The Walk (2015)

The WalkIn 1973, wire walker Phileppe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) seems content to entertain the Parisian public in exchange for small change and the occasional hard-boiled sweet. When a chance broken tooth lands him in a dentist’s waiting room, however, he becomes fixated on New York’s World Trade Centre after seeing the Twin Tower’s featured in a magazine article. Determined to walk between the towers, Petit turns to veteran circus performer Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley) in order to learn the finer details of knot-tying and rope-rigging. He also recruits girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) and photographer Jean-Louis (Clément Sibomy) as accomplices, and shortly after a dry-run at Notre Dame flies the three of them out to America so that they might begin plotting the “coup” in earnest. The plan: to rig a cable at 1350 feet so that he might tightrope between the two tallest buildings on Earth.

Over the last fourteen years audiences have become so used to contemporary films and other fiction being referred to as post-9/11 that there will inevitably be some who are surprised to discover that there was a time before the Twin Towers had even been built. Perhaps counter-intuitively, so iconic and well-integrated were the structures, you only have to look back just over forty years — to 1973, when they were first opened. The same year, that is, that Robert Zemeckis’ story — and, for that matter, the real-life story of Philippe Petit — actually begins. We meet him in Paris where he is performing for passers-by, juggling at first and later traversing a tight-rope tied between two lampposts, but it isn’t long before he sets his sights on something much, much bigger — the original Mission: Impossible.

On the surface, The Walk has a lot going for it. It is, after all, a tremendous true story, and one that has only really been explored once before on film, in James Marsh’s 2008 documentary, Man on Wire. Both films focus on the heist elements of the story, chronicling what was very much a crime, but only The Walk has Zemeckis calling the shots. Only his second live-action movie since Cast Away, the Back to the Future creator reasserts himself by combining his genius for physical performance with his understanding of stereoscopy, perfected over the course of his four-film flirtation with motion-capture animation. Throw in Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of the most interesting and ambidextrous actors working today, and it should come as no surprise that the film’s climax — in which Petit walks, unaided save for a metal cable and balancing pole, between the towers, no less than six times — is one of the most simultaneously breathtaking and breathless scenes of the year.

Unfortunately, the build-up leaves rather a lot to be desired. It has been reported that not only did Gordon-Levitt learn to walk the high-wire in eight days (thanks, it must be said, to Petit’s personal tuition) but he also became fluent in French. Both are obviously impressive feats, and each duly demonstrates the actor’s obvious dedication to his craft, but while the former fact results in a more credible performance the latter sadly does not. Instead of putting what he has learned into practice, Gordon-Levitt is only ever really required to speak English with a vaguely French accent. His clumsy narration doesn’t just open the film, however, but returns at regular intervals to undermine it throughout, often spoken directly to the camera while Gordon-Levitt straddles an equally unconvincing Statue of Liberty. It’s a horribly misjudged framing device that hamstrings the film from the get-go. Evidently, the film isn’t just a tribute to Petit’s talents but to the Twin Towers themselves, and 1970s New York is painstakingly recreated from the ground up. France, however, doesn’t enjoy quite the same verisimilitude, and the scenes set across the pond feel comparatively specious and superficial. The soundtrack jars, too.

The Walk is undoubtedly the main event — worthy, perhaps, of the price of admission on its own — but it’s a shame that more couldn’t be done with the character of Petit or the other important figures in his life. Zemeckis has rather conspicuously cast French (and French Canadian) actors in his film, in small supporting roles, but although Clément Sibomy and Charlotte Le Bon do ultimately manage to impress it is despite the material they have been given rather than because of it. The Walk is a spectacle, teased from the very beginning, whereas the journey to the towers could have made a more satisfying movie. Like Petit, Zemeckis should have taken things one step at a time.

3-Stars

Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For (2014)

Sin City 2Despite attempting to distance himself from his violent past by becoming a private investigator, Dwight (Josh Brolin) is quickly corrupted by Ava (Eva Green), an old flame ostensibly seeking protection, and lured back into darkness. Years later, disorientated by a deadly car crash, Marv (Mickey Rourke) retraces the steps that have lead him into the hills surrounding Sin City, where two frat boys now lie dead. Down below, Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is on a winning streak at Kadie’s, but when he dares to beat Senator Roarke (Powers Booth) at poker his luck shows signs of running out. In the next room, through a hole in the wall, Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) is taking aim at the father of the man who once tried to kill her, but who instead took the life of the man she loved (Bruce Willis).

