Joseph Gordon-Levitt

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan)

Much of The Dark Knight Rises is rushed. The film runs over two and a half hours and director Nolan can’t find anything he wants to spend much time on. He’s got a lot of characters to occupy that run time; they occasionally intersect, but rarely long enough to make an impression. Nolan seems to think the Wally Pfister photography can sell any scene, whether it’s one of the most boring chase sequences in a big budget film (but it’s at twilight and Pfister makes it look great) or if it’s ostensible lead Christian Bale and his romantic interest, Marion Cotillard, letting the rainy afternoon bring out their passions. Passions can be in the script, but there’s no chemistry between Bale and Cotillard. Though, again, rainy afternoon passion? Pfister can shoot it. Competent photography doesn’t make something any good, unfortunately.

And there’s not much good about Rises. Some of the acting is fine, some of the acting is bad, some of it is good. But the script’s so lame, Bale never has anything to do. It sets him up as physically incapable of being Batman (set some eight years after the previous entry). Bale looks awful too. So what does he do? He becomes Batman again. There’s no logic to it, just like there’s no logic to all the corporate machinations going on with an extremely lame Ben Mendelsohn as another businessman trying to take Bale’s company. Rises seems like it had an outline, but no connective tissue between events. Anne Hathaway’s “Catwoman” is shoehorned into the film. She’s pointless. Hathaway gives a technically good performance, Nolan just doesn’t have anything to do with her. She’s scenery and the occasional plot foil.

Then there’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who pops in as Gary Oldman’s sidekick. Real quick–Oldman’s awful in the beginning of the film and better in the second half, though he’s no William Shatner when he needs to be–Nolan always casts the wrong kind of ham. Michael Caine’s real bad. His writing is bad here, but he’s also real bad.

Anyway, back to Gordon-Levitt. He’s fine–he and Bale are great together too, but they only get two significant scenes together. It’s dumb. The mistakes the film makes with its characters are dumb. The whole thing seeks to reimagine the previous entries in the Bale and Nolan Bat franchise to fit this one’s needs. But being out of ideas is no excuse, ditto Nolan’s utter boredom with the filmmaking. Rises is like a bad James Bond knock-off, complete with a Bond villain in Tom Hardy’s philosopher brute.

Rises is also a New York action movie, only one where Nolan wants to pretend it’s about “Gotham City” while winking about how it’s really “New York City.” There’s even the obligatory insensitive 9/11 reference–Nolan really goes for the Americana here. Usually to roll his eyes at it. At its core, Rises is supposed to be about heroism. It doesn’t fail at it because Nolan’s a cynic, necessarily, it fails because it has a really bad, stupid script. With awful reveals. And a lot of poorly edited montages set to bad music.

Technically, other than Pfister, Rises is a joke. Hans Zimmer’s score is terrible, Lee Smith’s editing is ugly. It’s not just a poorly edited film, it’s ugly. It’s not all Smith’s fault either, he’s got no coverage from Nolan and Nolan’s got no rhythm.

As for Hardy, like most other things in Rises, he’s lame. It’s not entirely his fault, but maybe some of it is his fault. Did he do his Count Dracula-impression voice? Then that one is his fault. His face being so covered he has no visual affect? Nolan’s fault.

Nolan hopes his cast will earn enough interest to keep the film going–the way he cuts between Bale, Gordon-Levitt, Hathaway, Hardy, Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Cotillard–there’s a definite attempt to engender concern for the cast. Not concern with Hardy so much, but everyone else. Hardy’s supposed to be the toughest mother on the planet and Nolan’s action direction is so bad–not to mention his direction of Hardy as an actor–Hardy comes off less threatening than a villain on the Adam West TV show. Nolan purposely removes Rises and its characters from reality and from danger. There’s nothing to get invested in.

So instead of the movie making it because of Bale or anyone else, it makes it because you feel sorry for them. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling sorry for Bale, but I clearly am, because Bale showed up for work–probably was going to yell at some caterer or whatever–and Nolan didn’t.

The Dark Knight Rises is a bunch of underwritten, short scenes strung together–usually stuck haphazardly together with crap montages. Even more than Nolan’s direction, the problem is the script. It’s atrocious and it’s too bad. It isn’t just Bale who showed up willing to work, it’s just about everyone except for Michael Caine.

It sinks. And it stinks.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Nolan; screenplay by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by Hans Zimmer; production designers, Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh; produced by Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas and Charles Roven; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle), Tom Hardy (Bane), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake), Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), Marion Cotillard (Miranda Tate), Matthew Modine (Foley), Ben Mendelsohn (Daggett) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox).


