Wednesday 13 November 2013

Top Ten Performances - Joseph Gordon-Levitt

With the release of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut, Don Jon, I decided to take a look back at his finest performances throughout his gradual ascent to stardom. He has recently appeared in a number of very successful films, but has been working hard for some years developing his talents in a number of eclectic projects that should not be missed. So without further ado, here we go, Mr Levitt's top ten performances:

10. Don Jon
Levitt's performance in Don Jon is impressive considering his dual role on set both behind and in front of the camera, and he is surprisingly believable as the titular muscular lothario Jon. I cannot blame Levitt for pitching himself alongside Scarlett Johansson and it is no surprise that this has worked out as one of the funniest, raunchiest, and most touching comedies of the year when considering the talent involved.

9. The Lookout
This flawed thriller has clearly been inspired by Memento, and whilst not wholly satisfying, it is still a great flick that showcases Levitt's ability to tackle difficult roles, here playing an amnesiac who inadvertently becomes involved with criminals. Forced to take a job as a bank janitor following a car accident that put his promising future on hold, Chris Platt, played by Levitt, is one of the key participants in a heist on his own workplace and is forced to make a number of life-changing decisions when things go horribly wrong. A solid performance from Levitt certainly lifts what could have otherwise been a run of the mill heist movie.

8. Looper
Reunited with Brick director Rian Johnson, Gordon-Levitt is exceptional in this sci-fi thriller which imagines a world where criminals from the future are sent back to the present day to be killed by hired-hands known as Loopers. Faced with an incredibly difficult choice when his future-self turns out to be his latest target, Levitt delivers a stunning portrayal of a tormented hitman - even after his face has been digitally altered to resemble the one and only Bruce Willis. 

7. Inception
Inception is a mind-blowing film that needs to be seen for numerous reasons; its spectacular visual effects, an incredibly original storyline and you've guessed it, Mr Levitt himself. He is part of an elite team led by Dicaprio's Cobb who invade peoples dreams in order to steal valuable secrets from their subconscious and as Cobb's right hand man he inevitably gets into a lot of scrapes. Never have I seen Levitt play a character with such style and vigour, and although he has had on screen brawls in the past, nothing can compare with the insane stunt-laden fist fight that takes part in a revolving corridor. This was the proof that Levitt could finally compete with the big boys in Hollywood and I imagine that his role in Inception is one of the main reasons why he is in such high demand at the moment. Christopher Nolan, you absolute legend.

6. (500) Days of Summer
Romantic Comedies are not my cup of tea but (500) days of summer was a very welcome surprise with its non-linear structure breathing new life into a stale genre. Reuniting Levitt and Deschanel for their second screen appearance since Manic back in 2001 was a stroke of genius as the chemistry between the two adds gravitas to the compelling story, which performed remarkably well at the box office. Whilst Levitt already had a legion of female fans, his appearance in (500) days of Summer placed his posters on the walls of young ladies everywhere, Joseph Gordon-Levitt the heart throb had arrived.

 5. The Dark Knight Rises
Cast amongst such heavyweight actors as Tom Hardy, Christian Bale and Gary Oldman to name but a few, you would be forgiven for thinking that Levitt would struggle to find his voice as Blake in Nolan's epic conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy but that is far from the truth. Destined to be Batman's successor, Blake plays a key part in overthrowing the League of Shadows, and I couldn't imagine anyone else more suited to play Nolan's incarnation of Batman's infamous sidekick .

4. 50/50
50/50 was one of the best films of 2011, and despite the risky subject matter it manages to be both a moving drama and hilarious comedy, combining the two elements perfectly to make the poignant story even more powerful. Levitt is oustanding as the cancer-stricken Adam , who is told he only has a 50/50 chance of surviving, and struggles to come to terms with this life-changing news. 

3. Manic
The second, and arguably the best of the films Levitt has starred in opposite Zooey Deschanel is an underrated gem that deserves to be seen by a wider audience. Despite the budgetary restrictions, which does have the benefit of adding to the grittiness of the film, this portrayal of a psychiatric ward for troubled teenagers is a captivating character based drama, driven by Levitt's excellent performance as the newest inmate who stirs up the other patients whilst finding a kindred spirit in Deschanel's shy and confused Tracy.

