Sunday, November 11, 2012

"Looper"



(R) ★★★★

One thing you first notice in Rian Johnson's Looper is how it builds up its sense of dread with each successive, tension-filled scene. Nobody is safe here. The plot only builds up as layer after layer is revealed until the film's final shot. It's a hell of a ride and easily one of the best films of the year. Then why no mention of a possible Oscar Nomination for Johnson's visionary picture? You see, Science Fiction isn't something the academy has warmed up to in its 83 year history. Sure it rewarded Peter Jackson's The Return Of The King but what else did it reward before or after that? Looper is the kind of movie that can sometimes trip on its own ambitions but its originality is contagious, creating a new world we've never seen before. Credit must go to writer/director Johnson who after showing capable signs of competence in his first two films (Brick and The Brothers Bloom) finally hits one out of the park.

The film tells the story of Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hit-man for an organized crime syndicate tasked with assassinating targets sent from the future.  They arrive from the future and bang with one shot they are dead. That is his job. Not complicated at all. That is until Joe's mob boss Abe (slimily played by Jeff Daniels) hints that the Rainmaker, a criminal mastermind from 2074, is closing the loops. That means he's sending Loopers back from the future to be killed by their younger selves. Just to hide evidence of the bloodshed. Joe's good buddy and fellow Looper Seth (an incredibly paranoid Paul Dano) is first in line to encounter his old self. He chokes, let's his future self go and is now being chased by Abe's gang with dire consequences. Joe is next and accidentally lets old Joe (a never better Bruce Willis) slip away. You see, Old Joe has a plan in mind. Find the rainmaker as a kid, kill him and set his future right.

You got that? I hope you do. It's a tremendously thrilling story that leads to Young Joe taking shelter at a family farm with a single mother (a tremendous Emily Blunt) and a kid that -you guessed it- might just be the Rainmaker. Joe is waiting for his future self to show up at this farm so he can shoot him, kill him and continue on with his work as Looper. The imaginative thought that went into the screenplay is a breath of fresh air that puts any other recent Science Fiction film to shame and Joseph Gordon Levitt -as good an actor as any around at the moment- does wonders with his role.  Don't expect a mind numbingly hammering experience such a the one experienced in Christopher Nolan's Inception, if you do pay attention to Johnson's linear story it can be followed and  make a lot of sense. No review should ruin the film's many surprises but suffice to say Looper's many twists are already being analyzed and debated by film fans. A sure sign that you've made a movie that is here to stay.

Ang Lee's "Life Of Pi"



(PG-13) ★★★½

"Life Of Pi" is a top notch visual achievement because director Ang lee infuses it with enough poetic imagery that even haters of the book will not help but appreciate the artistry at hand. Lee who's already been nominated 3 times and won once for "Brokeback Mountain" will surely get his fourth nomination for "Life Of Pi" which will only enhance his reputation as one of the most gifted filmmakers around. However I wouldn't put "Pi" in the same league as Lee classics such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" or "The Ice Storm" - the story's fairytale like familiarity almost sugar coats the impeccable 3D visuals. It is not just Lee that must be given credit for the visuals but also his cinematographer Cloudio Miranda. Remember that name, he might just get called up to the stage come Oscar time early next year. In fact, I'm predicting right here that Miranda wins it all on February 24th. He already performed visual miracles by making "Tron: Legacy" and "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button" amazing looking pictures and with Ang Lee's new opus (out November 27th) he outdoes himself in terms of visual miracles. I mean really, this is just a stunning looking movie filled with images that are too good to be true..

The way Lee and Miranda shoot India in the film's setup is nothing short of gorgeous, focusing on every beautiful color and visual that comes their way. In this half hour we are introduced to our main hero Piscine -aka Pi- and the zoo that his parents have built up as a business. The religions that surround Pi confuse him, he sees himself as a believer in everything he sees. His dad -an atheist- is angered in the contradictions that surround his son's beliefs. The setup is slow but nevertheless complimentary for what's to come next. When the family has to leave India because of hard times, the film takes a dramatic turn. They hitch a ride with their zoo animals on a big ship to Canada where they will start a new life. Things -however- don't quite turn out that way. A magnificently horrific shipwreck happens that leaves Pi stranded on a tiny boat with a tiger he calls Richard Parker for 227 days. The way he must adapt to life with this dangerous animal is incredibly interesting to watch and no review should spoil that for you.

"Life Of Pi" flies high because of its amazing visuals and incredible use of 3D. None more apparent than in the film's middle section which lasts close to 75 minutes and involves -for the most part- just Pi and Richard Parker. That is when the film hits its peak and becomes a jaw dropping stunner. Lee and Miranda know that the way to grab an audience is not just by telling a story but by creating ravishing images that stick with you. The book had parts that you knew would translate very well from page to screen and had the potential to be true visual delights. Take for example the frightening scene where a storm of flying fish just suddenly appears out of nowhere and into Pi and Richard Parker's direction, or another scene where a slew of luminous jellyfish set the nighttime sea aglow with incredibly ravishing colors. Lee and Miranda handle Yann Martel's novel with the best possible care imaginable.

Martel's book had its hardcore fans but it sometimes struck me as too full of itself and with one too many ideas on its ambitious plate. Which is why the film's final third didn't necessarily work out the way I wanted it to. This is after all a movie that is a bit too facile in the way it plays with our emotions. I felt that at times it wanted to force tears out of me but alas that didn't work. Instead what I got was a film almost too prestigely wrapped-up for Awards season. No matter this is Lee's show as he brings us another visually sumptuous epic that does his name right. This is a crowd pleaser through and through and Oscar will be calling soon for both his and Miranda's triumph.

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