Not so much a sequel as a second anthology featuring interlocking stories set before, during and after the events of the previous film, Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For is often so incoherent that it is able to resurrect characters, recast actors and reprise stories almost at will, usually without anyone noticing. Clive Owen and Michael Clark Duncan are gone — though their characters return (nominally, at least, though it hardly matters if you don’t recognise them) — but Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis return, despite both of their characters being killed of last time around (the former by virtue of chronology and the latter as an overprotective ghost). Thanks to the nearly ten years between movies, however, you’ve probably forgotten.

Of the myriad new characters, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s gambler is perhaps the most memorable. Starting out as a winner in a city of losers (the closest the film ever comes to breaking the mould), the film delights in his unprecedented run of bad luck at the hands of returning villain Roarke. Also impressive, if only in passing, are Eva Green — an uncannily natural fit for Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s world — and a near-unrecognisable Christopher Lloyd — who makes the most of a brief appearance as a low-budget surgeon-for-hire with a predilection for ice lollies. While Rourke’s Marv — by now officially the face of the franchise — keeps cropping up throughout, to rapidly diminishing effect, the supporting actors are reduced to mere cameos. Blink and you risk missing Juno Temple, Jeremy Piven and, er, Lady Gaga.
If Marv is the figurehead then Dwight is surely the dramatic lead. Unfortunately, Brolin — who replaces Owen — is nowhere near as compelling in the role.  A self-styled private investigator with unresolved and unrequited feelings for Ava, Brolin’s Dwight is the most Sin City character imaginable. He isn’t so much on a downward spiral of self-destruction as caught in a perpetual loop of it. Never the most charismatic screen presence, Brolin is here a crushing bore, and the main reason that the second act — where the majority of his story unfolds — is such a drag; he’s just another tortured schmuck in a city that’s full of them. Rosario Dawson returns as a friendly face, but the chemistry that once existed between the characters is in staggeringly short supply here. Their relationship is even less convincing than Alba and Willis’.
All in all, however, Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For is pretty much on a par with its predecessor. Even after nine years Miller’s visual style still looks remarkably fresh and inventive, and while the use of colour in this one might not be quite as striking it benefits from an impressive 3D conversion. Dramatically, though, the new film is just as inert: with its over-reliance on voice over, homogeneous characters and repetitive storylines, Sin City remains all style and no substance.
3-Stars

Don Jon (2013)

Don JonJon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is house-proud, health-conscious and a reasonably devout Christian. He is also aggressive, promiscuous and addicted to pornography. While out one night drinking with his friends, Jon lays eyes on Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), and, convinced that it is love at first sight, tracks her down through Facebook and invites her out for coffee. A romantic who dotes on corny movies, Barbara attempts to change her new boyfriend, making him promise to never watch porn again and asking that he attend night classes to improve his career prospects, if they are to have a future together. It is at class that Jon meets Esther (Julianne Moore), a widow who he finds crying in a doorway on campus.

Ever since 3rd Rock From The Son ended in 2001, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has gone to great lengths to prove himself as an actor capable of more than just high-concept television sit-coms. In the years since he has played a teenage dreamer, a space pirate, a gay prostitute, a high-school detective, a romantic lead, a cancer patient, a toy-box villain, a Looney Tune cyclist, a young Bruce Willis and a boy wonder. Here, however, he makes his biggest leap yet — not just re-inventing himself as a keep-fit, clean-freak porn addict but as a director, too.

Don Jon marks Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, yet the star — who also wrote the film, just in case you were still unconvinced by his talents — directs with such confidence that you could be forgiven for not realising it was a first-time effort. He has a visual style that is at times reminiscent of Edgar Wright or Danny Boyle (particularly whenever Jon opens his computer); only, instead of using the heightened atmosphere as a source of humour, Gordon-Levitt uses it to emphasise the absurdity of modern-day sexuality. A sexed-up advert for a fast food product contains the most ridiculously gratuitous montage you’ll have seen since Spring Breakers.

The script is incredibly layered, as Gordon-Levitt is clearly reluctant to limit his focus to the subject of pornography alone. The film is much more about connectivity, or the lack thereof in contemporary communication — and not just between the two sexes. Jon’s expectations regarding sex have obviously been warped by his browser history, but no more so than Barbara’s expectations of relationships have been warped by the movies she watches. Both have little time for other people, and they’re not the only ones: Jon’s dad watches television at the dinner table, while his daughter texts; his priest pays little attention to his weekly confessions, bestowing the same penance regardless of Jon’s sins; and his friends spend their time together talking superficially about nothing but girls. Enter Esther.

