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Seven Films to Watch This Week

Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets beefcake for his role as a porn-addicted New Jersey loverman in Don Jon's Addiction

One review and six previews of this weekend's upcoming flicks.

In the studio-authored blurb for Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut, which he also wrote and stars in, Don Jon's Addiction, the words "good old fashioned" appear not once, not twice, but three times. The phrase seems mis-applied: The broad comedy of Don Jon is old-fashioned in its construction--it holds up to the charming works of Hal Ashby (Shampoo), a director Gordon-Levitt has mention he admires--but it's aspirations for the relationships of men and women are anything but old fashioned. Much like the actor's earlier work in 500 Days of Summer, Don Jon is a romantic comedy that's secretly fights the idea of the romantic comedy. You might call it a "realistic comedy."

When when we sit down at the Ritz-Carlton in advance of the film's opening, Gordon-Levitt is back to his old self, looking very little like his character in Don Jon, a meathead-lite New Jersey service worker, his take on the modern Don Juan. "This guy, with the gym body and the shiny hair," he tells me. Don Jon isn't a romantic--he spends his time in tacky clubs with his buddies and when he sees an "8" or a "9," it's game on. He doesn't have any trouble taking girls home with him, but the sex never meets his expectations, and he's soon indulging in his titular addiction, internet porn. Jon finally meets his match in Scarlett Johansson's character, Barbara, a perfect "10" fantasy girl. Unfortunatly for him, she has her own vice, romantic comedies, which Jon soon finds, give her out there expectations that rival his own--if not in content then in magnitude. 

It's a simple setup, but the joy of Don Jon is all in the delivery. The film is above all a character piece, and one with some excellent characters. Setting aside Scarlett's Johansson's stellar performance as a rom-com-addled love addict and Gordon-Levitt's own Jon, one of the film's many trump cards is Tony Danza, an oddly sympathetic charicature of an aging macho-man ruling his home from the couch (or in his case, the dinner table). He's a demanding alcoholic and a bit of a lech--which is a lot to live up to in Padua, NJ, where Jon comes from. Casting, it seems, is also one of Gordon Leavitt's strong suits, and Danza in particular shines. "You can't help but smile when he gets on-screen. But I also love it when an actor does something you don't expect him to do, and you don't expect Tony to have a short temper." Gordon-Levitt goes on, excited. "You don't expect him to be lecherous. You don't expect these things from him, so I think it's a great role for him to play." 

Another proven talent, Julianne Moore, also makes a big film game impact in Don Jon as a free-spirited scatterbrain Jon meets in one of his night classes--to mention how would be giving too much away, we'll just say she's the reason some people have gone so far as to call the Third Rock star's first film a "feminist" romance. A bit of fun with a surprising well of charm, honesty and polish, Don Jon is the most interesting rom-com to come down the pipe in some time. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. AMC Van Ness.

ALSO PLAYING:

Inequality for All - Josh Kornbluth's engaging doc featuring Berkeley prof, Clinton labor secretary and all-round economic big thinker (at 4' 11") Robert Reich isn't new info, but it lays bare the causes for the current recession in a plainspoken way that's hard to deny (hint: it's in the title). Look for an interview in this space soon. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%

Invasion of the Body Snatchers - Philip Kaufman's chilling San Francisco-set riff on  Don Siegel's political paranoia thriller plays outside on UC Berkeley's Crescent lawn as part of their Endless Summer Cinema series, which will also play another local face, Harold and Maude, next week. Rotten Tomatoes: 95% UC Berkeley.

Oakland Underground Film Festival - The Bay's most slept-on film fest continues through Sunday with screenings of US-made martial arts monster Death Grip, Slamdance sensation The Dirties and ARG doc The Institute. Various locations, ends 9/29.

Enough Said - James Gandolfini makes us miss him even more with an effortlessly charming turn as a lovable Joe (scratch that, an Albert), in this empty nest rom-com also starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Sundance Kabuki.

Haute Cuisine - An unmarried French chef is shocked when she's appointed personal cook to the president in this mild, mannered comedy that will slot finely into the food-romance genre--and, believe me, there is such a thing. Rotten Tomatoes: 70%. Opera Plaza.

Metallica Through the Never: An IMAX 3D Experience - Some Kind of Monster it is not. A massive 3D concert film with everyone's favorite local metalheads framed by a loose narrative about a roadie at the end of the world crafted by Hungarian action/horror director Nimrod Atal. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. AMC Van Ness.