Tag Archives: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

“Don Jon” (2013) – Review

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Click for the very good and long interview w/ JGL on the Howard Stern Show (50 minutes)

Writer / Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Rob Brown, Jeremy Lake, and Glenne Headly

Jon is a person that knows what he likes. He likes his pad, his ride, his friends, his family, his church, his body, and most of all he loves his porn. So much so he loves masturbating to porn more than actually having sex with a woman. It’s not that he can’t get women–he has a new one every weekend–he just prefers porn.

Out at a club with his friends Bobby (Rob Brown) and Danny (Jeremy Lake), he spots his dime (10) for the night, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson). Barbara is not immediately impressed with Jon and eventually gives him the blow-off. Unaffected, Jon meets and gets another woman. Back at his place they have bad sex–more his fault than hers–and go to bed. Later, as usual, Jon leaves his conquest in bed to go to his computer, watch porn, and then jerk-off.

But something about Barbara stays with him. After some investigating and cyber stalking through Facebook, Jon discovers Barbara’s name and how to get in contact with her. Impressed with his drive to meet her, Barbara agrees to go out with Jon but sex is not immediately on the table. Over time she begins to encourage Jon to go back to school and get a degree, wants them both to meet each others family, and overall becomes a positive influence in his life.

Eventually they do have sex, but for Jon it still is not better than porn. Unfortunately for him she catches Jon watching it and jerking-off to it after their session. In convincing her not to leave him Jon agrees to give-up porn. And as time goes by that is not all Jon needs to give-up if he wants to stay with her.

Don Jon is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first effort as a writer and director. The inexperience shows more with the direction than the writing. The story is not your typical romantic comedy, and in fact is more a coming of age story–a child becoming an adult. Jon’s character should not be sympathetic but he is. He is self-centered and self-absorbed, but he is not an ass. Barbara too is well-developed. She is a strong woman who knows what she wants and plans to get it. Though ultimately unsympathetic, she never crosses that line to bitch.

As a director, Gordon-Levitt is rough around the edges. Jon’s Sunday ritual, though useful to help establish time passing and when we are, becomes too repetitive with the constant use of the same setup. In other words, the scene of the family sitting in the pew at Church and then Jon’s confessional are funny, the shots before of Jon being a hot-head while driving, walking across the street to Church, and the image of the monk and boy statue at the top of the Church become boring after the third time we have seen them.

On the positive side Gordon-Levitt does a great job revealing character by showing instead of telling. We know Jon is neat freak and meticulous not because someone said so, but because we see the time he takes to make his bed and smooth out the wrinkles, as well as him scratching out tough stains while he washes his dishes.

Don Jon is a film with a well-developed story and good direction. Though it won’t change your life, you will leave the theatre feeling better for having watched it.

Grade = B

Click on image to view trailer.

Click on image to view trailer.

 

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“Looper” (2012) – Movie Review

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Writer / Director:  Rian Johnson

Stars:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, and Pierce Gagnon

The year is 2044, and Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper.  A Looper is a hit-man in the present working for the mob from 2074, after time travel has been invented and outlawed.  Joe’s job is simple.  He’s given a time to be at a certain spot.  When that time arrives his hooded target appears before him, Joe blows him away with a blunderbuss, collects his bars of silver, and disposes of the body in a furnace.  Eventually Joe will kill his future self, collect a large payment of gold, retire, move away, waste all his cash, find the woman of his dreams, get detoxed off the drug of the day, and live happily ever after.  At least until that day he gets grabbed, hooded, and sent to the past to meet his younger self.  That’s the deal Joe makes to become a Looper.

But what if something goes wrong?  What if Old Joe (Bruce Willis) wants to change the deal?  What if Old Joe wants to get rid of the main mystery man who took over the mobs and started getting rid of all the old loopers?  What if Old Joe wants to get rid of the Rainmaker before he becomes the Rainmaker?  Well, then Present Joe has a problem.

Rian Johnson creates a dystopian future where the separation between the haves and have-nots is to the extreme.  Human life has no value, and the refuge of society wander the country like hobos of old.  Law and civility have broken down where the average citizen can shoot a thief in the back with impunity, and the police report to the mob.  It is also a world very much set in our reality.  New “motorcycles” that hover share the road with cars & trucks that have been retrofitted with solar panels and Miatas that are considered classic cars.  A world with sleek skyscrapers, poor row house neighborhoods, and 100-year-old farm houses.

