Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #50-60


Oz the Great and Powerful

#50. Oz the Great and Powerful (2013, Raimi):
https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/review-oz-the-great-and-powerful-2013-raimi/

dreamscape01

#51. Dreamscape (1984, Ruben)

There’s a reason Dennis Quaid was a star. Every time I see him in a film from the 70’s or 80’s (or hell, even The Parent Trap), I always manage to fall for the guy. He’s a boyish Jack Nicholson without the hard edge or long-range versatility but he can always sell the hell out of smarmy charm. Dreamscape predates the basic idea of Inception by over 25 years. It starts out strong but runs out of steam quickly. It’s got an overreaching conflict, but the screenwriters don’t know how to fill it out, so they make mildly interesting episodes in the meantime. With a nauseating romantic subplot and a pale central through line, the reason to see Dreamscape is the cast and seeing how dreamscapes are interpreted with the 80’s palette at hand. In addition to Quaid you’ve got the legends that are Max Von Sydow AND Christopher Plummer. And as a bonus treat, David Patrick Kelly, the go-to skeevy character actor playing a psychotic dreamlink rival of Quaid’s. He turns into a freaky-deaky stop-motion snake at the end. There’s a short scene where he’s mid-transmutation and it will haunt my nightmares. Kate Capshaw continues to be the worst.

Random Observations:
George Wendt with sinister music; never going to work

Hopscotch

#52. Hopscotch (1980, Neame):

Strips away the gadgetry, paranoia and flash of the spy genre, opting for a playfully sly comedy about governmental incompetence and getting even by using secrets as a weapon, not guns. In fact, Walter Matthau’s self-retiring spy never carries one. Really adored this; memorable characters, smart script and Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson’s lived-in, natural repartee.

Random Observations:
Such a memorable introductory scene for Glenda Jackson
“You remind me of my Dad”
“That’s always been my problem”
Sam Waterston added so much to his character too.

Ivan's Childhood Birch Trees
#53. Ivan’s Childhood (1962, Tarkovsky)

A poetically stark debut that unifies nature and the destruction of war as one desolate mass of landscape. Tarkovsky uses the idyllic happier times of Ivan as spatial dream sequences to inform the whole of the narrative. He could have depicted these memories as simply memories, but smartly filtering them through the subconscious makes the journey between the two fluid and makes the linkage further bonded. It also sets the stage for Tarkovsky’s future output, where his penchant for both linking images and exploring and sustaining a metaphysical dreamlike state becomes fundamental. The cinematography is hauntingly carved-out with Yusov’s use of shadow and soft beams of light within angled architecture and his outdoor ruins (and who will ever forget those birch trees). But the sound design really impressed me too, especially the dripping water that uses aural evocation to link back to Ivan’s mother and his childhood. I’m seriously lacking in other Soviet war films that came before and after that similarly highlight the ordeal of the individual; The Cranes Are Flying (Tarkovsky told Yadim Yusov to recreate Sergey Urusevsky’s camerawork) and Ballad of a Soldier being the obvious examples.

Random Observations:
– Even though I’m not sold on the Kholin/Masha subplot being necessary, it’s more than worth it for the visual structure of that scene.
– Loved how subtly off-kilter the dream sequences are, like the vertical level of Ivan moves up and down seamlessly.

Three Kings

#54. Three Kings (1999, Russell)

An original anti-war film that thought-provokingly surprised me. Set in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War during the ceasefire, Three Kings starts as a war comedy but continuously scrapes away until it becomes a war drama. Accompanying the transition is stylistic spectrum that starts kinetically and gradually sobers up. The more conventional final third is supported by what came before to make it successful. Russell employs a ton of different filmmaking techniques to give the film a bleached out high contrast look; an environment with no easy answers but lots and lots of bloodshed.

Random Observations:
– Judy Greer and a very young Alia Shawkat. Arrested Development people!
– Also Judy Greer and George Clooney, who would appear in The Descendants together 12 years later.
– Spike Jonze in a major role is both surreal to see but so welcome.

time-after-time-1979

#55. Time After Time (1979, Meyer)

I’m so happy this is in my life now as it’s one of the best times I’ve had watching a film in a while. See Dark Shadows? This is how you get humor out of time-travel. That’s not to say the film is a comedy, but Malcolm McDowell as H.G Wells is not only adorable but knows how to make his time displacement funny in the first half. The character is scientific and curious, so McDowell never overplays.

Time After Time takes a very silly premise and makes it work by taking turns I didn’t quite expect, establishing a former friendship between Wells and Jack the Ripper (David Warner is, as always, very reliable as a creepy villain) and building a central romance that I was actually invested in, wholesale. This is a rarity folks.

The film gets it right on so many levels. Nicholas Meyer uses the camera to view 1979 San Francisco as Wells sees it. Wells’ first car ride is a great example. I also love how it plays off of Wells and his confident vision of utopia against how he really finds the future and the idea that Jack feels he belongs there. My only complaint is that the climax isn’t quite as interesting as everything that came before.

Oh, and Mary Steenburgen is serving fierce Kate Bush realness.
It’s a new film for me to cherish.

Eta: I’ve just been reminded that Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen fell in love and were married for ten years as a result of working together on this film, something I knew at one point but completely forgot about. That makes it even better!

