Posts tagged ‘Joseph Gordon-Levitt’

February 17, 2011

“500 Days” Will Last a Lifetime

Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer will emerge in the coming years as this generation’s timeless and age-defining romantic dramedy.  With homages to the Sixties’ The Graduate, I wouldn’t call 500 Days an “update” of that classic, but there will be ironic correlations as we grow old.

Looking back through history, each faction of young people via the artistic community expressed a sense of disillusion, disconnect, and dissatisfaction with social norms and expectations.  In short, they felt lost.  Post-WWI’s group were even called “The Lost Generation,” highlighted by the literary achievements of F. Scott Fitzgerald and a myriad of others, as the world put itself back together, only to have it splintered again a couple of decades later, making way for the “Beatniks” and, the ever-popular, “Hippies.”  Generation Hipster (Can I go there?) has our war/s too.  But this also is a time of incredible awareness, considering that we have throttled into an era that could arguably be labeled “post-Civil Rights Movement,” “post-feminism” and where more people anticipate earning higher levels of education than before.  Yeah, I know there is work still to be done in all of these areas; however, we have our president, we have our secretary of state, and these days a four-year degree is a “minimum requirement,” which was not the case for our parents. Progress has been made.

I bring all of this up to have you recognize that the characters of 500 Days are very modern, in terms of both their strengths and their flaws.  Tom, portrayed by the absurdly talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is in his mid-twenties and still trying to “figure it all out.”  He’d made his way through college, studying architecture, just to be passed over by a few potential employers in the fleeting months after graduation.  “Life happened” and he finds himself half-assedly designing greeting cards for a steady paycheck.  Viewers never get a sense that Tom will be a lifer in that position.  Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel (once I start to register accurate adjectives of approval for that woman, there will ultimately be a tally of an embarrassing number), is, like Tom, a Los Angeles transplant.  From Michigan, she claims to have landed on the left coast simply due to boredom.  We come to know that Summer was well-traveled and freely explored her sexuality.  Upon meeting and (merely) “liking” Tom, Summer declares that she isn’t “looking for anything serious,” which she understands might “freak some guys out.” While these aspects of their backgrounds link them to those “lost” folk of the past, the reasons for this lack of focus and absence of goals is quite different.

Some say that “women in the workplace” has been the impetus behind the rising average age of marriage for both males and females.  Women now are taking their time, putting their career first, before settling down and having kids in their thirties, as opposed to their twenties.  Others speculate that folks marry later due to an increase in college education.  We hear less and less of people simply graduating high school, getting a job, and procreating by the time they’re 21.  Whichever the reason, or be it a combination of both along with other causes, men and women are “just dating” throughout their twenties and 500 Days does an impeccable job of illustrating the clashes that can transpire in our lost generation of hipsters.

How many times, youngish people, have you been in dating situations where either the girl or guy announced what Summer said to Tom about avoiding a “serious” relationship?  How often have you said or heard “Yeah, no pressure”?  Who has uttered to another that they’re “Just friends,” knowing full-well it was more than that?  And “Let’s not label this” is another popular one.  All of these lines are featured in 500 Days.  These key points of dialogue, along with obviously making the movie most relative to Gen-Hipsters’ instances of “hanging out” with members of the opposite sex, drive the conflict forward.  Ironically, in this story, the male is the perpetrator of couple-hood, while it is the femme fatale seeking a more open set of circumstances.  However, Tom complies with Summer’s demands, I guess, in the name of being “progressive.”  He’s the one with the testicles.  Tom should just be happy with getting laid and not allow fucking feelings and emotions to get in the way, right?  But he does.  This causes much distress for our protagonist, while Summer’s emotions are remarkably collected.  She just goes with it.  At one point, Tom’s drunken friend McKenzie (played by the guy who inconceivably gets to nail Christina Hendricks whenever he wants to) even calls Summer “a dude.”

In The Graduate, Benjamin is asked several times, “What’s wrong?”  He is unsure about his future, to say the least.  Grad school?  Career?  Marriage?  Kids?  He’d rather spend his time “just drifting” on a water mattress in his parent’s pool.  Ultimately, viewers of 500 Days don’t see anything wrong with Tom and Summer; they are empathetic figures.  We’re drifting right alongside them.  In stark contrast to Benjamin and Elaine (Sure they get together, but, at best, their ultimate fate as a couple is quite uncertain; just look at their expressions while on the bus.), Tom and Summer reveal that there is hope at this film’s conclusion.  Summer gets married and Tom meets Autumn, but only when he reemerges a more confident man with a straight set of priorities and reassurance.  Our generation is simply experiencing a prolonged adolescence, both similar and contrasting to those before us.  We have this heightened awareness of possibilities and potential that paradoxically has a stunting effect on our maturing process.  Dating in the “Aughts” then features a tricky terrain because of this.  So, we must struggle and “beat on, boats against the current.”  But we’ll have our “one fine morning” when we figure it all out.

