30 September 2012


Bruce Willis, left, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are shown in a scene from "Looper."

"Looper" boasts an ingenius premise, a hook most other movies would introduce and simply coast on until the end. But writer-director Rian Johnson never stops working, using the science-fiction setup and trappings to delve into the characters and give us a story with some real meat.

"Looper" is the story of Joe. Actually, it's the story of two Joeswho really are the same Joe. One, in 2044, is a young man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a junkie who works for a ruthless mob boss known as the Rainmakerwho's running things three decades from now. "Time travel hasn't been invented yet," Joe explains in voice-over, "but in 30 years, it will have been." Joe is a "looper," an executioner who eliminates whoever the future mob sends back in time, no questions asked. The mob literally makes its enemies disappear and rewards Joe handsomely. Each looper does this knowing his future self eventually will be delivered to him. He's expected to pull the trigger as he always does, take the hefty payout that comes along with it and live out his remaining days however he sees fituntil it's time for him to go back and close his loop.

Everybody got that? Good.

25 September 2012

House at the End of the Street

Jennifer Lawrence, left, and Elizabeth Shue are shown in a scene from "House at the End of the Street."

"House at the End of the Street" borrows heavily from one of the all-time classics—revealing which classic film would be a big spoiler—and does so in a way that is both good and bad.

The good: It's disguised well enough that you might not see it coming.

The bad: I'm not sure if it makes sense. It feels like the filmmakers were so enamored of their twist on the well-known story that, along the way, they got a little lost in the details of the plot.

The setup is typical of a horror movie. Sarah Cassidy (Elizabeth Shue) and her 17-year-old daughter, Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence), move from Chicago to a small, rural town. Elissa appears to have been closer to her father, and we never learn why she lives with her mother now.

21 September 2012

Trouble with the Curve

Clint Eastwood, right, and Amy Adams are shown in a scene from "Trouble with the Curve."

The trouble with "Trouble with the Curve" is it feels outdated, as behind the times as co-workers accuse Gus, an octogenarian baseball scout with failing eyesight, of being.

But because Clint Eastwood plays Gus with his usual steely-eyed authority, and because his chief critic is a sniveling villain played by Matthew Lillard, we are expected to overlook that thought.

Gus, a longtime scout for the Atlanta Braves, pores over box scores in newspapers and frequently hits the road to evaluate young talent with his own eyes—even when those eyes aren't working anymore. The Lillard character prefers to use statistics and—gasp!—a computer. Though he had a different name, better actor and superior script, he essentially was the hero of last year's "Moneyball." Gus is the kind of dinosaur we saw ushered out in that film.

"Trouble with the Curve" asks us to ignore the reality of the sport.

11 September 2012

Sleepwalk with Me

Mike Birbiglia is shown in a scene from "Sleepwalk with Me."

Sometimes, a story is so good—so darn funny, so full of real, relatable, human emotion—and the storyteller so engaging that it not only works but flourishes in any medium.

Take comedian Mike Birbiglia's "Sleepwalk with Me." It's been a one-man, Off Broadway show; he's performed portions of it on the radio program "This American Life," hosted by Ira Glass; it is the title story of Birbiglia's book, released in 2010; and a live performance is available on CD.

The culmination of it all is "Sleepwalk with Me" the feature film, directed by Birbiglia, with co-director Seth Barrish; written by Birbiglia, his brother Joe, Glass and Barrish; and starring Birbiglia as an only slightly fictional version of himself, Matt Pandamiglio.

OK, so we all haven't jumped through a closed, second-story window, or found ourselves threatened by a jackal in our bedroom in the middle of the night, as Birbiglia has done in his life and Matt does in the movie. But who hasn't felt the anxiety that can come from a relationship, pressure from family and friends, and struggles in your chosen career path?