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All hooked: Porn addiction and computer chess

• Michał Oleszczyk in Park City

The goodies are in! After a slow start, Sundance Film Festival 2013 has begun to offer real discoveries, even if the wait for that elusive game-changing masterpiece is by no means over. Still, there's stuff to enjoy in Park City and appetites seem pleasantly whetted.

"Don Jon's Addiction" is not a great movie by any stretch of the term, but it's a likable and daring comedy on a subject usually treated with utter seriousness (or not approached at all). Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut, which he also wrote and stars in, is a comedy about a porn-addicted Catholic guy from New Jersey, who tries to change his life and figure out what exactly is wrong with getting off by himself as many as eleven times a day.

The movie doesn't deny the real nature of Don Jon's problem, but it also avoids the sepulchral gloom of the recent sex-addiction hit, "Shame." Unlike Steve McQueen, Gordon-Levitt doesn't feel compelled to see his character as a zombie-shaped ornament for a string of tasteful widescreen compositions. "Don Jon's Addiction" is a much more honest piece of filmmaking, opting for a foul-mouthed charm and emotional drive best embodied by the main character itself. His ripped chest clad in a classic Joisey wife-beater and his eyebrows often raised in a puppy-like bewilderment, Gordon-Levitt both ridicules and embodies the type he's playing here. It's a committed performance that glues the film together at least as well as the gunk Don Jon puts in his hair to keep it from falling down his forehead.

Mirroring its main character's compulsive nature, the film is structured around Don Jon's routines (sex, porn, church, dinners at mom and pop's) and is often edited to achieve a "Requiem for a Dream"-like level of hallucinatory razzmatazz. This mode is sometimes at odds with the old-school rom-com of Levitt courting Scarlett Johansson's über-dish (lacking Jersey hair, but 'tawking' in just the right cadences). Still, it somehow works for the most part. The film even manages to introduce another major female character (played by Julianne Moore) and then steer off from our initial expectations in a manner that feels true and satisfying.

For all its steamy footage of on-line smut (carefully framed so as not to stumble over the NC-17 barrier, known also as "erection"), "Don Jon's Addiction" is ultimately a story of two wounded, unremarkable people coming out of their shells and settling down in each other's arms. I never thought I'd say something like this about a movie featuring multiple shots of semen-stained tissues hitting the waste basket as a running joke, but "Don Jon's Addiction" truly is something of a "Marty" for the internet porn era.

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A different experience altogether was offered by one of this year festival's most eccentric entries, Andrew Bujalski's "Computer Chess." This supremely crafted oddity from the noted mumblecore director plays like an extreme version of every Christopher Guest's mock-documentary you've ever seen, while remaining a highly original piece of work that defies description.

Shot in VHS-like black & white, and posing as found footage from a mid-1980s programming conference, "Computer Chess" offers the fullest immersion into geekdom this side of "Primer," and also manages to create a parallel world as absurd as it is believable. The topic of the conference is the possibility of writing a program that would beat a human being at chess. Ambitions and compulsions collide, greasy bad hair reigns supreme, and Bujalski milks the antediluvian setting of bulky computers and cell-free pockets.

What at first seems a single-note joke based on the fact that an era only three decades removed from the present already suggest that of "Quest for Fire," then evolves into something far richer and stranger. As we watch the motley crew of geeks struggling with their antiquated task, we are offered a glimpse into what visions of "the future" used to be like, when imagined thirty years ago. "I believe computers will be used for dating," one character says, to which another responds: "You mean, like, computers will date one another?" Cue the Steve Jobs biopic, about to open at Sundance in a matter of days. And then...? Cue the online porn-obsessed guy from Jersey, I guess.

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