Death is something that has been mulled over and dissected in film numerous times. I mean even outside of film and just looking at art as whole, is there a bigger theme in the history of the arts than our own mortality? Like so many books, films, and ideas before it, 50/50 covers the idea of death but it isn’t interested in explaining it. 50/50 is like an observation of behaviors and emotions when someone’s mortality becomes painfully evident. Joseph Gordon-Levitt Is excellent as a man facing cancer at a young age. He captures all of the stages of a cancer-ridden patient as he plays the part with ignorance and despair. The rest of the cast is solid. Seth Rogan, who plays the lazy and nearly worthless friend, is nice comic relief and actually has a really touching subplot and Anna Kendrick is charming as always. The really signature supporting performance here though is that of Angelica Huston who plays the oppressive mom. Her performance causes the audience to be half frustrated with someone who could never let go and half empathic to someone one who is dealing with the possibility of losing her son. Her performance is one of the highlights of the film.
The screenplay is written by Will Reiser who based the story on his own struggle with cancer. There is real sadness in this movie that must come from Reiser and even though the screenplay does feel formulaic at times, Reiser has written a great script. Reiser has given us a look into the pains and struggles he went through and it is filled with almost every emotion possible. 50/50 is hard to watch at times but it is filled with so many touching and beautiful moments. It might have death looming over it but it is evident that 50/50 is more interested in life.
30 Seconds or Less
Being a huge fan of both Aziz Ansari and Danny McBride, I had this film circled since I heard about it going into production. Not only that but it also had the guy who directed Zombieland, so the expectations were huge. It’s not that 30 is bad or anything but disappointingly it walks that line between funny and boring. Clocking in at under 90 minutes, 30 can go by fast when it works and drags on when it doesn’t. The main problem is that no performance is unique. What I am saying is that each actor is playing a less funny version of a different character they have played before. McBride feels like he’s playing a loser Kenny Powers, Ansari acts like he is doing stand up bids he just thought up, and Eisenberg talks like he is still in The Social Network casting sessions. It is funny enough to recommend but not funny enough to remember or watch again. They did a lot of things right with the casting but everything else is just so-so. When the film ends, which is very abruptly, I had mixed feelings of whether these actors were just lazy or if their type casting has become more obvious. It works now but it won’t work forever which might be a ill omen for all these comedic actors.
Captain America: The First Avenger
I love superhero movies. They are the ultimate escape for me. The idea of somebody having super powers and fighting epic battles against evil foes is taking good vs. evil to the extreme. Captain America isn’t a superhero I’ve ever been into but that doesn’t matter cause when it comes down to it for a superhero film to work for me, it takes a good story. Captain America has a great story, great action, and a great cast. Nothing is exceptional here because what you can do with Captain America is limiting but they use what they have and made a film that belongs in the top tier of superhero films. The first thing the filmmakers did right here was the casting; Chris Evans is a great choice. Maybe not obviously but he is able to balance both the hero and the man behind the mask really well. The second is the tone, which is unique to Captain America. It has a nostalgic (old WW2 films nostalgic) feel to it and creates a world around our character that is refreshingly new to the superhero genre. The negatives are that the movie rushes during its final acts (mostly due to the amount of time spent on the origin story) and the main villain is played uninspiringly by Hugo Weaving. Those things and a couple of other hiccups (Captain America’s crew is never flushed out) do prevent Captain America from being something really special but overall Captain America is a good stand alone film. Marvel is steaming forward towards their epic Avengers film but they didn’t forget why they are making these origins stories. They are building movies that introduce our heroes and give The Avengers some sturdy ground to stand on.
Batman: Year One
DC comics is doing a really bold thing and a great thing by making animated films based on some of their best comics. When they started doing this many of us were excited to see which one of our favorite stories would come to life. When it comes to Batman there are two comics that must have been on the top of DC’s list and with the release of the adaption of Batman: Year One, probably one the most beloved Batman stories, they have one in the books. Year One the graphic novel tells the story of Batman’s beginnings and has heavily influenced such films as the original Batman and Nolan’s Batman Begins. Year One the movie is not as much of an adaptation of the graphic novel as it is a straight word for word, frame by frame representation of it. This is both a great thing and a bad thing. Year One is a great refresher of the tale but never becomes its own. It feels stale and for readers of the graphic novel it is nothing new or exciting. The movie runs long enough to be faithful but not long enough to become it’s own beast. It’s fun to see a Year One adaption but for my money it doesn’t stand anywhere near the great Batman animated films we have seen in the past.
The Change Up
Oh how much I really wanted to like The Change Up but I just can’t. The movie is hit or miss and that’s fine it’s just that when it misses, it really misses. I get it; you want to shock everyone by how far you go but while you do that you take the attention away from what the film does right. The Change Up does have a heart and when it shows it is actually quite enjoyable and may I dare say, a touching film. But the problem still is that The Change Up is just too over the top to be taken seriously. It’s a shame because Reynolds and Bateman both give fun performances but it doesn’t hide the fact that they should of never signed on to this movie in the first place. The Change Up has a good intentions but its lost somewhere in the poop and boobs.
Insidious starts on a very discomforting note and then slows down to help set up the inevitable build up. The build here, like most horror films, is actually really good with a few big scares and a lot of anxiety inducing moments. The problem with Insidious though, and with most horror films, is that when the payoff comes it is anything but. Insidious is one half of a really scary film and one half of a silly film. The ending becomes so complicated and so showy that it takes almost all of the dread out of the film. Nevertheless there is strong acting here and some of the scariest moments of year. That first hour may not make you forget about the second half of the film but it saves the film. Horror films may be a handicapped genre and although Insidious shows a lot of the genres biggest faults, its still a step in the right direction. There is a lot to like here opposed to the other amounts of crap that comes out in the name of horror each year.
Win Win starts out like a “good-intentions” film but is more of a cautionary tale. Tom McCarthy wrote and directed this movie about the difference between absolute right and kinda right/kinda wrong. Like his previous film, The Visitor, the characters all seem lost in mundane life as our protagonist (Mike), who is a lawyer surprisingly, is having problems finding clients and keeping up with every day expenses. When the opportunity presents itself to get some extra cash, it comes with some baggage and a lot of problems. Mike is played by Paul Giamatti who is one of the most underrated actors around. He isn’t funny here like he usually is but he plays the role with grace and patience. He creates a beautiful portrait of a man caught up in the tide. Every decision comes with a consequence and each one drags him further out into sea. Paul is great here but he is overshadowed by Alex Shaffer who plays a boy, who, under weird circumstances, ends up living with Mike and his family. Shaffer’s performance is quiet and still but when push comes to shove, he is a ticking time bomb. Win Win never becomes preachy and it doesn’t condemn the actions of our lead character but it does try to show us a slice of life in this post recession time. McCarthy has made a little parable about the frailty of a Win Win.