REVIEW: Don Jon

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Don Jon
Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Written by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza

For the first half of Don Jon I was prepared to write it off as a gross, occasionally charming debut feature, but the destabilizing element introduced in the second half (Julianne Moore) throws the movie completely off the beaten path in the best possible way.  Before Moore’s character Esther enters the picture it came dangerously close to reveling in the kind of misogyny that it attempts to send up.

At first, there is just Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and, as he says, his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls and his porn.  The flashy montages of gyrating asses and blowjob lips quickly show which of those takes precedence in his life.  And, like the main character of (500) Days of Summer’s misreading of The Graduate, he is woefully misguided about the reality of the situation (he thinks it’s real).

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Lincoln

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Lincoln
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book)
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and David Strathairn

The controversy surrounding Lincoln’s depiction of African Americans has been slightly dwarfed in the wake of Django Unchained.  There was still rampant, endlessly insightful discussion of it in all corners of the internet, but its subdued, melancholy pacing doesn’t place that issue front and center, and it is decidedly less confrontational than Tarantino’s bloody Southern.

After watching Spielberg’s political epic a second time, I came away with a renewed appreciation for the skill with which it was crafted.  Tony Kushner’s flair for language, the astonishing performances by everyone from Daniel Day-Lewis to Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones, the production design- all of these meld to form a focused political thriller that ranks among Spielberg’s finest films.

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REVIEW: Lincoln

Lincoln
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book) (in part)
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones

Seeing movies after they have been stampeded over and analyzed by the critical mainstream can be both a blessing and a curse, as it is with Steven Spielberg’s latest historical filmmaking venture, Lincoln.  I often make it a point not to read reviews of movies I plan on writing about until after I’ve seen the movie and collected my thoughts, and this one is no exception.

That being said, there was an op-ed in the New York Times released by Northwestern history professor Kate Masur days before Lincoln was released nationally.  It was titled “In Spielberg’s Lincoln, Passive Black Characters,” and it addresses just what its title proclaims in a succinct, powerful fashion.  Masur is not a professional film critic, and her piece is not an evaluation of the whole production but merely a response to the specific part of it that her title describes.

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REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan (screenplay), Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer (story) and Bob Kane (characters)
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

It’s often impossible for a highly anticipated movie to live up to expectations, though Christopher Nolan certainly gives it his all in the conclusion to his Batman trilogy.  The Dark Knight Rises is as large-scale a production as almost anything that Hollywood cranks out on James Cameron’s down time, a pitch black morality play on the grandest scale imaginable.

Nolan is one of the premiere modern directorial maximalists, able to sustain brooding tone and narrative complexity while also delivering spectacle on a blockbuster scale.  His movies, however uneven in quality, are always eye-popping and visually inventive.  The Dark Knight Rises is not the near-masterpiece that its predecessor was, though like the first film in the trilogy it is still a highly admirable, disturbingly relevant vision.

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REVIEW: 50/50

50/50
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Written by: Will Reiser (screenplay)
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Huston

As you may have guessed, 50/50 has a series of choices with two possible outcomes, the most prominent of which is whether the young cancer patient played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt will live or die.  The movie also presents a choice that is unexpected given the subject matter: will it lean more heavily on comedy or drama?

The latter choice is more interesting because an audience will have to grapple with it. Once you get to know Adam (Gordon-Levitt), you’ll want him to live, and Will Reiser’s screenplay assures that you will never have mixed feelings about that.  You will about the comedy, though.  Should a movie about this be funny?  Showtime’s The Big C has proven that it is indeed possible, as long as there is a distinct human element. Thanks to the well-cast ensemble, 50/50 is mostly successful at walking the tightrope.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Inception

Inception
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard

Waves crashing to shore, then a body; these are both one of the first things we see in Inception, and one of the last.  Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated dream-thriller may wow you with its visual prowess, dazzle you with its high-ended concepts, and intrigue you with its heist-style head invading, but it has a typical Hollywood-style circular structure.

If it sounds like I’m already being hard on Nolan and his predetermined masterpiece, it’s only because you need to know right off the bat that it does not reinvent cinema the way its publicity campaign suggested.

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REVIEW: Inception

Inception
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard

Waves crashing to shore, then a body; these are both one of the first things we see in Inception, and one of the last.  Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated dream-thriller may wow you with its visual prowess, dazzle you with its high-ended concepts, and intrigue you with its heist-style head invading, but it has a typical Hollywood-style circular structure.

If it sounds like I’m already being hard on Nolan and his predetermined masterpiece, it’s only because you need to know right off the bat that it does not reinvent cinema the way it’s publicity campaign suggested.

Many reviews have pointed out all of Nolan’s influences (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix) and for good reason: Inception is chock full of moments where anyone who’s seen a sci-fi movie will chuckle to themselves.

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