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. 

Advertisements

The Weekly DISCussion

Today is a special Tuesday edition of the Weekly DISCussion, even though The Weekly DISCussion has been posted on three different days in the last three weeks.

Anyway, this week’s Must See DVD of the Week is: Image

After posting last week’s Must Stream of the Week, Out of Sight, I was reminded of another film written and directed by the same screenwriter, 2007’sThe Lookout. The Lookout stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a promising young hockey star, who through some poor decision making and a curve-ball from fate, is critically injured in a car accident that cuts his career short and sends him on a completely different path. Gordon-Levitt plays Chris, who is relegated to working at a bank as a janitor and dealing with a tremendously limiting head injury that affects his memory. Chris is subsequently lured into a heist plot to rob the bank that he works for. This is a very successful and effective thriller, well worth the effort it takes to seek it out.

Netflix Must Stream of the Week: Image

Kevin Smith’s Clerks is a miracle movie, in that it’s a miracle it got made. It is a ridiculously low-budget comedy that puts all of its faith in that hopes that there is a geeky, raunchy audience looking for a dark comedy filled with brilliant dialogue being delivered by bad actors. Turns out this audience exists and has made Kevin Smith a huge success. Clerks is where it all started. The plot is superfluous, following a Quick Stop employee who has to go in on his day off. It utilizes a “day in the life” format as we watch Dante perform menial daily tasks as he interacts with a revolving door of strange characters who populate Smith’s beloved New Jersey. This is a very enjoyable film, and it is fun to go back and see Smith’s cast of favorites in their rookie film. After Clerks, have a geeky Netflix Kevin Smith marathon with Chasing Amy, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and Season 1 of Comic Book Men.

Lincoln

Lincoln Steven Spielberg is quite possibly America’s most recognizable director. His career spans decades and has produced some of the most memorable films and characters in American cinematic history. Nonetheless, his prominent status has caused skeptics to write him off as superficial, crowd-pleasing, overly melodramatic, and at times corny. These attacks on Spielberg are not always unwarranted, however, his body of work is mostly impeccable and, at times, avant-garde. With Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s 31st film as director, Spielberg focuses on the 16th president’s chaotic battle to pass the 13th amendment. While the battle to make the film was also rigorous, it seems that the final product is worthy of both battles.

Daniel Day-Lewis once again disappears into his role, playing Abraham Lincoln in such a way that it is hard to imagine anyone else capable of playing this historical figure. Day-Lewis plays the part with a quiet confidence. Lincoln’s voice is portrayed with a surprisingly warm, high registered tone. This is apparently, historically accurate and is a nice touch. Spielberg seems to know what he has here and takes a subtler approach from the technical aspect, allowing Day-Lewis and a host of other A-List actors to propel the film. Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader are particularly good as Thaddeus Stevens and W.N. Bilbo, respectively. This subtlety from the director’s chair is a good decision, and while Spielberg’s approach is subtle, the film is complex. It doesn’t hurt that Oscar nominees and winners are in dozens of supporting roles, prompting a superior ensemble experience. Writer Tony Kushner adapts Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography expertly without losing any majesty. Kushner’s dialogue is Shakespearean at times and great importance is placed on what is said, not just who is saying it.

Lincoln wisely examines the final few months of the president’s life as he begins his second term. This is not a traditional bio-pic; it separates itself from the routine of that genre and simply tells a great story about a president who happens to live his life through a series of great stories. Lincoln’s political objective is to pass the 13th amendment abolishing slavery through the House of Representatives before the inauguration. This plan hinges on swaying lame-duck Democrats who are about to leave office to support his position. The film is truly an allegory for contemporary politics. It is very hard to watch Lincoln and not draw some pretty steep comparisons with the pageantry and stubbornness of today’s political landscape.

Most of Lincoln works very well. Lincoln the storyteller, Lincoln the lawyer, Lincoln the husband, and Lincoln the politician are explored evenly and with merit. The only major flaw comes when the film attempts to examine Lincoln the father. It is a well-known fact that Steven Spielberg has had some father issues. He often directs films with protagonists who have a dysfunctional relationship with their fathers. In Lincoln, this element is investigated through Lincoln’s relationship with his oldest son, Bob (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Unfortunately, this story is immensely under-developed and symbolically vapid. While Lincoln’s home life is deeply important to understanding the man, the misunderstanding between Lincoln and Bob leads to one mildly interesting scene that still would have been mildly interesting even if Bob was not a part of it. Regardless of Bob’s significance, the conflict between father and son seems thrown together compared to the more pressing conflicts in the film, resulting in a missed opportunity.

Meanwhile, Lincoln offers plenty for history buffs to sink their teeth into, and yet the story is accessible to all audiences. Spielberg takes some narrative chances to use unknown history to make well-known history compelling and interesting, especially in the film’s final act. This is Spielberg’s finest effort in some time. All in all, we are given a portrait of a very great man, and we are reminded of what qualities make a man great. A-

Looper

Every fall season a movie comes along that lacks the hype and pandering for an audience. Instead, it is released and looks to succeed by word of mouth. Last year that film was the still under-appreciated Drive; this year my top contender is Looper.

Looper begins by introducing us to Joe, a barely recognizable Joseph Gordon-Levitt who performs the title task as a “Looper.” Looper is a time-travel story, but roots itself firmly in a mostly-recognizable version of the near future. The only major difference is that time travel is invented soon after the present setting of the film, which allows for a somewhat confusing, but well executed, original story. Loopers are hired guns who kill for a futuristic mob that sends their hits 30 years into the past before time travel was invented. This allows for mob enemies to simply disappear in their present time and be disposed of in an earlier time when they wouldn’t be investigated. Loopers are paid well to shoot first, ask no questions, and most of all be punctual as hits will suddenly appear in a predetermined location at an exact time. Allowing a “loop” to “run” results in some very unsavory consequences. The downside to Looping is that one day, every Looper’s loop must close, which means the future version of yourself will be sent back for immediate execution. When this happens, a Looper gets a big final pay day and 30 years to enjoy it before the inevitable.

The premise for this film is imaginative and dealt with in a surprisingly cohesive way by director Rian Johnson. As with all great time-travel films, rules must be established so that the viewer may understand exactly what the limits are within these multiple dimensions. I provided a short discussion about some classic time travel theories in a previous blog post that you can read here. In short, this particular film’s view is similar to the Back to the Future variety where you can co-exist with multiple versions of yourself and events that affect the younger version will also impact the later version. Thus, when Joe finds himself face to face with his older self, played by Bruce Willis, he inadvertently allows him to run. However, Willis’ character can not simply run since he knows the consequences against Gordon-Levitt will affect him too.

The story’s arc is much more far-reaching and complex than a cat-mouse chase between alternate versions of Joe. As we learn more about Joe’s future from Bruce Willis, our sympathies are toyed with and our moral centers are jarred endlessly. Johnson’s screenplay and direction provide powerful and conflicting motivations for both characters, making the movie deeply engaging and surprisingly fresh. Additional story lines regarding a futuristic crime boss (Jeff Daniels), a fellow Looper (Paul Dano), and farmhouse mother and her son (Emily Blunt and an Oman-esque Pierce Gagnon, respectively) all flesh out this film and give it real dimension and pragmatism, regardless of its sci-fi, time travel plot.

Looper is a tightly wound, entertaining film that has something for everyone to enjoy. There is a slight dragging feeling at the close of its second act, but this perceived lull is making way for a strong and dominant conclusion. In summary, this review only touches on the surface of what Looper accomplishes; there are multiple surprises in store for all audiences who see it, so let the word of mouth begin! A-

Premium Rush

Premium RushPremium Rush

Director: David Koepp

Screenwriter: David Koepp

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon

Once upon a time, August was considered the dumping ground for mediocre films that, for whatever reason, have lost the love and support of their studios and were left to duke it out for the “end of summer” scraps. Lately, this has seemed to change. Sylvester Stallone brought The Expendables in 2010, which grossed over $100 million. It’s sequel, Expendables 2, is enjoying a strong reception by audiences, bringing in $28 million in its opening weekend. Last year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an August release and made $176 million with a sequel slated for 2014.

This year’s August releases are no exception. First, Bourne Legacy, then ParaNorman and Expendables 2, and now the electrifying Premium Rush. Premium Rush puts a microscope over the lives of NYC bike messengers. This is a very misunderstood and under-appreciated microcosm of modern civilization, which makes it ripe for a brilliant, late-Summer action flick. Joseph Gordon-Levitt returns to his indie roots as Wilee, a thrill-seeking bike messenger who’s steel-framed bike is custom equipped with no gears and no brakes. Wilee’s philosophy on bikes is like his philosophy on life; “I like to ride…can’t stop, don’t want to.” With the introduction of a McGuffin in the form of an envelope, this movie is off and it doesn’t want to stop either.

The envelope entrusted to Wilee for delivery is also desired by corrupt NYPD officer, Bobby Monday, played on full-tilt by Michael Shannon. The cat and mouse chase format is kept fresh with a tricky non-linear timeline, some imaginative multi-dimensional stunts, and enjoyable supporting characters like Wilee’s girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) and his jealous pumped-up rival, Manny (Wole Parks). I was surprised how much I enjoyed Premium Rush, but this is a film that is quite aware of its escapist qualities and goes to great lengths to protect them and not exploit them. Writer/Director David Koepp keeps the pace quick and the audience cheering. I hope August continues to see fun, exciting movies like Premium Rush, so that movie studios have no dumping ground, but rather an obligation to simply release good movies. B+