Snowden

September 19, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo
Directed by: Oliver Stone (“Savages”)
Written by: Kieran Fitzgerald (“The Homesman”) and Oliver Stone (“Savages”)

As one of the best documentaries of the last several years, “Citizenfour” was an endlessly fascinating fly-on-the-wall account of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden blowing the whistle on surveillance that the government was doing. Regardless of the audience’s opinion, the footage was unassailably mesmerizing as history, agree with it or not, was being made. It’s a film that didn’t necessarily need a dramatizing, but as a person, Snowden could stand to be understood and explored. Unfortunately, that’s where the blunt hammer of director Oliver Stone comes in.

Rising through several government agencies, computer analyst Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) notices that the government is gathering information from its own citizens, with access to personal communication, webcams, and more. Torn about what to do, and with his relationship strained, Snowden makes a decision that could land him in jail for treason.

It will probably annoy some viewers, but Gordon-Levitt’s voice work is actually remarkably close to how the actual Snowden sounds. It’s a good performance, in a film of pretty solid performances all around. Shailene Woodley’s character being a strong personality is more of a testament to her capabilities than the way she is written, which can often seem to flip flop from scene to scene.

The most interesting stuff in the film is seeing Snowden slowly put the pieces of the puzzle together and feel drawn to let the public know what was actually going on. There’s a certain psychology behind the decision making and an awakening of a conscience that is touched on, though perhaps not explored enough. The parts of the film that are straight out of “Citizenfour” really seem to drag, however, as it is a re-enactment of something that is not only so recent, but not really adjusted for any type of dramatic effect.

As one might expect, a movie about Edward Snowden directed by Oliver Stone is not exactly an unbiased affair. Stone is very clear in his position about how he sees Snowden. While it is never quite preachy, one of the most fascinating parts about the story of Snowden is that there’s a real, honest debate and divide around the country about the appropriateness of his actions. Presenting the information and letting the public decide for themselves was the crux for the decision that Snowden made. Without that debate, the movie feels extremely one-sided and doesn’t allow audiences to make their own decision.

“Snowden” isn’t necessarily a bad film, but it is one that is riddled with problems. It is painfully boring in parts, and it is anything but neutral. The fact of the matter is, “Citizenfour” is such a compelling film, and a better representation of this story, that the dramatization falls way short of the goals. The decision to show Snowden’s actions through the lens of his personal relationships really hurts a film that could have been an exploration into why the biggest whistleblower in history did so. It’s a shame that the character of Snowden isn’t more interesting.

The Night Before

November 20, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie
Directed by: Jonathan Levine (“50/50”)
Written by: Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”) and Kyle Hunter (debut) & Ariel Shaffir (debut) and Evan Goldberg (“Superbad”)

As Christmas rolls around every year, three buddies – Isaac (Seth Rogen) Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Chris (Anthony Mackie) – convene to hit up different traditional Christmas things around New York City, like the Rockefeller Center tree, FAO Schwartz, et cetera. It’s a tradition they started 15 years ago to cheer up Ethan after the tragic loss of his parents to a car accident, but as they’ve grown older and acquired careers and families of their own, they mutually agree to shut the celebration down after one last drug-fueled blowout culminating in a mythical Jay Gatsby-level party known as The Nutcracka Ball.

Look, it’s not as if “The Night Before” is without laughs, but they are all centered on Rogen’s character, tripping balls throughout the night on a box of drugs given to him by his wife (Jillian Bell) as one last hurrah before their daughter is born. Gordon-Levitt’s Ethan is saddled with the maudlin story of a lonely man-child and a half-cooked relationship backstory with former long-term girlfriend Diana (Lizzy Caplan), and Anthony Mackie’s Chris – apparently a star NFL player! – spends the majority of the runtime doing things no person of his caliber of fame could or would do, like walking around NYC almost unnoticed and buying weed from a small-time drug dealer. Its Mackie’s story that draws into relief the biggest problem with the film: it just doesn’t go as far off the deep end into insanity as it should. Flashes of absurdity, like the ultimate resolution of Michael Shannon’s creepy pot merchant or the welcome, weird narration from Tracy Morgan, are nice touches that pepper a rushed, unfocused narrative.

Director Jonathan Levine, who expertly weaved comedy and drama together with Gordon-Levitt and Rogen in 2011’s excellent “50/50,” seems intent on turning in a mash-up of that film and “Pineapple Express,” and the result is about as messy and scattershot as you would expect from that description. Hilarious hallucinogenic freak outs are butted up against would-be poignant scenes of a young man dealing with his parents’ untimely death, only to be followed by another hilarious and inadvertent conversation about dick pics. But with the clashes of tone, a narrative that makes too little sense and has too few laughs to bail it out, “The Night Before” arrives under the tree as a big box of not enough of what anyone wants.

