Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Looper review

Looper (15/R, 118 mins)
Director: Rian Johnson
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Much like Duncan Jones, Rian Johnson has been a director to watch over the last few years. His debut Brick was an ice-cold neo-noir of startling confidence, which he followed with the enjoyably quirky The Brothers Bloom.

For his third film, the daring, inventive Looper, he’s chosen the path of smart, challenging sci-fi, and created something that skirts with greatness before coming up just short.

A Looper is a specialist assassin, working here in the year 2044, when time travel has not yet been invented, but 30 years down the line it will have been. It’s outlawed though, and so only used by criminal organisations who send people they want rid of back in time to be executed.

The target is sent back from the future, where the waiting Looper despatches them, swiftly and mercilessly. They're well paid, on the understanding that one day they’ll have to close the loop and kill their future self. But at least you’ll know you’ve 30 good years left and plenty cash to sweeten the deal.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper, working for crime boss Abe (Jeff Daniels). When Joe’s future self is sent back in the shape of Bruce Willis, a moment’s hesitation allows him to escape, sending young Joe after old Joe, and Abe after both of them.

Meanwhile the Rainmaker, the villain of the future, is determined to wipe out all Loopers. The rest of the story is best discovered as you go, but there’s also the matter of Emily Blunt’s farmer and her young son that adds another layer of emotion and complication.

It’s not an action film, or not as much of one as the trailers might suggest. But that’s fine. This is a film of big ideas and profound questions, executed with verve and intelligence. It’s about people wanting to better their lives and about how far it’s permissible to go to achieve that, going deeper still with ruminations on memory and reality and love.

One smart idea follows another. Where something like In Time had the bones of a good concept but couldn’t follow through on it, this, like Source Code, is a film that puts emotional investment and character development ahead of spectacle. When the action does come, it’s bold and crisp, though for budgetary reasons nothing like as groundbreaking as The Matrix or Inception.

Like Minority Report, this is a world that’s futuristic without being too futuristic, and the design is pleasing without a big thing being made of it. Sure the buildings are taller and some vehicles fly, but people still live in ordinary houses and drive around in crummy cars.

Gordon-Levitt is immense. We’ve seen in the last few years that he can act, but here he also proves himself a movie star, with every bit of the charisma and presence of Willis. He’s even been made up to look like the younger version of Willis, all eyebrows, busted nose, and smirk.

Their scenes together crackle, especially the one in which they discuss their predicament, which neatly sidesteps the usual issues of paradoxes and self-fulfilling prophecies thrown up in time travel movies in a couple of killer lines. Similarly, the filling in of the details of how future Joe came to be in the situation he is gets presented as a montage that’s an exemplary piece of screenwriting.

There are a couple of issues holding it back from hitting an unstoppable home run however, particularly the familiarity of some of the plot points, while the pace does markedly slacken during the lengthy period spent on the farm.

It must be near impossible to make a time travel movie without in some way referencing the two great touchstones of the genre, Back to the Future and The Terminator, but it’s a shame that Looper has to so blatantly borrow a key element from Cameron.

Viewed more as homage than a steal though, Johnson can be given the benefit of the doubt on that one, because in every other regard he has created something really rather special.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Blu-ray Prizes to be won

This competition is now closed.

Terms and Conditions

Only one entry will be accepted per person.
Entrants must be UK residents and aged 18 or over.
The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Jaws Blu-ray review

  Jaws Blu-ray 
 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


“You yell shark, and we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”

The one that started it all is back, as the original summer blockbuster that had the crowds queuing round the block in 1975 arrives on Blu-ray for the first time. With a 25-foot great white shark terrorising the shores around a New England island community, the chief of police (Roy Scheider), a scientist (Richard Dreyfuss) and an egotistical hunter (Robert Shaw) venture out to the open water to destroy it. Young upstart Steven Spielberg, with only his second theatrical feature, presided over a production beset by problems, from a spiralling budget to a malfunctioning mechanical shark, and crafted a lasting masterclass of pacing, tension and characterisation, propelled by John Williams’ legendary score. The result is as close to perfect as movies get.

The beautiful restored transfer is sharp and clear, cleaned up without being scrubbed of its filmic look, and rich in detail. It’s backed up by a robust 7.1 surround track that fully envelops, particularly when the music starts to build.

Produced by fans (which isn’t as worrying as it might sound), The Shark is Still Working is a splendid 100 minutes of everything Jaws related, from its production problems to the revolutionary marketing that contributed to its phenomenal success, while filmmaking fans like Bryan Singer and M. Night Shyamalan discuss the impact it had on them. The highlight might be the candid footage of Spielberg at the moment he learns he didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for best director.

The Making of Jaws is a thorough two-hour doc from a few years ago that focuses on anecdotes and stories surrounding the filming, and gets plenty of involvement from Spielberg.

Jaws: The Restoration details the huge amount of work that went into the making of the Blu-ray, and there are also a handful of deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer.

Quite simply one of the most entertaining movies ever made, and looking fantastic on Blu-ray with hours of fascinating extras, this is one of the top releases of the year and a must-buy.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Dredd Review

Dredd (18, 95 mins)
Director: Pete Travis
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

As is often the case with futuristic thrillers, America is a wasteland, with 800 million people living in the walled off Mega-City One. Only the Judges, who are in fact judge, jury and executioner rolled into one neat package, keep any sense of order. The most feared of these would appear to be Dredd (Karl Urban, never unmasked), although any introduction or backstory is dispensed with, and we should just take it as read that he’s the baddest of the bad-asses. But they're losing control of the city, and on the same day Dredd takes on rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who happens to be psychic, a talent that comes in handy during their day, they find themselves trapped in a 200-floor tower block controlled by vicious gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). With the building locked down and Ma-Ma telling the residents she wants the Judges dead, the film takes on the mantle of The Raid from a few months ago, as Dredd and Anderson make their way up through the levels, eviscerating goons at every turn. Amid the slaughter, it’s smart enough to pause for a moment to consider the moralities and consequences of a system that endorses this savage avenger, this Dirty Harry in a Robocop mask, before barrelling ahead anyway with the massacre. As an action blast it ticks most boxes; justice is swift, merciless and bloody, and the impact of this is often troublingly satisfying. It looks absolutely glorious, and Ma-Ma has unleashed a new drug called Slo-mo, the effects of which give rise to a few visually stunning, super stylised slow motion sequences, as blood and bits fly everywhere. But it’s single-minded to a degree that can occasionally become repetitive and tedious, and though there’s enough style and zip to banish memories of the widely derided Stallone version from 1995, it’s just a shame The Raid has already set the bar so high for this sort of thing.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Blu-ray Prizes to be won

This competition is now closed.

Terms and Conditions

Only one entry will be accepted per person.
Entrants must be UK residents and aged 18 or over.
The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.