Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Jon Martello is a neatnik who arranges his life around family, church, gym and sex. He gets a lot of sex. But he prefers porn.
That’s his dilemma when he meets a blonde princess named Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), who calls on a siren’s array of erotic artillery to reduce him to jello.
Porn she absolutely forbids, no discussion. But he’s an addict.
Though it’s set in New Jersey rather than Brooklyn, “Don Jon” -- written and directed with frenzied energy by Gordon-Levitt -- cheerfully steals from the 1977 “Saturday Night Fever” in its tale of an Italian-American stud-slash-dolt who harbors a spark of life that draws him toward the wider world. It’s even more condescending to the small-minded characters around him, if that’s possible. “Don Jon” is also fast and funny.
Jon’s deliverance comes in the form of a messed-up pothead named Esther who sees through his insulation and tells him what he needs to hear.
The down-shift from cartoon romance to romantic drama would be jarring if Esther were played by a lesser actress than Julianne Moore, who makes the wisdom she’s given to deliver sound like good hard sense from an older woman who’s been through hell.
She’s touching, Johansson is wonderfully awful and Gordon-Levitt is electric, making it easy to forgive the movie its meannesses. Unless you happen to be Italian-American.
“Don Jon,” from Relativity Media, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **** (Seligman)
Songs as energizing as “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “Brown Sugar” leave us wanting more, so maybe it’s fitting that a documentary about the place that delivered those gutbucket classics does the same.
But “Muscle Shoals,” Greg “Freddy” Camalier’s feature-length film hitting select theaters before airing on PBS in early 2014, leaves us unsatisfied for all the wrong reasons.
Ruminations on Native American legends and Helen Keller’s water pump would be fine in an Alabama travelogue, but in “Muscle Shoals?”
Couldn’t we please get back to “Mustang Sally?”
In the 1960s, Muscle Shoals, the backwoods Alabama town that housed FAME recording studio and its rival facility Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, drew rock and soul superstars looking to tap the area’s homegrown funk rhythms.
Some, like Aretha Franklin, were surprised to learn that those beats came from a rhythm section composed entirely of white boys barely out of their teens -- the Swampers, as they came to be known (and name-checked in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”).
“Muscle Shoals” explores the cross-racial camaraderie that launched gems from Arthur Alexander’s “Anna” to Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome.” Wonderful old footage shows the Rolling Stones hearing their first playback of “Wild Horses” and Franklin laying down the opening piano chords of “I Never Loved a Man the Way that I Loved You.”
Alongside interviews with Mick Jagger, Percy Sledge, Keith Richards, Jimmy Cliff, Bono and Clarence Carter, among many others, the film properly credits FAME founder Rick Hall as the man who started it all.
And as intriguing as the still-living Hall is -- his life story absolutely twangs with a blues song’s misery and missed chances -- “Muscle Shoals” lags when it strays from those perfect beats.
“Muscle Shoals,” from Magnolia Pictures, is playing in New York. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)
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