Book review: “The Martian” by Andy Weir (2012/2014)


The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am a vivacious reader, but very rarely am I truly surprised by a book. I spend most of my time reading books to edit for others, ARCs and galleys to review, or graphic novels and comic books for pleasure and review. Like all writers and readers, I have my tastes. Science fiction, fantasy, and action-adventure are some of my favorite genres, but because I critically analyze these genres, and I read an immense of content, I don’t often stumble upon a novel that captivates my attention by providing a high-quality read with the excitement of a new creativity. “The Martian” by Andy Weird delivers. It is riveting and fresh. It is reminiscent of highbrow science fiction films, but layered with nuance that only a novel can achieve.

I received “The Martian” as a galley via Crown Publishing Group—which is an imprint of Random House—and I chose “The Martian” based solely on its synopsis:

“Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?”

It plucked at my sensibilities in an abstract and I immediately requested it. It arrived a scant week later. I was graced with an ornate hardcover, a beautiful smell, and a gorgeous slipcover with an astronaut caught in Martian sandstorm. The colors are vibrant— Orange and red with a hint of a white spacesuit caught in the throws of survival.

In a word: Exquisite

“The Martian” follows NASA astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist and a mechanical engineer, on the third manned mission to Mars, Ares 3. The novel begins with a bang. Readers are not privy to the mission setup, crew members, landing, and the circumstances to Watney’s predicament. Without ruining the suspense and discovery, Watney is presumed dead and left on Mars (when in fact he is not) and is forced to survive on Mars without any means of communication till interplanetary comms can be reestablished or the next Ares mission arrives…four-years in the future.

The rest of the novel focuses primarily on Watney and his survival. Through the use of his mechanical and botany background, Watney comes up with some pretty ingenious ways to prolong his rations, Oxygen, water, and transportation. The narrative is primarily composed of Watney leaving logs for himself (or as a testament to his journey and untimely death), so the technical side to his endeavors are filtered through his warm and charming personality, which lightens what could be an overly scientific text— Changing a potential negative into a strong positive. Weir deftly avoids a common issue among science fiction writers with clever character development and use of perception.

The rest of the novel proceeds like Alfonso Curacao’s Gravity. It is deeply individualistic, but symbolic. The writing isn’t stretched by only focusing on a single character, because as the novel goes on it begins to layer in Watney’s support team on Earth. It provides a wonderful message of hope due to the global cooperation that is required to bring home an astronaut stranded on another world. “The Martian” doesn’t pull any punches or use its arsenal before the tale is done, either. It continuously builds upon the tension set by Watney’s survival till its climax. Its ending is extremely satisfying— One of the best that I’ve read in years.

After reading Andy Weir’s “The Martian” I was awed by the level of detail, character development, and sheer quality of the narrative. It is one of the best science fiction written and should be considered along the likes of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. If you get a chance try and read “The Martian” before the Ridley Scott-Matt Damon film adaptation, which is set to release in November of 2015— It is sure to be hit.

View all my reviews

Film review: Riddick (2013)


“Riddick” with Vin Diesel, Jordi Mollà, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Batista, Bokeem Woodbine, Raoul Trujillo, and Karl Urban

Directed by David Twohy, Written by David Twohy

Riddick 3 PosterRiddick (at least in its current iteration) is the lovechild of actor Vin Diesel and writer/director David Twohy. Vin Diesel has played the title character in all the film and video game adaptations. However, not only has Diesel always portrayed the gravely rogue, Diesel also vied and won the rights to Riddick due to his cameo in “Fast & Furious” as well as levied his own home to procure the necessary investment required to make the third installment, “Riddick.”

As mentioned, “Riddick” is the third feature film starring the eponymous character; David Twohy and Diesel seemed to have amalgamated the better parts of the prior two films to create something entirely new and better with a relatively small budget. It seems as-if the personal investment of the film has been quite successful for the two, so here is to hoping that more Riddick is down the pipeline.

The film starts off by recapping the events of “The Chronicles of Riddick” and tying them into Riddick’s current predicament. After being Lord Marshall of the Necromonger fleet for five-years, Riddick has grown restless and inevitably takes the bait when Commander Vaako (Karl Urban of “The Chronicles of Riddick”) dangles a carrot that Riddick can’t resist. Vaako offers Riddick the supposed location of Riddick’s home planet Furya, which has been lost to all record. Riddick obliges, and ends up being double-crossed by Vaako’s right-hand man and left for dead on an unnamed, hostile planet buried beneath the rubble of a cliffside.

The real heart of the film “Riddick” begins here with Riddick’s survival and subsequent plan of attack concerning his escape from the planet. The first third of the film was the most enjoyable. Riddick is beaten and tattered with a myriad of broken bones (specifically a rather bad compound fracture in his leg), and is required to shed his near-kingly garb and mentality to become more primitive in order to survive. The film introduces a host of wild and creative creatures that constantly test Riddick’s endurance.

During these sequences, director David Twohy uses wide sweeping shots that show the horror and beauty of the alien world that Riddick currently resides.

Riddick 3

After quite a bit exploring and mending, Riddick finally stumbles across a co-op mercenary bunker belonging to any mercenaries planetside. In order for Riddick to acquire passage off of the planet he has to essentially call the men and women who want to kill him for his bounty. The remainder of the movie focuses on this aspect of the storyline. Two bands of mercenaries answer Riddick’s call, both with very different agendas, and proceed to hunt and be hunted by Riddick while the planet’s creatures rally in kind.

The only remnants of “The Chronicles of Riddick” are visage are the special effects and backstory. Some of the shots of the planet and creatures are incredibly intricate and eye-catching, while on the whole, the plot and relative structure more closely follow Riddick’s freshman effort, “Pitch Black.”

Ultimately, the film manages to blend the best of the both earlier entries by creating something that honestly has a lot of heart and soul. It’s an action movie through-and-through, but because Vin Diesel owns the role so completely and the series continuously pushes forward even with such great setbacks, any filmgoer can tell that it is a labor of love rather than a quick paycheck.

Personally, I would rather see a solid action flick made by people who just want to make a movie than a solid drama that aims only for accolades.

Film review: It’s a Disaster (2012)


“It’s a Disaster” with Rachel BostonDavid CrossAmerica Ferrera, Jeff Grace, Erinn Hayes, Kevin M. Brennan, Blaise Miller, Julia Stiles, and Todd Berger

Directed by Todd Berger, Written by Todd Berger 

its_a_disaster“It’s a Disaster” is an art-house, black comedy starring Rachel Boston, David Cross, America Ferrera, Jeff Grace, Erinn Hayes, Kevin M. Brennan, Blaise Miller, Julia Stiles, and Todd Berger; it is also directed and written by Todd Berger who is most notable for his work on the film “The Scenesters” and the acclaimed television show “Parks and Recreation.”  Not only is “It’s a Disaster” an understated comedy that manages to create laughter with death, divorce, infidelity, and Nerve Gas, it does so under the horrible pretense of Armageddon!

“It’s a Disaster” explores the inner workings of couples and relationships all under the premise of destruction and death.  It is clever and witty when it needs to be, but also raw and heartfelt.  This adds to its charm by creating an emotional dichotomy between the characters, which not only escalates throughout the film but results in a fabulous twist that really cinches everything together in an epic finale.

The plot is fairly mundane in the fact that it primarily deals with couples, their relationship with one another at different stages of their pairing, as well as the couples’ interaction with one another in a public setting.  In this instance, the public setting is the popular and much joked upon, ‘couple’s brunch.’

However, like aforementioned, this mundane situation is all under the umbrella of the Apocalypse.  Essentially, the ensemble cast gets trapped in the host’s home during their regular brunch due to a series of dirty bombs that get released in their hometown.  Jim Emerson’s synopsis on RogerEbert.com describes it succinctly:

Seven friends and one newcomer gather for a Sunday “couples brunch.” Because most of them have known one another for years, and because they are fairly petty and duplicitous, they embed covert barbs and hidden agendas in almost everything they say and do. Conversations appear familiar and convivial on the surface but carry a disconcerting undertone of cattiness that’s almost a private language.

its_a_disaster-1Emerson, quickly hits upon the attenuation of the film.  A lot of the conversations seem casual on the surface, but on a close (or second) watching the alternate meanings become more-and-more prevalent.  The acting needed to be nuanced to pull off the script and for the cast pulls it off; each couple stands out uniquely against the next and thus brings something different to the proverbial table than the couple next to it.  This is then bolstered by the quality writing; the jokes are frequent but subtle, which add to the overall tone of the film.

