Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Not your typical Craigslist advert. No mention of "no strings fun", for a start.

Not your typical Craigslist advert. No mention of “no strings fun”, for a start.

Who hasn’t checked out those “Wanted” ads in the local newspaper? Even when you don’t want anything, you’re just keen to see what’s available and out there for the taking. I’m also willing to bet a hell of a lot of you have read the “Date Wanted” / “Singles” section of the newspapers too. Even when you’re all coupled up in coupley bliss. You’re just a bit of a “what if…” person. And you’re probably nosey. Or a no good dirty dog who’s looking to hook up with someone. Though I think you’d probably hit Craigslist before looking at your local newspaper for that. So what would you do if someone wasn’t looking for a hook up, and was in fact seeking someone to go on a time travelling adventure with them? Would you ignore the request? Would you immediately call up and ask to be included in this marvellous adventure? Or would you call and ask if this was some subtle way of asking for sex? It’s your call…

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Well, Safety Not Guaranteed plays with this premise of an advert looking for someone to travel back in time with the ad-placer. Aside from asking the applicant to bring weapons (a necessity for time travel – you’ve seen Sliders right? Those guys ended up in all manner of crappy situations!), the advert ends with the line “Safety Not Guaranteed”. Enter the story. The advert’s picked up by a magazine looking for a new feature article, so reporter Jeff (Jake Johnson) and his two interns Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni) trek off to the coast to track down the guy that placed the article: Kenneth (Mark Duplass). So whilst Darius is charged with getting the inside scoop on the story by getting to know Kenneth, the boys are left to go on their own journeys of discovery and enlightenment. If I’m being vague, that’s a good thing, as I don’t want to spoil a thing.

Safety Not Guaranteed comes to you from the same producers as Little Miss Sunshine and holds a lot of similarities with it. I’d also throw Garden State into the mix too to give you an impression of the sort of film this is. What’s my opinion of these two films? Well, they’re OK. I’m not crazy about them. They’re entertaining, quirky, indie-style movies for sure. And for some, they’re like scripture, but not so for me. Way too much whimsy and “pleasantness” to tick all the boxes. But Safety Not Guaranteed is a damn fine film. And one that I believe you should take time out to see.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Although it’s a charming and pleasant viewing, it’s not that that had me held; it was the combination of plot and acting. Firstly, I honestly was left guessing the whole way through the film about how it would be resolved. Is time travel possible? What’s this guy up to? Will it work out between X and Y? Hooray for a film that kept me anticipating the next step. Although I must say that I was disappointed that a plot thread involving Jeff was left somewhat up in the air and unanswered. I wanted resolution. But that aside, I found it a thoroughly engaging affair. Due in no small part to the lead players…

Parks & Recreation fans will instantly recognise Aubrey Plaza – the downbeat and sarcastic one from the hit show. Whilst she retains some of her world-weary cynicism here, she really acts convincingly and had me enraptured. She’s oddly introspective and has a delightful way of holding the viewer’s attention in every one of her scenes. I’d never really noticed how good looking she is either. Always a bonus. Similarly, I didn’t know what to expect from New Girl’s Jake Johnson as the lead reporter on the case. I was anticipating a one-track “big man on campus” performance, but his character was lovingly written and had a depth to him not normally seen on-screen. It’s just a pity that his main plot line was left so open and inconclusive. Credit too to Mark Duplass as Kenneth – his performance as a somewhat paranoid eccentric was right on the money. A very subtle and effective performance.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Although too much whimsy and quirkiness in a film normally makes me feel queasy, I’ve got to hand it to those involved with Safety Not Guaranteed. It was entertaining, but never so saccharine that you felt the need to reach for the nearest bin. Admittedly, it was slow at points and I can’t say I was engaged from start to finish, but I never wanted to stop watching. I needed to know how it finished for all the protagonists. With a sub-90 minute running time the film never outstays its welcome, which could have become a real problem for the film. At its core, Safety Not Guaranteed is a story of romance under a thin veil of mystery. I’m not normally one for a movie of this ilk, but it worked. It worked really well.

Safety Not Guaranteed is a very welcome surprise. Seeing “From the producers of Little Miss Sunshine” on the posters didn’t fill me with glee because I’m not that sort of Phage. But the writing pulled me in and the acting held my attention. Its mish-mash of romance, comedy, mystery and sci-fi is an interesting mix that whilst not pandering to one demographic, ably draws in people that wouldn’t normally be interested in what is essentially a romance story. If one word had to sum up this tale, it’d simply be “charming”.

So maybe it is worth answering these ads. Safety Not Guaranteed essentially advertised itself as: “Seeking fans of quirky romantic comedies for a 90 minute experiment. Bring popcorn. Warm, cozy feelings guaranteed.” It’s certainly not one I’d have heeded the call of, but I did. And I’m more than thankful for it. I’d suggest you do the same. By that I mean checking out the movie. Maybe replying to an advert that reads “Seeking an experimental slave that can tolerate pain. Bring condoms. Safety not guaranteed.” isn’t the one you should be replying to… Or maybe it is?

