Thursday, September 27, 2012


"Looper" reunites Rian Johnson, writer/director, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt who previously worked together on "Brick" (2005), which continues in the pseudo film noir style that Rian Johnson is known for with a sci-fi element.  "Looper" is a part of the resurgence of the sci-fi following films such as "the Adjustment Bureau", "Limitless", "Another Earth", and "Source Code".  These are films that challenge the audience to think about the possibilities and thrust the viewer into a scenario asking what would you do in the same situation. 

Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been.  "Looper" is set in the year 2042, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of several specialized assassins known as 'loopers' who are tasked with 'taking out the future's garbage'.  The targets are delivered from 30 years in the future to a waiting looper, who puts a bullet in their head, burns the body and collects their silver.  Loopers are well paid, but when the bosses decide it's time to 'close the loop' and they send back your own future self back for assassination, leaving you with only 30 years to live, they are given the golden pay day. 

Somewhere over the years 10% of humans had a mutation where they have the ability of telekinesis.  While some thought this would mean that there would be super heroes with special powers, in reality all it meant was a bunch of assholes could levitate a quarter.  Are you confused by the films concept yet? 

Joe's loop is set to be closed, but his older self (Bruce Willis) escapes.  Old Joe meets up with young Joe and explains the situation in the future involving the mysterious Rainmaker who is closing the loop on all Loopers.  In doing so, old Joe's wife is shot in 2072 and to gain vengeance seeks out to identify who the Rainmaker is in 2042.  As old Joe sets off to murder the child aged Rainmaker his map is torn and young Joe goes to protect the family of the possible target in turn looking to close his loop and move on with his life.  Young Joe meets Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon), which is where the film delivers the amazing twists and turns that separates it from any of the other sci-fi films. 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis both provide amazing acting performances.  However, the make-up for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to make him look like Bruce Willis is slightly distracting.  The most impressive performance probably comes from Pierce Gagnon who has an amazing ability to frighten an audience with his facial expressions. 

The film contains a balance of both intelligence and action, too much of either and the film risks failing, the is a perfect example of a science-fiction thriller movie.  The movies narrative is very original and leaves you not knowing what could happen next as both of the Joe's battle for different situations.  With most sci-fi films you need to check your disbelief at the door, but the world that Rian Johnson has created is very believable without being over the top with flying cars.  I hope to see the screenplay nominated for an award and recommend this film to all of my friends as a solid 4 Quack film.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Master

Writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson acknowledges that "The Master" was modeled after the late L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology.  Taking on such a controversial topic isn't easy as there are so many doubters, but this movie is about much more than spiritual belief.  Paul Thomas Anderson is a very talented filmmaker having also been the writer and director of "There Will Be Blood" (2007) and had received several other nominations. 

The story begins during the final days of World War II with Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) on the beach.  After the war, Freddie is left to his own self-destructive ways as he wanders aimlessly, recklessly from job to job.  He makes his own special type of moonshine, which he relies on to get him through the day as he cannot take his life straight.  The opening sequence features Joaquin Phoenix almost exclusively as a backdrop to the mind of a emotionally struggling individual.  In a way this could also be a way of explaining his absence from the big screen over the last four years where he said he was retiring.  Luckily, much like his character fate has brought him to the film where he has a chance encounter with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as a stow away aboard a private cruise boat.

As the story develops, the methods and applications of Lancaster Dodd are demonstrated on Freddie, who has become his protégé and guinea pig.  Dodd's movement asserts that we are a part of a billion years of life connected over time and through a force different from God but no less powerful.  It is that spiritual and emotional human void that is so easily exploited by this movement.  Is there a basis for the methods and applications used by Lancaster Dodd, or is he making it up as he goes along as his son (Jesse Plemons) implies?  Through the eyes of Freddie it isn't clear who is actually drunk.  Is it the spiritually weak Freddie who is dependent on alcohol, or is it Lancaster Dodd who is drunk with power.  With the use of alcohol there are several instances where you wonder if what you are watching is what is actually happening or just what is a part of a day dream from Freddie.  There is a connection between the two that bonds the two men together, and helps Freddie cope with his past failures.  Whether it is a true method that can be applied to all is unclear as even Lancaster Dodd changes the message to his followers. 

The performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are equally stunning.  However, not to be outdone is Amy Adams who powerfully stands along the side of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the wife to the Master.  There are also some smaller roles that are worth noting including Madisen Beaty (Doris), a 16 year old that Freddie starts a relationship with before going off to war; and Ambyr Childers (Elizabeth), as the the daughter of Lancaster Dodd who is supportive of the methods along with her husband Clark portrayed by Rami Malek.

