Don Jon – Movie Review

Talk about having your cake and eating it too. For his debut as a writer and director, Joseph Gordon-Levitt pens a script that gives him the opportunity to grope and “bed” a bevy of gorgeous women (capping it off with Scarlett Johansson), and gets the last laugh by putting a fair amount of depth into his study of a very shallow man. “Don Jon” feels a bit like a comedic version of “Shame,” the infamous wow-look-at-Michael-Fassbender’s-penis movie, but in reality the two leads are alike only in that they’re broken men who like to score. Where “Shame” was more of a character study, “Don Jon” is focused on a societal problem.

Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is a buff, handsome, free-living Jerseyite. Each week, he and his two best buds hit the club, and Jon manages to score a “10” every time, earning him the nickname Don Jon. And yet, even after sex with these beautiful women, Jon heads to his laptop to surf for porn. (We don’t know this for a fact, but http://www.pornhub.com may be the first adult web site to strike a product placement deal in a mainstream motion picture.) One night, he sees Barbara (Johannson), and is positively smitten, but still likes his porn. The two soon date, and when she discovers his vice, she’s horrified, even though her fascination with Hollywood romance films (the film within the film has two killer cameos) has given her equally warped notions of love. Enter Esther (Julianne Moore), a fellow night school student in Jon’s class who’s able to give Jon the one thing he truly needs: perspective.

Truth be told, “Don Jon” probably seems better because it was written and directed by someone who wasn’t previously known for writing or directing. The element of surprise works heavily in Gordon-Levitt’s favor here, though that’s not to say the praise is undeserved. We’ve seen other actors try their luck behind the camera, and fail miserably (ahem, Laurence Fishburne, “Once in the Life”), so give credit where credit is due: Joseph Gordon-Levitt has an eye for directing and writes direct, believable dialogue.

He does, however, stack the deck against Johannson’s character in a ridiculous manner, and to her credit, she seems to relish playing the gum-snapping JAP (emphasis on the P) with a pathological drive to call all, and we mean all, the shots in their relationship. It makes sense that Gordon-Levitt would do this – after all, Jon is the protagonist, and the surefire way to redeem him is to make his dream girl even more messed up than he is – but one could argue that he’s taking the path of least resistance by doing so. He does a better job with the rest of the cast, particularly Jon’s family members. Tony Danza gets his best role in decades as Jon’s mouthy, needlessly aggressive father, and positively owns it. Brie Larson plays Jon’s sister, and she’s equally funny for the opposite reason: she’s Silent Bob with a smart phone, and when she speaks, you should listen. Moore was an inspired choice for Esther. Arguably the most wounded character in the movie, Moore masterfully taps into both Esther’s free spirit and her pain.

It would be very easy to point fingers when discussing the objectification of women, and while he does make examples out of a few offenders (namely Carl’s Jr.), Gordon-Levitt is more interested in finding a solution than laying blame. That Jon’s solution turns out to be unconventional adds to the charm of “Don Jon.” Heck, the fact that one can think of a movie about a guy hooked on porn as charming is high praise.

 

7 out of 10

 

 

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Rush – Movie Review

It’s the battle of the Formula One alpha males as the real-life rivalry between hard-nosed Austrian Niki Lauda and British playboy James Hunt is given full, glorious vent in Ron Howard‘s exciting car-race movie.

Aussie Chris Hemsworth is very convincing as the flaky, womanising Brit who puts fun in first place, but it is German actor Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds) who takes the flag in the acting stakes.

Serious to a fault, his Lauda is a study in straight talk, calculated risk taking and common sense, qualities that often put him at odds with everybody else. And though it might sound like a collection of German stereotypes, Bruhl gives his character soul with the occasional smile and showing of vulnerability.

As well as brandishing his usual mastery for pacing gutsy dramas, Howard’s command over his division of digital artists results in some great sequences once the action moves to the track.

Yet as terrific as these moments are – the recreation of Lauda’s famous crash is stunning – the film’s real thrill is in watching the relationship develop between two bitter adversaries who can’t help admiring each other.

The oft-used term “bromance” has fallen out of fashion of late, but it certainly applies here, though in a way as warped as the tracks these guys raced each other on.

 

8 out of 10

 

 

Gravity – Movie Review

A mishap in orbit sends astronauts involved in a routine space shuttle mission spinning wildly off course, setting in train an utterly compelling, brilliantly mounted, teeth-clenching adventure of survival against increasingly dire odds.

