Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why A New Star Wars Film Is A Good Thing.

The news that Disney has purchased LucasFilm Ltd. for 4 billion dollars has caused quite a stir in the geek community. It seemed like just yesterday Disney had just purchased Marvel. Now, along with the likes of The Avengers, such popular film franchises now live under the mouse-eared shadow of Disney. So far, the reactions I've seen have ranged from happy surprise to good old fashioned nerd rage.

Anyone who knows me knows that I was one of the few people whose reaction to when Marvel was bought by Disney was a mix of apathy and apprehensiveness. However, as time went on it was clear to see that, at least for the Marvel films (I can't say much for the comic portion of the industry, I don't keep a finger on that pulse as much as I should), nothing really changed. It actually got better, in fact, I mean we got the Avengers and look at how successful that movie was! So who is to say the same Disney magic could work for film series that desperately need it, like the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchise?

I know I must sound like a nerdy broken record when I go on about how horrible the Star Wars prequels were, or how horrible the fourth Indiana Jones film was. So I just won't go there. What's been said has been said. However, I was well aware that more films for both franchises were inevitable. The fact of the matter is that there is nothing bigger, or more recognizable, than the Star Wars franchise. George Lucas made enough money to buy his own country on the merchandising alone. The impact the franchise has had on popular culture is still resonating with us, even though the first film came out in 1977!

That is a level of brand recognition no self respecting businessman can ignore.

Now, I know I may seem like I'm painting a gloomy picture with money hungry businessmen sucking what blood remains in the carcass of the Star Wars films after George Lucas took it out back and shot it with a double barreled shotgun. But I'm not, I'm really not. The fact of the matter is that, yes, I am excited to see what the future holds for Star Wars. I grew up watching the original, untarnished, trilogy. So understand that I am just as big a Star Wars fan as anyone else.

This whole thing, Disney buying LucasFilm and planning on doing more films, is very good news.

Why? Well, because we know what not to do. Just look at the prequels, they're basically a trilogy of "How Not To Screw Up Star Wars Sequels." If there's anything good that came out of the prequels it's that, but it's more than just that. The potential for good is just as likely as bad and here's why I think it's more good:

1. Bringing in new blood.
"It's now time for me to pass on Star Wars to a new generation of filmmakers." George Lucas said this in a statement after the news broke. This is the best thing I've heard him say in a very, very, long time. I really don't want to offend Lucas, because he's been given enough flack over the years, but him letting some new filmmakers cut their teeth on Star Wars is the best news since they announced they would be re-releasing the original, untarnished, trilogy on blu-ray (what do you mean they haven't? Then there's the first thing Disney can do!)

2. New movies means new characters and a new story.
While I wouldn't be surprised if we saw some actors like Mark Hamill or Billy Dee Williams reprise their roles in any new films, it's most likely we'll see a new slew of characters come in to take the reigns. Who these characters will be remains to be seen, they could be the descendants of our heroes (much like the novelizations), or completely new characters. In either case, these characters will need a new enemy to face, and new worlds to explore. The Star Wars universe is full of its share of scum and villainy, and with any potential film coming out in time to face The Avengers sequel along with whatever Christopher Nolan's cooking up next the characters and story have to be grand and epic!

For the time being, it's a good day to be a Star Wars fan. In spite of whatever you may think about Disney, or the Star Wars films, this is a big win. After Jar Jar Binks, you can only move up.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"Loop de loop" Looper review

Once in a blue moon, a movie gets released that is both original and completely entertaining. It's a movie that isn't a remake, or an adaptation, or an adaptation of a remake based on a book. It's a movie that exceeds your expectations and leaves you feeling hope for the future of film. The last movie I recall that was this was Christopher Nolan's Inception. Today another movie has joined those ranks. That movie is Rian Johnson's Looper.

To start off this review I have to mention the first time I watched a Rian Johnson film. That film was Brick and also starred Looper star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I watched Brick on Netflix with my friend on a late summer night. Today, Brick is one of my favorite films. It was a unique mix of noir storytelling woven into a high-school drama (one of my least favorite genres). The two different genres complemented each other so well that it was actually really humorous and terrifying at the same time. If you haven't seen it, I recommend you do, because it's an entertaining and unique film.

So you can understand that when I heard he and Gordon-Levitt had rejoined to do a time travel film called Looper I was more than excited to see how things would play out. Looper was an original film, not based on anything nor is it a remake. That is RARE in this day and age where Hollywood thinks it's a great idea to remake The Three Stooges. How Looper got made in today's Hollywood seems like a miracle, and the results don't disappoint.

