Sci-fi spills and body horror satire galore on the opening day of TIFF '12.
Opening the festival with plenty of bangs and some brain-tingling nourishment, Looper proves that intelligent genre movies can still be made on a grand scale that this Rian Johnson fellow might be the real deal. The genre is sci-fi, specifically of the time travel sect. Joseph Gordon Levitt is Joe, a mob assassin (aka 'looper') from 2047 who executes people sent back from 2077, where no one could be tried for the crime. Eventually all loopers will be forced to close their loop by being sent their future self to kill, who'll be strapped with enough gold boullin to ensure they can live out the next 30 years in comfort. One day Levitt is sent his future self in the form of Bruce Willis, but he hesitates and lets Older Joe get away. Levitt now has to dodge his former looper buddies while trying to track himself down and commit future suicide.
It sounds complex and convoluted, but Johnson keeps things fairly simple (at one point during a discussion about the logistics of how Levitt’s behavior could affect his future self, Willis lashes out to insist they not waste time arguing over those trivialities in a clever in-joke). His focus is primarily on creating an entertaining action story within his unique concept and it works. As the director proved in his 2005 debut Brick, he’s got a knack for combining popcorn munching entertainment with smartypants storytelling and Looper delivers on that promise on grand scale.
His Brick star Gordon-Levitt proves to be a more than capable leading man here and armed with some facial prosthetics and an arsenal of smirks, he delivers a dead on Bruce Willis impression without sliding into caricature. Willis seems excited enough by the material to actually deliver a performance beyond posturing for the first time in years, while Jeff Daniels gets some gruff laughs as the burned out looper boss while underrated genre actor Noah Segan delivers the goods as the requisite angry evil henchmen.
It’s easy to raise expectations too high for Looper. This isn’t a movie that will reinvent the action sci-fi genre, it’s just proof that interesting, original concepts with mainstream appeal are out there. Johnson is cine-literate enough to know the limits of this sort of movie and never pushes too far in his ambitions. This is the type of intelligent blockbuster entertainment we've been craving all summer.
David Cronenberg’s son Brandon announces himself as a perversely thoughtful filmmaker in his own right to dismiss the inevitable claims of nepotism. His writer/director debut boasts a clever satirical premise and enough bloody entrails to keep the body horror hounds at bay. Appropriately themed for a red carpet defined film festival, Antiviral is vicious critique of celebrity-obsessed culture. It occupies a world where gossip fans feast on cloned celeb muscle cells and infect themselves with A-list diseases to feel closer to those famous folks on TV. Probably the most frightening thing about the movie is how eerily plausible the premise feels.
Caleb Landry Jones stars as one of the top officers in a disease hawking clinics. The job makes him no more cynical about the culture though, infecting himself in his private life to both make some backdoor profits and live out his sickly dreams. After securing the latest disease from starlet Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon in an appropriately vacant and radiant turn), he pops a little taste into his blood stream before learning that Geist died from the virus. Now he’s suddenly in an awkward position of hosting the most valuable virus on earth and, you know, dying. Jones showed promise as an actor before, but really delivers here in a physically degenerating role with only minutes of screen time in which he isn’t in physical anguish (so easy to overdo it and yet he doesn’t).
Cronenberg Jr certainly can’t be accused of lacking stylistic nous, creating a near future world comprised on painfully sterile white space that’s casually reminiscent of '70s jumpsuit sci-fi. There are some inevitable stumbles, but nothing uncommon for a first film. Budgetary limitations ensure there’s far more talk than action and the dialogue seems strained in places. But it's thematically compelling and there’s enough skin-crawling horror on hand to keep things from getting overly didactic. Antiviral is a strong debut from a young director will real promise. If nothing else, at least there’s one member of the Cronenberg clan still consumed by body horror.
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