By Brandon Benarba and Jon Winkler
Every week new movies are released for the public to view. Most weeks there is one big release, but sometimes Hollywood will release multiple big-named movies competing for your attention. Sometimes it can be hard to decide what film is worth your time, so let us do that for you!
This week we saw the release of “Rush” and “Don Jon,” both movies with a lot to offer viewers, but one of them has to be better than the other. We each saw both films, we both picked a film to defend, and you can decide on who has defended their movie better.
Brandon Benarba: “Rush”
Jon Winkler: “Don Jon”
JW: Despite the fact that most critics prefer to go and see high-class films with credible acting and outstanding stories, I will admit to enjoying a trashy film once in a while. But when the film you are seeing knows that it is trash and goes along with it, the film actually becomes a bit better. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, writer and director of “Don Jon,” knows what to build a great piece of trash around: porn. There have been major films based around porn before, but Levitt tries to expose the human side of the many men who watch porn online. His subject? A greased up, muscle-bound, priorities-based Jersey boy named Jon. Jon’s life mostly revolves around picking up girls, taking them to bed, then watching porn because he is dissatisfied with human intimacy. He decides to change things when he meets the gorgeous Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), who is not a porn star herself (despite her ridiculous name), but a woman who follows the gospel according to romance movies. She likes Jon’s charm, while Jon likes her for her assets. The one hitch in their relationship is that she detests Jon’s love for porn, while he is bored by romance movies. With an interesting family on his back (Brie Larson, Glenne Headly and a sidesplitting Tony Danza) and the trials of commitment to deal with, Jon is trying to kick his kinky habit in order to become a new man.
BB: “Rush” marks a return to form for director Ron Howard, who started his career with the car film “Grand Theft Auto,” but unlike that movie, “Rush” is based off the true story of Formula-1 racer Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and his rivalry with James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). The film follows their rivalry from the moment they meet, and keeps the focus on the people rather than the cars. While a large portion of the film is focused on the actual races around the world, Howard’s direction makes the characters the real race. Although they are based on real people, and we know the outcome of the events the film portrays, we are never brought out of the experience. We feel for Lauda after his infamous accident, we laugh and cheer as Hunt swaggers across the track like a rock star, and we watch as the film beautifully moves along. This is helped by an exceptional performance by Bruhl, whose overly calculative nature is a brilliant counter to Hemsworth’s womanizing charm.
JW: Levitt is a newbie in the directing department (for a full length feature at least),so his mistakes are few and forgivable. Some wide shots could be cut a bit shorter and his lighting is reminiscent of Spielberg, but he makes great use of time lapses. Plus, he points out the awkwardness of certain scenes, like when Levitt’s Jon is lying down in disappointment after sex, then relaxing in ecstasy after rubbing one out to a porn clip. He also cleverly points out the parallel situations of himself and Barbara: both are hopelessly addicted to something the other feels like is total garbage.He knows that people will never fully admit to their addictions until they become desperate, and watching porn and life with Barbara slowly creep Jon’s life is hilarious at points, but you know a train wreck is coming. Johansson’s portrayal of Barbara is something you laugh at because you know that Johansson, who is typecast as the independent, artsy hottie with a kick, is either hating this role for its obliviousness, or loving every single moment. Mr. Danza, playing Jon’s father, is so stereotypically man-of-the-house that you cannot help but chuckle at his “what’s a matta with you?” lines throughout his scenes.
BB: “Don Jon” might benefit from a fun supporting cast, but that means nothing when the two main characters are just detestable. Vice-versa, “Rush” has an almost non-existent supporting cast, but the main actors are such juggernauts on screen. Their presence is not just felt by the delivery of their lines, but also by the stunning cinematography. Most of Hunt’s scenes are crowded, bright scenes to reflect his “living close to the edge” personality, while Lauda is usually seen alone or with few people in darkened sets. Every aspect of the film is shot to showcase the differences between the characters. Yet, some of the best moments in the film are when Howard breaks these motifs. There is a dark moment involving Hunt and a stewardess that really puts his character in a dark place, which helps highlight the transformations these characters will go through. The film takes place over a six-year period, and the way the world changes is beautiful to look at. The crowning moment though have to be the visceral looking races, which showcase the cars in a more loving light than any of the women in “Don Jon.”
JW: If it is any consolation, “Don Jon” is actually two movies in one! Or at least, two halves of two different movies trying to connect. “Don Jon” has a first half that is a funny look into the life of a Jersey grease-ball and his difficult relationship with Internet nookie, but halfway into the film, the tone and plot change drastically. With the introduction of an older classmate of Jon’s, played by Julianne Moore, Jon becomes entangled in the life of a traumatized woman looking for the next step in her life. Moore’s character actually becomes the voice of reason for Jon and his attempt to kick porn. All of this turns into a strange romantic drama/comedy that kills the mood of the first half and then suddenly just fades out rather disappointingly. The first half was a big departure for Levitt, a mostly successful risk-taker in roles like “Looper,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Inception” compared to safe roles like “(500) Days of Summer” and “50/50”. If only he could have stuck it out for a just a bit longer instead of giving “Don Jon” a quick happy ending.
BB: Pacing is an issue that both of these movies suffer from. “Rush” almost moves too fast for its own good, especially when it comes to the supporting cast. Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Lara are cast as the wives of the racers, and they supposedly have a huge impact on the arcs of the characters, but you do not get that feeling from the film. Instead, we see Hunt and Lauda move each other forward at the same speed as the vehicles they drive. It is hard to make F1 racing look boring, but there are times when you will want the actual races to finish so you can move on with the character drama. “Rush” is not perfect, but it can hide its flaws behind the stunning main performances. It is not just a good racing film, or a good sports film, but rather a great film in general that is surely Ron Howard’s best film in years.