Friday, October 5, 2012

"Looper" Will Throw You For a Loop

“Looper” Not Just Another Time-Travel Movie

By Skip Sheffield

Not another time-travel movie!

That’s what I thought when I first heard the premise of “Looper.” Then the accolades started coming in for stars Joseph-Gordon Leavitt and Bruce Willis and writer-director Rian Johnson.

Intrigued, I saw “Looper” as a paying customer and I’m glad I did. It is the best science-fiction-crime thriller so far in 2012 and I think it is destined to be a classic.

“Looper” is set mostly in 2044, but it harkens ahead to 2072 and a decayed, corrupt and crime-ridden future. In the year 2074 time-travel was invented and quickly outlawed. The reason becomes apparent with the definition of Loopers, who are hired assassins who go back into the past and blow away a target destined to cause trouble for the mob in the future.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) is one such Looper. So is Seth (Paul Dano), his best buddy.

Loopers live a relatively good life, but at a fearsome price. One day each will be forced to “Close the Loop,” or in other words kill themselves and vanish without a trace.

Writer-director Rian Johnson doesn’t create any complex mumbo-jumbo to make this premise believable. You either buy it or you don’t. If you do buy into it, as I think most people will, the scenario presents all kinds of tough moral dilemmas.

Joe is faced with the dilemma of killing his older self, played by Bruce Willis. He chokes, old Joe escapes, and the chase is on.

As with the time-travel premise, Johnson makes hardly any effort to create a futuristic look. People drive the same cars we do now. Joe drives a Mazda Miata roadster. There is one whiz-bang jet motorcycle thing and some CG animation of a big city. This is no big-budget blockbuster. Its power comes from the mind-bending twists and ironic turns of the story and the amazing performances of the two stars.

Joseph-Gordon Leavitt has been physically altered with makeup, prosthetics, dye and contact lenses to more resemble Bruce Willis. More importantly, you sense a mutual respect and bond between the younger and older actor. Willis does the best acting he has in years as a man torn by loss and regret. Leavitt proves he has moved into the major leagues with his most powerful performance to date.

There is a side plot involving a single mom (Emily Blunt) and her otherworldly son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) who may or may not grow up to be a truly evil figure.

There are echoes of Old Testament retribution as the characters teeter between painful good and lucrative evil. For once the ending is not a cop-out. I’ll say no more except this film sets the mark for high-emotional action/drama for this year or perhaps any other.

Something is Rotten in “The Oranges”

There is no shortage of drama in the suburbs. Take “The Oranges,” if you will.

David and Paige Walling (Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) and Terry and Cathy Ostroff (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney) are best friends and neighbors in West Orange, New Jersey in this domestic/romantic comedy directed by Julian Farino and written by Jay Weiss and Ian Heifer.

The story is narrated by the Wallings’ sourpuss daughter Vanessa (Alla Shawkat). Vanessa is 24 and still living at home. Neither her career nor her love life are going anywhere fast.

The calm is broken when Nina Ostroff (Leighton Meister), the Ostroff’s beautiful daughter and Vanessa’s former best friend, arrives unexpectedly just before Thanksgiving after a five-year absence.

It seems that Nina’s imagined perfect life has just evaporated. Her self-possessed fiancé Ethan (Sam Rosen) has broken the engagement and announced he is off to Europe, without Nina.

Crestfallen and vulnerable, Nina turns not to Vanessa’s perfect brother Toby (Adam Brody) but to handsome David Walling (Laurie) for sympathy. She gets more than either bargained for. It seems that David’s relationship with his obsessive wife Paige (Keener) has been deteriorating without either one really noticing. When a beautiful young thing shows an interest in David, he is tempted to throw caution to the winds.

There is some slapstick comedy in “The Oranges,” with the righteously angry Terry doing battle with his best buddy David, but there is a fair amount of pain too, particularly on the part of the “woman scorned,” played with equal parts sorrow and resolve by the formidable Keener.

“The Oranges” is one rung above a typical situation comedy, but it reminds us there is more going on than meets the eye in the suburbs.

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