RJ’s back, (and so am I) and I’m so happy that I thought why not let ‘er rip on the dusty ol’ blog and let America know why. Well America, you already all know how much I love RJ’s firstest feature Brick and the beginning of Jo-Go-Love (which I can confidently say that I was in on before it was cool, mkay?). The immediate follow-up to Brick, The Brothers Bloom, was a far from uproarious reconstruction of the con man genre that really left me unhappily blah. But after a few stints sharpening his directorial flint on some two of the best shows of the new millenium, my boyfriend’s back (and there’s gonna be some s’rous trouble).
I’m not kidding about that (the ‘trouble’ part I mean). On a tonal note, this is a significantly bloodier, 80s action-y-er movie than Brick was. That movie had, like, one gun in the whole film. This one wears its Leone bloodshed on its shirtsleeve…y’know, Sergio Leone, Man With No Name Trilogy? Fistful of Dollars? Good Bad and the…okay fine, are you going to make me say it? You know he’s a soulless thief right? Yes, yes, I know he knows it, but that doesn’t make his movies good, certainly not even remotely as good as the ones he steals from. Yes I know he does it on purpose!!!!! All right, okay, I’ll say it. Give me a minute. Geez, cough*[uncultured jerks]*cough…ahem…Tarantino.
Actually, bringing that man into the discussion is a good opportunity to discuss RJ’s approach to genre. Many will compare the two, but as opposed to he-who-must-not-be-named, RJ actually takes pains to construct a world, albeit a rickety and humorous one, instead of taking you from set-piece to set-piece and leave you to assume that the unfinished construction is kitschy genre-cool. Johnson is just as aware that his films are a big collage of genre conventions, but he pays attention to you watching it and makes sure you’re drawn inside instead of just being self-indulgent. Instead of being led through the Tarantino dollhouse where you’re forced to see every shot through the quick-cuts of the faux-teur’s subjective lens, RJ gives you a backstage view of the performance. I mean that literally. Every one of his movies includes a backstage scene. In Brick it was a high school play rehearsal, here it’s a cheesy Blade-Runner burlesque. RJ’s not too serious about his world-building and his winks are many, but they’re sly and unobtrusive. The characters are actually required to pay attention to the hoverbikes and future-guns and act within their constraints instead of just letting them turn on the faucet of “I’m a famous actor doing genre!” crap. The personalities shine, but by giving texture to the set-dressing, never in spite of it. I like this *so much* better because when everybody’s in on the joke, you’re really not watching a movie anymore and it’s hard to care about what the hell happens. That was the difference between Ocean’s 11 and Ocean’s 12, and now it’s the difference between Looper and Inglorious Basterds. If I wanted to just vicariously hang out with all these cool actors having a good time, I’d go read US Weekly. When I go to the movies, I want to be told a story. I don’t need to be totally convinced of the reality of the things I’m seeing onscreen for the story to matter to me, and it’s nice when a director treats you like an adult and knows which things don’t need to be totally realistic and over-explained, but there’s a difference between actors playing dress-up and actors being used to tell a cool story. Tarantino has never told a good story in his life. And you can quote me on that.
Sorry about that, really. I haven’t actually told you all that much about Looper. But actually, I don’t want to. I went into this movie without seeing any trailers or descriptions beyond the unavoidable one-sentence synopsis on Fandango (thankfully, even that doesn’t go nearly far enough to spoil anything). Looper is just a fun, nail-biting, scary/funny, intense, creepy and deeply satisfying picture. It’s not perfect. It’s a little up-ended and hard to know in what direction one should be compelled for probably 90% of the film. But the screwball style keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout and the ending answers all questions of why you should care in a very cathartic and relieving two minutes or so. I like when a cynical sci-fi movie actually acknowledges its own cynicism and uses it to satisfying thematic purpose. It could have punched harder I suppose, but that’s like saying your wife’s chocolate cake she made just for you could have tasted better. Of course it could have, but you don’t care, because RJ made it just for you because he knows you love sci-fi chocolate cake. Just eat it. You’ll love it.
In celebration, I present to you the Top 5 Time-Travel Movies you probably haven’t seen (excluding Looper of course). Sorry if you’ve seen them. There aren’t actually that many time travel movies out there (and even fewer good ones). Here ya’ go!
This is a weird movie from New Zealand about a prophet-kid from the middle ages who, at the behest of some seriously creepy omens, crawls through a hole in the ground and ends up in modern-day Wellington. Sounds campy. Actually it’s not, and that’s what’s so cool about it (though it’s a little dated). The mediaeval peasants actually act plausibly, as peasants would, like immediately seeking out the village church. There’s a scene of them attempting to cross a highway that’s particularly spectacular.
This one started it all. The awesome adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic is classic pulp cinema. Great special effects hold up today. No, really I’m serious.
3. Donnie Darko
Not always remembered as a time travel movie, but I think it’s the hidden genre behind it all. I like how it gives it existential weight and a Lynchian feel of no escape. Terrifying and fascinating.
This is just about the most fun you’ll ever have with time travel onscreen. It’s already a spanish-language classic and a paragon of the genre. Its spartan Hitchcockian feel is absolutely divertido. RJ referenced it several times while making Looper
This is the best time-travel movie ever made, hands-down. It’s Crichton-level plausibility and a completely original feel and environment: i.e. the corporate wasteland of my old toddling grounds of Richardson, TX. It’s probably the most low-budget sci-fi film ever made. It’s a rubik’s cube of logic that demands to be watched and re-watched to puzzle it out. Yeah, well I think that’s fun and you should too. Shane Caruth actually showed up on the Looper set a few times, probably in an advisory role. His unproduced script A Topiary currently lies fallow in the Hollywood desert of unoriginality. Pray that it gets made.