It's October. The heavy hitters are arriving. Clooney and Hanks. Streep and ... well, there is no one like Streep. This week, we have new movies from Tommy Solomon and Opie Cunningham (look them up). We have my favorite, underrated screenwriter, and we have a story about the most harrowing thing I have personally experienced in the past eleven years. And we have an Inconvenient Truth-style documentary that ought to scare the hell out of us all. I'm tempted to give each a B and move on.
Grade inflation. It's ruining our schools. Ruining our films. Ruining my fantasy football team. (David Wilson, it turns out, was not worth a second round pick.) All of the movies this week are B-like. They're all pretty good. None are great. So I am doing something I'm not allowed to do at school. I'm eliminating the B.
Don Jon: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the hottest young actor in Hollywood, at least until the next Ryan Gosling movie. Here, he writes, directs, and stars in a knowing romantic comedy which turns many movie conventions on their sides. Just as Clint Eastwood learned from his director-mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, Gordon-Levitt appears to have learned a lot from Rian Johnson, among the most stylistically inventive writer-directors in American film. Gordon-Levitt also seems highly influenced by the French New Wave -- the engaging early stuff from 1960 -- not the pretentious portentous stuff from 1965. This is a fun and funny movie that looks good and moves fast. My only complaint is that it feels a bit thin, and many of the leading characters, apart from Gordon-Levitt and Julianne Moore's Esther, feel like caricatures. (This may be the point, since one of the themes concerns Jon's inability to connect with others in a "real" way.) Regardless, this is worth seeing, and Gordon-Levitt is well worth watching as he evolves as a director. A-
Rush: I don't know the first thing about Formula One racing but I do remember it being a big deal when I was a kid. Ron Howard captures the sport in the '70s very nicely, and like Don Jon, this is a fun movie. The action is good. The two rivals, English playboy James Hunt, and German technocrat Niki Lauda, form a good spine to the story. It might have been nice to include other characters in a meaningful way (there are others to be sure -- they just don't matter). So my only complaint is that it feels a bit thin, and many of the leading characters, apart from Hunt and Lauda, feel like window dressing. (it's not plagiarism if you steal from yourself.) A-
Inequality for All: Robert Reich is a really smart guy. And he has an engaging screen presence. When he tells us that the widening gap in what the rich earn and what average workers earn is a big deal, we should all probably listen. This documentary, based on the former Clinton Labor Secretary's book and loosely structured around his Cal Berkeley Wealth and Poverty class, should be a chilling wake-up call. It champions labor unions, investment in education, and campaign finance reform, and consequently, will probably be dismissed as liberal bathos. The Occupy movement gets some decent screen time here, and we all know what happened to that. A-
Enough Said: God, this kills me. I have championed Nicole Holofcener as one of the best screenwriters in American film since Walking and Talking in 1996. This gentle romcom has the late James Gandolfini in a very good role and Julie Louis-Dreyfus, who I kind-of, sort-of went to school with, in a role that could establish her as more than the sitcom VEEP Elaine Benes. And it's smart and funny. And, it just kind of lacks energy. Part of this is because as good as she is as a writer, Holofcener is not an inspired director, and the movie has a flat look and languid pace. She also misses just a bit with what I have always considered her signature strength -- writing the best teens (young or old) in American film. Here, the respective daughters of Eva and Albert, are just kind of regular (though Tavi Gevinson, as the needy teen-age friend Chloe, is a very strong presence.) If you like smart, adult romances -- and not stylish wet dreams like Don Jon -- you should definitely see this. And I really wanted to give it a B, but someone made up this stupid rule for this blog. C+
Blue Caprice: Disclaimer. I lived in the Washington DC suburbs in the Fall of 2002 when John Muhammed and Lee Boyd Malvo terrorized a community and murdered ten people. I hid behind my car while pumping gas. I kept my head on a swivel in strip mall parking lots. I was torn about even seeing this Alexandre Moors debut film. The movie was not what I expected. It barely dealt with the murders in the DC area. No detective work. Little community terror. Instead, it focused on the relationship between the two men (though named in the credits, they are never called by name in the film -- they are only referred to as "father" and "son.") That relationship mostly played out in Washington state. Isaiah Washington, as the father John, is outstanding. Oscar-worthy really. His slide into lethal dementia is chilling. The problem comes with Tequan Richmond's Lee. Richmond is just fine, but the script never really gets Lee. The broad strokes, abandoned by his mother and in desperate need of parental approval, are clear, but why he actually becomes a cold-blooded murderer seems to elude the movie. Maybe that is the point. That such a thing is ultimately unknowable. But since the movie is built upon this very metamorphosis, that may not be enough of an answer. Well made, but ultimately, in the absence of a B-, a C.
There you go. The difference between Don Jon and Blue Caprice is not really two full letter grades. But there's this stupid rule. Sometimes, life isn't fair.