12/31/2013: Don Jon, Linsanity, Dear Mr. Watterson, Last Love

Don Jon (R, 2013, Fox)
Jon’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) intense addiction to porn is, to hear him describe it, a matter of practicality — a way to enjoy the highs of sex without dealing with the lows, even though he goes out his way every weekend to chase those as well. He looks and sounds like a cartoon character, he’s the son of an even more pronounced cartoon character (Tony Danza), his pursuit of one woman (Scarlett Johansson) above all others makes almost no sense to us or her, and believe it or not, all this and more plays into one of the most fun romantic comedies (to use the term about as loosely as usage allows) of 2013. “Don Jon” and the character bearing its name make immediate and potently grimy first impressions, and there is no point where it betrays that griminess to change course and undermine everything that makes this so oddly engrossing. Things do change as “Jon” goes from A to Z, and without spoiling the whats and hows, they aren’t insignificant things. But “Jon’s” unflinching devotion to unapologetic honesty — bound to turn many off, likely to scare others away, but by a mile its best, funniest, and most special trait — never wavers. Julianne Moore also stars.
Extras: Five behind-the-scenes features, shorts from Gordon-Levitt’s HitRECord studio.

Linsanity (PG, 2013, Arc Entertainment)
In the two years since Linsanity took a planet of sports fans by storm, Jeremy Lin has returned to Earth as good but wholly mortal sixth-man point guard for the Houston Rockets. Consequently, Linsanity doesn’t feel like forever ago so much as something we all must have imagined, and the presence of a documentary bearing the phenomenon’s name feels premature for a player whose NBA career likely projects to end up somewhere hovering just above pretty good. But the most wonderful thing about the mostly wonderful “Linsanity” is how potently the feeling returns when the moment arrives where Lin transformed, over a couple hours and then a couple weeks, from an inevitably jobless NBA never-was to the biggest sensation on the planet. Partial credit naturally goes to the moment itself, which stands alone as one of those rare times where real-life sports looks crazier than a Disney film. But Lin himself participates heavily in “Linsanity’s” recollection not only of his breakout moment, but the lean and sometimes ugly years that preceded and nearly prevented it. His complete candor — sometimes to funny effect, sometimes at his own expense, but almost always honest in a way few athletes are on the record — takes what would have been a fun but needless documentary and elevates it into a can’t-miss for anyone who appreciates the game.

Dear Mr. Watterson (NR, 2013, Gravitas Ventures)
There’s an elephant in “Dear Mr. Watterson’s” room, and if you have any familiarity with the philosophies of the extraordinarily reclusive cartoonist who created “Calvin and Hobbes” and refused to allow it within 10 miles of any merchandising of any kind, your first and only guess — that Watterson had no participation whatsoever in the making of this documentary — is the only guess you need. Perhaps a little more surprising, at least given the implications of that title, is filmmaker Joel Allen Schroeder’s seeming refusal to even attempt to garner any kind of participation on Watterson’s part. As a fan film, “Watterson” makes the most of being in an odd spot, sprinkling some glimpses into Watterson’s cartooning roots atop the recollections of fans, curators and fellow cartoonists. For would-be cartoonists, that last part, which spills out into an interesting discussion about where the medium has gone and is going in the current media climate, represents “Watterson” at its most interesting. It’s too bad, really, that Watterson himself isn’t present, beyond a few older quotes, to chime in on a discussion he inadvertently started. Though Schroeder arguably isn’t at fault, the near-complete absence of Watterson in a movie bearing his name creates a huge void that fans and Schroeder’s own loving appreciation can’t fill all by themselves. And while Watterson’s lack of participation almost certainly was a given no matter the effort, Schroeder’s post-credits admission that he never even attempted contact with his subject is hard to understand and fruitless to defend.

Last Love (NR, 2013, Image Entertainment)
The first leg of “Last Love” isn’t perfect, nor is it necessarily even believable with any amount of cynicism applied. But when English-speaking American widower Matthew (Michael Caine) meets the youthful, bilingual and wonderfully sweet Pauline (Clémence Poésy) on what otherwise would have been just another bus ride during just another lost day of missing his late wife and wandering alone through his adopted not-quite-home of Paris, it at least feels kind of perfect. Pauline and Matthew each lament the loss of family in different ways, and the friendship they build almost from nothing is quirky, fun and the kind of phenomenon that makes relationships look easy and makes us wonder why it isn’t can’t just be that easy. And then, abruptly, “Love” finds the biggest bucket of ice water in Paris, lifts it high in the air and rains cold water down over everything. A sudden and unwelcome story turn leads to the appearance of two comparably unwelcome characters, and from here, “Love” makes a gradual but rapidly dispiriting descent into the muck — of family politics, baggage and the grey clouds of frayed relationships — that it so delightfully and believably escaped early on. Misery never consumes it, and occasionally the film’s early light shines through late. But “Love” never finds its old form after letting it slip away, and the dubious events that send the movie home are hard to reconcile for all the wrong reasons.
Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes.