Looper – A Review

Time travel isn’t my thing; whenever a movie or TV show starts dabbling in time travel, I know I am in trouble. I am just too easily confused by it. This wasn’t always the case. I could follow time travel when it was the straight forward Back to the Future variety. It wasn’t all that complicated and it wasn’t all that fancy. But that concept of time travel seems quaint by today’s standards. Most of the time travel scenarios that I’ve run into over the last ten years are far more complex and sophisticated. And every TV show and movie has different rules that apply to their version of time travel. I try to keep everything straight, figure out the paradoxes and worry about the “butterfly effect.” My head starts to hurt.

I was somewhat surprised, therefore, that I enjoyed the movie Looper, whose primary plot is time travel, as much as I did. Better yet, I think I actually understood everything that happened. This is somewhat of a triumph.

I have been excited for Looper ever since I first heard about it. This was less because of the plot, but because of who was attached to the film. I really enjoy Joseph Gordon-Levitt; though I didn’t watch his early work on 3rd Rock from the Sun, I have come to appreciate him in his more adult roles. He has quietly become a solid and smart actor who tends to pick some interesting roles (I’m giving him a pass on Premium Rush and hoping that was a studio obligation). He tends to make some cool choices in whatever role he is in and even if I don’t necessarily enjoy the movie that he is in, I almost always enjoy what he’s doing in it. He completely charmed me in (500) Days of Summer; in fact, I liked him so much that I was able to overcome my general distaste for his co-star (the Siri loving, adorkable , infantile Zooey Deschanel) to not only enjoy the movie, but buy it on Blu-ray. That, my friends, is charisma.

Gordon-Levitt is teamed in Looper with Bruce Willis, who is someone that I also enjoy tremendously and who I may or may not have a little bit of a crush on (spoiler: I do). While Willis made his bones as an action hero, I don’t think he gets enough credit for some of his other roles. He certainly knows his way around being a tough guy with a machine gun (and thank God for that), but he is also capable of smaller and more reserved performances. He was very good, for instance, in his supporting role in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom earlier this year. I enjoy that he will take small and sometimes quirky roles in films; he is just as comfortable being a supporting player as the main focus. He also has a general likability; I haven’t come across too many people that will say “I just don’t like Bruce Willis.” In my mind, he just oozes cool and awesomeness.

So putting Willis and Gordon-Levitt together in a movie is an excellent way to get me excited. Add the threat of violence and some action and you basically have a blueprint for “a movie that Heather wants to see.”

The basic premise for Looper is fairly straightforward. In the future, time travel is illegal and is only used by crime syndicates. When they want someone to be “taken care of,” they send the person back in time where a special assassination (a Looper) is waiting and will kill them instantly. Levitt plays such an assassin (Joe) and enjoys the perks that go along with it; in a world where most of the civilization is living in poverty, he has the money to drive a fancy car, dress well and to be a recreational drug user. Everything changes the day that Joe realizes that the target that has been sent back for him to kill is his future self (Willis).

What speaks well of Looper is how much I enjoyed it, given that it wasn’t exactly the movie that I thought I was getting. From the commercials and trailers, I had expected Looper to be heavy on the action and the shoot-em-up antics that one tends to associate with Willis. So it came as somewhat of a surprise that Looper was relatively light on the action and was much more reliant on drama and science fiction for its story telling. However, while Looper was a little slower than I thought it would be, it was also extremely entertaining.

The performances by Gordon-Levitt and Willis were strong, as expected. While I had never thought of the two actors looking particularly similar, I was totally convinced that they were playing older and younger versions of the same person. I give credit for that to Gordon-Levitt, who I think took pains to pick up some of the mannerisms of Willis; I noticed that his speaking style was altered to be more reminiscent of Willis. It was subtle – Gordon-Levitt wasn’t doing an impersonation – but whatever adjustments he made were effective.  Emily Blunt was also very good; in fact she blended so well into her role that I didn’t even realize it was her. Normally when I see her on screen, I am secretly thinking “Hey – there’s Mrs. John Krasinski. That lucky duck.” That didn’t happen during Looper. Jeff Daniels is also solid as crime boss Abe; it’s a very different role than Will McAvoy on The Newsroom. The work of young Pierce Gagnon as Cid should be singled out; he really stole every scene that he was in. For a little guy, he had excellent timing and delivery. This appears to be only his fourth acting credit and I hope to see more of him in the future. He had such a sweet face; I just wanted to smush his cheeks.