The Walk

October 9, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis (“Flight”)
Written by: Robert Zemeckis (“The Polar Express”) and Christopher Browne (“Operation Barn Owl”)

In 1974, a French high-wire artist named Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) snuck onto the construction site of the World Trade Center towers, hung a cable between them and performed an illegal high-wire act 1,350 feet above New York City streets. It was an astonishing feat, and was the subject of a documentary called “Man on Wire,” which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2009. With that kind of inherent drama, it’s surprising that director Robert Zemeckis couldn’t manufacture any in his biographical film “The Walk.”

Putting on a French accent and some blue contact lenses, Gordon-Levitt does his part and gives a solid, but rather unspectacular performance. It’s the most grounded performance of the bunch and other than an underutilized Ben Kingsley, is one of the few characters with any nuance at all. The others feel like unpolished archetypes that only serve narrative purpose, including a really bad interpretation of some unreliable stoners.

The tone of “The Walk” is by far its most troublesome aspect. The opening act of the film feels like rejected Disney material, complete with a lame meet-cute and imagery so stereotypically French that all it was missing was someone riding a bicycle with a basket full of baguettes. The film then switches gears and becomes more of a generic caper, which only pushes more towards silliness. There is, of course, some seriousness involved in the wire act itself, but the film feels overly family friendly, light, and tame.

The tone is also unfortunate because Petit is not established as a particularly talented or even competent wirewalker. In fact, much of the set-up of the film shows Petit clumsily falling for comedic effect, or struggling. It’s difficult to see him as a man with an incredible gift to pull off an amazing stunt when the guy is made to look like he couldn’t balance himself on a sidewalk. Other than the obvious point of safety, nothing ever really feels at stake.

While Zemeckis was incredibly successful in creating a visceral visual experience by using 3D to create a sense of depth and heights, “The Walk” has little else that is redeeming. Its goofy tone that shifts into drama during the walk itself does a terrible job of setting the table and even the wire-walking scenes, while visually impressive, are repetitive and anti-climactic. It’s a shame that a film about a tightrope walker could lack so much balance.

Don Jon

September 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Tony Danza
Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (debut)
Written by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (debut)

For an actor turned director/writer who has never stepped foot behind a camera to shoot a feature film before, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Inception”) makes a commendable debut with “Don Jon,” a flawed yet jaunty adult-themed comedy that puts the spotlight on male sexuality and the desires that drive some to obsession.

As the second film to hit theaters in as many weeks that takes a comedic angle to the subject of sexual addiction (“Thanks for Sharing” being the other), “Don Jon” is less about the method of controlling the problem as much as it is stripping it down to reveal the real individual behind an amplified version of something, arguably, all men do.

Gordon-Levitt stars as the title character, Jon Martello, a porn-addicted New Jersey bartender, whose only interests in life include working out, club hopping and hooking up with good-looking women, and, most importantly, spending any other free time he has firing up his laptop to get his fix of visual pleasures via adult entertainment websites. When he meets Barbara Sugarman (a perfectly cast Scarlett Johansson in one of her best roles ever), however, his secret indulgence has to become even more guarded since she is an old-fashioned Catholic who just doesn’t understand why guys watch dirty movies in the first place.

In Jon’s case, it’s not so much a question of why as it is why so much? And why, if he can easily attract a new girl to bed every night, does he always find more gratification from images on a computer screen? It’s an interesting character study Gordon-Levitt presents, although a large portion of the narrative does become rather repetitive as the film continues. For example, in one ongoing joke, Jon visits the church confessional regularly to admit his sins of the flesh (sex out of wedlock, masturbation), but after the same scene plays out again and again, the effectiveness is lost. The same thing happens with other routines in the script like the sound of his Apple computer turning on (an indication to audiences he’s about to partake in some online porn) and having dinner with his family (Tony Danza plays his dad; Glenne Headly his mom; Brie Larson his disengaged sister), which always ends in the same cliche argument (they don’t understand why he can’t find an nice girl to settle down with).

Julianne Moore (“Boogie Nights”) enters into the third act of the film as Esther, a fellow college classmate of Jon, who is basically added to the narrative so Jon can have a reason to follow some type of character arc and not come out as the same douchebag he started as at the beginning. It works marginally, although it’s hard to picture Jon as anything but a sex fiend even when he’s trying to kick his habit and learn to love someone unconditionally.

