The Bestest – Brick

Brick (2005)

Written and Directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, and Emilie de Ravin.

The second movie to make mah bestest list is Brick, the 1930s detective film set in a modern American high school starring a pre-500 Days of Summer Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The film opens on the hero, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) discovering the dead body of his ex-girlfriend, Emily, in a ditch. Through a brief flashback we learn that Emily had called him earlier for help; he stands at a lonely payphone booth as a passing car (or rather the people in it) cause her to hang up and flee. A cigarette butt is sent flying from the passenger window, the first of many clues Brendan uses to piece together her murder.

From this point on Brendan transforms into a classic noir gumshoe, tracking down Emily’s movements through a seedy high school drug ring with the help of his mysterious brainiac ally, aptly dubbed The Brain. If any of this sounds remotely familiar, that’s because it absolutely is. The plot of Brick is nothing particularly different and special, but the way it is told is refreshingly unique.

The characters in this film are less that and more character types. For instance, Brain is a role typically seen as a newspaper reporter hanging around dark bars or dreary alleyways, which Rian Johnson adapts into a typical high school nerd leaning against the back wall of the school or hiding in his private nook in the library. These archetypes keep coming as Brendan ignores threats and strikes deals with the Principal (a role usually filled by police captains in the old detective films), fights the seductions of tough and sassy dames (in the form of the “queen” of the drama department and the popular girl on campus), battles a crippled crime kingpin, and loud-mouthed tough guys whose bark is bigger than their bite (the star of the high school football team, and dope head junky). These adaptations not only make the dissonance between the character’s actions and their modern portrayal all the more interesting, but allow the noir style to be more accessible to modern audiences.

I own that duck cane. Just sayin'.

This isn’t the first modern film that’s combined and adapted elements of noir, just look at Reservoir Dogs, but what sets it apart from the others is that it sets the attitudes and dialogues of classic detective fiction in a modern American High School. The characters all speak like they’re straight out of a Dashiell Hammett novel with lines like, “No, the bulls would gum it. They’d flash their dusty standards at the wide-eyes and probably find some yegg to pin, probably even the right one.”

None of the dialogue throughout is like anything seen in the countless other movies set in high schools, nor can it in any way be described as “modern”. Which is exactly what makes it so mesmerizing. The combination of a modern setting and updated character types with old detective dialogue creates such an interesting dynamic that is more and more entertaining each time you watch.

If you’re unfamiliar with the genre that Brick draws such heavy inspiration from, don’t worry. This film’s got just enough indie quirks in it to keep you interested and if none of that floats your boat then at least watch it for the stellar performances. JGL is flawless as the brooding Brendan, completely embodying the archetype both physically and emotionally, and the rest of the cast all step up to plate, delivering a set of engaging performances.

While the plot may not be anything different, it’s told in such a creative and unique way that you forgive it for that fault and enjoy the noir-iness (made that one up). Find this movie now and go watch it. Please? Thanks.

JIGGLE


Hesher Trailer

 

Hesher stars Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Devon Brochu. It had it’s debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 and will be released in theaters sometime in April. I think Jiggles fits well into the social outcast role (just watch Brick) and this definitely takes that type to the extreme. I’d keep an eye out for this one, it looks pretty danged interesting.

Mind-Heist Madness

Inception

Written and directed by Chris Nolan. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, and Michael Caine. Released 2010

“There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.” So says David H. Everett and Inception agrees to the fullest, by constructing a world where dream and reality collide to the point where it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish the two.

Inception, at its very basic level, is a heist film, except instead of robbing a bank or jewelry store the characters break into a subject’s subconscious via dreams and their big pay-off is information. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are specialists in “extraction”, breaking into someone’s mind and taking whatever information they’re hiding. However this can only be accomplished when the subject and extractors are sedated and hooked up to a “sleep machine” of sorts (similar to “jacking into” the Matrix) allowing for multiple layers of dreams to be created (dreaming within a dream).

Cobb and Arthur are eventually hired to do the opposite of extraction: “inception”, which is planting an idea deeply enough into the subconscious of a target, so that they wake up thinking the idea was theirs, allowing you to plant any idea (sinister or benign) without a trace. They plan on doing this by creating a triple layered dream (dreaming within a dream within a dream, get it?) and so they set out to recruit a team and plan their attack for this widely considered impossible feat.

Chris Nolan has apparently been working on this script for the past ten years, and it’s obvious. The film knows all of its rules and lays them out clearly within the first hour, but as is the case with any movie that takes such pains to set everything up, there’s gotta be some sort of monkey wrench thrown into the machine to complicate matters. Inception makes damn sure of that by throwing in triple-layer dreams where time and gravity exist at different levels and you can fight off security guards in a constantly rotating hotel hallway (which was the coolest scene in the entire movie) and plots twists and revelations that are so simple yet when discovered they’re exhilarating. What makes this film so stunning is the way Nolan weaves all the complex layers of the plot into a seamless narrative that’s simple to follow. He doesn’t hold your hand and walk you through it, but simply lays out the information and trusts that you’ll know what to do.

It gets even crazier than this.

In addition to the spot-on storytelling, the film looks spectacular. The CGI isn’t too over powering, which is impressive considering the amount of crazy cities-folding-on-top-of-each-other action that looks like it was ripped straight out of a bad acid trip. Nolan actually opted out of using CGI for any scenes that he could, for instance the hotel sequence which I briefly mentioned above was shot on a set that simply rotated along its axis. Using more traditional techniques in place of CGI adds believability to what is happening on-screen, making the visuals all the more impressive.

Of course all the sharp visuals don’t mean a thing if the cast doesn’t deliver, and luckily for us every actor on board slips straight into their characters adding a level of believability and emotional connection to this reality-bending drama. Leo plays a man who is packing some serious skeletons in his closet. The mental exhaustion he has starts to manifest itself physically as the movie carries on and he gives off an impression of a man who is barely able to keep his world together brilliantly.

Ellen Page plays Ariadne “the architect” who is in charge of constructing the dream world of the subject in the form of a giant labyrinth. She does a fine job playing a curious college student drawn into such a dangerous task and her relationship with Leo (as she becomes the only one to discover the reason why he is so tortured) is great. Marion Cotillard gives off an eerie performance of Cobb’s wife that fits so well later in the movie as further revelations of her character are made and the rest of the cast are all outstanding in their supporting roles. I particularly enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal of Cobb’s suave partner, Arthur, as he delivers the perfect amount of humor and bad-assery.

From excellent storytelling and breath-taking visuals to a first-rate cast, Inception has all the ingredients of a great film and pulls them together to make one of the best examples of world building all summer. You’ll enjoy every minute of this film and I guarantee that after the credits roll you’ll want to see it again.