REVIEW: Snowden

14 09 2016

At 69 years old, Oliver Stone isn’t likely to change his filmmaking style, but a little bit of uncommon subtlety might have behooved his latest work, “Snowden.” So often is the director determined to write the first rough draft of cinematic history on a current event – Vietnam, the Bush administration, the 2008 recession – that he sacrifices insight for topicality.

His take on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden doubles as a discussion about the trade-offs between privacy and security in the digital age. When he’s not blaring the themes through dialogue in lines such as “terrorism is the excuse; it’s about economic and social control,” the talking heads trade lines that sound excerpted from TED Talks. Moreover, the dust is still settling here. Why remake Laura Poitras’ perfectly good documentary “Citizenfour” with flashbacks when the story is still unfolding?

The film’s background information on Edward Snowden, largely left out of news media discussion, does provide some intriguing context to his giant revelation. His participation in questionably legal CIA operations, bipartisan disenchantment and operational disillusionment all played a big role in leading Snowden to rendezvous with Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald in June 2013. To Stone’s credit, he lets these events slowly form the character’s resolve to leak information; no one moment seems to snap him.

As Snowden, Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a turn that belongs on the Wikipedia page for “uncanny valley.” He channels the familiar real-life figure in many surprising ways: a deeper voice, a less frenetic pace, a quiet resolve. The only thing that stands in his way is the repository of ideas we have about Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which he automatically taps into by appearing on screen.

Between “Snowden,” “The Walk” and even going back to “Looper,” Gordon-Levitt has amassed an impressive body of work where he selflessly attempts to bring himself closer to the character, rather than the other way around. He’s busting his hump to ensure we see the role he plays as someone distinct from himself, not just some costume he puts on to slightly mask his own persona. Frequently, Gordon-Levitt’s reckoning with the character of Snowden feels more fascinating than the character himself. B2halfstars





REVIEW: The Night Before

22 12 2015

If anyone is skeptical that our culture may be reaching a saturation of Christmas narratives, Jonathan Levine’s “The Night Before” ought to dispel that last shred of doubt. The film, co-written with Seth Rogen’s creative partners Evan Goldberg, Ariel Shaffir and Kyle Hunter, is a loving ode to just how much Americans love their holiday movies. The film pays homage to everything from “Home Alone” to “Elf” and even “Die Hard” during a crazy Christmas Eve shared by three old friends.

The Christmas movie appreciation leaks into the very fabric of the script, a half-baked attempt at making a stoner version of Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol.” (And with a bit of “It’s A Wonderful Life” as a cherry on top, to boot.) Only, instead of following one character, “The Night Before” splinters into three separate narratives bundled together.

The film follows Seth Rogen’s soon-to-be new father Isaac, Anthony Mackie’s recently famed pro quarterback Chris and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hapless musician Ethan on what could be their last Yuletide celebration … and not just because each is lucky to survive the shenanigans. Each guy gets their hilarious moments with a very game supporting cast, especially Isaac’s unnaturally supportive expectant wife Betsy (Jillian Bell), streetwise bandit Rebecca (Ilana Glazer), Ethan’s straight-shooting ex Diana (Lizzy Caplan) as well as Sarah, a character so Mindy Kaling-esque she had to be played by Mindy Kaling.

The film plays to the strengths of its ensemble so well that it becomes hard to spite the movie providing little more than the good time such a cast portends. “The Night Before” does not add up to more than the sum of its parts, mostly because the fragmented narrative never quite coheres by the end. It’s good for a laugh, but those hoping for a new adult holiday classic to play after the kids go to bed should probably just go for a repeat viewing of “Bad Santa.” B2halfstars





REVIEW: The Walk

5 10 2015

“To be on the wire is life – the rest is waiting,” opines Joe Gideon at the start of Bob Fosse’s 1979 film “All That Jazz.”  That quote is attributed to Karl Wallenda, a circus performer who, ironically, died from a fall the year prior to that film’s release after a stunt performed with no net.  Yet after watching Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk,” Gideon’s words seem more in the spirit of Phillipe Petit, the wire-walker who traversed a cord strung between the Twin Towers in 1974.