“Don Jon” is a very risky choice by Gordon-Levitt. The decision to tackle this sort of topic doesn’t leave him unscathed, but he manages to wrap everything up without writing himself into awkward corners. All in all, he definitely has a future as a director in some capacity just in case that whole acting thing doesn’t pan out like he planned.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Tony Danza – Don Jon

September 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

In his debut film as a director and writer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Looper”) plays the title role in his comedy “Don Jon,” a New Jersey bartender with the ability to charm the pants off of any girl he wants, but still can’t figure a way to kick his addiction to online pornography. Actor Tony Danza (“Crash) plays Jon’s old-fashioned, high-tempered father who is impressed when his son brings his new girlfriend Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) over for dinner.

During the South By Southwest Film Festival last March, I spoke to Gordon-Levitt and Danza about finding their way to the project and what the challenges were in making a porn-centric movie accessible to the masses.

Joseph, you’ve been acting in films and TV since you were a kid. Was there a specific point in your career when you realized you wanted to be behind the camera as much as you did in front of it?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, I mean, when you’re an actor, there are certain parts of the process you have nothing to do with like where the camera goes or how the film is cut or the music. I was always really interested in being a part of that. I think a real turning point for me was on my 21st birthday. I bought my first copy of Final Cut Pro and started teaching myself how to edit. I loved it. I love it so much I dropped out of college. I would stay up all night and point the camera at myself and make little videos and put them on my computer. It’s so much fun to me. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Ever since then I think I’ve been pretty intent on one day making a movie. I’ve made tons of short films and videos over the years–hundreds of them probably–and now I got to make a big one.

Tony, your last feature film was “Crash” in 2004. How did this role come to you and how did it feel to get back into the game?

Tony Danza: Well, [Joseph Gordon-Levitt] called me and asked me to do it. We’re old friends. We did “Angels in the Outfield” together when he was 12. I’ll be honest with you, being in a movie with these kinds of people, this level of talent so to speak, put me on edge. It wasn’t nerve-wracking, but I didn’t want to look like a minor leaguer with the big leaguers. But [Joseph] is a terrific director and the script was terrific. It was easy to see what he wanted and he made it very clear what he wanted. It worked out pretty well.

Joseph, how challenging was it to write Jon as a likeable character? I mean, some people would say he’s kind of a douchebag.

JGL: Yeah he is, especially at the beginning of the movie. That was always a fine line I wanted to walk. Those are often times my favorite protagonists–the ones who aren’t just your perfect hero; the ones who have their flaws; the ones you see and think, “I don’t like that [about him].” Warren Beatty’s character in “Shampoo” is a good example or Dustin Hoffman’s character in “The Graduate.” You like him and you’re rooting for him, but he does some shit and you’re like, “Why are you doing that, dude?” But you know what? That’s how people are. There isn’t a human being in the world that is perfect all the time. There also isn’t a human being in the world that is bad or evil all the time. Everyone is sort of a mixture of both. To me, those are the most interesting characters.

Tony, do you think Joseph’s character has a problem? I mean, he pays his bills, he’s not hurting anyone. He just likes watching porn, a lot.

TD: I mean, there’s a lot of [addicts] who function in life–some people who do drugs function; some people who are alcoholics function. Hip-hip hooray for them. But, yeah, he has a problem. How many times a day [does he masturbate]? Eleven times? Eighteen times? Jesus Christ! There’s no way that can’t have some effect on you…if you’re hitting that muscle all the time. Could you imagine being in bed with Scarlett Johansson and you have to sneak out to get on your computer? Now, that’s a problem to me.

Joseph, the MPAA slapped an NC-17 rating on the version of “Don Jon” you showed at Sundance back in January. What did you specifically have to change to get the R rating you wanted and did you ever worry that you weren’t going to be able to edit enough out to get it there?

JGL: I wasn’t worried. If you read the script, the very first page has a director’s note that says, “This is going to be an R-rated comedy.” It was always intended to be a mainstream, pop movie. My intention was never to shock people. My intention was never to make something ultra-provocative. I wanted a movie that was accessible. I wanted to make a movie that was entertaining and relatable for everybody. It says in this director’s note that we will license real pornography clips and alter them to make them fit into an R-rated movie. We were really pushing the envelope hard with what we presented at Sundance and we knew we were. It’s Sundance, so why not? But since then we’ve refined those shots.

Did you actually have to cut anything out?

