Sundance 2013: Sex with James Franco, Sultry Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Radcliffe's Jew-Fro, and a Great Film From Jordan

Categories: Film and TV
That may risk making May in the Summer sound like an overstuffed sit-com, and there are moments when it feels like one, but as in her previous film Dabis is smart enough to balance broadly accessible comedy with sharply drawn, three-dimensional characters and a personal, reflective sensibility. Dabis, who is Palestinian herself, grew up in Omaha, and there's a poignancy to the way her characters grapple with their amorphous cultural identities -- not quite at home in the U.S. or in Jordan, where Palestine looms just across the Black Sea. You could swim there, one character notes, were the water not teeming with land mines. And that's about as directly as Dabis engages with the ever-present "conflict" between Israel and its Arab neighbors, preferring instead to focus on the ways ordinary people go about their everyday lives -- shopping, partying, looking for happiness -- no mater the war planes that periodically streak loudly across the sky.

Meanwhile, the first full day of Sundance 2013 might have been subtitled "Sex sells, but who's buying?" (A question sure to be answered over the next few days as buyers begin whipping out their checkbooks.) From mid-afternoon until late evening, the screen of the Eccles Theatre (Sundance's largest screening venue) lit up with one high-profile premiere after another that featured well-known stars in a series of explicit compromising positions.

First up was director John Krokidas' Kill Your Darlings, about the ill-fated love triangle between the young Allen Ginsberg, his libertine fellow Columbia student Lucian Carr, and the obsessive David Kammerer, whom Carr stabbed in Riverside Park, bound, and dumped into the Hudson River on an August night in 1944. Ginsberg is well played -- to the evident surprise of some critics -- by erstwhile Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, sporting the requisite "Jew fro" (a point of discussion at the post-screening Q&A) and the hesitant but hungry demeanor of a brilliant poet about to bloom. But it's the always inventive Ben Foster, lurking on the edges of the movie as the young William Burroughs, who handily steals the show. One of two Beat-era nostalgia trips premiering at Sundance (the second, Michael Polish's Jack Kerouac-centric Big Sur, screens later in the week), is an unquestionable improvement over last year's paint-by-numbers On the Road, but it still falls victim to the kind of idol worship that has made most movies about the Beats hard to take, and to ham-fisted dialogue like "It's our turn. Let's show them what we can do!" (Did people ever talk like that, even in the '40s?) Suffice it to say that the climactic montage juxtaposing Kammerer's slaying with Ginsberg's full-on homosexual deflowering doesn't exactly best The Godfather's influential-to-a-fault baptism/massacre.

"Don Jon's Addiction"
From the Beats to beating off: next up was Joseph Gordon-Levitt's hugely enjoyable directorial debut, Don Jon's Addiction, in which the former child star turned solid character actor casts himself as a muscle-bound, spray-tanned Jersey guido with a debilitating addiction to online porn. Sporting a slicked-back pompadour and a marked aversion to sleeves, Gordon-Levitt's Jon is an intentionally outsized comic creation, and the actor gives himself over to it fully, taking obvious glee in imploding his thoughtful, somewhat bookish screen image. And Gordon-Levitt the director gives the film an addict's cyclical rhythms, making amusing leitmotifs out of the startup chime from Jon's computer, the clack of his fingers on the keyboard, and the swoosh of his wadded-up kleenex hitting the wastebasket. Breaking this vicious cycle is a radiant Scarlett Johansson as the sultry seductress who forces Jon to confront his addiction, and Julianne Moore as the earthy, pothead cougar who shows him how to actually overcome it. For at the heart of the often outré Don Jon's Addiction is a nugget of seriousness about the search for true intimacy in a world of so much instant gratification. Rounding out the game-faced cast: a sublime Tony Danza as Jon Sr., an even more uncanny JG-L doppelganger than Bruce Willis in last year's Looper.

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