Review – Looper

Review – Looper

2012, 118 mins, 15, Dir. Rian Johnson, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and Paul Dano

Looper

Looper is writer/director Rian Johnson’s third film. His first was Brick, a low-budget independent which took the linguistic styles of Raymond Chandler and substituted them into, believe it or not, a high school setting. And Johnson shows the same originality here, constructing a science-fiction premise which leaves you gasping for breath. It’s not perfect, but Looper is easily the best science-fiction film since Moon, a terrific and fresh train-ride of a movie which beguiles, shocks and entertains in turn.

It is 2042. We follow a man called Joe (Gordon-Levitt) who is employed as a ‘Looper’. When the mob want to get rid of someone in the future, they send them back in time to these loopers, who murder them. Loopers enjoy the high life of clubs, drugs and sex, but there comes a time when their own future selves are sent back to be dispatched – ‘closing your loop’. When this happens to Joe, his older version (Bruce Willis) escapes, triggering a violent train of events which will see a clash between the old and younger selves, a clash of two ideas about Joe’s future and past.

From the outset, it certainly looks like an action film, and from the beginning it convinces you that it is. There are some excellent set-pieces that simply refuse to be generic, with the characters actually taking time to aim and shoot, instead of a barrage of misfires and cover-taking. It also takes a decidedly R-rated stance; indeed, the heavy and powerful blunderbusses utilised by the loopers don’t allow for much else. The scenes in a dystopian Kansas city are truly exciting, but suddenly the film slows down and takes a more reflective stance. As Joe stumbles onto the farm of the protective Sara (Emily Blunt) and her young son, the action turns minimal for a long period of time. Such a rapid change of pace is a little disorientating but if you can adjust then it is rewarding – the long sequence at the farm reveals some intriguing surprises, and Emily Blunt gives a bolstering performance as a woman you feel could really shoot you if she wanted to.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, meanwhile, is barely recognisable as the young Bruce Willis, and also gives a strong performance. When the two of them are onscreen together, chiefly in the diner sequence, it is more tense than you would imagine. They face each other off, grappling fiercely with alternate futures, each trying to impose himself on the other. Willis in particular is terrifying in this sequence and in the rest of the film; with a gun, he is a formidable and unforgettable force, plagued by memories of his life, and seeking to restore them as much as he can, no matter the cost.

Joe (Gordon-Levitt) and Joe (Willis)

The future urban city is brilliantly but realistically built. It is overpopulated, many of its residents living in poverty on the streets; the upper classes, with their expensive cars, suppress their fear of crime with large guns. China has overtaken the USA as a superpower, as Joe is recommended by his boss to learn Mandarin instead of French. You really gain a sense that things could turn out as they do in the film.

As with most films, though, there are problems. And Looper contains a number of plot holes that may affect your enjoyment of the film. Don’t let that happen. Yes, there are things which don’t quite add up, and some things which really don’t add up, but that should be no reason to pass it off. What you have is arty, ballsy filmmaking which disregards cliché and takes you on a thumpingly good ride. You may think it slumps in the middle. But the performances of the two leads, the design and the stellar action scenes more than make up for that. It’s a fantastic film.

8/10

Review – The Muppets

Review – The Muppets

2011, 103 mins, U, Dir. James Bobin, starring Amy Adams, Jason Segel, Chris Cooper and The Muppets.

The Muppets

Everyone knows who their favourite Muppet is. In the February edition of Empire, dozens of celebrities gave their verdicts on the character that has most inspired them (mine is the Swedish chef). In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard a single thing about Jim Henson’s puppet creations. After the highly successful Muppet TV show in the 1970s, a number of films were produced, ranging from the surprisingly good (The Muppet Christmas Carol) to disappointing TV specials (The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz). Despite their continued popularity, the iconic creatures haven’t made their way onto the big screen since 1999.

But that’s all about to change. Hitting UK cinemas on Friday is their new film, simply titled “The Muppets“, a film that has received universal critical acclaim. And it’s not hard to see why. Their latest outing is stylistically quite different from all that has come before it. For one thing, it’s incredibly frenetic, almost as frenetic as Animal (although in the film he is living in a celebrity anger-management clinic) and the song and dance numbers have a wonderful feeling of spontaneity. No surprise there, as the film is directed by James Bobin, creator of Flight of the Conchords, who uses his absurd sense of humour to great effect. Bret Mackenzie, one of the conchords, also contributes by writing some songs for the film – “Man or Muppet” has now been nominated for an Oscar. The humour is intelligent and often self-referential, Fozzie Bear at one point exclaiming “Wow, that was such an expensive looking explosion! I can’t believe we had that in the budget.” 

The three (human) leads do a great job and Chris Cooper is hilarious as the (admittedly rather stereotypical) greedy oil magnate, especially when he randomly bursts into song halfway through and frequently demands “maniacal laughter” from his henchmen. The film is especially noteworthy for its vast range of celebrity cameos, harking back to the days of the Muppet Show, which saw the likes of Peter Sellers and Steve Martin as guest hosts. This time round, there are appearances from Jack Black (whom the Muppets kidnap in a kind of spoof Chinese martial-arts scene), Ken Jeong, Kristen Schaal (a lead character in the conchords show), Alan Arkin, Zack Galifianakis, Jim Parsons, Emily Blunt and numerous others. Elmo sadly doesn’t appear for legal reasons (although a documentary on his puppeteer, Being Elmo, was widely acclaimed recently). 

It is a real joy to see the Muppets back on top form. They are still as funny as ever, spurred on by Kermit’s neverending optimism (and Miss Piggy’s neverending vanity). The story isn’t quite as dazzling as its numbers but it’s conceptually very impressive. The freshness of this new offering is something to behold, and it certainly proves Bobin as one of the most creative directors around. It’s good to have you back, Kermit.

4 stars out of 5