Friday, November 20, 2015

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Becomes Stylish Actor with Good Taste

I was not impressed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt when I first saw him in Third Rock from the Sun, a loony sitcom about aliens reporting from Earth.

I thought that Kristen Johnson, with those long legs and great timing for wise-ass combacks, would be a force to be reckoned with. I was wrong.

Photo from

It is Gordon-Levitt who shines these days.

Slight of build with a face more cute than handsome, Gordon-Leavitt endows the crazy cyclist messenger in Premium Rush. He inhabits the character with a cocky taste for danger that makes this most mundane job as exciting and dangerous as climbing Mount Everest.

He pushes this ability to capture both sweetness and risk-taking in Brick, a film that reminds me mightily of Dealing or the Berkeley-to-Boston  40-Brick Lost-Bag Blues, an early Michael Crichton effort under a pseudonym with his brother Douglas. In both, students assume noirishly adult lines and lives.

Brick lacks the good-natured humor of Dealing, but the world has changed a great deal since those simpler times of the Seventies. It improves upon it with the subtle cleverness projected by Gordon-Levitt and some catching dialogue.

It is disconcerting when high school students act and talk with the worldliness of characters in a Sam Spade novel. Despite the milieu, it is well done.

Gordon-Levitt pulls it off. Writing of his role in an earlier film, the San Francisco Chronicle noted he "embodies, more than performs, a character's inner life," according to Wikipedia.

Stephanie Zacharek at Salon similarly praised his ability to create a "spell  in subtle gradation," also quoted at Wikipedia.

Gordon-Levitt adds elegance and sophistication to this worldliness in the shadowy (and disturbingly violent) comic book adaptation, Sin City: A Dame to Die For. He plays a supremely self-confident gambler, again pushing against the qualities that he seems to seek out in independent and studio films alike.

I've only seen the trailers from The Walk. It appears that Gordon-Levitt once again inhabits his character, based on Philippe Petit, who actually made the daring performance on a high wire between two New York skyscrapers.

It is interesting to see a young actor emerge into a formidable stylish. I hope I'm not wrong when I predict Gordon-Levitt will pick up a well-deserved Oscar one of these days.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Why I Miss Kyra Sedgwick in "The Closer"

The Closer is in reruns, and this gives me a chance to watch details of techniques that I didn’t notice when my goal was to follow the mystery.

Kyra Sedgwick’s expressive face must surely be one of the reasons her character is so appealing.

I loved her as Brenda Lee Johnson, a tough-minded police chief detective who didn’t mind stepping on toes in her single-minded pursuit of truth.

She’s brash. She forgets dates with yummy Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney) of the FBI, and he love her anyway most of the time.

She makes tough decisions. Won’t cooperate with her? She will plop you down in the middle of a gang war, making sure your homies believe you’ve been a snitch, and if they should kill you – well, karma’s a bitch.

She smart, almost too smart for her own good. By turns charming and threatening, she is famous for closing the tough cases by eliciting a confession from the perpetrator when the evidence isn't enough to secure a conviction.

And brave. Did I mention brave? She may be scared, but like a good soldier, she does not let fear dictate her actions.

Throughout it all she looks terrific.

 And oh those expressions that move across her face when she savors a luscious chocolate, oozing with marshmallow or caramel, at the end of a long day. It is a face of utter sensuality and bliss. 

Or when she flirts. Or pretends she's going to apologize and then turns the apology into an evaluation: "I am so sorry that you are incompetent to do your job."

Brenda Leigh Johnson was not a super hero. She was a believable older woman character of strength and shortcomings in roughly equal measure. She struggled, she wasn’t always a good person, but she was always authentic.

She lived her values.

Brenda Leigh Johnson, I miss ya, baby.