Don Jon

ImageDon Jon presents a surprisingly adult perspective on relationships.  First time writer, director, and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt said he came up with the idea for Don Jon during the filming of a film called 50/50 with Seth Rogan.  In that film, Rogan (who wrote and starred in 50/50) tries to help his friend, played by Gordon-Levitt, through the drama of his recent Cancer diagnosis by coaxing him to lose himself in meaningless sex and to use his Cancer as a sympathy device with women.  Gordon-Levitt’s character Jon in Don Jon feels like a combination of those two characters, which is quite fascinating.

Don Jon, in essence, is a modern retelling of the classic Don Juan legends.  Here, Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is a slick, confident ladies man – handsome, confident, and consumed with his appearance and the appearance of those with whom he desires intimacy.  As we get to know Jon, we are immersed in his chauvinism and addictive personality.  He hits the gym for his patterned out workout, he hits the church for his prepared confessions, and he hits the Internet for his regular masturbatory sessions.  He also hits the clubs nightly with his friends where they rate women on their appearance, hoping for the elusive “dime” or perfect 10.  That “dime” appears in the form of Barbara (Scarlett Johansson).  From the moment Jon and Barbara begin their romance, Don Jon stops being a character piece and starts being an intriguing look at adult relationships and how the opposite sexes view each other.  In most retellings of Don Juan legends, the protagonist’s sinful ways are dealt with very one-dimensionally in that he is punished for taking advantage of those around him.  Gordon-Levitt tries something different.  He tells a far more relatable story about how both men and women are guilty of attaching unreal expectations on each other due to stereotypes perpetuated by a society that profits on obsession; for men it’s the porn industry and for women it’s the fairy-tale romantic stories in the movies.

As Jon and Barbara’s relationship continues, Jon’s addiction with porn complicates things because Jon values the virtual more than the physical.  Meanwhile, Barbara’s addiction to romantic love stories puts unreal expectations on how Jon is supposed to live his life if he’s going to be with her.  All of this is explored with a careful eye by Gordon-Levitt, the director.  The culmination of which is his subtle introduction of Esther (Julianne Moore) as an older classmate in Jon’s night school course.  Gordon-Levitt did wonders for his film by including Moore, and it is apparent from the moment she appears.  His most impressive camera work, acting, and staging occurs in this act, and it all strengthens the film as a whole.

Gordon-Levitt has made a fine exploration of one sub-section of modern adult relationships.  While some scenes seem a bit forced in terms of situation and/or dialogue (i.e. the curtain rod scene between Jon and Barbara), most of what he does works very well.  Gordon-Levitt also brilliantly casts Tony Danza in a small part as his character’s father and gets an excellent little performance out of him.  It may not be time for Academy Award winning filmmaker, Joseph Gordon-Levitt just yet, but he does show promise behind the camera apart from in front of it.  B+

Don Jon is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes.  It’s a good looking, well acted look at some modern aspects of adult relationships. 

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Prisoners

ImagePrisoners is an outstanding new mystery/thriller that manages to sustain its tension right to the last second.If you have seen the trailer, you know quite a bit about Prisoners.Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a construction worker who lives in a quiet New England suburb with his wife (Maria Bello), teenage son, and six year old daughter. While spending Thanksgiving with the family of his life-long friend and neighbor, Franklin Birch (Terrance Howard), Keller and Franklin discover that both of their daughters are suddenly missing.After frantically searching the area, the only lead they have is a strange RV that was parked in the area.With the help of Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the police, they are able to track down the RV and apprehend a suspect (Paul Dano), but due to his mental incapacity and lack of evidence, he is released.This sends Prisoners in a harrowing new direction as Keller and Franklin wade through some ethically murky waters in the search for their daughters.

Prisoners does a phenomenal job of keeping its cards close to the vest.In its transition from drama to revenge thriller, director Denis Villenuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski do not force the film in any one direction continuously playing with the audience’s sensibilities.Villenuve and Guzikowski are relative newcomers to the scene, although Villenuve did helm the 2010 Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee, Incendies.This is also a very smart movie in that it is not a run of the mill type of thriller.Several nuanced touches and motifs present themselves that allow the film to be absorbed to a deeper level, resulting in a film that stays with you long after you leave the theater.Take special note of the film’s opening scene and revisit it after having seen the movie for a taste of what I’m talking about.

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Holy smokes! Look at all of those awards…sorry Paul Dano.

The film manages the gripping tone of films like Silence of the Lambs or Zodiac.The film also looks great.It was shot by Roger Deakins, known for his work with the Coen Brothers on most of their projects.With Prisoners, Deakins uses his static and deliberate camera movements to enhance every suspenseful opportunity.It’s a tremendously well-crafted picture and a finely acted one as well.The film boasts Academy Award winners and nominees aplenty, and all of them are looking for more in this film.Gyllanhaal is especially good at elevating the traditional detective character to something more relatable, raw, and grounded.This is, however, Jackman’s movie in every way.He takes the audience on a wild ride of emotion bringing just the right amount of crazy to keep us from judging his choices too harshly.

Prisoners is not just a good start to the fall movie season, it sets the bar.Few films offer such chilling emotion, engrossing action, and captivating performances, especially with running times of 158 minutes!This is truly an excellent film.A

Prisoners is rated R an has a running time of 2 hours and 38 minutes.Use the restroom before you go in because you won’t want to miss a second of it.

The Spectacular Now

ImageThe Spectacular Now delivers a powerful and deeply cautionary story about two high school seniors improbably drawn together. When party boy, Sutter (Miles Teller) is discovered passed out on a stranger’s lawn by nice-girl Aimee (Shailene Woodley) it is far from love at first sight, but there is something. That something is part of what makes The Spectacular Now so good. It somehow avoids much of the cliché trappings of traditional coming of age films, resulting in a very engaging and emotionally relatable experience.

The Spectacular Now introduces Sutter at the start of senior year, just as his long time relationship with Cassidy (Brie Larson) has come to a sudden end causing him to ponder what he is supposed to do now. The “Now” in The Spectacular Now is intriguing. As youth culture perpetually twists the philosophical message behind Romantic individualism, what was once an ideology for adventure has been warped into a sort of assumed invincibility. This slight alteration has resulted in the YOLO (You Only Live Once) anthem that is bellowed by teens before doing a likely regrettable action. Thus, Sutter’s contemplation on what to do “now” is analogous as he is not so much concerned with his future, as one might expect, but with literarally what to do right now, with little thought towards the future at all. This sets the context for a much richer tapestry, often overlooked by other romantic films of this type. Much of the credit for why this works can be given to Teller and Woodley as their impeccably authentic performances brilliantly build the core relationship that was central to Tim Tharp’s novel. The novel was adapted, in part, by 500 Days of Summer screenwriter, Scott Neustadter, which accounts for its breezy tone overall but with a hint of something looming just out of sight. Aimee’s character is used to inject a viewpoint often disregarded by Sutter, and as Sutter and Aimee’s relationship evolves so does the complexity of Sutter’s life. Sutter’s haphazard lifestyle has been molded by a combination of society and environment to a degree that his character remains entirely sympathetic. The film may be a bit simplistic in its sections dealing with the others in Miles’ life including his sister, mother, boss, and father, but it works beautifully as a metaphor for the richness that life can potentially offer if one can look beyond the “now” and into one more “spectacular,” which can be more of a challenge than one might think. A-

The Spectacular Now is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 35 minutes. It is a brilliant showcase for these two young stars-to-be. It is better than the average romantic love story and is a nice reminder for how these types of films need not draw from the same old cliché well in order to please audiences.