Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Binary System Podcast #55 – WTNV Episode #96 “Negotiations”

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Binary System Podcast #55 – WTNV Episode #96 “Negotiations”

Things are a little tense in Night Vale right now. Mayor Cardinal has opened negotiations with Hiram McDaniel’s sister Hadassah, who’s acting as representative of The Five-Headed Dragon world. The Mayor wants Hiram to face the consequences of attempted assassination of a head of state; Hadassah wants Hiram extradited back to their own world for punishment (said punishment consists of getting a sticker that says “I Overthrew!”, since that’s how government works dontcha know).

So after we discussed dragons and destruction and strange spaceships that don’t seem to have a point, we also talked about Looper, Penny Dreadful, and Luke Cage. Ah, Luke Cage. We’re a little worried we might catch some flak for this one. Listen in to find out why.

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Movie Issues: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

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Movie Issues: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is the sequel to the 2005 film Sin City. Co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. The script is written by Miller and primarily based on the second book in the Sin City series created by Miller. Staring Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Eva Green, Powers Boothe and Bruce Willis. New and returning cast members come together for one more hard time in roughest city around.

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Review: Don Jon

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Review: Don Jon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt pulls the trifecta in Don Jon: writing, directing, and starring in a movie about a dude coming to grips with the vapid nature of his existence and the difference between love and what transpires in smut films. He finds that real sex doesn’t measure up to the fantasy of online pornography, where he feels he can “lose himself”.  But his addiction to porn has made him dissatisfied with life, and he sets out on a personal journey to find more than just gratifying sex. He ends up finding the bigger picture, learning about life and love through two different women.

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Inception

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The premise of Inception is difficult to convey, but worth the effort to ken. A technology exists, called “shared dreaming,” that allows two or more people to enter the same dream, and therefore the subconscious of the source of that dream. From there, the guest(s) in the dreamer’s world can access info, plant idea, build worlds, and discover secrets. How? It’s not that important to know how. Just accept it and the world is your oyster.

Writer/director Christopher Nolan is no stranger to touring narrative consciousness after his breakout film Memento; here, he constructs the world where shared dreaming is possible, and the worlds that can exist in shared dreams. It’s not a gooey painting fantasy landscape like What Dreams May Come or The Lovely Bones, it’s a real-seeming illusion speeding through time as the sleepers tip toe through their real-life minutes, and one that demands the full attention of everyone involved. I did find the first 30 minutes or so unnecessarily obscure (why keep reality-based motivations as much of a secret as the other), but by 45 minutes in, the movie had taught me all I need to know to watch the rest of it.

Leonardo DiCaprio and his team of handsome underground oneironauts take a job from Ken Watanabe involving Cillian Murphy, his fellow cheekbone-sporting father Pete Postlethwaite, and shared dreaming. That’s all you need to know to go. There is of course a problem, and it gets worse, and the stakes get higher and the dreamscapes get deeper. It’s a pleasure to watch something based so deeply in psychological reality not be all surreal or simplistic. It doesn’t get weirder, not really — if anything, it gets more real (yes I am aware of the exception to what I am saying but it is totally justified by…we’ll discuss later). Nolan learned some things on the Dark Knight too, things about accessibility and the framing of action sequences and practical effects, and the result is really effective.

Modern audiences can thank the increasingly complex narrative structures of television shows like 24 and Lost for a starter manual for absorbing this much conceptual content in only 148 minutes. We can also thank movies like The Matrix and Frequency for helping prepare us for this kind of a narrative within a narrative. And still, sometimes you just have to pull out the old Star Trek manual and just accept the tech talk and roll with it. My one complaint is when movies give characters awful obvious literary reference names, like Ellen Page’s Ariadne. It drives me nuts, not just because it robs me of an illustrative analogy in what I do, but also it’s just lazy! It’s a quibble — at least Ariadne isn’t as ubiquitous as Cassandra.