There is not a bad performance in Don Jon, with both Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson giving their respective parts their all. Jon could be mistaken for Joey from Friends, circa 1995, a greasy womaniser who is all white vests, hair gel and chat-up lines. Gordon-Levitt is clearly loving the opportunity to play a complete letch, but manages to redeem his character just enough in the later sections of the movie to make him at least passingly sympathetic. Johansson gets slightly less to work with, but still delights with the sleaziest performance since Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy. It’s Moore who really shines, however, arriving on the scene just as you are beginning to lose all hope. Essentially the only character in the film who is truly in touch with their own emotions, she is something of a breath of fresh air, one that has an almost transformative power on the film itself.

Despite its flaws, which in addition to Johansson’s underwritten role also include a first act that is difficult to engage with and an unexpectedly low gag-rate, Don Jon is an astonishing success, with Gordon-Levitt impressing as an actor, writer and director. The question for the one-time Tommy Solomon now is: what next?

4-Stars

Lincoln (2013)

LincolnAware that his Emancipation Proclamation might be discarded come the end of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) tries once again to pass a controversial thirteenth amendment through the United States House of Representatives with an eye to finally ridding the country of slavery once and for all. Faced with an increasingly desperate Confederate army and a belligerent and bigoted opposing party, Lincoln must also work to unite his fractured family before it’s too late. Read more of this post

Looper (2012)

In the year 2072, time-travel is being used by a criminal organization spearheaded by The Rainmaker to send targets 30 years into the past so that they can be disposed of by specially trained ‘loopers’. Noting an increase in the number of ex-loopers being sent back to be killed by their younger selves — their loops closed, Joseph “Joe” Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) soon finds himself pointing a blunderbus at his 55-year-old self (Bruce Willis). Knocked unconscious during a moment’s hesitation, Joe is forced to flee from his employers while he attempts to finish the job. Discerning the older Joe’s intent, he travels to an old farm house owned by Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) in an attempt to intercept his escaped prey. Read more of this post

Premium Rush (2012)

Hired by his on-off girlfriend’s room-mate to deliver an envelope to Sister Chen in China Town by 7pm, bicycle messenger Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt — like the Coyote, he gets that a lot) punches the destination into his satnav and surreptitiously disappears into the throng of rush hour traffic. Unfortunately, he and Nima (Jamie Chung) are not the only people who know about the message, and soon Wilee is being hunted down by a bent cop (Michael Shannon) looking to intercept the message at any cost. As his evasive cycling attracts even more attention from the authorities, Wilee must patch things up with Venessa (Dania Ramirez) and call upon rival rider Manny (Wolé Parks) if he is going to make the fast-approaching deadline. Read more of this post

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Blamed by the citizens of Gotham for the death of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart – in flashback) eight years previously, Batman has been retired from duty while Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) exiles himself in the family manor with only butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) for company. The truth is that Batman is no longer needed, the city’s streets the safest they’ve ever been thanks to the Dent Act, a precursor to peace-time that has left the police growing complacent and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) racked with guilt over the hidden truth behind Dent’s demise. Both are therefore caught off guard by the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked monolith who has been rallying an army in the city’s sewers. When Batman is dragged out of retirement by a mysterious cat-burglar (Anne Hathaway), a collision course is set that could spell the end of Gotham once and for all. Read more of this post

50/50 (2011/II)

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of the good guys; he’s a trusting boyfriend, an enthusiastic employee and a keen recycler. When he is driven to the doctors by a recurring back pain, however, Adam is informed that he has a rare type of spinal cancer, an unpronounceable tumour, and a mere 50% chance of survival. While his boorish best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) uses the diagnosis to strike up conversations with women, his estranged mother (Anjelica Huston) seizes the opportunity to reconnect with her distant son and Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) finds herself trapped in a sexless relationship by such inconvenient bad news, Adam is left to come to terms with his own mortality as he is inducted into a world of therapists (Anna Kendrick), chemotherapy and constant, inescapable discomfort – whether he has ever been to Canada or not.

Film: Despite having already raved about Jonathan Levine’s unlikely cancer comedy, an unexpectedly good natured film which somehow still has room for Seth Rogen’s now familiar sex-obsessed stoner, it seems that many still weren’t convinced enough to seek the film out in cinemas.  It’s a shame, really, because former cancer-sufferer Will Reiser’s script strikes such a fine balance between compassion and comedy that it is impossible not to be won over by such a provocative and ultimately poignant treatment of this most sensitive of subjects. Inspired by true events and cast through with accomplished actors, this is as unconventional as sit-coms come.