Though structured like a standard heist flick – and providing all the expected thrills that should come along with the genre – the film is about more than just a clever plan or a physical accomplishment.  Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) similarly equates the wire with life, and his life is his art.  The “coup,” as he repeatedly refers to it, makes for a fun exercise, but the plot to hang a wire between the Twin Towers is merely the means to the end of his performance.

Perhaps those who do not wish to think much into his daring piece deride Petit’s walk as empty exhibtionism or some kind of stunt that prioritizes style over substance.  For this precise reason, he earns the sympathy and identification of co-writer and director Robert Zemeckis.

In “The Walk,” the subject and the storyteller are practically one and the same in their aesthetic philosophies.  Both view spectacle as a component of art, not its opponent. There’s a reason Zemeckis opts for a variation of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” as Petit glides along his wire as opposed to dramatic, triumphant underscoring. For these two artists, the purest beauty comes from achieving the previously unthinkable while operating at the highest of stakes (Petit with his a hundred-story height, Zemeckis with a hundred-million dollar budget).

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REVIEW: Don Jon

28 01 2015

Don JonFor all those who might have found Steve McQueen’s sex addiction drama “Shame” too intense in either content or form, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s comedic “Don Jon” may provide the perfect vehicle for discussing the same issues.  The film acknowledges many of the ills facing men in the age of internet pornography, such as the objectification of women and the notion that sexual satisfactions is deliverable on demand at the leisure of a Google search.

“Don Jon” will prove enlightening for anyone who has never thought deeply about masturbatory pleasures, especially because Gordon-Levitt’s script telegraphs his social commentary through heavy-handed voiceovers from his lead character Jon.  Anyone who has ever taken anything more than psychology or sociology 101 is likely to find the film’s observations shallow and skin-deep.  But if it gets people talking and consciously reconsidering their habits, then the movie at least serves some purpose.

And in case someone tunes out during Jon’s long-winded (and perhaps somewhat implausibly aware) confessionals on his porn addiction, the plot also effectively echoes the simple yet important message.  Though the womanizing, GTL-exuding Jon lands a smoking hot girlfriend Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), she quickly flees once she discovers the extent of his dirty secret and leaves Jon a wreck.  Only when he heeds the learned wisdom of Julianne Moore’s middle-aged Esther, who reminds him that sex is about satisfying two people, can he regain the same pleasure in the orgasm.

Though “Don Jon” may not speak fluently on matters on sexuality, Gordon-Levitt certainly understands gender politics quite well.  The film really nails some of what needs to change in our current conception of masculinity, and he begins to tackle the way that females reinforce that.  At one point while shopping, Barbara insists that Jon cannot, as a man, clean his own house because it clashes with the performance of manliness that she expects.  That, unfortunately, proves the extent of glancing at the other side of the gender divide, yet there is always time to explore further.  Gordon-Levitt ought to make a “Don Joan” movie to examine femininity as well since a little too much was left on the table in “Don Jon.”  B2halfstars





LISTFUL THINKING: 10 Performers Who Will Win Oscars in the Next 10 Years

26 02 2013

Before it’s too late and no longer topical, I wanted to share a list that has been floating in my mind for a while.  On Sunday night, the Academy welcomed Jennifer Lawrence and Anne Hathaway into their club.  Now, they can join Daniel Day-Lewis and Christoph Waltz in adding the phrase “Oscar Winner” before their name is mentioned.

But within the next 10 years, who will join them in the pantheon of acting?  I have a few suggestions…

Male

Gatsby

Leonardo DiCaprio
3 Oscar nominations
9 Golden Globe nominations, 1 win
8 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY:  The question isn’t “if.”  It’s “when.”  And that could be as early as this year.

JGL

Joseph Gordon-Levitt
2 Golden Globe nominations
4 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY:  With the boy-next-door turning into a renaissance man as he heads behind the director’s chair, JGL is headed towards golden child status.  Now it’s just time for the Oscars to catch up.