What I particularly liked about Looper, beyond the actors, was that it was unpredictable. I was never sure what exactly would happen next or where the story would ultimate end up. Even when information was raised that I knew would be significant at some point (in the words of Wayne’s World “that seemed like extraneous information at the time.”), I wasn’t sure how exactly it would be used or what the payoff would be.  And though it moved a little more slowly than I predicted, I was never bored. I was always interested how the plot would unfold. Since the violence was used sparingly, it held a lot more power when it was used. It isn’t particularly graphic, but there is at least one fairly brutal scene.

Looper is a thoughtful movie and you will probably huddle with your companions afterward to hash out what it all meant and to discuss theories and clarify plot points. We certainly did. It’s also a movie that you may like the more you think about and process; I liked it a lot right out of the gate, but some of my friends said today that they enjoyed it more after continued deliberation. When the movie ends, you will discover that it probably wasn’t about what you thought it was about going in. But if you have an open mind and just go where the story takes you, I don’t think you will be disappointed. I certainly wasn’t.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • It’s been a while, but the folks with the baby resurfaced at this screening. This was the same little one that I’ve seen at other screenings, as I’ve started paying attention to the selfish adults that accompany the baby. It’s not just mom and dad, but also at least one grandparent that is along for the ride. He/she was not a fan of Looper and fussed quite a bit throughout the movie. Apparently the adult family members were fans of Looper because they didn’t want to leave the theater even when the kid started crying. It was very distracting and disrespectful to everyone else in the theater. I really wanted to stand up and yell “Take the damn baby out” but I figured I’d get thrown out. I’m not anti-baby, but this is getting ridiculous. Hire a *#&@^#@ babysitter.
  • It’s hilarious the snippets of conversations that you overhear waiting for the screening to start. My personal favorite: “I have new found respect for Adam Sandler.” I have absolutely no idea in what context that would even be a valid statement.
  • Looper isn’t completely serious – there are some definitely funny moments. I’d sign up for a buddy cop comedy starring Willis and Gordon-Levitt.
  • A fun moment for me – during the trailer for the new 007 movie, one of my friends leaned over to say something to me and then stopped. The reason – she was about to share information about the movie that she had read on my blog. I’m officially the media!

I really enjoyed Looper and would definitely recommend checking it out. Everyone in our group enjoyed it and while it wasn’t the film I was necessary expecting, it was in a lot of ways a lot better. Looper has more substance over flash and is one of the better films that I have seen in a while. Critics agree with me – it’s currently hovering around 92% positive on Rotten Tomatoes. It is a good melding of a popcorn movie with an indie sensibility.

Looper opens nationwide today.

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TV Theme Songs

I’ve been going to bed ridiculously early this week; I don’t know if it is the fact that my body is exhausted from fighting off this cold or if my last birthday triggered some sort of easy-pass to old age. Whatever it is, I’m not exactly a fan. I’ve always been a night owl so it pains me to be going to bed at 9 am. I didn’t even go to bed at 9 am when I was a toddler! It’s also wreaking havoc with my already aggressive TV schedule; the shows are just piling up on my DVR. It’s only the second week of fall TV and I’m already behind. That doesn’t jibe well with today’s spoiler culture; a very shocking development on Sons of Anarchy was completely ruined for me by Facebook (thanks for nothing, people).

So I’m kind of in pop culture survival mode at the moment; my strategy is to keep up with the daily programs (The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) as those are the most topical and pile up the quickest. This weekend I’ll binge watch everything else on my DVR to get myself up to speed.

It was while watching the dailies that I got the inspiration for this post. Blog favorite Jimmy Fallon did a fun bit with the cast of Guys With Kids (a show that Fallon created). Similar to the hysterical “History of Rap” that Fallon did with Justin Timberlake, the gang performed the history of TV theme songs. Can you name them all?

This was right in my wheelhouse – not only do I love Jimmy Fallon and love Jimmy Fallon when he sings, I also love TV theme songs. They are one of my favorite categories in the game Song Pop, though I usually get tripped up by the Sci-Fi shows. Like Jimmy, I am saddened by the move away from using theme songs for shows. I understand why it has happened – that’s 20-30 more seconds for actual story – but I think that they are so fun. Theme songs help set the tone for the show and often help keep the show on your mind. A catchy theme song will draw a person in who is perhaps channel surfing. In the case of The Greatest American Hero, the theme song may become more popular than the actual show.

While Fallon and the gang hit on some of my favorite TV theme songs, there were a few of my favorites that didn’t get included. If they do a “The History of Theme Shows, Part II,” I humbly suggest the following theme songs for inclusion:

Charles in Charge

This is the case of liking a theme song vastly more than I liked the actual show. I think I only watched a handful of episodes of Charles in Charge – even at 11, I knew this wasn’t good television – but I would watch the opening credits every time I came across them. It’s a total ear worm. In fact, I’ll probably wind up humming this song all day around the office. Sorry co-workers.

Unsolved Mysteries

Obviously this isn’t a song that Fallon could really sing – though I’m sure he and the Roots could come up with something – but it deserves inclusion on this list because it is the antithesis of the Charles in Charge theme. This theme music freaked me out as a kid. I’ve grown up into a person who loves horror movies and other scary things, but I could not listen to this music. It terrified me. I loved the show Unsolved Mysteries, but would go running from the room when the theme song came on. Something about it just really made me uneasy, which is kind of the point (though I doubt they expected as a sever reaction as I had). Even now when I hear this music, I get a little uncomfortable. In fact, I’d better move on.

Weeds

I can’t prove this definitively, but I’m pretty sure this show went off the rails the exact moment that they stopped using this theme song. I enjoyed the song – I thought it set the mood of the show very well – and I liked that they had fun with it by having different artists perform it. Once they abandoned the theme song and left Agrestic, I lost interest. I don’t think that is a coincidence.

One Day at a Time

We’re finally at the intersection of liking the show AND liking the theme song. I legitimately loved this show as a kid (and probably still do – it’s been a while since I watched it). The theme song was the perfect complement to the show; though it doesn’t explicitly lay out the plot like some theme songs do (see Gilligan’s Island), it captures the tone of a single mother (how scandalous!) struggling to raise her two teenaged daughters.

WKRP in Cincinnati

This theme song kind of gives the back story of the character of Andy – he has moved around to different radio stations and is hoping to find a home at the struggling WRKP. Again – another catchy song that sticks with you. This show I do know that I still love; I bought my mom the first season on DVD for some holiday and then I proceeded to sit down and watch them all. It has some of the greatest characters from a sitcom. If you didn’t watch the show, I highly recommend seeking it out. It’s worth it for the Thanksgiving episode alone.

The O.C.

I mentioned in my review of Last Resort my fondness for The O.C. and I can’t discount that the theme song had something to do with it. Every single time it came on, I would sing along with it. The O.C. actually introduced me to a lot of music that I wouldn’t have normally known; they did an excellent job of incorporating music into the storylines. This is one trend that I notice is more prevalent now; while shows are moving away from theme songs, they have begun to use original songs (rather than musak) to set the tone of scenes. This has given some smaller bands more mainstream exposure.

And finally…….

The Muppet Show

I mean really – did you think I wasn’t going to work the Muppets in here?  Don’t be ridiculous. I loved this theme song so much that I actually made my pledge sisters use it for one of our sorority songs.  It’s funny and bouncy, just like The Muppet Show. I’ll probably be rocking out to this for the rest of the afternoon.

 

I could probably go on and on with this topic, but I’ll spare you. There are just so many TV themes that I love. But now it’s your turn – what are your favorite theme songs and why?

Goin’ Down to South Park

It’s hard to believe, but tonight South Park starts its sixteenth season on Comedy Central. Not bad for an animated show about a group of foul mouthed kids living in Colorado. Though it has waned in popularity from its apex in the early 2000s, it is still for my money one of the funniest shows out there and provides important social and cultural commentary, in between all the fart jokes.

I first stumbled upon South Park purely by accident. I was home sick on New Year’s Eve and was flipping through the channels while all my friends were off celebrating. I had heard rumblings about South Park, but didn’t think it was for me; I was still in college when it debuted and didn’t watch nearly as much television as I do now as I was for too busy drinking  studying. But with limited options for entertainment – I’ve never been on for Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve – I settled on the South Park Marathon on Comedy Central.  And from the first episode I watched,“Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo,” I was absolutely hooked (though slightly confused, as this was the only episode where Kenny didn’t die, so I didn’t get that joke until later). I became a loyal viewer that night and regularly tune in to watch the antics of Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny.

Because the show is created the week before it goes to air (check out the Comedy Central documentary Six Days to Air to watch the process unfold), it is insanely topical and is often the first to react to major events. If the show is in production when a major cultural or political incident happens, I look forward to seeing what Trey Parker and Matt Stone have to say about it. They have a responsiveness that a lot of other shows don’t.  If you can get past some of the crude humor, Parker and Stone have a rapier wit and often make very astute observations. They do some of the best parody in town. Back in my teaching days, I would even show some clips of their political shows during my classes to illustrate a point.  I was especially fond of “I’m A Little Bit Country,” which deals with the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

While South Park tends to focus primarily on the four boys, Parker and Stone have created an entire universe of interesting recurring characters that also reside in South Park. So in honor of the show’s return, here are my top 5 minor characters from South Park:

5. Tweek Tweak

Tweek first made his appearance in the episode “Gnomes” when the boys were forced to work with him on a group assignment. Tweek’s parents run the local coffee shop and the poor kid is overcaffinated and jittery all the time. He has a tough time handling stressful situations and is prone to freaking out a lot. He just makes me laugh and I definitely have my Tweek moments, even if they are internal. Tweek was given a moment to shine in season six when he briefly assumed Kenny’s spot in the group, but it was all too much for him and he had to bail.

4.  Satan

Stone and Parker made some interesting choices when they created the character Satan; sure he’s the Prince of Darkness and evil incarnate, but he’s also openly gay, surprisingly vulnerable and often has more in common with a teenage girl than you would expect. That latter point was personified in one of my all-time favorite episodes, “Hell on Earth 2006,” that is a parody of the MTV abomination My Super Sweet 16. Satan is a good gateway character as well; if he shows up, that means he will also bring his much put upon assistant Demonius (who I can relate to) and we might get a glimpse of Satan’s former lover, Saddam Hussein.

3. Randy Marsh

The adults in South Park are not portrayed as being particularly smart or responsible and Stan’s dad Randy may be the worst of the bunch. Randy is featured in a lot of episodes because in a lot of ways he is just a big kid, trapped in an adult’s body. He often makes terrible decisions and wants to be considered cool.  He has a hilarious backstory as a member of a boy bad. Of all the parents on the show, he is usually the best guarantee for a laugh.

2. Ike Broflovski

I have no idea why I find Ike so hilarious, but some reason he just always makes me smile. He doesn’t even really talk – though neither does Kenny – so perhaps it is the way he is animated. For whatever reason, I’m always excited when Kyle’s baby brother makes an appearance. It is no surprise then that one of my favorite recent episodes was the Ike-centric “Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy.” An Ike sighting is a rare treat for me, as the character doesn’t get a lot of air time.

1. Butters

I don’t think is a controversial choice, as Butters is a pretty popular character and is featured very frequently in the later episodes of South Park. He also filled in for Kenny in the group during Kenny’s prolonged death. Butters is such a sweet and trusting soul and really has not business hanging around a group of kids as worldly as Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny. Cartman, in particular, exploits Butters naiveté, often with hilarious results. Butters just wants to be liked, so he’s willing to put up with a lot. But when he snaps and embraces his dark side, we get the awesomeness that is Professor Chaos, perhaps the worst super villain ever.  If Butters makes an appearance in an episode, most of the time that means it will be hilarious.

Honorable mention: Starvin Marvin

Your turn – who are your favorite characters on South Park?

The season premiere of South Park is tonight at 10 pm on Comedy Central. Old episodes can be watched on line at South Park Studios.