing by the rules.

The scenes between Levitt and Willis are probably the film's funnest moments, but Jeff Daniels runs a close second, with his deadpan observations that the young people of the present are simply aping styles of the past--emulating movies that in turn were just emulating other movies--instead of doing something new.

And I suppose that's a criticism that could be waged against Looper itself. One can't help but think of other time travel movies when watching it, most specifically the Terminator series--especially when a major character is named Sara, and Garret Dillahunt of "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" shows up as a menacing henchman.

Yes, it is a bit derivative, and if you start to think about the whole "looper" set-up at all, it starts to fall apart. (Why send the people back alive? Who cares if the people that are sent back in time escape? Why would the mob ever risk having a looper assassinate himself? Etc.)

But once the movie gets to its second half, the time travel stuff becomes a mere set-up for some larger issues involving fate, good and evil, and accepting one's past...and future. And Looper's emotional pay-offs are something I never would have predicted.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Blind Crankiness: Trouble With The Curve

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

After seeing Clint Eastwood's infamous RNC performance, I began to ponder what the last Clint Eastwood movie I'd seen that I actually liked was--I'm talking those he merely acted in, as well those he directed--and I had to go back 20 years to Unforgiven. (And really, my love of that movie has more to do with my love for Gene Hackman than anything else.)

Critics tend to fawn over his directorial efforts, but I've found most of them to be plodding bores. I just don't get their appeal. I get his appeal as an actor, at least in his younger days--I mean, come on, Dirty Harry is the king of (granted, fascist and ridiculously violent ) cops--but his typecasting as a tough guy has devolved into typecasting as a cranky old guy. And that's a lot less appealing.

Trouble With the Curve is a mess. Part baseball movie, part father-daughter bonding movie, part romantic comedy, and no part good.

Eastwood plays Gus, an aging baseball scout who is having trouble with his eyesight, but refuses to get it dealt with, lest he give his bosses at the Atlanta Braves a real reason to fire him. Of course, if he can't see, he can't really scout, but he's convinced he can do his job without his eyes.

An old buddy and co-worker, (played by John Goodman and his mustache), isn't so convinced, and so wrangles Gus's daughter Mickey, (Amy Adams), into joining him on the road, as she did in her younger days, and helping him out with the scouting. She reluctantly agrees, even though she doesn't much like her father, and has just landed a partnership at her law firm, a position she's worked her entire career to get. But sure. Put that on hold to help out your cranky father, who doesn't want your help.

See, he largely had to raise her by himself after the death of his wife--her mother--when Mickey was just a kid. He made choices about her upbringing that he thought were best for her, but never explained those choices, thus leaving her resentful and angry. In turn, he felt defensive about his actions, and thus shut himself out from her emotionally

Really, they could avoid the whole painful "bonding trip" with a simple visit to an eye specialist, and maybe two sessions of family counseling.

Tossed into the middle of this boring duo is a character that pops up inexplicably in the beginning for one scene, disappears, and then shows up again about 30 minutes later, wanders around for what seems like forever, before explaining who the hell he is.

He's another scout, an ex-ballplayer named Johnny, (played by Justin Timberlake), who was discovered by Gus years ago, but had to give up the game after an injury. Needless to say, he romances Mickey, who is reluctant at first. And for the record, Adams and Timberlake have zero chemistry together. (I said it a year ago and I'll say it again: JT needs to stop stop making bad movies and start making another record. Now.)

As I mentioned earlier, the movie is a mess. The film opens with an inexplicable nightmare about a horse, and this isn't addressed until almost an hour later, at which point that horse has been forgotten, and the explanation for its existence--which should have some emotional impact--is completely devoid of any.

There are other screamingly obvious plot points brought up, abandoned, and then re-introduced way past the point of caring. As a result, instead of building up to, say, a surprise, or a satisfying pay-off, one is just left wondering, "Jesus Christ, when are they going to get back to that Hispanic amateur ballplayer who's obviously going to save the day for everyone? I haven't got all damn night!"

Director Robert Lorenz, who, after many years of working with Eastwood in various other capacities behind the camera, makes his directorial debut here, fails at the "show, don't tell" rule. There's just way too much exposition, stating of feelings, and explanation of plot. It's like the movie was written for a guy with failing eyesight, not about one. The whole thing is as exciting as an 18-inning game that ends in a walk-off.

Actually, I have no idea if that baseball metaphor makes any sense, and I don't care. All I know is you'll have a much better time watching a Giants game this weekend than you would watching this crap.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Page Three: Nearing the End

I give you, the third--and final!--page of entries for 1982, as seen in my Movie Ledger Book!

