Hollywood has a difficult relationship with science fiction. Whether they're translating classic sci-fi stories into brainless action movies or too caught up in the otherworldly details there's always something they can't seem to get right about the imaginative genre.
Looper defies the odds by fleshing out a unique future world while honing in on a specific story with real people at the center — a balance that defined works by greats like Bradbury Asimov and Dick. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper an assassin for the mob bosses of the future who use illegal time travel to send back their targets for disposal. It's an easy lucrative life — one that affords him a party lifestyle of fancy cars and drops (drugs taken through the eye) albeit with the added knowledge of a definite grisly end. Eventually the mob "closes the loop" on its employees finding the Looper in the future and sending them back to be offed by… themselves. When it's Joe's turn to end his own life he's outsmarted his future self (Bruce Willis) escaping Joe's grasp. Driven to fulfill his duties as a Looper Joe goes on the hunt to kill himself.
Director Rian Johnson's Kansas City of 2044 feels appropriately lived in and extended from present day. When Joe's not blasting people away shrouded by the stalks of a cornfield he's dining on steak and eggs at a local diner. It's only the casual presence of hovercycles mutant telekinetics and the occasional visitor from the future that would give away the action of Looper isn't happening today. The realism gives Joe and the metropolis around him a necessary grit — there is danger and violence and pain in this world and when Johnson rouses up an action sequence there's something on the line.
Looper's greatest flaw is that it steps away from the confrontation between Young and Old Joe sending the two in different directions as they pursue answers to the film's spoilerific MacGuffin. On a farm away from the city Young Joe crosses paths with single mother Sara (Emily Blunt) who may hold the key to what Old Joe needs to survive. After being introduced to an ensemble of delightfully wicked characters — including Looper coordinator Abe (Jeff Daniels) Young Joe's sleazy coworker Seth (Paul Dano) and hotshot marksman Kid Blue (Noah Sagan) — plus Young Joe's stripper with a heart of gold confidant Suzie (Piper Perabo) Looper takes a sharp left turn leaving most of the cast in the dust. The interesting sci-fi mosaic slows down and enters a new chapter and it's rarely as engrossing as the first half.
When Willis and Gordon-Levitt are at odds Looper is simply magic. Nathan Johnson's industrial score pounds away as the two fight to stay alive all while grappling with the implications that come with glimpsing into your own future. One riveting sequence follows the timeline that played out before Old Joe tinkered with the space-time continuum a roller coaster through the years after the events of the film that see Gordon-Levitt evolve into Willis. The montage is a playground for Johnson's visual style. He never misses a beat.
For sci-fi nuts Looper corrects the past with an understanding of what makes the genre more than just an array of tropes and iconography. There are shaded characters duking it out in Looper's chaotic web of time travel logic and while their arcs fizzle out without much pay off they're a joy to watch.
What do you think? Tell Matt Patches directly on Twitter @misterpatches and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes!
The story of Lust Caution begins in the midst of WWII in Asia as the Japanese have a stranglehold on key areas of China including Shanghai and Hong Kong. The iron-fisted Chinese who are collaborating with the invaders are led by Mr. Yee (Tony Leung) a cruel and ruthless man who delights in the torture and murder of his fellow countrymen who are fighting against the Japanese occupation. When a patriotic band of college students (made up of four men and two women all part of the drama school) decide to strike a blow for Chinese freedom by assassinating Mr. Yee it falls to Wang (the mesmerizingly beautiful Wei Tang) to infiltrate his home and heart to pave the way for the killing. But as her compatriots--including handsome Kuang played by American-born Chinese rock star Lee-Hom Wang who loves her from afar--bid their time waiting for the moment to strike Mr. Yee and Wang enter into a torrid affair that begins to consume them both. Think of the Hitchcock classic Suspicion shift from Europe to Asia add in intensely explicit sex scenes and a completely unexpected ending and you have Lust Caution--a film that is soon to be considered a classic as well. Veteran actors Tony Leung and Joan Chen lead a fine cast of actors who together create this completely believable glimpse into Chinese culture during the dark days of Japanese occupation. Both give intense performances--he as the powerful emotionless Mr. Yee and she as his vapid shopping and Mah Jong-obsessed wife. But the most amazing performance is that of newcomer Wei Tang the Miss Universe finalist who makes her film debut in Lust Caution. Her fantastic face slim body and almost ethereal presence seem to blot out everyone else when she is on the screen; you can’t help but look at only her. Her transformation in the four-year span of the story is masterful. As she goes from a naïve young student to a mature woman whose physical obsession with a man she despises begins to overwhelm her. The ingénue proves that she is much more than just a pretty face. In fact she deserves an Academy Award nomination for her often subtle always fearless performance that is at the heart of the film. Ang Lee has a unique cinematic ability to begin a story very specific to a time a place and a culture and end with a universal tale that resonates across all societies and peoples. He did it beautifully with Sense and Sensibility Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon as well as Brokeback Mountain and he’s done it again masterfully with Lust Caution. This newest film is an intense look at how war often causes an individual to make the ultimate sacrifice for the common good yet it also explores another underlying theme: the idea that there is a never-ending battle between the sexes for emotional dominance within a sexual relationship. Ang Lee’s deft hand is evident in every frame including the incredibly explicit (and often violent) sex scenes that have given the film its NC-17 rating. But this is not pornography; every scene is necessary to the story showing us that using sex as a means to an end (no matter how noble that end) is a very dangerous game to play especially during wartime. Look for Ang Lee’s name to come up on the Academy’s list again this year as awards season kicks into high gear. He deserves every honor for this emotionally disturbing masterpiece.
