Tag Archives: Joseph Gordon Levitt

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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

The Needle Drop

I’m a complete and total sucker when life pairs two of my favourite things – movies and music – in an ungodly goodly way. I love being moved by a score, I love a soundtrack I can relate to, but nothing arrests me like the perfect pairing of a movie scene and a pop song.

You Make My Dreams, Hall & Oates from 500 Days of Summer

This? This is genius. Have you seen this movie? SEE THIS MOVIE! It’s about this guy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who falls for a fanciful, quirky woman, and for a time at least, it’s totally magical and transformative and the best thing about it? She lets him have sex with her! This scene is the morning after – the world is just different. In fact, it’s 10% better. Or 50% better! He literally wakes up with a song in his heart and a bounce in his step. The world is smiling back at him! His own reflection is proud. It’s crazy but it’s relatable. I feel like this too often probably, but if a good song comes on my MP3 (and a good song is always coming on!) and the sun is shining and life is good, then yeah, I’m the girl shaking my bootie down the street. Rarely do other people join in, let alone the bird from Cinderella, but I think it’s only a matter of time. My life is 10% better just knowing this exists in the world.

Stuck in The Middle With You, Stealers Wheel from Reservoir Dogs

This one has possibly made life just a little bit worse. In fact, I have not, since watching this, been able to hear this song and not feel a slight stinging in my ear. But I loved it. Quentin Tarantino is kind of a superstar when it comes to his ingenious pairing of image and sound. Here, Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde boogies down to his favourite oldies radio station while severely torturing a cop. The image is graphic and horrible but the song is light and catchy. Your eyes and your ears are experiencing two different things, which makes your belly do a queasy thing and it’s fucking brilliant, man. I mean, I hate it, but I love it. And Mr. Blonde? He just loves it. He’s having a party. Gives you a lot of insight into just what kind of guy we’re dealing with. Watch at your own risk.

Where Is My Mind, Pixies from Fight Club

The perfect song for the perfect scene – the music is haunting and kind of apocalyptic, the lyrics vague and dream-like. The song is asking Where Is My Mind? when it’s entirely possible that Edward Norton’s protagonist is only just finding it for the first time in the whole movie. The ending is meant to be ambiguous but David Fincher leaves us with a beautiful moment, giving us time to digest the blows we’ve just been dealt.

Wise Up, Aimee Mann from Magnolia

If you’ve seen this movie, and you totally should, you can’t ever forget it. It rains frogs, goddammit. It’s way too complex to  explain the varied bisecting characters and stories, but it’s a whole group of people who are in bad situations – the movie tackles regret, loneliness, family violence and exploitation. In the middle of a whole heck of a lot of hard times, every major character takes a turn singing Aimee Mann’s beautiful but unforgiving song Wise Up.

It’s not what you thought
When you first began it
You got what you want
Now you can hardly stand it, though
By now you know
It’s not going to stop
Till you wise up

You’re sure there’s a cure
And you have finally found it
You think one drink
Will shrink you till you’re underground
And living down
But it’s not going to stop
Till you wise up

Prepare a list for what you need
Before you sign away the deed
‘Cause it’s not going to stop
It’s not going to stop
Till you wise up

No, it’s not going to stop
Till you wise up
No, it’s not going to stop
So just give up

These lyrics prepare us for the fact that Paul Thomas Anderson isn’t giving out absolution. Mistakes can’t always be erased. There are limits to forgiveness. If you’re looking for a happy ending, look elsewhere. Hard truths, softened by an ethereal melody.

The Blower’s Daughter, Damien Rice from Closer

This movie just kills me and this end shot with the song layered over top really hammers home the wrist-slitting qualities of heart break and loss. Like, if you weren’t quite depressed enough, Mike Nichols finishes you off with this song just so you can be sure that there’s no happiness to be had here, only pain and confusion. Ouch.

Then He kissed Me, The Crystals from GoodFellas

Martin Scorsese might be the king of pop songs and movies so it’s hard to just pick one – hell, it’s hard to just pick one from GoodFellas. But I’m going with this one because it’s a classic Marty shot, a famous minutes-long steadi-cam single take that follows Henry as he leads Karen into the bowels of the Copacabana, passing out twenties like nobody’s business and basically impressing the panties off her. The song mimics this with its carefree feeling and sweep-her-off-her-feet lyrics. You feel and see and hear things from her perspective; it’s a whirlwindy pop song power trip that shows how much privilege he has while also reminding us that he came in the back door. One of my favourite three minutes of film ever.

Tiny Dancer, Elton John from Almost Famous

Who but Elton John could unite a bus full of cranky, burnt out super-egos? In a movie chock-full of songs, this one is particularly well chosen, but we wouldn’t expect any less of Cameron Crowe, would we?

Old Time Rock N Roll, Bob Seger from Risky Business

I resisted including this one for as long as I could, but rarely does a scene rival this one in our collective audience consciousness. It has transcended the movie and belongs now to pop culture’s hereafter. I have never dated a man who hasn’t at least partially recreated this scene for me unbidden and I have never seen this song fail to pack a dance floor.  Tom Cruise dances around in his underpants (apparently unchoreographed) and a star is born.

I’m Kissing you, Des’Ree from Romeo + Juliet

Now to cleanse your palette and possibly enrage you, I present to you for your consideration: Baz Luhrmann. It’s nearly criminal to leave him off a list like this, but people have mixed feelings about anachronistic music in period films. This movie was released the exact year I was reading Romeo + Juliet in high school and our English class boarded a bus and drove an hour and a half so the girls could all sob as we watched the movie in a dark, dark theatre. Oh, Leo! Remember when you were briefly a teen heartthrob? Baz Luhrmann does, and this movie serves as a shrine to that era. But it’s also William Shakespeare doing a teen drama, and this song reminds us that in this moment, forget the flowery language and the hundreds of years of venerating the bard – this is about adolescent love at first sight. I’m sad that I can’t find you the exact right scene but I’m pretty confident that the song will take you to the spot I’m talking about. Meanwhile, Baz Luhrmann is famous for inserting crazy music where you wouldn’t think it belongs – Prince into Shakespeare, Nirvana into the can-can, and Jay-Z into The Great Gatsby. Does Baz Luhrmann get a pass for being inventive or is it just as jarring as when somebody thought to use Queen’s We Will Rock You in A Knight’s Tale or David Bowie in Inglorious Basterds?

It turns out that I could geek out for hours on this subject, so I’ll cut myself off here – for now. Meanwhile, please tell me YOUR favourite musical moment in a movie! Matt, I know you just wrote about Somewhere Over the Rainbow in Face\Off last week, and Sean, I’m guessing yours is probably from Top Gun. 🙂