Looper feels like a classic sci-fi action film. The world created by Rian Johnson here is set in the future, but it looks and feels much like our present, only with small differences. Cars are old clunkers that have been retrofitted with solar panels to allow them to run. There are hover bikes, but they're less reliable than the clunker cars. Telekinesis is a common ability found in some people, but most consider it tacky and uninteresting. A majority of America's population is living in poverty. Even in the city the film is set in, which features some tall skyscrapers with futuristic helicopters and flying vehicles, the place looks like a dump. It has a slight Blade Runner feel to it, in that this is a dystopia people have, for the most part, gotten used to living in.

In this world Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a special assassin for the mob known as a "looper." Loopers are tasked with rubbing out targets the mob sends into the past from thirty years in the future. If you've seen the trailers you pretty much know this. The beginning of the film has Joe explaining in a narration how, in the future, time travel is only used by powerful criminal organizations for the purpose of disposing of targets. When the mob no longer needs a looper's service, they send the looper's future self for the looper to kill in order to "close the loop." Joe's explanation of the setup and how his job as a looper works is simple and straight to the point. The only explanation Joe gives for why the mob does this is because "disposing of a body is impossible in the future." And it's enough to satisfy you. Looper's concept of time travel has very little exposition, and what exposition it has is very effective. This is one of the defining traits of the film.

However, it's the film's characters that are really the best aspect of this film, with the plot coming in at a close second. Through the course of the film Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Joe comes off as a self-centered jerk. He's an addict who just wants to make enough money to leave the slums of America and travel to France. That's all he cares for, and the way he handles his job as a looper is rather clinical and unemotional. So when Joe is faced with his future self (played by Bruce Willis), he's actually more than happy to kill him upon first seeing him. Of course, future Joe manages to escape and young Joe finds himself in trouble with his employers.

In the middle of the film the focus shifts from Young Joe to Old Joe. We actually watch how Young Joe becomes the Old Joe who arrives in the past, and we soon realize that Old Joe has come back with a plan. As the film progresses your sympathy will jump between Old and Young Joe, both have their flaws, and both have their redeeming qualities. Looper will keep you guessing on who is really the protagonist and antagonist of this film, even though both are the same person. It's this ambiguity that makes Looper an interesting film to watch.

 As the film progresses we see that Old Joe's plan somehow revolves around a mysterious character from the future known as the Rainmaker who is systematically taking over all organized crime in the future. The Rainmaker is somehow tied to a mother (Emily Blunt) and her son (played by Pierce Gagnon who gives a really memorable performance) and Young Joe must figure it out before Old Joe, the mob, or both find him. Emily Blunt's Sara is a tough, down-to-earth, woman who simply wants to raise her son well in a time when most mothers sell their children for drugs. Her relationship with her son, Cid, is shaky to say the least, and they are both harboring a secret that is key to the future. Cid is one of those rare child characters that isn't annoying. He's smart for his age, the kid has a fair knowledge of electronics for being only ten, and the grim world he lives in has made him more aware of how terrible the world really is than a normal child should. You like Sara and Cid, and they both come off as deep, emotional, and damaged human beings. All they want is to live some semblance of a normal life.

This film will keep you guessing what will happen next at every turn. More genre savvy viewers will be pleased with how the film unfolds, because it never goes the way you expect, for the most part. Looper manages to make the time travel tropes we're all familiar with and make them feel new again. As for the rules of time travel in Looper, they're simple to follow and very, very loose. Looper is not the neatest time travel story out there, with it's fair share of paradoxes, but it doesn't matter. Everything that happens, happens, and the film takes advantage of it's loose time travel rules to have some real fun. One instance of this is a horrifying scene of a man slowly falling apart as his past self gets his fingers, hands, legs, and arms amputated. The effects used in this scene are effective and will make you cringe.

Looper is one of those rare movies that takes old tropes and ideas and spins them together into a fun, new, and completely original story. The characters are deep, interesting, and you're not really sure who to root for because everyone has complex drives and histories that make them feel like real human beings. For a time travel movie, it uses time travel as an effective plot device that makes for some memorable scenes and story elements.

To put it simply: Looper is a must see film for anyone looking for a great science fiction film.

I give Rian Johnson's Looper 5 looper blunderbusses out of 5.