Tag Archives: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises faced a tricky maneuver: providing a follow up to the earth shattering, delirious success that was 2008’s The Dark Knight. The film was never going to be as good as or better than that lightning in a bottle stroke of genius. However, the film we did get is one epic, operatic sonic boom of a Batman film, and if there’s one area where it does in fact outdo The Dark Knight, it’s in scope. The action set pieces here have an earth shattering, monumental quality to them, mainly thanks to Tom Hardy’s Bane, a full on monster who brings biblical destruction to Gotham City with some calculated, maximum impact attacks that almost blow the speakers of any system they’re shown on. Despite the apocalyptic blitzkrieg, Nolan loses none of that precious philosophy that has made this franchise glow so far, the sharp-as-a-tack dialogue and moral complexities of existing in a world of vigilantes and terrorists. It’s been eight years in Gotham since Batman took down the Joker and, somewhat controversially, the fallen angel that was Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne has become a crippled recluse while the city more or less flourishes quietly, but there’s nothing that’ll roust a burg out of tranquil slumber like the arrival of a seven foot tall, highly trained psychopath bent on chaos. In a vertigo inducing opener set atop the clouds, Bane triumphantly crashes a CIA aircraft and makes off with its cargo, a mere taste of his brutality to come. Bruce is forced out of hiding to do battle with him, and before you know it they’re all thundering around Gotham’s tunnels and edifices, pursued by hordes of snarky GCPD, who no doubt have missed this kind of action for a near decade. The new commissioner (Matthew Modine) is a hotheaded nimrod, while Gordon (Gary Oldman, the gravitas is real with this guy) still hurts from the tragedy years before. Anne Hathaway throws a wicked curveball of a performance as Selina ‘Catwoman’ Kyle, and although no one will ever, *ever* top Michelle Pfeiffer’s brilliantly kinky turn years before, she’s a deadly force to be reckoned with both for Bruce and the criminal factions vying for power. Hathaway seems like a sanitized choice for the cat, but she’s deft, sexy, formidable, competent and looks damn good in that outfit careening around on Bruce’s batbike. Marion Cotillard is great as the mysterious Miranda Tate who may be more dangerous than she seems, a shtick which Cotillard unnervingly perfected first in Inception. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are top notch as Alfred and Lucius once again, Ben Mendelsohn plays up a sleazy business rival for Bruce, Juno Temple is cute as Selina’s off again, on again lover, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s intrepid detective gets a whole lot of plot momentum and crazy good dialogue, and the jaw dropping lineup of supporting work includes Brett Cullen, Burn Gorman, Desmond Harrington, Chris Ellis, Robert Wisdom, Tomas Arana, Aiden Gillen, Brent Briscoe, William Devane, Nestor Carbonell, Reggie Lee, Wade Williams, Christopher Judge, a brief reprisal from Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy as that pesky Scarecrow, the only villain who appears in all three films. The story goes to places the other two films never ascended to, and if the Joker thought his antics aspired to anarchy, he’d do flips when Bane literally starts blowing up the city on a massive scale, an extended sequence that’s delirious in it’s armageddon worthy panic. On a more personal scale, Batman deals with being broken, the cost he must pay to ultimately save his city, and the unknowable matter of when to cash out as a superhero, or forever give up your soul to a fight that has neither end nor reason. My only issue with the story is how a certain third act revelation pretty much neuters Bane’s character arc and renders his whole fearsome nature somewhat too human and redundant when all is said and done, it’s a narrative decision Nolan should examine closely for his own sake, and avoid such an impotent cop-out when writing his next arch villain. The cinematography is aces, the cgi blending seamless, Hans Zimmer’s score gives us the classic thunderstorm passages we’ve come to love while adding a rhythmic chanting for further depth and flavour. There’s not much that can be said that’s negative about the film, it’s one hell of an achievement and doesn’t let up until the Big Bang of an ending provides release for the franchise and every character in it, an expository epilogue in which loose ends are tied, and some semblance of peace is found. A near perfect third act to the trilogy, and a superhero flick for the ages.

