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TIFF 2013: Don Jon (2013)

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It’s about as close to the perverse truth as any romantic-comedy has come close to depicting. It delivers the goods on its premise and is unique enough to distance itself from the genre. There is no denying the chemistry between its two wonderful, handsome leads and the laughs are consistent and real. Yet, one can’t help but feel that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut “Don Jon” is missing that certain climactic element. Essentially, there is nothing utterly wrong with the film itself. The fault lies in its inability to provoke any kind of meaningful reaction or reward the viewer for tagging along in the journey. Granted, the plots skeletal structure is anything but common and Levitt isn’t afraid to show a little skin, so to speak. However, the point in which the viewer joins the protagonist never diverts or scatters, resulting in a linear, anti-climactic, albeit impressive debut for Levitt.

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Jon Martello (Levitt) is a present day Don Juan who objectifies everything in his life, specifically women. His friends call him Don Jon because he is consistently able to pull “10s” every week. Soon, Jon’s addiction to internet pornography renders his sex life less than fulfilling and eventually his relationships begin to falter because of it. On his journey to discover a more satisfying love life, Jon falls for Barbara (Johansson), a beautiful woman who is obsessed with control.

Much like Joss Whedon did to the horror genre with “The Cabin in the Woods,” Levitt has disassembled, dissected, and rebuilt the conventional stereotypes and outlook of the romantic comedy. However, when blatantly poking fun at countless years of tradition and canon, the revolt better be a game changer. And for the most part, Levitt has this transformation pointed in the right direction. His outing is a raunchy, veracious, satirical romp…of course not to the same height, success, or effectiveness as Whedon and Goddard’s comedic fright-fest. However, with “Don Jon,” Levitt has genuinely created something brash, original, and straightforward. It definitely bursts with the usual charisma and wit that typically defines films of this genre and manages to lure the viewer in with likeable, terrifically performed, over-the-top characters.

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Although for the majority of its runtime, “Don Jon” is severely superficial. This reinvented concoction does offer more insight, intelligence, and endearing qualities than the majority of the genre’s entries. “Don Jon” is merely a half-realized revelation for the rom-com genre and is heavily directed at the male populous. It’s sure to not sit as well with the female market, but for those who can handle the harsh fact of differing motivations in opposite-gender relationships. It’ll conjure up some big body-aching laughs and a veritable gaze into the logical and emotional differences that continuously baffle our co-existing genders. Compared to its counterparts, “Don Jon” is a breath of fresh, sexually charged air into a genre that would rather play pretend than focus on truth-telling and authentic, situational humour.

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It’s rather comical, yet seriously obscure that I’m having this much difficulty writing up this review. As I previously stated, there isn’t anything actually wrong with the film. It’s funny, different, and Levitt, again for the most part, has done everything with his usual flair and charm. I just feel that with “Don Jon,” Levitt errs on the side of caution. As if he has intentionally pushed the envelope, but got cold feet halfway to his destination. You’ll find yourself watching the film and feel a bit naughty and excited by this new, uncharted cinematic territory. And then, when you’ve finally reached the end, flustered and gleeful, the slow realization that you weren’t overly wowed begins to take over. However, all this being said, “Don Jon” truly is an impassioned, touching, respectable debut for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. So long as he keeps chugging along this road of ingenuity and continues to carve out his own way. Levitt will have a long, prosperous career behind the camera.

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The one thing you can rely on when heading into the theatre to experience “Don Jon” is the consistent cleverness and turbulent coexistence of all the characters. Which are incredibly and ably performed by the entire cast, which features Scarlett Johansson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Julianne Moore, and Tony Danza.

Marred in heavy makeup and a thick New Jersey accent, Scarlett Johansson is as striking as ever, even though she maybe a tad incoherent. Nonetheless, in a role that significantly depends on superficiality and surface pleasures. It’s her ability to transform and power through the external distractions in order to reach internal importance that is truly remarkable. Tony Danza is down-right hilarious in his supporting role. Hopefully this will lead to his emergence from the shadows and launch him back into the mainstream. Moore is just phenomenal in her supporting role, she hasn’t been this effective and stunning in a long while. As for Levitt, he’s as effective and suave as ever, but we shouldn’t have expected anything less. Levitt does a phenomenal job while pulling double duty and really adapted both physically and mentally, not only to play and capture the role, but create it. Although I have to admit, Levitt’s portrayal here is quite the oddity when you associate him with the heartbroken romantic from “500 Days of Summer,” quite the contrast.

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It might dwell a little to close to safety, but its excess of honesty and hilarity is enough for “Don Jon” to overcome its faults. It is a respectable inception for director/writer Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Don Jon: 7.5 out of 10.

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World War Z (2013)

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Despite feeling all too much like a video game and suffering from a lack of ferocity that has made the zombie sub-genre what it is today. “World War Z” is able to, for the majority, overcome its unbalanced nature and numerous setbacks to deliver heart-racing thrills, surprisingly tense sequences, and another masterful, yet effortless performance from Brad Pitt in this piece of blockbuster eye-candy that ultimately works. While those, like myself, looking for a faithful adaptation of the source material will predictably be disappointed. “World War Z” should accomplish what it set out to achieve with its family friendly rating, high-profile names like the aforementioned Brad Pitt and Max Brooks, in addition to a big-budget which is, appeasing die-hard zombie enthusiasts and appealing to the summer crowd without alienating one or the other. Although there is little structure to speak of and that the film itself is practically void of an ending, “World War Z” thrives.

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Gerry Lane (Pitt) is a former United Nations employee living in Philadelphia. As him and his family sit in traffic, reports of a rabies outbreak has spread. Soon, Gerry and his family are overrun in chaos and destruction as a pack of these infected humans begin destroying the city and infecting others. Managing to escape with the help of an old colleague, Gerry is thrust back into action and must assist a young virologist in creating a vaccine. Gerry is reluctant, but must proceed in order to secure the safety of his family. Some time after, the infected beings are aptly titled zombies, seeing as they crave flesh and are no longer living. Gerry must seek the help of various nations and shady characters in order to find a cure.

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Regardless of how successful “World War Z” performs at the box office or is critically received. In the end, one can’t shake the feeling that a supreme opportunity was wasted here. The film is undeniably fun to watch and offers enough fresh material to rise above the typical summer dribble. Nonetheless, an adaption of Max Brooks best-selling novel should have provided more of what makes the zombie sub-genre so compelling. Brooks consistently tackles this version of an apocalyptic plague with brains just as much as brawn and sadly, this adaptation of his innovative best seller really doesn’t offer an abundance of either. That being said, what “World War Z” utterly lacks in ingenuity, it more than makes up for with undead that are almost super-human, cool CGI, and a fluid story that feels like a video game based on mission-objectives.

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From the get-go, “World War Z” plants its foundation firmly in intellect and implies that it will further dissect and depict the scientific and physical aspects of this world-wide plague. However, this set-up tails off significantly into rumours, acts of god, and a series of foreseeable cliches. Although it isn’t enough to completely disparage the film, it is rather distracting and really undermines the intelligence of the viewer. The fact that the final draft of the film was edited and reshot significantly, enough to push back its release six months really is discouraging. Yet, considering all the notions that the film was slapped together and salvaged by numerous writers with varying inputs. “World War Z” contains the right amount of visceral characters, breathtaking action, and a plethora of undead beings to triumph.

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In all honesty, the number of supremely talented writers it took to adapt “World War Z” is astounding. Each one is talented, as well as experienced and their track records aren’t filled with lacklustre efforts either. With the likes of Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods), Damon Lindelof (Star Trek Into Darkness, Prometheus), J. Michael Straczynski (Thor), and Matthew Michael Carnahan (State of Play), tackling “World War Z” shouldn’t have been the hassle it turned out to be. Nevertheless, while it may have taken more collaborates than needed, the job got done, with a bit of flare I might add. Director Marc Foster, who prior to “World War Z’s” release was still honing his craft and searching for his masterpiece, in my opinion anyway, directs another slightly above average piece, but is still yet to find his true muse. While there is some impressive camera work and Foster undoubtedly knows what he is doing behind the lens, I feel he is yet to realize his full potential.

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As for “World War Z’s” cast, which features Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, and Daniella Kertesz. It’s easy to see how one can argue that their performances are what really saved the film instead of its extensive rewrites. As always, Brad Pitt brings his usual subtle dynamism and visceral style, while continuing to build a sterling reputation. James Badge Dale is still one of the most underrated and underused actors in the industry and his performance in “World War Z” just adds fuel to the fire. Daniella Kertesz does a phenomenal job supporting Pitt and seems to have caught everyone off guard. However, while Kertesz gives an outstanding portrayal, I feel that Mireille Enos really stole the show. She easily provides the most honest and terrified take on surviving the end of the world, especially fearing for her children. Everything about her performance is truly believable and endearing.

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Although “World War Z” is missing a vibrancy that results in achromatic visuals. Its fast-moving, large-scale battles with the undead and vast destruction of man-made creations save its colourlessness. The direction and storyline, while missing individualism is passable with some good sequences sprinkled here and there. “World War Z’s” performances are seemingly the only consistency throughout the film and while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, for a film with so much potential and original criteria to compare it to, its hard to get excited over typical cinematic qualities. All in all, “World War Z” succeeds and even though on the surface it’s rock solid, underneath its superficial traits, there is gooey inconsistencies and not much merit. So, take it for what it is, an enjoyable, brainless blockbuster that’s easy on the eyes and tons of fun.

World War Z: 7 out of 10.