As for the story, at its simplest it is The Fugitive.  The Rainmaker is the one-armed man, Old Joe Dr. Kimble, and Present Joe Agent Gerard.  But at the visceral level it is a story of how far someone will go.  How far will a mother go to defend her son, a man to protect his wife, a person to protect himself.  Though in some ways aspects of the story are predictable, how it gets you there is totally unexpected and refreshing.

The success of the film rests solely on the shoulders of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Present Joe is morally and emotionally bankrupt.  His “friends” are other Loopers, his “girlfriend” a hooker, and he is a junkie.  Bruce Willis as Old Joe has found peace in his life, and is now willing to die to protect it and the one he loves.  He’s John McClane from Die Hard but older.  Emily Blunt is Sara, a mother and farmer.  More importantly, Emily Blunt owns this role.  You understand where she is coming from and what she is willing to do to protect her son.  You also see why Present Joe grows as a human in her presence and their interactions.  In effect, Present Joe becomes Old Joe without the thirty years of history.

Looper is a film that stays in your head after you are done watching it.  You think about it the following day.  Your appreciation for it growing with each new thought.  I didn’t know where Looper was going to go when it started, but I can say that I never expected it to take me where it did.  And for that I thank the entire creative team.

Grade = A-


“Dark Knight Rises” (2012) – IMAX – Movie Review

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Director:  Christopher Nolan

Writers:  Jonathan & Christopher Nolan

Stars:  Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Ann Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Cain

The Dark Knight Rises begins in Central Asia eight years after the events of The Dark Knight.  A wanted Russian nuclear scientist, Dr. Pavel (Alon Aboutbol), is being transported by plane along with three captured hooded mercenaries.  While in the air another plane intercepts the first.  In short order, Bane (Tom Hardy) reveals himself as one of the hooded prisoners, his men disable the plane, they kidnap the scientist, and destroy the C.I.A. plane.  Bane is revealed to be feared, cunning, methodical, and his men fanatically loyal.

In Gotham, the lie of Harvey Dent is still being perpetuated.  A law in his name has sent many to jail, and a city holiday exists in his honor.  The Batman is still wanted for Dent’s crimes, and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is battered and a recluse.  All the while Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is being psychologically eaten from the inside by the poison that is the lie of Harvey Dent.  Gotham is ripe for the fall.

The Nolan Batman Trilogy comes full circle with the story of Rises roughly following Batman Begins.  Instead of Falcone and the Scarecrow there is Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) and Bane.  And just as Falcone thought he controlled the Scarecrow and then was later betrayed by him, the same occurs between Daggett and Bane.  As in Batman Begins where Bruce Wayne is trained in the lair of his enemy, hereto he receives an education about himself in his enemies prison.  And most important of all, Ra’s Al Ghul’s (Liam Neeson) words are made true:  a man can be destroyed, but a legend can never die.  What’s amazing about the story is how little the Dark Knight is actually in it and how much the legend of him is–especially through the eyes of John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  It is John Blake who calls Batman to action, it is John Blake who brings hope, it is John Blake who remains true through all the evil and lies, and it is John Blake who rises along with Bruce Wayne.

The look of the film is real as opposed to dark.  Gotham in the first two films is overwhelmingly oppressive.  Here Gotham is New York, not some hyper-realized version of it.  Even at its darkest moments in the story there is always light symbolizing hope.  The destruction of the stadium and bridges occurs during the day and not the night.  The prison pit of the damned has a great oculus where only day is ever seen.  The final battle between good and evil occurs during the sunlight of a cold winter’s day.

The story is amazingly well paced.  Though clocking in at 164 minutes, the movie never drags and only has minimal fat–specifically the Police Commander Foley (Matthew Modine) storyline.  More importantly, moments of humor are allowed to occur.

The acting is strong across the board, especially the poignant scenes being between Alfred (Michael Cain) and Bruce Wayne.  Cain and Bale have developed a natural chemistry together, and you can feel their affection for each other.  Almost as strong are the interactions between Gordon-Levitt and Oldman.  Their relationship a microcosm of a father and son.  In the beginning, a son places his father on a pedestal; a god to admire, learn from, and emulate.  But by the end, a son sees his father with open eyes; a man with faults who has made mistakes, a man you can still learn from but can also learn from you.