Monkey Business

56. Monkey Business (1952, Hawks)

A 50’s screwball comedy by Howard Hawks that didn’t quite work for me. Hawks said he never found the premise believable and I have to agree. The film never convincingly establishes its own reality and it nagged at me the whole time. Other films have gotten away with much more outlandish stories, but the effect the formula has on Grant and Rogers is a misstep and played too broadly to boot. It needed to come up with more imaginative and/or interesting ways to depict the de-aging process. Instead, we’ve got Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers acting like they are on drugs. The film comes to a halt each time the formula is taken. At times it’s fun and it starts out strong to be sure, but Monkey Business either needed to commit to anarchy or come up with a less distracting conceit.

Random Observations:
– I still enjoyed quite a bit of this despite large chunks that got on my nerves.
– Little dispiriting George Winslow pops up again, making him one of the three recurring cast members from Hawks’ next film for 20th Century Fox, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The other two are of course Marilyn Monroe and Charles Coburn.
– Watching Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers act like toddlers just put me in the mood for the I Love Lucy episode “Lucy Fakes Illness”. “ON MY TRICYCLE ON MY TRICYCLE”

Ariel 2

#57. Ariel (1988, Kaurismaki)

This shot says it all. Taisto (Turo Pajala, resembling Nick Cave to the point of distraction) and company, part of the proletariat class that makes up Aki Kaurismaki’s ‘Proletariat Trilogy’, are having a picnic on a bed of rocks in Helsinki. Uncomfortable looking to us, but they are perfectly content. Just cover the rocks with a blanket. The first half of Ariel shows Taisto as passive, acclimated to accept every curve-ball that gets thrown his way. There’s no shortage; in the opening minutes, the mine he works at shuts down, his father kills himself and he loses all his money. In other hands this would be miserablist, but the Finnish filmmaker has embedded a droll and wry sense of humor into everything. It’s a world where major decisions are made at the drop of a hat, where one trudges along leaving behind the pointlessness of dwelling. This attitude allows Kaurismaki to get through a lot of material in 76 minutes.

The second half shows Taisto as active; desperate times call for desperate measures. Lined with variable tunes, Ariel is modest and fine if a bit forgettable. The second half wasn’t as interesting as the first, taking a broad shape. But it did have Matti Pellonpää, so points for his memorable presence.This is only the second film by Aki Kaurismaki I’ve seen, and The Match Factory Girl is a personal favorite of mine.

three outlaw samurai 2

#58. Three Outlaw Samurai (1964, Gosha)

Three Outlaw Samurai depicts a world where double-crosses are everyday, loyalty is untenable and there’s compromise and consequence no matter which side of the fence you land on. An impressive debut and a solid film overall, Hideo Gosha shows us relatable archetypes and has them engage in swordplay and side-switching. Gosha and Tadashi Sakai really know how to use and show space and there’s a lot of pay-off in the black-and-white widescreen photography. There’s a kinetic hard-to-keep-up energy to the swordplay scenes. I loved the diagonal tilt the camera would flow into at times, taking on the direction of a sword through movement. Not in my top-tier of chanbara I’ve seen but still well worth checking out. Sword of the Beast, Goyokin and Hitokiri are all on my watch list now.

Bedlam

#59. Bedlam (1946, Robson)

The last in Val Lewton’s run at RKO is a message picture disguised as a horror film. It captures the world of William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, with slate 8 featuring the infamous asylum serving as the inspiration for the film. Nell Bowen starts as a superficial jester and ends as a caregiver in desperate circumstances. Boris Karloff, playing the sadistic apothecary general, treats his patients appallingly and gets his justified comeuppance. Definitely not the genre picture I was expecting but still decent, with an effective exploratory focus on human cruelty.

Housewife
#60. Housewife (1934, Green)

Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/review-housewife-1934-green/

Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #43-49


long-goodbye

#43. The Long Goodbye (1973, Altman): A
https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/the-long-goodbye-1973-altman/

foxybrown2

#44. Foxy Brown (1974, Hill): B-

My first blaxploitation movie! I’d appreciate any recs anyone wants to throw my way. I know this was originally supposed to be a sequel to Coffy and that the two films are apparently almost identical. This has everything I’d come to expect from the subgenre; rough around the edges, reveling in depicting part of a (still) underrepresented culture using a barely there framework of sex, brawls, crime and funky beats.

But Foxy Brown is just an excuse to showcase the incandescent Pam Grier, both her body and beauty, her general physical presence and her no-nonsense demeanor. Grier can’t really act, and yet, she’s just to die for. I could watch her for eons and the film’s appeal hinges mostly on her. Foxy Brown is entertaining, boring, sleazy, offensive, well-paced, outrageous, exploitative and kitschy in equal measure. Grier’s wardrobe is 70’s print-heaven.

Random Observations:
– The cartoonish villain’s massive owl necklace
– The nurse’s reaction to Michael’s erection
– Foxy pulling a gun out of her hair

TimeCrimes_10

#45. Timecrimes (2007, Vigalando): B+

Snappy time-travel film that distills the concept by making it as small-scale as possible. Ordinary schmo gets thrown into a revolving series of mishaps even though he only travels back 90 minutes. The small-scale vibe is what I like most about Timecrimes. There’s also a streak of sick humor as Hector gradually evolves through physical facial damage. The middle act is rough stuff though; once you get into the rhythm of Hector filling in the spaces, it gets predictable and tiresome. In a Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban climax kind of a way. At least there you had Harry and Hermione interacting with each other. With Timecrimes you have to muddle through with only Hector to entertain. Thankfully it bounces back by throwing a couple of surprising wrenches into the mix for its final act. A worthy and involving debut from Nacho Vigalondo (who also appears in the film) that deserves to be seen. It’s on Instant Netflix so check it out.

