Tag Archives: Joseph Gordon Levitt

Inception

Inception, to me, is a near-perfect movie. It’s immersive and cerebral but also stunningly visual. It has some complex concepts but the script is so fine-tuned that it reveals only exactly as much as we can digest at a time so that the world opens up to us like a flower.

It’s about a man, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who goes inside people’s dreams to steal or plant ideas. It’s a dangerous world because when you fuck with the mind, screws come loose and there’s just no telling when the whole thing might come apart at the seams. But the money’s good, and Cobb’s got some troubling personal circumstances that make the game worthwhile. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is his right-hand
man, and often the voice of reason. Eames (Tom Hardy) can impersonate anyone. And Ariadne (Ellen Page) is the architect – she’s the world-builder, the one who buries mazes inside of dreams. They’re hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe) to plant an idea in a business competitor’s mind so that he will sell off the company he’s just inherited from his dead father. Robert (Cillian Murphy) is the mark: he’s the grieving son who’s about to undergo inception – planting an idea so subtly that he’ll never suspect it’s not his own. And Mal (Marion Cotillard) is the one who can bring it all crashing down around them at any moment. Look out for her.

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To pull off this memory heist, they’ll have to build a dream within a dream within a dream – levels that director Christopher Nolan is clearly all to gleeful to construct. In one, rain pours down in sheets: the dreamer has to pee. But just like the dreams themselves, Nolan’s movie is always working on multiple levels. The first is this new world of corporate espionage. But the second is Cobb’s sacrifice. It’s the things he has lost in pursuit of the ultimate theft, and his last shot at redemption.

When Inception becomes about Robert’s dream, there are multiple worlds on the go, so we flip deftly between them. But there’s a catch: each world is experiencing time differently – the further down you go, the slower time moves. There are some very worrying consequences to this. But then there’s also “reality” – though their bodies are sleeping, they have to be somewhere, and someone has to be taking care of them. In fact, someone has to care for sleeping bodies in each dream within a dream for them to be able to access the next level. It’s complicated stuff that Nolan somehow makes feel perfectly reasonable, a true testament to his talent as a writer as well as his precision as a director. He is the audience’s true friend, unwilling to lose us.

My favourite set piece is Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the hotel. At this point in time, they have lost gravity, so everything is floating around him. Not only is Arthur caring for the bodies of his comatose friends, he’s also coordinating an important and infinitely precise detonation, and he’s fighting off bad guys. I didn’t know it until I saw it, but a zero-gravity fight scene was exactly what I was missing in my life. Nolan prefers practical effects, so you can imagine the lengths he went to in order to breathe awe into the spectacle. JGL performed all but one stunt himself.

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The film has a tantalizingly ambiguous ending. Cobb has a totem, a fool-proof method of testing whether he’s still dreaming, or back in reality. But in the movie, his character walks away – either distracted, or uninterested, or certain of the result. But not the camera. The camera stays with his totem, and it’s the most epic rim shot of all time. Will it or won’t it? Nolan focuses on the totem rather than any human character. Nothing else matters. But it just keeps going and going, never giving us its judgment until – the screen goes black before a conclusion can be reached. I know it drives some people nuts, but I love an ambiguous ending. To me, it’s the ultimate mark of respect for one’s audience, that Nolan has trusted us to participate in his film’s end, to choose our own ending, in effect. And for someone who produced such a tight and specific script, it’s a ballsy move to put the ending in our hands. But that’s what he does. I believe there IS an answer, a right answer, and the movie is littered with clues that should point you in the right direction. But it’s okay not to know. It’s okay to debate it. It makes us collaborators.

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Of course, the whole film is a show of respect for his audience. Inception is possibly the most complicated blockbuster of our time. Nolan is careful and exacting but he doesn’t dumb things down. He introduces concepts about the subconscious mind: the genesis of ideas, the source of pain, the malleability of memory, the vulnerability of reality itself. It’s a lot. And the more we chew on this, the more meaningful the movie becomes. It’s a thriller with higher stakes than anything before it, because Nolan has tapped into something worse than death. But he also makes the movie a game; it can be won, or it can simply be enjoyed. If there are bits of the plot that go over your head that first viewing, it’s okay. Inception is one of Nolan’s airiest and most forgiving pieces. There’s a gracefulness to the way this movie moves through its layers. Even if there’s something you don’t quite grasp, you don’t get stuck on it. It’s fluid…almost suspiciously fluid, as in, plot holes don’t matter. Now why would that be?

