Start off 2013 by seeing the best action film of 2012 (feel free to argue with me in the comments, but I’m standing firm on this one). The inventive film, written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brother’s Bloom) Looperfollows the mind-bending journey of Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Bruce Willis), a hit man hired to kill people the mob sends back from the future. When the mob is done with a looper, they send the future looper back. The present-day looper then “closes the contract” (read: kills his future self) and is rewarded with a big “retirement” sum and the dubious honor of knowing exactly how he’ll die. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Joe’s contract closing doesn’t go as planned, and the resulting chaos makes him face questions of free will versus fate, self identity and self-sacrificing love.
Johnson balances the dizzying actions-and-consequences tightrope necessary for a satisfying time-travel film with a plot that rock-skips agilely over the depths without drowning in them. At one point, Older Joe quips, “I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.” (SPOILER link). (Johnson has said that they actually did have a straw diagram sight gag in the film, but they edited it out.) Known for creating engrossing film worlds, Johnson sets up the rules of this one through interesting action and mise-en-scene dialogue, prepping you to understand plot implications later.
Here’s the deal: Premium Rush isn’t going to change your life. But it definitely won’t make you like Joseph Gordon-Levitt any less. And it might make you want to buy a fixed-gear two-wheeler, even if you’re a super clumsy cyclist like me.
What Premium Rush will definitely do is flat-out entertain you for a fast-flying 91 minutes. It’s a straight-up action movie with more bikes than bullets (thank God), and it knows the rules of its genre and agreeably delivers on them.
Last spring a couple of my comedy-savvy friends told me I had to go see Sleepwalk with Me at SXSW. A fictionalized account of one man’s real-life struggle with commitment and a rare sleep disorder, Sleepwalk with Me was getting nice reviews but wasn’t on the top of my list. Mike Birbigli-who? I asked. But once I settled in for this sweet comedy, it all came rushing back: Oh, he’s that guy.
If you’ve got comedy-savvy friends, too, you’ve probably been exposed to Mike Birbiglia’s self-depracating and vulnerable brand of storytelling sometime in the past decade. Maybe on Comedy Central , perhaps in his bit parts in Your Sister’s Sister, Cedar Rapids, or Girls (season 1, episode 2). Or maybe the way I was introduced to him: Mike Birbiglia is a regular on the (best ever) radio show This American Life. I had heard parts of the film’s story before in episode 361: Fear of Sleep. In fact, I remember listening to it while I drove the I-29 stretch from Denver to my sister’s place in Fort Collins, hoping for bad traffic so I could hear the whole thing. (Ira Glass, This American Life‘s fearless leader shares a writing credit on the film, along with co-director Birbiglia, his brother Joe, and co-director Seth Barrish.)
When one tries to learn how to write screenplays, one hears this bit of wisdom over and over again: Don’t write voice-over narration. Just don’t.
It’s generally good advice. Using a narrator can be a shortcut to avoid the hard work of figuring out how to show your story visually. Voice-over can get tedious fast. It can sound stilted. Just don’t.
The final film in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is now out on DVD and digital. While the second installment, The Dark Knight, remains my favorite of the three (thanks to its tightly themed screenplay and Heath Ledger’s terrifying Joker), The Dark Knight Rises makes a satisfying end. Here’s why it’s a worthy addition to your DVD collection.
1. The Stakes are Really High
The trouble with superhero movies (which I generally love, by the way), is that it’s hard to up the ante high enough to make you worried for the hero. I mean, they’re superheroes. Batman stories have always been better at overcoming this hurdle. Batman is smart, strong and cunning, but he’s no immortal.
You should know that Safety Not Guaranteed is not really about time travel. At least not in the way that Back to the Futureor Primer is about time travel. Safety is more about love…the kind of time-travel that’s available to us all. Meaning that love is able to transform the way we experience the-past-in-the-present almost as well as if we actually flux-capacitor-ed away our regrets.
And, oh, these characters have regrets. Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is an anti-social magazine intern still grieving her mother’s years-past death. Jeff (Jake Johnson) is her boss, a cynical writer still pining after his high-school girlfriend. Jeff sets out on a quest to reconnect with said woman, under the guise of writing a story about this intriguing classified ad:
Writer and director Lynn Shelton is known for making sweet movies about not-so-sweet situations. While her breakout hit Humpdaywas a more extreme version of that emotional sleight-of-hand (just check out the film’s logline), Your Sister’s Sisteredges this indie queen into mainstream territory with this tale of tangled relationships, bad decisions and good intentions.
Jack (Mark Duplass) is grieving his brother’s death. His brother’s girlfriend was Iris (Emily Blunt), who has become Jack’s best friend and voice of reason. Iris sends Jack to her family’s secluded cabin for a time out after he makes a scene at an anniversary memorial gathering. What Iris doesn’t know is her half sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is already there, mourning her split from a long-time lover. What Jack doesn’t know is that Iris is beginning to have feelings for him. What Hannah doesn’t know is that her reckless efforts to heal her own broken heart are about to break a couple more.