Ryan Gosling in The Ides of March

Ryan Gosling
1 Oscar nomination
4 Golden Globe nominations
2 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY:  I don’t really think I need to elaborate here as Gosling is one of the emerging Hollywood leading men.  The only thing keeping him from an Oscar, in my mind, is his eclectic role selection.

Brad Pitt in Moneyball

Brad Pitt
4 Oscar nominations (3 as actor)
5 Golden Globe nominations, 1 win
5 SAG Award nominations, 1 win

COMMENTARY:  As one of the highest-wattage stars of the past decade moves into a slower, more retrospective phase of his career, the role that will land Brad Pitt his Oscar should materialize.

George Clooney

George Clooney
8 Oscar nominations (4 for acting), 2 wins (1 for acting)
12 Golden Globe nominations (8 for acting), 3 wins
13 SAG Award nominations, 4 wins

COMMENTARY:  Yes, Clooney has already won his Oscar(s).  But I am convinced he will win his trophy for a leading role as he is such a prominent leading man in Hollywood.

Female

Amy Adams

Amy Adams
4 Oscar nominations
4 Golden Globe nominations
5 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY: 4 nominations in 7 years.  That’s impressive.  It’s going to happen, soon.  Perhaps the first time she gets a big leading role?

Linney

Laura Linney
3 Oscar nominations
6 Golden Globe nominations, 2 wins
4 SAG Award nominations, 1 win
4 Primetime Emmy nominations, 3 wins

COMMENTARY:  Though as of late Linney has been more television oriented, I still don’t think the cinematic community is done paying its dues to this talented actress.

Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right

Julianne Moore
4 Oscar nominations
7 Golden Globe nominations, 1 win
10 SAG Award nominations, 1 win
1 Primetime Emmy win

COMMENTARY: If “Game Change” had been released in theaters and not on HBO, Moore would have her Oscar.  It’s been over a decade now since her last nomination, but I don’t think that means the impetus to give her award has disappeared.

10 for '10: Best Movies (The Challenge)

Emma Stone
1 Golden Globe nomination
1 SAG Award win

COMMENTARY: She’s a new Hollywood “It” girl.  Once she lands the big and flashy role, she will get an Oscar.  (Heck, they had her announce the nominations this year, something usually reserved for prior winners/nominees.)  She’s a beloved figure with all the charm and accessibility of Jennifer Lawrence with a little more polish and refinement.

Michelle Williams

Michelle Williams
3 Oscar nominations
3 Golden Globe nominations, 1 win
4 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY: Williams showed she had some serious range in “My Week with Marilyn.”  Not that her mopey characters weren’t good, but now we know she’s the real deal.

What do YOU think?  Who else is destined for Oscar glory in the next decade?





REVIEW: Looper

30 12 2012

It’s about time for a changing of the guard in science-fiction, and “Looper” heralds perhaps the sign that the genre is in young, fresh, and good hands.  Rian Johnson’s time-traveling tale is an intelligent film that hopefully points to revitalization by the people who grew up on the classics of the 1980s.  Its delicate construction and serious contemplation moves Johnson into the league of J.J. Abrams and Duncan Jones in terms of directors moving what was formerly considered kitsch into respectable art.

“Looper,” upon a little bit of pondering, feels very much inspired by James Cameron’s “The Terminator.”  Though we still watch that movie nearly three decades later, it’s mainly to be amused by the ex-Governator, not to be wowed by the script or the direction (and most definitely not by the performances).  And yes, it’s in the Library of Congress and is unilaterally praised, but “The Terminator” is able to get away with its unabashed Roger Corman, B-movie background now largely because of our fondness for nostalgia.

Johnson takes what worked about “The Terminator,” the time traveling plot device and the thematic weight, and sets it in a frame evoking “A Clockwork Orange” or “Blade Runner.”  His “Looper” takes place in a future not blatantly dystopian, but rather cleverly thought out with depth that doesn’t draw attention to itself.  Viewers willing to take the plunge into Johnson’s world multiple times will undoubtedly be rewarded by the subtle details he hides throughout the film.

