The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

October 29, 2012

‘Looper’: back to the present from the future

By Roger Thomas for the SNAP

Monday, October 29, 2012 — Movies and television have given us a plethora of “time travel” stories over the years. Some have been very somber and others have been played for laughs. Almost always, if the film is going from the present back to days gone by, the choices one makes in the past have effects on the future, sometimes changing the timeline in extreme ways. The very best time travel films are those that pose great moral questions like “If you could kill Hitler as a child, would you do it?” That’s the question posed most often in discussions of time travel, but I can think of a great many more. Time travel is almost always interesting, but the occasions when it offers thought-provoking and challenging dilemmas, it is the best it can be: truly engaging and entertaining.

I am happy to report that “Looper” is one of those “time travel” movies. The premise that one can glean from the trailer is simple. A young man kills those who are sent back to his present from the future. Whenever the future crime syndicate wants to get rid of someone, they send him 30 years into the past where he will be executed by one of their young assassins. At a certain point, the crime leaders will send back an older version of the hit man to be killed by his younger self. This explains the title; the life has made a “loop,” the killer has become the prey of himself, thus he is a looper. If that sounds confusing, it is not on screen. As I wrote above, this is all in the trailer.

But then one of the best things in the world happens; “Looper” begins to be about so much more than just what was in the trailer.

If you do not count as science fiction any of the superhero movies of this year, and I do not (at this point I think hero movies have become a separate genre of their own), then “Looper” is the best science fiction film of 2012, thus far anyway. And not because of the great gimmick of a man hired to kill his future self. That alone would make the film intriguing, but it is so much more than that twist. The second and third acts of this film are extraordinary. And the moral questions and choices are impressive.

Does one act selfishly and save the one he loves? Does one embrace hope in the idea that the future is not set, but ever changing by our current choices? These questions are not new to time travel films, but they are rarely asked with such emotion and poignancy.  

The film has other strengths. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, the assassin ultimately assigned to kill himself. Gordon-Levitt is having a stellar year with roles in “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Premium Rush,” “Looper” and Spielberg’s “Lincoln” coming out in November. Of the three films already released in 2012, “Looper” has his strongest performance. Bruce Willis plays the older version of Joe and we can hope he chooses more roles like this in the future rather than “Expendables 3, 4 or 5.” Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano (who were so great in “Ruby Sparks” earlier this year) also have strong supporting roles. The special effects of the film are excellent as well as the art direction and cinematography. I saw a report on television about how they used make-up so that Gordon-Levitt would look more like Willis; this make-up work is oscar-worthy. “Looper” is a well-crafted film.

But the greatest strength of “Looper” is the screenplay. This is smart writing. Several actors could have pulled off these performances. The look of the film, though very good, could have been designed by someone else and been no less pleasing. What matters here is the story. Go see “Looper” for the story. When the credits begin to roll, I am pretty sure whether you like the ending or not, you will agree, it is brilliant. Take someone with you so you can discuss it on the way home.  

‘Taken 2’: What will

they take next?

I should begin by saying I was not a big fan of the original “Taken.” I am sure that shocks many action film fans, but it just seemed to be a very violent and equally implausible film. The hero participated in too many outrageous acts without any serious consequences to himself. I guess for this reason alone, “Taken 2” is necessary. From the start of the new film, consequences abound.

And an audience is born. “Taken” grossed $145 million during its entire run in theaters. “Taken 2” has already grossed $91 million in 13 days. In the past four years interest in these characters seems to have grown and who knows where “Taken 2’s” ticket sales will finally end up. By the end of the film’s third weekend, it should be among the top grossing 15 films of 2012.

Most likely all those fans that have rushed out to the theaters the first two weekends of release (“Taken 2” held the No. 1 spot both weekends) were quite satisfied with what they saw. Once again, Bryan Mills, a very uniquely skilled man, is in a foreign country. In the first film he went to Paris after his daughter Kim is kidnapped. “Taken 2” has the daughter and her mother joining Bryan in Istanbul for a holiday. Relatives of the men who took Kim in the first film now want revenge for what Bryan did to their family. Their plan is to abduct all three, but they only end up with two. The rest of the film plays out in a way very similar to the first film.

“Taken 2” is not a bad film. I have seen much worse this year. Then again, there is nothing about the film that moves me to think or feel much at all. I will not be quoting lines from this film for years to come, nor could I even remember the characters names without looking them up.

And once again, there is a great deal of gun violence, though little blood so the film could keep a PG-13 rating. I have seen enough blood in films to last me for the rest of my life, but when killing, even the killing of villains, is depicted in such a sanitary style, it does seem to glorify violence in an offensive way.  

And as with the first film, the heroes do all sorts of things which are reckless and endanger innocent bystanders just so they can pursue their goals. I am not sure this creates a righteous impression of who the good guys are; rather it seems their personal goals matter more than the safety and security of all others.

One could argue the same thing for Jason Bourne or James Bond, I suppose. Most likely, I am just overthinking it. I am not the target audience for this film.

I did like the Turkish setting, the cinematography and the pacing of the film. At 92 minutes there is not enough time to get too frustrated with the film’s weaknesses. Then there is one moment toward the end which actually gave me a little hope for the film; there was real emotion there. I will let future watchers discover that for themselves.

During the climax of the film, it seems pretty obvious that the filmmakers are hoping for a third installment. Words are spoken that leave little doubt. And with the box office success of this sequel, it seems obvious that another film will soon begin production. I guess the only real question is, “What will they take next? The (unseen) dog or maybe the boyfriend?”