The Top Films of 2012 (Take 2)

Here after the beginning of a new year it’s customary to take a look back at the year that was. Since this is a site about everything film, I suppose it would be fitting to have a retrospect regarding the best movies I saw as opposed to a ranking of all the different brands of peanut butter I ate in 2012 (youtube video forthcoming). Since I ceased working in a theater, my viewing of new movies has decreased as the price of admission has gone from free to wtf. Therefore if you see a shocking omission from my list, then I probably just haven’t seen it yet or perhaps you just rank The Oogieloves a bit too highly. I know that everyone has been waiting for my Best of 1901 list (Edison dominates), but until I finish that, here is my Top 10 (or so) of 2012.

Honorable Mention:

The Raid:Redemption – A film nearly identical to Dredd in plot structure. Nearly all of it follows law enforcement trapped in a single high-rise building run by a druglord, only here we are in the present. High on action, low on plot, The Raid is for the adrenaline challenged. The action sequences and martial arts in this film will make your head spin. I haven’t been this impressed with an action film out of southeast Asia since Tony Jaa’s Tom Yum Goong. A tough cut from my Top 10, but I felt the need to mention it, it’s just that good.

10 – PARANORMAN

Paranorman is easily my choice for best animated film of 2012. This supernatural family film created by Laika, the same film studio that brought us the amazing film Coraline, makes the undead accessible in a fun way to the youngest audience possible. Perhaps just me being a dad seeing my daughter enjoy this film so much landed this on my list, or perhaps its the fact that I enjoyed it just as much as she did. Paranorman has a fantastic collection of voice talent relaying a fun, witty script. A story that pleases both kids and adults usually falls into Pixar’s bag of tricks, but they aren’t the only magicians on the stage.

9 – EXPENDABLES 2

A lot of people laughed at Stallone when he was talking about resurrecting his action movie career while he was pushing 60 by continuing the action movie franchises that made him a household name. After solid Rocky Balboa and Rambo sequels those people weren’t laughing anymore. Stallone proved that for the most part today’s younger action stars are pussified. The old, aging action stars now rule the box office (currently Bruce Willis now reigns with his newest Die Hard installment). Having a who’s who cast of legendary action stars in one film is an easy win. In Expendables 2, Stallone actually improves on the first movie by expanding the roles of Willis and Schwarzenegger (a major gripe from fans in the first movie) and getting an infinitely better villain in Jean-Claude Van Damme. Expendables 2 has a great combination of balls-out action, one-liners and laugh out loud moments. Easily one of the best action movies of the summer.

8 – LOOPER

Continuing with my old man action star theme is Bruce Willis and Joseph-Gordon Levitt starring in Rian Johnson’s sci-fi film, Looper. The film takes a new look at time travel with its real-time consequences. Gone are the days of Marty McFly slowly disappearing as his parents don’t hook up. If a character is injured in the past the scar instantly appears on their future counterpart. Looper’s innovation to time travel logic doesn’t end there. The future counterpart also has immediate memory of the injury. No time travel movie will ever be perfectly plausible or satisfy every physics nerd on the planet, so I give credit to Johnson for coming up with a new twist. For more on Looper check out my review here.

7 – MOONRISE KINGDOM

Wes Anderson has done it again. The man makes the most consistently entertaining films of any filmmaker working today. Anderson has the directing talent and writing ability to attract A-list actors into his quirky dramedies. Moonrise Kingdom is no exception, drawing Bruce Willis and Edward Norton (in a delightfully square performance) in the fold. Even more crucial to this coming-of-age film are the performances of the two young leads, Jared Gilman & Kara Hayward, both of whom are first time actors. It is almost unfathomable to think of these two young stars holding their own with legends like Bill Murray, but they steal the show. If you’re a fan of Anderson’s work, chances are you’ve already seen this. If not, then its time to hit your nearest Redbox.

6 – PROMETHEUS

This was the film I could not wait to see in 2012. Fanboys can cream all over The Avengers all they want, for my money I’ll take Ridley Scott returning to the genre he re-invented over 30 years ago. The Alien universe had been in a relative slump having to most recently duke it out with the Predators franchise. The visual design and attention to detail in Prometheus is remarkable. Prometheus being most likely the first part of an origin story for the xenomorph species, left viewers scratching their heads with more questions than answers. If nothing else Prometheus sparked more debate than any other summer blockbuster in recent memory. To be honest, this film would probably not have made my list if not for re-watching it on blu-ray. I was drawn in all over again. With rumors of linking this series with Blade Runner, it seems that the buzz from Sir Ridley’s work has only begun. More thoughts on Prometheus can be found in my review.

