Thursday, February 28, 2013


Film Foray Cavalcade No. Sesenta y uno: Looper

There were only four films in 2012 that truly had me on pins and needles to see. First was Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, Skyfall and finally, Looper. Sure, 2012 had many other great films but these were must sees. After watching the first three, I was very hopeful regarding the quality of the film. Little did I know about how good this film was. This was not surprising considering the quality of Rian Johnson's films to this point, but moreso because the difficult in writing around the concept of time travel.
Looper is the tale of Joseph Simmons, a man paid by the mafia in the future to kill and dispose of victims in the past. This continues until Simmons is tasked to kill his future self and close the "loop." The future Simmons reeling from the loss of his wife seeks to alter the past by killing the man responsible for closing the loops. This act ultimately resulted in the murder of his wife in front of him.
Time travel in many ways is one of the hardest things to write about. Simply, it (as a narrative device) works well or simply falls apart. Looper utilizes time travel as an essential but mostly secondary element. What stands out (to me) about this film, is the stark contrast between the versions of Joseph Simmons. Johnson literally plays out the notion (or more importantly, folly) of what you would say to your past self. Even with the "advanced" knowledge of the future, it is not enough to alter the past. In many ways, it answers the renders the question of altering a person's own past moot since importance of events is only relevant to the present time in one's life.
That is what makes Looper such an intriguing film. We are not the same person that we were in the past, nor will we be the same as our future self. This apparent dichotomy of Joseph Simmons is an added dimension to a sub-genre of science fiction that has become relatively one dimensional. Moreover, this is highlighted by the direct interaction of the past and future versions of character. By violating this fundamental rule of time travel, Johnson makes arguably one of the most interesting takes on the classic conflict of man versus self.

Parting thoughts:
A tip of the hat to Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Yes, it is the end of February, here is a list of the top five films from last year.

Tonight is the Academy Awards and if you knew my feelings on the show (or read this post) than you know that I will not be watching this year's ceremony (much like the year prior and the year before that). Frankly, I find the whole process and outcomes to self-indulgent and I prefer to spend my time elsewhere. Usually, I put together a top ten list that highlights my feelings about the past year in film. This year, I am had to truncate it to five to increase the likelihood of it getting posted.

For your enjoyment, here are my top five and some films on the outside looking in (I apologize for how long it took to post this)...

Looking in:
Skyfall - Quite possible the best Bond film in recent memory. Kind of makes you forget Quantum of Solace, although that was not a difficult feat. While I have been on the butt of several jokes about the film's Rooney Rating, I still maintain that it was one of the more enjoyable jaunts to the multiplex this year.

Seven Psychopaths - I (like most of Maus compatriots) loved In Bruges and really was nervous about Martin McDonagh's follow-up to that film. Granted, I would not like to see McDonagh limit himself to the same film over and over again. Thankfully, this was not the case and the audience was treated to an intelligent and very witty film about a screenwriter trying to overcome writer's block to write a film about seven psychopaths.

On to the list:

5. Django Unchained

I must admit that I am over Quentin Tarantino (I blame film school for that). I am not one of his rabid and overzealous fan boys. I find his films to be very self-indulgent in regards to the dialogue. So, you can imagine when I saw the trailer to this film, I was not impressed by what I saw. However, being a huge fan of the western genre, you can bet that I was going to see this film at some point. Sure, the violence was over the top but damn, does Christoph Waltz give a performance that is unparalleled in recent memory (and is leaps and bounds better than his Academy Award winning performance in Inglorious Basterds). Does (and will he ever he ever) Tarantino grow as a filmmaker with Django? Probably not, but when he is outside of the realm of popular culture, he does put together an enjoyable couple of hours.

4. Argo

Or should I say, Argofuckyourself. I hate to say it, but I like Ben Affleck as a Director. I might not have liked Gone Baby Gone but I did enjoy The Town. Affleck with his third film, Argo, is coming into his own. Frankly, it is hard to not enjoy seeing the development of a career that is building upon previous work. It is difficult to find many flaws with this film outside of the questions of historical accuracy. This is a relatively specious complaint since it is a drama not a documentary. Ultimately, this can be overlooked because of the quality of the script and the absolutely stellar cast.

