The Walk: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit

The Walk, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit (the only man to ever walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center) is directed by Robert Zemeckis (who also penned the screenplay) and despite the grand scope of the project; IMAX, 3D, feels like an ode to Jacques Tati, as well as the French high wire artist whose feat the film features.

JLG as Philippe Petit on the wire

The Walk, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit (the only man to ever walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center) is directed by Robert Zemeckis  (who also penned the screenplay) and despite the grand scope of the project;  IMAX, 3D, feels like an ode to Jacques Tati, as well as the French high wire artist whose feat the film features. 

Literally, it seems as though Zemeckis zeroed in on the time period and chose the cinematic offerings of the French performer between the late 1950s (Mon Oncle – 1958) through to the 1970s (Trafic – 1971)  to emulate and project the 1974 epic “coup” by Petit and his band of “accomplices.”   The film’s colours could have been selected from that palette that Tati specified for his comic films.

The tone of The Walk is one of, if not comedy, then at the very least light amusement. Make no mistake, there are moments of pure comic delight. For example, when Petit meets street busker Annie (Charlotte Le Bon)  in a Parisian square and she berates him for stealing her customers.  When two “American” tourists misinterpret their “mime” interaction for a show, she speaks “country-bumpkin” English, much to the delight of Petit (Gordon-Levitt). 

She then reverts to French to tell the other street artist what she thinks  of him. Petit tells her, a couple of times, that he prefers her English.  This scene then segways into a “boy meets girl” scenario that allows for the first of Petit’s accomplices to come on board for his dream of walking between the Two Towers.

There is a lot of lightly comic moments. The Zemeckis film is taken from the 2008 documentary (Man on a Wire – Director James Marsh, written by Philippe Petit from his book To Reach the Clouds) and provides a humorous recounting of the artist’s beginnings, his obsession with the Twin Towers and his journey to walk the wire between the newly built American icons.

Zemeckis has  a long list of funny films under his belt, Romancing the Stone, a runaway hit for the director who then followed up with the mega successful Back to the Future, where he returned again and again along with many other comic efforts.  The director has a deft touch where needed and he does not disappoint with this loving tale of one man’s desire to go where no man has gone before.

Everything about the film works, the music, the fashion and the locations all feel like 1974 America.  The end result is a comically delivered project where none of the wonder and majestic scope of the feat is lost.  (In terms of locations,  there are a few locational mistakes but this is a movie and not a documentary.) Gordon-Levitt proves that he really is an American version of Sir Alec Guiness; a chameleon. While we can recognize the actor under all the makeup, which does make him resemble the real Petit rather remarkably, it is his performance that convinces and changes him into another person entirely.

Charlotte Le Bon, as Annie, is the perfect compliment to Joseph. This actress, who was one of the best things about the 2014 film The Hundred Foot Journey, has excellent on screen chemistry with Gordon-Levitt.  Possessed of what seems to be an inner amusement and a capacity to flare up with righteous anger when required, the Canadian performer is a personal favorite and always a delight to see on screen.

Ben Kingsley plays “Papa Rudy” and once again the Oscar winning actor proves that he is this generation’s Sir Laurence Olivier.  Sir Ben Kingsley was awarded the knighthood in 2001 (Sir “Larry” in 1947)  and looking at his performances, including his role as  cabbie/driving instructor Sikh in Learning to Drive also out in 2015, it is easy to see that his cameo was considered a different sort of “coup.”

Members of Petit’s team of accomplices are made up of some very talented supporting players. James Badge Dale is amusingly competent as the charismatic “jack of all trades” conman  who opens doors and is flexible to the nth the degree.

Scottish actor Steve Valentine not only sounds so much like the late actor Lee Van Cleef (if listening with eyes closed one can envision “Angel Eyes” delivering the lines) he also resembles him a great deal. If ever a biopic of this professional “bad man” in the movies is made, Valentine should play him.