-Nate Hill

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Scott Frank’s The Lookout


Scott Frank’s The Lookout is a film where every turn of plot, exchange of dialogue, set piece and stylistic choice just seems to mesh flawlessly, resulting in a package that’s nearly as perfect as you can get. Part psychological character study, part crime thriller, sewn together lovingly by threads of brilliantly written, intelligent interpersonal drama that seems lived in, the writer never uses the pen to pander nor patronize, but provides well drawn, realistic human beings who sound like actual people and not archetypes dwelling within the pages, never fully realized. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Chris Pratt (not actual Chris Pratt lol) a young hotshot who becomes the victim of his own cocky, self destructive behaviour. After a horrific car accident that was entirely his fault, his girlfriend is left maimed and he a busted up shell of his former self, saddled with bushels of brain damage and the inability to cohesively live his day to day life the way he did before. It’s some sort of synapse frying neurological scarring that’s never fully explained, but the symptoms are clearly and fascinatingly outlined in a way that no other film has really tried before. He’s left somewhat adrift in life, naively attracted to his foxy psychiatrist (Carla Gugino), misunderstood by his parents (Bruce McGill & Alberta Watson), and cared for by his eccentric, blind and motor-mouthed roommate (Jeff Daniels, a standout as always). He happens to be from a small midwestern town though, and in movie land these burgs are almost always filled with schemes, heists, double crosses and feed store robberies. ‘Bro seduced’ by an equally suave and shady dude (Matthew Goode, whose work here lives up to that surname and then some), Chris is shanghaied into assisting in the hold up of the very bank he works at, and soon the kind of hell that would make the Coen brothers applaud breaks loose. Everything makes sense though, the jigsaw pieces of the narrative nestling flush against one another, not a beat feeling out of place or in danger of derailing the whole thing. That’s not the easiest thing to achieve, especially in a taught running time that clocks in under two hours and still manages to feel substantial. Levitt is terrific, a guy who used to be in control, used to be revered as the alpha who takes care of things, his condition worsened by the knowledge that people know full well how broken he is. The stakes are inherently high when someone that set back by life must navigate their way through the complex ins and outs of pulling off a bank heist. One hell of a film.  

-Nate Hill

THE LOOKOUT – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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With his adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel, Out of Sight, Scott Frank demonstrated a knack for crime thrillers with plenty of plot twists and double crosses. He finally got the chance to direct his own film and the result was The Lookout (2007), a neo-noir that evokes other crime movies like Charley Varrick (1973) and Fargo (1996).

Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young hockey player with a promising career that is snuffed out in an instant thanks to a car accident that he caused. Four years later, he’s working as a night janitor at a local Midwestern bank located out in the middle of nowhere and dealing with a head injury from the accident. He has to write down everything that he does to get ready every day. His old life is gone and his new one is one mundane day after another. Chris now lives with Lewis (Jeff Daniels), his blind roommate who helps the young man out with things around their apartment.

Chris meets Gary (Matthew Goode) at a bar one night. He’s a genial guy who befriends the young man over beers. Chris also meets a beautiful young woman named Luvlee (Isla Fisher) who is friends with Gary. They quickly go to work on Chris, Gary appealing to his brain and Luvlee to his heart. They make him feel like he belongs, which is important to him because his family doesn’t know how to relate to him anymore. Pretty soon Gary tells Chris about a bank heist he plans to pull with his buddies. The bank that they are targeting just happens to be the one that Chris works at. Gary dangles the proverbial carrot in front of Chris with the promise of money and the power that comes with it. He is very persuasive and knows exactly which buttons to push. Like most heist films, things do not go according to plan and the rest of the film deals with the aftershocks.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues his knack for offbeat roles. He does a great job portraying someone with neurological damage and the frustration that comes from not being able to do simple things like opening a can of food or remembering someone’s name. He also conveys the guilt his character feels over the car accident that cost two of his friends their lives and robbed him of a promising future. We see how he tries to hide his disorder and the frustration of not being able to do basic things. It’s a performance grounded in realism that is in contrast to this stylized noir world. It doesn’t hurt that he is surrounded by cold, detached characters, and this makes him very sympathetic as well.

Jeff Daniels steals pretty much every scene he’s in as Chris’ genial roommate. The actor displays a dry sense of humor that is very funny to see in action. He and Gordon-Levitt’s character make for very unlikely roommates to say the least but the two actors make it work thanks to the excellent chemistry they have together. Along with The Squid in the Whale (2005) and Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Daniels is turning out to be quite an excellent character actor appearing in several well-made independent films.

Frank has a keen visual sense, adopting a predominantly dark color scheme in keeping with the neo-noir tradition. He has crafted a clever little thriller with a fascinating protagonist at its center. What could have easily been a forgettable film is anchored by yet another riveting performance by Gordon-Levitt.

