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Movie short takes: Rush and Don Jon are both worth your time

Don Jon

Written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, and Brie Larson.

90 minutes. Rated R.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s tale of Jon Martello, a Joisey guido who goes from being a self-centered, porn-addicted, devoutly Catholic lothario to a slightly less self-centered and slightly wiser porn-addicted, devoutly Catholic lothario, shows that the actor (best known for his standout work in Inception, Looper and the terrific high-school noir Brick) has genuine talent as a writer and director. Jon, his girlfriend Barbara (Johansson) and his whacky family (Danza, Headly and Larson, all pitch perfect) are broadly drawn, and the message (both porn and the chick flicks Barbara enjoys present unreal pictures of relationships which make it hard for us to deal with real-life relationships) is no great revelation, but these are not necessarily negatives. The relationship between Jon and Barbara (who, unlike his usual bar skanks, makes him wait a while before their first roll in the hay) is at once ridiculous, funny and sweet (until, of course, she catches him with porn for the second time), the devices that carry the story along (his narration, constant masturbation sequences and weekly trips to the confessional) frame the story well, and the entire film works as both a spoof of modern romance in these hyper-sexualized times and the tale of a guy who just might not be doomed to stay a man-child the rest of his life. Improbably, Don Jon is both a cautionary tale about porn addiction and a sweet, good-natured and at times very funny date movie.

Rush

Directed by Ron Howard.

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde and Alexandria Maria Lara.

123 minutes. Rated R.

You couldn’t ask for a more dramatic true sports story to base a movie on than the 1976 Formula One throw down between handsome British party boy James Hunt and the ferret-faced, unsmiling, icily efficient Austrian Niki Lauda, who battled for the title for months across several continents.  The Hunt/Lauda rivalry had, as Ron Howard’s wildly entertaining film shows, been building for years, with both men coming up in the ranks, honing their skills, and growing to both dislike and grudgingly admire each other.

One of Howard’s best films, Rush has all the you-are-on-the-track thunder any race fan could ask for; the noisy thrill of several races is the background as Howard presents two character studies as both men try to make sense of their growing fame and what they see as the other man’s deficiencies. Hemsworth’s Hunt (who is all about bedding as many women as possible and enjoying life to the full, which costs him his marriage to his wife Suzy, played by Olivia Wilde) is perfectly balanced by Bruhl’s Lauda, whose brusque, impatient confidence makes him a huge pain in the ass, and nearly unable to accept the love of his girlfriend and eventual wife Marlene (the excellent Alexandria Maria Lara, who can say more with her eyes than most actors can with a dozen pages of dialogue).

Both men give fine performances, but Bruhl (who you may remember as Fredrick Zoller, the German soldier who pursues the beautiful French theater owner Shosanna in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds) deserves, at the very least, a best supporting actor Oscar nomination: his fight to recover after a near-fatal wreck is both horrifying and genuinely inspiring, as is his decision to resume racing soon after the crash.

I won’t tell you the ending, but I will say that you don’t have to give a single solitary damn about auto racing (I don’t) to thoroughly enjoy Rush: sports rivalries have rarely been brought to such vivid life on film. In the end, we understand, and appreciate, the way Hunt and Lauda approached their lives and their chosen profession; we can cheer them both on, while understanding that both were, in a way, their own worst enemy.