September 30, 2011

50/50 - 2011

Director: Jonathan Levine
Writer: Will Reiser
Starring: Joseph Gordon-levitt, Seth Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Houston, Philip Baker Hall

"A tumor? Me? That's impossible. I don't smoke, I don' t drink...I recycle." 50/50 tells the story of 27-year-old Adam (Gordon-Levitt) who's nothing short of shocked to discover he has a malignant tumor, and how the challenges of his treatment affect him and his close friends and family.

  • Denial: "They'd never make a comedy about a guy with cancer."
  • Anger: "I still can't believe James McAvoy didn't get the lead role in this!"
  • Bargaining: "I'll see What's Your Number instead. That could be funny, right?"
  • Depression: "It'll just be Brian's Song all over again. I don't want to cry this weekend."
  • Acceptance: "This actually looks pretty good."
See this movie. The cast is superb, with each member fitting into their niches perfectly. Relative newcomers like Gordon-Levitt and Kendrick compliment the seasoned veterans of Houston and Hall surprisingly well. The script is full of laughs while still being serious when it needs to be, and it runs the entire emotional gamut repeatedly. Even if you know as much going into the film as I did, you'll still walk out wholly satisfied. A

Hesher - 2011

Director: Spencer Susser
Writers: Spencer Susser & David Michod
Starring: Devin Brochu, Rainn Wilson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Piper Laurie, Natalie Portman

"Life is like walking in the rain... you can hide and take cover or you can just get wet." TJ (Brochu) and his father (Wilson) are both still recovering from the recent loss of TJ's mother. After this depression reaches significant depths, the self-tattooed pyromaniacal metalhead Hesher (Gordon-Levitt) shows up and everything changes.

Certain movies, while great, couldn't be further from what Hollywood's all about; Hesher is the perfect example of this. Funnyman Rainn Wilson goes wholly serious, prettyboy Gordon-Levitt grows out his hair and forgets to shave, and the lead and writer/director are both unknowns. Hollywood doesn't know what it's missing; the film ends up remarkable. Wilson proves he can be more than Dwight from The Office, Brochu shows great promise (despite sounding uncomfortable cursing at times), and Gordon-Levitt is in the greatest role of his career to date, being nothing short of an unstoppable force of nature. Portman's role seems a little underdeveloped, but it's a small price to pay for a film this good. A

September 24, 2011

Moneyball - 2011

Director: Bennett Miller
Writers: Aaron Sorkin & Steven Zaillian
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, & Philip Seymour Hoffman

"There's rich teams, then there's poor teams, then there's fifty feet of crap...and then there's us." The Oakland Atheletics aren't as financially well-endowed as general manager Billy Beane (Pitt) and the team would like. However, thanks to a statistical strategy from Peter Brand (Hill), Beane attempts to get a winning team together in spite of his monetary shortcomings.

If you'll pardon my use of an expression from a sport I don't care for, I thought Moneyball was going to hit it out of the park. I'd heard nothing but good things about the film, notably Brad Pitt's performance (which is great, don't get me wrong); a script reworking by Social Network scribe Aaron Sorkin didn't hurt my expectations either. Unfortunately, it's a bit closer to a double for me. The script runs a little long (there's some bits with Beane's family that don't really tie in with the rest of the story), making this 135 minute film seem more like 180...just like a real baseball game! Hill's just a tad miscast, and some of his lines end up funnier than I think they were intended to be. Something I noticed: the MPAA let them slip by with two uses of the F-word without an R rating, so that seems to be the new standard. If you're a fan of baseball, and Oakland in particular, you'll probably like this film a lot more than I did. B

September 16, 2011

Drive - 2011

Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Writer: Hossein Amini
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman

"If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window; anything happens in that five minutes and I'm yours, no matter what. One minute in either direction, and you're on your own. I don't sit in while you're running it down; I don't carry a gun... I drive." A Hollywood stunt driver (Gosling) moonlighting as a getaway driver finds himself in over his head after driving a job for the recently unincarcerated boyfriend of a new neighbor (Mulligan).