Hathaway succeeds in bringing both a very accurate depiction of the Catwoman from the comics to the big screen, as well as a very realistic portrayal of the character.  An important observation to note is Selina Kyle is only ever Selina Kyle and is never mentioned as Catwoman.  And what of Tom Hardy as Bane?  He brings a raw physicality and menace to the role.  And there is something to be said to have that British voice behind the mask, as well as his eyes.  There is a tragedy in seeing Tom Hardy’s face in a flashback of Bane and knowing that he becomes a monster.

If not for the final ninety seconds a great movie could have been a perfect film.  If only the film would have ended with Blake’s tale and no other.

Grade = A-


Movie Confessions Blogathon

A fellow movie review blogger, MyFilmViews, invited me to be part of a blogathon.  In this case the theme are movie confessions.  Below are my answers to the questions sent followed by some thoughts:

  1. Which classic movie don’t you like/can’t enjoy and why?  The Night of the Hunter.  I know it is meant to be surreal.  I know it has one of Robert Mitchum’s greatest performance.  I know it is a misunderstood masterpiece.  And I know “The Preacher” is one of the most iconic characters of all time.  But I also know when I saw this film for the first time my reaction was underwhelming “Ehh”.  It didn’t do anything for me.  I neither loved it nor loathed it.  It didn’t stay with me and pop into my mind from time to time.  
  2. Which ten classic movies haven’t you seen yet?  The 400 Blows, The Apartment, Taxi Driver, Gone with the Wind, Do the Right Thing, The Seven Samurai, The Seventh Seal, Some Like It Hot, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Battleship Potemkin
  3. Have you ever sneaked into another movie at the cinema?  To the best of my memory, no.
  4. Which actor/actress do you think is overrated?  Katherine Hepburn.  I’m not saying she is a bad actress, but for someone that appears to be acting the same way in all the limited films I have seen her in I can’t believe she has been nominated twelve times and won four.
  5. From which great director have you never seen any movie (and why)?  Ingmar Bergman.  I have no good reason why I have never watched any of his films; I just don’t feel any urge to.
  6. Which movie do you love, but is generally hated?  Hudson Hawk.  It’s #1 Guilty Pleasure, and I have no idea why it is hated so much.  It’s not great art, but it’s a good popcorn movie.
  7. Have you ever been one “one of those annoying people” at the cinema?  Borderline yes.  I don’t remember if I was having a conversation with my mother or returning a phone call to my sister with her, but we did it while the end credits were rolling.  Since this was done after the film and during the credits, I am not sure if it qualifies.
  8. Did you ever watch a movie, which you knew in advance would be bad, just because a specific actor/actress was in it?  Which one and why?  In a theatre no, but at home yes.  I’ll usually watch anything with Harrison Ford and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  I’m a big fan of both and try to watch all their films.  Best example of this would be G.I. Joe.
  9. Did you ever not watch a specific movie because it had subtitles?  No
  10. Are there any movies in your collection that you have has for more than five years and never watched?  The 400 Blows.  But after a recent review by AndyWatchesMovies I set a goal to myself to watch before Labor Day–first weekend in September.
  11. Which are the worst movies in your collection and why do you still own them?  Though not from my point-of-view, but Hudson Hawk.  Also Candy, which is the worse movie ever made starring the most number of famous people.  I keep it just for that reason.
  12. Do you have any confessions about your movie watching setup at home?  My TV is small; it is in an armoire with the doors typically closed unless we are watching the TV.  As such, and movies I watch with a lot of action I usually watch laying on the floor in front of the TV instead of the sofa behind the coffee table.  Otherwise it is difficult for me to see all the details of the action.
  13. Any other confessions you want to make?  I’m typically biased against European films.  I stereotype them as being painfully slow and poorly edited.  I know this is not true, but I blame a film school professor of mine who loved those types of films for giving me this perception.  Most people naturally assume I am a sci-fi film fan, but I have actually seen very few of them. I am not a fan of gross-out horror films.  I usually watch comedies as rentals and not in the theatre.

So there you go, my answers to the questions.  Overall I had a great time working on this.  It reminded me there are still a lot of classic movies I have not watched yet, and reminded me that liking a film is purely subjective.  We all have out guilty pleasures that we like to watch and other people will give us an odd stare for.