2. Mysterious Skin
It is no surprise that the most disturbing film in Levitt's career is this high up the list, Mysterious Skin packs one hell of a punch thanks to Levitt's remarkable performance as a male prostitute and will undoubtedly play on your mind a long time after the credits roll. The difficult subject matter is handled superbly by Gregg Araki making this an unforgettable film which is essential viewing for all Levitt fans. A word of warning though, those more familiar with his lighter side in films such as (500) days of Summer and Ten things I hate about you may be in for a shock here.

1. Brick
Rhian Johnson's stunning big screen debut takes the blueprint of a fifities film-noir and relocates the story to a high school setting with excellent results, casting Levitt as the star was a perfect decision, his combination of teen angst and unspoken dignity bring the role to life in this career defining performance that cemented his reputation as an outstanding actor. If you have never seen Brick then I recommend you head out and purchase it on Blu-Ray right now, I have watched it countless times and I could not imagine anyone else adapting to the lead role so perfectly. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, you absolute legend.

As well as his existing filmography, Levitt is due to appear in Sin City 2 next year, and we can only hope that he returns to the director's chair in the near future. Without a doubt, I can safely say that he is one of the best actors around right now, and if it wasn't for Gosling, he would probably be my number one man crush.

Monday 11 November 2013

Weekly Round-Up #1

Seeing as I usually watch at least a film every day, it seems a waste not to share my thoughts on the amazing gems I discover - and the awful movies I occasionally have the misfortune of sitting through - so here are the films that have either graced my home cinema or enticed me out to the big screen over the past week:

Lunopolis - 7/10

This sci-fi ‘mockumentary’ set in the present day follows two film-makers who unravel a conspiracy involving a powerful organisation that have colonised the moon, and documents the ensuing events as they become embroiled in a potentially catastrophic plot to alter the course of history. It sounds far-fetched but is genuinely gripping from the outset, and shows that a little imagination can often be far better than a huge budget.

Wild Bill - 7/10

After eight long years in jail, Bill Hayward returns home to find his two estranged sons - aged just 11 & 15 - have been abandoned by their mother and now live by themselves in a rough council block. Forced to care for his sons to avoid social services getting involved, Bill must put his criminal past behind him which proves difficult when he realises the local dealer is using his youngest as  drug mule. Gritty yet heartwarming, Wild Bill is a taut British drama that showcases some exceptional acting and deserves to reach a wider audience.

Love Exposure - 8/10

Shion Sono is fast becoming one of my favourite Japanese directors, his films are bizarre masterpieces that need to be seen to be believed, and Love Exposure is no different. To explain the plot of this four hour epic in a short paragraph would be impossible, but if the idea of strange Japanese film complete with extreme bloody violence, a completely unpredictable storyline and a beautifully orchestrated score sounds good to you, then look no further - you won't be disappointed.

The Devil's Double - 7/10

Featuring an incredible dual performance from Dominic Cooper as the sadistic son of Saddam Hussein and his unfortunate doppleganger, Latif Yahia, The Devil's Double is a gripping thriller that doesn't shy away from the cruel violence that Uday Hussein inflicted on innocent people. Despite the convincing acting, Yahia's backstory isn't compelling enough to gain the audience's full empathy but this is still a solid biographical feature.

Don Jon

Joseph Gordon Levitt's directorial debut certainly impressed, and I will be writing a full review later on this week so make sure you check back to find out my thoughts, but I'm off to another screening beforehand to see if it holds up on a second viewing.  Watch this space.

The Devil's Rock - 5/10

When two Kiwi commandos stumble across an occult Nazi plot to summon demons, all hell breaks loose (well one demon anyway) in this low-budget horror that unfortunately fails to deliver on its initial promise. Set in the Channel Islands on the eve of D-Day, The Devil's Rock is ambitious and fairly original but lacking in any real scares or suspense.

