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Criticwire Picks: A Close Race Between "Looper" and Docs

Photo of Steve Greene By Steve Greene | Criticwire September 27, 2012 at 2:20PM

Rian Johnson's new sci-fi thriller opens as this week's favorite among Criticwire members.
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Rian Johnson's "Looper."
Sony Pictures Rian Johnson's "Looper."

When it was announced as the opening night film for TIFF 2012, "Looper" caused a bit of a stir. With its high-profile cast and sci-fi/time-travel premise, it wasn't the usual festival fodder. Yet, like "Moonrise Kingdom" before it, Rian Johnson's third feature film has ridden its gala premiere through a steady wave of positive reviews. Now, it's ready to open to wide audiences as a Criticwire Pick of the Week.

"Looper" follows a futuristic hitman who, on a particularly tricky job, is charged with killing an older version of himself. Like so many of this year's lauded mainstream releases, critics have been highly selective in the plot details that they dole out, opting to err on the side of a fresh theatergoing experience for new audiences. It's the kind of movie that will give some the reaction that FirstShowing's Alex Billington had, who started off his review with the simple sentiment: "Holy crap this movie is awesome." While Kevin Jagernauth's review at The Playlist acknowledges some mid-film momentum drains, it also points to "Looper" as a key installment in Johnson's evolution. "While Johnson has always been a clever storyteller, it's with 'Looper' that we see him becoming a smart filmmaker. It's a minor distinction, but an important one. This is not to disregard his previous efforts, but 'Looper' feels like Johnson making a statement both as a writer and director, that he is ready to tell his original stories, but on bigger canvasses," Jagernauth writes, adding that "in many ways, 'Looper' feels like Johnson's 'The Prestige' before he makes his 'Inception.'" The film has its share of twists, the success of which seems to be the main sticking point for those who found the overall film to be a disappointment. "For all its promise," Daniel Green writes at CineVue, "Looper is a true film of two parts (halves wouldn't be quite accurate in terms of narrative focus) - with the second, ultimately, a jumbled genre-clash of misfires and missteps." 

Mere percentage points behind "Looper" this week is Marius Markevicius' "The Other Dream Team," a profile of the 1992 Olympic basketball team from Lithuania. Robert Koehler, in his review for Variety, singles out Markevicius' eye for inclusion of archival footage while telling a relatively recent story. "Markevicius shows a keen ability to collect knowledgeable U.S. sports voices as well as a personal connection to his parents' homeland that makes him an ideal cinematic ambassador," Koehler adds. Christopher Campbell, in his Movies.com doc roundup out of Sundance, saluted the film for widening its scope and not existing solely as a sports movie. However, as he explains, "There is a minor issue of focus throughout the film, especially if you go in thinking that it’s primarily about the Barcelona games." Although he describes the film's modern-day framing device of a young Lithuanian with NBA aspirations as "mostly a thin, extraneous diversion, it’s also an original means of laying out a story’s prologue alongside and parallel to the main events."

Surprisingly enough, it's not the only one of this week's new documentary releases to feature international basketball. Till Schauder's "The Iran Job" is not a heist movie, but the tale of Kevin Sheppard, a wayward player whose dashed NBA dreams lead him across the country, playing in disparate, far-flung professional basketball leagues. His exploits take him to Iran, where his new team excels in spite of the country's rising political tension. The Playlist's Katie Walsh salutes Schauder for maintaining a delicate balance between game action and the country's greater, relevant turmoil. "The way in which he has woven all of these elements together comes to a great climax at this point, seamlessly creating a film that is a sports movie, personal portrait, and political exploration of this country," Walsh writes. The blend of sports with societal relevance is a main selling point for Jason Apuzzo and Govindini Murty at Libertas Film Magazine, who also highlight the film's handling of the central culture clash. "One of the most compelling aspects of The Iran Job is the way it captures the casual details of life in today’s Iran — a closed society that clearly harbors some unusual stereotypes about the outside world. So for example, the moment Sheppard arrives in Iran and meets up with his Serbian roommate...Sheppard learns that his cable TV has been custom-provided with hundreds of pornographic channels — the assumption being that because he is an American, he must be sex-obsessed," they explain.

Among the films opening this week that are neither set in the future nor prominently feature sports are Daniel Barnz's school drama "Won't Back Down," the 1500s-set demon battle saga "Solomon Kane," the Thai hitman thriller "Headshot," and the emergency room doc "The Waiting Room." 

Criticwire: Films Opening This Week
NOTE: The averages listed here are current as of the publishing of this article and are subject to change as new grades come in.

Looper (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating: B (8.240 out of 12.0)

The Other Dream Team (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating(8.200 out of 12.0)

The Iran Job (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating(8.00 out of 12.0)

Solomon Kane (Film Page)
Average Criticwire ratingB- (6.833 out of 12.0)

Won't Back Down (Film Page)
Average Criticwire ratingB- (6.50 out of 12.0)

Headshot (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating: C+ (6.467 out of 12.0)

The Waiting Room (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating: B+ (awaiting five votes) 

For more information about this week’s releases and those scheduled for the weeks to come, be sure to check out the Coming Soon section.

This article is related to: Looper, Rian Johnson, The Other Dream Team, The Iran Job, Solomon Kane, Won't Back Down, Headshot, The Waiting Room


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