For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
Hurray for movies with ideas. In Looper, writer-director Rian
Johnson crams in so many, it initially looks as if this sci-fi actioner
might collapse under the weight of them all. Dystopian society, time
travel, telekinesis, gangland killings — there are a lot of ground rules
to keep track of here, much of them conveyed through the wobbly device
of a narrator.
But then something remarkable happens: Looper plays fair with its own mind-bending construct. Balancing muscular action with the intellectual approximation of an M.C. Escher drawing, Johnson delivers on the considerable promise of his previous films, Brick and The Brothers Bloom.
We start in 2044, where time travel is about 30 years away, but still figures prominently in the lives of “loopers,” assassins hired by a futuristic crime syndicate to kill and dispose of targeted baddies transported from the future.
It’s an insidiously efficient system: A looper waits in the middle of nowhere for a hooded victim to materialize from thin air, only to promptly blast the poor bastard to smithereens. And when it’s time to clear up loose ends, the looper is sent his future older self to kill.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises) is Joe, a looper who makes the costly mistake of failing to whack his older self (Bruce Willis, The Expendables 2) when he is supposed to. But old Joe arrives in 2044 with his own agenda to stop a certain future from taking shape, a quest that eventually involves a tough single mom (Emily Blunt, The Five-Year Engagement) living in a farmhouse.
Looperis fiercely inventive, buoyed by strong performances and an intriguingly complex screenplay. In the rarified air of great time-travel flicks, it deserves a place alongside The Terminator, Back to the Future and 12 Monkeys.