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Looper

ABE (Jeff Daniels), a crime kingpin from the future, nicely summarizes the trouble with incorporating time travel into your science-fiction movie: "This time travel crap just fries your brain like a egg."

Abe thus glosses over the complexities of that particular plot device and signals the audience that they should do likewise. But even taking into account its sometimes lax attitude to logic, Looper still brings considerable ingenuity into its future-noir concept.

Set in a grimy, lawless near-future, the movie's unlikely hero is Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hit man called a looper whose job is to kill designated victims and dispose of their bodies. The twist is that the victims are sent back in time from 30 years in his future, after time travel has been invented but is still strictly illegal.

Joe realizes that loopers are killing their future selves in what is basically a twisted retirement ceremony. When one of Joe's fellow loopers, Seth (Paul Dano), fails to carry out the task of executing his older incarnation, the outcome is, um, unpleasant. Inevitably, Joe is faced with the task of killing his older self (Bruce Willis), but old Joe proves to be a wily son-of-a-gun and escapes. The double chase is on: Young Joe chases Old Joe. Young Joe is chased by his criminal confederates. And Old Joe is on a mission of his own, attempting to eliminate a future threat, a menacing, powerful figure known as "The Rainmaker." The pursuit brings Young Joe to stake out the farm of Sara (Emily Blunt), who is raising a particularly intense little boy called Cid (Pierce Gagnon).

Gordon-Levitt, his face cosmetically altered to resemble Willis's bulldog mug, reunites with writer-director Rian Johnson after their excellent high school shamus movie Brick. The makeup doesn't do Gordon-Levitt any favours: he looks about as natural as one of reality TV's Real Housewives.

But the actor surprises anyway, especially in his interactions with his older self. Older Joe despises the younger's short-sighted commitment to cheap pleasure. Younger Joe seems to consider his older self a major inconvenience, but also a living, breathing memento mori, a reminder of his own mortality. ("Why don't you do what old men do and die?")

That dynamic is one of the things that gives the film a kick that transcends its sketchy logistics. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2

The Words

WRITER-DIRECTORS Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal insist on shooting their film like a lifestyle commercial, devoid of humour.

At the centre of this hokum is would-be novelist Rory Jansen (a dewy-eyed Bradley Cooper), a man who struggles to write his "artistic" novels and is met with a deafening chorus of disinterest from publishers.

Rory sticks with it. He already has a supportive, beautiful wife Dora (Zoe Saldana). But he wants it all.

There is no visual cliché unturned when it comes to endless shots of these lovers snuggling, walking arm in arm, cooking in their charmingly appointed New York loft. I kept waiting for an announcer to pop in recommending a particular brand of condoms.

Anyway, Rory is just starting to come to terms with the fact that his writing ambitions may never pay off when he discovers a yellowed manuscript in the battered leather valise his wife purchased for him in a perfectly charming second-hand store in Paris.

Rory is moved to tears by the novel and transcribes it into his laptop. When Dora reads it under the mistaken notion Rory wrote it, she talks him into shopping the purloined story to a publisher. Before you know it, Rory is a literary wunderkind.

But then, an old man (Jeremy Irons) manages to track down Rory; he found the novel achingly familiar. He contrives to talk with Rory about the story of the novel's creation, just after the Second World War, when a younger incarnation of the Old Man (Ben Barnes) wrote the book while in the throes of his own personal tragedy.

This might have worked as a simple literary melodrama. But the filmmakers double down on the cleverness, framing the story-within-a-story within yet another story of a celebrated novelist (Dennis Quaid) conducting a reading, distracted by an attempt to seduce a college student (Olivia Wilde).

Want a better way to spend 96 minutes of your life? Read a book. 'Ö1/2

Cosmopolis

ONE can only imagine a young Robert Pattinson fan watching this film, only to be baffled (and potentially traumatized) by the spectacle of Twilight's Edward Cullen submitting to a prostate exam.

This is Pattinson as paired with Canada's most idiosyncratic filmmaker, David Cronenberg, resulting in a movie destined to be consigned to the outer perimeters of Cronenberg's oeuvre.

An adaptation (written by Cronenberg) of Don DeLillo's postmodern novel of the same name, the film follows Pattinson's billionaire boy wonder Eric Packer in his custom, cork-lined limousine as it inches its way through the streets of New York City.

Packer's empire is crumbling due to an ill-considered bet on Asian currency. Psychologically, Packer seems to respond by folding in upon himself. With his limo functioning as a mobile office, Packer receives a series of appointments, from a panicked adviser (Jay Baruchel), a worldly older lover (Juliette Binoche), and his company's "chief of theory" (Samantha Morton), discussing in cool, abstract terms the financial threat to Packer's world.

There are more physical threats too, apparently, which are a concern for his chief of security (Kevin Durand), nonplussed at Packer's insistence on being taken to a barber across town as anti-capitalist rioters protest and a presidential motorcade stalls traffic in the city.

Pattinson, adored by millions, seems to have successfully drawn on the alienation that comes from sudden fame and put it to good use fleshing out a character in exile from humanity, seeking solace in a simple haircut.

But if the movie is unsatisfying, it is because it may have been too faithful to the source material. Cronenberg has previously managed the trick of successfully adapting a couple of books -- William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch and J.G. Ballard's Crash -- that outwardly defied adaptation. He did it by investing his own imagination into the works, injecting his own DNA into the adaptations and proudly producing offspring that, it could be said, bore a resemblance to both parents.

Cosmopolis is a David Cronenberg film, but not enough of a David Cronenberg film. 'Ö'Ö1/2

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 3, 2013 C6

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