September 06, 2012
It has been a long time since Joseph Gordon-Levitt played Tommy Solomon, the "kid" in 3rd Rock from the Sun. In that brilliant cast, Gordon-Levitt managed to stand out.
Then he showed that he could do grownup roles in (500) Days of Summer, a film in which the director tried to upstage the actors at every turn; Gordon-Levitt stole the movie right back.
It was in Inception that he first got to play a strong role in a smart blockbuster, and he got the nice-guy part in The Dark Knight Rises. He's got a career going.
But the Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie you don't want to miss is the bicycle-messenger thriller Premium Rush. This is absolutely his film, and the director knows it and helps him own it.
I don't know about you, but I can't imagine a movie about bicycle messengers being remotely interesting. I say this as someone who has biked several thousand miles in my life – not a competitor, but somebody who loves to cover ground under my own power.
I've never understood daredevil biking – perhaps because for me, it's daring enough just to try to share the road with the insane motorists who drive as if they intend to mount the spandex shorts of dead cyclists on their den wall.
I only went to this movie because of Gordon-Levitt himself – and I was not disappointed.
Gordon-Levitt's character, Wilee (as in Wile E. Coyote, his nickname), is a sometime BMX trickster who got through law school but never took the bar exam, because he loved racing along on a fixed-gear bike, steel frame, no brakes – the raw experience of your muscles chewing into the road surface.
The filming is smart and sharp. We see how he finds ways through tight traffic situations with split-second foresight. We see why his girlfriend fell in love with him – and why she doesn't want to stay in love with a guy who seems to have a death wish.
But the story never forgets that it's about a particular package he has to deliver, top speed, by 7 p.m. – halfway down Manhattan Island in an hour and a half, in rush hour. The Chinese girl who is sending the package was a fellow law student. She also rooms with his girlfriend, and knows something about his relentlessness. So she asks for him in particular to deliver the package.
What neither she nor Wilee was counting on was that there's somebody else who really wants that package – who needs it enough to kill for it.
Several times we flash back to earlier in the day in order to understand what is at stake for each person. But the writing and directing and editing are so deft that we're never confused about what's happening – when we need to know something, we're told in a clear and fascinating way. And the whole movie takes place in less than six hours of real time.
The action never stops, and yet what makes it work (what always makes thrillers work, when they work at all) is how much we care about Wilee and the people he cares about.
The last bicycling movie I cared about was Breaking Away, and I only watched that because it came free with the first (used) VCR that I ever bought. In the era when each videotape cost 80 bucks, as long as you owned it, you might as well watch it. I did, I loved it. That was 1979.
Now my list of "great bicycle movies" has two items on it.
Apparently Premium Rush is classed as an indie film, which puts it on one of the tiny screens at the Carousel.
If you want to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the big screen, you'll have to wait for Looper, which looks to be a cool time-travel thriller. Gordon-Levitt, though, is strangely unrecognizable in the promos – it makes me wonder if they've done something weird with his makeup to get him to look more like Bruce Willis, whose younger self he plays. Or maybe it's just the camera angles.
The thing is, Gordon-Levitt has the kind of intensity and power that lets him own the screen completely for the entire length of a feature film – the kind of power that let Matt Damon hit so hard in the Bourne movies, and Clint Eastwood in those spaghetti westerns.
Even on a bicycle.
There is real evil in this film – and yet it's strangely decorous. In fact, one of the characters comments indirectly on the fact that there's not a single word in the movie that isn't used in primetime television.
If the movie hadn't made a big deal of it, I wouldn't have noticed the lack of icky language. Why? Because when it isn't there, we don't miss it. Good writers don't need to drop bombwords into their scripts. They do it with characters, relationships, situations. They trust the actors to bring the language to life. I wish more writers had the talent and self-trust to do the same.
Warning: If you take anyone too young to have a driver's license, make them swear an oath that they will never, never get on their bike and try any of the stunts in this movie. Assure them that all the street scenes were carefully choreographed, with stunt drivers in all the cars.
On real streets, those cyclists would be flat as manhole covers long before the end.
50 Things Liberals Love to Hate, by Mike Gallagher, is more than your standard radio-talk-show-host movement-conservative screed. Most of those books, I find myself turning away in disgust after a while, because the sheer incoherency of "thought" in political books of the Right and the Left fills me with contempt bordering on despair.
With Ann Coulter's first book, it took me three chapters.
With Michael Savage's first book, it took me three paragraphs – and that was only because it took two paragraphs to believe that he was really saying what I thought he was saying.
So it's refreshing that in 50 Things, Mike Gallagher actually shows (1) a sense of humor, (2) a spark of tolerance for people who disagree with him, and (3) a few moments of awareness that it might be possible for good people to disagree on some points, and agree on others.
Look, it's not a serious book. It's an entertaining book about serious things. There's a difference. But it can be read by liberals and conservatives and moderates and independents with relatively little pain.
One of the points Gallagher makes early on is that conservatives generally admit they're conservatives, while liberals usually have to append asterisks to the liberal label before they're willing to wear it.
And he's right. There are two reasons for that.
1. Even though "conservativism" is every bit as incoherent a "philosophy" as "liberalism" today, all the semi-insane self-contradictions of conservatism have been around, essentially unchanged, since Reagan was elected president. In case you haven't noticed, 32 years have passed since then. We're used to conservative insanity.
2. Liberalism, on the other hand, was already semi-insane when McGovern's people took over the Democratic Party in 1972, but they kept changing their insanity, constantly adding new irrationalities by some kind of backroom consensus, without any intervening thought. They just keep discovering new "rights" or "crises" that everyone is expected to believe in without any argument or discussion or, God forbid, compromise or legislative process....continued on page 2