Friday, November 18, 2011

50/50

Movies about cancer don’t have to take themselves too seriously in order to be profound. That’s the cinematic lesson I learned from a beautiful little gem called 50/50, starring Seth Rogen (Knocked up, Pineapple Express, The Green Hornet) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Mysterious Skin, Inception, 3rd rock from the sun).  

What sets 50/50 apart from your standard film about cancer is director Jonathan Levine’s (All the boys love Mandy Lane) off-beat approach to a very grim topic, imbuing his story with a great comical flair that prevents the film from ever descending into the depths of melodramatic cheesiness. But that’s not to say that 50/50 isn’t going to grip you – if anything, the quirky nature of the film only manages to heighten the film’s emotional intensity, as characters’ reactions feel real and honest as they try to deal with some really dreadful events in their lives.

"characters’ reactions feel real and honest as they try to deal with some really dreadful events in their lives."

As with any movie based on grave events, 50/50 shines primarily thanks to brilliantly honest performances by its cast. At the helm of things is Joseph Gordon Levitt, whom is actually no stranger to unconventional roles – Some like Mysterious Skin, which most casual movie goers will not be familiar with. His experience however becomes very obvious in 50/50, as he is perfectly casted as a young working man troubled by the news that he has acquired a very serious type of cancer. Levitt plays the role with a superb level of ease as his character at first tries to deny the seriousness of his situation. As things start to get more dire however, Levitt’s performance changes quite dramatically, delivering exceptional emotional climaxes for viewers to indulge in.

What makes this even more delightful is the fact that Levitt’s performance is complemented by a stellar cast: Seth Rogen is the perfect supportive buddy, Bryce Dallas Howard (The help, Lady in the water, The Village) a very unsupportive ex and Anna Kendrik (Up in the air, Twilight, Scott Pilgrim vs the World) a super funny psychologist in training. I can openly attest of the greatness of each of these supporting performances and don’t want to single out one , but if I had to, I would go for Anna Kendrik.

A quirky and surprisingly upbeat indie-like score adds to the film’s dry and off-beat tone and should be a big hit for fans of the music of films like Garden State and Juno. Great cinematography and generous pacing gives the story a lot of room to grow in your mind, leading to a very pleasurable film experience.


"Great cinematography and generous pacing gives the story a lot of room to grow in your mind, leading to a very pleasurable film experience."


I can’t imagine that many people would be able to find fault with the realistic way in which 50/50 approaches its subject matter and for that reason alone I would recommend it very highly. All of the other great things about just sweetens the deal – definitely worth the price of admission!

Highlight: Levitt's emotional breakdown close to the end of the film is honour to experience.

True buddies, through and through.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fright Night (3D)

I think as a rule, all movies should at least be entertaining and having achieved this, can then even be forgiven for other cinematic misdemeanors. It's in this very field of entertainment value that Fright Night scores top marks, proving that there's nothing like some dark humour and gory deaths to spice up one's week!

Fright Night's storyline isn't rocket science: A teenager gets harassed by his neighbour, who also happens to be a non-vegan vampire that secretly feeds on a group of unsuspecting suburbian folk. The first and best thing about Fright Night that you'll notice is that it has no misconceptions of greatness: It's a simple and funny movie that relishes in its own horrific ridiculousness. Whilst it might take some time for certain folks to get to grips with the film's quirky approach to horror (especially if they aren't used to films like this), your're almost certain to appreciate the film's light take on a dark subject in the end.

"The first and best thing about Fright Night that you'll notice is that it has no misconceptions of greatness..."

Fantastic performances by a few unexpected cast members make this dark comedic adventure just that much more enjoyable. Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, The Dead Girl, United States of Tara) plays a defenceless mom who has seemed to develop a liking for her vampiric neighbour, played with the utmost delicacy by Colin Farrell (In Bruges, Miami Vice). Farrell really is the highlight of this film, as a slightly trashy vampire that's just too sauve for big theatrical entrances and dramatic one-liners. It might seem like an unlikely role for Farrel, that's more use to serious roles, but it just goes to prove that Farrel really can pull off just about any role.

