Open Your Mind to the Twisty World of “Looper”

Time travel has been discovered and subsequently outlawed. By 2074, the mob now uses it to get rid of people by sending the target back 30 years so that one of their looper agents can kill and dispose of the body without detection. This well-established technique gets put to the test when Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fails to close his own loop by killing his older self (Bruce Willis). Now, young Joe must chase after old Joe to protect the life he currently has.
But old Joe has a mind of his own. A menacing threat has arisen in the future and ruined the perfect life he had created for himself. He uses his banishment to the past to track down and eliminate the perpetrator. But establishing trust is not something that Joe has ever been good at, and working alone proves to be very dangerous.
Writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick) has crafted a twisty and thought-provoking sci-fi thriller that easily toys with your emotions. He uses classic sci-fi tropes to examine how our actions in the present effect our future—and, technically, vice versa. As each new layer of the story is revealed, the interconnectedness of the film grows more complex and fascinating.
Gordon-Levitt, in heavy makeup to resemble his future self, easily becomes a sympathetic hero. Willis, however, vacillates between hero and villain seamlessly, leaving you unsure whether you want him to succeed or not. Emily Blunt pops into the film for a very important role, but any ingenuity she brings to the role is quickly overshadowed by her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon). Gagnon is both adorable and terrifying in his role, which is extraordinary considering he’s only about 10 years old. He’s single-handedly the best thing about the film.
While an appreciation of sci-fi makes the film extremely entertaining, it’s not a requirement. Looper, like all films, is about relationships, making it accessible to all audiences as long as they are capable of opening their minds a little.

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You’ll Go Crazy for “Seven Psychopaths”

After teaming up for In Bruges, writer/director Martin McDonagh and lead actor Colin Farrell are at it again. Seven Psychopaths blends graphic violence with irreverent humor while telling a very meta story, this time in LA. The title refers to the screenplay that Farrell’s Marty is attempting to write, weaving the tales of seven different psychopaths together. With the help of his friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), he begins to base the characters off real-life psychopaths, slowly mixing the real world with his fictional one.
Billy himself is a psychopath. Working with Hans (Christopher Walken), he steals peoples dogs and keeps them until the owners post a reward for finding their dog. Hans then swoops in with the pet and makes some cash in the process. Everything begins to go wrong when Billy dognaps the beloved pet of raging psychopath Charlie (Woody Harrelson).
McDonagh does a superb job of bringing Marty’s script to life on screen, while using repetitive imagery to show how the script is invading Marty’s real life. All of which makes for a humorous commentary about storytelling structure and screenwriting (especially the exceedingly meta car scene in which Marty, Billy, and Hans discuss how the movie should end—both the one they’re writing and the one they’re living). Twists and turns abound as we discover who the seven psychopaths are and speed towards a very satisfying climax.
Farrell has already proved his comedic capabilities with In Bruges, and he continues to charm and amuse in Psychopaths. Rockwell, too, has great comedic chemistry with Farrell and Walken. And, of course, Harrelson makes for a great unhinged villain (along with his head henchman played by Zeljko Ivanek).
In the end, Psychopaths is an underrated film that will amuse and enthrall you through every minute. Be sure to check it out in theaters and then go watch the stellar In Bruges.

Pomp and Circumstance in “Anna Karenina” Will Produce a Passionate Response

“All the world’s a stage” according to the Bard; and it remains true for Russian high society in the new Joe Wright adaptation of Anna Karenina. With the rise of auteurs adapting classic literature with insightful new commentary (see also: Wuthering Heights, Dangerous Liaisons), Wright adds creative commentary to imperialist Russia while adapting the classic story. The film takes place almost exclusively inside a decaying theatre, with society members watching from their seats as various dramas occur on and off stage.

The drama, of course, is centered on Anna Karenina (Wright’s muse Keira Knightley) and her illicit affair with Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) that shocked the nation. Bored with her cold, aging husband, Karenin (Jude Law), Anna becomes immediately enraptured with Vronsky’s youthful beauty. She ironically falls for him while on a trip to save her brother Stiva’s (a deeply unattractive Matthew Macfadyen) marriage to Dolly (Kelly Macdonald), after she, Dolly, learns of Stiva’s affair with the governess. If there is a biological gene that predisposes one to cheat, then the Oblonsky family—Anna and Stiva—certainly has it.

Anna’s passion for Vronsky isn’t one-sided. He quickly ditches young Kitty (Alicia Vikander) right before he is intended to propose to her, so he can chase after Anna. Poor Kitty is devastated, having just spurned her other suitor, Levin (Domhnall Gleeson), in anticipation of Vronsky’s proposal. Passionate love is a dangerous thing in the world of Anna Karenina.

Because it is 1874 Russia, divorce is still a relatively new and shameful thing. Fearful of being shamed by society and losing custody of her beloved son, Seryozha (Oskar McNamara), Anna tries to keep her affair secret from Karenin. But her unbridled passion for Vronsky makes her the center of gossip in Moscow. When she discovers that she’s pregnant with Vronsky’s child, Anna must confess all to Karenin and place herself at his mercy.

Keira Knightley does a masterful job of expressing her passionate love, while still attempting to keep it in check. And for the scenes when Anna slowly loses her mind, Knightley plays them perfectly. We can see in her eyes all the turmoil that author Leo Tolstoy wrote in the novel. In the book it is far easier to get into the characters’ minds because Tolstoy writes their thoughts, but Wright has put together a very capable cast. Taylor-Johnson captures the naiveté (and beauty) of Vronsky, while still making him a compelling character. Jude Law, too, manages to make Karenin a sympathetic character.

The screenplay, by playwright Tom Stoppard, focuses solely on Tolstoy’s exploration of love. Stoppard cut out the duller parts of the novel, mostly involving Levin’s farm life, allowing Anna’s story to fully take over. (In the novel, Levin gets far more page time, despite the book’s title.) Stoppard does a superb job of drawing out the major themes of the novel, yet the true beauty of the film lies in its stunning visuals.

The production design by Sarah Greenwood is ornately beautiful and intricately complex. As characters walk from room to room, the walls (or stage sets) smoothly transition into each new room. The costumes by Jacqueline Durran embody the decadence of the time period. And Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography captures all the elegance of these elements in the film. With Dario Marianelli’s Russified score perfectly matching the mood and pace, the film threatens to overload the senses. Fortunately, the editor (Melanie Oliver) knows when to tone it down—for the intimate, dramatic scenes—and when to turn it up—for the scandalous society scenes.

Not everyone will be as taken with Anna Karenina as I—pomp and circumstance aren’t for everyone. But the film’s examination of unhappy families will make you rethink your concept of relationships. And whether you love or hate the film, Tolstoy’s novel is truly a must read for everyone (I recommend the lauded translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky).