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Review: Looper, Pitch Perfect, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

By October 9, 2012No Comments

Looper posterThe main prob­lem I have review­ing Rian Johnson’s Looper is that the most inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion about the film can only be had with oth­ers who have seen it. The film diverges bril­liantly from its mar­ket­ing premise about half way through and the sur­prise is so pre­cious – and adds even more fas­cin­at­ing lay­ers – that to dis­cuss it here would be the abso­lute defin­i­tion of the word spoil­er. Suffice to say: if you like intel­li­gent sci­ence fic­tion you should make imme­di­ate plans to view Looper and allow time after­wards to digest with oth­er people. It changes, the more you talk about it.

The premise is enti­cing enough. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a Looper, a spe­cial­ised hit­man with the job of rub­bing out incon­veni­ences from the future who are sent back in time by the mob so they can be cleanly dis­posed of. Every now and then a Looper’s future self is sent back in order that anoth­er lay­er of evid­ence is removed. This is called “Closing the Loop” and the Looper then knows he has 30 years left to enjoy life before he’ll end up as his own victim.

One sunny morn­ing, in a Kansas corn­field Mr Gordon-Levitt is con­fron­ted by his own future self in the form of Bruce Willis. He hes­it­ates for a moment and blows the deal. Willis escapes and Gordon-Levitt is forced to hunt him­self down and close the loop, all the while learn­ing some uncom­fort­able truths about his own life and the dog eat dog world he’s liv­ing in.

Despite its many strengths, Looper loses half a star for fea­tur­ing Paul Dano – one of my least favour­ite per­formers – and for the rel­at­ively inel­eg­ant incor­por­a­tion of a key plot ele­ment that I can’t talk about here. These are minor infrac­tions though, for a film that proves big budget and high concept doesn’t have to mean dumber than a sack of hammers.

Pitch perfect posterIf you are won­der­ing where all the dumb went, you can find most of it in Pitch Perfect in which col­lege teams attempt to win a pres­ti­gi­ous “inter­na­tion­al” acapella singing com­pet­i­tion. Serious wan­nabe record pro­du­cer and glum vic­tim of a par­ent­al divorce, Anna Kendrick (Twilight, Up in the Air) unwill­ingly joins the all-girl Bellas – one of four Barden University acapella groups – and over a year trans­forms them from bor­ing and con­ser­vat­ive to bor­ing and mildly adven­tur­ous. I have a soft spot for a well arranged acapella cov­er ver­sion – and there are a few lip-synched offer­ings here – but they’re just not enough to save a film that fun­da­ment­ally hates all its characters.

Anyone look­ing for evid­ence of Hollywood’s con­tinu­ing cas­u­al racism should just cre­ate a little Pitch Perfect graph show­ing each character’s diver­sion from default preppy white American default, cross-referenced to their sup­posed weird­ness (fat, les­bi­an, pos­sible seri­al killer, humour­less room­mate) and see how the dots cluster. The film also relies so heav­ily on Aussie Rebel Wilson’s self-deprecating fat jokes that I hope she’s being paid a big fat bonus.

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted posterIf you want to see fat jokes done well you should check out Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted in which Jada Pinkett Smith’s dainty hippo Gloria tip­toes around in a tutu. For one, there are only a couple of them and for two – like almost every oth­er gag in the film – they are actu­ally funny. Rollicking along for a very wel­come 93 minutes, M3: EMW may well be the best of the tri­logy. Can I call them a tri­logy? After all, it’s still the same story, they’re all still try­ing to get back to Central Park Zoo from their new home on the African savannah.

The pen­guins have taken all the gold and jew­els and flown to Monte Carlo to gamble their way to even more fame and for­tune. When they’ve been gone for too long Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria decide to travel to the South of France to find out what’s up, get back all the money and some­how use it to get back Stateside. One of the things I love about these films is that they don’t waste time explain­ing how any of this is going to hap­pen – they just decide and in the next scene they are snor­kelling in to Monte Carlo harbour.

Chased out of town by a fero­cious anti-animal cop played by Frances McDormand, our gang hide with a fail­ing cir­cus and in the pro­cess dis­cov­er their true mis­son in life. Genuinely fun for all the fam­ily, I found myself wish­ing that “nor­mal” Stiller films and Rock films were this well craf­ted and this funny. Also worth not­ing: pay the 3D premi­um, it’s really worth it this time.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 October, 2012.