Elmore Leonard’s Killshot: A Review by Nate Hill 

John Madden’s Killshot went through the ninth ring of production hell before it was finally released in 07 or so, after like three years of gathering dust on the shelf. The resulting film didn’t win anyone over who waited all that time with baited breath, because you can see the cuts, chops and gaps in story where it’s been muddled around with, no doubt by the fuckwit studio. I still love it, flaws and all. Based on an Elmore Leonard tale (you can never go wrong with his work, it’s a sombre tale of psychopaths, assassins and one hapless estranged couple (Thomas Jane & Diane Lane) caught in between. When legendary native american hitman Arman ‘The Blackbird’ Degas (Mickey Rourke) botches a job for the Toronto mafia, he’s forced on the run, and hides out with aimless young lunatic

criminal Ritchie Nix (Joseph Gordon Levitt), who somewhat reminds him of a litte brother he lost years before. Rourke pulls off the native angle quite well, and shows vague glimpses of a humanity that was once there and has long since been buried in violence. When Jane and Lane accidentally witness him murder someone, he won’t let it go, pursuing them beyond rationality or reason, even to his own end. Levitt never gets to play the wild card, and he rocks his redneck sociopath brat role with scary aplomb. Rosario Dawson has an odd appearance as Ritchie’s girlfriend, an elvis fan who is seemingly a little bit challenged upstairs. Watch for a cameo from Hal Holbrook as a crusty old mobster too. You’ll just have to imagine the federal agent character played by Johnny Knoxville though, because he never made it into the film and can now only be seen in ages old trailers that were a false start. Despite it’s issues, I find it to be an atmospheric little pulp outing that does have the classic Leonard feel, a hard bitten, cold-hearted turn from Rourke that’s one of his best characters in recent years, and a mean, unforgiving narrative set in picturesque northern Canada. Give it a shot, it deserves way more love than its received so far. 

INCEPTION – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Ten years in the making, Inception (2010) was the culmination of Christopher Nolan’s career up to that point in time. This film mixed the ingenious plot twists of his independent film darling Memento (2000) with the epic scale of his Hollywood blockbuster The Dark Knight (2008). It took the heist genre to the next level by fusing it with the science fiction genre as a group of corporate raiders steal ideas by entering the dreams of their targets – think Dreamscape (1984) meets The Matrix (1999) as if made by Michael Mann. While Nolan and his films certainly wear their respective influences on their sleeve – and this one is no different (2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Heat) – there is still enough of his own thematic preoccupations to make Inception distinctly his own. This film continues his fascination with the blurring of artifice with reality. With Inception, we are constantly questioning what is real right down to the last enigmatic image.

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team extract thoughts of value from people as they dream. However, during his jobs, he is visited by his deceased wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), a beautiful femme fatale character that serves as an increasingly dangerous distraction from the task at hand. The film’s opening sequence does an excellent job establishing how Cobb and his team extract information from the dream of Saito (Ken Watanabe), a Japanese businessman, in a visually arresting sequence. He catches up with Cobb in the real world and offers him a new deal: plant an idea in Robert Fischer’s (Cillian Murphy) mind that will help break-up his father’s vast empire before it becomes too powerful, and do it in a way so that it seems like Fischer thought of it for it to work. This is something that has only been done once before and Cobb was the person that pulled it off but can he do it again? In exchange for completing the job, Saito will make the necessary arrangements so that Cobb can return home to the United States where his children live but where he is also wanted by the authorities in connection with his wife’s death. So, Cobb recruits a literal dream team of experts to help him pull off the most challenging job of his career.

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delves into all kinds of aspects of dreams as evident in a scene early on where Cobb explains how they work, how to design and then navigate them. While there is a lot of exposition dialogue to absorb during these scenes, Nolan also keeps things visually interesting at the same time. This is arguably the most cerebral part of the film as he explores all sorts of intriguing concepts and sets up the rules for what we’ll experience later on – pretty heady stuff for a Hollywood blockbuster. And when he isn’t examining fascinating ideas, he’s orchestrating exciting and intense action sequences. There’s an incredible sequence where Nolan juggles three different action sequences operating on three different levels of dreams that are all impressively staged while also a marvel of cross-cutting editing. He anchors Inception with the character of Cobb and his desire to return home to his children while also dealing with the death of his wife. It gives the film an emotional weight so that we care about what happens to him. It also raises the stakes on the Fischer job.