5 – CLOUD ATLAS

Regardless of what they call themselves, the Wachowski Brothers or Wachowski Starship, since The Matrix trilogy ended I was beginning to wonder if they would ever resurface. I just pretend that Speed Racer didn’t happen. Cloud Atlas is as ambitious a project as any in film history with an intertwining plot spanning thousands of years. A feat that was first attempted in 1916 by pioneering filmmaker D.W. Griffith with his epic film Intolerance, and more recently and successfully by Darren Aronofsky with his masterpiece, The Fountain. Cruelly, Cloud Atlas continues the trend of these epic stories falling flat in theaters. With a reported budget of 100 million funded almost entirely by private parties, Cloud Atlas has no chance of making a profit. But this film was an experience, and I am very glad I saw it on the big screen. In my opinion, The Wachowskis come as close as anyone has to achieving a dream-like logic akin to David Lynch while still holding loosely to a three act structure. A film that attempts to portray something bigger than it’s human creators and succeeds deserves recognition. The fact that this film was nearly unrecognized by most major award committees for its score and make-up effects is a travesty.

4 – LIFE OF PI

Life Of Pi was considered to be unfilmable due to the main character’s (Pi) close interaction with a Bengal Tiger (Richard Parker) on a small life boat. The magic of visual effects has the ability to make the impossible possible. Special effects are getting so good I couldn’t even tell the real tiger from the CG one most of the time. The movie is not all about special effects, though there is no shortage in an nail biting shipwreck sequence. Life Of Pi is about storytelling at is core and how each person interprets a story changes its meaning. Even though we are told a story from another person’s point of view, we still project ourselves into it. It is this self projection that determines if we believe the tale or dismiss it as fantasy. This film glides over the line between fantasy and reality better than any I’ve ever seen. Ang Lee deftly handles the complex story, showing us just enough to make our own decisions. I see another Oscar for directing in Lee’s future.

3 – DJANGO UNCHAINED

Well what can I say, 2012 is the year of directors. Tarantino finally gets around to a genre I’m sure he’s been wanting to get to for a long time, the western. His not so subtle stylistic nods to the genre are apparent in nearly all of his films. Westerns are few and far between in theaters nowadays, but if they are all of this quality then I can handle only getting one a year. Tarantino brings his undeniable cinematic style and tweaked humor to a revenge story centered on a bounty hunter (Christophe Waltz) and a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) that he acquires in order to collect a sizable reward. Easily the best onscreen duo for Tarantino since Vincent & Jules. Leonardo DiCaprio steals every scene he’s in as a Calvin Candie, a flamboyant, southern gentleman who happens to own a plantation and Django’s wife (Kerry Washington). Oh, and Sam Jackson is a funny motherfucker. Tarantino throws a lot of racism onscreen, which judging by the media’s reaction to his “overuse” of the N-word they apparently forgot that this film was set around the Civil War-era. Still more outrage over slave “action figures” for the film. Lighten up, people. It’s a movie, and a damn good one at that.

2 – CABIN IN THE WOODS

And the Oscar for Best Bong Prop in a movie goes to…..Cabin In The Woods!! I watch more horror films than anything else it seems. So if one has climbed this far above all the others it’s something special. Cabin In The Woods is unlike every other horror film that’s being churned out into theaters. Cabin takes every cliché in the big book of horror movies and wraps it up into a smirking film that’s smarter than I ever expected. The “horror film” part of CITW with teenagers on a vacation in an isolated cabin essentially takes place in a bubble, while the “corporate” section of the film takes place in an office building of sorts. Mission control, as it were, attempts to contain the action of the horror film. Unfortunately for everyone at mission control, and unbeknownst to them, they are still in the horror movie we, the audience, are watching. It’s only a matter of time before the death and mayhem reaches everyone in the film. CITW doesn’t hold back on any level and is easily the most fun I had watching a movie last year.