Lincoln (2012, Steven Spielberg)

Lincoln is a political thriller. The vast majority of the film concerns the 13th Amendment and Lincoln’s attempts to get it through the House of Representatives. When Lincoln isn’t pursuing this story (or when director Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner’s tangential subplots are too thin), the artifice starts showing. Not even Daniel Day-Lewis, in a phenomenal performance as Lincoln, can survive all of them. He survives most of them, but not when Spielberg brings up the John Williams schmaltz.

At its peaks, Lincoln makes one forget history and be enthralled at watching it unfold. It’s discouraging Spielberg and Kushner didn’t apply this same vigor to the finish. Lincoln is not a biopic; it’s inexplicable why Spielberg felt the need to include the assassination… other than the viewer’s expectation.

He should have left well enough alone, because he fumbles the end. And the second ending. And especially the third.

The film has an all-star cast of recognizable faces if not names. James Spader is the best; he’s allowed the most freedom. Both David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones are excellent. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is lost–his role’s useless in actual narrative. Jackie Earle Haley doesn’t do well either. Lee Pace and Peter McRobbie are fantastic as the villains.

Sally Field is Lincoln‘s other big misstep. The other actors, even the lesser performances, transcend their celebrity. Field embraces hers, apparently with Spielberg’s full blessing. It’s a goofy casting choice.

Lincoln is often great, but not consistently. Day-Lewis is, however.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Tony Kushner, based in part on a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin; director of photography, Janusz Kaminski; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Rick Carter; produced by Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Abraham Lincoln), Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln), David Strathairn (William Seward), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Robert Lincoln), James Spader (W.N. Bilbo), Hal Holbrook (Preston Blair), Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens), John Hawkes (Robert Latham), Jackie Earle Haley (Alexander Stephens), Bruce McGill (Edwin Stanton), Tim Blake Nelson (Richard Schell), Joseph Cross (John Hay), Jared Harris (Ulysses S. Grant), Lee Pace (Fernando Wood), Peter McRobbie (George Pendleton), Gulliver McGrath (Tad Lincoln), Gloria Reuben (Elizabeth Keckley), Jeremy Strong (John Nicolay), Michael Stuhlbarg (George Yeaman), Boris McGiver (Alexander Coffroth), David Costabile (James Ashley), Stephen Spinella (Asa Vintner Litton) and Walton Goggins (Clay Hutchins).


Looper (2012, Rian Johnson)

A lot of Looper is a film noir set in the near future. Criminal–but basically good guy–Joseph Gordon-Levitt ends up on a farm, as de facto protector to a young woman (Emily Blunt) and her kid. Except this part comes after Looper is an action movie where Gordon-Levitt teams up with his future self (Bruce Willis) against his criminal associates. And before it’s that action movie, it’s a future movie for a little bit. It’s most fun during the future movie stuff–Paul Dano’s a good lame sidekick to Gordon-Levitt and Jeff Daniels is fun as his boss.

But, as it turns out, director Johnson wasn’t satisfied with a film noir so instead he made a sort of “smart” superhero movie, along with a depressing time travel movie. Basically, he ripped off Twelve Monkeys and Unbreakable… and brought back Bruce Willis.

Gordon-Levitt’s okay in the lead. He’s in a bunch of make-up and it seems to restrict his facial movement. Willis has his moments, but one has to wonder if he remembered how much better Monkeys did at something similar. The real acting powerhouse is Blunt, who’s fantastic in her role.

Johnson tries really, really hard to be profound and instead he’s just annoying. Looper goes on way too long to nowhere near good enough a conclusion. Nathan Johnson’s music is terrible, which especially aggravates at the end when Johnson goes through his five endings.

Looper should’ve been a no-brainer. It’s disappointing.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Rian Johnson; director of photography, Steve Yedlin; edited by Bob Ducsay; music by Nathan Johnson; production designer, Ed Verreaux; produced by Ram Bergman and James D. Stern; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Joe), Bruce Willis (Old Joe), Emily Blunt (Sara), Paul Dano (Seth), Noah Segan (Kid Blue), Piper Perabo (Suzie), Jeff Daniels (Abe), Pierce Gagnon (Cid), Xu Qing (Old Joe’s Wife), Tracie Thoms (Beatrix) and Garret Dillahunt (Jesse).


Halloween H20 (1998, Steve Miner)

Halloween H20 is a mishmash. It’s a sequel to a seventies slasher movie, it’s a post-modern slasher movie of the Scream variety, it’s a thoughtful sequel, it’s a somewhat successful rumination on redemption and the cost of such redemption.

Director Miner’s composition is, appropriately, more John Carpenter homage than mimicry. He and cinematographer Daryn Okada hold the picture together; while pieces occasionally spill out, they keep it pretty well solid throughout.

