Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Review: Looper

Movie studios play this little game where they try to pretend the source of movie piracy is people recording preview screenings on their cell phones. They post security guards at the door to make sure people don't bring their phones inside, then those guards stand in the aisles during the show, scanning the crowd for non-existent offenders.

Looper is so good that the security guards were absolutely useless. Instead of watching the crowd, they were staring at the screen the whole time. I wouldn't have noticed, except for the fact that it occurred to me every 10 minutes or so how amazing this movie was, and how impossible it was to watch the crowd instead of the screen. Just to prove myself right, I darted my eyes over to the security guards to make sure they were watching the movie just like I had been.

And then, in that tenth of a second in which my eyes were on the guards instead of the screen, I got insanely jealous of them for watching such a great movie when I wasn't, so I immediately went back to watching. At least until I needed to verify that they were watching the movie just like I should have been.

So oblivious were the guards to what was going on, I could have propped my phone on top of one guy and adjusted the picture by shining a light off the other one's forehead while doing a celebratory tap dance with a peg leg, while wearing a parrot on my shoulder and an eye patch.

I couldn't blame them. Looper takes parts from Terminator, Blade Runner, Inception, Back to the Future, Wanted and the three and a half good Die Hard movies, creating a super movie that shoots rainbow pixie dust out from the screen and makes viewers into better people.

Writer/director Rian Johnson, who wowed everyone with the fast-talking high school film noir Brick in 2005,  but hadn't done much since, lives up to his potential with a time travel movie that makes you wish you could go back to 2005 to show everyone who watched the awful time travel movie A Sound of Thunder to deliver the message "It gets better."

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is contractually obligated to star exclusively in mind-bending sci-fi thriller and seminal Zooey Deschanel anti-romances, plays a Looper, which is future-talk for Guy Who Shotgun Blasts Dudes The Mafia Sends Back In Time To Get Whacked.

The work is steady and pays well, but there are drawbacks. Like, say, when future you is Bruce Willis, sent back in time to be murdered by you, who then roundhouse kicks you instead, then totes you around trying to convince you to murder 5-year-olds who may grow up to be Looper eradicators.  

Yeah, Loopers really need to unionize.

Then again, the downside of the job is canceled out by perks, such as the occasional moments when you're stranded on a farm run by a character named Hottest Single Mom Farmer Evaaaa! (Emily Blunt), who is not opposed to sexing up Loopers when she's absolutely certain her child, Five Year Old Whom Bruce Willis Wants To Shoot Like The Dog In Duck Hunt, is fast asleep.

The plot, though awesome, doesn't quite encompass what's great about Looper. What does encompass what's great about Looper is all the ramifications of hanging out with your future self. For instance, if you want to send him a message, you can text him. But if one of you doesn't have a phone, you can carve a message into your skin and it will show up on his arm in the form of a scar. Just wait until AT&T figures out a way to charge you for that.

The movie is set in 2044, a future of hover motorcycles -- Meaning season 37 of Sons of Anarchy must totally rock -- boomerang-shaped phones and tiny frog toys that Emily Blunt uses to make booty calls to Loopers.

Although the future is amazing, the people of the era will no doubt be nostalgic for 2012, back when that amazing time travel movie came out, and security guards were powerless to stop people from pirating it.

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt and Bruce Willis. Written and directed by Rian Johnson. 118 minutes. Rated R.

My novel, Stormin' Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.

Review: Hotel Transylvania

The whole time Hotel Transylvania played I sat frozen in terror. Judging by the general lack of creativity on display, I was absolutely sure the cast of gangly animated monsters would break out into a rendition of Monster Mash. If they couldn't work it in to the regular running time, they sure wouldn't miss the opportunity to shoehorn it into the credits.

I wasn't going to be able to handle the Monster Mash performance when it came. I knew it was destined to force me to hate a movie that I sort of liked, and I loathed that prospect. Luckily the catastrophe never came, and all my suspense was for naught.

That's just the way the movie goes, doing little to dazzle you but less to offend. Given half a chance, the kid-friendly monster romance will sink its fangs into you and convert you into its ranks of the gleeful undead. Like a giddy grandma on Halloween, it dispenses candy giddily, at least for your eyes and ears. The Count Chocula/Boo Berry-like animated style, along with the impossibly star-studded voice cast, jolts electric shocks into the dead, patched-together screenplay to pump what passes for life into the stumbling, Karlovian monstrosity, which you can only gawk at as it innocently stumbles about.