1 – THE GREY

Liam Neeson gives the best performance of his career in The Grey. The range of emotion shown throughout the course of this movie by Neeson is astounding. Whoever decided to dump this movie in January is a moron. Sure it’s weather appropriate but that’s about it. Poor marketing and advertising left this buried under the 2011’s Oscar nominated films. The Grey is an emotionally exhausting film. It actually took a toll on me watching it. It is one of the most incredibly tense films I’ve seen in recent memory. Director Joe Carnahan puts the audience in the snow covered boots of seven survivors of a plane crash in Alaska. A harrowing ordeal in itself, but they are being stalked by a pack of wolves who begin picking them off one by one. One of the great things about The Grey is its portrayal of fear. There are many scenes where the men have campfire going and the wolves begin surround them. The wolves stay at the edge of the darkness with only their eyes being visible, still wary of man despite being the hunter. The men stay by the light of the fire, never daring to venture out to fight an unseen danger. The barrier of darkness between the two packs is fear, and it works both ways. The one who survives is the one who conquers the fear that surrounds them. The Grey was an unforgettable film for me. I am a fan of Carnahan’s work but I think the emotion that Liam Neeson brought to this film put it far beyond my expectations and the result is a film about survival unlike any other.

-Wes Kelly

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

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Evil seems like a simple enough thing to describe. It is the opposite of good. In a world of black and white, the hero is good and the villain is evil. Unfortunately for us, the world is not black and white. It is not always that easy to tell good from evil. People are not always upfront with who they are or what their intentions may be and this may rest entirely on their trust level with you or society in general. Parents see more into the heart of their child than anyone else, yet they may be the most blind to the truth that lies within. The horrible school shooting in Sandy Hook, CT is the most appalling of the many recent mass shootings in this country. People who were functioning members of society committing savage acts of slaughter and violence. Now, I’m not saying that this guy who shot up a bunch of Kindergarteners led a perfectly normal life and did nothing wrong before he walked into that school, but my point is nobody ever thought he would do anything like that. Especially his mother and father, right? Maybe.

Any parent who has a special child will have some battle stories to share about the struggles of raising someone who seems indifferent to the pain they cause, whether the child realizes it or not. I use special in a way meaning just that, special, not handicapped. The child may seem perfectly normal to one parent, yet impossible to handle by the other. As the child grows, he may exhibit extremely troubling personality traits that will no doubt have a logical explanation. Kids have ways of attempting to manipulate their parents to get them to do what they want, and it usually starts very early in life. A child drops a stuffed animal. The child cries. The parent picks up the animal and hands it back to the child. The learning has begun. Some children are better at it than others, honing this skill through adolescence and their teenage years. With all the programs now in place to protect children from any kind of mental or physical harm, if the child becomes aware of how to start manipulating their parents in society’s rules then there is very little chance for the parents as they become locked in a situation of raising a potential psychopath. Put another person in the parents’ situation and give them the same information and it’s more likely that the child will receive the help they need, but I truly believe a parent will love their child no matter how they act or what they do. A parent will do anything to see their child happy when everyday seems to be filled with anger and pain. A parent will continue to try for their child if there is the slightest chance of helping them. This leads them past the point of what a normal person would tolerate. Everyone has a breaking point and unfortunately sometimes its not until after tragic events take place.

We hear these descriptions of mass murderers all the time. He kept to himself a lot. He never talked very much in school. As a child he hurt small animals. During sex he enjoys strangling or choking his lover. He had an obsession with knives/guns/fill in the blank weapon. He was extremely personable and charismatic. He was abused as a child. The truth of it is I probably just described half of the world with at least one of those sentences. Evil is all around us, its everywhere. Its in our schools, our neighborhoods, our shopping malls, our offices, our tv shows, our movies. Evil is in more places now than ever before for the simple reason that there are more people now than ever before. The key to fighting this evil is not to make laws that would intend to inhibit it, but to actually not fight it at all and accept this as part of the world that we live in. Having an expectation that pure evil can be stopped by a law is akin to expecting to govern someone’s dreams through bureaucracy. If we succeed in eradicating all evil from the earth then we will have also succeeded in the extermination of the humanity. I’d like to think that there’s a lot of good in humanity and if evil must exist so that we are able to have that, then that’s fine with me.

-Wes Kelly

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable horror movie veteran, but if there is a chink in that armor it is the Elm Street series of films. I devour mainstream, foreign & indy horror alike, but I’ve never seen any of the first six Freddy movies. When it was suggested that we do a Nightmare week here I decided it was a good chance to watch them all in succession, a task which I am still in the middle of completing. Ignorant of any quality regarding the sequels, I went with A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Master. After watching the first three films, the third being my favorite of the lot up to this point, I was hopeful that the fourth installment would continue what the third film achieved in regards to imaginative deaths, makeup effects and set pieces. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I was in deep shit without a shovel in sight.