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REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises

29 07 2012

I don’t force every domestic drama I see to stand up to “American Beauty.”  Nor do I weigh every romantic comedy against “Annie Hall.”  So in a sense, why should I make a superhero movie stand up to “The Dark Knight?”  I consider it every bit as paradigmatic as the two previously mentioned Best Picture winners, so an apples-to-apples comparison is hardly even possible.  It’s more like apples-to-Garden of Eden fruit.

Indeed, a number of directors have tried to make their genre films a little more in the mold of Christopher Nolan’s iconic tale of the Caped Crusader, such as Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man 2” and Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class,” to little success.  Yet even “The Dark Knight Rises,” the sequel to the revolutionary film itself, can’t recreate its magic nor cast a comparable spell.  Perhaps its time to declare those heights unattainable to avoid further disappointments.  If Christopher Nolan himself can’t reach them, surely it is time for Hollywood to find its next golden goose.

“The Dark Knight Rises” also has the added disadvantage of being scrutinized as a Nolan film, not merely a post-“Dark Knight” facsimile.  Coming off an incredible decade of filmmaking (five supremely acclaimed films: “Memento,”  “Batman Begins,”  “The Prestige,”  “The Dark Knight,” and “Inception“), it is hardly premature to call him the Millenial equivalent of Steven Spielberg.  His movies are so good that they have merited many a repeat viewing, allowing dedicated fans to really analyze what makes his work so exceptional.  Now, it’s immediately recognizable when his films are not up to the sky-high standard he has set for himself.  For instance, in the opening scene of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

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REVIEW: 50/50

29 09 2011

The cinema of cancer is a curious thing.  The disease is usually a tack-on to the end of a movie, merely a plot device meant to make the audience appreciate the fragility and fleeting nature of life.  When the film is centered around it, the pathos is meant to unlock our most tucked-away, maudlin sentiments.

Cancer is less of a medical condition on screen than it is a transformative experience.  The victim is less of a human and more of a fighter or soldier, the underdog forced to do battle for their life.  Having known people who have been struck with this horrible disease – some emerging victorious, others not so fortunate – I can attest that they must indeed lace up their boxing gloves and pugnaciously duke it out.  But there’s more to the struggle than chemotherapy and radiation; there’s a desire for a Warren Harding-style return to normalcy as people insist on treating the patient as a different person living in a different world.

This is precisely where “50/50,” Jonathan Levine’s sophomore feature, excels.  Rather than hitting us with a tsunami of sadness, it takes us through all the emotions of living with and through cancer.  From Will Reiser’s moving script comes a story “inspired” (as the lawyers required it be advertised), by real experiences that is rooted in a startlingly authentic humanity.  His protagonist, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Adam, is never defined by his unpronounceable cancer; he is defined by his responses to a landscape that shifts much faster than he has anticipated.

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Know Your Nominees: “Inception”

4 02 2011

The Oscars are a great cultural conversation for all to participate in, but it’s all too easy to only have surface knowledge of the nominees.  It’s all too easy to know “Black Swan” as the ballet movie, “The Fighter” as the boxing movie, and “The Social Network” as the Facebook movie.  But don’t you want to know more and stun your friends with your knowledge of the movies in the weeks leading up to the awards and ultimately during the broadcast itself?

That’s what my KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series hopes to do.  Every three days, I’ll feature ten interesting facts about the ten Best Picture nominees of 2010 that would be fascinating to pepper into any conversation.  My hope is that you will come away with an enhanced appreciation of the movies but also enjoy learning strange and interesting things about them.

So, as we proceed in alphabetical order, our next stop on the tour is “Inception.”

So what was the inception of “Inception?”  According to director/screenwriter Christopher Nolan, the movie began as a heist film mainly as a way to provide entertainment and exposition for the complicated dream structure.  But concerned with the cold emotional detachment to the characters in a heist film, he began to add the hero’s story to get the audience to connect with the movie.