The only faltering aspect of the movie was the ending.  I felt that such a carefully crafted film would have a more poignant conclusion, but the last seconds of the movie leave the audience feeling left empty.  This doesn’t ruin the entire film, but it is a shame to leave such a great story left unfilled.  On the whole though, I would still recommend “It’s a Disaster”; the journey alone is worth the viewing.

I would suggest “It’s a Disaster” to anyone interested in a charming, unique comedy that has a tendency to strike the dark side a little more frequently than most.  “It’s a Disaster” garnishes four-out-of-five stars.

Film review: The Wolverine (2013)


“The Wolverine” with Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, and Brian Tee

Directed by James Mangold, Written by Mark Bomback & Scott Frank

02Comparing “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” to “The Wolverine” is like comparing apples to oranges.  They are both about Marvel’s burly and animalistic Wolverine, but they could not be any more different.  Origins seemed to explore a bit of Wolvie’s past under the framework of the prior X-Men movies (i.e. familiar characters, settings, and themes), but unfortunately it didn’t hit home like the prior X-Men films.  The writing fell flat, because 20th Century Fox took odd twists and turns with fan favorites like Gambit and Deadpool and then never expanded on them in future films like they promised.  Instead of bridging Wolverine’s backstory to the acclaimed X-Men trilogy, Fox ended up widening the gap.

However, “The Wolverine,” takes an entirely different approach to the eponymous character.  Audiences get to see the Adamantium and claws stripped away in a more emotionally driven film.  Wolverine is facing an existential crisis.  Following the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand” filmgoers get to see the Wolverine battle is own mortality, or rather near-immortality, during a series of dream sequences centering-around Jean Grey, which is reprised by award-winning Dutch actor, Famke Janssen.  This creates a great underlying plot, and immediately sets “The Wolverine” apart from the other X-Men films.

Surprisingly enough, “The Wolverine” closely follows the original comic book volume of Wolverine, Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s four-part miniseries, that set the tone and standard for Wolverine and his story arcs.  Even though the film is set after the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” instead of “X-Men Origins,” “The Wolverine” accurately showcases the events of the 1982 comic book series.  Slight changes have been made to modernize and fit the screenplay into the continuity of the X-Men franchise but on the whole I was incredibly surprised by the amount of source material represented in the movie.

06Following the conclusion of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” in which Jean Grey (aka the Phoenix) is killed by Wolverine in order to stop her from committing genocide, Wolverine    once again takes to the Canadian Rockies.  Living as an animal, Logan only ever comes down from the mountains to garnish what little supplies that he needs.  After a particularly unjust hunting party pulls Wolverine from his introspection and a mysterious Japanese woman shows up to escort Logan to her adoptive grandfather, the films gains traction.  The remainder of “The Wolverine” takes place in Japan with an almost all Japanese cast, and focuses on Wolverine’s relationship to a (now) elderly Japanese man who Logan saved during the closing days of World War II after the atomic drop over Nagasaki.

Rivals emerge and mutants aid both sides, but at its heart “The Wolverine” is primarily focused on Wolverine.  It discusses his mental state after killing Jean, his own mortality as he confronts an old acquaintance, and ultimately his place in an ever shifting world.  Hugh Jackman portrays the character perfectly.  He is, for lack of a better phrase, the only actor that could ever play Wolverine.  He is the best he is at what he does.

Aside from the phenomenal adaptation and Jackman’s performance, the action sequences are tight and the revelations are legitimately surprising.  There are only a handful of lines that came off forced or cheesy, but they can be forgiven considering the overall quality of the film.  The pacing is so smooth and cyclical, that I personally had difficulties telling where the climax of the film landed; this left me without a frame of reference.  Usually I can tell when the conclusion is eminent, but this time around I had difficulties nailing it down.  I think that this is a byproduct of closely adapting a mini-series into a film.  It felt more like a series of mini-climaxes akin to the conclusion of four separate issues culminating in the finale of a series.  Regardless, the flow was appropriate and I never felt that the film hung in exposition or action for too long.  It had great balance.

This is a solid superhero film that pays homage to its source material better than most and keeps with the character’s integrity after nearly fifteen years.  Cheers to Hugh Jackman and the whole crew for “The Wolverine.”  “The Wolverine” garnishes four-out-of-five stars.

