Don Jon TIFF Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Don John

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johannson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson, Glenne Headly, Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum

Written and Directed by Joseph Gordon Levitt

Joseph Gordon Levitt has had a great career trajectory, from sitcom actor to indie darling to a regular player in Christopher Nolan’s film. His first dalliance in writing and directing a movie, Don Jon, portrays, well…dalliances with women. The titular character, played by Gordon-Levitt himself, a guy who, with his wing men, can pick up well at a club, which is what my generation is apparently up to these days. There is a catch however, since these women doesn’t satisfy him as much as the women he sees on his laptop screen. What a shame.

He has his own ideas about sex, and as a writer-director Gordon-Levitt generously applies the same consideration for the other characters, especially his love interests Barbara Sugarman (Johannson), who believes in waiting for sex, rom-com romances and is against porn. Even supporting characters like his night school classmate (Moore) and his club wing men have their own ideas about what’s sexually satisfying. The dialogue is equally generous to them, the actors saying their lines in a matter of fact way and without trumpeting them. And I’m kinda glad to hear these different conversations about desire even if they’re happening within such a tawdry comedy. And of course, I’m also hoping that this movie doesn’t get Gordon-Levitt typecasted into a character like this who is so unsympathetically cartoonish.

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Home Video Spotlight Mar 12-18: Disney Classics, Life of Pi, Hitchcock and more

Blu-Ray and DVD releases for the week of Mar 12 – 18

Here’s a rundown of this week’s highlighted releases with links to full reviews on all of them.

Disney Dual Pack Blu-rays

Disney released three dual pack Blu-rays for three of its animated films this week with Mulan 1 and 2, the Hunchback of Notre Dame 1 and 2 and Brother Bear 1 and 2. These are the first time these films have been released on Blu-ray as a dual pack with their direct to video sequels included.

Mulan Collection

Mulan 1 & 2

Disney’s classic tale of the Chinese fable that sees young Mulan secretly take her father’s place when he is conscripted to the Emperor’s army comes to Blu-ray with a beautiful looking transfer. Mulan 2 takes Mulan and her now fiance Shang on a secret mission from the Emperor himself delivering his princess daughters to arranged marriage designed to strengthen China.

Mulan is one of Disney’s classic tales from Disney’s very fertile mid 1990s which also produced another one of the packs released this week and other classics like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. The film looks glorious on Blu-ray and makes some of the more special scenes pop even more. Mulan 2 is actually one of the better direct to video sequels, even without the return of Eddie Murphy, as the animation is still solid and the story, while goofy, still retains some fun. The Blu-Ray pack is a must buy.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

Hunchback of Notre Dame Collection

Hunchback of Notre Dame 1 & 2

Disney’s interpretation of the classic Victor Hugo tale of the deformed orphan Quasimodo also comes from the 1990’s era of Disney animation but is usually criminally overlooked and features one of the more dastardly Disney villains in Quasimodo’s master Frollo. Hunchback 2 tries to bring in a love interest for Quasi in the form of circus girl Madeline and also introduces her scheming and thieving boss to the mix.

The original Hunchback is a very underrated achievement with some gorgeous animation and a loveable hero at its core. Often lost in the crowd of the titles mentioned earlier, Hunchback is a title that deserves a lot more credit and spotlight. Hunchback 2 however should be forgotten. The step down in animation is terrible, even our main character Quasimodo looks different between the two films, and its story is pretty lame. The Blu-ray pack is a recommend based on the strength of it first film alone.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

Brother Bear Collection

Brother Bear 1 & 2

Brother Bear was released during the leaner years of Disney’s animation in the early 2000s when Pixar had really taken over. In fact the film about a young man being transformed into a bear to learn a lesson was bumped from the traditional Disney summer slot for Finding Nemo that year. Brother Bear 2 also tries to find our protagonist in a love story situation, this time even throwing the supporting characters in to situations of their own to boot.

Brother Bear is one of the lesser of the Disney animated films, and Pixar has since done a similar tale in Brave that has a much better story and moral attached to it. Brother Bear 2 unfortunately does not fare any better, having to replace the non-returning Joaquin Phoenix with Patrick Dempsey as the lead Kenai and working in non-credible ending, even for a film involving such mystical elements. The Blu-ray pack is a non-recommend.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

Life of Pi Blu-ray

Life of Pi Blu-ray

The Oscar winning Life of Pi makes it Blu-ray debut with an impressive looking pack. The tale of PI, the sole human survivor of a shipwreck,  lost at sea with only the company of a 450lb Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker has been captivating audiences and readers ever since the book debut back in 2001. Many felt the book to be un-filmable until director Ang Lee came along and delivered his award winning adaptation this year.