Dream Master starts very promising and disappointing at the same time. For the first time in the series, we get a straight forward continuation of the story from where Part 3 ended. Sadly, Patricia Arquette is nowhere to be seen, yet her character, Kristen Parker, is now portrayed by Tuesday Knight (I can hear her parents snickering to this day). Arquette was pregnant when the film was scheduled to shoot and from how things turned out, it looks like they should have waited for her. Knight is a huge step down in talent, but she gets by on her looks more than her acting here. Knight is joined by a couple of returning warriors from Part 3 Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) & Joey (Rodney Eastman). Kristen is convinced that Freddy is still out there waiting for her in her dreams and tries to convince Kincaid & Joey that he isn’t gone. Well this wouldn’t be much of a movie if Freddy wasn’t in it, so obviously he gonna show up sooner or later (scope the horror movie knowledge there). When he does, he’s back at it trying to collect the souls that he missed out on before. Eventually the torch is passed to Alice (Lisa Wilcox) to stop Freddy when Kristen imbues Alice with her gift of being able to draw people into her dream. Alice’s brother and self-taught karate expert (seriously), Rick (Andras Jones) does his best to help defeat Freddy with his sick martial arts skills in an epic Rick vs. nobody fight (because Freddy’s invisible). This looked retarded when I watched it, and it sounds even worse when I’m writing this.

The remainder of the film is quite possibly the most commercial heavy piece of horror schlock I’ve ever seen in my life. Wes Craven had almost nothing to do with this film, and it showed. Directing duties fell on up and coming filmmaker Renny Harlin. Harlin has made a few solid action films (Die Hard 2 & Cliffhanger), but most of his work seems to fall into the steaming cinematic turd category. In Dream Master we are subjected to a sellout to end all sellouts. Now don’t get me twisted, I love a good one-liner. Some of my favorite actors are known for them, but when your entire speaking performance in a film is one-liners they better be fucking great. Me personally, I don’t think that Freddy using AT&T’s slogan at the time “reach out and touch someone” was fucking great. I think it was fucking lazy. It felt like this entire production was streamlined by the film studio and corporations out to make a quick buck on the immensely popular horror franchise. Pepsi, I’m looking at you. By the end of the film I really thought Freddy was going to sit down, drink a Pepsi, look at the camera and say “AHHHHH, Pepsi! The choice of a new generation. Bitch!” All of this made Freddy Krueger, one of  Hollywood’s ultimate boogeymen, into a cornball. I know that it’s all about making money at the end of the day, but compromising this much creative integrity to increase your bottom line sickens me. Giving Freddy a twisted sense of humor is perfect given his grotesque nature, but infusing it with pop culture was a huge mistake. I’d like to think of Freddy Krueger as the monster who would slice off his own fingers just to freak you out, not featured in a rap song by The Fat Boys in the end credits. Shark, consider yourself jumped.

 

-Wes

V/H/S (2012)

I will move on to other sections of the horror genre, yet here I am with yet another anthology. This time I’m going a bit more current. Some of you may have heard some buzz about this one. It just hit a very select 15 theaters on Friday and its called V/H/S. It’s received some high praise from critics, which is very unusual for a “found footage” film. It has been available On-Demand since the beginning of September, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Needless to say I was skeptical, what with the recent market flood of horror films shot by any Joe Schmo with an HD camera. A quick glance at the Netflix streaming horror section will turn your stomach, in a bad way. This sub-genre of horror has blown up worldwide in the past 5 years. A big reason why is money. The budget of these kinds of films are microscopic when compared to a summer blockbuster. Take Paranormal Activity for example. That film had an estimated budget of $15,000, yet went on to gross nearly $200 MILLION worldwide. That’s an astronomical return on investment that any film studio will take to the bank. While this is an extreme case, even a modest hit in theaters is worth the studio’s effort to promote. Let me assure you that V/H/S is not just a part of the market flood. This film stands out from the other imitators and will actually scare you, or at least give you a good case of the heeby-jeebies.

