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Sundance Film Festival 2013: Don Jon’s Addiction and Touchy Feely

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Sundance Film Festival 2013: <em>Don Jon’s Addiction</em> and <em>Touchy Feely</em>
Sundance Film Festival 2013: <em>Don Jon’s Addiction</em> and <em>Touchy Feely</em>

As directorial debuts go, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon’s Addiction is a surprisingly well-crafted first effort, a raunchy comedy with substance. Gordon-Levitt stars as Don Jon, a Jersey Shore type obsessed with hardcore porn, more interested in the thousands of kinky clips he’s amassed on his hard drive than he is with the actual sex he has with the countless beautiful women he picks up at night clubs. For him, nothing quite lives up to the fantasy women in his videos, until he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a beauty in a red dress who rejects his usually successful pick-up lines and inadvertently forces him to face his porn addiction head-on.

Sundance Film Festival 2013: Lovelace and The East

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Sundance Film Festival 2013: <em>Lovelace</em> and <em>The East</em>
Sundance Film Festival 2013: <em>Lovelace</em> and <em>The East</em>

With Lovelace, directors Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein have attempted to bring the definitive story of porn icon Linda Lovelace to the big screen, starring Amanda Seyfried in the title role. With a script penned by Andy Bellin, the film has approached the complexities of Lovelace’s early career and later anti-porn stance by generally glossing over them, relying on camp humor and an overly stylized aesthetic. The result: a flashy biopic filled with celebrity cameo after celebrity cameo, but very little substance.

The movie doles out Lovelace’s story quickly, jumping frantically from her days as a naïve and sexually conservative teen to her awkward courtship with future husband, manager, and abuser Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), to her lessons in the art of oral sex (unseen on screen, of course) and her fleeting post-Deep Throat stardom and later denunciation of her former life. While the supporting cast, featuring James Franco, Sharon Stone, Chris Noth, and Chloë Sevigny (the list literally goes on and on), is amusing simply for the novelty of seeing them dressed in kitschy ’70s getups playing the likes of Hugh Hefner and Harry Reems, the revolving door of familiar faces is just one example of the film’s lack of focus. The tone that Freedman and Epstein want to hit is never clear, with the sexual elements of the film handled with humor, and the adult-film industry of the ’70s presented as cheap parody complete with artificial-looking pornstaches and over-the-top, skeevy directors. The light tone would be fine if it were consistent. When claims of abuse and exploitation arise later on, the film takes on an only slightly darker tenor that doesn’t make an impact due to its whimsical attitude toward Lovelace’s exploits earlier on.

SXSW 2011: Super, 13 Assassins, Last Days Here, The Beaver, Scenes from the Suburbs, and Natural Selection

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SXSW 2011: <em>Super</em>, <em>13 Assassins</em>, <em>Last Days Here</em>, <em>The Beaver</em>, <em>Scenes from the Suburbs</em>, and <em>Natural Selection</em>
SXSW 2011: <em>Super</em>, <em>13 Assassins</em>, <em>Last Days Here</em>, <em>The Beaver</em>, <em>Scenes from the Suburbs</em>, and <em>Natural Selection</em>

Trying to fit in, like, four or five screenings a day at South by Southwest—a task at which I mostly failed until, maybe, my last two days in Austin, Texas—inevitably took away valuable time to write about everything I saw at the festival that I found of interest, for well and ill. So while I managed to squeeze in time to write about some of my favorites (The City Dark, American Animal, and Bellflower, especially), consider this last dispatch (from me, anyway) a run-down, with brief commentary, of a few others I saw that I either loved, liked, or didn’t like but at least found interesting enough to say something about. Oh, and yeah, Natural Selection, the big SXSW narrative feature award winner.

Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions Actress

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Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Actress

In one corner, we have the Piaf Patrol, snapping away at anyone who doesn’t proclaim the second coming over Marion Cotillard’s rolling eyes, puckering lips, and spasmodic tantrums. In the other corner is Roger Ebert, who was good enough to wait for surgery until after he could take the opportunity to tell a certain subset of Oscar voters (we’ll call them the Crash bloc) about his personal crusade for this year: Juno’s Ellen Page. Outside of the boxing ring altogether is the woman whose classy performance has risen above both the fray as well as her would-be competitors in every relevant precursor award up to this point. Julie Christie’s portrayal of a woman with Alzheimer’s has quietly walked away with the SAG, the Golden Globe, and the better portion of the critics’ citations (we’ll even throw in the otherwise irrelevant Broadcast Film Critics award she won, since they explicitly pride themselves for being an accurate Oscar forecaster), and still some would have you believe this is a tight three-way race ripe for an upset. Because we’ve seen Oscar suddenly believe what others say its feeling before, and because La Vie en Rose gives Cotillard the opportunity to forge an unholy fusion of two major Oscar-bait elements (musical biopic spiked by the spectacle of a gorgeous young woman getting fugly for her art), and because those four nominations for Juno give us that Little Miss Sunshine vibe all over again, we have to reluctantly admit that this is likely a much closer race than it ought to be, especially since it’s hard to imagine either Laura Linney’s or Cate Blanchett’s wrathful bitchery helping to tip the race one way or the other.

Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions: Actress

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Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions: Actress

They doubted me, but then they saw, and then they believed. Yes, it was almost one year ago that I said Marion Cotillard’s bold, freakishly technical thesping as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose was bound for Oscar glory. What I didn’t anticipate was that Cotillard’s performance would infect audiences like the Rage virus. Could it be that if the actress doesn’t win the Oscar, her fans will crash the award ceremony (or press conference) like the vampire zombies from I Am Legend and rip the winner (or Billy Bush—maybe even Dave Karger) to shreds? And if they opt for a more restrained response, will they mount a petition, asking Oscar, as a gesture of comeuppance, to change its name to Edith and forever hand out statues that look like this? This is all to say, if Cotillard is not victorious, blame it on the fans, whose disturbing contempt for Julie Christie’s performance in Away from Her can’t be doing Cotillard any favors. Both of these fine performances are locks for nominations, meaning the remaining slots are pretty much up for grabs. Or not. If talking heads like Tom O’Neil and Karger stopped, well, talking, trying to affect Oscar voters like the news media unmistakably shapes political elections, then maybe the Pavlovian dogs that make up the Academy’s body might have more naturally gravitated to the talents of, say, Ashley Judd and Anamaria Marinca. Instead, the Academy has been told by the award-show pundits that Ellen Paige and Angelina Jolie already have dibs on slots three and four, and that’s exactly how they’ll vote. As for the fifth spot, eeny-meeny-miny-moe your way between Jodie Foster, Amy Adams, Keira Knightley, Laura Linney, and Cate Blanchett, because it’s anyone’s guess.

One-Note Wonder: Juno

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One-Note Wonder: <em>Juno</em>
One-Note Wonder: <em>Juno</em>

Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody has described herself as a “naked Margaret Mead,” a cultural anthropologist who for years studied the rites and rituals of the stripper tribe in lieu of the nine-to-five grind. It’s a great line and a quite telling one, for this writer’s scientific approach to life is precisely why Juno ultimately fails. Watching the tale of the eponymous heroine (Ellen Page) navigating an unplanned teenage pregnancy from conception to adoption, I couldn’t help but think Cody was still channeling Margaret Mead through her quirky dialogue. Like Mead, Cody doesn’t form an emotional connection with her subjects. Juno is a character to be studied intellectually, not felt as flesh-and-blood. Page does her best to fill in Juno with her own heart and soul, but it’s like trying to breathe life into a blow up doll. Juno’s waist expands, but her depth does not.