Tag Archives: Bruce Willis

Looper | review

Rian Johnson’s Looper is not only a welcome return to form after the quirk overload of 2008’s The Brothers Bloom, but also sees the director achieving the rare feat of crossing over into the mainstream while retaining pretty much all of his stylistic quirks. Johnson is a man of vision, and, luckily for cinemagoers, seems to have producers who are wise to his not-inconsiderable talents.

Of course, it’s the future. Joseph Gordon-Levitt – made up beyond recognition and doing an uncanny take on Bruce Willis’ off-key manner – plays Joe, a mob goon who assassinates people from the future’s future – a ‘looper’. It’s a grubby line of work usually ending with a grim payoff – what’s known as ‘closing the loop’: murdering your future self. Bruce Willis is the older version of Joe who’s determined not to die – and has some ominous information that could change everything.

Looper has at some stage been compared to The Matrix, a comparison stemming from pure laziness on the part of some hack, picked up on by the press team in a move (albeit an understandable one) no doubt designed to get bums on seats. At the risk of sounding pompous, comparing Looper to The Matrix is a bit like comparing a Madlib album to Dr Dre’s Chronic 2001, Grizzly Bear to Mumford and Sons or Fiona Apple to Alanis Morisette. While those comparisons aren’t necessarily formulated to express the relative merit of each film, they do serve to highlight that, despite Looper‘s mass appeal, it’s still pushing for something a little deeper.

If a comparison to a Keanu Reeves science fiction film were to have to be made (oh, go on then!), Looper would probably end up a lot closer to A Scanner Darkly – which took the novel approach of sorting out Reeves’ acting by turning him into a cartoon. A Scanner Darkly was also, it should be remembered, a film that was misunderstood in a lot of quarters – a fate that seems entirely possible for this film if audiences go into it expecting the kind of depressing bangs-whizzes-and-relentless-gun-battle fare that has become the norm since The Matrix ‘changed the game’ (ruined everything), and Christopher Nolan ‘changed the game’ (added a snow level).

This film’s refreshing difference lies in its concern, not in plot information factoid overkill, but the human element of the tale. It’s very much a character-driven story, and the acting and casting are superb. To list the great performances in this film would be pointless, as they’re all pretty flawless, but a special mention should go to young star Pierce Gagnon who is terrifying as Cid, a preternaturally mature child that Joe comes across in the course of his journey.

As in his debut Brick, which cleverly subverted the conventions of film-noir, Johnson simply uses the science-fiction genre as a way of exploring themes that interest him – memory, fate and consequence. The clever move he makes is to have the film breeze over its concept (setting out its sci-fi stall, so to speak) in the opening few minutes. In this way, Johnson dispels the impulse to pick the story to pieces. Either you take it or leave it.

In some senses Looper has the makings of a slick film aiming at a bigger target audience than Johnson’s previous efforts – but as a writer/director he also isn’t afraid to take the leftfield option at the risk of showing a rougher edge. It’s far from perfect, and at times experiences something of a lack of coherent movement between acts, but in taking more risks it rewards the viewer with a richly emotional and thoughtful centre.

Unlike some genre staples, it doesn’t make a song and dance over instances of directorial inventiveness, of which there are many. It’s playful, rather than po-faced. It has no cartoonishly alluring latex-clad sex-token girl-trope cartwheeling about the place – although Emily Blunt’s single mum is a subversive nod to the type and does simultaneously function as a love interest for Gordon-Levitt’s character. The action sequences are muted and interesting rather than bombastic. Its tone is nuanced between light and dark and (like Duncan Jones’ 2011 Source Code) it doesn’t simply rely on a dark, gritty colour palette to make it feel weighty.

In the end Looper’s smartness lies deeper than some smug pseudo-philosophical meditations. It also doesn’t literally end on a shot of the main protagonist flying away like superman to a Rage Against the Machine tub-thumper – all wise moves on balance, when the idea is to get some brainboxes working, rather than a monster truckload of fifteen year-old boys’ throbbers pulsing.

Looper is in cinemas from Fri 28 September. Contributor Ed Wall can be followed on Twitter @edward1wall.

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The Expendables 2 | review

For quite some time now the ambiguous influence of that pernicious force known as postmodernism has been sending popular culture – and with it the previously established ‘normal’ way of regarding and interacting with the world – spiralling down the rabbit hole. As the ‘postmodern’ continues its evolution from purely theoretical ‘ism’ to something more palpably woven into the fabric of daily life, what might once have been considered surreal impossibilities start to be routinely enacted. Only recently, we watched slack jawed as the actual Queen appeared as the Queen alongside the fictional character of James Bond in a video sequence for Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony.

