MUCH like Duncan Jones, director of Moon and Source Code, Rian Johnson has been one to watch.
His debut Brick was an ice-cold neo-noir of startling confidence, which he followed with the enjoyably quirky The Brothers Bloom.
For his third film, the daring, inventive Looper, he's chosen the path of smart, challenging sci-fi, and created something that skirts with greatness before coming up just short.
A Looper is a specialist assassin, working in the year 2044, when time travel has not yet been invented, but 30 years down the line it will have been. It is outlawed though, and so only used by criminal organisations who send people they want rid of back in time to be executed.
The target is sent back from the future, where the waiting Looper despatches them, swiftly and mercilessly. They're well paid, on the understanding that one day they'll have to close the loop and kill their future self. But at least you'll know you've 30 good years left and plenty cash to sweeten the deal.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper, working for crime boss Abe (Jeff Daniels). When Joe's future self is sent back in the shape of Bruce Willis, a moment's hesitation allows him to escape, sending young Joe after old Joe, and Abe after both of them.
Meanwhile the Rainmaker, the villain of the future, is determined to wipe out all Loopers. The rest of the story is best discovered as you go, but there's also the matter of Emily Blunt's farmer and her young son that adds another layer of emotion and complication.
It's not an action film, or not as much of one as the trailers might suggest. But that's fine. This is a film of big ideas and profound questions, executed with verve and intelligence.
It's about people wanting to better their lives and about how far it's permissible to go to achieve that, going deeper still with ruminations on memory and reality and love.
One smart idea follows another.
Where something like In Time had the bones of a good concept but couldn't follow through on it, this, like Source Code, is a film that puts emotional investment and character development ahead of spectacle.
When the action does come, it's bold and crisp, though for budgetary reasons nothing like as groundbreaking as The Matrix or Inception.
Like Minority Report, this is a world that's futuristic without being too futuristic, and the design is pleasing without a big thing being made of it. Sure the buildings are taller and some vehicles fly, but people still live in ordinary houses and drive around in crummy cars.
Gordon-Levitt is immense. We've seen in the last few years that he can act, but here he also proves himself a movie star, with every bit of the charisma and presence of Willis. He's even been made up to look like the younger version of Willis, all eyebrows, busted nose, and smirk.
Their scenes together crackle, especially the one in which they discuss their predicament, which neatly sidesteps the usual issues of paradoxes and self-fulfilling prophecies thrown up in time travel movies in a couple of killer lines. Similarly, the filling in of the details of how future Joe came to be in the situation he is gets presented as a montage that's an exemplary piece of screenwriting.
There are a couple of issues holding it back from hitting an unstoppable home run however, particularly the familiarity of some of the plot points, while the pace does markedly slacken during the lengthy period spent on the farm.
It must be near impossible to make a time travel movie without in some way referencing the two great touchstones of the genre, Back to the Future and The Terminator, but it's a shame that Looper has to so blatantly borrow a key element from Cameron.
Viewed more as homage than a steal though, Johnson can be given the benefit of the doubt on that one, because in every other regard he has created something really rather special.
Director: Rian Johnson
Running time: 118 mins
The highest grossing foreign film ever made,
but its hard to see why
UNTOUCHABLE is the highest grossing foreign film ever made, having already pulled in over $350m at the box office, most of it in its native France.
It's a bit of a stretch to see quite why to be honest, but there's still much to enjoy in this based-on-real-events tale of rich quadriplegic Philippe (François Cluzet) and how African immigrant Driss (Omar Sy) came to be his assistant and carer, even though he had no qualifications or experience.
Despite his unsuitability, Philippe hires him for his sense of humour and refreshing attitude to his disability, which itself becomes one of the film's key strengths.
It certainly doesn't make any concessions to sentiment and as their friendship blossoms there are some uplifting moments and some funny ones, although perhaps not as many big laughs as might be expected.
A pair of fine lead performances help, with Sy having pipped Cluzet to best actor at the French Oscars.
Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
Running time: 112 mins
RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (15) An incomprehensible fifth outing
THIS largely idiotic, intermittently tolerable outing in the lucrative Resident Evil franchise serves notice of intent immediately with an opening that's not only in 3D, but in slow motion and reverse.
This is our way into a precis of all that's happened in the four movies to date to try to make some sense of the incomprehensible.
This is a futile endeavour, but the basics are that as part of a seemingly eternal war against mutant zombie masses, genetically-enhanced Alice (Mila Jovovich, above) and her colleagues try to escape from an underwater facility run by the all-powerful Umbrella corporation.
It's catnip for the initiated but a headache for the rest, making up the rules as it goes by re-introducing characters long dead through a cheeky is-it-all-a-simulation plot device.
Every line is exposition, every set-piece an orgy of computer graphics, so blissfully unaware of the ironies of its video game genesis that it now looks more like one than a movie.
It's put together with an undeniable slinky style, and it's a decade more accomplished than the original when it comes to the special effects, but there's no real attempt to furnish a storyline beyond the waves of undead lining up for evisceration.
Having the gall to invoke Aliens in its latter stages is just the final nail in the zombie's head.
Paul WS Anderson
Running time: 95 mins
HOLY MOTORS (19)
Bonkers doesn't begin to cover this arthouse French drama
THIS confounding French drama, full of strange Lynchian goings on, begins as a businessman (Denis Lavant) rides in his limo.
In the first sign that this is going to be something a bit different, the inside of the limo is a dressing room where he puts on various disguises.
Or, more to the point, he assumes various personas, such as an old beggar and a motion-capture artist, as he's driven to his so-called 'appointments', where he performs in each guise.
The result is devoutly nutty, providing a certain amount of amusement, but what it's actually about it anyone's guess.
It's undoubtedly the work of a director with a clear vision, but it starts to wear thin after a while and its plotless meandering, that takes in doppelgangers and a French-speaking Kylie Minogue, can often grate.
In most instances, bonkers doesn't even begin to cover it.
But there's enough arresting imagery and a strong enough performance from Lavant, that if you like your arthouse fare on the extreme side of challenging, it might be worth seeking out.
Director: Leos Carax
Running time: 115 mins