2011

December 27, 2013

Forgotten Gems: 50/50

SEEDS

50/50 – Seeds

Can a film about cancer be funny?  Normally, it’s one of those topics that Hollywood tends to stay away from when it comes to comedy.  Sure, you have “Terms of Endearment” which is thought of as one of the best films in the last 30 years, but cancer doesn’t always equal comedy.  While I won’t consider “50/50” in the same class of “Terms” it’s still a film that takes the subject of cancer, and disease in general, and combines it with humor, though sometimes crass, and hope.  It also plants the seeds for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, where you really get to see him act in a big time way.

“50/50” is the story of Adam, a twentysomething working at a NPR-like radio station in Seattle. Cutting to the chase, after visiting a doctor for some unexplained aches and pains he learns that he has a rare type of cancer (isn’t it always a rare type of cancer in any film?)  With the help of his friend Kyle, Adam tries to look on the bright side of life even with his personal life crumbling around him as well as his well-intentioned mother’s constantly harassment, and father dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease.  When it rains it pours, I guess?

The film also stars Anna Kendrick as Adam’s psychologist, Katherine, who I think does a fine job and adds something special to “50/50.”  What I will add is that I’m a little confused about all the hate that Kendrick gets for the roles she takes.  I mean she’s no Jennifer Lawrence, but she’s just as awkward as J-Law, but people take her as a bitch for some reason.  She only has a handful of roles to her credit, including an Academy Award nominated performance for her first *real* role in “Up In the Air” but I’m not sure why so many people complain about her acting.  She has her own style, and despite the fact that several of the characters that she plays are moody or quirky-outsider types in the early 20’s, I think she does the best she does with the writing that is provided for her.  As for her performance in “50/50” Kendrick continues to show that when given material she can really shine, see “End of Watch” for further evidence that she has a bright future as a new type of “the girl next door.”

Moving away from my Anna Kendrick rant and back to “50/50,”  the other thing that struck me with the film is the honesty in which cancer is dealt with.  While at heart the film is a “comedy” there are some real human elements to the film, namely unexpected loss, coming to grips with situations you have no control over, and re-establishing old relationships, and building new ones.  Gordon-Levitt conveys an honest performance and is still able to pull a few decent laughs from a situation that rarely leaves room for humor.  Seth Rogen, usually the funniest guy in the room, manages to still be the comic relief of the film, but he shows some of his acting chops as a friend who is trying to turn his friend’s tragedy into his own gain, but still show some compassion as a best friend.

Overall, “50/50” is a fine film that shines a light on a disease that most people try to stray away from.  To be honest, I think there are more films about the plight of people suffering from AIDS then people suffering from cancer, a far more relatable disease to be honest with you.  I’m sure in our lives we have met someone, been friends with, or have had a family member that has fought cancer.  Of course I’m not taking anything away from people who suffer from HIV/AIDS, but Hollywood seems to make have a “mythic” obsession with the AIDS virus, while cancer is almost a dirty word to most people.  So, if you’ve yet to see “50/50” it’s certainly worth a watch just to see some young actors dealing with, and executing some of the heaviest acting that most of them had to deal with up to that point.

*I don’t consider anything “Twilight” related a real role by an actor or actress that wants to be taken serious.

Fun Fact:  Actors Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall have both played cancer patients in previous films Watchmen and Magnolia, respectively.

August 27, 2013

Back to School Special: Bully (2011)

Bully (2011) – Frustrating

For most kids, the end of August is always a sad time, because that is when Summer fun is over and it’s time to go back to school.  Yes, on one hand it’s when you get to see all your school friends again and you get to share stories about your vacations or how many chicks you hooked up with, or for high school juniors who are now high school seniors; college plans, or, once again, how many chicks you hooked up with or are going to hook up with.  As you can see these were the priorities when I was in high school, or at least what I think most high school kids talked about when I was in high school.  As I digress, going back to school can either be a magical time, or it can be a kid’s worst nightmare.  Let’s take middle school for instance, easily the most awkward time for most kids.  It’s a proving ground for most kids, Darwinism at it’s best, and worst.  Some kids have hit that magical growth spurt and think they can do anything, while the weaker are preyed upon by those trying to stake their claim.  What happens between that bus ride to school and that 3:00 pm bell to go back on the bus can be a mystery.  Sadly, it’s a mystery to mostly parents and school officials as well.  “Bully,” the Lee Hirsch documentary, not the exploitation classic by Larry Clark (come to think of it, aren’t all documentaries just as exploitative?) exposes a frustrating look into the underbelly of the American School System, kids who are bullied, bullies themselves, and the parents who have had to deal with the ultimate cost of bullying.