The film looks amazing and Lee’s determination to make the scenes look like living pieces of art really comes through on the home screen. The performance from Irrfan Khan as the older Pi is brilliant; it’s the true heart of the film and totally engaging. The effects work here is some of the best put to film last year and why Lee won the best director Oscar become crystal clear when you realize just how well these elements come together and that it was all shot in front of a blue screen. Lee’s imagination is on full display and the audience is the benefactor. Life of Pi on Blu-ray is a must own.

 FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW AVAILABLE HERETHEATRICAL REVIEW HERE

Hitchcock Blu-ray

Hitchcock Blu-ray

Hitchcock also hits Blu-ray this week. The tale of the filming of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the relationship between Hitchcock and his wife Alma was met with a mixed reaction last year upon its release. Focusing more on a lighthearted treatment of the story than a hard hitting, 100% accurate biopic, the film is much more about the relationship between Hitchcock and his beleaguered spouse and features a strong turn from Helen Mirren in the role of Alma.

Hopkins does a decent turn as Hitchcock, not completely morphing in to the character but assuming the tone and essence of the man pretty robustly. The film does play better on the smaller screen that it did in the theater, but still has its issues and Hitchcock aficionados are likely to have strong feelings about the films outcome. The film itself looks excellent on Blu-ray and the disc is packed with special features galore. Hitchcock on Blu-ray is a recommend.

FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW AVAILABLE HERETHEATRICAL REVIEW HERE

Playing for Keeps

Playing for Keeps DVD

The newest Gerard Butler rom/com Playing for Keeps is out this week on DVD and Blu-ray. The film about and former soccer star who has blown his relationship with his son and former flame trying to make amends features an all-star cast. Of course Butler’s George can’t simply sweep into town and save the day by coaching his son’s soccer team and has to contend with a group of lonely, aroused and attractive soccer mom’s determined to get a piece of George for themselves.

Playing for Keeps is sadly bland and unoriginal and quite frankly we’ve seen this before from Butler far too many times. The film is not terrible; it’s just very average. Jessica Biel and Judy Greer managed decent performances while the rest of the cast seems content to toe the line and phone it in. The DVD is also without any additional features; just the film itself is included. Playing for keeps is a mild non-recommend.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

Till Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

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Hitchcock Review (Kirk Haviland)

Hitchcock (2012)

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, James D’Arcy, Jessica Biel and Michael Wincott

Written by John J. McLaughlin based on the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello

Directed by Sacha Gervasi

New this week in theaters, opening exclusively at the Varsity in Toronto and expanding nation-wide in the weeks to come, from Fox Searchlight comes Hitchcock. The biopic about the master of suspense himself Alfred Hitchcock, despite the inference of title, is not a story of the man and his life, but the shooting of his seminal film Psycho and his relationship with his wife and most trusted collaborator Alma Reville.

Hitchcock starts at the premiere for Alfred Hitchcock’s (Hopkins) North by Northwest. With the media convinced that the director’s best days are behind him, Alfred sets his wife Alma (Mirren) and assistant Peggy (Collette) on the lookout for his next project. Hoping to get his script in contention Whitfield Cook (Huston) shows up and starts sweet talking his former flame Alma. Meanwhile Hitch becomes enamored with the new book based on the real story of serial killer Ed Gein (Wincott), who Hitch sees as a manifestation during the filming, entitled Psycho. Against the wishes of the studio, his wife and everybody else, Hitchcock embarks on adapting the story and getting it committed to film. But the studio, his health, his former starlet Vera Miles (Biel) and current starlet Janet Leigh (Johansson) may all conspire to get in the way. And Whitfield may have other plans for Alma.

Hitchcock is far from an in depth, hard hitting biopic, but almost immediately the audience realizes they are in for a more whimsical and light hearted treatment. Hopkins is memorable as Hitchcock, like his Nixon he does not completely disappear physically into the role, but uses his performance to allow the audience to buy into the character. That said it’s Mirren and her portrayal of Alma that steals the show. Her Alma is a confident and strong woman who is long overdue for her room in the spotlight after all the work she has done in her husband’s career, and sensing this Huston’s Whitfield attempts to take advantage. The rest of the supporting cast is quite good here, with Johansson doing some excellent work as Leigh and Biel possibly doing here best work in ages as Vera Miles. The decision of including Ed Gein as a character in the film is far-fetched and would have been terribly out of place if the performance by Wincott wasn’t so accomplished. His Gein makes you yearn for a biopic of his own on the serial killer.