What’s real and what isn’t was a big talking point about “Inception,” but it may interest you to know what was shot on location (real) and what was shot on a soundstage or studio lot (not real).  The snow fortress was a built set, as was Saito’s castle. With a few other exceptions, most scenes were shot on location in Tokyo, Paris, Mombasa, Los Angeles, and a small town in Nolan’s home country, England.

How about that spectacular anti-gravity fight scene in the hotel hallway.  According to Christopher Nolan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt did all his own stunts for the scene, only using a double out of necessity for one scene.  The scene was done by creating a spinning set, not through CG.

Another fantastically well-executed scene of mind-blowing visual proportions was the scene at the Parisian café where the city implodes.  How did they shoot that?  According to cinematographer Wally Pfister, they used a camera that captures 1,500 frames per second (in contrast to the average camera which captures 24) to create the slow-motion effect.  In post-production, the visuals team added effects to make the objects look like they were floating.  (Everything was shot out of air cannons for the explosion effect.)

Throughout the second half of the movie, we saw plenty of the van falling off the bridge.  But what you might not know about this scene is that it took months to film and entire days were dedicated to the shot.  But it gets better: the van was shot out of an air cannon and when the van hit the water, the actors actually had to stay underwater for four to five minutes holding their breath and taking air from a tank.  How’s that for dedication?

The ensemble cast turned out perfectly, but it wasn’t always what it was.  Before shooting, Evan Rachel Wood was slated to play Ariadne but dropped out and the role went to Ellen Page.  Another big casting shift was the exit of James Franco, who was originally cast to play Arthur, due to scheduling issues; the role ultimately went to Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Fans of Marion Cotillard got a chuckle when they heard “Non, je ne regrette rien,” the closing song of the film “La Vie En Rose” which won her an Oscar for Best Actress.  The title means “No, I regret nothing” when translated literally into English.  Was it a clever nod to her previous role?  Actually, no.  Nolan and composer Hans Zimmer chose the song before Cotillard became attached to the project because of its booming rhythmic qualities, not because of its association with the actress.

Many people have seen “Inception” as a metaphor for filmmaking, and Nolan has said that these musings aren’t entirely off-base.  But the craft he was most interested in exploring was architecture.  In an interview with WiReD, he stated, “I’m very interested in the similarities or analogies between the way in which we experience a three–dimensional space that an architect has created and the way in which an audience experiences a cinematic narrative that constructs a three–dimensional -reality from a two-dimensional medium—assembled shot by shot. I think there’s a narrative component to architecture that’s kind of fascinating.”

NEWS FLASH: The kids at the end of the movie are not the same as the ones before! Adjust your explanations of “Inception” as necessary.

Don’t worry, no top theories here.  Only some insight on where the idea came from – not exactly inception.  Nolan gave a top as a gift to his wife and then rediscovered it, incorporating it into “Inception.”  The one used in the movie was symbolically designed by the prop department to represent Cobb’s universe.

Check back on February 7 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “The Kids Are All Right.”





REVIEW: Inception

16 07 2010

Filmmaking is about creation.

The creation of a character, a couple; a feeling, a frame; a narrative, a novelty; a relationship, a romance; a moment, a mystery.  Have no doubt about it, filmmaking is creation, no matter the size of the budget or scope.

But there are very few filmmakers with the knowledge, the willpower, and the vision to create a world.  We all remember the first time we stepped into the galaxy far, far away that George Lucas took us to in “Star Wars.”  Recent examples include The Wachowski Brothers leading us into the world of “The Matrix,” Peter Jackson lifting Middle Earth off the page and displaying it before our very own eyes in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and, very recently, James Cameron giving us a crystal-clear, in-our-face look at Pandora in “Avatar.”

And now, with the release of “Inception,” we can officially add Christopher Nolan to that impressive list of filmmakers.  He unravels before our very own eyes what he envisions to be the world of the dream.  It’s an incredibly complex world, governed by a set of rules that have graver implications that we could ever imagine.  Only he holds the keys to unlocking the secrets of his creation, and he tantalizingly dangles them before our eyes.

