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Is Joseph Gordon-Levitt a movie star? The folks in Hollywood certainly seem to think so. After leading indie films like (500) Days of Summer and 50/50 to wider success, Levitt has received key supporting roles in big movies like The Dark Knight Rises and the upcoming Lincoln. But while his latest film, Looper, may not have Christopher Nolan or Steven Spielberg at the helm, it can certainly still be classified as a bona fide blockbuster action flick for the young actor to headline.
And while he may not be as big of a name, writer-director Rian Johnson has proven his clout as a director with smaller movies like 2005′s Brick and 2008′s The Brothers Bloom. So when film geeks found out that he and Levitt (who also starred in Brick) were teaming up again with a bigger budget and a sci-fi plot, the excitement was palpable. And, as it turns out, that excitement was absolutely warranted. Looper is the kind of bold, grand Hollywood blockbuster that critics constantly hope for, but only see once or twice a year. It has a brain in its head and an artistic sparkle in its eye. And, quite simply, it’s the best movie of 2012, so far.
Levitt plays Joe, a wayward assassin living in the year 2044. Being a “looper”, his job is to kill rival gangsters sent back from the future. Thirty years beyond Joe’s time, time travel has been invented and it has also become impossible to dispose of dead bodies (hence why they’re sent back to Joe’s time for removal). But, of course, there is a catch: for the sake of simplicity, loopers are eventually sent their future selves to kill (thus completing the “loop”). When Joe’s future self (played by Bruce Willis) decides to fight back against his seemingly inevitable end, this sends young Joe into a race against time, the mob, and (quite literally) himself.
At its heart, Looper is a sci-fi blockbuster. However, despite featuring a gun-toting Bruce Willis, it actually goes fairly light on the shoot-’em-up action. Don’t get me wrong – there are enough chases and blood splatters to satisfy those looking for a high-octane thriller. But for audience members looking for a little more depth, it also offers some surprisingly complex moral questions, unique character development, and delicate artistry. Rian Johnson applies his stylized visuals perfectly to a bigger scope, but he also doesn’t lose the intimacy that made the hard-boiled Brick crackle with such electricity.
Joe is an undeniably complex protagonist. In many ways, he is despicable. But while he’s hedonistic and ruthless, he is not without remorse. And by juxtaposing him against his even more morally complex future self (Willis), it highlights the emotional toll that his lifestyle has hit him with. As does young Joe’s unique relationship with a young single mother, Sarah (Emily Blunt), who he meets while tracking his future self. While some might argue that the film takes a slower turn once Joe meets Sarah and her son, the tenuous, frayed bonds that are revealed between that trio of characters offers the film its emotional heft. Blunt, especially, shines as the strong but vulnerable Sarah, and it’s largely her nimble performance that gives the film’s finale such a punch.
And speaking of emotion, it’s easy to get swept up in the film’s beauty. Johnson creates an expansive, slightly off-kilter dystopic world that is bleakly stunning. Something as simple as a shot of a skyline or a cornfield drips with such melancholy that it’s nearly overwhelming. It’s hard to pin down what it is about Johnson’s anti-Americana vision that works so well, but somehow Looper comes out feeling like a grade-A Important Film because of it.
This is not a perfect film. While Joe, Sarah, and her son are interesting characters, other supporting players (especially those played by Piper Perabo and Noah Segan) seem to get discarded part way through, and never fulfill their potential to be impactful. A few plot twists feel overly convenient and ultimately pointless. However, for the most part, Johnson has created a well-structured, thoroughly engrossing blockbuster. At two hours long, it never drags, and I was happy to let myself be pulled along for the ride. While watching it, I almost forgot that it was a sci-fi movie where people fly around on hovering motorcycles. It just felt like a rich drama that I wanted to see more of. And if you ask me, that’s one of the biggest compliments that I can give to a film. Looper is the rare blockbuster that can knock you back with its visual flare and still stay on your mind long after the credits roll.
The Toronto International Film Festival announced its first wave of festival programming via a live press conference this morning. After weeks of speculation and rumour, it turns out that many of the films that fans were hoping to see on the list will in fact play at the festival this year.
TIFF, which usually favours smaller, independent fare, will play host to a couple of big-budget blockbusters-to-be in September. Rian Johnson’s Looper will open the festival with a special gala on September 6. The sci-fi action film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt, and is set to hit theatres for a major release on September 28. This marks a significant step up for TIFF’s opening film in terms of budget and profile. Last year’s opening film was the U2 documentary From the Sky Down, and the year before that, the Charles Darwin biopic, Creation.