Random Observations:
-Using “Picture This” as a time-tracker
– Hector is kind of an idiot. Constantly having to play catch-up with himself.

The Magician Bergman

#46. The Magician (1958, Bergman): B

A story of versus; the illusion of truth versus scientific explanation, acknowledging transparency versus willful submission. It’s pretty clear which side Ingmar Bergman is on in this case of absolutes. Bergman asks to what end humiliating the creator serves. In The Magician, stuffy authoritative detractors, led by Gunnar Björnstrand, clinically dissect a form of illusion for being the very thing that it is; illusion. Thus, they are seen as useless, seeing only facade without bothering to think on why the facade exists. Those that submit know they are doing so, whether to be seduced like the sex-starved maids downstairs, or to extract a source of faith or entertainment.

The Magician has a curiously hodgepodge structure. Starting with an enchanted trek through in unforgettably fairy-tale forest as photographed by the great Gunnar Fischer, we then devote whole sections to bawdy sex comedy, elusive two-person conversations and horror. Stringing these sections together is a series of humiliations committed by the stingy non-believers onto Bergman’s alter-ego, the worn-out masked Vogler (Max von Sydow). The Magician is in part about how we mask ourselves and the protection that it provides us. What affected me most about the film was how Vogler reveals himself in the final half (pretending to be mute he finally speaks and sheds his physical disguise), only to be rejected by nearly everybody.

Max von Sydow has never been better. He grounds the film with a penetrating inner torment that reveals itself in harrowing facial expression and body language that conveys a barely contained sorrowful rage.

There’s a clenching factor missing from The Magician. Bergman, excavator of the human condition, funnels his usual themes of faith, truth, suffering and the theater into a narrow resolve for denigrating his critics. Which is all fine and dandy, but this means it makes for a film that fascinates as part of Bergman’s filmography more than a story that stands on its own. And yet, The Magician has stuck with me these past twenty-four hours and I find myself thinking about it more after the fact than I was while watching.

Random Observations:
– Ingrid Thulin looks hot in drag
– Shot of waning light visually activating drowsiness
– The shot above stood out for me most in a film filled with memorable images
– Bergman can creep the pants off you when he wants to

torn curtain

#47. Torn Curtain (1966, Hitchcock): C

With dull characters, flat performances, an undeveloped center and a stop-and-go-stop-and-go pacing, Torn Curtain never fully gets off the ground. There’s a lot that doesn’t come together; being saddled with a script Hitchcock was unsatisfied with, actors he didn’t choose, a rushed production start to fit Julie Andrews schedule, firing Bernard Herrmann and the death of two regular collaborators during prep, etc.The most it achieves is a truly gripping sequence; the arduous slipshod killing of Gromek that remains the apex of Torn Curtain. There are other aspects I enjoyed a lot. Supporting characters like Gromek, Lindt, Koska and Jacobi, the scene between Michael and Lindt, the ballerina payoff, the bus ride from Leipzig to Berlin. That’s really about it though.

The characters simply do not make their mark, making it difficult to care. Paul Newman seems like he doesn’t want to be there (he could never get past the script issues and we know that Hitchcock just wants his actors to do their damn job). Julie Andrews never registers at all; she’s just broadly worried the whole time. That’s it. The section from Sarah’s perspective is drawn out far too long, which is unfortunate because the ‘what about the spy’s wife’ idea is where the whole root of the film stems from.

A fundamental issue is that the central conflict between Michael and Sarah is that she doesn’t know he’s a spy. Once that’s cleared up, there’s no conflict between them, and what there was quickly became tedious.

The second half fares better overall, but when Lila Kedrova steps onto the scene, ready to ACT! fresh off her Zorba the Greek acclaim, the film comes to a screeching sponsor-begging halt. Torn Curtain isn’t bad-bad but it’s not very good, and for Hitchcock, well, that’s bad.

Random Observations:
– The triple-take moment from the ballerina on stage = really effective.
– No music during big Gromek scene is perfect

Theatre of Blood

#48. Theatre of Blood (1973, Hickox): B

Vincent Price has some fish to fry. His victims?  A group of critics, Anton Ego’s if you will, who didn’t appreciate his Shakespearean performances enough to give him a major award. These folks aren’t the fleshy young things we’re used to seeing cut up. Theater of Blood is fun 70’s schlock, using the wide variety of grisly murders found in the Bard’s work and re-serving them on a delectably lowbrow, albeit one-note, platter. The film is boiled down to a series of stacked kill scenes, one after the other, each more different from the next in method, but with the same ingredients of madness; victim unawares, Price performing Shakespearean dialogue, reveal, victim’s face a-tremor and….well, you know the rest.