Almost everything in our contemporary existence seems to aspire towards self-reference, ironic nods or a head-fuck. Is this simply a more playful way of interacting with life, or a dangerous disconnection with what makes it real? What’s certain is this: shit is getting weird and we’re all in it together. My greatest fear is that this self-reflexivity will keep pushing things closer, diminishing space – that the world will just become smaller and smaller until it finally disappears with some kind of comedy ‘pop’ sound right up it’s own painfully distended anus.

And so now, in 2012, we come to this: the second instalment of a potentially never-ending Expendables franchise – a film so ludicrous in conception and follow-through it almost makes perfect sense. But doesn’t. At all.

“That was it”, I will tell my kids. “2012. Year of the Mayan Prophesies. I was there.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the event that was, in later years when humanity has pieced itself together from the ashes, recognised as the key to triggering the apocalypse.

“I was there,” I’ll say, “when Arnold Schwarzenegger (wearing an expression one can only describe as mildly beatific, like a glowing child possessed with the will to clarity as they prepare to pour salt on a slug), fired a Gatling gun out of the side of a Smart car being driven by Bruce Willis. I was there”, I will say, “when Chuck Norris cracked a Chuck Norris joke onscreen and everything came apart at the seams.”

However, I’ll get it out of the way right now: I thoroughly enjoyed this film.

This project could, and probably should, have had a massive whiff of cynicism about it – a cash-in by ageing action stars on the ‘meta’ fad. But everyone seems to be having so much fun with it that it draws you in almost despite yourself. Whereas the first in the series suffered from something of an identity crisis, unsure of quite how far into farce it wanted to descend, The Expendables 2 has no such qualms. They’ve taken what worked in the first, got a new director and writers on board and basically remade Expendables 1 but sillier and better.

The result is magnificently deranged. In some senses it actually resembles an episode of a long-running sitcom, where old favourites enter to a cheer and applause from the canned audience (though the audience in the screening I was at did actually applaud every time a new hero appeared) and knowingly steal each other’s catchphrases.

Van Damme as Jean Vilain

This is a world where men (big, oversized men) are capable of transcending the boundaries of space and time, where characters can be shown running through the jungle and seconds later are at the controls of a massive plane flying down to wreak havoc on a faceless army that surely only built that massive dam so it could have the SHIT blown out of it. Surely these men, with their insane control of the space/time continuum, are the real super heroes. They have the power of deities. Being armed with guns seems both completely necessary yet totally redundant.

It’s tantamount to admitting that the action genre, no matter how serious it might take itself at times (I’m looking at you, Señor Nolan) is really just about stuff blowing up, stuntmen falling off things and the hero making a pun at the end of it. For all these perma-sculpted men (what on earth are they going to look like in their 80s?), who at one time or another must also have considered themselves quite seriously, to basically admit as much takes a lot of guts. Guts raining from the sky it is, then.

For anyone who’s ever enjoyed a cheesy action film from the 80s and 90s, pretty much everyone is here. The only notable absentees from this roster of action movie legends to feature across the series so far are Jackie Chan, Mel ‘naughty step’ Gibson and the bloke who played McGuyver. And Steven Seagal, I suppose. Considering none of these men are exactly known for their acting chops, the relaxed atmosphere works wonders. That, and the fact that they’re basically playing themselves. Or an amalgamation of all their various selves, Basically, they know the terrain, and they’re totally comfortable in it.

Stallone these days resembles an uncannily animated totem pole, but at least he can almost crack a smile now (I wouldn’t rule out CGI there). Jean-Claude Van Damme (who’s actually not new to this postmodern game, having starred in 2008’s really very good JCVD) is rather brilliant as Jean Vilain. Dolph Lundgren is much more comfortable in his role this time around and at times has an almost (I shit you not) Klaus Kinski-esque madness to him. Schwarzenegger and Willis, Norris and Li, Crews and Statham, Yu and Couture – all are very watchable. Also watch out for a ‘plot’ line involving young Liam Hemsworth that is simply brilliant for it’s tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness.

So what next? No doubt there will be a third Expendables, but part of me wishes that, having succeeded so brilliantly here they just let it go. What could they possibly do that could top this? The ‘meta’ approach only allows for so much before some serious imagination needs to come into play. Expendables 3? Joined by David Hasselhoff, Shaft and Kevin Costner. Taking on Skeletor and the reanimated zombie corpses of Charles Bronson and John Wayne. With Scott Bakula from Quantum Leap playing Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dennis Quaid in Total Recall (but voiced by Colin Farrell’s penis). Or we could have a remake of Lethal Weapon with Jamie Foxx and Larry David. Or we could do Columbo with Vin Diesel…

(Ed Wall stops writing, turns and looks wistfully out of the window. Apparently trying hard to think of a good way to end the article he’s working on. After a moment’s pause, he turns and looks directly into the camera, breaking the fourth wall. He pulls off his face, revealing a smiling Tom Cruise).

