Friday, November 2, 2012

Worth Mentioning - I don't wanna talk about time travel

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody glimpses an action-packed future. 

LOOPER (2012)

Thirty years from now, time travel still hasn't been invented. But sometime between then and sixty years from now, it will have been, and it will be outlawed, the technology only used by criminal organizations, largely as a way to get rid of people they want killed. The intended victims are sent back in time to 2044, where they are immediately shot dead by hitmen called "Loopers". Loopers tend to be young men who are more into partying, doing drugs, and making the most of their silver bar paydays than they are into forward thinking, as they all agree when they take the job that they will someday kill the future version of themselves, guaranteeing that they only have thirty years left to live. When they are sent back from 2074 and killed by their 2044 selves, that's their last job and is called "closing the loop", they're paid off with gold bars and sent to live their remaining thirty years however they see fit. Sometimes a Looper will freak out when the time finally comes to kill their future self and will let the older version escape. You don't want to be a Looper who does that. You might not be killed, killing someone in the present who was supposed to still be alive in another thirty years might screw the future up in some way, so the punishment could be a fate worse than death.

The Looper the story follows is Joe, who has seen what happens to a Looper who doesn't fulfill their contract and has no intention of that happening to him. He's got money saved up and dreams of world travel, there's no way he's going to let his future self screw up his plans... But Future Joe has a different outlook on the situation. He manages to get sent back without being bound or hooded and arrives ready to fight, knocking out his younger self and escaping into the city, on a mission of revenge.
Joe's employer's goons set out in pursuit of both versions of him, and younger Joe tries to evade them while also hunting the older Joe so he can avoid the fate worse than death and fix the situation himself.

From the trailer, I was expecting Looper to become a nonstop, dubstep-fuelled, futuristic actionfest from that point on, the awesome moment when a woman's terrified "Oh my God!" is laid over the image of older Joe double fisting machine guns leading me to believe that it might even have a Terminator-esque edge of horror. Looper was not quite what I was expecting. The second half went in a direction that I didn't anticipate at all, playing out in a much more subdued way than I thought it would, in a country location rather than in the future city, and there is a very prominent character who is barely in the trailer at all, you really have to know who they are to notice them in there.

Over his three films, writer/director Rian Johnson has climbed up the budget ladder from his high school noir Brick and the quirky caper The Brothers Bloom to this sci-fi actioner, but he doesn't let the high concept and gunfire get in the way of character and drama. He tells the story in a way that keeps the viewer changing their mind about how much they like or trust particular people. We begin the film with younger Joe, he is our lead character, we're on his side. But then the older Joe shows up and gives an appeal that wins over our minds and younger Joe reacts like a douchebag. Now we like older Joe. Then older Joe sets out to do things so horrible that we can't side with him anymore. It's a very interesting and involving approach.

The cast Johnson assembled is great, from Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who was also his lead in Brick) as younger Joe, Emily Blunt as the most consistently good and likeable character, Jeff Daniels as Joe's boss, and Noah Segan as a screw-up on Joe's trail, to some very strong work by a five-year-old (I think) actor named Pierce Gagnon. I also enjoyed seeing Piper Perabo and Tracie Thoms in smaller roles. Even Bruce Willis as older Joe showed up on set to not just cruise along as himself, the smirking icon, as he does so often these days, but to actually deliver a performance that makes an emotional connection with the audience.

Some may be disappointed that Looper isn't just a shoot-em-up and more jaded members of the audience may find some elements dealing with the "hidden character" to be unintentionally funny - there were some chuckles when I saw the movie - but if you just follow the filmmaker where he wants to take you, it's a hell of a ride.

DREDD (2012)

A film that does satisfy as a nonstop futuristic actionfest is Dredd, the second attempt to bring the popular British comic strip character to the big screen, following 1995's widely panned Judge Dredd, which starred Sylvester Stallone as the title character. This time out, he's played by Karl Urban, and like in the comics the character never removes his helmet.

In the future of Dredd, the U.S. was wiped out by the Atomic Wars of 2070. The only inhabitable areas of the country are three Mega-Cities, everything between them is a "Cursed Earth" wasteland. The law of the land is enforced by Judges, heavily armored police officers who not only arrest criminals but also deal out their sentences on the spot. The death sentence doesn't appear to be rare. Judge Dredd serves in Mega-City One, which stretches the East coast from Boston to Washington, D.C.

The set-up for the film is very simple; Dredd is assigned to take rookie Judge Anderson out on patrol with him and make the call on whether or not she should be allowed to serve, given the fact that she failed the tests. The only reason she's being given this chance is because she has displayed powerful psychic abilities, which isn't enough reason to keep her around in Dredd's by-the-book opinion. If she failed the test, she failed, she's out.

Dredd and Anderson are called to investigate homicides at the Peach Trees Megablock, which is basically everything you get in a city block and apartment buildings contained within a two hundred story tower. Peach Trees is under the control of drug kingpin (queenpin?) Ma-Ma, and when Dredd and Anderson arrest a member of Ma-Ma's organization, a man who could give away all her secrets under interrogation, she has the building locked down. Blast shields slide down over all entrances and windows and Ma-Ma calls out a hit on the two Judges over the P.A. system.

Trapped in the tower with legions of criminals out for their blood, Dredd and Anderson have to fight for their lives as they try to make their way up the two hundred stories and take the fight to Ma-Ma herself.

Dredd is a pretty awesome action flick. Urban displays a great deal of badassery as Dredd, and Olivia Thirlby is reliably capable and adorable in the role of Anderson. If audiences had given the film a chance, they likely would've had a lot of fun with it, as it's almost entirely made up of violence, gunfire, and bloodshed, and it just gets more and more enjoyable as it goes along. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to have done all that well at the box office, but it is the sort of movie that will definitely find a wider appreciative audience at some point. It also had the misfortune of coming out the same year as The Raid: Redemption, which has pretty much the exact same story, but there's room enough in the cinema world for both to entertain in their own way.

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