Vincent Price is simultaneously petrifying and campy as a jilted and delusional actor in what was reportedly his favorite role; he clearly has such a good time with this part. Vincent Price was strapped into a narrow margin of projects throughout his career, never getting to do things like Shakespeare. Edward Lionheart never wanted to do anything else. They meet in an ideally compromised middle; no wonder it was his favorite role. He pops up in ludicrous get-up after ludicrous get-up, some Bard-inspired, some not. My favorite? His fey Afro-accessorized hairdresser Butch. Groovy, baby. Most of his dialogue comes from Shakespeare, and Price makes his character come alive through the very criticisms heaped upon Lionheart; he hams it up!

There are streaks of macabre humor, little detailed touches that make the movie. A couple of standout examples are the surgical killing set to music normally found in a swoony love scene, or when the homeless swarm around Price in the mud to groom and comfort him, feeling like an supervillain’s inexplicably strange origin story. Theatre of Blood is baroquely peppered, that hammy kind of giallo-influenced horror, and one of the best of its kind that I’ve seen.

Random Observations:
– In the oddest of ways, Theater of Blood feels like the kind of scenario that could turn up in an episode of “Batman: The Animated Series”; in fact I believe there are a couple of stories with vague similarities. Except this isn’t Batman, it’s horror.
– Such wonderful British character actors in this; Robert Coote, Robert Morley, Dennis Price, etc.

The Narrow Margin

#49. The Narrow Margin (1952, Fleischer): A
https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/the-narrow-margin-1952-fleischer/

Review: Peggy Sue Got Married (1986, Coppola)


peggysue-reunion

IMDB Summary: Peggy Sue faints at a Highschool reunion. When she wakes up she finds herself in her own past, just before she finished school.

As time flies idly by, there comes a point where you wish you could go back and do things differently, Hell, I’m only 25 and I already feel that way. Time-travel tales like Peggy Sue Got Married fall into the fanciful category, not that lofty barrage of very serious mythology heavy sci-fi. It fills its frames with a wistful nostalgia. It hooks you with its relatable conceit.

There’s a lot to admire here, like Kathleen Turner’s game performance and the beautiful photography by Jordan Cronenweth. There’s an anticipatory glee that builds up in the excellent first act as to how the character we see will translate and interact in the past. And what to say about Nic Cage’s performance, that nasally concoction of sincerity, goofiness and an unforgettable blonde tuft. His characterization of Charlie is a huge risk; it changes the character completely from what’s on the page and demands a higher toll from Turner and the viewer when the more serious scenes play out. Somehow it works even though it’s one of the weirdest performances I’ve ever seen. And for those that don’t think it works, an opinion I completely understand, at the very least you can’t look away from it. His “You mean…my wang?” sits firmly in the all-time great line-readings. And Joan Allen is cute as a button, isn’t she?

What does it say though that Peggy Sue doesn’t really grow or change but only gains some lived-in perspective? Believe it or not, I like that it turns the idea of ‘if I knew then what I know now’ on its head, reminding us that those decisions were made once for a reason. Peggy tries but gets sucked back into the feeling of ‘now’. Something I find weird is that it suggests that her only options in life were the boys at her school. And while Peggy not wanting to lose her kids is completely reasonable, that should have factored into the film’s fabric more than it does. It presents her decision from a solely romantic standpoint, which is reductive to what she’s actually feeling.

The ‘happy ending’ disappointed me. Like, a lot. OK, fine. She and Charlie once had something legitimate. Fragments probably still exist. It is important to recognize what was once there to begin with instead of turning it all into regret; like I said, Peggy gains perspective. It’s also important to know when to call it quits, no? Time passes and people change. Just because it felt right to be with someone at one point in your life, doesn’t mean it has to be eternal as an unbreakable rule and it also doesn’t mean it was a bad decision at the time. For the screenwriters, apparently it’s one or the other; there is no middle. Again: reductive. And that’s how the film treats their relationship. So she chose to be with Charlie again. Sure; it allows her children to still exist. But now that everything remained the same, she actively makes the choice to continue a broken marriage when divorce would have, yes been hard, but liberated her for the next surely earned phase of her life? I’m supposed to believe that Charlie and Peggy will slowly work through their problems? And additionally, that Peggy is meant to spend her whole life with him?

Even with my problems with the ending, my biggest issue is the screenplay wasting so much time on strands that don’t matter in an effort to make all the characters seem relevant. I speak particularly of Michael Fitzsimmons, Richard Norvik and the grandparents. A character like the Fitzsimmons one is important, but why did he have to be such a poorly written, uninteresting dolt? Their scenes read as flat and dull even with Turner’s efforts. Peggy’s interactions with Richard Norvik ponder the film’s high concept way too much (let it alone!) and the grandparents are such a third act thud it almost derails the whole picture.

My favorite scenes are the ones between Peggy and Charlie. What I absolutely love about these scenes is that the two characters are having two separate conversations, with neither fully comprehending the other. The basement scene is a highlight and moved me way more than I expected it too. Actually a lot of this film moved me more than I expected it to even taking its damaging faults into consideration.

Review: Looper (2012, Johnson)


With three films under his belt, it’s clear that Rian Johnson loves to tinker with genre form, structure, presentation and expectations. With 2005’s Brick, an audaciously bold vision of Hammett-style noir set in the emptied outskirts of high school suburbia, Johnson presented two tried and true genres and welded them together to create something that had not been done before. It was a concept that could have and should have fallen to pieces for, well, pick a reason. But it didn’t. His third film Looper sees a repairing of the director with now bona-fide star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This time, they take on sci-fi, using high concept to ask questions about cycles, or loops if you will, of violence, selfishness and stepping outside routine monotony to look at who we have become and the choices we make.