The Amazing Spider-Man - 7/10

Unfairly derided by critics who dismissed this franchise re-boot as unnecessary, I was one of a small minority who didn't enjoy the original Spiderman and far prefer Andrew Garfield to Toby Maguire's Peter Parker. Yes, it's full of clichés and the soundtrack can be overbearing at times (Coldplay - really?!) but this is an action-packed superhero origin film that has a number of impressive set pieces. The silent fight that takes place in the library is a stunning example of how far technology has come in the eleven years since Spider-man first hit the big screen.

Europa Report - 8/10

Not yet available in the UK unless you are willing to import the American Blu-ray, Europa Report is an incredibly engrossing sci-fi which charts the journey of six astronauts heading to Jupiter's fourth largest moon, Europa, to search for signs of life. As is the case with most films set in space, (see Sunshine, Alien Gravity etc...) things do not go as planned and as Europa Report attempts to be - for the most part - scientifically accurate, the horrors of space exploration have never seemed so real.

Schramm: Into the Mind of a Serial Killer - 8/10

 Dark, twisted and utterly depraved, Schramm is not for the easily offended, but those who relish the world of extreme cinema will be impressed by this sickening outing by infamous German director Jorg Buttgereit . Clocking in at just over an hour, those who can stomach the twisted genius on display here will be rewarded with an unforgettable experience as we experience life through the eyes of a seriously messed up serial killer.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Cinema Review - Gravity

Alfonso Cuaron has taken film-making to the next level; Gravity is a breathtaking masterpiece that will inevitably stand the test of time as one of the most awe-inspiring science-fiction films ever committed to celluloid. Comparisons to Kubrick’s 2001 are well founded, even if a little misleading, as Cuaron’s space odyssey doesn’t just completely reinvent the genre but delivers a multitude of nerve-wracking sequences that leave the audience as breathless and emotionally drained as the two astronauts gasping for oxygen and longing for their feet to touch the ground.

Sandra Bullock is exceptional as panic-stricken astronaut, Ryan Stone, who becomes detached from her ship during a routine spacewalk, and the unfolding events ratchet the tension up to breaking point as Matt Kowalski (Clooney) attempts to bring her to safety and a nearby catastrophe rapidly begins to spiral out of control. Both actors have had their inconsistencies throughout the years but Bullock’s stellar performance as a fearful yet strong woman and Clooney’s calm and well grounded (for a man in space) character are a perfect combination of innocence and experience that provide a surprising emotional heft to this very unique disaster movie.

As Stone struggles to survive against seemingly impossible odds, subtle changes in her approach to survival mirror the character arc of Ripley in Alien; she begins to confront impending danger with a hitherto unknown inner strength and will seemingly stop at nothing even when safety is far out of reach. Kowalski is far more pragmatic about their situation, quickly realising that any chance of rescue is fading fast and spending just as much time enjoying the stunning vistas of outer space as working out a way to head home. You can almost forgive Kowalski’s lackadaisical approach to their situation as it is inevitable that your attention will also wander towards the spellbinding celestial views more than once during the course of the film.

Even though only two characters share screentime, as soon as the first explosion hits the threat of danger never lets up, and Cuaron finds plausible and exciting methods of driving the story forward - which is no mean feat considering the drastically limited options available to a film-maker setting a film in outer space. The immersive 3D visuals and spectacular sound design pull you into a world fraught with danger that is so beautifully realised it is bound to leave you completely speechless. Space may be incredibly dangerous but it is also visually stunning and the precision of Cuaron’s camerawork clearly demonstrates an auteur who is not just seeking to push the boundaries of film but to capture an unforgettable experience that will astound audiences with its sheer audacity.

One of the most difficult aspects of reviewing films is managing the audience's expectations; I know first-hand how damaging it can be when critics are overzealous with their praise only for the film in question to underwhelm, and more often than not choose to avoid reading reviews before viewing a film for this exact reason. That being said, some films undoubtedly leave an indelible impression on all who behold them, and in this instance, I have to agree with every single critic who heaps praise on Gravity as words cannot justify how incredible Cuaron’s latest film really is.

This is the first time in over three years of writing reviews that I have ever given a five star review, and I sincerely doubt that there will be a better film released this year, or even the next. I cannot wait to experience Gravity again, only this time around in the comfort of an IMAX cinema. Unmissable.


