Rian Johnson

Escargots JGL

This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career. This weekend sees the release of two major films directed by former child stars. There’s Rush by Ron Howard, who got his true start as a boy on TV shows like Dennis the Menace and The Andy Griffth Show, and Don Jon by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who got his true start as a boy on TV shows like Family Ties and Roseanne. So, given the link, I thought it would be worth it to double up on the latest column. Both actors eventually became directors (Howard made the full switch while Gordon-Levitt is actually still a rising screen star), and before the made features they directed a few shorts. Howard’s are more like home movies made with his brother Clint and friends. Gordon-Levitt’s are mostly animated collaborative works produced through his hitRECord company. Let’s look at Howard’s first. In 1969, he shot three amateur Westerns, which he also appears in. Maybe he directed others in those teen years, but we only know about Old Paint, Deed of Daring-Do and Cards, Cads, Guns, Gore and Death because they were included on the DVD of The Missing. Because of the genre. Cards, etc. is the only one I can find online, and man is it adorable. And very bloody. The plot is your basic cliche card game that get out of hand when someone is accused of cheatin’. Young Ronny […]

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Breaking Bad Ozymandias

“Ozymandias” has got to be some kind of epic meta-dare. Vince Gilligan evokes Percy Shelly’s famous poem, in which the titular “king of kings” commands future generations, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” In Shelly’s telling, though, Ozymandias was an accomplished fool. By his haughty, fearsome decree, “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away.” In creating and crafting such an astounding episode of television (not to mention series), though, Gilligan has thrown down the gauntlet to TV critics, historians, audiences, and his peers: Breaking Bad is TV’s version of the Sistine Chapel. “Ozymandias” will likely be the scene in which God reaches out to Adam. Forget this at your own peril.   (Between “Ozymandias” and Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” Gilligan sure is rewarding all his viewers with English degrees.)

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The Newsroom

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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Rian Johnson Toilet Short Film

Why Watch? The narrator of Rian Johnson‘s Ben Boyer and the Phenomenology of Automobile Branding (whose name is Ben Boyer) gets a lesson from a mysterious voice emanating from a bathroom grate who explains the deeply rooted psychology of car logos. Although it probably only teaches him to use a different toilet. The a/v quality is pretty bad — Johnson mentions that it’s a copy of a copy of a copy from the “$99 Special” program at Slamdance 2001 — but the idea is still firmly in place, and it’s a very cool relic to see in light of the director’s rise in the ranks from Brick to Looper. Plus, the idea is a wild one. Thick with narration and a kind of fury not often seen in movies that consist mostly of static imagery, the short is a bizarre intellectual pursuit given satirical fangs by its location. Simply put, the humor is so dry that you have to wash your hands afterward.

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FilmAid

It all kicks off at 9am Pacific. After raising $10,000 for FilmAid, David Chen and the /Filmcast family are making good on their offer to rock a 10-hour podcasting marathon, and since it’s done like a reverse-telethon, no one will be constantly promising you tote bags in return for your money. That leaves more time to talk with an excellent lineup of guests. The sad part? No tote bags. Rian Johnson is batting first, followed by the 10am segment with me and David Wain, followed by an 11am with Damon Lindelof. And then, 7 more hours of filmmaker guests and shenanigans. So bookmark this page and plan to camp out there all day today. If you need more incentive, here’s the full lineup:

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Rian Johnson

Writer/director Rian Johnson‘s Looper is an intricately told film. Nearly every scene in the movie is packed full of new information, from character development to world building. As Johnson explains finding that structure, it was like creating stepping stones across a pond for the audience, so they don’t fall into the pond of mind-numbing exposition. That wasn’t an easy path to make, either. Johnson spent many years developing the story from a two-page treatment to a feature length film, and much of that process was dedicated to handling all of the film’s information. After Looper‘s box office and critical success, it’s fair to say he managed with flying colors. With the movie out on Blu-ray, Johnson took some time to speak with us about the story’s mother/son dynamic, why the best science fiction has something we care deeply about at its core, and his desire to write more economically:

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commentary-looper

Rian Johnson‘s Looper is a rare film for many reasons. The only thing rarer than Hollywood committing to a mid-budget sci-fi film is one featuring an original idea not based on an existing property. Even better though, the film is unafraid to go to some very dark places with some wholly unexpected events, and the result is a rewarding experience for film goers. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis star as young and old versions of the same character who come face to face in a fight for their separate but clearly connected lives. It’s smart, exciting and challenging in the way no big budget blockbuster could ever hope to be. Three of its key players sat down to record a commentary track for next week’s Blu-ray/DVD release, and we gave it a listen. Come along won’t you, and read what we heard…

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Ben Affleck

We’re entering Awards Season, folks. For most of you, that usually means seeing your favorite films of the year lose to what you’d consider the “lesser” Weinstein picture. It’s always very frustrating, but one of those movies you may be cheering on — and has Oscar nominations written all over it — is Ben Affleck‘s Argo. The movie is a shoe-in for both the heavy hitter nods and countless spots on year-end top 10 lists. To GQ, this makes Affleck the director of the year, considering how he went from “loathed, frat boy Ben Affleck” to “esteemed filmmaker Ben Affleck.” It’s a transformation, for sure, and one to be proud of, but does continuing an epic comeback we all knew about really make him filmmaker of the year for 2012? Affleck proved himself as the director of the year in 2010 with The Town. That doesn’t mean he made the best movie of that year — and he certainly didn’t — but it was a big statement for Affleck the filmmaker. He proved Gone Baby Gone was no fluke — that he was the real deal. Although Argo is the best of these three films, it doesn’t say as much about his directorial career as his first two features do.

