Movie Review: “Snowden”

Starring
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Melisssa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Joely Richardson
Director
Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone has been more hit than miss as a filmmaker over the past few years, but even his most successful work sometimes leaves a little more to be desired. Stone is a filmmaker that likes to take big swings with his movies – the ending of “Snowden” being a perfect example – and sometimes they don’t always payoff. In the case of “Snowden,” however, most of them do, making this biopic/thriller the director’s most consistent movie he’s made since 1999’s “Any Given Sunday.”

With this true story, Stone tackles one of recent history’s most divisive figures: Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the man who exposed the NSA’s illegal surveillance of American citizens. The film opens several years before those events, when he was a proud Republican and patriot who wanted to fight in the Iraq War, only to be discharged after breaking his legs in basic training. In 2006, Edward meets and falls in love with Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), and shortly thereafter, begins working in the CIA’s global communications division, where he immediately questions his orders. For a while, he keeps his mouth shut and his concerns to himself, but after working on the NSA’s massive cyberforce project, Edward can no longer keep what he’s doing a secret while unsuspecting Americans are spied on by their own government. In 2013, Edward travels to Hong Kong with a hard drive containing classified documents exposing the NSA, which he shares with Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), as well as the documentary filmmaker behind “Citizenfour,” Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo). Once the story breaks, Snowden becomes a fugitive without a home.

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Movie Review: “The Night Before”

Starring
Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Shannon
Director
Jonathan Levine

Every year, a new crop of Christmas-themed films arrives in theaters to help kick off the season, but apart from 2003’s awesome trio of “Elf,” “Love Actually” and “Bad Santa,” Hollywood hasn’t had much luck producing movies worthy of shaking up the usual rotation of holiday classics. Nobody really expected Jonathan Levine’s “The Night Before” to join that illustrious club, but it seemed like it would at least be a fun diversion from the barrage of serious Oscar fare by adding a bit of frat-humor debauchery to the Christmas movie festivities. Unfortunately, it’s not very successful, because “The Night Before” is at best a fleetingly funny comedy that ranks as Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s weakest collaboration to date.

For the past 14 years, best friends Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have spent every Christmas Eve together, a tradition that started as a way to console Ethan after he lost his parents in a car accident. Now in their early 30s, the guys have mutually agreed to end the annual tradition for various reasons: Isaac and his wife (Jillian Bell) are expecting a baby, and Chris, a pro football player who’s found fame late in his career, is simply too busy. Ethan, meanwhile, is still reeling from his breakup with longtime girlfriend Diana (Lizzy Caplan) and is worried that he’s about to lose his friends as well, but when he fortuitously comes into possession of three tickets to the Nutcracker Ball – an ultra-exclusive party that the guys have been trying to get into since their first Christmas Eve – Ethan figures that they can at least go out with a bang.

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Movie Review: “The Walk”

Starring
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Clément Sibony, César Domboy
Director
Robert Zemeckis

Philippe Petit’s death-defying walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974 was previously spotlighted in James Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary, “Man on Wire.” But for as compelling as that film was, it lacked a key element: footage of Petit’s performance. Recognizing an opportunity to recreate that incredible moment (one that only a small crowd of people had the privilege to experience) on the big screen, director Robert Zemeckis gives Petit’s famous high-wire act the Hollywood treatment with the generically titled “The Walk,” and in IMAX 3D, no less. Though a majority of the movie doesn’t benefit from the premium format, it’s worth the upgrade for the big finale, which utilizes the added sense of depth to showcase the danger and awe of what Time magazine called the “artistic crime of the century.”