Yet he also challenges us to use just the sight of them to figure it out for ourselves.  I have no doubt he left us clues throughout the movie, but it’s not possible to catch them your first time.  You are simply too awe-struck by what’s on the screen, too busy puzzling out the intricacies of the plot, and too preoccupied trying to stay ahead of Nolan to go a layer deeper.  And to go that extra mile, to find what’s really bubbling under the surface of “Inception,” you will have already dug to a great depth.  Some people won’t even be willing to go that far, and they will feel left in the dust by the movie, like a kindergartener sitting in a calculus class.  But Nolan doesn’t design it for those people, making it an even sweeter treat for those willing to take their mind on a journey it won’t always understand.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (September 18, 2009)

18 09 2009

The “F.I.L.M.” (gentle reminder: the acronym stands for “First-Class Independent Little-Known Movie”) of the Week is “The Lookout.”  Released in 2007, the movie flew under the radar of most moviegoers.  But with the movie’s star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, now being hailed as the new Heath Ledger, perhaps there is no better time than the present to check out one of his hidden gems.  The movie is a spellbinding crime drama on the surface, but if you dig deeper, you will find that there is much more than meets the eye.  The film finds a quiet strength in Gordon-Levitt’s Chris, affected by short-term memory loss after a car crash that killed his friends, just trying to find a way to contribute to the world.  But his mental incapacitation makes it hard for him to do even the simplest of things, and he writes down his routine in a notebook.

Chris’ position as the night cleaner at a small-town bank attracts the attention of a gang of bank robbers who intend to exploit his shortcomings in order to get the money.  Led by the smooth Gary (Matthew Goode, “Watchmen”), the gang is able to coax Chris into helping, mainly through the strategic use of Luvlee (Isla Fisher, “Wedding Crashers”).  But Chris’ blind roommate, Lewis (Jeff Daniels), provides a foil for the gang.  He has street smarts and can see right through the gang.  And as time goes on, Chris begins to realize what Lewis can so clearly see.  The result is a wild and unpredictable third act, which excites and thrills.

I could speak volumes on Gordon-Levitt’s delicate performance, but I should let the movie speak for itself.  It is a refreshing take on the crime thriller, ranking up with “Inside Man” and possibly even close to “Reservoir Dogs.”  It is a very plot-driven movie, but “The Lookout” takes equally as much of its strength from the powerful performances of Gordon-Levitt and Daniels.  But now, it is time for me to stop writing and let the movie speak for itself.  Go give it a spin; you won’t be disappointed.





What to Look Forward To: “Inception”

25 08 2009

I won’t normally do this, but I just have to now.  At the moment, “Inception” is my most anticipated movie of 2010.  It is Christopher Nolan’s first movie since he lit the world on fire with “The Dark Knight,” which he directed and wrote.  He has gathered a superb cast for the project, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, and Michael Caine. He has kept the plot of his latest outing shrouded in secrecy … until today, when a very detailed plot summary was released.  I beg you, PLEASE DO NOT LET ME READ THEM!  And if you tell me, I will unleash my wrath on you.  I cannot accurately put into words my euphoria for the release of this movie.  I do not want it to be tainted by knowing the intricacies of the plot before I step into the movie theater!  Yes, I am using exclamation points because I really do feel that strongly!  Watch the teaser trailer that played before “Inglourious Basterds” below … the best since “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” It sets up the movie perfectly and without giving away anything about the plot.





REVIEW: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

13 08 2009

I will admit that I deliberately postponed this review a few days.  After writing “Mindless Moviegoing” in which I claim that there is hope for teens to look beyond the blockbuster, I would have felt like a hypocrite if the first movie I reviewed had been one.  That being said, I took my little brother to see “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” the morning after I finished the column.  He was begging, and so I just bit the bullet and took him.  Weary after the last disaster based on a Hasbro toy line, I decided I would judge the movie on two grounds: if it had some sort of understandable plot and if there was more to the movie than just explosions and fighting.  Did it pass?  Yes, but barely.  The movie isn’t highly ambitious, but it does attempt to provide a decent story and give its characters some depth (although it might help if the cast wasn’t all models to play this depth).  It provides bearable escapist entertainment, and it scores with the demographic that it targets because my brother now claims this to be his second-favorite movie ever (at least his favorite is “The Dark Knight”).

