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Don Jon

There are certain actors that, as a general rule, don’t make bad movies. You can probably find an exception here and there, but for the most part, these actors choose daring roles in audacious movies that are in a capable director’s hands. They know exactly what they’re doing. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of those actors. From 2005’s underseen “Brick” to the emotional “50/50” to one of the most honest explorations of love ever put to screen in “(500) Days of Summer,” he has proven himself as one of today’s most versatile, and underrated, actors. His directorial debut, “Don Jon,” lacks the visual flair or steady pacing a more experienced director can obtain, but the quality is still there. From laughs to tears to some surprising and genuine meaning, “Don Jon” is a delight.

Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a ladies man. He’s so successful with picking up women on a week to week basis that his friends actually call him “The Don.” He has no problem showing up at a club, meeting a girl, seducing her and taking her home for some late night fun. The problem is he considers sex secondary to his one true passion: porn. Put simply, he’s a junkie, someone who watches porn dozens of times a week, only to confess to his priest and be absolved of his sins. However, he soon meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a knock-out he considers to be a perfect 10 in regards to looks. For the first time ever, he begins dating her, breaking his streak of hooking up with a new girl every week, but his love of porn and her strong hatred of it is going to strain their relationship.

“Don Jon” is a strange breed. It has central characters that aren’t good people, or even interesting ones. Aside from the title character, most are throwaway, including Jon’s two friends and his sister who stares into her phone the entire movie until speaking some words of wisdom near the end, and many of them do and say things that make you wonder why we should care at all about them. Even Jon has anger issues, particularly while driving, which is shown through random segues from scene to scene. While one scene culminates into him punching through the side window of a motorist’s car, the compilation of these scenes culminate to nothing. There’s no reason for this other than to create ill will towards a character we’re supposed to enjoy watching.

Yet the movie has a soul, even while some of the characters arguably don’t. Although most Hollywood movies portray sex and sexuality in ways that glamorize it to unrealistic heights, “Don Jon” looks at sex from a more spiritual view, despite the pornography focused central story. Jon is obsessed with porn and considers it the pinnacle of sexuality, something that can’t be topped by someone with whom he’s physically engaging. When Barbara comes along, he says he’s in love, but as he expresses his love to her, he says she’s “the most beautiful thing” he’s ever laid his eyes on. His love is purely for her aesthetic qualities and what she could potentially offer him in bed. He fails to realize the shallow and selfish person underneath those looks.

When they finally hop in the sack, she, unsurprisingly, fails to match the feelings watching pornography gives him. This is because he’s not truly forming a connection. Yet as the film goes on, he grows. From sources I won’t spoil here, Jon learns the true value of sex. He learns that sex can be something more than getting off, but rather something special between two people. It’s an interesting turn of events and a great exploration of what sex can offer aside from the obvious pleasures, even if the previous focus on porn addiction is simpleminded at best.

“Don Jon” isn’t a long film—a mere 90 minutes, including opening and closing credits—which may be why its themes don’t resonate as much as they should, but in a cinematic world that seems to value sex over love, we shouldn’t shun a movie that sees deeper meaning in the former, even while it mostly ignores the latter.

Don Jon receives 4/5



Writer/director Rian Johnson is one of the most creative and talented filmmakers working today. He changed the way film noirs were looked at with 2005’s Brick and in 2008, he made the wonderful and underrated The Brothers Bloom. His latest, Looper, reunites him with his Brick star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the results are astounding. It’s the biggest mind-trip to hit movie theaters since 2010’s Inception, but whereas that film nailed its own internal logic, but failed emotionally, Looper nails both. It’s never confusing, it never seems to contradict itself (though, admittedly, repeat viewings may lead to plot holes) and it toys with your emotions, culminating in a satisfying ending that will send chills down your spine.

The year is 2044 and time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but it will be in 30 years. Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper. His job is to kill people sent back in time, people that his mysterious employers don’t want around anymore. It’s a cushy job that pays well, but it has one huge drawback. Because time travel is illegal in the future, his employers want to leave no trace of their Loopers, so when they decide a Looper’s contract is up, they send their future self back in time to be disposed of. After the younger Looper kills his older self, his contract is over and he has 30 years to live before his time comes. This is called “closing the loop.” However, if you fail to kill your future self, the powers that be, led by Abe (Jeff Daniels), a future man sent back in time to run things, come after you. Joe makes that unfortunate failure and now, along with his future self (Bruce Willis), he is on the run and trying to survive.

Looper is as uncommon as movies come. Sure, it borrows some things from other movies and occasionally relies on screenwriting coincidences (as all movies do), but it does something so special with them that it feels completely different. Despite all the action, gunfire and explosions, Looper gives off a unique feeling, an extremely rare one makes you feel both compassion and resentment simultaneously, causing your inner emotions to tug back and forth between what you deem right and wrong. Through a brilliant turn of events (that I’ve deliberately avoided describing), the film sets up Joe to be both the good and the bad guy, though, at certain times, it’s hard to tell which version is which. Both have their reasons to do what they do and even though we know them to be selfish or immoral, we understand. It’s a strange feeling to have, especially when those feelings are polar opposite of each other and, really, about the same man.

The only real downside to this otherwise captivating plot turn is that it spoils a portion of what is to come. Gordon-Levitt and Willis play the same character, the former from the present and the latter from the future. That means that if something happens to Gordon-Levitt, Willis disappears, but the nature of the story dictates that Willis must be around. If you take away future Joe, the story doesn’t happen. This leads to a few tensionless scenes where the young Joe is fighting, hiding or running for his life. Despite the danger around him, it’s a foregone conclusion he’ll escape unscathed. Any type of suspense that could have been around otherwise vanishes.

But that’s the only big complaint in an otherwise incredibly exciting futuristic film noir. Looper redefines the way we think of science fiction, fantasy, action, screenwriting and even make-up, thanks to the flawless prosthetics placed on Gordon-Levitt’s face during shooting to ensure he resembled his older counterpart. It keeps you on your toes and once it introduces telekinesis to the equation, all bets are off. Paradoxical implications aside, Looper is flat out terrific. If Rian Johnson continues on this path of well above average filmmaking, he could turn out to be one of the best to ever do it.

Looper receives 4.5/5