Phage Factor:

4 Star

Looper (2012)

It seems as though we can never get enough of time travel stories, different dimensions and “what’d happen if you changed the past?”. Sure, movies have thrown this idea around a lot, but so too have television series such as The Simpsons, Family Guy and Sliders. Audiences love the “what if…” scenario. So, what if you met your future self and were charged with killing him / her, or you would be killed yourself. Welcome to the world of Looper my friends… one of the best movies of the year.

So I might have jumped the gun a little there, and let slip that this is a fantastic movie, but why should I keep teasing you with what my verdict may or may not be for an entire article?

The premise of Looper, if you’ve not been drawn in by the trailers, is that Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper – a contract killer of sorts who disposes of people that are warped back in time by some future authority. By doing so, the person disappears from the future, and in the present? Well, they find a totally unknown body. Simple. Except if you factor in the whole time travel thing… that’s probably a little complex. However, Joe’s contract is terminated (closing the loop) when his future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back for extermination. Future Joe runs… and so present Joe pursues.

Ok, it sounds complex, but I’m not doing it justice. If you’ve seen the trailer then you’ll know the gyst of the film. However, what I will say is that if you’ve seen the trailer then the film offers much, MUCH more than what you’d expect. Although I don’t want to divulge too much, let’s just say that things have happened by the year 2050 (when the film is set). It’s not a cyber-punk future ala Total Recall, but there are certain differences in the people and places. Saying much more would ruin what is a brilliant script and plot.

Whilst I could wax lyrical about the plot, I’ll restrain myself. Needless to say, it’s captivating and sucks you in from beginning to end. It’s not an M. Night Shyamalan movie – we’re not going to find out that Bruce is a ghost or an acid trip by young Joe.

What I will yabber on about is the acting. Bruce Willis is, and will remain, one of my favourite actors. I think he’s great. That being said, he’s been putting out little in the way of big blockbusters in recent years. They’ve either not been starring roles, or they just weren’t that widely applauded. Looper changes this. Bruce is back to his best – he’s weathered, world-weary and determined. It brings to mind the John McClane of yester-year – humour and all. What is remarkable is how they’ve made Joseph Gordon-Levitt look so much like a warped version of young Bruce. Sure, we all know what Bruce Willis looked like in his younger years… essentially the same as now, but with more hair… but the make-up artists have gone to town to make sure his brow, his eyes and general demeanour are like Willis‘.

Yippee-ki-yay kid… it may not be uncanny, but it’s not too bad!

Levitt never really registered on my radar in recent years. I knew him as that kid from 3rd Rock From The Sun when he appeared in 2010’s Inception. Since then, I’ve checked out some of his older cuts (which inspired little in me), but this guy has bloomed. If you enjoyed his acting in The Dark Knight Rises, then his performance here eclipses that. So long as you can get over that make-up, you’ll be fine.

Mock-yeah-ing-yeah-bird-yeah. Yeah? Yeah!

I also need to mention two other key players in the film: Jeff Daniels and Pierce Gagnon. One of these names you should recognise. For me, Jeff Daniels will always be Harry Dunn from Dumb & Dumber (a personal favourite), but here? Wow. Daniels is great. Here he plays a mob boss – Joe’s employer. His scenes are all sublime and were really a revelation to me about just how good an actor he is. Maybe if I watched The Newsroom I’d already expect such abilities from the guy. The second name on that list you won’t recognise. Pierce Gagnon plays Cid – a young boy that features prominently in the film. This kid has skills. His acting is extremely mature and obliterates many other child performers’ abilities. I just hope that this guy sticks at it and doesn’t become a Haley Joel Osment. Remember him? He sees dead people. Maybe there’s a correlation between Bruce and good child actors? If you’re a parent – put your kid in a Bruce Willis film pronto.

After so much gushing about the characters, I hope you can see why I loved the film. For me, it was a perfect combination of character-driven story and an innovative and creative plot. People are comparing Looper to The Matrix for this reason, and although Looper probably isn’t as ground-shattering as The Matrix was over a decade ago, it’s still a brilliant piece of film-making. You’ll wonder why you’ve not heard of writer / director Rian Johnson before and rightly so… because he’s not directed anything on this scale before. His closest run in with the big time was 2005’s Brick, which also featured Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I personally found Brick dry and quite tiresome, but others hail it as a cult film you must see. I predict much bigger things for Looper. This won’t be a cult hit. This should just be a hit.

I’ve no idea where Rian Johnson pulled this idea from unless he was visited by a future traveller… or unless Rian Johnson IS a future traveller that possessed intimate knowledge of the future film industry. However, considering his miniscule and less-than-Earth-shattering directorial resume, I doubt this somewhat. But never say never…

Levitt and Willis are obviously the stars of the film and put in some brilliant performances, but you can’t discount the supporting cast either. Everyone is firing on all cylinders to make Looper a standout film. Sure, it probably won’t win Oscars because it’s not that type of film. But what it is is a great example of modern day cinema. It’s the sleeper hit of 2012 and one that I’ll travel back in time to see again… Or at least travel back to the cinema to see again.

Phage Factor:

5 Star