Sunday, 24 November 2013

Don Jon Review

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has long been moving into writing and directing when he launched his site and production company hitRECord. It’s been growing and Joseph Gordon-Levitt has stayed heavily involved with it branching out into the world of TV with its own programme and with Don Jon, which he has used to launch into filmmaking. He’s unstoppable at the moment, popping up in plenty of huge films, linked to almost every big casting call and now moving into writing and directing his own features. He’s the man to beat but when an actor turns to writing and directing, it isn’t always worthwhile, it can be quite a disappointment but is Don Jon a success? In short, yes, especially for a debut.

Jon, or the Don as he’s known to his friends for his nightclub streak, is addicted to porn because it’s the only way he can lose himself, he prefers it to the real deal as he says. He goes out pulling on a seemingly nightly basis, then heading to church to confess and off to the gym to say his prayers to repent. Although he claims to love his life it’s mainly about his porn since it’s the only way he can lose himself in anything. That’s until a “dime” shows up in Barbara, played by Scarlett Johansson, who he is willing to give up his addiction and change his life pretty drastically because she’s seen one too many romcoms. Constantly pleased by the movie star giving up everything in their life that they love for their partner, as a selfless act which ultimately promotes the selfishness of the other half. True love they call it in these films she watches.

Ultimately its message is clear for both genders because each gender romances to different but ultimately destructive forms of media. Men constantly fantasise about these unrealistic women who are insatiable when it comes to what Don Jon loves. Women idolise romances in which sacrifices are made by only one party, claiming that it’s “only one thing” when in reality those one things add up to completely change who they’re with. That moment is best represented in a single scene at a store which shows how irrational Barbara is being. It may not be a subtle message but sometimes points need hammering, it still feels like the audience walk out and shrug it off. Probably because it’s mainly a comedy.

Stylistically there are some great touches for a new director who may not be making an authorial stamp but using the style to portray its character. Early on, the camerawork is methodical, the editing quick, it’s clean and constant. Later on, it starts to exchange some of the steady shots earlier for some handheld shot and reverse shots which may be intentional or financial. Whether or not it’s intentional to slow it all down for the character may be purposeful but it feels like it interrupts the flow of the film so far. On the comedy side of it, it maintains its laughs throughout without feeling cheap, unearned or bottom of the barrel, continually being fresh.

The characters shouldn’t be likeable but they’re saved by their performances, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt who adds likeability to what would be a charisma vacuum in other hands. Cleverly he’s kept his performance the right side of arrogant and proud to the point of it being more comedic rather than disgusting, witty not repulsive. Scarlett Johansson achieves the same thing as her airhead princess Barbara Sugarman who is suffering from delusion of grandeur, feeling like royalty with an accent that turns your stomach it’s so strong. Gordon-Levitt may have written these characters more as caricatures but they’re not exactly non-existent in a world filled with Jersey Shore; no matter how much we fail to believe it, there are people like it. When Julianne Moore shows up it’s an enjoyable character that may have one of the most surprising introductions.

Don Jon is definitely a success in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s career, safely segueing himself into the world of filmmaking and as a writer-director to watch. He has plenty of flair, a lot of creativity, messages and the power of friendship to bring in great actors to inhabit his roles. Its message is one that’s important; though it has an 18 rating (R-rated) it should be shown to a younger audience so they may take away the message and save themselves a life of loneliness and disappointment. It’s emotionally successful if a little clunky at its finale, it constantly preaches about something interesting like porn, romcoms, the media and religion – playing on Jon’s heavy involvement with Catholicism. Don Jon is one of the more comedic films of the year with a message that trumps the emptiness of the rest of the year. A blackly comic drama that is itself a romcom but with a much needed rejuvenation. A – umm, cough – pleasure.


Friday, 15 November 2013

Gravity Review

It’s always great when technology has to catch up with human creativity then it’s great when it actually does, allowing truly creative people to make something visually fantastic. Much like Kubrick did back in 1968 with 2001: A Space Odyssey showing what weightlessness and zero gravity can be like. Now it’s gone a step further by having a dynamic camera swing around space while Sandra Bullock is in angular momentum (thanks Neil deGrasse Tyson for that) which sees the director, cinematographer and visual effects supervisor work together on every tiny detail.

