‘Don Jon’ Review

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Overall Rating:  3/4

Cinematography

This is what I mean about comedies being able to have a style/look to them. The aesthetics of the film, from lighting to composition, aren’t cheapened just because it’s a comedy. Interesting enough, it comes from Thomas Kloss who may remind some of Fear. Don Jon is his best film in terms of creativity in cinematography, and hopefully he works on another one with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the future.

Acting

don_jon_addiction2The feelings I get from Don Jon are that Joseph Gordon-Levitt really is that guy. He’s believable, from the voice-overs to the sinister stare he gets when on the prowl for his next hook-up. I keep trying to remind myself of the dorky kid from 10 Things I Hate About You.

Scarlett Johansson plays both trashy and privileged well. Her character is obnoxious, but I enjoyed her in the role. Tony Danza isn’t a babysitter anymore to say the least and he’s great in this film along with his hilarious on-screen wife played by Glenne Headly. Brie Larson hardly speaks in this film and still adds to the dysfunctional family dynamics.

Julianne Moore cries and gets naked. That should be the title of her biography.

Directing

I find it impressive when a director gets such powerful performances while starring in the film as well, like Ben Affleck in Argo. They don’t stand behind the camera, watching from the same perspective as the audience. It’s much more subjective and interactive and I think that takes a different set of skills from a director.

You watch Don Jon and can’t help but realize that Joseph Gordon-Levitt really did what he wanted with his film of which he is the director, writer, and leading man and that he did it well. It’s different and entertaining. The film is unapologetically what it promises from its trailers and Joseph Gordon-Levitt definitely has my respect and blessing as director for being especially ballsy (points for my most appropriate use of “ballsy” ever).

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The structure of this film is basically what’s seen from the trailer in that it’s almost a feature-length montage sequence. The paralleling of the same scenes in certain locations works for Don Jon by not slowing down the pace or losing any of the film’s humor in the repetitions. The repetitions also play off the film’s emphasis on one-sided relationships in clever ways, especially when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character confesses his sins to an indifferent priest whose identity remains unknown.

The third act falls short when it becomes reminiscent of lovable, dark comedy from the early 70s, which I’ll leave unnamed to avoid Don Jon spoilers. The ending is too awkward for this film mainly because of how forced it feels in relation to backstories and character arcs. Still, I admire this film for pushing boundaries and not holding back on its premise.

Score

Nathan Johnson, who composed other films starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt such as Looper and Brick, scores Don Jon. It’s nice that Joseph Gordon-Levitt got to know the people working in those departments on his non-directorial films and that he appreciated their work. Now as a plug for Brick, everyone should see it. It’s probably the best work from either of them and it’s completely underrated.

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‘Prisoners’ Review

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Overall Rating: 3.5/4

Cinematography

I had no idea who the cinematographer for this particular film was, but as I watched it I kept thinking of how incredible it all looked. It felt familiar, too. When the end credits rolled, seeing the name Roger Deakins made perfect sense.

Deakins, one of the greatest directors of photography, can do no wrong. A very small handful of men find themselves in his league, such as Kaminski and Richardson. With 10 Academy Award nominations, this man is the Meryl Streep of cinematography. His work has a mesmerizing quality of elegance. In Prisoners, the subtleties and smoothness of his camerawork are hauntingly impressive. The lighting for this film is intentionally consistent, unlike Skyfall’s variety, so the film maintains its performance-driven quality. His lighting, while not being overpowering, is still striking; especially in a moment where Detective Loki throws open a door to a basement. With negative space and scenery, Deakins creates the sense of a tension that is both beautiful and disturbing within the shots.skyfall_deakins-620x435

 Acting

Prisoners contains a large group of people who know how to nail mannerisms, even for somewhat vague roles. This proves the power of emotionally driven performances, even when all the background information doesn’t lend itself to dialogue in the script. Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, and Hugh Jackman really did their homework and threw themselves into disturbing roles of characters with moments of contempt and redemption. Viola Davis, Maria Bello, and Terrence Howard play the broken-down parents of missing children with depth, and Melissa Leo is almost unrecognizable.

 Directing

Denis Villenueve pushes these actors over the edge. He does not hold back in presenting the horrors of this film’s subject matter, and that is what a movie with this kind of a context needs. This is not the kind of film for playing it safe and the pacing of this film never slows down or speeds up where it should not. It hits those beats with ease, even for a film that goes well over 2 hours. This film must have had an incredible editor as well.

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This is screenplay is an emotional roller coaster. The moments rise and fall in heartbeats, and in numerous moments I caught myself gaping at the screen, literally on the edge of my seat. It gives hope as fast as it takes it away and has you questioning right and wrong throughout.

There are controversial motives in this script, but it is the ending that leaves most viewers divided. Aaron Guzikowski leaves the final moments open for interpretation, where many hope for more closure. Still, even with its twists and turns, how often is there closure in these real-life situations? The answer is hardly ever, and the screenplay provides more closure than it may even need to. Sure, it’s an open ending that fades out moments too soon for some, but whatever comes after should be obvious. The ending, while not perfect for everyone, is perfect for the film. It is an ending that leaves a lingering feeling with you long after the film finishes, and haunting and hopeful feeling that’s hard to shake off and is much more powerful than relieving every emotional wound this film inflicts.

 Score

I am not sure I have ever experienced more stress watching any other film. Probably not, and a lot of that goes to Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, which is as seamless to the film as Roger Deakins’ camerawork. The score is subtle as well, which is admirable. Sometimes scores, in a self-indulgent way, draw too much attention to themselves for these sorts of stress-inducing films, but like the lighting, this score does not overpower. By not overpowering, it elevates the emotional drive of the film.