Also, do not forget to stick around for the after the credits scene.  It ties wonderfully into “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which is slated to release May of 2014.  Its got surprises a plenty and if it doesn’t get you excited for the next X-Men film then I’m not sure what would.

(SOURCE: Film review: The Wolverine (2013))

“(500) Days of Summer”


“(500) Days of Summer” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Chloe Grace Moretz, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Clark Gregg

Directed by Marc Webb, Written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber

(500) Days of Summer“(500) Days of Summer” struck me, and not in a good way.  I enjoyed it upon reflection, but not at first.  I felt sad, depressed, and filled with angst immediately following my Valentine’s viewing of “(500) Days of Summer.”  However, like aforementioned, my initial reaction was more based in the circumstance, rather than the actual quality of the film.

“(500) Days of Summer” falls into a sub-genre of the standard romantic comedy–one that I can’t really put my finger on.  I am almost positive that there is a name for it, yet my knowledge of film classifications is most impressive once I strike moot.  At parts “(500) Days of Summer” fit the rom-com bill perfectly; however, on the whole it’s an entirely different beast.  It exists in a subset.  It tries to more deeply explore the idea of love, rather than giving audiences another difficult kindling of a couple not meant to-be/meant to-be.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays, Tom.  I wouldn’t call Tom ‘helplessly romantic,’ but he is definitely more-inclined to romanticism.  He believes in true love and the concept of a soulmate.  His counterpart, Summer played by Zooey Deschanel, feels oppositely.  She possesses that certain kind of ‘x-factor’ and subsequently has been hit on her whole life.

So what would happen if these two met and fell in love?

That is precisely the intent behind screenwriters, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber’s “(500) Days of Summer.”  The plot is uniquely structured in that it skips around a 500 day period of Tom’s life during which Summer played an influential role.  The two obviously fall in love (after meeting as coworkers), but the real heart of the movie begs the question: Is this the one?

Ringo Starr Quote from (500) Days of SummerAs an audience member we get to see the goofy moments, the fights, the make-ups, and all-of-the other little joys and horrors of life’s relationships.  The story skips around never linearly progressing through the ‘500 days,’ yet the conversations amongst Tom and the rest of the cast compound to create a cohesive and synergetic film.

Funnily enough, the end of the film is quite surprising and poignant in the fact that it doesn’t end in the manner that you would hope or expect it to.  Not only does “(500) Days of Summer” focus on the trials-and-tribulations of relationships, but the gray.  That area between Venn Diagram circles that causes most so much anguish and joy.

I found the acting to superb.  Joseph-Gordon Levitt nails his performance and Zooey Deschanel is excellent company.  They have wonderful onscreen chemistry.  It seems a bit of a different role for her (not the typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl role), but it works.  The supporting cast is small, but their scenes are wonderful.  Tom’s friends and sister, played by Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Chloë Grace Moretz, add to Tom’s personality by creating a funny trio (sometimes quatro) of banter–a type of banter that we have all had with our friends and can easily relate to.  Clark Gregg’s portrayal of Tom’s boss is perfect.  At times, I wish I had such a pragmatic boss!  Talk about rolling with punches and playing to people’s strengths during a time of emotional turmoil.

The nonlinear structure definitely plays to the quality of the cinematography in a very positive manner.  Life is chaotic and doesn’t make sense, until you start to piece it together after the fact.  The cut of the movie accentuates this, which (again) furthers the relatability of the film.

Directing-wise, Marc Webb keeps things in focus when they could easily have gotten off track and into confusing tangents that would have been detrimental to the film.  His skill is definitely praiseworthy and on that note I will leave you with this:

Check out “(500) Days of Summer.”  It’s not your typical romantic comedy.  It’s something more.  Something to be covenanted and something to entertain ideals with in spare moments.  It’s a great film.  Even with my initial reaction I can say this comfortably.

Ten Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me


ImageThe other day I was finally catching up on my blog readings and I came across NDP’s post, “Ten things you may not know about me…”  It is a great piece.  Oftentimes, writers, bloggers, and artists create these blogs, but as they become more successful and larger than their original roots a new persona is created.  Readers begin to lose sight of the blogger and the blogger loses sight of his or her readers.

A simple post titled, “Ten Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me,” brings it back though.  It closes the gap between the writer and the reader.  I find this to be important.  I write for those to read, and I read to engage those that write.  I should never expect any less of myself.

