(On TV, December 2014) Romantic comedies are too-often considered from the point of view of the woman that it’s still a bit of a novelty when one is told from the point of view of the man. It’s even rarer to tell a very funny film about a relationship that doesn’t end well. I’m not spoiling much about the film given its definitive title and non-linear narration, in which we jump back and forth between the seasons of a romance, and know that it’s not going to end with the union of the protagonists. How we get there, however, it more than part of the charm. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (offering an interesting counterpoint to his latter role in Don Jon) plays the protagonist, a young man infatuated with the idea of romantic love and having the misfortune of loving someone who definitely doesn’t. The film is told from his perspective so closely that the female lead character isn’t much more than a superficial façade behind which he stuffs his hopes and dreams. (Ironic points for casting Zooey Deschannel, often better liked for her persona than her specific characters) That it doesn’t quite work like that is part of the film’s ironies. Fortunately, the writing of the film is crisp and hip (musical number? Sure!), blending modern cynicism with very real heartbreak. That it works, and ends on a relatively high note (not only punning on the film’s title, but appropriately – for a budding architect- climaxing within Los Angeles’ Bradbury building) is an eloquent testimony to the film’s peppiness, from two likable lead actors to a style that throws everything on-screen in a dizzying montage of narration, pop music, flights of fancy and plain old good moviemaking –it’s an impressive debut for director Marc Webb, who should take a break from the meaningless Spider-Man films and get back to these kind of films. Occasionally hipsterish, (500) Days of Summer nonetheless feels like an original take on an overdone genre, and more than worth a look even for those who think they are tired of romantic comedies.
(On Cable TV, June 2013) Cancer is usually the domain of the made-for-TV sentimental tear-jerker aimed at women, not the kind of quasi-comedies aimed at young men. But 50/50 takes the bet that it has something to say about cancer and friendship between young men and the result is far more impressive than you’d think. Joseph Gordon Lewitt stars as a young radio producer who discovers that he’s got a rare and potentially fatal form of cancer. Seth Rogen brings most of the laughs as his crude friend trying to cheer him up. (The film squarely earns one of its most emotional moments when the protagonist discovers the highlighted best intentions behind his best friend’s cheerful facade.) Meanwhile, Anna Kendrick gets a thankless role as a grief therapist who, against nearly all imaginable ethical guidelines, falls for her patient. As a refreshingly younger and brasher take on the familiar cancer narrative, 50/50 ends up reaching a new audience in an honest way, and the result is both hilarious and affecting.
(In theaters, July 2010) It’s tough to review Christopher Nolan’s Inception without sounding like a gushing fanboy, but here goes: One of the finest SF movies in years (even so soon after Avatar and District 9), Inception cashes Nolan’s Dark Knight chips and goes on to deliver a masterful cinematic experience that combines big-budget entertainment, thematic depth, weighty characters and splendid action sequences. Good enough for you? While it’s not a perfect film (lengthy snow sequence, insufficient exploitation of dream logic, some weak actors/roles), Inception wipes the floor with other big-budget action films thanks to unusually ambitious goals, pitch-perfect sequences, savvy storytelling and multiple levels of understanding. It’s a measure of how successful it is that much of it appears simple, even obvious. But when the film starts with “it’s a dream within a dream” and works its way to five (maybe six) levels of overlapping reality without losing its audience, it’s hard not to be impressed. Ever since Memento (with high points at The Prestige and The Dark Knight), Nolan has proved himself to be an unusually skilled writer/director with a gift for infusing popular entertainment with weighty thematic consideration. So it is that Inception effortlessly touches upon dream logic, moviemaking shortcuts, personal grief, human mythmaking, memetic madness and subconscious sabotage without seeming to break a sweat, all the while delivering a heist film according to the well-worn conventions of the subgenre. Watching the film is like falling into a pleasant trance, emerging from the experience a lot like the characters coming back to reality. Subtle and not-so-subtle touches add to the experience, such as a deliriously effective shifting-gravity fight sequence, an iconic sequence in which Paris serves as an exposition background, and a frame-perfect last shot that will please both those who want a definitive ending and those who don’t. Brainier viewers will be pleased to watch a film that finally dares viewers to keep up. Science Fiction fans will be particularly satisfied to see a film that uses SF devices for their emotional power while delivering some good old-fashioned sense-of-wonder at interlocking realities. While the actors are a bit hit-and-miss (I’m still not convinced by Leonardo DiCaprio, nor by Ellen Page’s mushy-mouthed lack of affect, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fantastic as the picture’s lead action hero), the real star is Nolan as screenwriter and director, because Inception is beautifully controlled from beginning to end, combining the precision of The Prestige with the non-linear storytelling of Memento and the action rhythm of The Dark Knight. Inception is, in a carefully chosen word, amazing, and a shoo-in for year’s end top-10 lists. Expect to see it more than once.