'Don Jon' Wants to Sex You Up

Don Jon is like watching a far more well behaved Jersey Shore. It takes the same beats presented on that awful reality show and polishes them for a more compelling and complex experience.

Don Jon

Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Jeremy Luc, Rob Brown, Tony Danza, Glenne Headley, Brie Larson
Rated: R
Studio: Relativity Media
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-09-27 (General release)
UK date: 2013-09-27 (General release)

It says a lot about the lead character in Joseph Gordon-Levitt's self-styled indie lark Don Jon that the character he created, a Jersey boy lothario patterned after the legendary lover, would rather have sex with himself than with the myriad of honeys he brings back to his crib. Oh, make no mistake about it, he beds these beauties as well, but Jon is addicted to porn, and as such, needs to have his trusty laptop around (and its arousing start-up sounds) to really quell his throbbing biological urges. As a seasoned veteran, an actor whose been around since the early '90s, Gordon-Levitt understands the needs of onscreen entertainment. While he might be a bit rough around the edges when it comes to character and plot contrivances, he's clearly evolved into a jack - or, perhaps, Joe - of many trades.

As Jon Martello, our star spends time working out, tending bar, and picking up available babes. He loves his family, loves his car, and loves the reputation he has with his MTV-ready pals Danny (Jeremy Luc) and Bobby (Rob Brown). He goes to church regularly, confesses his innumerable sins to his parish priest, and even makes time for his angry Italian dad (Tony Danza), long suffering mother (Glenne Headly) and disinterested sister (Brie Larson). And he loves his porn, and masturbating to same. Regularly. Almost all the time. One night, Jon meets his match in a blond bombshell named Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson). She refuses to sleep with him, making him "work" for a girl for the first time in his life. While trying to change things to please Barb, he ends up meeting an older woman named Esther (Julianne Moore) who might just be able to cure him of his carnal cravings once and for all.

After a stint as a child star and a regular on Third Rock from the Sun, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has graduated to the big leagues. He's worked with Christopher Nolan in two of the director's most ambitious and popular films (Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises). He's had indie success with such offerings as Brick, (500) Days of Summer, Hersher, and Looper. Now comes his personal breakthrough, his chance to show that he is more a dashing leading man type with an incredibly viable future in the film business. Don Jon is like watching a far more well behaved Jersey Show. It takes the same beats presented on that awful reality show and polishes them for a more compelling and complex experience. We still get the same level of lunkheaded superficiality, but mixed in now are more sobering (and sober) details.

As the center of this sex storm, Gordon-Levitt succeeds on all levels. Sure, he relies a bit too much on the montage and repeats jokes like a well-worn Catskills comic, but for the most part, these are signs of growing pains, not permanent problems. Similarly, he shows a striking capability, as a director, toward casting and controlling performances. Tony Danza has never been this viable as a big screen presence, and by using Ms. Moore and Ms. Johansson as two sides of Jon's interpersonal dilemma, we get a pair of standout female leads. For his part, Gordon-Levitt looks the part, and even puts on a presentable Jersey honk. But his previous wholesome persona, though tested on occasion, comes back to haunt him, turning Jon into something we should loathe but end up least, up to a point.

Indeed, our filmmaker truly finds the whole "porn addiction" angle beyond fascinating, and as other critics have accurately pointed out, there's more hardcore material in this film (or at the very least, hinted at) than there is in a typical Vivid release. It's never overly graphic or given over to XXX tendencies, but for the most part, Gordon-Levitt is from the school of "you gotta see it to believe it." Also, the objectification of women makes for a delicate PC balancing act. Yes, we are dealing with a fictional ladies man and both Esther and Barbara prove that there is nothing better than watching a desperate, dogged male suffer, but this is still a film centering around a bunch of guys giving numerical ratings and labels ("dimes") to the object of their one night stand desires. One senses that Gloria Steinman doesn't have JoGoLe's number on her iPhone speed dialer.

On the other hand, there are some interesting takes on the age old battle of the sexes themes here. Indeed, Jon's issue is not commitment so much as that most hobbling of post-millennial maladies - a sense of entitlement. He believes he deserves the hottest girls, the ultimate satisfaction, and the permission to pleasure himself should the first two concept end up lacking. This is especially true when Jon tries to "win over" Barbara. He is forced to do things he would never ever do regularly, and Gordon-Levitt shows us the sad, sinking feeling that comes over his character. Similarly, when also see love as a competition, a basis for bragging rights among those with little or no shot at true happiness. While the movie makes jokes at the expensive of its collection of wannabe goombahs and guidos, the truth is that these 20-somethings are stuck in a cultural fad that will force them, one day, to either find away out or fall further into cliche.

Still, because of its raunchy exterior and often hilarious dialogue, Don Jon succeeds. It sells us on its contemporary update of a classic character while offering more proof that our lives are being destroyed by the Internet and its random access availability to everything and every kind of diversion. It also points to the problems facing couples circa 2013, to wit, the unrealistic expectations placed upon singles to look and act within a dynamic set up by already specious expectations. Going a step further, the film feels like an attempt to understand such individuals without having to fully explain or excuse them. This is also an indication that, no matter his past, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a future both in front and behind the lens. As a hyphenated horndog whose taken down a notch, he proves that sex remains both a weapon, and a weakness.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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