Check NDP’s blog, “NDPworld.”  It’s a regularly updated and fantastic blog featuring the thoughts and poetics of NDP.  He is acutely aware of social and cultural beats and it is shown within his poetry.  I always gain a new perspective when reading his work.  I urge you to check it out.

Here is my blatant ripoff, “Ten Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me”:

  • I’ve worked as a grocer for the past six-years in various departments and positions.  A jack-of-all-trades if you will.  I enjoy it because it provides health insurance and stories.
  • My favorite band is the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and my favorite album of theirs is “By The Way”; however, my favorite track is “Under the Bridge” from their “Blood. Sugar. Sex. Magik” LP.  *As an aside: vinyl is the only way to go.
  • I enjoy longboarding a great deal.  One of my closest friends and I are building our own longboards, and are considering starting a ‘Spokane Longboarding Group’ for amateurs.  We’re working on several Spokane longboarding guides.
  • I am an atheist.  I appreciate theological and religious scripture from a historical and literary standpoint, but I have difficulties believing in a God.  However, that being said I rarely ever bring it up and it doesn’t bother me to hear of other people’s faith as long as they aren’t trying to indoctrinate me.
  • I have an obese ten-year-old Black and Tan Dachshund named Norman.  I’ve had him for over five-years now and he is the first dog I’ve ever really owned.  He is my best friend, and I don’t know what I would do without him.
  • I am a coffee addict.  It seems cliche, especially coming from a Washingtonian, but I enjoy coffee immensely.  My French Press is my friend.  Luckily for me I work right next to a Starbucks.
  • My best friend and I are currently writing a television screenplay called, “Baggage,” that is about the dark humor found when working in a retail industry, the macabre found in higher education without a job, and crazy girlfriends and boyfriends.
  • I grew up in and around Spokane, WA, USA.  I ended graduating from high school in Cheney Washington and tried to finish a bachelor’s degree at Eastern Washington University, but inevitably found writing to be my calling, rather than academia.
  • I have an immense love of comic books.  I find them to be an ‘American Mythology’ of sorts.  I started my writing career writing reviews about comics books and I still trek down to Merlyn’s Sci-fi and Fantasy Shop every week and pick up my haul.  Funnily enough, my fiancée also enjoys them a great deal and it is a hobby that we started together when we first started dating.
  • I’ve often been described as eccentric.  I try to be a student of all. I love all-types of philosophy, literature, film, and games.  I can be fairly moody, and I think that this plays into my interests.  It has to match my mood, but at the end of the day I will try anything once just to say I have.

 

“Jack Reacher”


Jack Reacher” with Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog, Joseph Sikora, and Robert Duvall

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie 

The Official UK Poster for "Jack Reacher."
The Official UK Poster for “Jack Reacher.”

Originally my review was dry, terse, and immensely boring.  Not the Jason Schwartzman and Ted Danson type of ‘Bored,’ but fairly deathly in its own right.  However, after placing some “Black Keys” on hi-fi and letting the caffeinated beverages fill in where the creative juices left off I began to coalesce a much clearer picture of Tom Cruise’s latest picture, “Jack Reacher.’

Essentially, the film “Jack Reacher” is plays out like a throwback to older movies of the same genre.  It is incredibly reminiscent of older action films and it leaves much to be desired when considering the stellar source material in which it was derived.  “Jack Reacher” is based off of Lee Child’s famous character and series of novels (specifically his novel “One-Shot”), which detail the interesting happenings of Jack Reacher–an ex-MP who wanders the States looking for…well..something.  He always ends up in a predicament, but he always manages to help those in a jam and move on to the next place and task.

In this particular plot, Jack Reacher (played by Tom Cruise) is called by name by an old military ‘buddy,’ Barr (played by Joseph Sikora), who has requested his help.  Barr has been charged with gunning down five people at a park with a sniper rifle.  This scene opens the film and normally would not be troublesome to watch, but after the recent shooting in Connecticut I found this difficult to view.  This most-likely is reactionary and on the whole I do not support film censorship.  Forewarning though…my gut did react.

In between Barr’s supposed shooting, holding, and Jack’s trek, Barr is brutally beaten during transport that renders him useless and leaves him in a coma, so by the time Jack reaches Barr his primary witness/suspect is out of commission.  In pursuit of the truth, Jack Reacher teams up with Barr’s lawyer Helena (played by Rosamund Pike), and begins a thread-lined journey that will eventually lead him to the heart of the truth.