Tom: “The possibilities are endless.”

(Fade out).

The Expendables 2 is in cinemas from Friday. Contributor Ed Wall can be followed on Twitter @Edward1Wall.

Wesley Don’t Lose That Number or: does Moonrise Kingdom prove Steely Dan right?

You wouldn’t necessarily peg (pun totally intended, dude) acerbic rockers Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan as the types to break from their glazed cocoon of smooth jazz ennui to offer cross-medium advice. But, around the time of Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, that’s exactly what they did.

In an hilarious missive to the director, they identified something of a malaise affecting Anderson; a refusal to or – more perturbingly – an inability to move on from the meticulous constructions that defined his early work. They warned that his “career as an auteur is mirrored in the lives of [his] beloved characters as they struggle in vain to duplicate early glories”. They also offered up a theme tune (sample lyric: “Darjeeling Limited / That’s the train I wanna get kissed on / Darjeeling Limited / But I’ll be lucky if I get pissed on”), but frankly, that’s beside the point. If the glorious Fantastic Mr Fox represented a tantalising leap outside the hitherto hermetically sealed Anderson box, then Moonrise Kingdom – all pretty colours, exact framing and mannered dialogue – jumps straight back into it, elegantly shod feet first.

Moonrise Kingdom is a simple tale of two young, disaffected runaways in love. The boy is a social outcast, scout and an orphan (though brief scenes suggest his residence is less an orphanage, more of a training school for would-be Arthur Fonzarellis), while the girl is a troubled soul, sired by a thoroughly miserable couple, prone to violence and squabbles with her trio of little brothers. Despite the promise offered by such a set-up, the film is oddly cold, flat and hard to get involved with.

One of the biggest obstacles to enjoyment is the dialogue which, far too often, simply dies in the mouths of the actors. Of Fox, Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek wrote: “I’m not sure I can explain why Anderson’s trademark dry, clever patter seems less tortured, and so much funnier and more believable, when it’s emerging from the mouths of animal puppets with scruffy, disarranged fur”, and this observation certainly rings true in the case of Kingdom’s cast, most obviously the kids, who shoulder a great deal of screen time. Like the mid-section of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Lifewe’re supposed to be seeing things through the hazily irrational filter of the child’s eye view, yet this pair are so painfully self-aware and unbelievably hyper-articulate that it’s hard not be irritated from minute one. The boy, Jared Gilman, seems to struggle particularly to square his character with the overconfident enunciations demanded by the script.

And surely Anderson’s creative inertia is no better exemplified than in his criminally flaccid deployment of Bill Murray; here, again, wasted as a cuckold prone to the occasional manic depressive outburst. The lines between the actor and the performance are now blurred by a messy, desultory greyness. One just wants him to be funny again. It’s a toss-up between Edward Norton and Bruce Willis for the film’s most interesting character, perhaps as much for what Anderson provides them with as what he doesn’t. They’re both cast against type, as sad-sack authority figures (scout leader and cop respectively), which is compelling in itself, but save from one or two desperately brief snatches of pathos, they’re given frustratingly little to do.

Moonrise struggles narrative-wise, too. It starts cogently enough, but by the end it has all but flown off the rails in a messy explosion of pernickety farce. We’re subjected to a reedy, hipster-Magnolia deus-ex-machina; a religious invocation that PT Anderson – the other great white hope of modern American cinema – gets away with because his passion seeps over, through and under his style. While W. Anderson’s boxy camera moves around the family stead impress on a technical level – and mimic the God-like drift of Dreyer in Ordet – they lack clout, and betray an absence of interest from the director to get down and dirty with his characters; he’s all artful distance.

Darkness lingers in the shadows (parental infidelity, depression, whispers of electro-shock therapy) but never emerges to assail the viewer on an emotional level. Perhaps that queasy vagueness is Anderson’s intention, but to me it seems like a cop-out. The (quaintly soundtracked) mood of the 60s bangs on the door, but never gets in. Richard Ayoade’s Submarine, a debut which initially looked callowly in hock to Anderson’s oeuvre, seems close to the real deal in the light of this effort; it finally parked the tweeness in favour of confronting grave familial sadness head-on.

One can only hope that a filmmaker with such obvious talent circumvents further creative putrefaction, and looks to do something outside his comfort zone – perhaps a genre shuffle or new collaboration. However, few other comfort zones in Hollywood are as luxuriantly upholstered; Anderson’s followers are so loyal – and vocal – that he might just be tempted to carry on down this well worn path. As in almost any instance, it might just be beneficial to listen Steely Dan.

Moonrise Kingdom is in cinemas now.