“Looper”: sheer loopiness

And this week’s Sneak-Out Wednesdays movie is… Looper!

For the first 30 minutes, I honestly thought it was a turkey. It commits that laziest of all directorial sins: the narrative track that explains the film for those in the audience who shouldn’t really be let out unsupervised. (“I’m too untalented to show you, so I’m going to read it out instead.”) It probably came from a focus group rather than the Director’s hand, but it’s intensely annoying nonetheless.

Fortunately, after the first half hour the director gets the upper hand over the focus group again (there’s definitely going to be a Director’s Cut) and it turns into this amazing piece of art. Tarantino on his best day would have trouble getting close.

I didn’t come with high expectations. Time travel films annoy me, travelling the arrow backwards being one of the few things that’s really impossible. But let’s face it, a world where Bruce Willis speaks French and Mandarin is already pushing the disbelief scale skywards…. and the subgenre’s so full of hackneyed cliches I didn’t think there’d be much creativity here.

But somehow Rian Johnson pulls some real characters out of the Kansas canesugar. It’s believable how a young runaway might grow up into a jobbing assassin trained to kill without motive or reason and think himself the Man for doing it. There are the right motives for jumping into a time machine when you’ve got a chance to escape. The whole narrative is well-constructed and pretty coherent within its own frame of reference. (Although I’d have taken a gun back with me, Bruce.)

The way Joseph Gordon-Levitt presumably trained for days (possibly fixed in post) to get just the look of a young Bruce Willis in his eyes for one of the film’s opening sequences … the way his older self might still find the killer within him unreconstructed after all… I’m not giving anything away here; this much is in the trailer and voiceover. But there’s a couple of not-quite-foreseeable plot twists – and I left the cinema happy. 8/10, Rian Johnson.

Iron Sky: don’t mention the…

After a six-month contract that kept me occupied pretty much fulltime, I’m back to being an independent. Working in town and out of suit and tie, this can only mean… the return of sneak-out Wednesdays*! This week at one of the few cinemas taking a punt on Iron Sky.

I went on the basis it’s the first cinematic release funded by crowdsourcing, and wanted to see if collaborative development had worked – the community also had input into set design and character bios. (It’s not “bunking off for the afternoon” it’s, “Continuing Professional Development”.)

While everyone applauds the *model*, it’s been getting mixed reviews *as a film*…. and when I hit the Prince Charles Cinema, it was obvious from the bums on seats that the business model hasn’t quite worked. This was a geek-only cinema with NOT A SINGLE GIRL IN IT. So my expectations started low, and I had a pleasant surprise: it’s so stupidly funny I enjoyed it straight off the bat.

First off: the cinema itself. The Prince Charles Cinema is a hidden gem: tiny, atmospheric, and what a *real* cinema should be: close and intimate. Less about watching a film and more about the popcorn-infused experience of going to the movies. it shows a lot of reruns you wished you’d seen the first time around. Go there: rents are high around Leicester Square and it needs you. 

But anyway, the film. In 1945, a Antarctica-based bunch of Nazis decided the best place to vamoose was not South America but … the Moon. And they’ve been there for 70 years, waiting for the right moment to return.

The enjoyable thing here: I expected to be annoyed by the way they skipped over the huge difficulties of living on the Moon – recycling air, growing food, building giant swastika-shaped bases etc. Not to mention getting a few hundred people there in the first place.

I’d have appreciated a ten-minute montage showcasing those first years on the lunar surface. The cramped conditions in the saucers … the breakthroughs by the scientists when their CO2 scrubbers and hydroponics worked … the gradual ascent into functioning machinery and mining the Helium-3 … the first Nazi children giving their first Seig Heils as their society developed an economy. But the film’s premise is so laughable you forgive it the dropped balls.

It’s perfectly acceptable that the Nazis don’t have any more trouble living on the Moon than, say, the Amazon. The gravity doesn’t appear any different to Earth’s, and Moon-born people don’t have any problem adjusting to the crushing weight they’d feel. The steampunk look just about allows suspension of disbelief; after all, during the Cold War ICBMs went into space with no more computing power than an abacus. But there are other errors. Air-breathing petrol engines appear to work just fine on the lunar surface. They’re on the dark side, yet the giant base is clearly bathed in sunlight. And in one shot, controls on the Nazi spacecraft are clearly labelled in English. It may have crowdsourced $millions, but this is still a low-budget independent film.

However, the plot goose-steps along at reasonable pace, and the moments of comedy – “In case of emergency break to hear National Socialist anthem” – mostly work. Sometimes it goes overboard (although whether a film about WWII-era Nazis living on the Moon can go over the top is debatable): the US President isn’t a parody of Sarah Palin, it actually is Sarah Palin.  And the ending is brilliant. Whether or not you’re into the whole Nazis-on-the-Moon genre, support independent film and buy the DVD.

And of course, apologies to my girlfriend. It’s impossible for a Brit to go to a film featuring German dialogue and not speak in an accent for hours afterwards.

* All right, Mondays. But I work so many weekends that my monthly cinematic escapes can legitimately take place any weekday.