We open on a group of guys riding around in a car. Just on patrol looking for innocent girls to run up to, grab, flip their shirts up for the camera and sell the tape. It’s some sort of black market deal they’ve been doing for a while. One of their friends says that they can make 20 times that in one night of work. All they have to do is find and steal one particular tape out of this house. Sounds easy, and really shady but they all go along with it anyway. During their search of the house they come across a body of an old man in a recliner in front of a wall of TVs and VCRs, the floor scattered with unmarked VHS tapes. The searching of the tapes makes up the rest of the film as we the viewers see the same thing the thieves are watching. The “editing” of this section of the film is unique since the entire time we are on the main story, we are essentially watching a VHS tape. Piecing together scenes from where people recorded over the tape’s prior video seems disjointed and sloppy, but I think it only adds to the found footage feel of the film. It’s too bad VHS is virtually an obsolete platform, otherwise you could have some fun making copies of this film to blank tapes and handing them out.

Each of the short films has a gimmick of some kind. Contrary to what I expected, not all of this is originally filmed on VHS but for the sake of the main plot, all of the video was transferred to VHS format. The first segment “Amateur Night”,which was filmed entirely with hidden camera glasses. “Second Honeymoon”, by up and coming horror director Ti West, as well as “Tuesday The 17th” were both shot in POV on standard HD hand held cameras. “The Strange Thing That Happened To Emily” is entirely Skype video chat. Finally “10/31/98” is filmed with a camera hidden inside a Halloween costume. With different directors on each of these segments, the film stays fresh. This is where an anthology format helps tremendously. Stretching these POV plots out to 90+ minutes can be a huge mistake, and taking any of these individual stories that far would have surely ruined them.

In “Amateur Night” three guys who get a pair of glasses with a hidden video camera in the bridge decide to have some fun and try to pick up some girls and film them having sex. This part has some real humor in it as these clowns get more and more drunk as the night goes on. When they end up in a hotel room with two girls, things get crazy when one of the girls turns out to be a bit aggressive. The glasses-cam is a pretty sweet idea, but if you got motion sickness during Cloverfield then prepare yourself.

I knew of Ti West, but I’ve never seen anything he’s done up until now. He’s probably best known for the 80’s throwback film House Of The Devil. In “Second Honeymoon” we follow a couple taking a trip through the southwest to the Grand Canyon. While staying at a hotel they are confronted by a mysterious young girl looking for a ride. The couple is a bit unnerved by this, but they go on with their vacation. Unknown to them, however, is that they are having a visitor in their hotel room every night. There’s some good tension here and the POV is very intimate and well done. Some of it reminds me of the POV sections of Kathryn Bigelow’s cruelly underrated film, Strange Days.

“Tuesday The 17th” seems the weak link in the chain for me. Horror cliches abound with 4 kids going up to a lake where some murders supposedly took place years ago. The interesting bit about this section is that the killer, for some unexplained reason, cannot be seen through a camera. This does leave a lot of room for some slight of hand special effects fun and this section works on a slasher film level. By far this is the goriest part of the film, and some people may need to turn away.

“The Strange Thing That Happened To Emily” takes Skype chat to another level. The entire short film is composed of different conversations around a young woman who’s med student boyfriend is out of town. She’s just moved into a new apartment and she thinks it’s haunted. This short has the most in common with films like Paranormal Activity, both in scare style and in content. There is a nice twist in this one and it turns out to be one of the better segments of the film after a really slow start.

“10/31/98” directed by the virtually known, yet commercially unknown directing collective known as Radio Silence, is far and away my favorite segment of the film. Four guys (the camera being hidden inside one guy’s bear costume) get an invite on Halloween to a haunted house party. So in full costume they show up at this well lit house, but nobody seems to be home. They go in and start checking the place out, running into your standard flickering lights and strange noises. It’s all fun and games until they run into something they weren’t supposed to see. The mad dash through the haunted house is a ton of fun to watch, cramming so many “what the fuck!” moments into the last five minutes.

V/H/S’s buzz is well earned. I can only imagine how fun this would be in a theater full of people, but it plays well at home with all the lights out as well. My girl, who was brave and watched this with me, was creeped out for days afterward. If you’re sick of the Paranormal Activity films (the fourth installment hits theaters in a week or so), then you could do a lot worse than V/H/S. I hope they expand the theatrical run to the major markets by Halloween, because I’d love to see this in theaters.