“Bully” is a first-hand look at how the act of bullying is affecting today’s youth.  Yes, it’s no secret that bullying has been around as far back as the first man.  The strong prey upon the weak and create a hierarchy of the strong at the top, and the weak at the bottom.  Survival of the Fittest if you will.  However, only now are we starting to understand the dynamics of bullying with the discovery of social illness’ and the internal problems within a family household.  The documentary follows kids from all walks of life, including Alex, who suffers abuse on the bus to school and comes to the conclusion that to beat the bully, you might have to become the bully.  A chilling conclusion that bully culture has created, and we’ve seen play out in tragedies like Columbine and numerous other school shootings.

The most frustrating part of “Bully” occurs with both parents and teachers.  While the old adage holds “kids will be kids,” it’s frustrating to see the laid back attitude of teachers and how the wool has been pulled over their eyes by said, kids.  Two unfortunate things have happened to in recent years to schools and teachers.  One is the omnipresent fear that teachers have for their jobs.  Between constant testing, overbearing parents, low wages, the childcare aspect of teaching is lost, so bullying goes unchecked.  The other is the teacher/parent relationship and how it has degenerated.  More so the fault of the parent and the rickety notion that their child is perfect and can do no wrong.  This shows how out of touch most parents are with their kids and the fear that teachers have to tell parents the truth about what’s really going on while kids are in school.

It’s no secret that there is bullying in schools and that it’s never going to stop.  Kids are cruel, especially between the ages of 11-15.  It’s between these ages that kids really try to stake their claim and try to become the alphas in the middle school hierarchy.  The worst part is that kids who are the victims of bullying think this is how it’s always going to be, and sadly lack perspective in the grand scheme of things.  Middle school and high school are blips on the radar of life for kids, but it’s hard to put that in perspective when you’re barely a teenager.

Should “Bully” be required screening for all schools?  Yes and no.  While the documentary shows bullying at it’s worst and the repercussions and consequences it causes either directly or indirectly, the documentary only shows the side of the bullied.  I’d be interested to see what makes bullies…..bullies.  What drives them?  What are their parents and home life like?  What really makes them tick?  I say if you are going to exploit the bullied, why not exploit the bullies as well?

The Bully Debate will never go away as long as tragedies continue to pile up, from suicides to mass school shootings.  However, there simply isn’t a way to fix the issue short of homeschooling all kids, which isn’t a viable option to many parents of bullied children.  It’s a delicate problem in this day and age, but it’s been made worse by overbearing parents and soft teachers who care more about their “jobs” then their real job; their students.

Fun Fact:  For more information on how to become involved in stopping the bullying epidemic, please visit: http://www.thebullyproject.com/

January 10, 2013

Holiday Hangover, Special Guest Reviewer Edition: Midnight In Paris

Midnight In Paris – Direction

*This review is being provided by guest contributor; Nicole Schiavo.  Thanks for the submission Nicole and we look forward to having more guest submissions.*


Direction in this movie, starts from the very top, the direction provided by arguably one of the most influential directors in the business, Woody Allen.  After a string of ill contrived and marginally received flops, “Midnight in Paris” brings Allen back into the (in my opinion well deserved) critically acclaimed; he once again found his direction.

The film features Owen Wilson’s portrayal of Gil, a likable but somewhat flaky writer (I would like to think that Allen, would have played Gil had he been 30 years younger.  Wilson. in my opinion, is a fine replacement) engaged to unlikable Inez, played by Rachel McAdams (“Mean Girls” Regina George all grown up).

 
The story is driven by Gil’s complete lack of direction – in his work as a writer and in his complete lack of navigational skills – getting lost on the city’s narrow time-worn streets, he winds up getting lost down a small unmarked alley and whisked away at midnight by a 1920s-era vehicle.
This magical vehicle (suspend reality here) brings him smack in the middle of 1920s Paris – where Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald mirror the relationship of Gil and Inez (and we all know how well that ended), Gertrude Stein and Hemmingway are writing buddies, and where Salvador Dali is as strange as we have always imagined.
  