While it is of course the cancer which drives the movie, providing the basis for some of the movies most touching scenes, much of the comedy comes from the other dramas that result from a diagnosis. So it is, then, that Adam finds himself high on macaroons laced with medicinal marijuana, shaving his head with a razor better acquainted with Kyle’s body hair and compulsively cleaning his therapist’s car. While rarely laugh-out-loud, 50/50 always strives to find truth – if not necessarily humour – in even the most taboo of situations, those that are usually reserved for awards-bait or high melodrama. The characters are so well drawn, so well observed through experience, in fact, that much of the relative mundaneness can be almost as devastating than the original prognosis itself.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is absolutely heart-breaking as the disbelieving Adam, grounding the film with a performance that is as subtle as it is harrowingly raw. Although at times docile, as he tries to come to terms with his illness while himself trying to support those around him – whether its his concerned mother or his trainee therapist – his stable demeanour only serves to emphasise the moments in which his resolve fractures, one scene in particular standing out as he takes his regrets and frustrations out on the interior of his friend’s car. It is perhaps Rogen, however, who impresses most, with his characteristically brash exterior carefully masking a concerned individual who is just as lost and confused as his potentially dying friend.

Sweet natured and respectful, 50/50 nevertheless endeavours – and successfully manages – to find the humour even in the most trying of situations. Witty, moving and occasionally devastating, this is the comedy genre at its very best.

Extras: Both the Double Play and DVD releases of 50/50 come complete with a host of compelling special features: an insightful audio commentary sheds light on the filmmaking process as various cast and crew members discuss the production process; a collection of deleted scenes (with optional commentary), including a great sequence documenting Adam’s short-lived return to work and the film’s original ending; a Making Of documentary titled The Story Of 50/50 which sensitively addresses the impact of cancer among the crew; four mini-featurettes that focus on the destruction of Rachael’s much-maligned painting; and Seek and Destroy, a behind the scenes montage chronicling the burgeoning onset bromance between Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

**50/50 is released on Double Play & DVD from 26 March, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment**

50/50 (2011)

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is just an ordinary twenty-seven year-old. He works in radio with boorish best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), he jogs, avoids phonecalls from his overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston) and has successfully convinced himself that his sexless relationship with girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) is nevertheless destined to bounce back. Visiting the doctor with complaints of back-pain, however, Adam is unceremoniously confronted with the news that he has cancer, and is quickly inducted into a world of therapists (Anna Kendrick), chemotherapy and constant, inescapable discomfort. With everything changing, Adam is forced to accept that his life might shortly be over – whether he has ever been to Canada or not.

This could have been such a different movie; boasting a central performance from coarse manchild Seth Rogen and following the trials and tribulations of a man struck down by an uncommon and severe type of cancer, it could have been dreadful. And inappropriate. And offensive. Thankfully, 50/50, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s latest stepping stone to cinematic supremacy, is none of those things. Drawing from Rogen’s own experiences, through the writings of his real life cancer survivor Will Reiser, director Jonathan Levine scores the perfect balance between comedy and drama, tempering the dick-jokes with a overwhelmig poignancy which develops across the movie with truly devastating aplomb.

Reminiscent in places of a toned down (500) Days of Cancer – Anna Kendrick sports only a hand-full of quirks – 50/50 manages to tell an engaging love story while simultaneously giving its full attention to Adam’s condition. Gordon-Levitt gives arguably his finest performance to date; from his initial “but I recycle” shock at being diagnosed to the heartbreaking realisation that he might very well die, it’s a role that allows him to fire on all cylinders without once falling into melodramatics. Perhaps 50/50‘s biggest success, aside from pulling off Hollywood’s first ever cancer caper, is the way in which it handles life’s smaller ups and downs: the break-ups, romances and overbearing mothers, such that they never once feel contrived.

Bryce Dallas Howard manages to bring immense sympathy to an unfaithful girlfriend trapped by her own humanity, while Anjelica Huston devastates as a pressured mother desperate to help her son should he ever call her back.  It is Anna Kendrick, however, who ultimately wins hearts as the film’s unorganised comic relief. Playing a novice character similar to Up In The Air‘s Natalie Keener in everything but personality, Kendrick’s performance rings surprisingly true as the post-graduate professional who still feels like a child wearing ill-fitting grown-up clothes.

But what of Rogen? While his portrayal of Adam’s weed smoking, sex starved best friend Kyle might not scream versatility, it is thankfully a case of actions speaking loud than words. Forever in the background, it is a hugely selfless performance, one that boasts a tremendous honesty rooted in Rogen’s experience with this exact situation. In a third act twist, hinging on an otherwise nondescript trip to the bathroom, Rogen inadvertently – and indirectly – provides one of the biggest emotional punches of the entire movie.

Touching, life-affirming and occasionally devastating, 50/50 is nevertheless a witty and well humoured tale of cancer, car-cleaning and chemotherapy. Transformed into a frail, angry and increasingly lonely patient, 50/50 is a truly stirring tale of Adam’s struggle to survive and – however unlikely – the most enjoyable film about cancer you are ever likely to see.