Sunday, September 30, 2012


Hey, check it out!  Another good R-rated SciFi action movie.  They're just raining good movies these days, huh?

"Looper" is a movie with a pretty clever central SciFi concept, based around time travel.  The idea is that there is a select group of amateur assassins who work for mobsters in the Future and get rid of people.  These assassins are not time travelers, they live their lives in completely linear fashion.  Just every day at 11:30 drive out to the Kansas corn fields, a man from the future suddenly teleports before them, and they blow them away.  This way future crimes are completely unsolvable, since no body can ever be found, and even if somebody in the present did find the future bodies, they could never identify them since these people do not technically exist yet*.  For their work, the Loopers are given a few bars of silver on the victim's back, then they get to run off to the city, take some "Cowboy Bebop" Bloody Eye drugs, and bed prostitutes.  However, our hero, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one day comes across a particularly difficult target:  his future self.  And worse, Future Joe is ready for him.

The trailers have set up "Looper" as little more than Joseph Gordon-Levitt in make-up fighting his future version, Bruce Willis.  Future Joe vs Present Joe.  However, there is considerably more to the story, and this is no simple Bang Bang action movie like "Dredd".  Its actually a lot similar to Bruce Willis's previous traveling adventure,"The Kid", I mean "Twelve Monkeys".  Perhaps not nearly as horrifically bleak, but it does feature Bruce Willis coming back to the past and being given an intensely difficult task, one that seems to be slowly driving him insane.  Present Joe is our protagonist, and for most of the movie his goals are extremely selfish until the movie introduces its hidden secret.  Future Joe just wants to save what's most important to him, but the methods that he must do that require him to commit the worst of crimes.  So "Looper" actually features something of a difficult moral quandary.  With the interesting premise, the deep character-based emotional trials, and the clever twists, this actually comes off as like a Master Christopher Nolan movie.  I suppose director Rian Johnson is Nolan's first disciple for smart, complicated, but still character-driven SciFi adventures.

Now ultimately in a battle between Levitt and Willis, I'm going Willis here.  I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he's a fine actor, he was even able to come off as likable in the terrible bland movie "Premium Rush"**, I want to see him back for "Batman 4", but Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis.  Its unfair to have them fight.  The movie was still very good entertainment so see it.

The trailers, for once, do not actually give away every single feature of "Looper"'s plot.  This is partially because the plot is so complex that you would need a ten minute trailer to show us everything, but also a brilliant strategy since the movie actually surprised me.  This means I can't describe much more without going into spoiler territory, but I already told you to go see the movie in the last paragraph.  I'm going to assume that you've done that, and then just plow along.

"Looper"'s universe is actually a pretty clever limited future.  It takes place in 2044, when I'll be in my Fifties, and I would have lived though some rough times.  A quick look at the new dollar bills and you'd spot none other than Mao Zedong, so presumably China has conquered America***, but even then, the safest savings system seems to be bars of raw silver or gold.  They haven't been very kind to us, since it appears that neither Mitt Romney or Barack Obama were able to solve our economic woes, and in fact things are far worse than ever.  Kansas City is a miserable slum pit with people begging on the streets for money and shotguns are the new justice system.  Most of the cars looks like our current models only retro-fitted with crude solar panels and some kind of hybrid fuel system.  There are some innovations though, we got Blunderbuss guns, which are pretty much handheld cannons that will kill anything in close-quarters combat.  We got flying motorbikes.  And there are a few psychics.  But hey, by 2074 China really will rule the world - oh, and did you know that "Looper" is a Chinese-financed movie?  That probably had nothing at all to do with the subject matter, huh?

However, since its the future, the director, Rian Johnson, thought it was somehow necessary to litter his scenes will all kinds of J.J. Abrams-style lens flares.  It isn't as bad of an effect as August's "Total Shitcall", but its still very distracting and I've never liked this effect.

What makes being a Looper not the nicest job in the world is not only the fact that you have to kill all kinds of random strangers from the Future, but also the final task of the game:  closing the Loop.  Since time travel is so dangerous and so illegal, the Future people send back all the Future versions of the Loopers to be killed by their present-day selves.  So Paul Dano is sent his future self to shoot.  However, closing the Loop seems to be a rather inefficient process, since Paul Dano hesitates and lets his Future Self run free.  Basically, if you sign up to be a Looper, that means you got thirty years before some guys dressed up like the Spanish Inquisition come to your house, murder your family, and send you back to the past to be killed by your younger self.  However, in Future Paul Dano's case, it probably would have been better to just let himself get shot.  What the crime syndicate does is capture Present Paul Dano, and mutilate him to the point that the Future Dano is nothing but a withered stump, then shoot him.  Its one of the creepiest sequences in the movie, this guy from the future frantically tries to get to this location that has been scarred on his arm and while he's driving, pieces of him keep disappearing.  Until finally there's barely anything left and this quadriplegic is brought into a room where Paul Dano is being kept on life support just after many many mutilations.