Looper gets the world-setting out of the way in its first act with expositional narration delivered by Levitt with grade-school lesson preciseness. The basics are this; the year is 2044. Time travel has not been invented yet but it will have been in 30 years only to be immediately outlawed. Since circumstances make it impossible to get rid of a body in the future, the criminal underworld send those they want gone back to 2044 to be killed by ‘loopers’.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper. He spends his days executing, taking drugs that are administered via eye drops and partying at the club that his boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) owns. Being a looper means you make serious change, which from the looks of things, cannot be said for the greater populace. He is saving up to go to France. Lately, contracts are increasingly being terminated as loopers are being forced to kill their older selves, thereby “closing the loop”. This means they get a ginormous payday, an early retirement and the knowledge that they have 30 more years until they bite the dust.

The story kicks into gear when Bruce Willis, playing the older Joe, is sent back but escapes with a questionable agenda of his own. The younger Joe has to track down his eventual self so he can save face with Abe and his goons who are now after him.

The near-future Johnson creates is shrouded in big-picture ambiguity and is brought to life by minutiae and the immersion into an underground subset of life in 2044. The technology has progressed but has a tinkered rusty old-world feel to it. The gadgetry and panoramic views that can potentially drown out other sci-fi is smartly nowhere to be seen, mostly because the budget does not support it. Looper keeps small-scale dystopia in check throughout, throwing expectations out the window by having the second half set far removed from what we commonly think of as sci-fi settings. In fact, it comes to feel more like a ‘protecting the ranch’ kind of Western.

The marketing for Looper reminded me of the marketing for Brave. Both decided to focus on the basic ideas, and exclusively cover the first third to first half of their products. There were audience members who are thrown by the turns each film takes. Frankly, we need more marketing of this kind. While there are problems that emerged for me upon reflection, the unpredictability of most of the film was thrilling. It is a sensation that does not come around often, that sense of not knowing where a film is going. There are a couple of sequences that took me by such surprise that I felt like a kid in a candy store. There are moments when Looper had me gleaming. Most of this can be attributed to the non-formulaic storytelling, but some of it can be credited to how the film was sold to the public. It is proof that we rely far too much on what we see from trailers and that trailers have for the most part lost the art of intrigue. I hope more marketing campaigns take this route in the future.

Johnson and Levitt have gone on record talking about the cycle of violence the film comments on. It humanizes the concept by pointing out that at the center of violence in the abstract, you have people making decisions. What is this catalyst and how can it be changed? What drives a sense of responsibility? Would our actions be unrecognizable to our former selves? Johnson successfully walks that fine line between indulging in onscreen violence without it compromising what he is trying to say.

Johnson’s cinematic eye consistently excites me, particularly in the way he uses the horizontal streak of the frame for maximum effect. By using widescreen to have multiple planes of movement happening at once, he utilizes back and forth stationary panning to follow the action as opposed to a more traditional cutting technique. This touch can be seen quite a lot in Brick as well. He calls attention to the different ways action can be shot and cut by having the scene where Willis escapes Levitt shown twice. The first time the camera is right up with the action, employing point-of-view shots and expected cutting choices. The second time we see the scene the camera is placed far away and the awkwardness of the scuffle is caught and even played for laughs. It’s a delightful moment that calls attention to how thoroughly formal elements dictate how we perceive what happens onscreen.

The hiccups in Looper feel more marked because it gets so much so right. This is one of the best films I have seen this year, and certainly a sci-fi flick for the books, but it cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

The older version of Joe, played by Willis, faces a surprising antihero-based dilemma. The groundwork is laid for a captivating older Joe and Willis brings what he can to the table. But the script increasingly treats him like a lazy subplot presence as opposed to a co-lead who is facing very tough decisions, confronting the fact of what he is willing to do at a chance for self-preservation. His role starts out strong; the diner scene between him and Levitt is probably the film’s highlight and I would have sopped up the glory of that scene more had I known it would sadly be the two actors’ only significant time onscreen together. Then older Joe is quickly demoted to provide a forcibly injected pacing jolt and to try and justify the existence of Piper Perabo’s wholly disposable character.

The ideas introduced are carried through to the end, but the character focus shifts too dramatically. Despite always keeping the younger Joe’s arc in eyesight, the central focus of Emily Blunt’s Sarah and Pierce Gagnon’s Cid (both doing fabulous work) cannot help but take away from the impact of the younger Joe’s conscience building. Sarah is introduced with a nice touch that immediately pushes her into a level past ‘love interest’ (a category I’d argue she does not fit in the first place). Johnson gives her perspective and right off the bat she becomes a character with feelings, motivations and backstory in her own right. If only the film could have succeeded at keeping Joe’s arc in the foreground throughout all of this.

The climax highlights how the two Joe’s become a footnote in their own film. The telekinetic piece of the Looper world puzzle (10% of the population has TK…?) is the only bit to feel out of place, and yet it becomes central to the story. Joe steps into a story bigger than him and the addicting dichotomy between the two Joe’s becomes underexplored. While I love the jagged curveball that Looper throws at us, Johnson struggles to keep what was introduced at the beginning in focus and the centrality of the two Joe’s, especially Willis, is somewhat compromised as a result. These shortcomings, while notable, do not change the fact that Looper remains an invigorating genre-affirming piece of science-fiction.