JGL: No. The difference between the Sundance cut and the [theatrical cut] is four seconds. There was one shot that was eight seconds long and now it is four seconds long. Everything else is just refined– cropping something closer or saying, “Well, maybe not this clip, maybe that clip instead.” But no story points, no dialogue, nothing was cut out. The movie really is substantially the same. If anything it’s better. By putting in [pornography] clips that are less sexually explicit, it forced me and my editor (Lauren Zuckerman) to come up with more clever ways to tell the story. At no point in these montages is it just showing pornography for the sake of showing pornography.

Tony, of course, getting access to porn these days is only a click away. I’m sure lots of kids today are learning about sex very differently than kids who grew up before the internet…

Yeah, when I was a kid, if you wanted to masturbate you had to get a magazine, right? You had to raid your uncle’s stash or you had to go to the store. You had to walk up to the counter with this thing in your hand. Your neighbor might walk in and see you. It’s a tremendous governor on behavior. Now, you just get your phone or your computer and you hit a button and boom, you’re wherever you want to be. What worries me is I’ve got [daughters]. Who are these guys that are going to be coming to court my girls? Are they going to have been [watching porn] since they were 11? Has it had an effect on them? It’s worrisome. It’s part and parcel with our lessening of our need to nurture our children as a society.

Explain that a little more.

Well, when I was a kid, if I watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon, there were so many historical references and classical music references, I could’ve probably won Jeopardy after the [cartoon] was over. Now the only thing they’re trying to do is sell you something at any cost. For example, I couldn’t find the channel I was looking for and I ended up on MTV. It’s funny that MTV doesn’t show any music videos except right before school. I just love that. So anyway, in the video, you’ve got these two black guys rapping about something that no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t understand what they were saying. They’re throwing money up in the air, making it rain. You’ve got the girls with the big butts dancing around. These [rappers] are taking these bundles of money and doing arm curls with the money and kissing the money. This is what kids are seeing? That’s not right. I don’t mind making money on TV, but [this is an example of] profiting on the travails and bad habits of young people. It’s a bigger issue, but I think Joseph’s movie…fosters conversation.

So, how is the conversation going to play out with a guy who comes to your door in a few years to take one of your daughters out on a date?

TD: I’m just going to tell them one precise, all-encompassing phrase. I’m going to say, “Son, don’t make me kill again. Drive safe. Have a nice time. Be careful.”

Premium Rush

August 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez
Directed by: David Koepp (“Ghost Town”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Ghost Town”) and John Kamps (“Ghost Town”)

There is an obvious reason the name of the main character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Inception”) in the new bicycle action/thriller “Premium Rush” is Wilee. With a couple of references to Wile E. Coyote from Looney Tunes, a narrative built around a 90-minute chase scene, and always-eccentric actor Michael Shannon (“Take Shelter”) over-exaggerating every bit of his awkward dialogue, the whole thing plays out like a caffeinated cartoon. It’s unfortunate, however, that no one gets tossed off a cliff or smashed with an oversized mallet.

“Premium Rush” rides hard, but without much direction. It’s the sort of movie Google Maps would make if they could cinematize their website. In the film, Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee, a New York City bike courier being pursued by Det. Bobby Monday (Shannon), a corrupt cop who is after a mysterious envelope Wilee is delivering across town. Up to his neck in debt with an underground gambling ring, Det. Monday must intercept the envelope to earn the cash he owes. It takes screenwriters David Koepp and John Kamps far too long to explain why Wilee getting to his destination is so important. When the big reveal comes, you’ll wonder why it took a whole hour to explain such a messy storyline.

While there are effective bike stunts featured throughout the movie and some kinetic camerawork that will make you feel like you’re riding on these characters’ bike spokes, “Premium Rush” wears out its welcome with close ups of peddles spinning, traffic lights blinking and a screenplay that allows anyone to get anywhere in NYC in five minutes. It’s true, these bike messengers are fast, but not Roadrunner fast.

50-50

September 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Jonathon Levine (“The Wackness”)
Written by: Will Reiser (debut)

As soon as 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) hears his doctor utter the word “cancer,” his ears begin to ring and his vision becomes blurry. For a few seconds, he becomes paralyzed, trapped under the weight of the revelation. From here, Adam begins his journey through the five stages of grief as he looks for acceptance, deals with treatment, seeks support, and tries to stay positive as his future becomes uncertain.