Adam Sandler voices none other than Dracula, who has created a sanctuary from monsterkind by building a mansion boardinghouse sequestered beyond a haunted forest. Mummies, hags, trolls, werewolves and the like scurry for protection from humans, which they imagine to be terrifying hunters of their kind. They all adore Drac's shelter, except for Mavis (Selenea Gomez), Drac's daughter, who longs to escape and check out the world of man for herself. Looking to protect his fresh-faced 118-year-old girl, Dracula conspires to trick Mavis into wanting to stay.

There's a lot of Monsters Inc., Little Mermaid and even a little Finding Nemo going on here. Drawing from classics, however, does not necessarily a great film make. The slapstick tries too hard, the verbal exchanges are as limp and tattered as the mummy's bandages, and the love story, pairing Mavis with extreme-dude Jonathan (Andy Samberg) is about as appetizing as Drac finds garlic.

But at least there is no Master Mash, which counts for something. Plus, the movie openly mocks Twilight, which scores it enough points to get me to drop my torch and pitchfork.

Starring the voices of Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Molly Shannon, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi and CeeLo Green. Written by Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel, based on a story by Todd Durham, Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman. Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky. 91 minutes. Rated PG.

My novel, Stormin' Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I work for Consumerist again*

*I don't work for Consumerist.

But I do according to Real Simple, which ignored me saying that I have not worked there since April during a 'fact check.'

Real Simple October 2012 - Virtual Currency

At least it was cool to be interviewed by such a huge magazine, and especially to get the title of my book mentioned.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The problem with life is that it disobeys the rules of a coming-of-age movie. Whenever you address your problems head-on, start to discover yourself, only to sink into doubt during a crisis of confidence only to overcome that doubt and emerge changed and better, the credits don't roll, leaving you happy ever after.

Instead, something awful happens that makes you realize you really haven't learned anything. You're no better off than you were before, and the only thing that came of your coming of age is more age.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is determined to be more like life than a coming-of-age movie, and it's worse off for it. It lures you into the corner of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a tortured, friendless freshman, then lets a few good things happen for him, only to torpedo everything and have him sink to lower depths than before, with tougher problems and less hope.

Credit director Stephen Chbosky for nailing the rhythms and hells of adolescent life. His movie is based on his screenplay, which is based on his book, which is probably based on his memories, which is definitely based on a mess of insecurities and dread. The movie amounts to a brain dump about how hard it is to make friends, keep them, find romance and not screw it up, all while hanging on to your fleeting sanity.

Wallflower would be even more of a downer if not for the presence of Ezra Miller, who was Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin. As a flamboyant social outcast named Patrick, he takes the movie by force as the ringleader of a group informally called the Wallflowers, which is high school's version of the Island of Lost Toys. Chbosky seems more interested in coloring Patrick's character than the one that's probably based on himself, so he gives him all the best lines, most entertaining things to do and most absorbing conflicts.

Patrick may be the king Wallflower, but he's more like the giant man-eating piranha plant in the center of the room. Charlie, on the other hand, is so effective at living up to the Wallflower title that it's tough to see what Sam (Emma Watson), Patrick's stepsister and equally interesting wild child, would ever see in him.

Watson's got more talent than her Harry Potter classmates -- she was Hermione, in case you only ever knew her as That Girl Who Played Hermione Eight Times -- and it's exciting to see her trash her prim typecast to play the sort of girl moms warn their sons about. Patrick and Sam are too interesting to be relegated to sidebars in Charlie's long, dull descent into doom, and deserve their own movie so much that you start to coordinate your bathroom breaks and cell phone time checks to when they're off the screen.

The movie's other stars also have far too little to do. Paul Rudd plays Charlie's awesome English teacher, who cultivates the talent he sees in the kid. You hope he's got a plot twist or extra dimension somewhere up his tweed sleeves, but there's nothing. Kate Walsh and Dylan McDermott are Charlie's clueless parents, but you'll have to check IMDB to verify that they were even in the movie.

No such check is necessary to make sure Lernman plays sad, aloof and bored Charlie, who proves the greatest perk of being a real Wallflower is that at least you don't get stuck watching a movie about one.

Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Kate Walsh, Dylan McDermott and Paul Rudd. Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, based on his novel. 102 minutes. Rated PG-13.

My novel, Stormin' Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.