List: Top 30 Fall Films to See (September-December)


We are two weeks into the Fall Movie Season; that lovely time of year when theaters are crowded with anticipated releases big and small. I have to admit that there are not a ton of films I’m dying to see these last several months of the year. My Top 30 is a strong group indeed, but this is the first year in a long time where I didn’t have about 45 films clamming for a spot on the Top 30. To put it simply, several of the bigger fall releases I’m feeling ambivalent towards. These include Flight, Promised Land, The Impossible, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Hyde Park on Hudson and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I’m really looking forward to On the Road, Therese Raquin, Skyfall, Frankenweenie, Detropia, This is 40 and The Sessions but not enough to earn them a spot on the list.

If all of those highly anticipated films do not appear on this list, the question begs; what does? These are the 30 films I am most looking forward to. What are yours?

30. Barbara (Germany)
Synopsis: A doctor working in 1980s East Germany finds herself banished to a small country hospital.

Germany’s official submission for this year’s Oscars. I have yet to see a film directed by Christian Petzhold although I always meant to see Jerichow. I’m always going to be a sucker for films set in East Germany.

29. Lincoln
Synopsis:
As the Civil War nears its end, President Abraham Lincoln clashes with members of his cabinet over the issue of abolishing slavery.

The recently released trailer for Lincoln felt admittedly stuffy and anticlimactic. But I have faith in this film, despite the actors playing historical dress-up vibe and not caring about Spielberg’s 2011 one-two punch of War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin. But look at this cast! Look at it! Daniel Day-Lewis appears in one film every few years, so any opportunity to see him on screen must be seized immediately. Especially since his last film role was the start-to-finish miscalculation known as Nine.

28. Dredd 3D
Synopsis:
In a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner, a cop teams with a trainee to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO.

Out of nowhere, Dredd 3D is getting really solid notices. Like, ridiculously solid review. In a world where the film industry deals in remakes and comic book adaptations as a daily ritual, I don’t think anyone had this on their radar. For the countless middling forgettable release and anticipatory disappointments, there aren’t as many ‘where did this come from’ surprises. Alex Garland wrote the screenplay, whose credits include Never Let Me Go, Sunshine and 28 Days Later. Color me intrigued. But if the notices are to be believed, this is more than worth checking out.

Bonus: Olivia Thirlby sporting blonde hair while kicking ass and taking names.

27. Sister (France)
Synopsis: A drama set at a Swiss ski resort and centered on a boy who supports his sister by stealing from wealthy guests.

This sibling drama doesn’t seem to fit too comfortably into any easy box (outside of the aforementioned ‘sibling drama’) which is what draws me to it.  Lea Seydoux continues to stamp her presence as a French arthouse bombshell with her second release of the year after Farewell, My Queen.

26. Smashed
Synopsis: A married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of alcohol gets their relationship put to the test when the wife decides to get sober.

I have had my eye on Mary Elizabeth Winstead for a while now. Forget Scott Pilgrim. We’re talking the days of Final Destination 3, Death Proof and Black Christmas. Yes that’s right; Black Christmas. Last year she got a starring role in the remake of The Thing, walking away with all of her dignity in a film as forgettable and rote as they come. I think what most people are excited about in regards to Smashed, is Winstead finally gets a chance to show us what she’s got. And by all accounts, it was worth the wait.

Bonus: Aaron Paul, people. Aaron Paul. Aaron Paul: that is all.

25. How to Survive a Plague
Synopsis: The story of two coalitions — ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) — whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.

This documentary has the subject matter and the kind of upcoming exposure to really get some attention. It looks like the type of inspiring impassioned history lesson that I look for in this type of doc.

24. Killing Them Softly
Synopsis: Jackie Cogan is a professional enforcer who investigates a heist that went down during a mob-protected poker game.

I have to admit that the trailer for this left me really underwhelmed and relatively uninterested in the story. However, the pairing of director Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt has me salivating for this. Considering that The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is in my top 10 of the 2000’s, you best believe this earned a spot.

23. Argo
Synopsis: As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.

Ben Affleck’s first two films managed to impress me enough without bowling me over. But it’s clear the man’s got a sure and efficient directorial hand. The cast, the based on a true story concept and 70’s period detail are all promising, not to mention its warm reception on the festival circuit.

22. Zero Dark Thirty
Synopsis: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osams Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy SEAL Team 6 in May, 2011.

Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker, chronicling the hunt and kill of Osama Bin Laden. I can’t wait to see how the film depicts its subject matter and how functionally rooted in factual reconstruction it is.

21. The Other Dream Team
Synopsis: The incredible story of the 1992 Lithuanian basketball team, whose athletes struggled under Soviet rule, became symbols of Lithuania’s independence movement, and – with help from the Grateful Dead – triumphed at the Barcelona Olympics.

Been hearing a lot about this documentary (one of only 3 on this list since the majority of documentaries come out during the Spring and Summer months). This is a truly fascinating subject, ripe for potential exploration, and it looks genuinely educational and uplifting to boot.