That's what's awaiting Current Joe if he lets Future Joe run free.  Joe, however, is not nearly as nice of a guy as Paul Dano, and he's willing to shoot Bruce Willis right when he sees him.  The problem though, is that there are actually two timelines, and this is where the movie, as Jeff Daniels put it "fries your brain like an egg".  First we see Joseph Gordon-Levitt fail the execution and get knocked out.  Then, we see that same scene in an alternate form, where Current Joe shoots his future self, find the extra paycheck for closing his Loop, and goes to China.  I mean, what else are you going to do once you've basically signed your life away?  Try to hide out.  This is probably the best sequence in the film, as we watch Levitt slowly age into Bruce Willis, going from an anime super assassin to finding love with this Chinese woman (did you know that a Chinese company helped make this movie, I wonder if that had an effect on the production?).  Future Joe feels that his life of violence and death has been redeemed since he found love, but his happiness is ruined by the appearance of the Time Mobsters, ready to send him into the past to be killed.  Worse, they killed his pretty Chinese wife.  Future Joe, luckily, is an unbelievable badass thanks to being played by Bruce Willis, so he kills the Spanish Inquisition, and jumps to the past to kill the leader of the Future Mob.  Thus negating everything and letting him live happily ever after.

Got all that?  I hope you're not worrying deeply about the time travel aspects, because if you give it very much thought, logically the movie doesn't make all that much sense.  Which is really the big problem with time travel stories, sometimes the crap just doesn't make sense.  In this case, Bruce Willis is fiddling with the time line, causing his past self to make new choices, and thus Bruce Willis is going insane because of all the different kinds of memories he's getting.  I thought it would be a clever twist to make Future Joe forget about his motive, leaving little more than a cold killing machine working for selfish, but "Looper" didn't do that.  Oh well.

There is a flip of audience sympathy from Future Joe to present Joe, as the story on folds.  You learn that Bruce Willis' target is none other than three children who might grow up one day to be the Future Mob Leader.  Halfway through the movie, he outright murders one child, and very nearly kills another, before finally learning how his target is.  He learns this because Present Joe learns this - Willis knows everything Levitt knows because they're the same person.  Present Joe wanders onto this idyllic farm led by Emily Blunt and her profoundly creepy little boy, Cid.  As the movie progresses, Joe becomes attached to these characters - which badly mindfucks Future Joe, and also gives him a sympathetic edge.  The little boy, Cid, turns out to be the Future Mob Leader.  This isn't really a spoiler, you should have figured it out as soon as you see how creepy this kid is.  He's also got super psychic powers, making him a walking Superman.  And that's where the conflict comes in.  Its the same man, Joe, fighting himself to save two possible families in a profound battle of a man against himself.

Unfortunately this means that "Looper" does not actually feature very many scenes where the two Joes play off against each other, this despite the great amount of work put it to make them seem like the same man.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt undergoes both a physical transformation but also takes on some classic Bruce Willis no-nonsense mannerisms, so if didn't know that Bruce Willis looked nothing like that when he was twenty-five****, you might actually buy these are the same person.  I was really looking forward to the sight of a younger and older version of the same man argue together.  Imagine yourself now trying to tell yourself as a kid how to actL

Current Me:  "You know, you should really go outside more and stop playing so much Mario."
Past Me:  "Shut up, I only need ten more Stars to get all 120!"
Current Me:  "You're never going to find six of those Stars, kid, trust me, I'm from the future."
Past Me:  "Yeah, that's only because you suck so hard."
Current Me:  "I'm you."
Past Me:  "But you still suck."
Current Me:  "All you get from finding all those Stars is Yoshi, and you can't even ride him.  Some advice, go play a game called 'Ocarina of Time', it will change your life."
Past Me:  "Ocarinas are lame.  Sounds like its for girls.  I'm busy.  And you're stupid."

Its an impossible argument to win.  Bruce Willis tries desperately to show Levitt that they can be saved, that they can find a way out of this life of violence.  But Levitt refuses the lesson, asserting that this is his life, not... future his.  I mean, I'm self-aware to know how incredibly stupid I was just two years ago, and am pretty sure I'm still a giant idiot, so I'd listen to whatever a time-traveled version of myself says since he knows better.  Also I'd be the star of sports betting, but that's another story.  But Levitt doesn't realize this, he has to find humanity in his own way - even if the one person he's protecting is a psycho child that probably will blow up the Earth one day.

