Film #76: Looper (2012)

looper-movie-willis-gordon-levitt-sony-picturesdirector: Rian Johnson
language: English and some French
length: 119 minutes
watched on: 7 January 2013

This was the first of four movies I watched on the plane back to Japan, trying to while away time. It’s a scifi thriller set between about 30-70 years in the future involving time travel, in which people are sent back in time in order to kill them (because it’s untraceable or something). The central idea is that when your assassin’s contract is terminated with the company, you kill your own future self. And the assassins are called loopers because they close the loop, or something. It also involves people with a mild telekinetic X-men style mutation, who like to show off. But there’s a bad mutant guy in the future who’s controlling everyone, or something (later you learn that not all is as it seems, of course).

The main character is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt with a ridiculous prosthetic on his face, because his future self is played by Bruce Willis, and Gordon-Levitt had to alter his face to look more like Willis’s (particularly the jaw and nose). A moment’s hesitation allows Willis to get away and potentially wreck the whole system.

Anyway, it was an OK scifi film. It’s set somewhere in the American Midwest or South in a rather uninspiring location, but that serves to show the decadence of the future. Things like wage gaps between rich and poor are shown quite realistically if hyperbolically: the loopers are practically the only rich people in the city and drive around in very souped-up hovercars, while everyone else sort of trundles round with trolleys.

One of the major flaws of the movie, however, is in breaking the principle of show, not tell. The first few minutes are Gordon-Levitt infodumping everything we need to know about the future world, instead of the more interesting route of throwing us into the action and seeing if we can just work it out on our own. A scene in the middle of the movie where Gordon-Levitt and Willis come face to face in a local diner comes across quite like this as well, except this time it’s an excuse for Willis to infodump everything he knows about the future future world to Gordon-Levitt. I found this boring, I have to admit.

Time travel is kind of handwaved in the movie. In fact, in a meta moment reminiscent of Austin Powers, Willis even challenges Gordon-Levitt not to think about it too closely because it might spoil your enjoyment of the movie. But we get several forms of time manipulation apparently co-existing, and sorry, but that spoilt my enjoyment of the movie. I like worlds where there’s at least some internal consistency. Here we get a deterministic outlook, where one knows exactly when one’s time is going to come in the future future, but we also get more than one “grandfather paradox” that is resolved by the participants (Guess who, I dare you. Spoiler alert by the way.) disappearing entirely, we get the idea that actions in the present can change right before your eyes whatever happens in the future (the present character cuts scars in his arm in order to convey a message to the future character, who sees the scars appearing on his arm, and early on in the film, another present character is being tortured and the future guy just starts randomly losing limbs), and we furthermore get a multiple world interpretation where one timeline “goes wrong” and we reset back to the point of divergence. Those things don’t go together, as far as I’m concerned.

So far, kinda sloppy. Later on, there’s a child character introduced who is simultaneously quite cute and really incredibly creepy. I don’t want to give away too much but it’s probably possible to piece together the plot now (it’s honestly not that hard). Towards the end, it does actually manage to pull out something surprisingly coherent, and we find out that we never really knew the truth of what happens in the future; we only have the world of Willis’s unreliable narrator. So actually even though it was still predictable right up to the end, I came away with a reasonable impression of the movie. It’s no classic, but it was enjoyable.

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Book #24: Trivia on the Loo (2012)

trivia-on-the-loocompiler: Kelly Owen
language: English
length: 80 pages
finished on: 1 January 2013

Ah, just gonna throw this one in quickly. I don’t read on the toilet, never have. And while it’s true that I watch a lot of QI (mainly as a sleeping aid, though), lists of trivia like this are tiresome for me, so to be honest, a little bit of a disappointing Christmas present. That sounds ungrateful of me, but if I don’t actually say that out loud, the message will definitely never get through and I’m much more liable to get a similar book next year.

It took me like half an hour to flick through the whole thing, as there wasn’t much substance to it. As I don’t read on the toilet, there was no utility in bringing it back with me to Japan after I’d read through it once. It was seriously such a bad book that I felt like circling every blatant factual error and sending it back to the publishers for proofreading purposes. Many of them were oft-repeated urban legends that I now know to be false, but many were just outright wrong. Only a few of the facts were interesting, but not enough that I remember them four months later (that’s what I get for not updating regularly, I guess).

I couldn’t really find much information on the book online, though. I actually think it’s something that Marks & Spencers threw together last minute as a stocking filler, which would go some way to explaining (but not excusing) the laziness of the fact-checking.

Film #75: Die Hard (1988)

bruce-willis-john-mcclane-20th-century-foxs-die-970431329director: John McTiernan
language: English and some German
length: 131 minutes
watched on: 26 December 2012

Would you believe it’s the first time I’ve watched this film? My dad was keen to watch it around Christmas, as it’s set at Christmas. Having had no emotional attachment to it as a teenager, I came to it with skepticism. In the end? It was alright, for me.

I don’t really know, to be honest, how much of the movie was original in its time, although I’m willing to bet a fair amount of it, perhaps of the way the characters speak, as John McClane is famously foul-mouthed.

I found the setup a bit ridiculous, although to some extent at least plausible, but I was particularly unimpressed by the fact that the antagonists were Germans, you know, forty years after the war was over and everything. I was surprised by Alan Rickman’s appearance as the main villain (because I didn’t know he was in the film), and I thought he gave a great performance, but he did it all in a faux-German accent, and it started to grate on me quite quickly.

The action sequences were fun, though, as was watching Bruce Willis’s tank top magically turning from pearly white to dark brown over the course of the movie. And as was seeing Bruce Willis with hair, to be honest, this being 25 years since the film was made.

I probably wouldn’t watch it again, but I enjoyed it. I’d say it’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it already (like me).

Film #74: Wolf Children (2012)

07__aka: おおかみこどもの雨と雪 (Ōkami kodomo no Ame to Yuki)
directed by: Hosoda Mamoru (細田守)
length: 117 minutes
language: Japanese
watched on: 23 December 2012

This film was something I watched on a whim on the plane back to the UK. It seems that planes are often the only time when I have access to recent Japanese films with English subtitles, so I took advantage of that. This film was by the same group as “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”, a film I watched a couple of years ago, which was a splinter from Studio Ghibli, and the artistic style is certainly informed by that of Miyazaki.

In the story, the main character, the mother, falls in love with a werewolf, who is later killed. The two children, named Ame and Yuki, ie. Rain and Snow after the weather during which they were born, are also half-wolf. The mother decides to move to the country after she finds it unbearable to hide their wolf status from the general public, and they end up in a remote old-style Japanese farmhouse. Then the children grow up.

Although nominally the film is about the wolf children, it very much focuses on the mother. We see how the children’s characters diverge over the course of the movie, but we are made to care about the mother more than them, through the way she reacts to all the changes going on around her, and we see her strengthening her own character as time goes by.

The scenery is fantastic, and it makes me almost want to go and live in the country, but for the fact that I’d have no job and wouldn’t be able to afford it. The children’s characters are very simplistic; the girl is the precocious, excitable one, and the boy is the quiet, timid one, and this sort of changes throughout the movie – because the girl is more influenced by her peers and enjoys social interaction, she becomes beaten down by peer pressure, while the boy becomes more independent and flighty (can you guess which one will stay a wolf and which will stay a human?). To some extent they reminded me of my own siblings (my sister and I are somewhat like the girl while the boy is very much like my brother), and it was that kind of personal connection that made me like the movie.

I don’t know when or if it’s going to come out in the west, but if you’re looking for an alternative to Studio Ghibli, this film is a good example of something you could try.