Inception is also a capital M Metaphor. As in: to film is to dream. If you inspect Cobb’s team, you’ll see what I mean. Cobb is the director. Arthur is the producer. Ariadne is the production designer. Eames is the actor. Even more than that: Saito is the studio, and Robert is the audience.

We watched Inception recently because I had a dream wherein I was engaged to Prince Harry. We were working on the guest list for our wedding, and I was being all bubbly thinking about how Grandma would be so excited to meet the Queen. Grandma is 96 and a big fan of Elizabeth II, who is nearly her own age. Grandma is sharp as ever, sweet and bright and entertaining, but her mobility has taken a sharp hit recently, and even in my dream I knew that an overseas trip would be a stretch for her – but that the Queen would be quite the motivation. But then I realized: Grandma is not actually MY grandmother, she’s Sean’s. If I’m marrying Prince Harry, I’m not married to Sean and I don’t know Grandma. And the minute I had that thought, my dream started to crumble. Literally, the walls fell over as if they had been the set of a play that was being struck down. I had contradicted myself and shown the dream for what it was: a fiction. I routinely inflict my dreams on Sean while we shower the next morning, and being the disgusting cinephiles that we are, talk naturally turned to Inception (and, in fact, to Inside Out, wherein characters are seen “filming” dreams for the sleeping Riley). Movies and dreams have always mixed, and have always had blurry boundaries. Inception exploits that. Nolan invites us to dream alongside him.

Premium Rush

You know who drives me crazy?  Idiot cyclists who weave between cars, ignore the rules of the road, and inevitably get killed/seriously injured by an unlucky motorist.

You know who else drives me crazy?  Idiots who think that all lawyers wear suits or that lawyer is the only profession you can do with a law degree.

And don’t even get me started on idiots who are so EXTREMEpremium-rush-movie-wallpaper-20LY against wearing suits that they would rather take a job as a New York City bike courier and earn next to nothing ($30 for an hour and a half ride from one side of Manhattan to the other).

Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character in Premium Rush is all of those things.  Naturally, I hated Premium Rush.  What is most egregious, I think, is that if I put aside how angry Premium Rush made with its premise and main character, Premium Rush becomes a totally forgettable MacGuffin chase featuring one of the lamest villains in recent memory, whose motivation is his “poor impulse control”.  That means he’s selfish and willing to do anything to pay off his gambling debts so he can turn around and gamble some more, and of course that’s more important than whatever plans any other characters have for their lives or their money.  Not even Michael Shannon can give the bad guy more than one dimension.

You may like this movie if your fantasy is to take your bike-riding idiocy to the big stage of New York City (or I suppose you may also relate if your fantasy is to live a life of corruption in order to feed your gambling addiction, though in that case this movie may not have quite the ending you’re hoping for).  If that’s you then allow me to point out that you are a terrible person and I would rather you spend your time watching this movie than inflicting damage to those around you.  For everyone else, Premium Rush is one to avoid.

 

 

TIFF: Snowden

I feel much better now. If you read my Amanda Knox review, you may remember that I was close to TIFF burnout last night. Well,  I did what I hate doing: I made the tough choice of skipping my Midnight Madness movie last night and finally got some good sleep. Nothing like watching four more movies to make an unsettling documentary but a distant memory. I’m excited about TIFF again.

Seeing Oliver Stone take the stage to introduce Snowden (which I’ve been dying to see) didn’t hurt. Stone hasn’t made a particularly good movie in awhile and, come to think of it, has never really made a film that I love, but seeing him at TIFF still feels like a big deal. And, thankfully, my concerns about whether or not he could handle this tricky material were unnecessary.