The movie revolves around a set of four warheads containing nanomites, a new technology with the strength to destroy cities.  They are developed by James McCullen, who sells them to NATO but intends to recapture them for his own use to achieve world domination.  He creates a team of warriors called Cobras that are fearless in the face of danger and virtually invincible.  Fighting these villains is G.I. Joe, an special forces unit comprised of elite soldiers from dozens of countries.  Duke (Channing Tatum, “Step Up”) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans, “Scary Movie”) are the U.S. soldiers assigned to protect the warheads and, as good soldiers do, refuse to release command until their mission has been completed.  They train and ultimately become a part of G.I. Joe as they attempt to stop the dastardly McCullen from destroying the world.

The acting is sub-par, which can be expected when the cast is comprised mainly of ex-models like Channing Tatum and the gorgeous Sienna Miller.  The comedian of the bunch, Marlon Wayans, doesn’t really provide any laughs.  Instead, the movie lets some corny lines and ridiculous acting take care of that.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt strangely follows up the amazing “(500) Days of Summer” with this.  Although I don’t fault him for maybe wanting to take a trip out of indie world, this seems like a curious movie to choose.  He has a kind of boy-next-door feel, and I didn’t really dig this villainous role for him.  However, I am thrilled that he wants to expand his repertoire.  What really boggles me is how Dennis Quaid chooses movies like this when he could be in any movie he wants.

My main comparison to “G.I. Joe” was the latest “Transformers,” and this is light years better.  It is much easier to digest and entertaining.  The movie makes a fair attempt to bring up some serious themes, such as emotion vs. logic, facing fear, and having a conscience about killing.  However, they are undeveloped and ultimately miss the mark.  If you are looking for escapist and mindless entertainment, this a decent choice.  It provides some cool, fast-paced action that will be fun for kids or the kid in you.  C+ / 2stars





REVIEW: (500) Days of Summer

29 07 2009

Summer always serves up a few indie gems, and “(500) Days of Summer” is the brightest shining of 2009’s offerings. It is hilarious, fun, thought-provoking, and refreshingly inventive, featuring brilliant performances by its two leads and a sensational original screenplay. It perfectly advertises itself as not a love story, but a story about love.

The film shows the 500 day ordeal of a rocky relationship between Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Tom believes in the kind of true love that we have all been brought up to think is out there waiting for us to find happiness; Summer believes that love is not necessary to have true bliss. She has learned to be self-sufficient and has become somewhat introverted, seemingly oblivious to the guys that fawn over her good looks. Summer also has a deep need to be love, but she makes this yearning ever so subtle. Deschanel is able to play this crucial undertone quite skillfully.

One of the things that sets the movie apart is its depiction of events: they are presented in a non-linear fashion. This allows the audience to really feel the up and down nature of their relationship and to know that anything can happen next, a luxury that romantic comedies can rarely provide its viewers. Deschanel, who most audiences will remember as Will Ferrell’s love interest in “Elf,” plays Summer with the right balance of warmth and bitterness. She plays hard-to-get but also projects Summer’s need to be loved at the same time. Gordon-Levitt, who is perhaps best known for his work on the TV show “Third Rock from the Sun,” has puzzled moviegoers with his selection of films over the years, choosing some off-kilter dramas (I do recommend you check out “The Lookout,” one of his finest during this spell). This seems to be more familiar and comfortable territory for him, though, and I hope that he chooses more movies like this. He plays Tom with such irresistible charm that you yearn over his heartbreak and you cheer with his successes, especially when they break out into music and dance numbers to Hall and Oates (Gordon-Levitt is a surprisingly good dancer). Read the rest of this entry »