Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Although better known for blockbuster screenplays such as JURASSIC PARK and SPIDER-MAN, David Koepp directed the sparkling and sophisticated 2008 romantic comedy GHOST TOWN, which he co-wrote with John Kamps.  He and Kamps reunite here for his next directorial effort -- a fleet, modest thriller that never overstays its welcome.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee, a New York City bicycle messenger who believes in speed but forgoes brakes and gears, to the chagrin of girlfriend and fellow delivery agent, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez).  His dispatcher sends Wilee on a “premium rush” assignment, and thus the film’s clock starts ticking.  His pick up is from Vanessa’s roommate Nima (Jamie Chung), and the visibly distressed young woman implores Wilee to deliver her envelope only to Sister Chen.  Before Wilee gets on his bike, a suit named Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) intercepts him, claims a mistake has been made, and asks for the package back.  But there are rules in the delivery business, and Wilee takes off with Monday in hot pursuit.  We find out in flashback that Monday has a serious gambling problem and owes many dangerous people.  His best hope is to confiscate Wilee’s envelope, which contains a ticket that he can exchange for sufficient cash to pay off his creditors.  Wilee must use all his resources and skills to outsmart and outmaneuver Monday.  Filled with clever plot twists and exciting bicycle stunts, Koepp and Kamps’ cat and mouse caper also gives its characters sufficient quirks and shading to elevate a charming, low-tech action picture into something a cut above.  And Koepp has a reliable cast to deliver the goods.  Gordon-Levitt is the perfect everyday hero as the reckless but honorable Wilee.  We easily believe both his abilities (he does a number of his own stunts) and his fallibility.  Likewise Shannon makes for a relatable yet reprehensible villain.  We feel for him even as we root against him.  Koepp keeps the film moving at breakneck speed -- breezing past occasional plot contrivances and self-conscious conceits -- to deliver all that he promised and more.

Friday, September 7, 2012


Director Benoit Jacquot’s atmospheric, intimate film begins on July 14, 1789, the day Parisians stormed the Bastille and commenced a violent uprising that rippled throughout France and engulfed the monarchy and aristocracy.  The horrors of that day are never seen, but the news travels in terrified (and occasionally graphic) whispers to the estate in Versailles where Louis XVI (Xavier Beauvois) and Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) reside with their attendant nobles.  That day begins like most others for Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux).  She scurries to the royal apartments, is scolded by lady-in-waiting Mme Campan (Noémie Lvovsky), and reads to her self-absorbed queen.  The young woman covets her access to Marie Antoinette and suspects that her benefactor may secretly desire more from her.  Sidonie’s fantasy has some basis, since rumors swirl linking the queen romantically to married friend Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen).  This inappropriate behavior is but one item in a long list of grievances against the queen and the government.  After their success at the Bastille, the rebels circulate a death list upon which the names of the royals and many of the resident aristocracy, including M de Polignac, reside.  Sidonie learns this inside information from archivist Jacob Nicolas Moreau (Michel Robin), a confidante also marked for death.  This world of which Sidonie so desperately wants to be a part has begun to crumble.  The screenplay by Gilles Taurand and Jacquot (from the novel by Chantal Thomas) takes Sidonie’s point of view, and therefore our understanding of the dire situation often feels incomplete.  Yet this only adds to the anxiety and dread.  Like the sheltered aristocrats whose names have been listed, we feel confused, blindsided and left helpless by outside events.  Jacquot never excuses the nobility’s vacuity but quietly reveals the humanity lurking beneath the surface.  Seydoux and, particularly, Lvovsky are wonderful.  But Kruger’s performance towers above all others and offers a compelling glimpse of the shrewd, passionate woman trapped within the perfectly coiffed exterior.