After Adam is diagnosed with cancer, he begins to deal with a lot of confusing emotions. His main source of support is his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), a fun-loving stoner who tries to get Adam to use his cancer to pick up girls. To help him deal with the life-altering news, Adam turns to Katherine McKay, an unseasoned psychiatry doctoral student, to help him cope with the emotional aspects of the disease. To make matters worse for Adam, his overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston) is invasive and determined to take care him, even as he rejects her motherly instinct.

After an unsuccessful foray in “Hesher,” Gordon-Levitt returns to his comfort zone in a well-acted role that calls for unassuming charm and some heavy dramatic moments. As wisecracking friend Kyle, Rogen’s performance is a little uneven. There’s a sense of trying too hard by being needlessly vulgar that surrounds Rogen’s performance, but he is able to come through with some genuine laughs as well as displaying good chemistry with Gordon-Levitt. The highlight of the cast is Kendrick. Her charm is on full display and her scenes with Gordon-Levitt are among the best of the film. Their chemistry is so strong, sweet, and convincing that she actually elevates his performance during their scenes together.

It goes without saying that making a comedy surrounding such a devastating disease is challenging. But the beauty of humor is that with the right attitude and manipulation, it can be found in even the darkest and most unexpected of places. Taking a subject like cancer and finding tasteful ways to laugh at the situation is the mark of something truly special, and perhaps even inspirational to those dealing with stress and anxiety. And while “50/50” does utilize some laughter at the expense of Adam’s illness, too much of the humor comes from Rogen’s crass and sexual dialogue. It’s almost as if Rogen wandered onto the set straight from an Apatow movie and everyone just went along with it.

The dramatic moments hit hard and resonate, none greater than when Adam finally breaks down and Gordon-Levitt lets out a primal scream that shakes you to your core. But the first half of the movie shoehorns comedy that doesn’t necessarily fit, almost as if the filmmakers felt the need to make the audience laugh to keep them from feeling too many negative emotions. Perhaps the biggest problem is not only that the jokes hit at an inconsistent rate, but it also often disrupts the tone of the film.

While “50/50” occasionally struggles to strike a balance between drama and comedy, the final act is simply stunning.  The events and emotions are so powerful that they will undoubtedly leave many audience members misty-eyed, which is a result of expert handling with heavy scenes. The humor might not connect consistently, but “50/50” is a minor triumph.

Inception

July 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (‘The Dark Knight”)
Written by: Christopher Nolan (‘The Dark Knight”)

Filmmaker Christopher Nolan is known for the complex worlds he creates, but nothing can prepare you for the trippy and surreal adventure he guides us through with “Inception,” the seventh feature film from the London-born director whose narratives sometimes feel like the cinematic equivalent of mathematical proof theories.

Unlike filmmaker David Lynch (“Blue Velvet”) who can become nonsensical at times, Nolan provides us with all the answers. While there is some wiggle room for interpretation, Nolan’s approach is more forthright. Still, if his other films like “Memento” and “The Prestige” required a couple of viewings before everything really added up, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone if mainstream moviegoers walk out of his latest intricate offering with looks of bewilderment. It might be as frustrating as it is awe-inspiring, but there’s no doubt once you stitch the pieces together it’s remarkable.

In “Inception,” dreams and reality become limitless in the hands of Nolan who introduces some lofty ideas into this espionage mind thriller. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, a man whose job it is to enter the dreams of individuals and steal their ideas and secrets. When a wealthy industrialist Saito (Ken Watanabe) confronts Cobb and asks him to enter the dreams of a business competitor (Cillian Murphy) and plant an idea in his mind (a technique known as inception) Cobb takes the challenge, although his right-hand man Arthur (Joseph Grdon-Levitt) is sure it can’t be done.

Also entering the dreamscape with Dom and Arthur is Ariadne (Ellen Page), an intelligent college student who is brought onto the team as the architect of the dreamy scenarios they will enter. Ariadne is also the only one on the team who knows that despite Cobb’s masterful talent, their work can all be destroyed if he allows the memories of his dead wife (Marion Cotillard) to affect him while he is navigating around in someone’s subconscious.

It would be pointless to explain any more about “Inception” other than these basic points. It’s a film to be experienced not clarified. It’s unfortunate there will probably be plenty of people that will dismiss the narrative as too confusing to fully enjoy, but the originality of “Inception” carries it through to the end even when some of its more emotional aspects end up being a bit underwhelming.