Without Jamie Lee Curtis, of course, H20 wouldn’t work. The plot could work without her, but not the scenes. Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg’s script has these great scenes–particularly Curtis’s relationship with son Josh Hartnett and beau Adam Arkin. Those are the “real world” things. The writers also produce a striking horror sequence involving a child in distress.

For the teenagers being in danger, the script doesn’t do as well. Some of it is just bad acting. Jodi Lyn O’Keefe is bad, Michelle Williams is mediocre–though Adam Hann-Byrd is good. O’Keefe butchers her witty dialogue.

H20 isn’t a scary movie in the traditional sense. It toys with the whole idea of inevitability as it relates to the genre, whether in the opening “scare” or the boogeyman’s arrival.

Curtis is utterly fantastic. Hartnett and Arkin are both good, though in some ways neither get enough story time. Janet Leigh has a nice little part and LL Cool J is amusing.

The Marco Beltrami (with some John Ottman) score is usually effective.

It’s an unexpectedly excellent film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Miner; screenplay by Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg, based on a story by Zappia and characters created by Debra Hill and John Carpenter; director of photography, Daryn Okada; edited by Patrick Lussier; music by Marco Beltrami and John Ottman; production designer, John Willett; produced by Paul Freeman; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Keri Tate), Josh Hartnett (John Tate), Adam Arkin (Will Brennan), Michelle Williams (Molly), Adam Hann-Byrd (Charlie), Jodi Lyn O’Keefe (Sarah), Janet Leigh (Norma Watson), LL Cool J (Ronny), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jimmy), Branden Williams (Tony) and Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers Whittington).


G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009, Stephen Sommers)

It doesn’t surprise me there are people out there who like G.I. Joe. Not to be negative, but people are, by and large, not very intelligent. What surprises me is anyone who thought they were making a competent action picture. You’d think the success of Van Helsing would keep Sommers away from franchises or potential franchises, but Paramount’s apparently desperate.

I’m trying to think if there’s anything good about G.I. Joe. It does use a T.Rex song to some good effect, sadly it’s a remixed version. The original portions of the song are good. Marlon Wayans, though he’s vomiting out some horrendous dialogue, is all right. Christopher Eccleston gives the least bad bad performance.

As for the bad performances–Channing Tatum is awful. I hope he’s never in anything I see again. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s presence is inexplicable and, as much as I love him, certainly doesn’t suggest he’s going to be making very many good movies in the future. Sienna Miller is bad but not awful–Rachel Nichols is much, much worse, for example.

The foreign actors–Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and poor Saïd Taghmaoui–are terrible.

For a supposedly apolitical film, the French take a lot of hits. Mostly, it’s just Sommers regurgitating other films–Iron Man, Blackhawk Down, Star Wars–only with crappy CG again and poorly done action sequences.

The toy commercials had better action and better writing. Probably better acting too.

Wait, Arnold Vosloo is all right.

I didn’t even mention the music.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Sommers; screenplay by Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett, based on a story by Michael Gordon, Beattie and Sommers; director of photography, Mitchell Amundsen; edited by Bob Ducsay and Jim May; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Ed Verreaux; produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Ducsay and Sommers; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Heavy Duty), Christopher Eccleston (McCullen), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Rex), Byung-hun Lee (Storm Shadow), Sienna Miller (Ana), Rachel Nichols (Scarlett), Kevin J. O’Connor (Dr. Mindbender), Ray Park (Snake Eyes), Dennis Quaid (General Hawk), Saïd Taghmaoui (Breaker), Channing Tatum (Duke), Arnold Vosloo (Zartan), Marlon Wayans (Ripcord) and Jonathan Pryce as the President of the United States.


Killshot (2008, John Madden)

It’s hard to say whether Killshot falls apart because of the filmmakers or because of the source material. Killshot changes its mind about what to deliver every three minutes. The script can’t decide on a main character–is it Mickey Rourke’s hit man or is it Diane Lane’s woman in distress or is it Thomas Jane’s estranged husband to the woman in distress.

Rourke’s great, playing a half Native American hit man. It’s implied there’s something more to the character than that description. But there isn’t.

Thomas Jane’s similarly great in a simple role. Killshot‘s filmmakers seem to intend for their scenes to be weighty; they aren’t. It’s not trite, but it is rote.

Diane Lane isn’t bad. She’s competent enough.

Gordon-Levitt, technically, delivers a good performance. But his character’s poorly written. He and Rourke’s relationship is inexplicable. Whenever the film tries to rationalize it, Killshot becomes silly. Maybe some of the worst scenes were cut (apparently, they cut out an entire character–Killshot runs ninety-five minutes).