20. Sleep Tight (Spain)
Synopsis: An embittered concierge at a Barcelona apartment building plots to make one happy-go-lucky resident completely miserable in this psychological thriller from [REC] and [REC 2] co-screenwriter/co-director Jaume Balaguero.

I feel pretty confident that this is going to be a reliable, solid slice of horror. It looks like the kind of low-key, suspense ratcheting creepfest that focuses on its antagonist over other characters. And Spanish directors certainly know how to deliver the scares: The Orphanage, The Devil’s Backbone, REC, The Others and last year’s The Last Circus to name a few obvious examples.

19. V/H/S (seen)
Synopsis: When a group of misfits is hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover more found footage than they bargained for.

I’ve already seen this one but this is where it would have been placed. Horror anthologies are always worth a watch and these directors take the stylistic experimentation that videotapes inherently offer, with its glitchy worn-down visuals and static white noise, and channel it through the possibilities of the genre. That alone makes this worth watching. For all the mediocrity of the stories themselves and the fevered gender-based discussion it has incited, V/H/S has a DIY aesthetic that makes its mark.

18. Keep the Lights On
Synopsis: In Manhattan, filmmaker Erik bonds with closeted lawyer Paul after a fling. As their relationship becomes one fueled by highs, lows, and dysfunctional patterns, Erik struggles to negotiate his own boundaries while being true to himself.

This looks emotional and moving with strong lead performances. It has been impressing audiences since Sundance.

17. Bachelorette (seen)
Synopsis: Three friends are asked to be bridesmaids at a wedding of a woman they used to ridicule back in high school.

Another film on the list I have already seen, this is where Leslye Headland’s self-adapted mean streak of a comedy would have been placed.

16. Sinister
Synopsis: Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.

Since premiering at SXSW in March, I have heard nothing but good things about this one. Good horror films that get wide releases are far and few between, but this looks like it will garner Insidious levels of attention with the buzz I’ve been hearing.

15. Silver Linings Playbook
Synopsis: After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.

Winning the Audience Award at Toronto today is a huge signifier as to how this film will be received. The trailer didn’t do much to impress, looking too by-the-book with empty quirk thrown in. But all signs point to David O. Russell having a huge hit on his hands post-The Fighter. Russell is one of my favorite directors working today so I cannot wait to see him working in the comedic realm again.

14. Girl Model
Synopsis: A documentary on the modeling industry’s ‘supply chain’ between Siberia, Japan, and the U.S., told through the experiences of the scouts, agencies, and a 13-year-old model.

The second of two documentaries on this list, Girl Model looks like a chilling and illuminating look at the international modeling industry.

13. Seven Psychopaths
Synopsis:
A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.

Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to In Bruges reunites him with Colin Farrell as well as Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell, both of whom starred in his play “A Beheading in Spokane”. McDonagh a master of the kind of dialogue that knows it’s clever, a Snatch-like trait that I usually veer towards not liking. Somehow he pulls this style off with aplomb and if it’s anywhere near as good as In Bruges, we are in for a treat. Oh, and Tom Waits people. Tom. Waits.

12. Wreck-It-Ralph
Summary: A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.

This is the only children’s film I really can’t wait to see this Fall. The trailer had me full-on cracking up in a way no trailer has in ages and it has got a golden goose of a high concept. Add in the voice work of John C. Reilly at the helm and the smorgasbord of video game references and this looks like a guaranteed winner.

11. Looper
Synopsis: In 2072, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ by transporting back Joe’s future self.

A brainy sci-fi headed by Rian Johnson? The amount of hype going into this one is considerable, but it looks like it will live up to expectations. I’m a huge fan of Brick and Johnson has directed two of the best “Breaking Bad” episodes in existence (“Fly” and “Fifty-One” respectively). So to see him get the opportunity to headline a considerably mounted genre film with its own world and rules is sure to impress. It is already well on its way to its own spot in the pantheon of great sci-fi flicks.

10. Wuthering Heights (Seen)
Synopsis: A poor boy of unknown origins is rescued from poverty and taken in by the Earnshaw family where he develops an intense relationship with his young foster sister, Cathy. Based on the classic novel by Emily Bronte.

I got the opportunity to see this at the Independent Film Festival of Boston and this is where Andrea Arnold’s adaptation would have been placed had I not seen it. It would have been one of my favorite 2012 films had the last hour not been entirely unbearable. Here is my review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/review-wuthering-heights-2012-arnold-iffboston-2012/

9. Django Unchained
Synopsis: With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.

I realize that it looks like Quentin Tarantino’s latest gets a pretty low spot. Surely this is Top 5 material, right? Well, while I’m sure this is going to be fantastic, I’m also feeling ready for the director to do something else besides revenge across different genres. But this promises memorable characters, references galore and the type of crackling two-person dialogue scenes we love from him. I think I’m most interested to see how Leonardo DiCaprio fares in one of the auteur’s films and as a villain at that. It’s a much-needed and refreshing step out of his comfort zone.

8. Perks of Being a Wallflower
Synopsis: An introvert freshman is taken under the wings of two seniors who welcome him to the real world.