Getting tossed back in time lets Gil live out every fantasy that an overly romantic writer could have – why should he want to go back to the “now”?  Ever the romantic, Gil not only relishes this amazing opportunity, he doesn’t question it, ever (Slight gripe, but keep the reality suspended, throw it out the window, this is a fantasy).
In the most literate way, Gil had be to completely lost in Paris in order to regain his sense of direction, in his writing, in his relationships, and more importantly his life.
  
This movie is just pure fun – the cast is great and the setting is romantic, beautiful Paris.  Peel back the layers and hidden a little deeper in the film is the realization that although nostalgia is a great place to visit, you can’t really live there – direct oneself in the now and all its possibilities.

September 14, 2012

The Mechanic

The Mechanic: Works
(The 2011 remake)

Cheesy Acting, Cheesy Directing with a few plot holes.

Well listen it was on Showtime and it was late. I thought hey what the hell, lets give it a shot.
It Works, I did enjoyed the film but it is far from perfect.
It’s a film I usually call a throwaway. A film possibly not intended to be discarded after being watched once but in my world it is.

If you like a nice little action film and there is nothing on TV, go for it.
Otherwise that’s it.
Will I buy this film on DVD or Blu-ray, nay Im good.

What I really did like about this film is the hits they do. It kinda felt like the Hitman video game series that I love so dearly. The actors I thought fit perfect in those scenes and the way they killed them I thought was enjoyable.

NOTES:

I’m getting sick of Jason Statham doing the same, “I’m always pissed off, but I’m a Badass”.
It works on Crank yes, It works on the Transporters yes. Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and The Bank Job yes, and it kinda works in this film but I am getting sick of it. I still like the guy, but enough is enough.

Ben Foster on the other hand stole the film. I really enjoyed him in this. The guys acting is really underrated.

How come they left finger prints everywhere? I know its a film, but that got on my nerves. They are Hitmen right? Don’t Hitmen know about finger prints? Man it got on my nerves too much!

When a Hitman uses Ask.com, Really Ask.com. Don’t know how good of a Hitman he really is if he uses Ask.com.

Why can’t Donald Sutherland do more films and not be a throwaway side piece. I love seeing this guy on the screen, need more of that these days.

And a NOTE for all action films these days, STOP with the CG Blood! It looks horrible, its so bad it makes the film less respectful.

September 3, 2012

J. Edgar

J. Edgar: Solid

This movie is fine, and thats it.

I would say it’s a weak Clint Eastwood film.

Leonardo DiCaprio is good, like usual.

His make up was good. Clyde Tolson’s wasn’t. Really got on my nervers every time I saw it.

I would like to see a story about someone’s life that doesn’t use the standard, “I’m writing a book so let’s now go back and show you everything that I talk about”.

If you have time to kill then okay watch this, if not I’m sure you can find something a bit better.

August 30, 2012

The Change Up

The Change Up: SUCKS

O my…this film sucks!

It is not a good movie…Nope not even funny bad. Just wow this sucks, this sucks a lot.

Seriously did anyone read the script? It’s clearly not funny, so why make it?

This film is nowhere near somewhat funny. The only parts that this film thinks it’s funny is that gross stuff. Like kids shitting beyond what would be considered healthy, cuz holy shit take that kid to the hospital clearly that’s not healthy.

It angers me that stupid shit like this film gets made and some good scripts don’t.

Only reason to watch this would be the beautiful Olivia Wilde…

But I’ll just place a photo of her here. That way you don’t have to watch it since I just told you she is in it…

Oh good things are better now. So to sum things up, since the whole time I was on my phone googling ways to kill myself when watching this film…It sucks DON’T WATCH…let’s move on now, okay…

August 11, 2012

Source Code

EXISTENTIAL

Director Duncan Jones(Son Of David Bowie By The Way…Yes That David Bowie) originally impressed me with his 2009 film Moon starring Sam Rockwell.  On the surface Moon looked like a typical indie sci-fi picture.  However, Moon, to me, was actually about knowing yourself and the questions of what makes us who we are.  A movie that appears to be one thing but turns out to really be about something else entirely.  Two years later, Jones directed a film that fell again under the design of an EXISTENTIAL question hidden behind a sci-fi genre.  That film was Source Code.

Source Code was promoted as another “unique” a sci-fi concept thriller.  Its probably why it took me so long to see it.  But as you watch it, you start to realize that its not the stated terrorist plot that is important to this story at all.  Its not even the, not so well hidden, twist (Which I won’t spoil) that reveals itself 45 minutes in.  Its the questions of fate and destiny and whether its worth it to even fight to change something that is inevitable and ultimately irrelevant.