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Looper

Note: The following article assumes that you’ve seen Looper and contains massive spoilers. “I don’t want to talk about time travel,” says Bruce Willis to Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Looper. “If we start talking about it, then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws!” He’s speaking to his younger self at the time, so you’d think the details of how and why would be more important. He’s right, though. When you stop to break it down, there are a few paradoxes and logic gaps in Looper to go around, but director Rian Johnson seems less concerned with making hard sci-fi sense than making a statement. Looper isn’t a time travel movie as much as it’s a morality play that uses time travel as a tool for social commentary.

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Rian Johnson

Editor’s Introduction: Normally this feature is created by diving into the deep end of interviews, but when Rian Johnson agreed to write an entry himself, it was an opportunity impossible to pass up. With only three features under his belt, Johnson is already a force to be reckoned with. Emerging onto the scene with the inventive high school noir Brick in 2005, he pivoted off its dark tones for the lighter flair of The Brothers Bloom in 2008. He re-teamed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt for this year’s Looper, which has been blazing a trail through fans and sparking a metric ton of conversation. Part of that is his dialogue, part of it is the look he manages to achieve, but another big part is his personal style that shines through and seems impossible to mimic. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) directly from a man who built his own time machine.

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Culture Warrior

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Looper. Several hours after seeing Rian Johnson’s Looper, I find the film still rattling in my head. Not because certain moments have resonated with me, nor because the möbius strip sci-fi structure has motivated any existential introspection. Instead, I felt surprisingly conflicted by Looper, perhaps more so than any other film this year. Looper is a film that consists of so many great parts, miles above what most studio genre fare has released this year, yet somehow even the success of these parts didn’t seem to cohere into a resonant whole on the drive home. What stands out the most about Looper is the emotional and thematic import of the film’s time travel plot device. In situating a young man confronting his aged (and changed) self, a middle-aged man attempting to change course in his life through any means possible, and several evident cycles of fate-determining actions shared between characters, Looper connects its investigation of predestination v. free will to a rumination on how our choices directly effect the lives of others in lasting ways. The logic of Looper lays out a vision of life that includes many potential options from which we choose or have chosen for us. Here there is no such thing as fate, only opened and closed opportunities, the implications of which we can’s possibly comprehend in the present moment.

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Now that Looper is a decent hit — especially in China — we can anticipate that people will be discussing the movie around the web, the water cooler and wherever else we talk about movies these days. Much of the conversation will be devoted to the usual with the time travel subgenre: paradoxes, the workings of the time machine, plot holes, why wasn’t Hitler killed, etc. But with this particular story there’s one major point of discussion I’m interested in, and of course it involves spoilers. So, if you’ve seen the movie or are just one of those who don’t care about stuff being ruined, join me after the break as I ask…

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Fantastic Fest: Looper

Joe (the conveniently similarly named Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper, and no, sadly, that has nothing whatsoever to do with stunt piloting. What his profession actually entails is the assassination of targets sent back through time by an organized crime syndicate; the only entity to have access to the highly illegal, but totally existing time travel technology. These assassins will inevitably be one day sent the future versions of themselves in a retirement process known as “closing the loop.” Apparently the gold watch and the store-bought sheet cake was simply far too conventional. When Joe is put in a position to close his loop, he commits the fatal sin of hesitation; setting in motion a fight for his own survival as he seeks to kill himself. That sentence could only ever work in relation to Looper.

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Nathan Johnson

Out today, Looper tells the story of mafia hit-man Joe (Joesph Gordon-Levitt) who spends his days offing victims, but there’s a twist here: these victims are sent to him from the future. And when he comes face-to-face with his future self (Bruce Willis), things really start to unravel. Part sci-fi, part action, part drama, Looper flows between these different genres just as the story flows between different time periods and it is Nathan Johnson’s score that helps guide us from one place to the next. I spoke with Johnson about creating his completely original score, full of found sounds he then manipulated into actual instrumentation – no easy feat! But one that is fully achieved and gives this original story an equally original sound and feel, creating a new world that does not completely take us away from where we are now, but hints at where we may be going.

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Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson is a director you’re going to want to get to know, if you don’t already. He’s one of the more innovative filmmakers around and his previous films, Brick and Brothers Bloom have been triumphs of independent cinema. If nothing else, Brick showed us that there is still life remaining in the otherwise tired convention of film noir and that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was ready to be a leading man in something other than fluff comedy. Johnson’s latest film, Looper, re-teams him with JGL as well as giving him the chance to work with Bruce Willis on what is essentially the biggest movie of his burgeoning career. After seeing Looper at Fantastic Fest, we had a blunderbuss full of questions to fire at Johnson. We were so happy he was able to make time for us.

