Looper

“Looper” is a mildly entertaining time travel sci-fi film with three likable stars: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt.

Time travel is often used as a gimmicky crutch, as in the TV series “Lost.” To build a whole movie around time travel is risky. When a character interacts with his older self, things can get confusing. Gordon-Levitt and Willis play the same character, Joe, at different ages.

The movie is set in a not-especially-futuristic-looking 2044. Most of their vehicles appear about the same as those we drive today—except for that one cool jet-powered scooter. In 2044, time travel has not yet been developed. But 30 years beyond, time travel has been perfected. But it’s only used by the bad guys.

Because, we are told, it’s hard to dispose of human bodies in 2074, mob hits are accomplished by sending the poor suckers back to 2044 where they are quickly offed and tossed into a furnace. Among those sent back to be killed are older versions of some of those young assassins. They “loop” back, hence the title.

One looper who is sent back—the older Joe—escapes death at the hand of his younger self. He begins a mission to kill a 2044 vintage kid, before he grows up to become a gang leader called The Rainmaker. Still with me? This is where Emily Blunt comes in. She is a single mom, living in a rural farm house with her precocious child. Her kid may the one who would become the Rainmaker. The boy does have some mighty anger issues!

Jeff Daniels gives a standout performance as a crime boss with a wicked sense of humor.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s strange makeup (presumably to make him even slightly resemble Bruce Willis) gives him odd-looking lips and eyes. Emily Blunt sounds like a native-born American, squelching her limey accent.

“Looper’s” plot is messy. The movie’s pace hits the brakes just past its midway point. And the sci-fi lacks those “oh, wow” effects/settings/technology that you expect in a movie like this one.

“Looper” is not a bad movie, just one that needs more truly compelling content. One might presume that writer/director Rian Johnson figured the time travel bit might be a strong enough frame to build the movie on. Not quite.

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Trouble with the Curve

“Trouble with The Curve” is the ANTI-“Moneyball.” TWTC slams the stats-happy computer geek baseball personnel people and gives a nod to the old school cigar-chomping scouts.

The heart of this movie is the relationship between Gus, played by Clint Eastwood, and his daughter Mickey, played by Amy Adams. Despite all that has caused their estrangement, the glue that holds them together is baseball.

Once the basic plot is set up, you can pretty much guess how it will conclude. But getting there is a fun trip, with a surprise or two along the way.

Gus, a veteran scout for the Braves, is sent to the Carolinas to check out a high school phenom. But Gus is having vision problems and, stubborn old geezer that he is, he won’t see a specialist to have the situation addressed. A Braves team exec, played by John Goodman, asks Mickey to go to the Carolinas and make sure her dad is okay. She is a rising star Atlanta attorney who is about to make partner if she can pull off a certain deal.

Among the old scouts is a young Red Sox scout, Johnny, a washed-out pitcher, played by Justin Timberlake. He, like Gus, is there to see the phenom, but he also has his eyes on Mickey. She’s standoffish, so their relationship moves slowly but predictably.

Eastwood’s character is not far removed from the codger he played in “Gran Torino” a few years back. In TWTC, he also drives a classic Ford, a 60’s Mustang. The Mustang gets banged up when Gus has trouble with the curve on a highway and pulls in front of a vehicle he didn’t see coming.

As with last year’s “Moneyball,” you don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this movie. TWTC is a movie that will, I think, appeal equally to men and women. Yes, it’s a movie about baseball. But it’s more about relationships.

The Master

Joaquin Phoenix steps up as a strong contender for a Best Actor nomination with his portrayal of a damaged man with anger issues and sexual obsessions in “The Master.”

This is not a movie for everyone. Although it is being booked in multiplexes, as well as art houses, “The Master” will challenge many and leave others unsatisfied. Director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson, whose last film was “There Will Be Blood,” has assembled a film that is, above all, compelling. It’s one that has already generated much discussion with more to come.

“The Master” is more about its characters than its plot. The film is a series of episodes, some of which move slowly. In these episodes, we see how the film’s characters respond to the things life throws their way.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the title role. His character, Lancaster Dodd, is patterned after L. Ron Hubbard, the founder and leader of Scientology. Dodd, like many others in the movie, takes an immediate liking to Phoenix’s character, Freddie Quell.

Quell falls under Dodd’s spell and embraces The Cause, Dodd’s quasi-religious movement. Dodd is similar to numerous charismatic leaders we’ve encountered in history, some of whom can be seen on your TV every week. Dodd is, however, a generally likable guy, even though he serves up mumbo jumbo about “past lives.”

Quell becomes a member of Dodd’s entourage and Dodd begins to “work” with Freddie. Is it therapy or is Quell a guinea pig for Dodd’s techniques?

Eventually, Quell breaks away but in the end returns to Dodd, who is then in England. Dodd’s reaction to seeing Freddie again brings up questions about the true nature of their relationship.

Among the supporting cast is Amy Adams as Dodd’s wife Peggy. She wields her power from the sideline. She supports Dodd in his quest to grow support for The Cause but makes sure he has her input.

One more thing: most of the movie is set in the year 1950 and the clothes are terrific.

Should you see “The Master?” Yes, if only to witness Joaquin Phoenix’s mighty acting skill. Even if you don’t like “The Master” as a movie, this performance will astound you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arbitrage

Every character in “Arbitrage” has to make choices. Deciding between doing what’s right and doing what’s expedient is not always easy to do.

“Arbitrage” crams a lot of plot and a good number of characters into this two-hour movie. And, yes, many choices.