As you may have noticed, it's not ACTUALLY September 18th when I am putting up this entry. But I got this thing called a "job," and it's eating into my blogging time immensely. I'm still planning on making it to the end of this here thing, but there's going to be a lot of fudging of dates as I work through the remaining movies.

But it WILL happen, and before the end of the year--mark my words!

Which reminds me, I can't BELIEVE it's been almost a year since I started this thing! How did that happen?

Cannery Row and Body Heat (3)

(Let's pretend it's actually September 18th, OK?)

A third viewing of Body Heat went hand-in-hand with a first-time viewing of Cannery Row, and I am assuming it was on VHS.

Cannery Row is a great little movie that was mired in some scandal back in the day because it was originally supposed to star Raquel Welch. She was fired and replaced with Debra Winger. Producers claimed Welch was in breach of contract because of something involving make-up (?), but there were rumors that she was fired because they felt she was too old for the part. She sued and eventually won.

Frankly, I can't imagine Welch in the role because Debra Winger is almost perfect, and it's a shame the movie was a flop. It's loosely based on the books Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck, and that connection made me love the movie even more since my parents and I would often vacation in Monterey, traipsing the same streets as Doc and his pals.

What makes the movie so good is its sense of humor, complete with narration by John Houston, and a gang of bums headed up by M. Emmet Walsh. I highly recommend a watch. It's available as a rental on Netflix and Amazon, and shows up sometimes on TCM.

Here's one of my favorite scenes.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pink Floyd - The Wall

When I saw Pink Floyd - The Wall in 1982, I had never listened to the entire album. Of course, I had heard "Another Brick In the Wall, Part 2" (the "we don't need no education" song) on the radio many times, as well as some other songs, but I wasn't a die hard fan of the record, and really had no idea what I was getting into.

I saw the movie with my parents at a sneak preview screening at the Alexandria Theater. It was a school night, and I remember bragging to a few people the next day that I had already seen the movie, which is kind of funny because I really didn't like the movie. I think I probably left that part out.

But having seen it, I wanted to hear the original album, so my father borrowed a friend's vinyl copy, and taped it for me. I would end up listening to that tape hundreds of times throughout junior high.

It might seem odd that I became so enamored of the record, but never warmed up to the movie. Here's the thing: The movie is full of pampered rock star angst; aggressively English memories; scenes of World War II fighting; fears of fascism; Oedipal mother issues. As a twelve year-old girl, I couldn't relate to any of that.

But when I was just listening to the music, I could recognize the universality of it. I hated school, too! Sometimes I wanted to be "comfortably numb," too! I felt like there was a wall around me sometimes, too!

The literalness of the movie still bugs the hell out of me, as does its unrelenting bleakness. Even the ending, which I think is supposed to be hopeful, is just...dreary. There's no scene or moment in it that I have ever wanted to see again.

But I guess I can thank the movie for being an official introduction to the album. I'm pretty sure I would have caught up with it eventually had I not seen the movie, because a few of my friends were pretty obsessed with it, and it was on constant rotation wherever we were. But I probably wouldn't have liked the record as much if I had liked the movie more.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Poltergeist (6)

This marks the last time I would see Poltergeist in the year 1982. Of course, it wasn't the last time I'd see it. Oh no. I'd see it many more times over the years.

This viewing was at the Regency III, and I highly doubt it was on a Friday. Most likely it was a Saturday matinee...

I don't really have much else to say about the movie. Its appeal to my younger self will always be a bit of a mystery. And while I had seen plenty of horror movies at this point in my young life, I imagine there was something appealing about one that was so obviously aimed at (and appropriate for) a younger audience.

So, as I embark on a new job that centers around television watching, I think it only fitting that I end this post with the following clips.

TV people indeed!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D

I'm going to combine posts here, because I find it really funny that not only did I see Friday the 13th Part 3 In 3D by myself, and hated it, but I then went and saw it AGAIN a week later!

It was showing at the Alhambra Theater, which was a single bus ride away, and I guess school was still out, so I went  by myself on a weekday. (And they let me in--twice!--unlike those law-abiding assholes at the Regency 2. Because it's totally fine for a 12-year-old to see a masked killer eviscerate someone in 3D. But sex? And nudity? HEAVEN FORFEND!)

I didn't like the movie because, well, it's dumb. All the Friday the 13th movies are just dumb body counts, and even at 12, I knew a good slasher movie (Halloween) from a bad rip-off (this).

But goddammit, it was also kind of fun! To this day, I loathe 3D, and only enjoy it when it's used in the most cheesy of ways, with objects being thrown at my face. And Friday the 13th 3D is full of that. Knives, pitchforks, eyeballs, machetes. It's all in there, and aimed straight at your head.

Basically, it was like a totally stupid carnival ride that I couldn't wait to ride again...