Still, I'm pretty sure "Looper" would be on my list of best movies of the year if it only had Future Joe and Present Joe teaming up to fight the future version of that psychic kid.  Also, how come every Bruce Willis movie these days has to feature him as some secondary hero, or a cameo, at best?  "Expendables 2" has like three scenes, "Cold Light of Day" starred Henry Cavill, and "G.I. Joe 2" is going to feature Channing Tatum instead of Bruce Willis or the Rock.  Trust me, don't believe the trailers, its going to be Channing Tatum, and its going to suck - big time.  Maybe next year's "Die Hard 5" will finally let Bruce Willis be the star again.

Anyway, "Looper" has a bit of a pacing problem since the movie seems to basically start out over entirely when Young Joe runs into Emily Blunt.  Just when it seems like the movie is finally moving and starring the action-packed second act, instead we have to introduce two new characters and a long backstory, virtually removing all the threat from all those other Loopers and gangsters walking around.  Bruce Willis manages to take out Jeff Danials, who appeared to be the main foe, with barely a second thought.  These are minor niggles, but for the most part the acting is fine, the script is clever, and the movie is heavily well-made.

All in all, I have to go with "Looper" over "Dredd", just in case you're wondering.  That was just a popcorn movie, this is a step above.  Both really well-made, but one definitely means a lot more.

Oh, final note:  "Looper" also features the most hilarious booty call scene in all of cinema.  Frog toys?  Really?  There really isn't a love story as much as Emily Blunt straight-up using Gordon-Levitt in one scene.  I'm not complaining, and I doubt he was either.

* Presumably though I suspect if the authorities did find the Looper incinerator filled with John Does, they could still try them for mass murder even if they cannot identify a single corpse.  Luckily though "Looper"'s Present society seems massively corrupt and basically in chaos, so it doesn't look like there are any authorities to stop you.  Still, if I were running a time travel murder ring, I'd set up Looper contacts a bit further back in the time stream.

** Since the movie was far too boring and forgettable to warrant writing a full review, here's a quick review of "Premium Rush":  extreme bike riding is not nearly as cool as the movie thinks it is.

*** In the 80s everybody thought Japan was going to conquer us all, thus why "Blade Runner" has that smiling geisha in the Coca-Cola ad.  Now China is the new go-to for America's conqueror.  By the time 2044 actually does come around, I'm guessing we'll be panicking about India or Brazil.

**** Seriously, Bruce Willis has barely aged in the last thirty years.  He lost some hair, he's gained more lines on his face, but otherwise, he's basically the same.  But then again, casting Levitt was a far better solution to make a younger actor than "Tron: Legacy"'s notoriously stupid plan of creating a CG version of young Jeff Bridges.


  1. I seriously want to see this movie. Just the premise itself is interesting to me.

  2. I'm sorry for not commenting earlier, but I haven't seen the movie and had to skip the spoiler-y part of the review, leaving me with little in the way of an opinion. So, um, yeah... it's hard to root for the guy who has to go up against Bruce Willis?

  3. Hey, have you ever considered reviewing the Red vs Blue series? It is great! You should watch them.

  4. I am commenting to let you know that I appreciate you and your blog. Looper sounds fantastic. I feel like JGL is pretty much the next big leading man. I like his charisma and handsome face.

    1. Well... his face is made considerably more artificially handsome in this movie thanks to make-up. I read somewhere that evolution is making men prettier, which would explain the generational difference between J. Gordon Liddy and John McClain. Trust me, Willis was considerably hotter back in the day.

      (No homo.)

  5. Just wanted to say that Rian Johnson is no disciple. He has his own approach to films and each of his three films he has created he has taken a genre (film noir, the heist film, sci-fi time travel) and used them in a bid to create emotionally satisfying character based stories. He doesn't do what Nolan does. Nolan bases his stories around tapestries of characters who are based in a intricate lands with incredibly difficult motives. All his characters are damaged and feel they need to escape their pain by delving deeper into an alternative reality, see Batman, Memento, The Prestige, Insomnia, The Following and most viscerally Inception.

    Rian Johnson uses different character archtypes but they are not the main source of intrigue. The best thing about Looper, (and his previous films Brick and The Brothers Bloom) is that even though it's easy to poke holes in the storyline it's also very easy to accept these characters, their motives and really fall into the drama being created. Rian Johnson is more about the feelings he can create by using the genres he delves into. Nolan has a niche, and from what I can tell Johnson's only niche is that he can make fantastic worlds with cliched genres and make them unique and exciting again. Seriously, watch Brick, watch The Brothers Bloom, they both delve into tired tropes and make them exciting, unique and damn watchable. Much like Looper.

    ... But thats just what I think. Plus, likelihood is you'll never read nor reply to this. But hey. I'm a fan of yours and wouldnt mind expressing something.