The use of imagery by Paul Thomas Anderson is strong throughout the film.  Images of the sea and the wake of a ship churning the deep blue water show that Paul Thomas Anderson is thinking more about the articstic qualities of the film and less the story being told.  It is beautiful to look at, much like Terrance Milick's "The Tree of Life", but requires further analysis to understand the true meaning.  Is it that the powers of technology are greater than the spiritual nature of the Earth?  In taking an artistic approach to filmmaking, Paul Thomas Anderson used 70mm film to capture the vast imagery, which is truly beautiful to look at.

This is a film about the extraordinary complexities of human character and relationships.   While the story suffers from its grand approach to a controversial topic the performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are among the best for the year and are each deserving of a Best Actor nomination.  It is very clear that Joaquin Phoenix is "still here" and Phillip Seymour Hoffman never left.  While this film will not be for everyone, taking a step back from pre-conceived notions of religion and enjoying the performances will help get you past a run time that exceeds two hours.  I happily award 4 Quacks to "the Master" for its amazing performances.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

End of Watch

"Once upon a time in South Central" is not how you would expect any film that is to be taken seriously to begin.  But then again most police buddy films are not like "End of Watch".  The film is written and directed by David Ayer, who also wrote "Training Day" (2001) and "the Fast and the Furious" (2001).  David Ayer writes about what he knows best, which are the streets of Los Angeles where he grew up; and delivers witty and realistic dialogue that ignores the cliches of other police films.  David Ayer has said that most of the situations shown in the film were ones encountered by his friend, Jaime FitzSimons (technical adviser and  acts as the police captain), during his service with the LAPD.

The story takes place during the summer of 2011 when Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), an ex-marine, and his partner Officer Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) have recently been cleared of a shooting.  They have become the hotshots in the station with an ego that accompanies it.  Taylor is taking a film class and is filming the day-to-day activities of being an officer with the LAPD, which provides the lense that a lot of the film is seen through.  This hands-on approach to filming along with the dashboard cameras that are attached to the police cruisers gives the film a gritty and realistic feel that immediately separates it from other police films.  This is a story of police work in an often difficult neighborhood: their duties (the life blood of police work is the paper work), their dangers, and sometimes the drudgery of what they must do which is why "policing is all about comfortable footwear".

As the story develops Officer Taylor and Zavala confiscate two of the major food groups, money and guns (including Liberace's AK-47 and other blinged out guns) from a member of a cartel during a routine traffic stop.  At first the connection between the routine traffic stop and other activity that Taylor and Zavala discover isn't clear.  However, what is clear is that these two are some of LAPD's finest as they receive the Medal of Valour for saving the lives of children in a house fire.  David Ayer almost goes out of his way to establish the quality of these two officers as compared to the other films about the LAPD that generally portray the police as being corrupt.  Much of the films intensity comes from the very real influence of the Mexican drug cartels in southern California and how Officer Taylor and Zavala stumble upon the critical inner workings.   

The chemistry between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña is unquestionable as the brotherhood of the police force supports the family emotions centered in the film.  The dialogue between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña provides a lot more comedy to the film than anticipated, which helps soften the heaviness of the situation that the film deals with.  Their differences and their mutual put-downs can't quite hide the level of trust and family that is the police force.  The friendship that emerges in the two officers is only supported by their girlfriend/wives, who contribute to the realism of their life outside the police cruiser.  Janet (Anna Kendrick) comes across as someone Officer Taylor could really fall in love with, just as the sassy side of Gabby (Natalie Martinez) complements the fun side of Officer Zavala. 

One scene that will probably get some people talking is the funny wedding dance between Anna Kendrick and Jake Gyllenhaal.  I am sure that someone will be copying this for their own wedding and posting it on youtube.  Salt-n-Pepa's "Push It" is an 80s classic that will never go out of style.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña give the best performances of their careers and I could even see both of them deserving of a nomination (not sure who would be the lead though).  In addition to the acting, the script is tightly written and the hand-held camera work is creative without being nauseating.  The overall intent of the film is made clear towards the end of the credits where recognition of all those who serve in law enforcement is given.  This is the best police film I have seen in a while and is a 5 Quack film. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Across the Universe

Writing a review during a tornado warning might not be the best idea, but here goes nothing. 

Across the Universe is another of the current trend towards the Jukebox Musical of adapting a musical play or film from the existing catalog of a musical artist, when the songs might not have anything to do with each other, or the topic of the story.  There is nothing wrong with this approach to telling a story, however it does lend itself better to the stage as compared to the big screen.  Mamma Mia! adapted from ABBA, Movin' Out adapted from Billy Joel, and Rock of Ages are just a few examples.