Breathlessly paced with a procession of nerve-racking cliffhanger moment, Gravity is not just one of the best films about humans in space, it’s one of the most tense tales about the power of the survival instinct.

Director Alfonso Cuaron demonstrated his love of long shots in Children of Men (2006)  and here he and cinematographer   Emmanuel Lubezki generate jaw-dropping degrees of tension by refusing to cut away or around the action as the astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) try staying alive in an environment designed to be lifeless. In one quiet masterpiece of a moment, the camera drifts into, then out, of a space helmet.

Gravity is a great film, both as sheer action entertainment and as a contemplation about humanity’s place in the Cosmos, with a second viewing of the film revealing a strong, very subtle spiritual subtext underlying all the science and technology.

Technically, the film adheres very closely to the cold realities of space as a soundless, frictionless, unforgiving vacuum. Visually, frightening sequences of screen-filling spectacle as space stations disintegrate are countered by unexpectedly lyrical moments of stillness and beauty. The film is going to be the one to beat come Oscar time for its visuals and cinematography.

More impressive, though, is Gravity’s evocative sound design, something you don’t usually notice during a film. With so many space movies featuring sound in space, here the very absence of sound is used to amplify the impact of what you’re seeing.

Given how poorly 3D has been deployed by scores of films since 2009’s Avatar, Gravity also stands out as that rarest of all things – a film that actually should be seen in 3D, if for no other reason than to witness the golden moment where the entire life of a stranded astronaut is embodied in the floating blob of a teardrop.

 

10 out of 10

 

 

Prisoners – Movie Review

During a pleasant Thanksgiving lunch in small-town working-class suburbia, two little girls are abducted in broad daylight.

That’s the straightforward premise for a gruelling, gripping story of anger, loss, justice and the hunger for hope.

The parents are naturally frantic as the stress of the search presses on them like a giant corkscrew, but while there are plenty of high-end emotions coursing through this splendid, solid, engrossing crime drama, it’s the many smaller, quieter moments that scream loudest about every parent’s most dreaded nightmare.

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve – whose mastery of powerful dramas was in full flourish in 2011’s remarkable Incendies – draws great performances from a top-drawer ensemble.

Jake Gyllenhaal is all eyebrows and angst as the dedicated cop; Paul Dano is unnerving as the mentally deficient suspect; Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow) hits a career high as one of the fathers; as the mothers, Maria Bello and Viola Davis (The Help) capture the unending torture of trying to cope with such open-ended trauma.

But, when all is said, this is Hugh Jackman‘s film.

As the frustrated, financially strapped father, he goes from blurting out his rage to channelling it in the most frightening way when he does not get the answers he wants from the police about where the girls are.

Jackman was terrific in Les Miserables; with his Wolverine franchise he proved his smarts by making us care about a second-tier superhero. Yet those films were well within his established wheelhouse. Here, Jackman proves his chops as a meaty dramatic actor capable of handling hard emotions and tough scenes.

Given the hot-blooded, hot-button nature of its story, and the propensity of directors these days to cut cut cut, it takes a lot for a film to step back from the obvious, bide its time and unravel slowly.

Prisoners does that; it’s like a coiled spring of tension that gets tighter and tigher until the film’s brilliantly handled final moments. Rarely does a film grant audiences the intelligence to intuitively understand the subtleties of storytelling, and then reward them with jaw-dropping payoffs.

Easily one of the films of the year – and what a great year for films it has turned out to be – Prisoners is so carefully nuanced that a second viewing reveals just how deftly the story is unfurled. It’s definitely an example of a film that gains with a repeat visit.

And if there is one thing above all else to recommend Prisoners, it’s the way it captures that white-hot skewer of fear that must run through the heart and mind of every parent who has ever suddenly looked around them and thought, “where’s my kid?”

 

9 out of 10

 

 

Only God Forgives – Movie Review

Some films seem designed to polarise audiences, and this edgy, minimalist exercise in excess is one of them. Set in the sweaty squalor of neon-tinged Bangkok – do good things ever happen in this city? – Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive; the Pusher trilogy) presides over a feverish blend of ultra-violence, corruption, bad mothering and karaoke. In a wonderfully foul-mouthed performance, the normally classy Kristin Scott Thomas arrives in town as an angry criminal matriarch to command her taciturn criminal son (Ryan Gosling from Drive) to exact revenge for the murder of his brother. He’s reluctant to do so, though, on moral grounds, which displeases her. Simultaneously seedy and artsy, the film has a jagged stop-start pace that will mesmerise some, bore others and confound those left over. But if your hunger for something different has been sharpened by all the prequels, sequels, remakes and reboots around at the moment, this weird, twisted, bloody film is bound to satisfy.

 

8 out of 10

 

 

We’re The Millers – Movie Review

At the risk of making We’re The Millers sound like an above average comedy – which isn’t the case – it’s actually funnier and more enjoyable than you’re probably expecting. In his first lead, former Saturday Night Live writer Jason Sudeikis steps up as slacker Dave Clark, a small-time pot dealer who recruits three neighbours (Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter, Emma Roberts) to pose as his family in order to smuggle drugs across the border. Padded with episodic plot detours that vary in success, this predictable road-trip comedy is amusing but unable to justify its overlong running-time, straining as it runs out of steam and stretches beyond the film’s natural stopping point. Still, there are enough decent gags and genuinely funny lines to make it worth your time (“Fuck off real-life Flanders” is particularly inspired), while young British actor Will Poulter is impressive and Jennifer Aniston is winning as always.

 

7 out of 10

 

 

Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox – Movie Review

Normally it’s said, “the book is better than the movie”, however with DC Entertainment’s Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox it’s the opposite.

Based on the graphic novel Flashpoint by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert; Barry Allen wakes up in a timeline similar to the one he calls home, but quickly discovers several startling differences. For starters: his mother is alive, Iris his wife is married to someone else, and he is without his abilities. While the Justice League doesn’t exist in this timeline; they are represented by different versions of themselves. In a world where villains are heroes and heroes are villains, the Flash will need to find help from unlikely “heroes” in order to restore the timeline, hopefully before the war between Aquaman and Wonder Woman destroys the world.

Jay Oliva returns to direct Flashpoint Paradox, since the last DC animated feature film Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1 & 2, and with fan favorites returning such as Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Dana Delany as Lois Lane, and Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan this should be quite the production. Adding weight to the already impressive cast is Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) as Cyborg, Sam Daly as Superman (son of Tim Daly who voiced Superman in the animated TV show), and Kevin McKidd as the alternate Batman.

This story puts the Flash center stage; Justin Chambers does a more than adequate job as the Flash, but some of his lines suffered from either weak deliveries or were just too ridged. However his opposite in the movie Professor Zoom is voiced by C. Thomas Howell, and he give a solid performance, even though most of the dialogue was lifted straight from the comic books.

James Krieg wrote the screenplay and struck a nice balance adapting the five main issues while incorporating story elements from the additional 20 tie-ins. What we end up with is a well-constructed story; even if it feels abrupt (it’s only 75 minutes). Considering this story could have been bogged down with too many characters and stories, the liberties Krieg takes not only flesh out the world but kept the story self-contained.

The inclusion of Lex Luthor aiding Deathstroke to find the WMDs Aquaman possesses was a nice touch instead of the convoluted original Deathstroke pirate story. Whereas the Kraken was at least in one of the tie-ins and actually served as a better alternative to a gigantic amazon, but the addition of a Cerberus and a Minotaur feels more like an anime checklist requirement.

The animation style is heavily influenced by modern day anime (think the Second Renaissance from the Animatrix) it isn’t too distracting. With that said though it isn’t very flattering for the alternate versions of Aquaman and Wonder Woman, but it does add to the already emaciated Superman. It also helps to detail the violence in the war between Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and “surface dwellers”; which might leave viewers feeling drained seeing a world without hope or heroes, and ravished by death.

This might be a case of be careful what you wish for, because this movie is a departure from the kid friendly animated movies we’ve come to expect from the studio that brought us Batman: The Animated Series. Although it’s rated PG-13 it is unlike any other DC animated movie in terms of excitement, shock value, and violence, which at times could be distracting. As Jay Oliva set the bar for gloom and violence in The Dark Knight Returns and raised it in this film. What can audiences expect from 2014′s Justice League: War?

Overall the film does a better job telling the story than the graphic novel. It clearly defines the conflict the Flash has and adds suspense & tension to the decision he ultimately has to make. Where the graphic novel felt bland and even anti-climactic, the movie conveys the emotional and climatic moments in a more effective manner.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox succeeds wildly where the comic fell flat. By incorporating choice elements from the comic event tie-ins to the main narrative, it hits all the right notes to not only create an intense thriller, but also prove that Flash can carry his own film.

This is a seriously hardcore cartoon with lots of brutal violence, and while sometimes the line is crossed, it’s generally a good amount of fun, especially when Batman is involved.

 

9 out of 10