-Wes Kelly

Dead of Night (1945)

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Anthology films usually disappoint. This offering comes mostly from England circa 1945. Dead Of Night, from what I can tell, is the first horror film anthology. Short films were not usually innovative at this point in cinema history, but tying them all together through a main, revisited storyline was. In an era dominated by creature features involving vampires, werewolves and other supernatural monsters, Dead Of Night stands out as a cinematic achievement in storytelling. It plays more like a series of really creepy campfire stories than a standard three act plot.

The main story begins with architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) visiting an old house on business when he realizes that everyone in the house has been a part of a reoccurring nightmare for him. Trying to rid his worries that his dream has come to life, the occupants of the house begin telling their own stories of coincidence and odd occurrences. A race car driver who has a near death experience receives a premonition of impending death. A young girl playing games at a Christmas party in a old mansion has a run-in with an unknown child. A woman gets her husband an antique mirror that lets him see a bit more than his reflection. Two golfing friends vying for the affections of a woman end their quarrel with haunting results. A ventriloquist reaches his breaking point when he suspects another man of trying to undermine his act. Four directors (Alberto Cavalcante, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden & Robert Hamer) handle these 5 stories and the linking narrative in an amazing collaborative effort that I’ve not seen equaled in a horror film.

While taken on their own, these stories are not terribly impressive. The stories and ideas are well conceived and the acting is very good, though the obvious standout is the ventriloquist story directed by Alberto Cavalcante. I’ve never heard of Cavalcante (who is billed by last name only) before this, but his work will be well remembered here. Michael Redgrave gives a great, though all too brief performance as Max Frere a ventriloquist who appears to be losing control of his dummy, Hugo.

While this is easily the creepiest part of the film, the crowning achievement of Dead Of Night is the linking narrative story. The final sequence when Craig’s nightmare begins to take form, which connects the entire film, is so masterfully put together that I had to go back and watch it again, which I rarely do right after a film ends. Every element of all six stories are tied up in the ending, which is so incredibly satisfying to watch. As I said before, most anthology films disappoint. The problem lies primarily in linking the stories together in a coherent narrative. If this is done poorly or isn’t done at all, then any weak section of the film can ruin it for the viewer leaving us feeling let down. Dead Of Night has some sections that are weaker than others, but it doesn’t even matter when the storytelling is of this caliber. You may have never heard of this British gem, but if you love horror films it should be on your must see list.

-Wes Kelly

Looper (2012)

I’ve been a fan of Rian Johnson’s work since I first was blown away by his slick, modern day high school film noir, Brick. Johnson reunites with his star from Brick, and Hollywood’s It-guy for the moment, Joseph Gordon-Levitt with his new film Looper. With the critical success of Brick and some memorable guest directing spots on Breaking Bad (the best show on TV, FYI), Looper has catapulted him into the appeal of the masses, and rightfully so. It’s being billed in ads as an action movie, but do not go into this expecting Expendables 2 style “blast the ever-loving shit out of anything that moves” action. Looper is a very intelligent film dealing with complex concepts. It’s not all about blowing shit up, though that does happen a lot.

I could spend a really long time discussing the time travel aspect of the story, but I would be doing two things if I went into insane detail. First, I’d ruin a great deal of the plot for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Second, I would talk myself into circles. This is the kind of film you have to treat like a wave. Instead of fighting the current trying to get to the top of it, just relax and let it wash over you. You’ll absorb more of it’s impact and more than likely that you’ll get the ride you’re looking for. There is a phenomenon that seems to happen almost every time a time travel film is released. People spend a lot of time picking through movies like this with a fine-tooth comb trying to find a mistake or plot hole. Because obviously the details and ramifications of time travel are perfectly clear to all film critics (professional or amateur) and IMDB trolls, yet elude the smartest scientists on the planet. But fear not, faithful reader or random guy in Hoboken who clicked on this link by accident! I shall not ruin this great film for you by pecking it to death, but here’s a taste of the plot for convention’s sake:

The attention to detail regarding the effects of characters jumping back in time is staggering. In other time travel films, the ability to travel into the past or future is usually a secret known only to the character(s) involved in the act. In Looper, both present AND future versions of the same character are aware of time travel in addition to nearly every other character in the film. This exponentially multiplies the difficulty in crafting a story as tight as this. For example, the scene in the trailer above where Gordon-Levitt and Willis are in the diner. Levitt uses the fact that any change in mindset or physical act by him changes Willis’ existence instantly, including his scars, memories, motivation and judgment. Johnson’s script challenges the audience, constantly asking us to rethink what we just saw, are watching presently, and what we think is about to happen in the film. When a movie engages me on this level, even if the payoff isn’t what I thought it would be or wanted to happen, it’s still going to end up a good film in my book.

