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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.

June 24, 2013

This is the End

FRIENDS

This is the End – Friends

Modern comedy falls into three groupings; buddy comedies (The Internship) re-hash comedies (any of The Hangover films) and comedy that came from the penis of Judd Apatow.  If it wasn’t for Apatow you could say that comedy would be dead.  Coming from a generation that thought “The Cable Guy” was one of the best comedies of the 1990s, that pretty much sums it up.  But what happens when you get a film that doesn’t have any of Apatow’s fingerprints on it, yet, remains at heart, an Apatow film?  You get the Rapture-inspired comedy, “This is the End.”  A film about friends, redemption, and a lot of jokes about cum.

Let me put this on front street;  “End” will not be for everyone, but it should be if you’ve seen any Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, or Danny McBride film, which I guess would mean that THIS film IS for EVERYONE!  Sure the humor is sophomoric, gross, and the conversations between the actors runs from inane, homoerotic, to, at times, philosophical, but what would you expect from the same guys that brought you “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express.”

“End” revolves around a party at James Franco’s new house where he’s invited everyone from Kevin Hart to a coked-up Michael Cera (who steals every scene he is in). Between the cocaine lines, bong hits, and Capri Suns, The Rapture begins, sucking people into heaven in blue light, while sinners remain on earth.  A majority of the cast dies, but a small group, including Rogen, Hill, McBride, Franco, Craig Robinson, and Jay Baruchel,  survive and slowly turn on each other while trying to figure what to do in the now-post Ap

If you’re looking for a plot and/or story, you’re looking for the wrong thing.  “End” is clearly a comedy showcase from Rogan to Robinson.  Each actor gets their chance to shine and it’s hilarious the watch even if you kind of know where the story is heading come the climax (that sentence is full of innuendo, but so is this film).  There will be some people in the audience that might feel divided about the humor, that ranges from potty-talk, to mean-spirited, but remember; it’s comedy anyway you slice it, and unless you are simply someone with no sense of humor, you’ll get a chuckle every few minutes.

What sets “End” apart from other Apatow fare, as well as any other comedy that’s been in the multiplex lately is the film’s take on celebrity.  “End” plays out more like a reality TV show, which might make you wonder; are these actors really like this in real life?  The answer is; maybe, maybe not.  Most of use are used to the characters that Seth Rogan, James, Franco, and Jonah Hill play in their movies; man-boys that smoke pot, have menial jobs, yet somehow end up for the better come the end of their films.  “End” takes this idea and puts it in some semblance of reality, yet all the actors are still playing a caricature of themselves from their films.  It’s an interesting way to view the film when you think about whether these guys have slowly taken up a role in “real” life that they are known for from their films.  It’s meta upon meta upon meta……

If you don’t want to get that deep, that’s fine, “End” is still the funniest movie that you’ll see all year without a doubt, and that should be enough to get you’re money.  However if that’s not enough…..spoiler alert……the Backstreet Boys are in it.  Now if that doesn’t make you want to pony up about 10 duckets, well, I’m sure you can still check out “The Hangover: Part III” at the dollar theater.

Fun Fact:  Over the course of their careers, The Backstreet Boys have sold over 130 Million records.  Suck on that N’Sync!

January 31, 2013

Holiday Hangover: Savages

Savages – C’mon

There are times when a film comes around that you hear about, wait to see it, finally see it, are extremely pleased with the results, but come the end of the movie you’re thinking to yourself, “What just happened?” That’s the film “Savages,” where come the end of the film, or what you think is the end of the film, you scream out, “C’MON!

When you think about Oliver Stone you have to think about the amount of directors that he’s influenced;  I would bet one American dollar that there isn’t a director, living or dead, that would say they weren’t influenced by either the writing or directing talents of Stone.  He uses spiritual imagery in an effective way, loves to show sex and violence, but there is still a tongue-in-cheek element when he goes to the extreme, especially in his post-“Platoon” work.  Lately he’s had his ups-and-downs, trying to cash in on old ideas (“Wall Street”), but when “Savages” was announced I was a little excited.  It looked and felt like old-school Stone, circa “Natural Born Killers.”  Gritty, bloody, sexy, and violent.  Even the cast was young and hip.  So why was “Savages” a let down?  Let’s take a walk.

“Savages” stars Blake Lively as O, or Ophelia, who is “shared” by two independent pot growers/sellers, played by Aaron Johnson and “Mr. Chicken Burrito” himself, Taylor Kitsch.  Everything is going swimmingly for the three until they turn down a request from Baja Cartel Mistress, Elena.  Things go from bad to worse for the three as they find themselves at war with the Cartel.  The violence is brutal at times, but what would you expect from a vicious Mexican Cartel.  Just read or listen to the news and I’m sure you’ll read, or hear, much worse.

Lively is the backbone of this film, and rightfully so.  I think she kind of gets a raw deal in Hollywood due to her “Gossip Girl” ties, but she holds her own in “Savages” and gives a pitch-perfect performance of a girl who is both the “damsel in distress” and the “strong heroine.”  If you want to see Lively in another good performance check out “The Town.”  For someone who you would take a quick glance at and write her off as just eye-candy, she can act, and takes chances.  We need more Blake Livelys and less Brooklyn Deckers and whoever that girl is who can’t close her mouth in “Transformers 3.”

The plot twists and turns and keeps you on your toes throughout.  You really never know who is the next person to get killed or get caught in the crossfire, and the stakes are pretty high throughout the film.  That is until the “end.”  If Stone had more balls he would have ended the film ten minutes earlier.  The “end” is what you would have expected the whole film, but I guess that’s the whole point.  You expect something Shakespearean, but you get a curveball that really makes you say, once again, “C’MON!”  Like “Hamlet” you expect a tragedy, and you get close, but I of course won’t spoil the fun, because all in all “Savages” is actually the best Oliver Stone film since probably “Killers” or I might even go as new as “Any Given Sunday.”

The one thing you’ll take away from “Savages” is that Stone still has it.  He can still make a film just as visceral as he did in his younger days.  After years of dealing with George W Bush, September 11th, and going back to “Wall Street” there was a question as to whether Stone wanted to deal with darker subject matter. We all know that he’s an intellectual, and a thinking man’s filmmaker, but it was great to see him go back to his hungrier and darker ways with “Savages.”

Fun Fact:  As of 2012, according to the U.S. Government, the largest and most dangerous cartel in Mexico is Los Zetas, which is an off-shoot of the Gulf Cartel.

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