If you liked Gravity you will also enjoy these:

2001: A Space Odyssey

Wednesday 6 November 2013

New Trailer - The Raid 2: Berandal

Gareth Evans' unmissable action-packed thriller 'The Raid' stunned audiences last year as it almost single-handedly reinvented the action genre. Fans of the original have been craving a second fix of Iko Uwais' insane martial arts skills that not only put Indonesian cinema firmly on the map but generated enough interest for a sequel to be greenlit

Set straight after the events of the first film, much akin to the first two [REC] instalments, The Raid 2 sees our hero Rama imprisoned where he is inevitably set upon by countless vicious thugs and gangsters who are out for his blood. Not due for release until 2014, it's going to be a long wait but it sure looks to be worth it:

If you still haven't seen the original, what is wrong with you?! Make sure it goes straight to the top of your watchlist, and if you need any more persuasion, check out my review of The Raid here

Cinema Review - The Raid

With hype for the Indonesian action film The Raid reaching extreme levels does it live up to expectations? Tom was lucky enough to attend a preview screening and here are his thoughts...  

Every once in a while a film comes along that manages not only to meet your expectations but surpass them, and whilst this does not happen as often as I would like, the sparsity of this occurrence marks any film that reaches these standards as one of a select few that make it to my list of personal favourites.  Many people throw the phrase 'I was on the edge of my seat' around when describing films that the term has lost much of its impact but I was literally perched on the edge of my seat for the majority of The Raid's running time with a huge grin on my face that didn't subside until a few hours after the screening. Yes, it is as good as you've heard.
 With a plot so simple I cannot believe it hasn't been done before, almost the entire film takes place in a tower block inhabited by assorted criminals and lowlifes under the control of a powerful drug lord who resides on the fifteenth floor. Enter a SWAT team who are tasked with taking him down, made up of veterans and rookies alike, and you can imagine the carnage as they endeavour to reach the top and make their way out alive against very unfavourable odds.

It is easy for the story to become second fiddle to the action in a film such as these and whilst there are times when it does, I only realised this on reflection as during the screening I was completely mesmerised by the action to a point where the plot really didn't matter. There are enough interesting developments and twists to drive the action forward and this is really all the film requires, although the story does make sure that The Raid is slightly more than just an action showcase.

The undeniable star of the show is Iko Uwais, a native Indonesian versed in the martial art of Pencak Silat which is the driving force behind the incredibly impressive fight sequences, and I have no doubt that his performance in The Raid will lead him to bigger and better things (if that is even possible as they don't come much better than this). Uwais plays Rama, a young family man with minimal experience in the field who is determined to prove himself as a valuable member of the team and when the situation begins to spiral out of control he is one of few that manage to keep focused on the task in hand despite the dangers they face.

The Raid contains some of the most brutal and intense action sequences I have ever witnessed, with lashings of ultra violence that would offend even Alex Delarge and his gang of Droogs, this really is a blistering assault on the senses that does not let up and thankfully never manages to run out of steam. As a fan of extreme violence on the big screen, I could not fault the direction Gareth Evans has taken with The Raid although the more squeamish of you need to be warned that there are a few unpleasant moments that may leave you squirming. The inventive fight sequences and stunning choreography really are breathtaking; just when you think that there is no way the action can be topped, the next melee ups the ante even more, pushing the boundaries of martial arts usage in films and leaving you mesmerised by the sheer audacity of the character's actions.

One of the year's best foreign imports, The Raid is a benchmark in action cinema; by combining all the successful ingredients of those which have come before it, and adding a relatively new form of martial arts into the mix it manages to transcend the genre almost to the point of becoming a masterpiece. This is a film that definitely needs to be seen on the big screen, nothing unites the audience like an epic struggle between good and evil and the fact that certain viewers couldn't keep quiet in some of the more explosive scenes didn't annoy me but made me realise just how involving The Raid really is.

With an American remake already on the way, make sure you see The Raid whilst you get the chance. I have been writing for Front Room Cinema for the best part of 9 months and this is the only rating above four stars I have ever given. I'm still waiting for that elusive 5 star film but until then The Raid remains one of the best new films I have seen in recent memory.


Are you a fan of action films? Do you think that The Raid has turned the genre on its head? Let us know your thoughts below...