The story begins six years earlier in 1968, when Philippe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was just a young artist in Paris performing for audiences on the street. While waiting in a dentist’s office one day with a toothache, Philippe sees an article about the proposed construction of the Twin Towers and immediately becomes obsessed with walking between them on a high wire. Several years later, Philippe meets a street musician named Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) and falls in love, eventually enlisting her help, along with fellow friends Jean-Louis (Clément Sibony) and Jean-Francois (César Domboy), to fulfill his dream. There are a number of logistical issues standing in the way of Philippe’s success – including how they’re going to get a 200-foot steel cable across the gap between the buildings – but with construction on the towers almost complete, the group heads to New York City to put their plan into motion. No amount of surveillance and rehearsal could have prepared Philippe and his team for what they were about to attempt, and yet despite numerous close calls and an injured foot, Philippe emerged at the top of the South Tower on the morning of August 7th, with no harness and 1,368 feet in the air, and proceeded to put on a show for the next 45 minutes, crossing the gap eight times (in addition to some other tricks) before surrendering to the police.

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Movie Review: “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”

Starring
Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Jamie King
Directors
Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller

Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez bring the long-awaited “Sin City” sequel to audiences after nearly a decade’s absence. Unfortunately, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” proves that no matter how many clouds and thunder you put on a screen, it’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. The characters are engaging, the over-the-top violence is there in spades, but the magic that made fans scream for a sequel is somewhere between the pages of the graphic novel and the cutting room floor.

Everyone’s favorite jawline with muscles, Marv (Mickey Rourke), is back in full noir fashion. The film opens with him awakening to no memory of the cool trenchcoat he’s wearing and the not-so-cool injuries that came with it. Before he can put things together, he witnesses a guy being set afire by a bunch of frat boys. He teaches them a lesson that they’ll never forget in this world or the next. Just as in 2005’s “Sin City,” Marv is willing to nearly kill himself to bring people to justice. Although seemingly indestructible, he racks up scars by the dozens. Of course, with the six inches of prosthetics Rourke wears on his face, it starts to grow on you.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt joins the cast as the unstoppable gambler, Johnny. Levitt is continuing to fuel an argument as being one of the most versatile young actors in Hollywood. Expect this performance to only add to that. As the slick-talking Johnny, it’s easy to believe that he can do no wrong. He’s a suited force of nature, emptying slot machines almost without pulling the handle. But Johnny boy has his eyes on the sinister Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), and as bad guys go, Roark takes the cake and smashes you in the face with it. He doesn’t suffer fools or losing lightly and quickly shows Johnny why he’s feared by almost everyone with a pulse. Another guy on the wrong end of Roark is Dwight (Josh Brolin), a private investigator who uses his fists to get to the bottom of a case, especially when it’s involving a damsel in distress. And this particular damsel is the titular dame to die for: Ava Ford (Eva Green).

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Movie Review: “Don Jon”

Starring
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenn Headley, Rob Brown
Director
Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Talk about having your cake and eating it too. For his debut as a writer and director, Joseph Gordon-Levitt pens a script that gives him the opportunity to grope and “bed” a bevy of gorgeous women (capping it off with Scarlett Johansson), and gets the last laugh by putting a fair amount of depth into his study of a very shallow man. “Don Jon” feels a bit like a comedic version of “Shame,” the infamous wow-look-at-Michael-Fassbender’s-penis movie, but in reality the two leads are alike only in that they’re broken men who like to score. Where “Shame” was more of a character study, “Don Jon” is focused on a societal problem.

Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is a buff, handsome, free-living Jerseyite. Each week, he and his two best buds hit the club, and Jon manages to score a “10” every time, earning him the nickname Don Jon. And yet, even after sex with these beautiful women, Jon heads to his laptop to surf for porn. (We don’t know this for a fact, but www.pornhub.com may be the first adult web site to strike a product placement deal in a mainstream motion picture.) One night, he sees Barbara (Johannson), and is positively smitten, but still likes his porn. The two soon date, and when she discovers his vice, she’s horrified, even though her fascination with Hollywood romance films (the film within the film has two killer cameos) has given her equally warped notions of love. Enter Esther (Julianne Moore), a fellow night school student in Jon’s class who’s able to give Jon the one thing he truly needs: perspective.

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