I mean, it’s not perfect. It tries to do way too much and is about 20 minutes longer than it really should be. But it tells and/or speculates about the story that I felt 2014’s Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour missed out on. It tells us about Snowden the man. Wonderfully played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Snowden is easy to root for and easy to relate to. I’d even argue that Stone’s film does a better job of  making the case that all of us should care about illegal NSA surveillance. Even if we feel we have nothing to hide.

Of course, this isn’t a documentary and it’s easier to inspire outrage in a dramatization of events. Snowden isn’t a substitution for Citizenfour, which is an important documentary that everyone should see. It is, however, an interesting and worthy companion piece that will likely make you appreciate Snowden’s sacrifice even more and think twice about getting changed in front of your laptop.

The Night Before

This is the most easily swallowed holiday movie I’ve ever seen. Maybe that reveals my inner Grinchiness, but the truth is, no matter how magical the season, my threshold for the trite & schmaltzy is painfully low. Every time a family literally gathers around a piano to sing carols, I want to slit my night-before-featwrists and douse all the mistletoe and twinkle lights in my eggnog-infused blood.

Ethan’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) parents died 14 years ago, and his two buddies Chris (Anthony Mackie) and Isaac (Seth Rogen) stepped up to the plate to make sure he’d never be alone at Christmas, establishing an annual tradition of getting right ripped the night before.

This movie is really just a Christmassy version of Rogen’s usual raunchy fare, but it’s worth it just to see Rogen and New York City all dressed up for the holidays – he in a garish Jewish version of the ugly-Christmas-sweater.

Chris is a rising star and Isaac’s about to become a daddy, so they’re hoping that this will be the grand finale on their Christmas obligations; Ethan, however, is stuck, and much less inclined to let go.

Isaac’s very pregnant wife has bestowed him with the penultimate holiday gift: a treasure box filled with drugs. It’s his last chance to go hog wild screen-shot-2015-07-29-at-15-20-21before the baby, and this is Seth Rogen at his best: manic, sweaty, trippin balls, panicked, and awkward. This wires their adventure with the kind of wacky energy we want and need in a film that dares to ask: how much r-rated nastiness can we possibly cram into the holiest of days? And may I just say: how refreshing to see the wife encouraging her husband to spend time with his pals instead of the usual wet-blanket cliche.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is charming as always, but cursed to play it straight in this movie (except for his elf face, which may be worth your $12 ticket alone). Anthony Mackie is the charismatic one who pinballs between the straight arrow and the hot mess, clearly having fun with his strut.

This movie isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as the trailer led me to believe. Some of the bits bog down the hijinks, but you never have to wait for long before the next chapter unfolds (my favourite bit being when Isaac attendsnightbefore3 midnight mass high as fuck – I may have accidentally punched Sean in the balls during that scene – may god, and Spencer, forgive me). This movie is both template-following in terms of Rogen stoner comedies, and refreshingly irreverent in terms of holiday fare: a weird mashup, but what else do you expect from a movie that worships both Run-DMC and Miley Cyrus?

 

The Walk

Film nerds will remember a documentary released some years ago called Man On Wire. A mix of footage, reenactment and present-day interviews painted the story of Philippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the twin towers. (I remember this film so vividly I described its Academy Award nomination as “a year or two ago” to Sean when it fact it won in 2008).

the-walk-2015-movieRobert Zemeckis has bravely adapted this story in The Walk, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt an inspired choice as Petit.

The achievement, the thing to see, is of course the walk itself. In dizzying IMAX 3D, the effects glorifying the height are so realistically rendered that audience members feel real vertigo. If you’re not big into heights, may I remind you that the World Trade centre stood 1,362 feet above the ground, and Petit made his walk without a net. This has induced nausea and even vomiting in some audience members, and while I felt fine in that respect, I did experience some spine-tingling anxiety when nearly the whole of the second half of the film is spent up in the clouds, perched extremely precariously, sometimes tauntingly so, upon a wire we know to be improperly installed.