(Or any unnecessary remakes of Italian Spaghetti Westerns, should definitely hire Valentine to play any of the many roles that Van Cleef took on over the years…)

Over and above performances, the palette or the ambiance of the film, Zemeckis puts the viewer right up on the high wire with Petit. From the safety of the cinema seats, or the familial settee if watched on DVD, we can sense the immense height, the wind, the heart stopping thrill…

There are still comic moments added into the film’s finale. Considering the almost bittersweet tang that remains after the final line from Petit, it is just as well. It has been 14 years since 9/11 but  the poignancy behind the “forever” line is still keenly felt.

The Walk is a brilliant film, another docudrama on offer, like Trumbo, where the audience is given a brief glimpse of someone real. In both films the acting is spectacular and spot on. Both entertain, although from different ends of the spectrum. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon and Robert Zemeckis give us a film worth watching.

5 out of 5 stars for humor, intelligence and some great breath-taking acting. See this one.

 

 

 

 

Looper (2012): Time After Time?

Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom), Looper stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Jeff Daniels, and Pierce Gagnon as Cid the future Rainman. It is a science fiction/thriller/action film that takes place in the year 2044 and its main plot device is time travel.

Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is a looper. Loopers, it appears, came into being right after time travel is invented in 2074. Immediately banned and made illegal by the government; the new time travel is used by huge criminal organizations as a sort of “Murder’s Inc” where “hits” are sanctioned and sent back to the past to be carried out by a looper.

So in the future hitmen become loopers and in the sense that some things never change, time travel is a criminal’s wet dream; presumably allowing more than just murder to fly the “airways.” When the target arrives in the past, he lands on a tarpaulin; hands tied behind his back and his head covered in a cloth bag.

The second he appears, the looper shoots him and rolls the body over to collect his “Judas” fee of silver bars. In an ironic twist, the loopers work for criminals from the future in the past. If you try to figure it out, you’ll just give yourself a headache. So don’t try, even Old Joe (Willis) says it’s beyond explanation (unless you use straws and salt).

In this world of murderous loopers one way to retire is when your future bosses send your future self back to be “whacked” this constitutes “closing the loop.” You get a literal golden handshake and you retire. Joe systematically does his job, learns French and relies on drugs to relieve the monotony of his existence.

When one of Joe’s fellow loopers, Seth (Dano) meets his future self, he is so shaken that he lets him escape. Seth comes to Joe for help and begs for a place to hide. Their boss Abe (Daniels) has already sent Kid Blue (Segan) to Joe’s apartment and they take Joe to see Abe. Joe then gives Seth up to Abe and gets to spend an hour with his favourite prostitute to ease his conscience.

Life goes back to “normal” which means Joe continues to kill his target at 11:30 in the morning and then go for coffee later. One day, the target is late. When it does arrive, he has no bag over his head and his hands are free. Joe is stunned and in the split second it takes him to fire his blunderbuss, his target (his future self) turns and the shot goes into the gold bars on his back.

As Joe pumps another round into the gun, Old Joe hits him with a gold bar; knocks him out and escapes. Joe awakens a bit later with a note telling him to run and catch a train out of town.

Well, it’s 11:30! Time to shoot another target.

Now here is the only spot in the film that confused me. Joe (Gordon-Levitt) returns to his apartment and in the ensuing scuffle, he falls off a fire escape and knocks himself out. We are then treated to a longish montage of Joe actually shooting “Old Joe” and then “living” his life until he marries a Chinese woman and, as Old Joe, gets taken from his house and put into the time machine for his younger self to shoot him.

I was a little confused to say the least. But it did not matter. Any film that deals with time travel is going to be confusing. There are going to be plot holes and mistakes and bits in the film where you can hear the audible sound of everyone’s chin thudding on the ground. But as Bruce Willis’s character says, “It’s doesn’t matter.”

Purists are now pulling their hair and screaming, “Yes, it does matter damn it. What about the space time continuum, blah, blah, blah…”

I say again it does not matter; especially in the verse of this film.

I’ll explain.

Years ago the late Ray Bradbury wrote some excellent science fiction novels. The Martian Chronicles was just one example of his work; immensely popular it was made into a film (once or twice) and a television mini-series. The point about Bradbury’s work is this: when Ray told you that some astronauts took a rocket ship to Mars, that is all he told you. There was no song and dance about what powered the rocket or its payload or its dimensions. It was not pertinent to the story.