The acting of the supporting cast and large portions of the script (specifically the dialogue) really disappointed me.  Save for Tom Cruise’s portrayal of the idiopathic character, Richard Jenkins as the DA, David Oyelowo as the lead detective, and the incomparable Robert Duvall of the case the acting was atrocious.  Helena’s dialogue was choppy and cliche, which resulted in a flat, inconsistent character that could have been anyone off the streets.  However, that being said, there were far worse performances and writing to be had.  The film’s villain, ‘The Zec’ (played by Werner Herzog) was so incredibly cliched and not at all frightening that I thought for a majority of the film that the casting director had taken head shots from all the worst Bond-villain throwaways that he or she could find and finally settled on the worst of them, The Zec.  Not only was the villainous Zec not imposing he was nonsensical, frightfully dull, and had absolutely no purpose besides being fodder for Tom Cruise in the closing moments.

All-in-all, I thought Tom Cruise was great as Jack Reacher.  His lines were impeccable and the action sequences were tightly shot and added to the tone of the overall film.  However, even Tom Cruise cannot hold up an entire film, and in this instance he proved this sentiment wholeheartedly.  The writers had excellent source material and chose to butcher much of Lee Child’s writing in favor for the old and the cliched…this coupled with the fact that the supporting cast was truly awful really took what could have been a great film and transformed it into a ‘meh’ film.

I give Jack Reacher three-out-of-five stars, and recommend that you wait for this to make its way to DVD before watching it.

“Looper”


Looper” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Jeff Daniels, and Garret Dillahunt

Directed and Written by Rian Johnson

I love action films; the cheesier the better. Obviously much depth cannot be gleaned on the whole from those sorts of movies, but I enjoy them because they are cheap, nonsensical thrills. The bulk of my childhood was in the 90‘s, and Stallone and Schwarzenegger were in their prime; action movies were in abundance. Action movies, nowadays, have evolved slightly, but the same nonsensical eye candy is still prevalent…it’s just flashier.
Personally I expected “Looper” to fit this bill–a flashy, new age action flick with little depth, but a great ride regardless of the stigma. However, I was pleasantly surprised by its depth, wit, and stunning cinematography–it was better for it, and by the end of the film I was better for it.
Essentially, the film follows Joe. He is a Looper in the year 2044. He explains to the audience that thirty-years from his present, time travel will be made possible with the invention of a time machine. The device will be instantly outlawed by the government, but organized crime syndicates will get a hold of it and use it as means to kill off anyone they want. In the 2070s everyone is easily tracked, and it is impossible to ‘whack’ someone and get away with it. However, with the use of a time machine the mob can send back their enemies and have them executed and disposed of in 2044 without anyone the wiser in their own time.

This is where the Loopers come in.

The Loopers are hired hitmen. They wait at a predetermined location at a specific time everyday, and when their mark pops into existence (from the future) they immediately kill them and dispose of the body. The body is always laden with silver, which the Looper can then trade for cash and other goods. For the most part it is a a fairly easy gig, except it has one immense drawback: If the Looper is still alive thirty-years in the future the mob will eventually round them up there, send them back, and have their past selves “Close their loop.” Essentially, they assassinate themselves. They get a huge paycheck, they celebrate, get released from their contract, and they have a guaranteed thirty-years of life, but they are the device of their own demise.

This is where the main conflict arises for Joe. His future self is not on the same page as him, and this results in some…let us say, ‘issues.’ The film unfolds from this complication in a flurry of mob secrets, time loops, telekinetic powers, and bloodshed–all resulting in a unique science fiction film that is more than what it seems. I found the plot to be ingenious. The time paradox is explained relatively simply through the cinematography, rather than complex exposition. It cuts away at the precise moment and explains the timelines succinctly and without ambiguity. Besides using the cinematography to explain the multiple timelines and loops, Director Rian Johnson also creates some truly beautiful scenes. Whether the shots are action sequences or drug trips the scenes represent a type of creative cohesiveness not seen in film terribly often.

