In review TIFF: Don Jon and Blood Ties

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Don Jon

Don Jon simultaneously marks the directorial debut of actor Joseph-Gordon Levitt as well as the first feature film produced by his collaborative production company hitRECord Films.

The film, on the surface, is a comedy about Jon, played by director Joseph Gordon-Levitt, addicted to watching pornographic videos and how that affects his relationship with his girlfriend Barbara, played by Scarlett Johansson.

While the comedic elements of the film are very prevalent, so much so that the audience at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) broke out into spontaneous applause multiple times at some of the funnier moments of the film, Don Jon is fundamentally more poignant than a simple comedic effort.

At its core, Don Jon is a self-aware social commentary on how the images we see shape who we are; whether it’s porn, romantic comedies, advertisements, media covers, sporting events and even religious iconography.  The film examines how these images affect how we view not only ourselves and how we should act but also how we view others and how we believe they should act.

Don Jon begins somewhat unstable and slow though the film definitely finds itself and picks up during the second act.  A valiant effort from the first time director, the film, as with most directorial debts, leaves room for improvement within subsequent films that Gordon-Levitt will no doubt deliver should he choose to continue directing films.

The film features strong performances from both Gordon-Levitt and Johansson but it is perhaps the supporting cast of Julianne Moore as Jon’s classmate Esther, Tony Danza and Glenne Headly as Jon’s parents and Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke as Jon’s friends that truly stands out with the strongest comedic performances.

Brie Larson gives possibly the strongest performance as Jon’s sister Monica who, in a role perhaps all too familiar to many young adults today, is addicted to her smartphone much like Jon is addicted to watching pornographic videos.

Don Jon comes into theatres September 27.

3.5/5

Blood Ties

Beautifully directed by Guillaume Canet, Blood Ties is a gritty drama which tells the story of two brothers, Frank a police officer and Chris an ex-convict, living in Brooklyn in the 1970s facing issues in their relationships both familial, romantic, and professional.

The film closely examines how our relationships can tie us into certain obligations, though none more powerful than our relationships formed through blood.  The film examines both the positive and negative connotations these relationships carry with them.  Throughout Blood Ties, Frank and Chris continuously clash over each brother’s involvement on different sides of the law testing whether blood is truly thicker than water. Blood Ties skillfully showcases not only the political and racial tensions facing the people of Brooklyn in the 1970s but also some of the great music to come out of the decade.

Canet pairs these songs masterfully with the action of the film to add a positively nostalgic element throughout, occasionally contrasting with the more dire aspects of the film. Perhaps the main draw in seeing Blood Ties is the phenomenal performances from the film’s cast. Clive Owen and Billy Crudup star as Chris and Frank, respectively, giving powerfully commanding performances leading a consistently remarkable cast.  James Caan and Lili Taylor round out the brother’s family as their father and sister, respectively.  Zoe Saldana and Mila Kunis star as the brothers’ love interests, Kunis as Natalie, Chris’ new bride, and Saldana as Vanessa, Frank’s complicated love interest.

Relative newcomer, to English speaking audiences, Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts turns out a chilling stand-out performance as Saldana’s ex-husband Anthony who clashes with Frank both legally and personally.  Perhaps most notably was a formidable performance from Canet’s real life girlfriend Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard as Monica, a drug addicted prostitute turned madam and the mother of Chris’ children.

Blood Ties is not currently scheduled to be screened in theatres in Canada.

4.5/5

 

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