Now if you wanted science fiction that was all about the “science” you read Issac Asimov or one of his peers who would gladly give you all the science you might require from your Sy Fy story. The books by either author were equally entertaining but, both were written from a different point of view.

I always leaned more toward Bradbury’s stuff, because I like a good story and I don’t need to know how many booster rockets are needed to get out of the earth’s atmosphere. I feel the same way here about Looper. It’s story about time travel, I don’t need a lot of dithering about with someone trying to explain every little nut and bolt about it. It just is; and I’m fine with that.

The film was vastly entertaining. Even though I did have some problem with Emily Blunt being in yet another movie (I mean, come on guys, is she the only actress available at the moment or what) and as much as I adore Bruce Willis, he also seems to be in a lot this year.

It would probably be easier to list films that Emily Blunt has not been in this year.

Of course this is the third time that the team of Johnson and Gordon-Levitt have worked together. They are starting to look a bit like the Burton/Depp combination; let’s hope that they don’t wind up as stale.

But I have got to say that although I was a bit “freaked out” by the prosthetics used on Gordon-Levitt’s face to make him resemble a young Willis, I was impressed by the fact that Joseph has Bruce’s speech pattern and phrasing down perfectly. I really believed that he could be a younger version of Willis. Very, very impressive to say the least.

The film moves at break neck speed and shows a future that is bleak and violent and (like The Divide’s setting) dirty and hopeless. Joe’s existence before he meets Old Joe is a series of events that all run together fuelled by drugs and emptiness. Despite this depressing background, the movie manages to look like what we imagine the world to look like in 21 years.

I do have to say that I’m impressed that Rian managed to get a “hover cycle” into the film.

My final verdict is that this was a cracking film and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ll say it’s definitely a 5 star film worth watching and that I’m sorry I missed this at the cinema.

Bruce looks as upset as I am about the hoverbike not working.

Inception (2010): Matrix for the New Millenium **may contain spoilers**

Cover of "Inception"
Cover of Inception

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan Inception is a masterpiece of a movie. It features an all-star cast and has so much chopping and changing of plots and action that you begin to feel like you’re watching a movie version of the game Twister.

Starring in no particular order:

Leonardo DiCaprio

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Ellen Page

Ken Watanabe

Cillian Murphy

Tom Berenger

Marion Cotillard

Michael Caine

Pete PostlethwaiteDileep RaoTom Hardy, and  Lukas Haas. A pretty impressive group by anyone’s standards.

The budget for this film was 160 million dollars and the box office return was in excess of 825 million dollars making Inception a real blockbuster film with a capital B.

The basic (as basic as you can get in this film) is that Cobb (DiCaprio) is a dream thief. He is in exile from America as he has been accused of murdering his wife and he is unable to see his children in Los Angeles as a result. The irony is that this dream thief dreams constantly of returning home and seeing his kids.

Cobb has been offered a ‘clean slate’ by ruthless businessman Saito (Watanabe), which will allow Cobb to return home and wipe the murder charge from his record. What Saito wants in return is for Cobb to not steal a dream, but to plant an idea which is known as “Inception.”

The target, a business conglomerate, owned by tycoon Maurice Fischer  (Postlethwaite) who is dying and leaving it all to his son Robert (Murphy). Saito wants Cobb to plant the idea through Robert’s dream state that his father really wants him to sell the conglomerate off and make his own fortune.

Cobb’s ‘business’ partner Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) says it is not possible. Cobb maintains that it is. He and his deceased wife Mal (Cotillard) had practised this. Unfortunately it is very dangerous and we learn that this was how Mal died. Although Arthur decides to help Cobb he is not convinced that they can do it safely.

Cobb must now come up with a new powerful dream ‘architect’ because this was Mal’s job before she died. Ariadne (Page) is recruited via Miles (Caine) Cobbs father-in-law. He then gathers the rest of his team; Eames (Hardy) an identity forger, Yusuf (Rao) who controls the sedatives required by the team, Arthur and Saito as the mission observer.