Petit narrates the story to us from atop another of New York’s tallest destinations – the Statue of Liberty’s flaming torch. This narration lends a fairy-tale quality to the film that it didn’t need zz21or benefit from, and in fact it felt like an affectation. The first half of the film is slow-going. It takes an hour to get to the good part, but if you believe that things are worth waiting for, then you’re in for a treat.  I’ve had 3D fatigue for quite some time now, but here again is a movie that actually uses it (like Everest) not just to drive up ticket prices, but to stoke the feeling of soaring (or of falling, if you’re a pessimist) in the audience like no other image ever could. Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography is stunning and breath-taking in that very literal way of having stolen the wind right out of my lungs.

The walk itself, as Petit always delights in telling us, is completely illegal and planned in secret. This part of the story almost feels like a heist movie, between the planning and the recruitment of compatriots. But once Petit puts one foot to the Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 10.05.24 AMwire, it becomes a work of art. Early morning commuters stop traffic to look up, look waaaaaaaaay up at these buildings newly erected, not yet a beloved part of the city’s skyline, and suddenly they’re injected with life and meaning.

Is this movie Zemeckis’ love letter to the twin towers? It’s quite a tribute, handled with love and respect. The movie may be uneven, and a little brainless, but it is without a doubt visionary, if only you dare not only to keep your eyes open, but to do what the wire walker must never do: to look down.

 

 

 

Anyone have a problem with heights? Has it stopped you watching certain movies before?

Healing Fest 2015

Matt and I decided to curate a little film festival for our coworkers. Our theme was Healing, and so we have put forth the following selections:

Good Will Hunting: Hey, remember Minnie Driver?

Ordinary People: See Donald Sutherland before he was old!

50/50:  Seth Rogen will teach you how to use cancer to your advantage when picking up girls in 50/50

Postcards From The Edge: Now with 20% more old lady thigh!

The Lookout: See Chris Pratt before he was famous and when he was played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

As Good As It Gets: Carol the waitress, meet Simon the fag.

Reign Over Me: 9/11 + Adam Sandler = do I have your attention?

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: “A stroke of genius” says Matt.

Life As A House: “A movie more emotionally manipulative than my mother-in-law” says Jay.

 

What’s your pick?

 

 

50/50

50-50-movieCancer, you bitch. She strikes again in this weirdo comedy about a young, prime-of-life dude (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) when he’s struck down by a big, bad tumor with an ugly face. Okay, I made up the part about the face.

Lucky for JGL, he has emotionally stunted pal Seth Rogen along for the ride, who’s there to tell him bald is a bad look on him, and that if he was a casino game, his 50/50 odds would actually sound pretty swell.

Adam (JGL) is a super cautious guy. He waits at the cross walk for the signal to turn. He refuses to drive because accidents are a leading cause of death (true, a couple of slots behind cancer, 50-50-movie_jpgd600but still). When the doctor tells him of his tumour, his knee-jerk response is  “That doesn’t make any sense though. I mean I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I recycle… ” And we agree. It doesn’t make any sense. Cancer doesn’t play by any rules that we’re comfortable with.

Screen writer Will Reiser is using his own experience of cancer in his 20s to inform the script. His friend Seth Rogen was along for the ride and slips very comfortably into recreating the role. In real life, Rogen was apparently on the toilet when Reiser told him his diagnosis but that was deemed too gross to make the movie. They don’t pull many other punches, though: this isn’t your mother’s Terms of Endearment.

This is about a guy in his 20s 5050-007who gets very sick and faces his own mortality. Does he channel cancer sympathy to get himself laid? Sure he does. Does he consume lots of legal weed? You betcha. Does he have sex with hookers while skydiving? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out, but I will tell you this: it isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

This is a surprisingly grown-up script; it toggles between the drama and the laughs pretty seamlessly. It feels honest. Rogen is vulgar, but decent, and that begins to tug on you in quiet and unexpected ways. Director Jonathan Levine manages not to succumb to the usual morose 50-50_movie_screen_scene_40offerings of the genre and presents something touchingly humane. The excellence in casting extends to Bryce Dallas Howard as a girlfriend found wanting, Anjelica Huston gives a powerful turn as a fuss-budget mother, and Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall are welcome additions as co-cancer buddies. I’ll even magnanimously grant that Anna Kendrick is pretty funny as a newbie therapist trying real hard to walk the line. But it’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt who’s leading the pack with a really low-key, uncompromising performance.