New York Stories: Don Jon / Parkland / We Are What We Are

Don Jon

By Glenn Dunks
October 8, 2013

The Manhattan Report: Having moved to America from Australia some six months ago, I’ve missed film festivals on every corner of my home country. It hasn’t so much been the movies I have missed, but the communal atmosphere they foster through red-eyed early mornings and red-wined late evenings. However, with the 51st New York Film Festival underway, I feel I’ve gotten a bit of that back. There should be a word for the mix of weariness and anticipation that occurs when lining up for two-and-a-half hours to catch the world premieres of Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips, Spike Jonze’s Her, and other high profile screenings like those for Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave or Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour. All in a day’s work though, right?

Don Jon

Don Jon: Sex sells, so it makes sense Joseph Gordon-Levitt would enter the world of directing with Don Jon. Gordon-Levitt’s debut is a funny, character-driven piece that’s pumped up to the sounds of ‘Good Vibrations’ by Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch, and injected with performance-enhancing star power. With a hefty bit of inspiration from Jersey Shore stereotypes, this risqué romantic-comedy goes where few others dare and poses some legitimate questions regarding masculinity and male and female sexuality in between meet-cutes and romance.

It’s to Gordon-Levitt’s credit that he doesn’t shy away from practicing what he preaches. There’s plenty of bare flesh on display here (both his own and others). The director shows keen behind-the-scenes talent and casts himself as Jon, a pornography-addicted lothario whose entire life is dictated by society’s masculine expectations. However, it’s Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore who ultimately lift the film into a higher gear. Johansson, especially, has finally found a way to use her famous figure and vixen voice to great comedic effect. Don Jon is never subtle and it ends just as it’s getting really interesting, but its raunchy anthropological twist on the genre is an admirable success. (Don Jon does not yet have an Australian release date.)

3.5/5

Parkland

Parkland: How does a filmmaker take what is justifiably considered an American tragedy and render it utterly weightless? Debut director Peter Landesman – retelling the assassination of JFK – proves with Parkland how easy it can be. Taking a similar approach to the elder Kennedy’s death as was taken to Robert Kennedy’s in Emilio Estevez’s Bobby, Landesman’s multi-narrative tale of that fateful day in 1963 lacks the gravitas of the event. It mistakes sombre-toned storytelling for depth, shaky filtered camerawork for immediate atmosphere, and a sprawling cast for prestige.

Starting strong with an emotional recreation of JFK’s arrival at the Parkland Hospital, it quickly loses steam and dissolves into little more than a Cliffs Notes version of history. In between games of “spot the character actor,” only James Badge Dale manages to eke a semblance of pathos. As Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother, he’s in stark contrast to the likes of Zac Efron, Ron Livingston, Billy Bob Thornton, Mark Duplass, and Colin Hanks, who are each handed undeveloped characters in this over-wrought screenplay. As the assassin’s mother, meanwhile, Jacki Weaver attempts a bizarre feat of high camp that’d be more fun if the film around her wasn’t quite as po-faced. Much like the aforementioned Bobby, it’s just too broad and under-written to do justice to the people and the story. (Parkland arrives on DVD in Australia November 13, 2013.)

2.5/5

We Are What We Are

We Are What We Are: In a year where two of the most famous horror movies of all time, Evil Dead and Carrie, have found themselves on the endless remake train, it’s this low-key independent cannibal drama that proves yet again not all remakes are cash-hungry duds. Jim Mickle takes the reins of this English-language redo that stands alone as its own entity and somehow even finds a way to improve upon Jorge Michel Grau’s original.

Relocating the teeth-gnashing action from the urban decay of Mexico to the vacant backwoods of the New York Catskills is just one of the smart moves, as is a gender flip of the entire cast and standout performances from Julia Garner and Bill Sage. Mickle pitches the macabre material just right. It’s a dark tale of paternal disgrace and familial mistrust with a refreshingly compassionate edge that does away with much of the original’s straight-faced humour. The more serious tone is aided by slick production values that allow terror and dread to truly envelope the audience as the slow-burn horrors build to a deliciously gory and chilling climax. (We Are What We Are does not yet have an Australian release date.)

4/5

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