In order for the idea to be planted, the team must go into several dream states, each deeper than the previous one, in order to evade the target’s defences.

And evade they must for Robert has had his brain ‘trained’ by a security company. This training allows his dreaming state to be patrolled by security guards who can spot intruders and terminate them with extreme prejudice. This is not the only hurdle the team have to overcome. It seems that Cobb’s dead wife, Mal, is alive and well in his sub-concious and she will try to sabotage their mission.

The last ‘danger’ the group face is being in the dream world too long. If you go too deep and cannot be brought back, via a drop or your dream self getting killed, you will remain in the dream state forever. You can also become confused as to what is ‘real’ and what is a dream, to help each team member keep track, they each have a personal totem that behaves differently in the dream state. Cobb’s is a top that spins perpetually.

So the  team must go into a dream and then go into another dream and into another dream. Each dream state requires a team member to stay in that level and watch over the remaining members as they go deeper.

Confused yet?

This film looks amazing, you can see where the 160 million went. Nolan masterfully helms the many twists and turns of the verse and at no time does he leave one string dangling. My daughter and I went to see this at the cinema. We both were on the edges of our respective seats through the entire film.

What The Matrix did for cinema combat, Inception does for cinema environment. Two of the film’s set pieces, ‘the exploding room’ and ‘the anti-gravity room’ were real sets. The mountain fortress was real as well, just in miniature so it could be blown up.  CG was used at a minimum to help sell the shots. Nolan created these set pieces by taking a step back in the world of special effects. 

But where CGI was used, it worked beautifully. When Cobb is interviewing Ariadne, the scene begins with the two of them at a Parisian Bistro. They are seated with drinks in front of them. Cobb is explaining how dream architecture works. He then looks at Ariadne and says, “Do you remember how we got here?” When Ariadne starts to respond, items from the ‘busy’ set start exploding. *On a side note here, the scene has so many props in it, that if it were not computer generated it would have set Nolan back a large part of that 160 million.*

After the set explodes, they then start walking the streets. Ariadne starts practicing her architecture and literally bends the streets and buildings, while Cobb explains the rules of the ‘dream verse.’

CGI is used for the world that Mal and Cobb created that resulted in Mal killing herself in the mistaken belief that the created world was the real world that she desperately wanted to go back to. The city in the parallel world is almost Dali-esque in it’s depiction. When Cobb and Ariadne go there to deal with Mal, it is decaying and falling into the ocean. It is like the place is eroding from lack of use and it looks disturbing.

But two of the most impressive scenes that did not rely on CGI were the exploding room at the beginning of the film and in the hotel scene later on.  Using an ‘anti-gravity’ room, which in essence was a ‘room’ that was suspended in mid-air and rotated. The actors were attached to wires in some cases, but for the most part they really were working in ‘free-fall.’

And free-fall is how Nolan sells the film so well. Remember the “dream within a dream within a dream” bit? Well, this tier system that requires a team member to stay behind in each level, starts with the first team member, who actually has everyone else with him but in a dream state, drives a van they are all in off a bridge. Cue the first free-fall. And it has a effect on the next team member who is in the hotel portion of the dream.

The film only had  about 500 visual effects. A very small amount for a film with so many special effects and such a huge budget.

The film moves almost seamlessly between the real world and the dream world. But it does this so often that is almost like a cinematic shell game. By the end of the film you have to decide what was real and what was a dream. What ever you decide is based on your interpretation of the series of events.

When the film ended (prepare yourself for the controversy) two things happened almost simultaneously, we both looked at each other and said, “Blu-ray.” We also immediately started discussing the ending and how we saw it. We weren’t the only ones either.

For the first time in years, I saw a room full of people discussing excitedly the film they had just seen. The room was full of laughing, talking, and arguing people. I really can’t remember the last time I’ve seen an audience act that way after a film.

As we left the cinema, my daughter turned to me and said, “Wow, that was ‘The Matrix of the new millenium.”

I think she’s right. Just like The Matrix, Inception changed the rules and bent the rules it couldn’t change. It went so far outside the box, that the box ceased to exist.

If Inception is not on the list of  films to see before you die, it should be.

Right at the top.