Joseph Gordon Levitt dons some fairly subtle make-up that gives him the appearance of a young Bruce Willis. More impressive than this is Gordon-Levitt’s mimicking of Willis’ mannerisms and speech. While it was probably easier to do this with your source being on set with you, it’s incredible what Gordon-Levitt achieved. He nailed Willis’ accent as well as the odd sideways smirk that you see from Bruce does naturally. No doubt they had a lot of fun with this during filming. While the special effects are not jaw dropping, the look of Johnson’s future is realistic and a bit humorous. Kinda funny to see someone driving a rusted out Prius. The supporting cast is equally impressive featuring Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano, Emily Blunt, Piper Perabo & the surprisingly versatile Garret Dillahunt.

I’ll touch briefly on the use of telekinesis in the film (which 10% of all people have in the future, can’t wait). You can see snippits of it on the trailer and I’m sorry, but this shit is fucking cool. I mean, if I could float a coin three inches above my palm I’d do it all the time. Every time it popped up in the plot, it reminded me more and more of the epic anime film, Akira. That’s a huge stretch for a connection, I know, but that’s what went through my head as events unfolded.

If you are a fan of Rian Johnson, Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, all of the above, or just science fiction in general, then there is absolutely no way you can miss Looper.

-Wes Kelly

My Name Is Bruce (2007)

Bruce Campbell has achieved a level of cult stardom that few have ever reached. If you add in the film My Name Is Bruce to his resume, then he may be in a class by himself. Campbell directs himself portraying himself in this send up of his own B-Movie fame. In the fictional mining town of Gold Lick an ancient Chinese guardian spirit named Guan-Di has been awakened by, who else, but kids fucking around in a graveyard. The only kid to make it out, just happens to be a huge Bruce Campbell fan who decides to kidnap the actor, who happens to be filming a sci-fi movie nearby, and ask for his help in saving the town. Campbell thinks the whole thing is a gag set up by his agent and falls into his fast-talking, smart-arsing, womanizing, machismo persona. When he realizes that this spirit means business, Bruce must decide if he’s a true hero or just in it for the paycheck.

Obviously, for every fan of Bruce Campbell this is a no-brainer must see movie. But, honestly I’d have a hard time recommending this one anyone but Campbellites (I just made that up, does it work? Nah I didn’t think so, I’ll stop). This film relies heavily on inside jokes relating to Campbell’s career for most of its laughs, so if you haven’t done your homework you’re getting two things out of this movie. Jack and shit, and Jack left town. Many of Campbell’s past co-stars from the Evil Dead films make humorous cameos including Ted Raimi (who actually has three different stereotypical roles), Ellen Sandweiss, Tim Quill & Dan Hicks. Grace Thorsen plays the leading lady and love interest of Mr. Campbell. She fits the bill nicely, as does most of the supporting cast in the town of Gold Lick. It’s not all comedy though, this movie does earn it’s R rating with a slew of decapitations & dismemberments, as is tradition in a Campbell horror outing.

Bruce Campbell’s directing chops pale in comparison to his on-screen presence, so don’t expect him to turn into Clint Eastwood in a few years. Though, I’d actually love to have seen Bruce in the leading role of Gran Torino. If anything, just for the whole “Get off my damn lawn” scene with the shotgun. That kind of a dramatic lead role has never been Bruce’s style. If he’s the lead, it’s gonna be corny as hell, most likely. Though his more serious work has landed him bit parts that he has handled very nicely. The Coen brothers took a shine to him, giving him ample screen time in The Hudsucker Proxy, as well as cameos in Intolerable Cruelty & Ladykillers. He plays a matinee idol in the Jim Carrey drama The Majestic, though his part is merely in the films being show at the theater. Campbell seems to be a perfect fit in period films set in the 1930’s & 40’s. It’s a shame he’s not cast this way more often. Bruce is and probably always will be stuck in this kind of role and in this kind of film. But the way he embraces his fame it looks like that’s fine with him and it’s more than fine with me and his millions of fans. Keep ’em comin’, Bruce.

-Wes Kelly