The acting is top notch as well. Even with a facial prosthesis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt manages to capture many of the mannerisms in speech and gestures that Bruce Willis is know for. This creates a sub-realm of believability that adds credence to the plot. Two actors playing the same character could easily go awry, but in this instance it worked superbly. However, I think that it is a rare occurrence and could only be achieved with a certain caliber of actor. Paul Dano plays a fellow Looper and has unfortunately fallen into the whiney, screw-up character that he always seems to play. For granted he is good at it, but I would love it if he played a character outside his abilities. I am hoping that it is a typecast issue and not of his own doing, but after his role in “Cowboys vs. Aliens” and now this film I am a bit worn out. Jeff Daniel’s role of the mob boss sent from the future (Abe) completely threw me off guard. I haven’t seen him in ages, but he manages to fill the role perfectly. I honestly forgot how much I missed him! And, finally a special mention to Garret Dillahunt. He is a personal favorite of mine. I love him from the television show, “Raising Hope,” and I am excited to him in a large-scale, feature film. I am crossing my fingers that this indicates a blossoming career on the big screen.

Besides the stellar lineup of actors I also noticed a fairly deep and blatant allusion to the story of Judas. Small facets of the allusion include that the Loopers are paid in silver and that a near mystical individual singlehandedly unites all the crime syndicates in the future. Once you get to the ending the story comes full circle–fully realizing the Biblical parallels.

Overall, I found “Looper” to be a layered and powerful film. It touches on numerous topics including child murder, addiction, and time travel while staying grounded under the guise of science fiction and the traditional action movie archetype. “Looper” is a truly splendid film that should be enjoyed and watched repeatedly. At the end of the day, it may not be the happiest of films, but it is a profound one.

“The Debt”


The Debt” with Sam Worthington, Marton Csokas, Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciarán Hinds

Directed by John Madden

“The Debt” is deeply flavored in the style of John le Carré, and it is natural to draw comparisons to the wonderfully shot film, “Munich.”  “The Debt” primarily centers around a cast of three and their shared experience while on a covert mission in East Berlin in 1965, and its subsequent repercussions that fully unfold in 1997.

In 1965, Mossad agents David Peretz (Sam Worthington) and Stefan Gold (Marton Csokas) have been working together for the past two years to track down the infamous war criminal, the Surgeon of Birkenau.  The trail finally pans out, and the two have all but confirmed the surgeon’s whereabouts in East Berlin.  To shore up the details (and the rest of the plan) a third agent is required, specifically a female agent.  This is where translator turned field agent Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain) comes onboard.  Being her first time in the field David and Stefan are a bit weary at first, but as the plan comes together with Rachel’s confirmation of the target their trust in her begins to grow.

Interspersed throughout the core narrative taking place in 1965 there is another subplot consisting of the same agents, but thirty-years later and in direct response to the conclusion of the original mission to capture the Surgeon of Birkenau.  Now in their late fifties/early sixties the three agents have all gone their separate ways and lived very different lives with very different purposes.  However, with the release of a book detailing the three’s covert mission, penned by Rachel’s daughter, old feelings and mistakes rear their ugly head and the three must again take a journey together—this time to the past.

The three protagonists are split amongst two actors (respectively), and when considering the time jump in plots this of course makes sense from a casting as well as a writer’s perspective.  Helen Mirren does a masterful job (as always) of portraying the 1997 version of Rachel Singer along with Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds as Stefan and David.  Both Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds are fantastic actors and hold their own, but there was definitely a disconnect between the physical appearances of their 1965-selves.  I almost felt that it would have been more believable if they had Tom Wilkinson play David and Ciarán Hinds play Stefan, but all in all it is most-likely a personal preference, and doesn’t detract from the acting in any shape or form.

I wish that I could be more detailed in my synopsis, but a lot of the plot centers upon the perceptions of events and their subsequent ‘truths,’ so by revealing plot details I would effectively ruin a bulk of the film.  I can say this though:

At its heart, the plot deals with espionage and love.  The three agents, who by necessity come together for justice, end up leaving in a morale gray area and in skewed love triangle.

I highly recommend this film.  It is a bit macabre, and does not have the traditional ‘happy ending.’  So, make sure that you are in the right frame of mind before diving into this one, but when you do you won’t regret it.  If you enjoyed watching “Munich,” or are an avid reader of Graham Green or John le Carré, than “The Debt” will be right up your alley.

Courtesy of YouTube, check out the trailer below to get a feel for the film:

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: