Don Jon

Don Jon

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Tony Danza - Dir: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt impresses more with every passing film. This time not only is he starring but he also wrote and directed. And he’s made a first rate job of all three, creating a film that is both very funny and unflinchingly honest.

He stars as Jon Martello, a handsome, very typical Italian American (or so I think – the film has had complaints from Italian Americans, much as The Godfather did in its day). His mates call him Don Jon because he picks up a different woman every weekend. But Jon has a secret: he’s addicted to internet porn. This particularly becomes a problem when he falls in love. His love interest is Scarlett Johansson also playing Italian American and hilariously - and believably - “traditional”, hooked on romantic movies and their view of life (an equally illusory view you might cleverly point out).

The subsequent ups and downs of their relationship are played out with remarkable candour, the humour never getting in the way of the home truths. To say too much would be to give too much away but there are many pleasures on display, from Danza’s foul-mouthed father to Julianne Moore’s wonderfully quirky and yet real turn. Glenne Headly and Brie Larson also pop up.

The script and direction are both excellent, keeping it a fast-moving romp despite the serious issues. There is a fair amount of sex and a lot of talk about sex, but since that’s a large part of what the film’s about it would seem odd for it not to be there. Full on - great stuff.

Shane Carruth’s debut, the ultra-clever time travel oddity Primer, was brilliant, if somewhat baffling. Long-awaited follow-up Upstream Colour is a love story in which narrative becomes increasingly less important than... the vibe. And the philosophical themes. Storywise, Kris, a woman in her twenties, has a drug forced upon her containing a worm which allows the man who did it to control her. He steals her money and ruins her life. Later she meets Jeff (Carruth himself) who may have been through the same thing. There’s also a pig farmer with a sequencer and much that appears symbolic. It looks beautiful and has a great score (both courtesy of Carruth). A unique vision: oblique, haunting, mesmerising, again brilliant and baffling.

The Canyons was a strange and very public experiment which – almost inevitably – doesn’t quite work. The plan was concocted by director Paul Schrader and writer Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho): a low-budget film shot quickly, raising finance from the stunt casting of Lindsay Lohan and porn star James Deen. What results is a Hollywood-set psychological thriller with Deen as a manipulative producer and Lohan as his squeeze. They play sleazy sexual power games and there’s a bit of murder. There’s the seed of a great film but... Deen really doesn’t have the charisma to carry it and Lohan, frankly, looks like a drugged-out mess.       

Horror comedies span a wide tonal range from gross-out grindhouse to fatuous Scary Movie parody. Somewhere in the middle is the occasional gem that manages to be both frightening and funny – you could maybe argue for the recent You’re Next (my favourite is Killer Klowns From Outer Space). It’s a hard mix to do well. Hell Baby skew towards the Scary Movie approach where gags and movie parodies take precedence over coherence. A (very pregnant) couple move into a spooky house - expect possessed pregnancy jokes before a full descent into It’s Alive! territory. Sadly, most gags miss the mark.   

The Power of Few is a film with a non-linear plot that probably looked better on paper than on screen. It follows the same twenty minutes or so several times from the perspectives of different characters, all connected, aiming to show (I think) how one person and a small decision can change everything. On the plus side it’s set in New Orleans and has Christopher Walken; on the downside it’s somewhat pretentious and largely wastes both New Orleans and Christopher Walken. There’s nothing especially bad here, but it all seems a little pointless. 


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