Concepts like these by themselves could make for an interesting film…but not in this day and age.  Hollywood is under the belief that these questions as the subject of a film are not good for business. They think it is too much work to market EXISTENTIALISM to the mass populous.  So filmmakers try and hide their EXISTENTIAL films inside films that Hollywood knows how to promote.  Most times they’re done poorly.  Sometimes they’re done well.  Sometimes they’re done so well, that they entertain the intellectual and…um…how do I put this….the people who like stuff that blow up real good.  Source Code is one of the films that has done it well.

No, it is not a flawless film.  Its overly sentimental at times and the final scene ends rather abruptly.  However, Source Code is still a solid film with solid performances from Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright.  For those of you over 29 that remember a little TV Show called Quantum Leap, there is a very cool nod to the similarities between it and Source Code.  There will be no doubt in your mind that it entertained you after you’ve seen it.  Don’t believe me?  Charge the drivers….go back 8 minutes….think about it…then tell me I’m wrong. (That joke will makes sense after viewing…but probably still won’t be funny.)

July 28, 2012

Another Earth

ORIGINAL

This review will be shorter than some of my others.  Not because Another Earth is not a good film.  It and Inception are probably the two most ORIGINAL films I’ve seen in a decade.  Its because Another Earth is a film that is reliant on its reveals.  Where that can be bad in some instances, it is totally rewarding here.

All I’ll say about the plot of Another Earth is that it revolves around a post adolescent girl and a fateful night that changed her life and the life of everyone on the planet forever.  Well, two planets to be precise.  Cryptic enough?  Good.  Its worth the reveal.  Another Earth is a moral dilemma picture in the same vein as Doubt or Gone Baby Gone with a very interesting twist thrown in.

The casual and simplistic way first time director Mike Cahill shoots each scene adds to the film’s charm.  He gets a great performance from his cowriter and star Brit Marling and a stand out performance by William Mapother.  Does the last name Mapother sound familiar?  No?  It should, because its the real last name of William’s slightly more famous older cousin Tom Cruise.

Another Earth is certainly another film that’ll have you thinking and talking about it way after you’ve finished seeing it.  It deserves more awareness than it has gotten.  See it…be surprised that its one of “those” films…then be more surprised its actually more than that….then tell me I’m wrong.

July 27, 2012

Simplistic TV: Suits

UNDERVALUED

There hasn’t been a lot of great lawyer shows in a while.(I hear Damages is ok but I’m still in the process of watching it.) Probably not since David E. Kelly’s show Boston Legal. I don’t count any of the Law & Orders because they focus solely on the cases and let the personal lives of the characters fall by the wayside. Making it a show about law and not about lawyers. However, the USA show Suits is finally a return to the lawyer show. And not just a Boston Legal or an Alley McBeal type show. Suits harkens back to Steven Bochco’s 80s classic LA Law, while still having modern appeal and wit.

Created by Aaron Korsh and produced by Doug Liman, Suits in a nutshell is this. What if a higher functioning Rain Man joined a law firm headed by Tony Stark. An interesting concept to say the least. Most people dismiss USA Network shows as procedural fluff. And some of them are. However, Suits has fast become one of the network’s stand outs. I attribute it’s steady increase in quality to the fact they begun downplaying the Rain Man gimmick actor Patrick J. Adams portrays in Mike Ross. If you rely on a gimmick, viewers will begin figuring out your shows before they’re over. It’s the Batman utility belt method. No matter what jam Batman gets in, the viewer is just waiting to see what deus ex machina he’ll whip out to solve it. Suits recognized it wasn’t the premise that was the strength of the show, rather the relationships of the lawyers. That is where the show shines.

Harvey Specter, the Tony Stark-like hot shot lawyer, is played brilliantly by Gabriel Macht. An actor who you’ll probably only remember from this travesty. What Macht and Robert Downey Jr.(Yes, I’ve noticed how many times I mention him) do with both their characters is make them an *sshole but still an *sshole you can like and root for.

Suits walks that tight line of Boston Legal fun and The Practice seriousness.  And it walks it well.  Its a show that week in and week out presents UNDERVALUED performances by its cast and satisfying weekly stories that allow them to flourish.  You haven’t experienced real joy until you’ve seen a Harvey Specter ownage of Louis Litt.  Give the series a chance….the first episode especially…then tell me I’m wrong.

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