The folks at TIFF also announced that the Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas will also premiere at the festival. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant and boasting an estimated budget of $140 million, this is definitely one of the biggest films TIFF has ever welcomed.
On a slightly smaller scale but no less exciting is the announcement that Terrence Malick’s latest project, To the Wonder, will screen at TIFF. Given the long post-production life of The Tree of Life and Mallick’s typical long gaps between films, some fans thought it was unlikely Mallick’s next project would be ready in time. However, the film, which stars Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, and Javier Bardem will in fact make its world premiere at TIFF this year.
Other big name directors whose films will show at TIFF include Ben Affleck with Argo (starring Affleck and Bryan Cranston), David O. Russell with Silver Linings Playbook (starring Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, and Jennifer Lawrence), Noah Baumbach with Frances Ha (starring Greta Gerwig), Joe Wright with Anna Karenina (starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law), and Robert Redford with his star-packed The Company You Keep (Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Terrence Howard, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Elliott, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Nick Nolte, Brit Marling, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, and Chris Cooper).
Speaking of stars, TIFF will once again celebrate Ryan Gosling, as they host the world premiere of The Place Beyond the Pines. Directed by Blue Valentine helmer Derek Cianfrance, the film stars Gosling and Bradley Cooper as a stunt rider and a cop who square off. Other big names you might see walking around Toronto this September include Zac Efron (At Any Price), Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone), Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson), Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch), Kevin Bacon (Jayne Mansfield’s Car), and Kristen Wiig’s (Imogene).
And while it’s easy to get caught up in the glitzy star spectacle that TIFF can become, it is also a festival that honours a lot of Canadian and foreign films, too. TIFF will round out its line-up in the coming weeks with more of these titles. For now, though, we know that Ruba Naddi’s Inescapable (starring Marisa Tomei and Fringe‘s Joshua Jackson) and Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children will be two Canadian films having their world premieres at TIFF. The latter also tie’s into the festival’s “City to City” theme, which this year will highlight films from and about Mumbai, India.
The Toronto International Film Festival will run September 6-16. See the full list of films announced this morning at tiff.net/thefestival/filmprogramming
We’re on to the second day of the 2012 movie preview, and this is the second half of my anticipated sci-fi/fantasy flicks. Tomorrow, I’ll be covering the upcoming action blockbusters that I think look promising.
Jack the Giant Killer (June 15)
I can’t say the premise interests me too much (how many fairytale movies do we need in one year?) However, I am very interested to see how Nicholas Hoult will do in his first big leading role. Also, Bryan Singer is a capable blockbuster director (X-Men 1&2), and Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, and Bill Nighy are also in the movie.
John Carter (March 9)
A CGI-heavy Disney action film wouldn’t usually excite me too much, but there are a few things that John Carter may have working in its favour. The first is its star, Taylor Kitsch. Anyone who watches Friday Night Lights knows all about Kitsch’s charisma, so I’m very interested to see how he’ll do with his own film. Also, this is director Andrew Stanton’s first live action film after helming Pixar projects like Finding Nemo and Wall-E, and he seems to have brought the visual style from those films to this one. I remain cautiously optimistic.
Looper (September 28)
2012 seems to be the year of great director/actor teams reuniting. Here, we get director Rian Johnson and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt who last teamed up for 2005′s compelling teen noir, Brick. The scope is a little bigger this time (they even got Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt!), but I love the idea of Johnson taking on a crazy sci-fi action film.
Prometheus (June 8)
I’m not a big horror movie fan, but this Ridley Scott prequel (?) to Alien has me very interested because of its great cast. Guy Pearce and Michael Fassbender are two of my favourite working actors, and I like Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Idris Elba, and Noomi Rapace quite a bit, too. Having Lost writer Damon Lindeloff behind the screenplay can’t hurt, either.
Total Recall (August 3)
Do we need another Total Recall? Absolutely not. But Colin Farrell has proven to be a viable action hero, and with John Cho, Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy in the supporting cast (along with the less-interesting Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel), it might be worth a try.
World War Z (December 21)
This Brad Pitt zombie vehicle based on the hugely popular book of the same name is just poised to be a Christmas hit. I’m really not sure if this will work, but I’m certainly interested to see them try. Between this and Warm Bodies, it seems like 2012 is the year of the zombie.