Story wise you probably know it by now because it’s quite a basic story explained almost entirely from the trailer. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are on a spacewalk when the Russians accidentally fire a missile into one of their own satellites, causing the debris to orbit at ferocious velocity around Earth. From there on it’s better to know as little as what happens because it’s indeed one of the most thrilling films of the year. It is physically exhausting. There are a few moments of relief, of rest, allowing you to catch your breath before the Cuaróns (Alfonso writer-director and his writer son Jonás) decide it’s enough and dragging you into another tense scene that will stop you breathing.

Emmanuel Lubezki has achieved something masterful this time around. Introducing us to this world is a 17-minute sequence complete without a single cut that sees the camera and George Clooney’s Kowalsky float effortlessly. Lubezki’s work in The Tree of Life was beautiful as can be imagined when working with Terence Malick but he’s shown a versatility by going from film with Malick to digital with Alfonso Cuarón which has required them to recreate space in great detail. Not only have they had to create beautiful, believable visual effects but they’d had to do so while in constant motion, aligning light perfectly and doing frame by frame details to make sure it all fits. Attention to detail is always rewarding for the viewer, never mind the beam of pride the cast and crew will feel when they see it all come together.

What the Cuaróns have created is one of the most thrilling action blockbusters ever created because it is completely and utterly relentless. It’s been said often before about how a lot of films are relentless but that’s usually through shaky cam and exhaustive frenetic editing. Gravity is a completely different beast, it’s not a beast at all. Everything is cleanly crafted with a care that separates itself from beasts, from humans, from even being organic; it feels like a sentient, ethereal creation. Frame by frame the crew have gone through designing every single movement to make it seem like the characters are in zero-gravity, there’s been an enormous amount of effort to make it seem effortless. It really does work.

When presenting space, there will always be a theme of religion, gods, God, life, death and Gravity is no different. Cords tied to stomachs constantly represent the umbilical cord and the possible link to the creator in space, Bullock even embraces a foetal position in what seems like a technoutero as if being reborn in space, in technology, where the original creator created. There’s a lot to be read into when looked from that angle as well. Something about being presented with infinity makes artists – and probably real astronauts – question the nature of existence, its vastness, emptiness, chance creation, implausibility. Hell, it’s happening now too.

We’re reminded that life in a vacuum is completely impossible when the film starts and that no sound can travel in a vacuum to explain its absence to the audience. When watching it in IMAX, the ambient, bassy score resonates through every seat in the house. The attention to detail is masterful as we feel the reverberations from any technological equipments like Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone. What is left out in sound mixing and sound design is filled in with an impressive score by Steven Price that makes everything pulsate but will never refrain from subtlety when it is best suited. Sandra Bullock also puts in the performance of her career by dedicating herself fully to the role, completely transforming into the doctor with a fear of death yet an unworldly need to embrace it. The only concern to be had about Gravity is that it is completely cinematic and will lose some of its power outside of a cinema screen. It actually uses 3D well while being a rare combination of relentlessly thrilling, jaw-droppingly beautiful and interestingly existential. See it in 3D. Better yet see it in IMAX 3D. Gravity will shake you. Gravity will tire you out. Gravity will control you.



Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Lack of Writing

Apologies to the very few that do read what I have to say but lately university is being hectic as stated before. Currently I'm doing an essay on Casablanca and how it conforms to the classical Hollywood style or at least arguing its case anyway. After that I have another essay about a horror film which I've yet to decide on and how that conforms to the norms of the genre. Currently trying to decide between Insidious, The Conjuring, Sinister and The House of the Devil. There are many more I'd love to write about too like Inside but there's another essay where they might apply but same could be said for these. I've always been indecisive. Apparently a rambler too. This post is more apologising for the lack of content that will happen because of these essays, a short I'm trying to film and a screenplay that I'd like to attempt to write in time for the BlueCat screenplay competition - fat chance with completing it but as it's NaNoWriMo too then why the hell not?

Regardless I'd just like to post to keep Blogger happy lest they complain about inactivity. There may be a few reviews soon just for the hell of it on here because the dates have passed to publish them elsewhere like my thoughts on Prisoners (spoiler: my favourite film of the year so far) and a few others of 2013 that I've missed out on but want to catch up and push my opinion on. There may also be a few features that I want to get my head around so stay with the week or two of low activity because then it may go chaotic again.

Thanks for letting me procrastinate.