I’ve had high hopes, really high hopes for this, for a long long time. A lot of us have been waiting forever to see if Stephen Chbosky seminal coming-of-age novel was ever going to be adapted, and lo and behold, the day is almost upon us. It has a remarkable trio of actors in the lead roles. I am particularly amped for Ezra Miller, who quickly climbed his way onto my list of favorite young actors. There hasn’t been a memorable high school flick in a while. And this soundtrack, which takes from the book, is to die for. To. Die. For. The fact that Galaxie 500’s “Tugboat” is going to be in this film is a fact that single-handedly earns ‘Perks’ a spot on the list.

7. A Royal Affair (Denmark)
Synopsis: A young queen, who is married to an insane king, falls secretly in love with her physician – and together they start a revolution that changes a nation forever.

This is shaping up to be a great year for Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. He won Best Actor at Cannes for The Hunt (which will hopefully get a Spring release for 2013), he is set to star in a TV series as Hannibal Lecter and he received excellent notices in the very well-received historical drama A Royal Affair. This looks like an intriguing much better-than-average historical drama that is right up my alley. It also stars Alicia Vikander, a young actress to watch out for who also will appear in Anna Karenina.

6. Rust and Bone (France)
Synopsis: Put in charge of his young son, Ali leaves Belgium for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. Ali’s bond with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after Stephanie suffers a horrible accident.

This being the latest from Jacques Audiard (A Prophet and Read My Lips) with a reportedly stellar lead performance by Marion Cotillard gives this a very high anticipatory spot. Cotillard has been relegated to pretty thankless roles since catapulting to the Hollywood A-List. It’ll be nice to see her in a meaty lead once again.

5. Holy Motors (France)
Synopsis: From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the life of Monsieur Oscar, a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next. He is, in turn, captain of industry, assassin, beggar, monster, family man…

All I heard during this year’s Cannes coverage was Holy Motors, Holy Motors, Holy Motors (well, that and a certain other film to appear on this list shortly). By all accounts, this is a surreal whackadoo head trip in the best way possible. It seems well on its way to earning a cult status and I intend on checking it out the moment it comes near me.

4. Cloud Atlas
Synopsis: An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

What will likely be the most divisive film to come out this season, I for one am counting down the days until this film gets released. The 6-minute trailer is a thing of beauty, bringing tears to my hypersensitive eyes. We can attribute a lot of this to the inspired use of M83’s brilliant “Outro”.  And I am over halfway through David Mitchell’s novel as we speak.

The way I see it, whether the film turns out to be a disaster or a triumph (or both at the same time), these filmmakers are going for it. The Wackowski’s and Tom Tykwer have together tackled what is widely thought to be an unadaptable novel (more so than most novels given the unadaptable label). It’s weaving six stories in one film, all in different time periods, with the same actors with the tired old theme of interconnectedness. No matter what the outcome, the film will be discussed for years to come. Without having seen it and going on gut instinct, it feels like the type of film that will possibly be reassessed for the positive as decades pass. As you can see, I’m preparing myself for the bashing to come. I can already see that Cloud Atlas is going to bring out the worst in the blogosphere, Prometheus-style. But no matter what the outcome, this is going to be an ambitious, epic and challenging work that nobody can fully write off. It may end up becoming a flop, but it sure as hell will go down swinging.

Ridiculous Bonus: Bae Doona, one of my very favorite actresses working today is going to get some serious international exposure here as Sonmi-451.

3. Amour (Austria)
Synopsis: Georges and Anne are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack. The couple’s bond of love is severely tested.

New Micheal Haneke. That not enough for you? It won the Palme D’Or. That still not enough for you? Haneke regular, and my favorite actress, Isabelle Huppert appears. Want more? This is Haneke doing a tearjerker about the elderly with two lead performances that supposedly devastate. My common sense tells me that Amour is going to stomp out my soul. Part of me has been mentally preparing myself for this film since this year’s Cannes.

2. Anna Karenina
Synopsis: Set in late-19th-century Russia high-society, the aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.

Another film that is sure to divide. Joe Wright’s decision to set the Tolstoy adaptation on a stage and to use theatrical stylization is sure to distract some. But frankly, if all we are left with are the visuals evident in the trailer, this will still likely land a spot on my favorites for the year. The costumes, production design and overall look of the trailer is sickening. Joe Wright is one of my favorite directors working today. He pushes himself into challenging and creative directions that breathe new life into familiar tales. Wright reteaming with Keira Knightley, surely one of modern cinema’s most rewarding director/star collaborations, is always thrilling. The way his camera illuminates this woman (who is already stunning to begin with) is beyond my ability to comprehend. We’ve got a screenplay by the great Tom Stoppard, cinematography by the great Seamus McGarvey, music by the great Dario Marianelli and costume design by the great Jacqueline Durran. So basically what it comes down to is that lots of great people are involved in this. I plan on reading this monster of a novel before the film comes out. Now that’s anticipation for you.

1. The Master
Synopsis: A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future – until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader.

I honestly feel like I don’t even need to put reasons here. It’s at the top of everyone’s list. Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite working director. It’s been 5 years since his last film. This was very close to not getting financed. It’s a near miracle we even get to see this. His films engage me more than any other director. They make me feel things that are unrepeatable, unfamiliar and challenging. His films are dense, complex, elusive, pretentious and indefinably uncomfortable.  I live for his films. And on Friday I will finally be seeing his latest in 70mm. Oh, and welcome back to Joaquin Phoenix. It’s been too long. And if the trailers are any indication, this performance is one for the books.