3. The Dark Knight Rises

Is there a more complete trilogy of films than Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy. The answer is a resounding no. Most trilogies fall apart with the final film, however, the argument can be made that the series was better with the each film. Some say the film was boring and that Tom Hardy was incomprehensible, but that is short changing the most intelligent film about a man who dresses up like a bat to fight crime. Seriously, I challenge you to find a comic book adaption that compares to this film from the perspective of content and subject matter. Plus, when you look at the cinematography and use of practical effects, there is no comparison. The Dark Knight Rises is the apex of the genre.

2. Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom is a film from a bygone era. It has a wit and whimsy that rarely exists (if at all) in American cinema. It was one of the best two hours that I spent in a theater this year. Wes Anderson is one of the few screenwriters that take the absurd and then put it on screen without the audience scoffing in derision. It is a shame that this film has not received the recognition that it deserved. An argument could be made that late spring/ early summer release date was the reason. Regardless, there are very few films that are like it and it is doubtful that there will be any more.

1. Looper

For a movie that concerns itself with time travel, there is not much in it. Certainly, it is an element within the film but it never overshadows the motivations of the main characters. Looper is not a question of time travel but a examination about what someone would do to change time. That is the genius behind Rian Johnson's script. At no point, do you really care about the gimmicky act of time travel. Johnson proves that you do not need a bloated special effects budget to create a modern science fiction masterpiece. Looper much like Moonrise is a product of a different time. For me, it reminded me of the science fiction films that enjoyed in my earlier days.

Movie Night Special Edition: Dreams of Oscar 2013

It's just a few hours away and we will find out the BEST film of the year. We all have a love hate relationship with the oscars and for me it's still a great show and I can't wait. My how things have changed with Argo steamrolling the competition and becoming the huge front runner for some big prizes. Well just like last year I wanted to talk about my dream Oscar ballots for a few of the main categories. If you're wondering where best picture is...just read my last article it has my list of my ten favorite films.

Best Actor
Some Good work this year, especially excited to see Bale continue to evolve his performance as Bats. I loved Levitt in Looper and how he infused just enough Willis into his character, but the year belongs to Daniel Day Lewis.

Best Actress
I loved Quvenzhane but Chastain carries Zero Dark Thirty and just delivers a bravura performance with little backstory

Best supporting actor
Studios are taking the time to hire quality actors who can pull off such a complex character. And I would love for Levitt and Ruffalo to be recognized here. Both roles here offered up different takes on beloved characters and both actors played them perfectly. As for Bruce either for Moonrise or Looper he should be here. But for me Dwight Henry as the dad in Beasts is the most honest and brutal performance. The love that seeps out of his soul for his daughter even if he doesn't show it or say it is immense. It is one of the most awe inspiring performances and I wish it had more recognition.

Best supporting Actress
You know I feel bad for not having seen Les Mis. But I would have loved to see Hathaway get nominated for her work as Selina Kyle.

Best Cinematography
I think people shouldn't be so quick to shrug Deakins work off as "not his best", what e accomplishes in Skyfall is amazing and is a huge part of the sophistication of that film. Claudio Miranda made some amazing shots for Life of Pi and his seamless work with CGI is commendable. I would love to see Yedlin get noticed for Looper and Richardson for Beasts. They both created magical worlds that feel somehow familiar. There is a texture and a history in the visual look of both films. Ultimately I'd give the award to Yedlin, his versatility is shown within the film as he gives us Rural and cityscapes, yet everything is lot beautifully and feels cohesive.

Best Screenplay
I love Boal's work on Zero Dark Thirty and Zeitlins script for Beasts is amazing. But gain this has to go to Rian Johnson and Looper. The guy is the best writer for dialogue of our generation. It's stylized without ever taking you out of the film and here e evolves that style and gives us his most daring and powerful script yet.

Best Editing
Goldenberg and Trichenor for Zero Dark Thirty. That is all. Funny enough he worked on Argo as well...which might be number two here, the guy can make tension

Just some quick last thoughts before the big show.


One last thought - easily my favorite Oscar season since I've begun watching the show.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Movie Night Special Edition: Top Ten Films of 2012

You know I was planning on writing full reviews for all of these. Then I realized I really had just waited too long. It would just end up being 10 reviews back to back, then I would write this top ten article with ten more mini reviews. So I figured I would cut my losses, attack this year head on and just reduce this down to my top ten list with mini reviews. Again these are my favorite movies of the year, movies that speak to me on some cinematic level that resonates with me stronger than anything else this year. Now last year I was lucky enough to see almost everything I wanted spanking obscure independents to all the big studio flicks. This year due to circumstances I didn't have the same fortune, but I feel that this list is solid and although I'm missing some big ones, I'm happy with my outcome.

