Movies about time travel can get so caught up in the mechanics of the science fiction, coming up with convoluted explanations to deal with the paradoxes inherent in time travel, that sometimes they can forget you still need a good underlying story. Not so with the third film from Rian Johnson, a deeply felt narrative about destiny and how our past shapes the inevitabilities of our future selves, that keeps its time travel logic simple, and just fuzzy enough to allow for the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a hitman whose entire job involves going to a rural field at an appointed time and shooting the person who will suddenly appear upon the tarp he’s laid out. The victims have been sent from the future, where criminals use time machines mostly to send people they want to get rid of back to the past to be killed and disposed of, removing any evidence of the murder from their present. The only catch to his job is that eventually he’s going to have to kill his future self, sent back 30 years after the termination of his contract to “close the loop”. If Gordon-Levitt looks not like himself in those trailers, it’s because he’s been made up to look like a younger version of that future self, played here by Bruce Willis, who is prepared to avoid his death the moment he pops up in front of the gun of his younger self.
If any of that sounds confusing, don’t worry: Johnson makes the time travel bits easy to comprehend by keeping it simple and not overdoing the science fiction. Once the future Joe escapes death at the hands of his younger self, he goes on the run to try to alter the past so that he’ll never have come back at all. Meanwhile, Joe is on his tail, while the criminal syndicate is on both their tails to clean up the mess. Part science fiction, part mob movie, and with a nice infusion of dark comedy at just the right moments, Looper is Johnson’s best movie yet, and manages to be hugely entertaining, affecting, and thought-provoking.
Author Stephen Chbosky decided to write and direct the adaptation of his popular coming-of-age novel, which is often a dicey proposition. But anyone who feared he wouldn’t have the filmmaking chops, or that he’d be too attached to his book to make the changes necessary to make it into a film, can rest easy: His movie version stands alone as its own moving entity while still retaining the tone and feel of the book. The overriding feeling is one of nostalgia, for the early ’90s and what it was like to be in high school before the Internet, when you painstakingly made mix tapes to show your affection and if you heard a song on the radio that you didn’t know, you might never find out what it was. It’s in that time that the movie’s titular wallflower, Charlie (Logan Lerman), is entering high school, dealing with the recent suicide of his only friend and coming off a mental breakdown that he only hints at. Charlie finds his tribe, though, in the form of other kids who are outcasts in their own different ways, and becomes closes to Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), a pair of charismatic seniors who take him under their wing. The great thing about Chbosky’s book is how honestly and matter-of-factly it always dealt with the difficulties of high school without ever getting maudlin or moralistic. That’s true of the film, too, which balances the thrill and discovery of Charlie’s first year of high school with genuinely darker moments.
You can read my longer take on the film, and on how Chbosky avoids the usual curse of authors directing adaptations of their own novels, over at the Atlantic.
For the sixth year, the Brazilian Embassy has collected a number of recent Brazilian film releases to screen in DC, to showcase the best in new film from that country. This year’s program includes seven features with diverse focuses, including a pair of documentaries and drama, comedy, and romance narrative features. The documentaries are about dance and music; the narrative films include one about an actress who makes ends meet as a celebrity impersonator (Craft), another about a doctor who begins a challenging new relationship while dealing with a serious illness (We’re Together), and a surreal black-and-white feature about a girl who is living her life seemingly in a different timeline from those around her (Southwest).
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel
One of the most influential figures in the fashion world for much of the 20th century, Diana Vreeland was an editor at Harper’s Bazaar, and then ran the show at Vogue. She went on to work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, curating fashion’s history as charismatically as she dictated its present while she was a journalist. This film about her life, using a wealth of archival footage and lots of interviews with those who knew her, is cowritten and co-directed by a trio that includes Immordino Vreeland, the subject’s granddaughter-in-law.
Starting this weekend, the Goethe-Institut is partnering up with the Hill Center for weekly presentations of German film adaptations of Grimms' fairy tales. It was 200 years ago that the first volume of those stories were published, and for the next ten weeks, the Hill Center will screen these hour-long versions—in German, with English subtitles—for the Family-Friendly Fairy Tale Films series. That starts this Sunday with director Uwe Janson’s 2011 take on Cinderella.
DVD Pick of the Week: Cabin in the Woods
Few films in recent memory sparked quite the furor over what does or doesn’t constitute a spoiler in writing about the movies as director Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods, cowritten with Buffy the Vampire Slayer mastermind and Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon. Which probably explains the film’s modest return on investment, and the slightly negative word of mouth that came out of opening weekend screenings. Trailers attempted not to give away even the slightest hint of the film’s secrets, leaving it looking like a run-of-the-mill slasher flick rather than the wildly imaginative, surprisingly funny, and wickedly smart deconstruction of the horror genre it was. If you missed it in theaters because you thought it was nothing more than the trailers let on, now’s a good time to catch up with it, without all the surrounding furor. You can read my full review of the movie over at NPR. (While technically spoiler-free, it does contain some expository details, so if you’re still determined to go in as a blank slate, you’ll want to just dive into the movie.)
Special Features: Commentary with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, six making-of featurettes, and trailers.