December 13, 2010

“Inception” X 13 = Quality + Quantity (Part I)

This past summer was “The Summer of Inception.”  Sure, Toy Story 3 was the big draw in terms of dollars, but few (especially in circles of people that I care to concern myself with) were out at dive, hipster bars, sipping pints of LaGunitas, and having long, exhaustive conversations about whether or not Andy will ever play with Woody and Buzz again.  No, we were talking about if Leo was in limbo, man.  For all of those discussions on that pretty triumphant effort by the brilliantly gifted Christopher Nolan and how “great,” “deep,” and “innovative” that film was (and, oh, that visceral reaction to the ending), there was always the need to point out, and rightfully so, that parts of it were rather long-winded.

I find myself oft-frustrated with Hollywood these days.  Here you have arguably the best American writer/director, a top-notch, big-name, gifted actor, a fantastic up-and-comer in support, a female, not two years removed from an Academy Award, an all-time great in a minor role, some very talented unknowns, and the freshest face on the Boulevard, all in tow to create a film-telling of what is one of the most original stories in recent memory, and they botch it.  They condense an epic into a short story, all in the name of making money.  And they did plenty of that (Inception is #40 on the all-time list. Box Office).

Instead of going after the mega bucks, I contend, my steadfast followers, that Inception would have been a finer work of art if it had been redrawn as a 13-part cable television miniseries event.  This would have had an incredibly positive impact on the pacing of the story, optimized the use and integrity of the characters, and built a tension towards the climax that would have rivaled anything in the history of television.  No shit.

Episode 1: “Backstory”

Nolan took a lot of liberties in the film and (rather successfully, actually) banked on the idea that viewers would just accept the abilities of these people from around the globe to invade the dreams of others as plausible because it was only known to a select, usually wealthy, few.  He may too have thought of simply setting the movie, say, ten more years into the future as a cop-out.  I like the idea that all of this mind-infiltration could be going on right now because it subtly creates anxiety in the audience; however, it never sat well with me that there was not a crumb of explanation in the film as to how this power or technology could be possible.

Episode one of the miniseries could clear that up immediately.  In the film, Arthur, in speaking to Ariadne, mentions how it was the military, presumably the American brand, that developed this skill and implemented training to soldiers so that they could “shoot and stab and strangle each other and then just wake up.”  Set episode one in any given year that would have Cobb’s father, Miles, be significantly younger.  This is imperative because it was Miles who taught his son the art form, thus making the discovery at least a generation or two old.  Have a scientist figure out through experimentation, maybe even accidentally, how to dream storm.  Just so this edition of the show isn’t a complete snooze, have him see someone’s really fucked up dream.  Soon thereafter, he realizes that he can actually “design” another’s dream, thus making exploring the landscape much more enjoyable.  Perhaps this scientist finds that dream invasion can in fact be a helpful tool in enhancing the psyche of a “patient.”  Dreams fascinate all of us.  This should be enough, of course, if only tastefully done, to draw in viewers.  Have this chapter close with the military provoking the discoverer into instructing their doctors on this new ability for their own, corrupt means.

Episode 2: “Fine-Tuning”

Here viewers witness the perfection and expansion of the skill.  The technology becomes more elaborate and advanced, what with all the military (er…tax payer) funding being thrown in its direction.  Perhaps it is a young, aspiring human biologist and mathematician, Miles (er…Victor Frankenstein?), who develops the method for “Extraction.”

Remember at the beginning of the film, it was Extraction that was really Cobb and Arthur’s area of expertise.  Smartly, Nolan grabs the viewer’s attention by opening the movie with an action-packed sequence where the boys attempt to extract a thought from Saito’s mind as an audition for employment.  Nolan knew that one thing that would create mass-appeal would be high-octane, tense clashes in dreamworlds.  Imagine 13 episodes of this shit!

In that scene, Cobb and Arthur knew what they were doing.  In this episode, tension would be created with ease by having soldiers (like the astronauts of the ’60s) enter the dreams of others, while trying to extract an idea without knowing exactly what they’re doing.

Eventually, of course, they would succeed and be that much closer to mastery of this talent.  But, how about a cliff-hanger to ensure viewership through episode three?  How about right at the end, the military abducts a powerful enemy from, well…pick a fucking country from the other side of the world.  Just when the soldiers get into the mind of this diplomat, they are met with resistance, revealing that someone else has not only discovered this technology, but have found ways to defend against invaders!

Episode 3: “All Out War”

Now you have The Cold War, but in dreams.  This 60-minute installment picks up where the last left off.  Since unexpected violence of this sort has never erupted in dreams before for the U.S. soldiers, it can go on for a while.  The scientists have yet to develop the idea of the “kick.”  In the dream, after lengthy conflict, one of the soldiers is wounded, but doesn’t wake up.  Much panic ensues until one of them is finally killed by the dream security of the foreigner.  Upon reentering consciousness, he tells Miles what has happened.  Frantically, Miles tries to wake all the boys up.  He shakes them.  He slaps them.  Finally, the young soldier who perished in the dream, grabs a janitor’s bucket, filled with gray water, and chucks it onto one of his comrades.  He so vigorously wakes up, that he knocks over the private next to him.  The discovery of the kick.

Of course the diplomat must be killed, which enrages Miles.  He asks for an honorary discharge.  After this is awarded, the episode closes with Miles beginning the teaching of his newest pupil: his son.

***Part II***