This film is what every action movie should aspire to be. It doesn't have to be all mindless action and explosions in lieu of a storyline. Refn proves after all these years that he can direct someone else's script just as well as he can his own, and what a script it is! Not only that, but the cast is dynamite, mostly the ones acting outside their normal range (Brooks playing the heavy, Gosling not being a pretty boy, etc.). About an hour into it, things abruptly get very violent, but in the end it's very much an "arthouse action" film, far from what many typical fans of the genre would expect. A+

Oh, and don't confuse this with Drive Angry. Please.

September 9, 2011

Contagion - 2011

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Lawrence Fishburne, John Hawkes, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Demitri Martin, Bryan Cranston

"The average person touches their face three to five times every waking minute. In between, we're touching door knobs, water fountains and each other." This ensemble film depicts the all-too-quick worldwide spread of an unknown virus, and the crumbling of society as those in power desperately attempt to discover a cure.

Once again, I must take the path less traveled when compared to my distinguished competitors. I'll respect Soderbergh until the day he dies (both for his unique manipulation of the Hollywood system and the quality of his passion projects), and the cast is nothing short of remarkable (with the notable exception of Martin, who seems terribly out of place); however, the movie's downfall lies in its major script issues. The cast is rather large, and the plots don't cross over often enough to justify it all. It could have been pared down a good 25% or so and turned out significantly improved. It's also very heavy on medical jargon (WHO and CDC) and light on explanations. I wouldn't recommend anything more than matinee prices for this one. C

P.S.: A lot of this film (once the virus begins to take hold) deals with man's inhumanity to man, which was especially hard to watch for me, this weekend being what it is. The idea of people not banding together to help each other is truly disheartening to me.

September 2, 2011

Red State - 2011

Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun, Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Kerry Bishé, Stephen Root, Jennifer Schwalbach, Ralph Garman

"God doesn't love you...unless you fear him." Three boys go into the woods looking for sex, but quickly find themselves the next would-be victims of an armed-to-the-teeth Westboro Baptist Church analogue.

My expectations for this film couldn't have been higher. I followed every step of production and distribution, and heard the writer/director extol the virtues of this film and its actors. When it was finally released to VOD platforms on September 1st, though, I approached it with cautious optimism. Could it really be everything it was made out to be? Fortunately, the answer's a resounding yes. The script's broken down into three distinct acts ("Sex," "Religion," and "Politics"), and is a far cry from what most probably consider standard Kevin Smith fare to be. The film also has a very polished and professional look to it, thanks in part to both the RED cameras used to shoot it and the expert cinematography of Dave Klein. What really pushes this film over the top, though, is its cast. The trio of Angarano, Gallner, and Braun, while certainly improved over past performances they've given (and more than adequate for these roles) pales in comparisoned to the acting veterans that Smith was able to wrangle. Goodman is an utter powerhouse as the head ATF agent, and Leo (fresh off her Oscar-winning performance in The Fighter) was wholly unrecognizeable as the Cooper family matriarch. It's ultimately Michael Parks that runs away with this movie, however; around the 20 minute mark, he gives his first big sermon, and it sent shivers down my spine. If I hadn't been hooked by then already, I certainly wasn't going anywhere for the 65 minutes that followed. The man deserves an Oscar, plain and simple. I paid for this once already, and I have no qualms seeing it with the special Q&A come the 25th, or buying the DVD when that drops on October 18th. A+ 

September 1, 2011

The Debt - 2011

Director: John Madden
Writers: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman, & Peter Straughan
Starring: Jessica Chastain/Helen Mirren, Marton Csokas/Tom Wilkinson, Sam Worthington/Ciaran Hinds

After spending 30 years without a second thought, three ex-Mossad agents are haunted by a specter from a past mission.

Not having seen the original Israeli film HaHov that this was based on, I can't say too much. In its most basic parts, this film has it all: six great (well-cast) performances of a strong script, with just the right balance of action and drama, and not too much subtitle-reading. Sam Worthington even manages to hold onto an appropriate accent, so he's come a long way from Clash of the Titans last year. I just might go back and hit up the original when I get a chance, in fact. A-