There are plenty of reasons to like Inception, whether you found it obvious or impenetrable. One big one: I haven’t seen a movie in forever where I boggled “how did they DO that?” especially not one where I did it more than once. Remember that feeling? Especially back in the nascent CGI days where less was more? Joseph Gordon-Leavitt is in a number of these scenes. The score is a slow burn until it builds into Hans Zimmer Conquers The Universe madness, but it’s never out of place. I really appreciated that even in the dream universe, you still have to obey the laws of physics. You can’t just walk on water or blow things up with your mind, you have to plug the leak with a cork and push the button to make the thing work. And oh my goodness, the stunts, the wonderful stunts!

The intimate nature of the work that this team does is echoed by how close we all feel being drawn in to their worlds — when everyone is unplugged again, you feel a little thrown into the awkward cold like a tentative greeting of a long-ago acquaintance. You’ll wish you could dream as lucidly as this, but be grateful here you have Nolan as your tour guide.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 7/16/10

Time in minutes 148

Director Christopher Nolan

Studio Warner Brothers

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Brick

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This movie had the widest disparity from preview to actual feature that I have seen in a long while. The preview makes Brick look like a dramatic film noir, with mind-bending twists and turns, mysterious voices, and exciting revelations. The film reveals itself to be an admittedly unique detective story that wants desperately to be a complex film noir, and it’s set in a surreal high school universe of drugs, loose women, er, girls, murder, and complex interrelationships. And none of it ends up on their permanent records!

It could have been the horrid sound quality in the theatre at which we saw Brick, but I found a lot of information missing or assumed, even with a handy “Brick Talk” glossary in hand. Sample dialogue: “It’s duck soup for you yegs,” which means it’s easy pickings for you guys. Sure, the film noir classics of the forties are soaked in wise guy dialogue, but it wasn’t invented especially for the movie, it was just antiquated slang that we modern audiences don’t always know – but usually we can contextualize it. This movie is set today, in a terrifying San Clemente high school with a drug kingpin, sexual slavery, immunity deals with the vice principal, and apparently routine assassination attempts. The only class that meets with any regularity is the theatre class.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt escapes his Third Rock From the Sun reputation as brooding and determined Brendan, going to great lengths to help out his ex-girlfriend (Lost’s Emilie De Ravin) who seems to be in a pickle of some kind. Whether he automatically assumed it was a gang rivalry over hard narcotics or a jealous lover’s murderous revenge, it’s hard to say. It’s mostly hard to understand, with lots of unanswered questions (why is Laura important? What does Kara have to do with anything, except to provide provocative preview footage? Why do we care about Brad Bramish if he’s not involved? ) and plenty of untied loose ends.

It’s hard boiled, and the whole notion of these kids being so jaded, so deep into their serious adult-like lives is amusing particularly when the realities of their situation come into play (Lukas Haas’ mother, for example). “I don’t want you kickin’ in my home room door when things get too hot” is typical fare. The rest of the time, it feels vaguely like a come-on. It’s not really clear what Brendan’s actual motivation here is – even after he knows what happened to De Ravin, he gets more deeply involved in something apparently unrelated (certainly unrelated to her fate). Thankfully, there is a pretty big epilogue tell-all, which shouldn’t have been necessary if the story had led us along a path that obeyed its own narrative rules. Annoyingly, and this is largely due to the theatre’s crappy sound system and the fact that the climactic confrontation of the film was shot in an open field next to a loud and busy freeway, I still don’t know who the perpetrator is, despite the long monologue that should have told me. Very frustrating.

The relationships are unclear, the motives less so, but the idea has potential. Hopefully writer/director Rian Johnson will keep up the high concept and the great preview cutting and have some script polishing next time around. Even when I was struggling with the story, the film still managed to maintain its tension and interest, which is a prodigious feat, so I hope Johnson tries again in the future.