500 Days of Summer

March 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend
Directed by: Marc Webb (debut)
Written by: Scott Neustadter (“The Pink Panther 2”) and Michael H. Weber (“The Pink Panther 2”)

With the number of offbeat romantic comedies hitting theaters this summer, there was bound to be some kind of overlapping scenarios between the projects. Not for “500 Days of Summer,” however. The quirky feature debut from director Marc Webb breaks from the pack with a rousing take on the most appealing and maddening factors in the boy-meets-girl relationship.

In “500 Days of Summer,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“The Lookout”) is Tom Hansen, a greeting card writer who immediately becomes infatuated with the new girl in the office, Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), after a brief encounter in an elevator where he discovers they share the same taste in music.

Problem is, Summer doesn’t believe in love. To her, love is a fanciful idea that she is too young to even consider. Still, there is something about Tom that reels in Summer like a schoolgirl, although she keep her distance. It’s almost as if the couple really isn’t a couple at all. We get a true sense of their relationship when they play house in a department store. For Summer, it’s fun to pretend and not have any expectations.

Through delightful narration and a non-linear story (all written – surprisingly – by the duo who gave us the dreadfully unfunny sequel “The Pink Panther 2”), we witness an extensive journey as Tom and Summer touch upon every nuance of a budding romance. Here, Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel basically switch roles as to not follow the same cliché situations we’ve seen before. Tom takes the role of the lovesick daydreamer while Summer seems to be biding her time until someone better comes along.

Unlike other quirky rom-coms of the summer like “Away We Go” and “Paperheart,” (the latter has yet to open in San Antonio) “500 Days” feels a lot less mechanical as it pinpoints all the emotions one might feel through a relationship where one participant doesn’t feel as strongly as the other. From the cold-bloodedness of a breakup to the sheer joy of a first kiss, the film elicits all types of heartache and adoration and is never gimmicky.

What we come out with at the end is an animated and vibrant tour through the lives of two young adults who meet each other when the timing just isn’t right. Depending on where you are in your own life, you can choose a side to empathize with more. There are no wrong answers in “500 Days.” With something as complex as a well-constructed romantic comedy like this, it’s refreshing to know there are also no blueprints involved.

Stop Loss

March 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Channing Tatum
Directed by: Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”)
Written by: Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”), Mark Richard (debut)

It’s a financial risk this day and age to produce a film on the war in Iraq. Look at recent movies like “In the Valley of Elah,” “Lions for Lambs,” and “The Kingdom,” all of which scraped in some change but for the most part were forgotten with the exception of Tommy Lee Jones’ Oscar nod for the former. What mainstream moviegoer would really spend his or her time and money on something they could see on CNN for free?

Things might have been different for “Stop Loss,” the first film of Kimberly Peirce’s career since she lead Hilary Swank to her first Oscar in “Boys Don’t Cry” nine years ago. Like any negative war story you would find buried inside any of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, the term “stop-loss” is one few people have come across in the five consecutive years the U.S. has been in the Middle East.

That is why “Stop Loss” is such an interesting story, although it’s touted in a most uninteresting way. For those of you who are still wondering, stop-loss is a term used to describe a military policy where the government can retain a soldier for longer than the contract he or she signed. Some critics call it a “back-door draft.”

In “Stop Loss,” soldier Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) has just finished serving his term in the Army and is ready to get back to his small Texas town to be with his family. During his last mission, Brandon experienced a lot of casualties when his troop was ambushed by insurgents. Wounded himself, he returns home to a war hero’s ovation alongside his friend Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), who has also come to the end of his military service and is ready to settle down and marry his fiancée.

But apparently earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart isn’t enough to allow Brandon to bow out gracefully. Short of good soldiers in Iraq, Brandon’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Col. Boot Miller (Timothy Olyphant) decides that he will send Brandon back out to Iraq once his leave is over. Rather than return to a war he no longer wants to fight, Brandon opts to go AWOL just long enough to figure out how he can beat the system.

Attempting to put a face on the soldiers isn’t enough in “Stop Loss” as Peirce and first-time screenwriter Mark Richard forgot to include souls within the men. Instead, Peirce relies on cliché Texas characterizations (everyone in the Lone Star State wears a cowboy hat, knows how to two-step, and shoots guns for fun) and a skim-across-the-surface take on the real controversy behind this military loophole.

The authenticity of these stories is in the minds of the men who experience them, not in a sluggish foot chase mended together by Hollywood. “Stop-Loss” would have been so much more compelling and convincing if it had been an insightful documentary on these little-known events. It’s a shame to see the topic wasted on such a pop-culture-friendly message geared toward twenty-somethings, who will be the first to walk out of the theater voicing their hatred for the Bush administration and loaded with another talking point.