Across The Universe is a love story between Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Jude (Jim Sturgess) set in the 1960s amid the turbulent years of anti-war protest, the struggle for free speech and civil rights, mind exploration and rock and roll. The story moves from high schools and universities in Massachusetts, Princeton and Ohio to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Detroit riots, the dockyards of Liverpool and Vietnam where Lucy's brother Max (Joe Anderson) has been selected in the lottery .  With a combination of live action and animation, the film is paired with many songs by The Beatles that defined the time. 

Everything about the film screams that it would be better served on the stage.  Even the dancing sequences and set transitions were clearly what you would expect to see in a stage performance and comes across as disjointed from the visual of the film.  Having memories of "the Yellow Submarine" cartoon as a child with my father, I was a big fan of the Big Blue Meanies with Eddie Izzard, however this again is an example of where the execution on the big screen fails by comparison.

The performances from the leads were nice, but nothing really stands out beyond their voices.  I did find it impressive to see them singing when you don't immediately think of the actors for their singing voice.  The most impressive performance for me comes from Martin Luther, the former member of the Roots band, who plays a guitarist that joins the band of Sadie (Dana Fuchs).  It isn't so much his acting, but how well he plays the guitar.  The most notable cameo appearances are made by Bono, Eddie Izzard, Joe Cocker, Salma Hayek.

While musicals certainly have a place in cinema as well as on Broadway, they are unfortunately not for everyone.  With a music catalog from the Beatles it is instantly receptive to the masses, however for me there was a lack of coherence in the story and overly literal interpretations of songs makes it difficult to praise the film as much as I wanted to. Ultimately it is a very good 3 Quack film to watch at home and sing along with.  I hope that some day the film does make its way to Broadway as I believe it would be even better received. 


Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon, what more could you want?  Together they deliver a drama centered on three people, a blue-collar American; a French journalist; and a London school boy.  Each have been touched by death in different ways.

George (Matt Damon) is a blue-collar American who has a special connection to the afterlife.  His brother (Jay Mohr) means to capitalize on the "gift".  However, George feels cursed by the "gift" and avoids physical contact with anyone.  He allows himself to let his guard down by joining a cooking school where he meets Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) who breaks through his silence.  There is a mutual attraction and soon find themselves in George’s home where, by accident or by fate, she learns about his "gift".  She pleads for a reading which George reluctantly provides only to reveal the truth.  It’s hard to tell who’s more horrified by the revelation, but it isn't shocking that they never see each other again.  The chemistry between Bryce Dallas Howard and Matt Damon seemed desperate and uncomfortable to watch and doesn't really contribute to the decisions made by George as much him losing his job.

On the other side of the world, Marie (Cécile De France), a French journalist, has a near-death experience during a tsunami that shakes her reality. She experiences a feeling of weigthlessness, with no sense of real time or motion, but all knowing and sensing.  She begins to question "what happens when you die?" where she turns to the Internet to help find an answer leading Science while she is battled against Atheism from her boyfriend (Thierry Neuvic).  She begins researching her experience from a scientific understanding and is confronted by opposition from her publisher for taking on what is believed to be an irrational topic due to the strong and varying religious beliefs.

The most compelling and emotional story comes from a London schoolboy, Marcus (Frankie/George McLaren), who loses the person closest to him, his twin brother Jason.  Desperately searching for answers, Marcus finds himself at the Center for Psychic Advancement and other frauds that give false hope to those desperate for closure.  Without his brother and an unreliable mother (Lyndsey Marshal), Marcus is forced into foster care.  Marcus wears the hat that belonged to his brother as an homage to his brother, the sole reminder and keepsake.

With George's appreciation for Charles Dickens comes some memorable lines that provide even more substance to the film.
I left all who were dear to me, and went away; and believed that I had borne it, and it ... it became a hopeless consciousness of all that I had lost - love, friendship, ... a ruined blank and waste, lying wide around me, unbroken, to the dark horizon.
The symbolism of Charles Dickens and his connection to the story is best depicted by the painting "Dickens' Dream" as seen during George's visit to the historical London home of Charles Dickens.  On hearing of Dickens' death in June 1870, Buss was moved to attempt a large watercolor, 'Dickens's Dream', which portrayed the dozing author seated in his Gad's Hill Place study surrounded by many of the characters he had created.  This imagery is similar to how George's "gift" appears to work for him. 

Following the cinematic formula you are waiting until the moment when each of the characters search for the truth finally intersect.  I wanted to like the film more, but the story being broken into three pieces took value away from each other rather than complimenting it.  The individual performances were all good, with the exception of Jay Mohr who seemed to be out of his element (comedy).  The visual aspects of the film are stunning and the attention to detail is something we have come to expect from Clint Eastwood.  Having missed this in the theaters in 2010, I doubt my opinion would have been any different.  This is a quality 3 Quack film that has recently been playing on HBO, and if you are looking for something to watch do not hesitate.

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