The film's protagonist also seems like a bit of an unlikely choice, but Anton Yelchin (Charlie Bartlett, Alpha Dog) is a believable teenager struggling with the fear of losing his beautiful girlfriend, his friends and a significant amount of blood. Along the way however, he manages to become a man, with the ability to fend of supernatural forces and keep his girlfriend satisfied. The rest of the cast is just as brilliant, with Imogen Poots as Charlie's defenceless  girlfriend and David Tennant ( Doctor Who, Harry Potter) as a hilarious Vegas showman, serving up some of the film's best comedic moments.

"...a believable teenager struggling with the fear of losing his beautiful girlfriend, his friends and a significant amount of blood."

Whilst it might have been wholely unintentional, the movie did come across to me as an oustanding analogy for the many struggles a teen faces and how these struggles in life contribute to the shaping of their inevnitable adulthood: Growing up is a turbulent journey (that might or might not include vampires) that we all need to go through.

The film truly is best enjoyed in 3D, mainly due to the fact that the inherent cheesy nature of 3D film effects only helps to highlight the film's best parts. The effects are gloriously over-imagined and leads to more than a few 'Wow' moments as blood gushes from necks and vampires distingerate into glowing ash particles that seem to land on the tip of your nose.

Taking into consideration that Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Mr Woodcock) only has two titles behind his name worth mentioning, this film is really a great achievement and should help to position Gillespie as a capable director nor afraid to take chances with the stories he tells.  Fright Night is a clever film, totally aware of its own inferiority, which ironically makes it a superb film, best enjoyed with a group of friends that believe that humour is a dish best served dry and bloody.

This could end badly... and you know it probably will.
Highlight: People just seem to lose their heads in Vegas – Vampires are no exception.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Contagion

Sure, a killer disease that resembles the symptoms of the common flu (except for the dying part) probably doesn't sound like the most thrilling movie concept ever imagined, but Contagion’s success sprouts from much more than that.

The first thing this risky film has got going for it is director Steven Soderbergh, best known for very serious movies like ‘Good night and good luck’ and ‘Syriana’, as well as some delicious off-beat humour such as in films like ‘Oceans Thirteen’ and ‘The Infomant!’. Contagion however adds to Soderbergh’s more serious film credits, as a deadly virus quickly starts to infect the globe with panic, confusion and conspiracies. So be warned, Contagion has no gooey centre of warmth and comfort – This film tells its story very frank, without any sugary coating.

"This film tells its story very frank, without any sugary coating."

The film’s serious nature is accentuated by a long list of very capable Hollywood A-list actors, that include Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law and a few other faces that you are sure to recognise and appreciate as they imbue the film with loads of added credibility. Each character’s involvement in the overarching plot contributes to the film’s sense of seriousness and urgency, as people’s lives get turned upside-down once the severe scope of the virus is finally realised. Winslet and Fishburne are particularly brilliant, whilst Matt Damon managed to irritate me once again.

Soderbergh does a fantastic job of building the tension as things start quite slow and then quietly build up to a state of global unrest. Be warned however: There are no flashy action sequences to keep your attention. What you do however get is brilliant dialogue and honest emotional displays from the cast as they try to make sense of what is happening and how to deal with it. It’s this subtle approach that makes Contagion all the more scary, as you quickly realise that the events depicted can very easily take place in real life.

"It’s this subtle approach that makes Contagion all the more scary, as you quickly realise that the events depicted can very easily take place in real life."

With all of this said however, the movie definitely isn’t for everyone and will find more appeal from critical movie-goers than it will from your average blockbuster fan. The main reason for this is that the film doesn’t follow any typical movie plot, with no real climax, romantic connection or a clear sense of fulfilment.  In other words, it might even come over as quite boring, something that the courageous runtime will make even more unbearable for some. Nevertheless, it’s a sickly trip I recommend taking, even if it’s just for the sole purpose of knowing how to act when something like this happens in real life.

In short, Contagion is one of those movies that you will either love or hate. Personally, I felt it gave a very realistic, but grim picture of what could happen if the world is attacked by a deadly unknown enemy. I do think it could have benefitted from a bit more accessible and shorter scenes every now and then. 

Highlight: It’s hard to pick one, but Soderbergh’s attention to the smallest of details is very evident throughout the movie and contributes immensely to the film’s overall impact.

This movie makes one thing clear: Deadly diseases can spread very easily...