The script plays it light in tone and strives more for comedic beats rather than hard hitting, dramatic interpretations. More “My Week with Marilyn” than a straight biopic, Hitchcock only serves to explain and enact the period in 1959/1960 surrounding the filming of Psycho and not much else. The characters are fleshed out well here, though the script does manage to stay close to the surface throughout, not delving too deeply into any of the relationships besides Hitch and Alma’s. And other characters, like the studio head for example, are more caricatures than characters. The film would be better suited with a title that exudes this whimsy and tone rather than the more serious sounding Hitchcock.

Kudos must be given however to the team behind the film as the set design and decoration, costuming and cinematography are all fantastic. The film looks phenomenal and provides an exceptional peek into the work of producing a feature film in the late 1959 studio system. From the small housing offices for the production and the soundstages to the vintage vehicles and decor of the Hitchcock home, the film doesn’t miss a beat. The film will not surprise me at all if Oscar comes calling in February rewarding the fine work here with some technical nominations.

Audiences going into this film expecting a warts and all telling of Hitchcock’s life and loves will be disappointed with this effort. But audiences willing to go with the tone and playfulness of the film and really invest in the performances, especially Hopkins, Mirren and Wincott, will be satisfied with the effort. Despite its flaws, Hitchcock is indeed a recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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Featured post

The Avengers Review (Matt Hodgson)

Three months in France and 10 days in Italy; I can’t even remember the last time I had an opportunity to see a new release in a movie theatre that wasn’t the victim of a coldly indifferent dub job. Luckily, Rome seems to be a little more conscious of preserving film experience, and this past Thursday I had the opportunity to check out one of the most hyped and successful films of recent memory – The Avengers.

Now being in Europe the theatre experience was a whole different beast than I was accustomed to – in fact I could probably write a review just on Italian theatres! For example, seats were assigned for each ticket holder, and at roughly the middle-point of the film the projector was shut off and the overhead lights unceremoniously turned on to make way for an intermission accompanied by a popcorn vendor trolling down the aisle. But I’m not here to review the Italian cinema experience, rather one of the most enjoyable action blockbusters to come out of Hollywood in a long, long time.

In case you’ve been living in a pre-Y2K underground shelter, The Avengers is the cinematic version of the comic book of the same name. The Avengers is comprised of some of the most popular superheroes in the Marvel universe, and the film version casts similarly popular Hollywood actors in the roles of these heroes: Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), and Samuel L. Jackson as Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury.

As a boy and an avid comic book fan I was certainly aware of who The Avengers were, but in the 90’s they hardly seemed like a hot Ticket. The X-men dominated the marvel universe, while the skin-deep coolness of the Image universe was temporarily stealing fans from ‘classic’ superheroes like The Avengers. Since then we have had a plethora of superheroes movies, and despite being a previous comicbook fan, I have to admit that Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ version of Batman was the only one that seemed to resonate with me. This has definitely changed with the release of The Avengers.

Joss Whedon the writer/director of the film has chosen and depicted the perfect subject matter for a superhero film; the fate of the world is threatened by an alien god (Hiddleston), threatening an alien invasion – nothing more, nothing less. The heroes, earth’s only hope for surviving this ordeal, are introduced throughout the beginning of the film, and the issue quickly becomes whether or not these extraordinary individuals can overcome their differences and work together as a team. A simple concept, one that could even work on TV’s ‘The Office’, but when you have a egomaniac-playboy-billionaire with a nearly indestructible suit of armour, a super-soldier from the 40’s, a Norse God, and anger management’s least successful participant, getting along and working as a team seems barely short of infinitely impossible.

The Avengers can be charged with some sloppy dialogue at times, not the fault of the Whedon, but of Jackson and Johansson early on in the film and some of the secondary actors. However, after about 30-40 minutes the script and the actors begin to work wonderfully together and there are some truly hilarious lines and moments, not to mention REAL superhero dialogue. Also, the action sequences will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat, your support firmly behind one of the combatants, but still worried about their fate despite their superhero status. A particular action sequence in the first half of the film with Thor, Ironman, and Captain America is as close as Whedon could have hoped to approach perfection.

Robert Downey Jr. is an absolute scene stealer with his deadpan delivery of comedic dialogue that we’ve become so accustomed to. Also, it may sound strange, but the filmmakers really nailed the appropriateness of the special effects. The effects rarely seem to be too much for the subject matter (an issue that I think many Hollywood movies are struggling with nowadays, studios often blowing viewers away resulting in stimulus overload), that said, the film is still packed with some crazy visuals!

Finally, the reveal at the end of the credits left me wanting to walk out of The Avengers and directly into Avengers 2. Rarely have I been this satisfied with a Hollywood movie. The Avengers is a must see for anyone with a sense of adventure or a desire to meet some of earth’s greatest heroes.

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