23 Aug 2014
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This Week at the Movies

"Looper" is a good - if not great - science fiction mindbender, while "Pitch Perfect" is occasionally funny, but overly familiar.

This Week at the Movies

This week’s cinematic selections appeared to be made possible by recently successful films.

Although the story in “Looper” is unique, it would appear that the critical and financial success of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” likely paved the way for Rian Johnson’s head-trip science fiction thriller. And although “Pitch Perfect” is aimed more at teens with its PG-13 “Glee” storyline, it would appear to owe a great debt to “Bridesmaids,” which also features a female-led cast, some gross-out humor and a rivalry between two of its main characters.

Johnson’s career trajectory has sort of followed that of Nolan’s. In 2001, the latter debuted to much acclaim with the mindbender “Memento” and, in 2006, Johnson’s “Brick” was also praised for its ingenuity.

Johnson's sophomore film, “The Brothers Bloom,” felt more like a minor Wes Anderson movie and was a misfire. His latest, “Looper,” finds him back in Nolan territory, most specifically “Inception.”

The picture stars Joseph-Gordon Levitt, who was also in “Inception,” as Joe, a hitman for the mob. The movie is set in a future in which time travel exists, but is illegal. The mob sends those it wants bumped off back in time, where Levitt and his fellow “loopers” kill them and dispose of the bodies.

But Joe finds himself in a conundrum when his target turns out to be the future version of himself, who is played by Bruce Willis and is searching for a child who will grow up to be the man who wants him bumped off. Got all that?

Through a series of circumstances, younger Joe meets a woman (Emily Blunt) and her child, whom we realize is Willis’s target. Joe must decide whether to side with, um, himself or to protect the mother and child.

“Looper” earns points for creativity and is at its best during its first half when we are introduced to its futuristic world. And Levitt earns points for pulling off a tricky performance.

One of the film’s weaker elements is a subplot involving psychokinesis that is introduced early on and then utilized heavily in the climax. There is a brief explanation for how some of the film’s characters are able to move objects with their minds, but it’s a bit vague.

And one of the key plotlines in “Looper” simply doesn’t add up. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that a character travels back in time to halt the actions of another character. But if you give the film a few moments thought, you’ll see that there is a pretty big hole in the story.

But on the whole, “Looper” wins points for being original and stylish with solid performances from its cast. Much like “Inception,” I admired it and enjoyed it, but don’t believe that it is a classic in the genre.

“Pitch Perfect” is a mostly harmless, occasionally enjoyable, riff on the popularity of “Glee.” The film stars Anna Kendrick as Becca, a wannabe D.J. who reluctantly attends college at the request of her father, a professor.

Once there, she signs up to become a member of The Bellas, the campus’s sole all-female a capella group, which is a motley crew of personalities, including scene stealer Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and control freak leader Aubrey (Anna Camp).

After an embarrassing defeat the previous year, the women must once again face off against the school’s arrogant men’s group, The Treble Makers. Of course, one of the young men in the group is Becca’s love interest.

“Pitch Perfect” has its moments – Wilson (who was also in "Bridesmaids") has most of the picture’s best one-liners as Fat Amy and Hana Mae Lee’s Lilly easily wins the prize for the film’s strangest character.

But I felt as if I’d sort of seen this all before. Much like the far superior “Bridesmaids,” “Pitch Perfect” has its share of gross-out moments – including two vomit sequences – and women proving that they can talk just as raunchy as men. There is also a rivalry between Becca and Aubrey that draws parallels to the spat between Kristin Wiig and Rose Byrne in “Bridesmaids.”

“Pitch Perfect” is amusing and there’s a good chance that it could be a surprise hit – at least, based on the audience’s reaction during a screening I caught this past weekend. But if you want to catch an even better movie about young people, go instead to see “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

“Looper” is playing at Douglaston’s Movie World, while “Pitch Perfect” is screening at Forest Hills’s UA Midway Stadium 9. The latter expands into more theaters in Queens this coming weekend.

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