The movie Venn diagram of true blue crowd-pleasers and hardcore critic-pleasers often seems to include very little overlap. That’s what makes it so electrifying when a movie lands in both circles. Dead center, too.
The new sci-fi thriller Looper has its share of problems, story holes and tonal inconsistencies, but it qualifies as a genuine movie-movie pleasure that doesn’t insult the intelligence of anyone willing to call a truce on their war with what Alfred Hitchcock denigrated as “the plausibles.”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his prosthetic face star as one of the titular “loopers,” near-futuristic hitmen who assassinate people sent back from the future. His job gets complicated, however, when his latest intended victim turns out to be the future version of himself (played by Bruce Willis).
Apparently, rather than use it to right wrongs like TV’s Dr. Sam Beckett, the advent of time travel instead just makes humanity want to turn all other eras into their bloody dumping grounds. Farfetched, maybe, but Looper is less about tying up all its loose ends into a neat plot and more concerned with depicting free will as a curse that, like original sin, stretches throughout history beyond the timeline of one’s own existence.
Rian Johnson, the director behind the much-loved but smug high school noir Brick (also starring JGL), reportedly worked in collaboration with Shane Carruth (director of the 2004 DIY time travel puzzler Primer) to create a believably dystopian future world, one with seemingly only minute moral calibrations against our current environment. In other words, it’s the similarities with today’s world that are supposed to give you pause here, not the techy traceries.
Looper shares a chromosome with Children of Men, another sci-fi nightmare that managed to fall into the same sweet spot between entertainment and artistic efficacy. And like that film, it presents such a compelling case for the fateful darkness of humankind’s future that the last-minute lunges toward recrudescent faith seem both unbelievable and hard earned.
That particular formula is inverted in the surprisingly moving new teen drama The Perks of Being a Wallflower, directed by Stephen Chbosky from his own popular young adult novel.
Logan Lerman stars as Charlie, a lonely teen who, from the very first day of his freshman year, has an exact count on how many days are left until he can escape from high school (more than 1,300, in case you were wondering).
Charlie has no real friends and his relationship with his family seems strained for reasons unsaid. He finds some solace from the extra credit reading assignments his English teacher tosses him, but he seems otherwise comfortable blending into the scenery and observing his peers, not interacting with them.
Wallflower turns out to be a pretty self-referential title. Though it avoids preciosity at practically every turn, the movie also admittedly acts the part of its lead character, strenuously avoiding to announce itself or risk rejection. That strategy, however, pays off when the true reasons for Charlie’s interpersonal reticence become belatedly clear, taking the film into an entirely different, gut-punching direction.
Yes, Wallflower presents the more fragile, poignant, raw high school experience most of us probably wish we’d “enjoyed” rather than the painful, alternately petrifying and stultifying one we probably got. (Um, a junior thesp Rocky Horror stage show troupe? Talk about wish fulfillment.) But that’s what gets it on the mix tape.