Cobb continues Nolan’s interest in tortured protagonists. With Memento, Leonard Shelby tried to figure out who murdered his wife while operating with no short-term memory. Insomnia (2002) featured a cop with a checkered past trying to solve a murder on very little sleep. The Batman films focused on a costumed vigilante that waged war on criminals as a way of dealing with the guilt of witnessing his parents being murdered when he was a child. With The Prestige (2006), magician Robert Angier is tormented by the death of his wife and an all-consuming passion to outdo a rival illusionist. Inception’s Cobb also has a checkered past and is haunted by the death of loved one. Leonardo DiCaprio delivers what may be his finest performance to date, playing a complex, and layered character with a rich emotional life. Cobb must come to terms with what happened to his wife and his culpability in what happened to her. DiCaprio conveys an emotional range that he has not tapped into to this degree before. There’s a captivating tragic dimension to Cobb that the actor does an excellent job of expressing so that we become invested in the dramatic arc of his character.

Nolan populates Inception with a stellar cast to support DiCaprio. The indie film world is represented by the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy while also drawing from international cinema with Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy. Gordon-Levitt and Hardy, in particular, are stand-outs and their banter provides several moments of enjoyable levity during the course of this intense, engrossing film. And it wouldn’t be a Nolan film without his good luck charm, Michael Caine, making an appearance. As he has done in the past, Nolan plucks a once dominant actor from the 1980s, now languishing in relative obscurity – think Rutger Hauer in Batman Begins (2005) or Eric Roberts in The Dark Knight – and gives them a high-profile role. Inception gives Tom Berenger some well-deserved mainstream exposure after languishing in direct-to-video hell, reminding everyone what a good actor he can be with the right material.

Regardless if whether you like Inception or not, you’ve got to admire Nolan for making a film that is not a remake, a reboot, a sequel or an adaptation of an existing work. It is an ideal blend of art house sensibilities, with its weighty themes, and commercial conventions, like exciting action sequences. Capitalizing on the massive success of The Dark Knight, Nolan wisely used his clout to push through his most personal and ambitious film up to that point. With Inception, he created a world on a scale that he never attempted before and was able to realize some truly astonishing visuals, like gravity-defying fight scenes and having characters encounter a location straight out of the mind of M.C. Escher. It has been said that the power of cinema is the ability to transport you to another world and to dream with our eyes open. Inception does this. Nolan created a cinematic anomaly: a summer blockbuster film with a brain.

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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In 2005, Robert Rodriguez adapted the comic book Sin City into a film with help from its creator Frank Miller who co-directed it. Convincing the veteran comic book writer/artist to come on board was a smart move on the filmmaker’s part as it assured that Miller’s luridly violent noir tales would be faithfully translated. This was achieved through a then-groundbreaking green screen environment that allowed Rodriguez to place his actors in Miller’s stylish world with a striking look comprised of black and white with strategic splashes of color. This innovative approach attracted a star-studded cast that included Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro among others. The final result dazzled audiences and was a commercial success.

A sequel seemed inevitable, but instead Rodriguez went on to team up with Quentin Tarantino on the box office misfire that was the Grindhouse double bill (2007) while Miller applied the Sin City aesthetic to a disastrous adaptation of Will Eisner’s comic book The Spirit (2008). Over the years, talk of a sequel surfaced occasionally with the likes of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie being mentioned in potential leading roles. Nine long years later and the stars (and money) aligned for Rodriguez and Miller to reunite with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014). The film promptly tanked at the box office and received mixed to negative reviews. What happened? Did Miller and Rodriguez wait too long? A green screen-heavy film is no longer a novelty. Two cast members with characters in the film had passed away and some roles have been recast. The general consensus seems to be that they waited too long to make a sequel and interest in the film had waned.

Some might complain that A Dame to Kill For is just more of the same. As a big fan of the first film this is not necessarily a bad thing. After seeing Sin City, I wanted to see more of Miller’s stories brought to life. In addition to adapting A Dame to Kill For and the short story “Just Another Saturday Night” from the Booze, Broads, & Bullets collection, Miller created two new stories specifically for the film – “The Long Bad Night” and “Nancy’s Last Dance.” By doing this, he has given the fans a real treat by offering two stories where the outcome is not known and introducing new characters into this universe.