As a thank you, here is the link to MyFilmViews post on these questions, as well as other bloggers who are participating:

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Also, here are some links to earlier posts of mine that touch on some of my responses to the above questions:


“50/50” – Movie Review

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Director:  Jonathan Levine

Writer:  Will Reiser

Stars:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard & Angelica Houston

What’s not to love about a comedy, actually dramedy, about cancer staring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogan?  A little too much Seth Rogan, but that’s OK.

50/50 is the story of a late twenty-something, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who learns he has cancer, and how he and his friends & family deal with it.  The story is a fictionalized account of a true story.  The writer, Will Reiser, was in fact diagnosed with cancer and is friends with Seth Rogan in real life.  At first Adam is shocked when he learns about his condition.  He begins to tell the different people in his life, and they all deal with it and him in their way–some good and some bad.

Kyle (Seth Rogan) is the faithful friends who tries to keep him happy and focus on the possible advantages of his condition.  Adam’s mother, Diane (Angelic Houston), automatically goes into protective mode–insisting in moving in with him to be there for him.  His girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) at first is supportive, but is in a situation she was not bargaining for at this time in her life.  Added to Adam’s mix is his hospital appointed therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick) who is young, inexperienced, and hasn’t quite mastered the subtle art of the encouraging touch.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is playing straight man to the antics of those around him, and he does it very well.  Both he and the writer are spot-on on how he deals with the news and the people around him.  Adam’s phasing-out of the conversation when the doctor tells him the news and then coming back into focus is how I have dealt with information similar in importance.  His fear of telling his mother because of her reaction is exactly how I would be.  At this stage in his career, Gordon-Levitt has a natural ease for these roles–the young everyman finding his way through life.  I really can’t think of another actor that would have allowed me to empathize with Adam as much.

The remaining cast is also good.  Angelica Houston is perfect as the smothering mother.  Her character actually fascinated me the most–the fact that she is dealing with her husband who has Alzheimer’s and is so willing to also take Adam on is a testament to her love and devotion.  Anna Kendrick is spot on as the inexperienced therapist who got a very tough situation for her third patient.  Bryce Dallas Howard has the unfortunate role of being the unsupporting girlfriend.  Of all the roles in the film this is probably the hardest to portray, and the script gives her little support.  The question you must ask yourself when judging this role is this:  what would you do if you were in a relationship that has lost its emotion but had not yet ended it, and then the other person is diagnosed with a horrible disease?  In the end though, the script sets up this character as a fall-guy.  As for Seth Rogan, he is too much.  He is funny, but sometimes it goes too far.

High points in the film and the script are certain one liners and small moments.  “I smothered him because I love him,” drew the loudest laughs from me and the audience.  The running gag of Katherine’s inability to pull off the natural physical touch for encouragement is great.  The tiny moment when Adam discovers Kyle’s bathroom reading material is a book on how to help someone deal with cancer was emotionally powerful for me.

Grade:  A-


September – Yes, No, Maybe

So, in advance of each month I am going to post my Yes, No, and Maybe picks for the month.  I will try my hardest to make Yes movies.  I will pray for No movies to crash and burn.  Maybe movies?  Maybe I’ll make it to them, maybe I won’t.  The order in which the films appear in each category are based only on release date and not my overall expectation for them.

YES – 09/20/11 – Pearl Jam Twenty

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I’m a big fan of Rock Documentaries.

YES – 09/23/11 – Moneyball

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I was sold when I saw the Trailer.  (Also, I like Baseball movies)

YES – 09/30/11 – 50/50

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A comedy about cancer starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt?  Who am I kidding, a movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt?  I’m always there.  I will also probably be there by myself.

YES – 09/30/11 – Dream House

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I didn’t know anything about this film until I read about it in Entertainment Weekly.  But now that I have seen the trailer and poster–which I love–I am there.  I will be there by myself, but I will be there.  Does this mean I am going to do a solo double header on the same day?

NO – 09/23/11 – Abduction

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Taylor Lautner cannot act.  He may be pleasing to the eye, but he can’t carry a movie.

MAYBE – 09/16/11 – Straw Dogs

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If I do go watch this movie, I’m pretty sure I will be by myself.  Which means that would be three solo movies in September.  This is a remake of a Sam Pekinpah film starring Dustin Hoffman.  Normally a remake would send me running the other way, but based on the comments from Rene Rodriguez of The Miami Herald, I may be at the theatre.