Rosario Dawson plays Gordon-Levitt’s Elvis-obssessed girlfriend and she’s lousy. Hal Holbook and Tom McCamus show up for a scene each. They’re both good.

Lois Smith has a couple scenes in one of those small, useless Lois Smith roles.

Killshot looks like a Canadian production, providing Madden with a wonderful opportunity to comment on Hollywood North productions. He doesn’t.

Killshot isn’t entirely without qualities–Rourke and Jane. It’s at its best when it’s using either of them as the protagonist.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Madden; screenplay by Hossein Amini, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard; director of photography, Caleb Deschanel; edited by Mick Audsley and Lisa Gunning; music by Klaus Badelt; production designer, Andrew Jackness; produced by Lawrence Bender and Richard N. Gladstein; released by the Weinstein Company.

Starring Diane Lane (Carmen Colson), Mickey Rourke (Armand ‘The Blackbird’ Degas), Thomas Jane (Wayne Colson), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Richie Nix), Rosario Dawson (Donna), Aldred Montoya (Lionel), Lois Smith (Lenore), Hal Holbrook (Papa) and Tom McCamus (Paul Scallen).


The Lookout (2007, Scott Frank)

Watching The Lookout, I never really wondered how Joseph Gordon-Levitt was going to do. I wondered about Jeff Daniels, for instance, since Daniels spent the late 1990s working up his number of excellent performances only to fade from things I watch. Gordon-Levitt… looking over his IMDb, I’m not sure the guy’s ever been bad. He might have even been good on the “Dark Shadows” revival when he was ten. The Lookout presents him with an odd leading man role, the kind actors usually save for Oscar-ready™ movies (oddly, The Lookout‘s from Miramax, king of the Oscar-ready™ movie). He runs the movie–besides the voiceovers, he’s in all but three scenes–and it’s with a really sure hand. Gordon-Levitt’s apparently the child actor with the goods, especially since his character isn’t particularly likable. At a certain point, he’s getting mad at someone for pitying him–and the viewer has been pitying him too, because he’s got a mental condition and it’s hard to identify with him… but he’s also responsible for his particular tragedy. It creates a great situation, keeping the character distant throughout, with the viewer ending the film maybe more unsure of the character than he or she was when it started.

Anyway, the breakout. There’s a breakout performance in The Lookout. I forgot about him because I was going on about Gordon-Levitt. Matthew Goode, who’s got a handful of credits, is fantastic as the bad guy. His character–who’s perfectly awful–might turn out to be honest than Gordon-Levitt’s. Scott Frank, who has done some great stuff, usually adaptations, takes the film noir’s standard deceptions and shrinks them, embedding them in the characters’ relationships from moment to moment. The Lookout‘s success comes from how incredibly emotional the whole thing works out to be.

I had thought it was another adaptation–maybe from something good, just because some of Frank’s choices suggest good source material, but knowing now it wasn’t adapted (it had no opening credits beyond the production companies and a title), it’s obvious. Frank’s in love with four of the characters in The Lookout, four and a half even, and it’s great to see.

I was just thinking this morning–really–about how the wheel doesn’t necessarily need to be reinvented, it just needs to roll as well as possible. The Lookout‘s not a new wheel so much as a nice amalgamation of a couple wheels… it’s sort of a heist slash crime thriller (with a twist–I kept thinking about Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn during the first fifteen or twenty minutes), but it’s really not; it’s a thoughtful character study of an unknowable character, one impervious to examination. Even when he’s doing voiceovers. A good character study always makes the viewer (or reader) wait to get at the character–and here’s where The Lookout‘s borrowing that crime thriller device–but let the viewer get close enough, but not know what he or she is looking at? It’s special.

My only real quibble with The Lookout concerns Frank’s direction. It’s good, not flashy, very matter of fact, but he switches over to a lousy DV for a shoot-out. It’s his cinematographer’s fault, sure, but it’s so obvious, I can’t help but wonder if it was a style thing. It’ll probably look fine on DVD… but it was distracting. Nicely, he follows it with one of Gordon-Levitt’s finest scenes in the film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Scott Frank; director of photography, Alar Kivilo; edited by Jill Savitt; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, David Brisbin; produced by Walter Parkes, Laurence Mark, Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Chris Pratt), Jeff Daniels (Lewis), Matthew Goode (Gary Spargo), Greg Dunham (Bone), Carla Gugino (Janet), Bruce McGill (Robert Pratt), Isla Fisher (Luvlee Lemons), Alberta Watson (Barbara Pratt) and Alex Borstein (Mrs. Lange).


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