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Men and their machinery
October 3, 2013 - Rick Chatenever
Poor Don Jon. He's got Scarlett Johansson waiting in bed, but he can't pry himself away from his Internet porn.
Playing the role, and making an impressive debut as writer and director of this raunchy yet lovable comedy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is riding a cinematic wave of guys who favor online fantasies over real women. The soon-to-be-released "Her" tells of a neurotic writer who prefers the sexy voice of his operating system (provided by Johansson) to the movie's sexy-in-the-flesh co-stars. The upcoming "Thanks for Sharing" is another romantic comedy grappling with sex addiction. Ads for Showtime's "Masters of Sex," a new series about pioneering sex researchers Masters and Johnson, have certainly been livening things up on The New York Times homepage lately.
In "Don Jon," Gordon-Levitt doesn't seek euphemisms or spare barely clad images to illustrate his character's obsession. Oh, sure, he claims to love a lot of things - his pals, his car, his family, his church, his muscles, his girls but his heart really belongs to his laptop. Don Jon's New Joisey accent and outlook on life, along with those of his wonderful on-screen family, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly and Brie Larson, add humorous diversions from all the almost explicit stuff.
Johannson steals every scene she's in as the gawgeous, gum-chomping Jersey princess who appears in a dream - well, actually it's a club - to finally teach him what love is. At least until she discovers what he truly loves.
Gordon-Levitt the writer is far wiser than the character he plays, pitch perfect in his cast's hilarious Jersey speak, but treating them all with gentle compassion. Even in his debut, he's a talented, assured director, judging by all the terrific performances.
Don Jon is counting on his church to get him off the hook for his sins. Luckily, when that fails, the always wonderful Julianne Moore arrives offering a sliver of hope for his seriously impaired mindset, not to mention a shot at a happy ending. The old-fashioned kind.
Just as the Oscar-winning "American Beauty" did in the '90s, "Don Jon" spills the beans on the poignant pathos of being an American male at this moment in time. Whether you find his plight funny, disgusting, excusable, inexcusable, pitiful, cool, in need of serious counseling or just the way things are, probably depends on whether you're an American male yourself.
James Hunt, portrayed by inordinately handsome Chris Hemsworth, is also into his girls and his car, but he's playing a very different high-stakes game in Ron Howard's "Rush."
Hunt is a dashing English playboy race car driver whose '70s Formula One duels with Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) fuels this high-horsepower cinematic thrill ride from the Oscar-winning Howard. Their fierce rivalry is the driving force here, surpassing their relationships with anyone else in their lives, including delectable Olivia Wilde as Hunt's fashion-model wife, Suzy.
Considering that "Rush" is all about their irrational obsession with one another, why is Hemsworth's face alone on the poster? Well, because he looks the way he does, and his rival Lauda was dubbed "the rat," based on his toothy physical appearance before a horrendous crash disfigured even that.
The performances are riveting, as far as they go which is basically around in circles in these guys' line of work. In fact, the cars, the race circuits, the bright red race suits and helmets festooned with corporate logos, and the finish-line groupies are really the co-stars. The mechanized frenzy, along with the rivals' love-hate obsession, provide the film's rush.
Howard's kinetic screen craft and editing are definitely up to speed, even if his film's message is ironically similar to "Don Jon's": Men are just boys with with grown-up obsessions, more comfortable with machines than women, but rarely more than one step away from crashing, either way.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com
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Article Photos Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson in a scene from “Don Jon.” AP photo