In “Just Another Saturday Night,” Marv (Rourke) wakes up amidst a car accident unable to remember how he got there. He proceeds to recall what happened via flashback on a snowy Saturday night. This segment is a nice way to reacquaint us to the brutal yet darkly humorous world of Sin City. “The Long Bad Night” introduces us to Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a confident gambler who decides to take on Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), the most powerful man in the city, in a high-stakes poker game and gets more than he bargained for. It’s a lot of fun to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt square off against Powers Boothe, the former playing a young upstart and the latter an evil, influential man.

The centerpiece of the film is “A Dame to Kill For,” which features Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) as a private investigator taking photographs of a businessman (Ray Liotta) cheating on his wife with a hooker (Juno Temple). When the man tries to kill her, Dwight intervenes. He has a tortured past, which involves keeping his homicidal impulses in check. Afterwards, Dwight gets a call from an ex-lover by the name of Ava Lord (Eva Green), a beautiful woman married to a very rich man. She’s in some kind of trouble and he finds himself drawn into her tangled web yet again. He soon runs afoul of her imposing bodyguard Manute (Dennis Haysbert) who proceeds to work him over. Realizing that he’s out of his depth and bent on rescuing Ava, Dwight enlists Marv’s help, which only complicates things in typical noir fashion.

In “Nancy’s Last Dance,” Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) is an exotic dancer still haunted by the death of her lover John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) and is obsessed with avenging his death by killing Roark, the man responsible for it. Over time, she’s counseled/haunted by Hartigan’s ghost, which drives her increasingly crazy.

Actors Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Green slip seamlessly into the Sin City world. It helps that they have that old school noir look, especially Brolin with his chiseled tough guy features and gravelly voice – perfect for his character’s voiceover narration. In no time, the actor makes you forget that he plays a character once portrayed by Clive Owen. Gordon-Levitt is excellent as the young newcomer with a secret and manages to elicit sympathy for his ultimately doomed character. Green plays Sin City’s reigning femme fatale. The stunning actress has an alluring, exotic look and can turn a vulnerability on and off at will all the while playing a cold-hearted manipulator of men. Green gives key line deliveries the right venomous spin that makes Ava Lord a fearsome figure in this world.

It’s great to see Mickey Rourke return to the role of Marv, a character he inhabits so well. He brings a world-weary charm and a much-needed dose of dark humor to the film. Powers Boothe, who only had a minor role in the first film, gets a much meatier part in A Dame to Kill For and it’s a lot of fun to see him sink his teeth into such a deliciously evil character. Unfortunately, Jessica Alba is once again miscast as Nancy, the stripper with a heart of gold. While she looks the part, the actress doesn’t have the chops to pull off the tricky evolution of character that goes from sweet girl traumatized by the death of loved one to a revenge-obsessed vigilante. Miller’s stylized dialogue needs to be delivered a certain way. Some actors can pull it off and others can’t. Alba falls into the latter category and it becomes painfully obvious in her segment. Even her dancing is unconvincing.

While it no longer has the technological novelty factor as an incentive (shooting it in 3D really didn’t help either), there is certainly no other film out there that looks like Sin City. There have been a few imitators since, most notably The Spirit and Max Payne (2008), but the look of the film is so specific to its universe that few have dared to emulate it. Rodriguez has said that with the first Sin City he held back somewhat stylistically for fear that it would be too much for audiences. Emboldened by its commercial success, he took the look further and made it even more faithful to Miller’s comic book. So, there are things like Ava being rendered in black and white accentuated with red lips and green eyes, and visual flourishes like Marv recounting past exploits while a tiny car chase revolves around him, or the moody storm clouds that hang heavy in the cemetery where Nancy visits Hartigan’s grave. And why not? It’s not like the characters or the world they inhabit are based on any kind of reality. They exist in a hyper-stylized neo-noir universe drenched in atmosphere.

The dialogue in A Dame to Kill For is riddled with clichés and the characters are drawn from archaic stereotypes, but that’s the point. Miller is paying homage to the Mickey Spillane crimes stories he clearly idolizes. The film immerses itself in noir clichés and wears them proudly like a badge of honor, refusing to make any excuses for trading in them. There’s really nothing more to it than that, which may make the film seem instantly forgettable, but Rodriguez’s film never aspires to be art as it is unrepentedly sexual and violent with very few if any redeeming characters. The first Sin City film came out at the right time and tapped into popular culture zeitgeist. A Dame to Kill For is not so lucky, but you have to give Miller and Rodriguez credit for sticking to their guns and delivering another faithful adaptation of the comic book, which may only appeal to fans and probably won’t convert the uninitiated.