Friday, September 28, 2012

Movie Review: Looper

For those of you keeping track, Looper is the second big-budget science fiction movie released this year which uses time-travel as an excuse to have a younger actor play the same character as an older actor. I enjoyed both, but between the two, I preferred Men In Black 3.

Looper is a good movie, but it's a tad overrated in my opinion. It reminds me of Inception in several respects: it's a good genre film for those without much interest in the genre, but those of us familiar with the tropes will recognize the terrain. Looper wears its genre proudly: this movie is absolutely science-fiction through and through. The trailers undersell this, in fact: time-travel may be the most import element here, but it's far from the only one. They took some impressive risks with the setting and should be commended for doing so.

But this movie isn't driven by its setting: it's driven by its plot twists and ideas. And, in that respect, it feels a little flat. Like Inception, it delivers enough complexity and attention to detail to engage its audience. But, like Inception, it winds up feeling by-the-numbers to those who have seen it before. It takes a while for the movie's premise to unfold, but once it does, it becomes clear that it's basically a mash-up of two very iconic properties.

This doesn't mean the movie's stupid: it's actually quite clever. But, despite this, it never shakes the sense that it's ultimately generic. We've seen these ideas, we've seen this setting, we've seen this premise and variations of this plot: hell, we've even seen Bruce Willis playing a mentally unbalanced time-traveler. Mixing and matching those elements isn't enough, especially when the movie lacks a distinct tone.

There's also a sense in which Looper is a Hollywood production trying to pretend it's an independent film. To its credit, this does mean the filmmakers are able to sidestep several missteps common to big-budget science fiction... but not all. There aren't a lot of action-movie cliches in the movie, but that does make the ones that got in feel all the more egregious.

Looper is absolutely worth seeing, but personally I wish I'd waited for the DVD. Not because I don't think it was worth the money; for its faults, it was still a satisfying experience. But this is exactly the kind of movie that I've found I enjoy more on a smaller screen, where expectations are less encompassing. At the end of the year, I'm pretty sure I'll be ranking this below Chronicle, and I'm honestly not sure whether that's just because I saw this in the big screen and that on the small.

As a science-fiction movie, it's really quite good. As a time-travel flick, it's a lot of fun. But don't expect it be one of the best, because - contrary to what some reviewers are claiming - it isn't. Yeah, Looper has some great effects, but it's not Avengers: my advice is to wait for this to show up on video.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Give Us Your Worst, Part 18: Punisher (1989)

Last weekend I came across a copy of The Punisher - the 1989 one starring Dolph Lundgren - at a yard sale for $2. While that seemed a tad high given the film's reputation, I decided it was worth to finally see the one Punisher movie that had so far escaped me.

I'm glad I did, because - and I honestly wasn't expecting this - I kind of liked this thing.

Sure, it had most of the problems you'd expect from a bad 80's action flick. There are slow bits, the acting is mixed at best, and the script is at least 60% cliche. And, yeah, the skull's missing from The Punisher's shirt for absolutely no discernable reason: that's damn annoying.

But, not only is this more entertaining than either of the recent reboots, it's both a far better take on the Punisher and a vastly better comic book movie. This is a cold, murderous version of Frank Castle, but he has a larger-than-life quality that was missing from the Jane flick (they tried in War Zone, but it came off feeling like bad camp). Lundgren's Castle feels like a bonafide superhero, even if he murders someone in every other shot.

Better still, unlike almost every superhero movie that's been made since, this isn't an origin story. If you didn't already know Castle's backstory, it provides you with a flashback, but it's certainly not the focus on the story.

In fact, the movie's focus isn't really on Castle, at all. The main crime lord gets nearly equal screen time, and actually comes close to competing for the role of the protagonist, as does Frank's old partner. The whole thing winds up feeling like an ensamble piece about The Punisher's corner of the Marvel Universe, which is exactly what it should be.

This movie has plenty of issues (did I mention the annoying kids?), but it takes its premise seriously and delivers a solid comic-book action flick, something the newer attempts didn't come close to accomplishing. I'm as surprised as anyone to be typing this, but I honestly think this one is severely underrated. Don't go expecting fine film, but if you manage your expectations, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.