10. The Avengers - Joss Whedon
I struggled with this film, not because it's not worthy of being here, but because it's still amazing to me what Joss was able to do. This by all logic should have been a huge mess, but Whedon really did the impossible. He made arguably the most entertaining most bombastic super hero movie, and he did it while keeping the story grounded and his characters well defined. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, Hawkeye is underutilized, the scene with Coulson's cards on the table plays a little silly to me(I think his death is much more impact full without it). But you can't take away the fact that Joss has literally brought my childhood dreams to life, in a way that no one since Spielberg in Jurassic Park has really done.

9. Cabin in the Woods - Drew Goddard
Joss really had an amazing year, especially after Dollhouse, which I didn't care for he just knocked it out of the park with these two films. Here, rather than making a highpoint in a genre, he fucking turns the genre inside out. With a brilliant script that both skewers and pays homage to horror films at large he creates a world unlike any I've ever seen. People talk about spoiling the movie, but once you find out what's going on part of the fun is going back and seeing how all those seeds were planted the whole time. This is deconstructionism on a literal level, and when we get inside that elevator, it's pure genre bliss. This is not Scream for our generation, this goes beyond witty irony. This is post modern to a new degree and he does with a chip on his shoulder and love in his heart.

8. Moonrise Kingdom - Wed Anderson
I will never understand people who chastise Anderson for having such a recognizable style. Here he uses his trademark whimsy and lovable losers to tell a story of young love, and just how powerful it is. With his beautiful palette and amazing cinematography Anderson gives us an America full of super hero scouts, evil social workers and dreary parents. This is fantasy that we all wish was just a little bit closer to reality, he never gets into the saccharin saturated mess of Spielbergs worst films, rather he stays with an upbeat optimism. He shows us how life could be, what it means to follow passions and recognize what important in this world. With some amazing performances from Willis and Norton and especially the kids(obviously Murray and Mcdormand are awesome) this film joins the rest of Anderson's works as another example of an America auteur giving us a slightly surreal view on our home.

7. Django Unchained - Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino continues his quest to rewrite history as he sees fit, this time taking a spaghetti western and telling us a story of the Antebellum South. I had wanted to write a lot more about how I feel about Tarantino as a whole, and how this film fits into his ouevre, but I slacked off so ill try and condense it into a few sentences. So here it goes...I feel like after Kill Bill Tarantino finally started to stretch his legs in terms of defining his own voice. While his earlier films were all pastiche and homage, he began to not take those terms as literal as say Jackie Brown, and now he bends the genres to his liking. I'm happy to see that Tarantino has something to say, and even though he will probably never stop reinterpreting genre and paying homage to leone, he has begun to find his niche as a much more interesting filmmaker. Django is Tarantino attacking racism through the filter of slavery, and sure this is pretty straightforward "racism bad" I feel like the controversy that has arisen from the film is exactly the dialogue he wanted. I find it ludicrous how much people are up in arms about the language and the depiction of slavery, since those are the aspects of the movie that are most true to life. I love that he juxtaposes these scenes of raw brutality, with scenes of absurdly surreal violence. It's a fine line to walk but Quentin does it with style and charm.

6. Sound of Noise - Ola Simonson
One of the most unique films you'll ever see. As aural terrorists take over a city and turn it into one huge performance piece we are treated to an incredibly entertaining film that gives us a reality in which bank stamps create wonderful rhythms. This is a gorgeous marriage of image and sound and rather than play it pompous or "arthouse" this is an engaging and witty story full of charm. Music invades our lives and these artists show us how important it is for life, not only that but how important art is for life. About how much better life is when fueled by passion and purpose rather than what one "ought" to do. I can't say enough about how enjoyable this film is, truly a great find and I urge all of you to see it. Also...yes this is an older film...but was only released in the US this year

5. Life of Pi - Ang Lee
Ang Lee is an incredibly diverse filmmaker, and here we have quite possibly his most beautiful film yet. One of the most stunning films you'll see, Lee invokes just enough whimsy to give you a feast for the eyes that is just awe inspiring. I could not do this film justice in just a paragraph. So let me just say this, there is of course a huge amount of spirituality, but what I most took away is the commentary on story telling and just how powerful it is and what it's relationship to belief. It's a wonderful story that doesn't offend but yet offers plenty to discuss. It is a film that begs to be analyzed and I couldn't be happier. It's an amazing achievement and easily the most surprised I was coming out of the theater

