Monday, December 31, 2012

No, they really don't feel fine. Not at all: "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"

Why yes, the missus *did* rent this on Dec. 20, the night before the alleged apocalypse. She's a zany one. Even better, I quite enjoyed this movie. If it *had* been the last one I saw before the end, it could have been worse. (Consider the movie she rented before this one, "Hope Springs." Since I may not be able to bring myself to blog about that one, let me just say I would have been fine never watching Meryl Streep go down on Tommy Lee Jones in a movie theater. As Max California said, "There are some things that you see, and you can't unsee them.")

With "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World," I'm going to use a word I generally dislike: interesting. This movie was just interesting. The premise is easy enough: A giant meteor/comet/asteroid/something is about to hit the earth after a mission to destroy it fails. Yup ... imagine if those guys in "Armageddon" came up short. When there's no hope, how do people react?

Despite the basic premise, there's no sci-fi or action here. John Cusack does NOT fly through a collapsing city. Instead, it's the social side of the equation. What would you do with those last days? Where would you go? If you're like me and you've read the above, you're right to worry that this could be either too gabby or a bunch of people staring at each other -- both unbearable possibilities. Fortunately, we get a couple of winning leads who each deliver one of his/her better performances.

Steve Carell is an insurance guy somewhat in denial after his wife up and leaves him. After entertaining run-ins with characters played by funny/reliable actors (Patton Oswalt, Connie Britton, Melanie Lynskey, Rob Corddry), he comes across his neighbor, an English hipster waif played by Keira Knightley. That leads to a revelation that turns the rest of the movie into a road trip, opening the door for other amusing run-ins. Not so much in a ha-ha way as a "yeah, that kind of makes sense given the world's about to end." Seriously ... gotta watch out for those T.G.I. Friday's employees.

I guess I'd say the story is fatalistic but with a measure of whimsy vs. dread, and helped by Carell and Knightley. Both are limited actors in different ways, but I found their characters and the budding relationship genuine. Carell can add this to "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Crazy, Stupid, Love" as his better turns outside straight comedy, and it's certainly above "Dan in Real Life." I can even excuse his character being named Dodge. What, Pontiac was taken?

As for Knightley ... I'm not sure she's ever been better. True, I've not seen much of her stuff; all that Victorian period piece stuff ain't for this guy. But of what I've seen, I liked her in this more than anything since "Bend It Like Beckham." And I'll take it 10 times over "Domino."

Our story does get a little thick at end, but on the whole I think it works. Great music, too -- nice mix of eras, and I especially liked this song and this song. While Carell's character rants at the start about the futility of meeting someone and getting to know her as the world is ending, that's the key here. Absolutely no way a husband and wife married of several years have this kind of journey -- physically and emotionally -- when the end is nigh. But these two people trying to help each other get what they want is ... what's that word again? Ah yes ... interesting.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Which course in the Himalayas was it again?: "Looper"

A looper ... you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock.

Fine, fine ... but don't tell me nobody else saw the title of this movie and didn't think of our man Carl at Bushwood. Moving on ...

Can't remember if I waxed about this already, but I'm something of a sucker for time travel movies. Sure, Jeff, you say ... we all gave "TimeCop" a pass. Would that it be that innocent. No, I thought "Time Bandits" was the best movie I had ever seen when I was 9. Worse, within the past year I rented "Timerider." Again. It might have been only 99 cents, but does that make it right?

Fortunately, I've also seen some good tales of twisting hours, days and years, from "Back to the Future" to "Primer." "Looper" is another worthy entry.

Our story has one of my current broners Joseph Gordon-Levitt toiling in the mid-21st century as a "looper," a guy who kills people sent back in time by the mob. The way the world stands, it's easier to illegally send someone back 30 years and have the hit happen there. Our hero doesn't exactly love the job, but he's making do. That is, until he's at the designated spot and comes face to face with ... his own face, 30 years older (Bruce "The Story of Us" Willis). Yep, they sent him back to be killed by him.

This isn't unusual, but letting yourself get away is, and we see how that's dealt with in an earlier case. JG-L has a harder time and ultimately finds his way to a farm occupied by a woman (Emily "Remember When I Showed My Goods in 'My Summer of Love?'" Blunt) and her young son. Meanwhile, Bruce is looking for something that supposedly will set the crappy future right. Dancing around the periphery are supporting players Paul Dano as another looper, Jeff Daniels as their boss, Noah Segan as a young punk with a big pistol and the incomparable Garret Dillahunt as a tracker.

Rian Johnson is the writer and director, and other than a couple of episodes of "Breaking Bad," I hadn't seen anything else by him. That likely will change, as he does a nice job of not only handling the time travel aspect but also giving solid depth to our three main characters. In this somewhat effed-up world, each of these people has valid reasons for their actions, and it's easy to sympathize with all. Willis has the world-weary thing down, while Gordon-Levitt works to stay ignorant and uncaring of the life this old guy already has lived. Blunt gives us a woman stoically managing her own trials, the consequences of which eventually become clear.

In all, a good premise executed well, with my attention held all the way to the appropriate and very satisfying end. I don't want to ruin it, of course, but don't be surprised when you see George Carlin show up with a phone booth.