Sunday, 30 September 2012


Director reunites with Joseph Gordon-Levitt to deliver Looper, a very different type of film to their previous collaboration, the cult indie Brick

Or is it? 

Because Looper, despite promoted as yet another sci-fi action flick, shares much with the indie mentality of believable characters, a constantly-developing story and the marrying of great actors with great material. Johnson's script is full of great scenes, whether it be the stand-out diner confrontation between Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his older self (Bruce Willis) or the emotional revelation from a troubled mother (Emily Blunt) about her 'special' child. 

Johnson also manages to cram in enough original and clever ideas to ensure Looper remains a science-fiction film, as opposed to being an excuse for action like recent offerings (In Time, Prometheus, John Carter, Total Recall, Cowboys & Aliens and the rest). Not that the action is lacking. There is plenty to keep mainstream audiences munching on their popcorn, as Willis fires dual machines guns and henchmen ride flying motorbikes. But genre-wise, Looper is closer in-line with Duncan Jones' Source Code and happily addresses the sci-fi elements of time-trickery. For example, a particularly innovative scene features a character rapidly losing their limbs because his past self is being brutally maimed by a torturer. Very clever, very haunting.

Johnson is equally capable of holding the camera, as well as the pen, and he assembles his film with the skill that you would expect from a previous winner of the Sundance Jury Prize for Originality of Vision. Like the recent Dredd, Johnson creates a believable futuristic world with a relatively low budget. The exposition-heavy opening is also expertly-crafted. Using a combination of voice-overs, montages and narrative flow, Johnson manages to establish an alternative future, introduce characters and teach the audience about 'closing the loop' and telepathy without ever sounding like a lecture.

Looper's greatest strength is its story, which will not be spoiled in this review. Suffice it to say, the twists and turns will keep the audience hooked. It is genuinely hard to guess where the story is going (a rare find in cinema today), even more so when the action relocates to a corn-farm for the second half of the film. 

A final mention must be given to the cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt further cements his leading-man status, now adding action hero to his CV. He also perfects the trademark smirk of a young Bruce Willis. Meanwhile, Willis himself proves that he can still dispatch a room full of henchmen but equally reminds audiences that, unlike the rest of the Expendables, he can actually act. But most impressive is child actor, Pierce Gagnon, who holds his own against all of the grown-ups and steals a fair few scenes himself.

Looper is a refreshing genre-bending marvel: part-blockbuster, part-science-fiction, part indie. It looks set to win over the Friday night crowd and the film critics alike, whilst Johnson edges towards becoming an established name in Hollywood. 

Here's hoping we don't have to wait another four years for the next Rian Johnson film.

Sunday, 9 September 2012


Dredd is an unusual approach to a comic book adaptation: low-budget, simple plot, small cast, few big names and it's only 95 minutes long. In many ways, it feels like an extended pilot for a TV show. But, based on this evidence, there is plenty of potential for franchise development.

It is not surprising that a Judge Dredd reboot has been approached with caution. 

After all, the eponymous futuristic law enforcer from the 2000 AD comic strip has a relatively small fan base compared to the likes of Spider-Man, Batman and Superman. Plus, the last time Dredd was brought to the big screen was in Danny Cannon's 1995 flop, Judge Dredd, starring Sylvester Stallone in the titular role. This earlier attempt floundered at the box office, offended the fans (Dredd never takes his helmet off in the comics), garnered disapproval from Dredd creator John Wagner and earned Stallone a Razzie for Worst Actor, so naturally a relaunch was only going to be green-lit provided it would be a low-risk affair.

As such, director Pete Travis and writer Alex Garland obligingly keep things simple. The plot is straightforward: Dredd (Karl Urban) is partnered with a rookie (Olivia Thirlby) on a routine triple-homicide investigation at Peach Trees, an apartment block under the rule of psychotic drug-queen Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). When Ma-Ma's lieutenant (The Wire's Wood Harris) is arrested by Dredd, Ma-Ma locks down the block and the Judges have no choice but to fight their way upwards through multiple floors of henchmen.

Audiences are therefore presented with a low-stakes mission, limited to one location and a handful of characters. The lack of scale is a smart move and offers cinema-goers a gentle introduction to the Dredd mythology. We get a glimpse of dystopic Mega City One, a brief mention of mutants and an element of the supernatural in the form of Thirlby's telepathic rookie, all of which play a bigger part in the comics and have presumably been reserved for a better-funded sequel.

Most crucially, this focussed approach allows newcomers the opportunity to discover Dredd himself, rather than getting distracted by sub-plots and the wider mythology. Urban's Dredd is thankfully faithful to the 2000 AD comics: a grim, uncompromising, incorruptible force, with no time for humour or wisecracks or mercy. And Dredd purists will be relieved to hear that Dredd keeps his helmet firmly on, resulting in some admirable chin-acting courtesy of Urban.

Travis delivers as director, realising that if a film is low on plot then it should be big on style. Travis keeps the action brutal and the tone dark but can equally deliver inventive camera-trickery when necessary, such as when Thirlby's psychic invades a villain's head for information. The frequent drug-induced sequences are particularly captivating. The aptly-named drug, Slo-Mo, allows for some beautifully balletic sequences as glass shatters, bullets fly and blood splatters, all in slow-motion, with saturated colours and added special effects. These sequences were perfected by VFX supervisor Jon Thum and Alex Garland in post-production and justify paying for those 3-D glasses.

Various critics have noted that Dredd shares its plot with that of The Raid, the Indonesian martial arts flick that wowed audiences earlier this year. Many have argued that Dredd suffers from this comparison due to the frenetic - and admittedly better - action sequences delivered by The Raid

But whilst The Raid swiftly negotiated fight after fight, Dredd is more evenly-paced and allows room for the characters to shine. The Raid was populated with two-dimensional characters, headlined by a vanilla hero. Whereas, Dredd offers plenty of engaging characters, such as Thirlby's psychic and Headey's vicious gang leader, with Dredd himself already established as an enigmatic anti-hero. And whilst The Raid relied on Pentak Silat martial arts to excite audiences, Dredd has the advantage of being set in the future which provides plenty of equally cool gimmicks: Dredd's multi-tasking gun (the Lawgiver), his formidable bike (the Lawmaster) and his ever-iconic helmet.

If there is a criticism to be levelled at Dredd, then it would be the lack of scope. But then, as said earlier, this narrow look at the Dredd world was a necessary approach for the relaunch. Predictably, a sequel would heighten the stakes, add some complexity to the story and delve into the wider communities of both Mega-City and the ranks of law enforcement. And hopefully, based on this teaser, cinema-goers will demand a larger-scale Dredd adventure.

But you can be the judge of that.