Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Don Jon Photo courtesy of TIFF.Net

TIFF Reviews: 12 Years a Slave and Don Jon

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By Monika Sidhu

12 Years a Slave

Director: Steve McQueen

It’s the hard-hitting sound of the whip that makes you shudder in your seat, but it’s the sight of one’s skin tear open that leaves you cringing, stunned and in awe. These are the barbaric images featured in the Steve McQueen–directed 12 Years a Slave.

Based on Solomon Northup’s autobiography by the same name, the film tells the story of Solomon, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a born-free black man who is kidnapped and sold into the world of slavery. He moves from one slave owner to another until he comes across the cruel Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), an enthralling and captivating character capable of turning to brutality in an instant.

While Fassbender’s performance will make you cower, Ejiofor’s will make you cry. Ejiofor is able to tell a story without speaking a word. The vulnerability, fear, anger and despair he goes through can be felt by looking into his eyes.

Comparisons will inevitably be made between 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained, as both films look into the extreme violence of slavery, a nightmarish reality inflicted upon so many. Both films are independently outstanding, but other than their era and setting, there isn’t much in common between Tarantino’s fictional narrative and this factual account.

12 Years a Slave is a cinematic masterpiece that will surely leave its mark. This will be a film you will be hearing a lot about, often accompanied by the phrase “Oscar-worthy.”


Don Jon

Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Pornography is a rather touchy subject… literally. Fortunately for moviegoers, Joseph Gordon-Levitt did not shy away from the topic when he wrote, directed and starred in the comedy Don Jon, a story of a porn addict.

“Don” Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) is a well-groomed, self-admitting womanizer, who for the most part maintains an orderly life, with his only concerns being: his physical appearance, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls, and of course his porn. His priorities are unexpectedly shuffled when he meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a stubborn, Jersey-bred “dime” who grew up dreaming of a Hollywood–approved prince charming, whom Jon decides to pursue for the challenge (and for the sex).

Jon is a step in a completely different character direction for Gordon-Levitt, who seems to be typecast as the good-guys-finish-last character, such as in 50/50 or (500) Days of Summer (well, Mysterious Skin is another story)But he was able to portray a natural playboy with ease. Jon and Barbara’s differing viewpoints of what the opposite sex should be makes for an interesting and comical meeting between reality and expectation.

If you need any more of a reason to watch this film, aside from the ever-present pornography, Jon’s father is played by ’80s sitcom star Tony Danza of Who’s the Boss? The chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Danza makes for an effortlessly hilarious post-church meal at the Martello residence.

Other big names to keep your eyes peeled for: Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway. Really, what more needs to be said?

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