Wild ‘Looper,’ affecting ‘Wallflower,’ low-rent ‘Hotel,’ imperfect ‘Pitch,’ shrill ‘Back’

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FS, Contributing Writer

 

“Looper”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe, a gunman in a futuristic city, whose job is to kill people sent back from the future.

Time-travel tales are by definition ridiculous, but Looper (wide release), from writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick), takes one of the best – the original Terminator – as its model, and then manipulates the formula to give it a new spin. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe, a gunman in a futuristic city whose job is to kill people sent back from the further future and dispose of their bodies so that the remains will never be found. But ultimately the “loopers,” as executioners like Joe are termed, will be required to kill their future selves, thus “closing the loop.” Unfortunately, when Joe’s confronted with that eventuality, he lets Old Joe (Bruce Willis) escape in the “present,” making both of them targets of the gang he works for. Worse, Old Joe is intent on killing the child who grows up to be the boss who ordered his death, and Young Joe becomes the boy’s protector against him. If that’s not complicated enough, any change in the here and now will have unpredictable consequences in years to come. And some people in the present are mutants with psychokinetic powers. This is all wacky, of course but Johnson handles it with such confidence that Looper becomes goofy fun.

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“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

Charlie (Logan Lerman), a shy and troubled high school freshman in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"

Coming-of-age stories are a dime a dozen, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower (wide release) is one of the better ones. Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky from his own novel, it focuses on Charlie (Logan Lerman), a shy and troubled high school freshman who blossoms when he’s befriended by two unconventional upper-class students, the lovely Sam (Emma Watson) and her flamboyant stepbrother (Ezra Miller). The picture doesn’t always negotiate the transitions from humor to pathos very smoothly, and the last-act revelations about the sources of Charlie’s psychological difficulties aren’t nearly as surprising as they’re meant to be. But Miller enlivens the picture so much with his extravagant portrayal that though the movie is thrown a bit out of balance, it emerges as both funny and touching.

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“Hotel Transylvania”

"Hotel Transylvania" is a 3D animalted movie about a hotel for monsters who need a break from humans.

The premise behind the 3D-animated Hotel Transylvania (wide release) is a good one – a place where misunderstood monsters can enjoy a respite from being pursued by intolerant humans.But for some reason the makers have used it as background to a tired tale about an overprotective father and the daughter who wants a bit of freedom. And the fact that the dad is Dracula doesn’t make it any fresher. Nor does it help that Dracula is voiced by Adam Sandler and Jonathan, the dopey backpacker his daughter falls for, by Andy Samberg. Those two stunk up the screen in the recent That’s My Boy, and their coupling isn’t much more successful here. You’ll want to check out of this hotel early.

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Pitch Perfect”

Anna Kendrick stars as Beca in "Pitch Perfect"

If you’re a fan of Glee, you might enjoy Pitch Perfect (wide release), a comedy-with-music about a girls’ collegiate a cappella group trying to win a national championship against their male campus rivals. Anna Kendrick is spunky as the heroine who reinvigorates them with her contemporary style. And the musical numbers are certainly energetic. But the picture is too derivative to make much of an impression, and the humor hits too many sour notes along the way to afford consistent pleasure.

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“Won’t Back Down”

Maggie Gyllanhaal and Viola Davis star in "Won't Back Down."

The crisis in American public education is very real, but Won’t Back Down (wide release) is a totally phony treatment of it. The earnest but heavy-handed film is about a single mom (Maggie Gyllenhaal), distressed over the shabby treatment her dyslexic daughter is getting, who enlists a teacher (Viola Davis) in an effort to take over their underperforming school and turn it into a charter operation. But the process requires them to jump through bureaucratic hoops, getting support from a majority of the teachers and parents and approval from the hidebound school board. The real villain, however, is the teachers’ union, which blindly protects slacker members and resorts to scurrilous tactics in its opposition to change. A subtle, sensitive movie on this subject can be imagined, but this simpleminded soap opera certainly isn’t it.

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