Richard Gere plays Robert Miller, a New York finance tycoon who makes big deals and big money. As he turns 60 and prepares to sell his company, things begin to spin apart. His biggest deal may collapse. His mistress is angry that he is missing her art show opening. Should he cut out from dinner with the buyer’s reps and attend to the mistress? Choices.

To make amends he takes her for a drive away from the city. He crashes the car and she dies. He runs away and calls an old friend to pick him up. Should Miller go to the cops and fess up or should he attempt to move on and avoid being connected to the accident? Choices.

Turns out his company’s books are cooked, too. Should those who are privy to the irregularities speak up or risk fraud charges? Choices.

Should his wife, played by Susan Sarandon, put up with his infidelity in order to share his wealth? Choices.

Should the old friend who gave him the ride deny involvement to avoid possible jail time? Choices.

Should the associate who lent Miller 400 million to cover certain losses be patient about getting repaid or should he turn evidence of fraud over to the feds? Choices.

Should a detective play by the rules or should he do whatever he needs, to be sure a judge and jury hear the truth. Choices.

More on the cast: Miller’s mistress is played by former Victoria’s Secret model Laetitia Casta. The man buying the company is played by longtime Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. Tim Roth plays the detective investigating the accident. Attractive unknown Brit Marling plays Miller’s daughter and handles a couple of pivotal scenes well.

The lead role in this movie requires a strong performance and Gere delivers. As you make your own choices for grownup entertainment, “Arbitrage” is a good pick.

Sleepwalk with Me

“Sleepwalk with Me” is mildly amusing, but not outright funny.

Comedian Mike Birbiglia tells us three basic, intertwined stories. He relates the narrative in a style similar to that of public radio show “This American Life.” That’s because the script was co-written by TAL’s Ira Glass, based on one of his shows. “Sleepwalk with Me” has also been performed as an Off-Broadway show and has been made into a book.

The three stories are those of his relationship with a longtime girlfriend, the beginning of his career as a standup comic and the tale of his sleepwalking woes. The stories intersect and play together well.

But I expected to laugh and I did not. Okay, a couple of teehees and a few smiles, but no audible, involuntary, genuine laughter.

If you are a fan of Birbiglia and his humor or a fan of “This American Life,” you may enjoy the movie more than others will.

Birbiglia is a decent enough actor. He is not particularly charismatic, nor overly weird. He is a regular schlub. His cast includes Lauren Ambrose as his girlfriend and Carol Kane (of the old “Taxi” TV show) as his mother. Talented character actor James Rebhorn appears as his father.

The efforts to generate popular demand for the movie following its debut at Sundance last winter are impressive. Sadly, what we see on screen is not worthy of those efforts. This is a lightweight movie, which could have benefited from a bit more substance.

The Words

A  good story told well and a memorable performance by Jeremy Irons make “The Words” a movie I recommend.

This is a story of plagiarism. It’s the story of the person who copied the words, the person whose words were copied and the person who shares the story with the world.

When Mike Brewer borrowed my freshman English term paper about a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story (“I just want to see how you did it, Dave”) and then copied it word for word, I was upset. But I got over it. When, in “The Words,” a misplaced manuscript becomes a best seller, the results have significant, long-term ramifications.

The stories in “The Words” are of three men played by Dennis Quaid, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Irons and how the words they write affects them. Three women played by Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana and Nora Arnezeder are also affected by those words.

Among the talented cast, Irons is especially effective as a grizzled old man who looks older than 64 (Irons’ age). Irons’ deliberate, low key recounting of things he lost in his younger days produces a performance that’s sure to nab award nominations. His voice—one of the most compelling this side of Morgan Freeman—is one that commands our rapt attention.

Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal co-wrote and co-directed “The Words.” They’ve assembled a movie that unfolds its story in a clever manner and gives a bit of depth to its three lead male characters. “The Words” is not a perfect movie, but it entertains nicely and has a structure that keeps the moviegoer involved throughout. Really, go see it.

Cosmopolis

I almost walked out of this movie. Now, I want a copy of the script.

“Cosmopolis” is a writer’s movie. It’s a commentary on modern life (sex, violence, morals). Robert Pattinson plays Erik Packer, a currency trader who thinks he has everything figured out. David Cronenberg is the writer (who adapted his script from the novel). He is also the director.

Much of the movie is set in a slow-moving, eerily silent limo. Characters pop in and out. Packer gets out of the limo to eat and tryst. Eventually he reaches his destination—a barber shop—and moves on to a climactic encounter with a man named Benno, played by Paul Giamatti. (The exact relationship between Erik and Benno is unclear. If one is looking for symbolism, one might take him to be Erik’s conscience.)

“Cosmopolis” is filled with scriptwriter sound bites. Like: “Life is too contemporary,” “We die everyday,” “Time is a corporate asset now” and “Violence needs a verdict; it needs a purpose.” While some are effective and memorable, others are throwaways.

Pattinson, who is onscreen throughout the movie, doe not overact, thankfully. He brings an appropriate nonchalance to this strange role He also brings his “Twilight” fame which will guarantee a few ticket sales.

This is not an easy movie to watch. It has the tempo of an old radio drama with many long speeches. Those “Twilight” fans may take a pass though when word gets out that this is a challenging, tedious movie.

How tedious? Well, critic Roger Ebert, in his review of “Cosmopolis,” wrote: “You couldn’t pay me to see it again.” I won’t go that far—I believe that any movie with Giamatti in the cast is worth checking out—but I’d prefer to read the script before watching the movie again.