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Sundance Faces Gordon-Levitt’s Abs, Radcliffe Howl

Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in
Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Don Jon's Addiction." Gordon-Levitt's directing debut also stars Julianne Moore, Brie Larson and Tony Danza. Photographer: Thomas Kloss/Modern VideoFilm via Bloomberg

Jan. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Porn pays, but is it good for you?

“Don Jon’s Addiction,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s feature directorial debut about a Jersey Shore-type with an addiction to online pornography, was acquired by Relativity Media for $4 million at the Sundance Film Festival this week in Park City, Utah.

A summer release is planned. Will audiences go for a comedy that includes snippets from porn films? And that features Gordon-Levitt’s muscled stud bragging about his number of daily climaxes, not to mention a fairly explicit tumble with co-star Julianne Moore?

Here are my first impressions of this and a few more Sundance entries that will be making their way to theaters in the coming months.

Don’s ‘Addiction’

I’m guessing that Gordon-Levitt has seen “Saturday Night Fever” more than once. His alpha-male Jon Martello -- Don Jon to his worshipful barroom wingmen -- could be a nephew to John Travolta’s disco-dancing Tony Manero.

But the Don’s addiction isn’t the Hustle. He prefers climaxing in front of a computer screen, which tends to get in the way of emotional connections with actual women.

Bulked up and pomaded, Gordon-Levitt’s performance is a bit showy. But the comic dinner-table arguments with his muscle-shirted dad (a perfectly cast Tony Danza) make the film’s “Fever” addiction worth the indulgence.

‘Blue Caprice’

An artful drama inspired by the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks, Alexandre Moors’s “Blue Caprice” was the most disturbing film I saw at Sundance.

Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond play John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo, who terrorized Washington with random sniper shootings a year after 9/11.

Moors and cowriter R.F.I. Porto begin the movie with frantic emergency calls and crime scene footage before flashing back to the killers’ meeting. That’s when Muhammad -- an American hiding out in the Caribbean with his three absconded children -- rescued the drowning, possibly suicidal 16-year-old Malvo off the coast of Antigua.

Five months later, with Muhammad’s emotional state deteriorating after losing custody of the kids, the faux father/son duo make their way from Seattle to D.C. (in a blue Chevrolet Caprice), armed with a Bushmaster rifle and a plan to topple “the system” one murder at a time.

“Blue Caprice,” which hadn’t landed a distribution deal as of this writing, unfolds slowly, almost dreamlike, with meticulous, tense attention to Muhammad’s growing rage and Malvo’s increasing dependence.

Neither this serious meditation on fatherless children in leaderless cultures, nor the exceptional performances, can make us unsee the film’s nerve-fraying scenes of carnage.

Harry’s Howler

The latest, and possibly best, in a recent line of Allen Ginsberg impersonators (following James Franco and Tom Sturridge) is Daniel Radcliffe in director John Krokidas’ “Kill Your Darlings.”

Krokidas and screenwriter Austin Bunn find a fresh take on the overexposed Beats by exploring the often footnoted but rarely examined 1944 murder of David Kammerer by Ginsberg’s friend (and Kammerer’s sometime lover) Lucien Carr.

Carr (Dane DeHaan) was the effete, visionary lynchpin in the Columbia University literary circle that included Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs. (Ben Foster nailing Burroughs’s mesmerizing drone).

Michael C. Hall gives a subtle, desperate performance as Kammerer.

With the murder as a framing device, “Darlings” recounts Ginsberg’s instant infatuation with the charismatic, unstable Carr and their disparate, shifting levels of self-acceptance as young gay men.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the film’s bloody denouement, and the flashes of surreal visual tricks lean toward gimmickry. DeHaan’s breakout performance and scriptwriter Bunn’s knowing grasp of ’40s moods and rhythms nicely capture a world on the edge of something new.

Sony Pictures Classics has acquired distribution rights.

Outlaw Heroes

Director/screenwriter David Lowery’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is the best Terrence Malick-style film in years.

With its outlaw heroes and gorgeous fields at twilight, “Saints” inevitably recalls Malick’s great “Badlands” (1973).

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play Bob and Ruth, moony-eyed, dirt-poor Texans on a robbing spree that goes wrong. The film’s prologue ends with a panicked shoot-out, as the pregnant Ruth wounds a local sheriff and Bob takes the blame.

Four years later (the era is unspecified, or possibly timeless), Bob escapes prison to be with Ruth and their young daughter, who have come under the watchful, smitten eye of the very officer Ruth wounded.

“Saints” plays like a folk ballad, plaintive, aching and haunted. Affleck, Mara and Keith Carradine (as Bob’s wily old mentor) are first-rate, and Ben Foster (unrecognizable from his turn in “Kill Your Darlings”) gives a soulful, lovely performance as the small-town sheriff willing, for better or worse, to let bygones be bygones.

A distribution deal hasn’t been announced, though Harvey and Bob Weinstein already have foreign rights.

Jane Austen

With “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer co-producing, Keri Russell starring and Jane Austen inspiring, “Austenland” should have been the mother of all rom-coms.

“Austenland” stars Russell as Jane Hayes, a single woman obsessed with all things Austen, especially the BBC production of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Fed up with dating losers, Jane blows through her life savings on a trip to an Austen-themed resort in England, where guests spend a week role-playing Regency era types in a country manor staffed with actors doing the same.

Will she choose the dashing Darcy stand-in (JJ Feild)? Or the irreverent stablehand (Bret McKenzie)?

Based on the 2007 bestseller by Shannon Hale (who co-wrote the film with director Jerusha Hess), “Austenland” begins as a likable traipse down the path between life and fantasy. Eventually it stumbles into predictable, trite rom-com terrain.

At least Jennifer Coolidge, as a vacationing vulgarian trying too hard for British civility, is a hoot the entire way.

Sony plans to release “Austenland” this summer.

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars and Lance Esplund on art.

To contact the writers on the story: Greg Evans in Park City, Utah, at gregeaevans@yahoo.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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