The Painted Veil is based on W. Somerset Maugham’s 1925 novel about British colonialism in China. The film's cohesion is largely helped by a user-friendly script from Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) who tackles amorphous movie-unfriendly themes like emotional longing. We meet Walter Fane (Edward Norton) a lovesick middle-class bacteriologist who spots Kitty (Naomi Watts) an upper-class socialite approaching the upper limits of marrying age at a party. Walter not smooth with women woos Kitty with his intensity and persuades her to join him in cholera-stricken China. With a wandering eye Kitty is soon caught in a lusty affair with a local British diplomat Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber) but Walter eventually forgives her but imprisons her in the desolate green south China countryside. The film's crucial problem is its setting of a Western-centric love story on top of a palette of Chinese human death and disease albeit framed beautifully and exotically. Norton and Watts take producers' credits as well. The actor pushed for years to get The Painted Veil made painstakingly and authentically co-produced with the China Film Board. These facts hint at the commitment and intelligence Oscar nominees Norton and Watts bring. Norton always impresses and surprises. Each role in his resume is tasty in its own way a wholly new creation and never derivative. In Norton's previous film The Illusionist he was a similarly powerful opaque character from a far away time and place. Although sometimes seeming she’s on autopilot Watts is also brilliantly underrated as the conflicted Kitty who doesn't love the man she married even though he loves her as much as she loves herself. Her tricky darting eyes mixed with uneasy body language tells us we don't know what to expect other than that she'll probably sabotage herself. Toby Jones--who played Truman Capote to critics' acclaim in Infamous--does a provocative turn as the mysterious opium-smoking neighbor. The Painted Veil falls short of greatness when the second half crumbles into laziness right when the emotional impact should be the strongest. Director John Curran is relatively untested ( We Don't Live Here Anymore) especially with difficult material and he stumbles a bit in this ambitious drama. Veil's storytelling meanders with a few unnecessary scenes. Lame mini-montages lapse into TV movie territory. Attention to detail however (minus Norton's highlighted hair) is superb. Four exquisite wisely picked Chinese locations were used in concert with local actors and crew to produce an internationally representative work of Chinese/American art. Interior sets are post-WWI prudish and upper-class underlying the movie's "painted " hidden ideas. Old-world rickshaws and water systems are true to the time. The haunting soundtrack feels postmodern and contemporary. But overall like last year's disappointing Memoirs of a Geisha the mish-mash of American and Asian story themes doesn't quite work.
Clint Eastwood and Oscar-winning writer Brian Helgeland will team up on an adaptation of the best-selling novel, Mystic River, for Warner Bros.
The novel, now in its ninth week on the top 10 New York Times bestseller list, follows three childhood friends whose relationship breaks apart after a tragic incident. They are brought back together 25 years later when they are all linked to a murder investigation.
Eastwood and Helgeland also are collaborating on another Warner Bros. project, the mystery/thriller Blood Work, an adaptation of a novel by Michael Connelly. Eastwood is set to produce, star and direct from Helgeland's screenplay.
Academy Award-winning scribe Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) wrote and directed the upcoming A Knight's Tale with Heath Ledger. Eastwood directed last year's hit Space Cowboys.
Tatum O'Neal is a "Scoundrel"
Making a comeback after more than a 10-year absence, Oscar-winning actress Tatum O'Neal (Paper Moon) will star opposite Tim Curry (Charlie's Angels), Julian Sands and Lacey Chabert (Party of Five) in The Scoundrel's Wife, an independent project.
Set in Louisiana in 1942, a young widow (O'Neal) is suspected of helping the Germans in a small bayou town, after the German U-boats have sunk American ships.
O'Neal, divorced from ex-husband John McEnroe, returns after spending the last decade raising their children.
Hoop dreams for Lil' Bow Wow
Fourteen-year-old double platinum rap singer Lil' Bow Wow will get his feature film debut in Like Mike for 20th Century Fox.
Lil' Bow Wow will play a kid who finds a pair of magical sneakers worn by basketball superstar Michael Jordan. Suddenly, the teen is transformed into a NBA hero.
Written by Michael Elliot, the story was inspired by Lil' Bow Wow, whom Elliot met on the set of MTV's seriesHip Hopera.
"He loves basketball, loves Michael Jordan, and he's an exceptional basketball player" Elliot told Variety.
"It's every kid's dream to play in the NBA, and it's not like Big, where he becomes a man. In this case, it's more fun if he stays a kid."
Lowe gets "Framed"
Rob Lowe, hot off his acclaimed role as deputy communications director in the hit NBC drama series The West Wing, will star in the TNT original movie Framed, based on a BBC miniseries of the same name.
Lowe will play a New York detective who takes a key member of a money-laundering scheme into custody and prepares him to testify in court. Things gets complicated as the detective's strong ethical code is placed in jeopardy when the witness offers him millions of dollars to help him escape.
The film will be directed by Daniel Petrie Jr. (Toy Soldiers) and executive produced by David Brown (Along Came a Spider) and Kit Golden (Chocolat).
Foley is a "Fuddy" Duddy
NewsRadio star Dave Foley has signed to star in Fox's comedy pilot, What's Up, Peter Fuddy?, with David Steinberg set to direct and co-written by Emmy winner Jay Kogen (Frasier).
The show's premise is Truman Show-esque: a Nightline-style news show follows the daily activities of an insurance adjuster Fuddy (Foley), who is forced to appear on the show to defend his actions.
Foley re-teams with Steinberg and Kogen after working together on the comedy The Wrong Guy. The feature was never released but it won the best screenplay award at the 1999 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.
The pilot also stars Jamie Denbo (Lost Souls), as Fuddy's wife, and Craig Anton (The Army Show), as Fuddy's next-door neighbor.
"MiB2"'s villainous Janssen
The X-Men's heroine Famke Janssen is in negotiations to play the villainous vamp in Columbia Pictures' Men In Black 2 for director Barry Sonnenfeld.
Production is scheduled to start in June. Although the plot is under wraps, most of the original film's stars will be in the sequel, including Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as agents J and K, respectively. Janssen will play bad bombshell Serleena and Johnny Knoxville (MTV's Jackass) will be featured as a two-headed alien. The cast also includes Rosario Dawson (Josie and the Pussycats) as Smith's love interest.
"Annie" and Reba: together again
Country superstar Reba McEntire will reprise her role as Annie Oakley in a CBS-TV movie version of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun.
Currently starring in the Broadway smash hit, McEntire is a perfect choice to play Annie for the CBS movie, producer Howard Braunstein told Variety. She also will executive produce the film.
Currently in development, the movie could air by the February sweeps, depending on the potential strikes. McEntire will continue with the Broadway production through May 27. She's concurrently starring in an untitled comedy pilot for the WB Network.
"Crouching Tiger" creates Chinese boom
Hot off the tremendous success of Ang Lee's Oscar-winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, co-production partner Columbia Pictures Film Production (an offshoot of Sony Pictures Entertainment) has announced plans for four pictures to go into production in 2001.
First up is Big Shot's Funeral, a comical film about a world-famous director who comes to China to make an epic about the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty (can anyone say The Last Emperor?). It will star Donald Sutherland, Ge You and Rosamund Kwan and directed by Feng Xiaogang. It will be shot in English and Chinese.
Next is another Chinese/English film, a mystery, called Double Vision starring Tony Leung, Ka Fai and David Morse (The Green Mile). The film followed the hunt for a serial killer by a determined Taiwanese police detective and an American FBI expert.
Third is an untitled action flick directed by Corey Yuen, who choreographed The X-Men and Romeo Must Die. The film will kicked it up with technological wizardry while centering on family bonds. Finally, set for production later this year is Heroes of Heaven and Earth, a Chinese-language adventure epic to be directed by He Ping and starring Jiang Wen.
Miramax wants in the "Know"
Miramax Films is negotiating to handle the North American distributions rights for Al Pacino's next film, People I Know.
The film, already in production and co-starring Kim Basinger, Tea Leoni and Ryan O'Neal, is about a New York press agent who gets into the corrupt world of politics, celebrity and illegal drugs. O'Neal plays a client, a famous actor, who is embroiled in a scandal that hurts his plans to become a senator.
Pesci as The Bull
Mafia hitman Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, to be exact.
Oscar-winner Joe Pesci is in negotiations to play the mobster for New Regency Productions. Gravano left the federal witness protection plan to go into partnership with a band of wealthy suburban kids selling ecstasy.
The film, tentatively titled Sammy the Bull, will only have Pesci's involvement if it is released as a feature film. Originally, New Regency was developing the project as a television movie.
"Bridget Jones" part II
Working Title Films, producer of the recent box office hit Bridget Jones's Diary, is already considering a sequel.
Based on Helen Fielding popular novel series, Working Title has optioned her second book Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and is negotiating with her for the screenplay.
The producers of other hits, such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, have never previously made a sequel, "but when you get numbers like this, you've got to think about it," Working Title co-chairman Eric Fellner told Variety.
It is still undetermined whether Renee Zellweger will reprise her role, as well as Hugh Grant, whose smarmy character is not in the second novel.