MPAA Rating R-sexuality, language, drug use
Release date 3/31/06
Time in minutes 110
Director Rian Johnson
Studio Focus Feartures

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10 Things I Hate About You

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Based very loosely on The Taming of the Shrew (you know, by that guy, that old English dude), 10 Things is the millionth movie of 1999 to have a prom scene in it and the zillionth romantic comedy where the lovebirds start out bickering, but you know what? I still enjoyed the hell out of it. I will admit – the beginning of the movie is wildly uneven! The guidance counselor featured so prominently in the previews is really a throwaway character, and the beginning uses quite a lot of the weak-looking preview material. The result is the usual dry-heave of unfunniness when a preview gives away jokes, and a weird mish-mosh that looked like it was trying to be style and ended up being kind of retarded. But! Never you fear, Earnest Fans – the movie picks up pretty soon after that. Of course we know how it’s going to turn out – that is so not the point of a film like this. As with life, the joy is the journey. Purists may be upset that Mr. Verona (ha ha) didn’t lock Ms. Stratford (hee hee) in a closet and break her will, but we have come a long way, baby, after all.

I appreciated the movie not using any of the NeoBrat Pack like Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jennifer Love Hewitt and Freddie Prinze Jr. and Katie Holmes and so on. None of these kids except the nice young man from that TV show, uh, 3rd Rock from the Sun? are even recognizable, for the most part. the fact that our hero Patrick (Heath Ledger – what a great romance novel name!) has an Australian accent doesn’t hurt either – a soft gentle one like Olivia Newton-John, not a brash Outback one like Paul Hogan. Our heroine Kat (Julia Stiles) is everything that we 10 -yr.-reunion veterans wish we were and know will ultimately be regarded as The Babe – she’s beautiful, wild, speaks her own mind, really smart, and fun to be around. Between the two of them, it’s actually a nice little match. For all the characters’ around them insistence that they are freaks and mutants, it doesn’t take long for us fogies whose prom smelled of Breakfast Club to recognize who the mutants are. Stiles is a role model (except she’s a little more hostile than I am sure she should be – but so am I)!

Another thing that will be unappreciated by many: the father is rabidly protective – but, unlike a movie like She’s All That, it isn’t just “how he is” or just for the sake of comedy – it’s explained. Everyone has a motivation, everyone has a character and many of those characters develop. Despite the patchy editing at the beginning, it all comes together quite nicely in the end. Again, with the embarrassingly unfunny and unnecessary exception of the normally fabu Allison Janney as Ms. Perky, this is quite a nice little movie. The relationship grows in a totally natural way – everyone’s transformation is much better than the cookie cutter rendition of Pygmalion of She’s All That (despite Freddie Prinze Jr.). It’s not brilliant, high comedy – it is still a will-the-teens-get-together movie that culminates in a prom, but so what? It’s a member in good standing of the huge panoply of will-the-teens-get-together movies. Double bonus – the clothes are basically realistic too. No freaky $200 a piece cyber slut clothes like Jawbreaker, no impossibly beautiful people made to look like hideous wretches merely through accessories – just plain old jeans and tank tops and jackets and skirts. Refreshing, really.

Some genuinely funny bits are scattered throughout the film, a mildly obtrusive “buy me” soundtrack is prevalent but not totally distracting (and it was even infectious!), and what a gloriously gorgeous setting! To save you the trouble, I waited to find out – it was shot at Stadium High School in Washington state. You cannot imagine how totally awesome Padua High is – it looks like a wonderful old English university with a California bit of flair. Wow! Someone asked why so much of the action took place hanging out by the athletic field (seeing as these characters aren’t cheerleaders and jocks) – the answer to that is – wouldn’t YOU hang out there at every
opportunity? What a view! One of my favorite scenes is in the stadium seating and it’s kind of your typical Ferris Bueller stunt but it cracked me up!

See it, and enjoy!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 3/31/99
Time in minutes 94
Director Gil Junger
Studio Touchstone Pictures