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Aural Fixation - Large

Unlike most films, Looper starts off with only ambient noise – the sound of the wind and the rustling of leaves fill the space, but as we look upon a stone faced man wielding a gun these every day sounds we rarely notice take on a new feeling and become almost as foreboding as the use of sorrowful strings or rumbling percussion. A single shot breaks this near silence and with it, Nathan Johnson’s futuristic and industrial score comes in. Johnson has been no stranger to giving audiences peeks at his process for creating Looper’s score and there is little question why – it’s pretty damn cool. Rather than simply turning to a full-bodied orchestra to expand on the various characters’ emotions and set the frenetic pace of the film, Johnson took found sounds (a car door slamming shut, an industrial fan, the vibration of a door stopper) and used these sounds as his instruments while still infusing and pairing them with more standard instrumentation, creating a score that is both familiar and inventive. He even went so far as to build new instruments by combining normal instruments (a marxophone) with unique sounding elements (an appropriately selected gat gun) making the score feel off-putting, but still grounded in the fabric of the narrative.

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Welcome to the first installment of the CriterionCast takeover of Movie News After Dark. While Neil spends the week singing karaoke, or whatever it is that you kids do at Fantastic Fest, I’ll attempt to fill his manly, bearded shoes with my own geeky art-house sensibilities. Speaking of Fantastic Fest, the folks handling the PR have been releasing a ton of great material for all of us non-attendees, to soothe the pain. Apparently Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick, Brothers Bloom) joined in on the nerd karaoke fun that everyone was talking about this weekend, and they sent out a hefty pack of high resolution images, to help prove what we already know to be true: Rian Johnson is the coolest.

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Looper

Rian Johnson‘s upcoming Looper is clearly filled with thought-provoking elements, but certainly one of its more interesting aspects has to be the way in which Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are playing the same character, but at different ages. Much ado has been made about the effects work used to make Gordon-Levitt more lantern-jawed and Willis-looking, but not a whole lot has yet been said about how Gordon-Levitt approached his performance. How exactly does one go about trying to play a younger version of a star whose screen presence is as well-defined as Bruce Willis’? i09 caught up with the actor and his director and got some answers on this subject, as well as a few others. When talking about his preparation for the role, Gordon-Levitt said, “I studied him [Willis], and watched his movies, and ripped the audio off of his movies, so I could listen to them on repeat. He even recorded some of my voice-over monologues [from Looper] and sent me that recording, so I could hear what it would sound like in his voice.” That sounds like a good way of studying Willis’ cadence and perfecting the way that he talks, but does that mean Gordon-Levitt’s performance is going to simply be a glorified impersonation?

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Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson‘s Looper is fresh from being showered with praise in Toronto and Chicago (see our praise here), so it’s fortunate that Johnson possesses the technology to go back and live through the adoration all over again. Of course, that’s the toughest technical part of writing a movie about time travel. The mechanism itself is both used frequently and difficult to get right. If the logic behind the time travel is off, audiences might be forgiving, but there’s a special brand of nerd (I’m raising my hand) who has extreme difficulty looking beyond illogical time travel. The perfectly legitimate reason is that bad time travel reduces down to a gimmick used for convenience instead of momentum. It’s like introducing a gun into the plot but having it shoot banana pudding at the climax. It’s giving yourself license to do things over, and few filmmakers seem to have the discipline to resist the easy path. So it’s encouraging to see Johnson talk about his time travel element in Looper. As Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis attempt a game of cat and also-cat, this is what we can expect to see in their temporal-jumping:

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Looper

With his third feature film Looper, writer/director Rian Johnson marks the official return of the smart science-fiction film that works to stimulate audiences while making them think. Such a double-layer genre of “style equals substance” sci-fi has been elusive but more than often successful in Hollywood as studios took a leap of faith on projects like Blade Runner, The Matrix, Dark City, Minority Report, and most recently Inception. I can only assume that the film industry insiders who attended the premiere of Looper at the Toronto International Film Festival also leaned towards that same exercise and brought up comparisons of years past to properly qualify their impressions of the film. In doing so, none could be more accurate than Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, the 1995 mind-bending remake of the French cinema classic La Jetée (which also featured Bruce Willis…). Johnson may have been inspired by the closing scene of Gilliam’s opus, where an innocent child watches an older man fall on his knees after being shot by airport security. Other worthy comparisons include some of Brian De Palma’s earlier works (especially The Fury) and the Back to the Future trilogy. Worry not, there is no correlation in tone between Doc Brown’s DeLorean adventures and the central plot elements of Looper. But like Robert Zemeckis, Johnson approaches time travel from the viewpoint of subjective consequence, which remains the most fascinating aspect of this very popular concept. Similarly to the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance where Marty’s parents must fall in love, […]

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published: 04.16.2014
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published: 04.16.2014
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published: 04.16.2014
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published: 04.14.2014
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