4. Zero Dark Thirty - Katherine Bigelow
Bigelow follows up her Oscar winning film with this impeccably made film about the search for Osama. The film surpasses Locker in every way and Bigelow brings all of we action sensibilities and uses them to ratchet up the tension to a fever pitch. The film keeps you on edge and is riveting from beginning to end. The craft on display is so tight and perfect you stand in awe of what he is able to accomplish. The film presents a factual recreation of the events with no real pro war or anti war agenda. What the film does so well is lay out all the facts and force you to confront the realities. Yes we used torture, she leaves it up to you to decide if that's a good or bad thing. It's a challenging film that showcases some amazing filmmaking. Editing, cinematography, pacing, writing, Bigelow is a master of the craft and I look forward to this new part of her already extensive career.

3. The Dark Knight Rises - Christopher Nolan
Nolan's conclusion to the most amazing super hero trilogy ever put to film is a flawed masterpiece. But for someone like Nolan, that still lands his film as my third favorite of the year. The ambition and epic storytelling is shown with such filmmaking prowess that you can't help but sit back in awe as Nolan pushes film towards something grander than "3d" and shows just what you can accomplish with IMAX cameras. Sure the plot stumbles a bit...and I would argue that the film isn't long enough to nail each point they want to hit. But Pfister's cinematography is gorgeous as he captures a city crumbling under the weight of its own guilt. Zimmer's score evolves and culminates in easily the best score of the year. Bale, for the first time as bats, makes a strong argument for an Oscar. Levitt plays the most original and innovative take on Robin I've ever seen. Hathaway an Hardy? They bring it and standing in the shadows of Pfeiffer and Ledger and Newmar they each make the role their own. And of course the three pillars of class Oldman, Freeman an Caine each turn in amazing performances, with Oldman DEFINING Gordon for years to come. This is the film I will revisit most often, love this film. Flaws and all.

2. Beasts of the Southern Wild - Benh Zeitlin
Winner for most impressive debut easily goes to Zeitlin. This beautiful film about Hushpuppy and her father as they live in the bath ecosystem on verge of disintegration is the most soulful and energetic film of the year. Incredibly confident, Zeitlin builds a magical world that challenges Lee's film to show the whimsy and fantasy present in our world. The whole place is slightly surreal but the emotion and humanity is so honest and bare. You feel the history in every scene, and the film has a pulse all it's own. A moving film of life and strength and different definitions of family. This is a beautiful film that marks the arrival of a new talent, if this does the impossible and takes home the big trophy(it won't) I would e greatly pleased.

1. Looper - Rian Johnson
I've said it a million times since I've seen the film, but after seeing Looper, I feel like Brick and Bloom were just Johnson practicing before entering the big leagues. And I love those two films, but this is Johnson operating on a whole other level. He steps up his filmmaking using a bit more restraint but still adding jut enough style that it still feels cool and feels like it fits in his ouevre as an evolution of talent. Johnson has always excelled as a writer and here is no different, the script is insanely smart an he backs that up with brilliant performances by Levitt and Willis. This film goes to surprising places and challenges your beliefs on nature vs nurture. As with all great science fiction, this film cares far more about its ideas and characters than any sort of action beat. In doing so we are invested in the story and all the "cool" future stuff just adds to the experience. But most of all and why this film resonated so strongly with me is that this is science fiction at its highest level of quality. The detail that is in this film is so specific. We see a future that is totally believable and it has a texture and a feel that is both alien and all too familiar. The design of the time machine is brilliant, and we see it for all of 30 seconds. There is thought in every frame of this movie. This is a modern classic and will go down in the annals of science fiction with Moon and Inception.

A wonderful year for movies, and while I did not get to see nearly asana as I wanted to or nearly as many as last year, I ultimately found a wealth of new cinema joy. Ill be following this piece with a runners up piece. Lastly I did it interesting that last year it seemed nostalgia ran through everything in my top ten, from skin I live in, to tinker tailor, to Hugo. Looking back at this year, it was a year of new life. Or pulsating films existing as breaths of fresh air, from Looper, and Beasts, to te grandeur and bold filmmaking of Pi and Bats. Even way back with Cabin in the woods which is both nostalgic and is own creature. Just a thought.


One last thought - please just give Rian Johnson the reigns to Batman's future.