50/50 – Review

50/50 

Directed by Jonathan Levine. Starring Joseph Gordon-LevittSeth RogenAnna KendrickAnjelica Huston.

When you first hear the words cancer comedy referring to this film, your heart may very well sink and your eyes will possibly roll back. First of all, spending an hour and a half in the company of a young man who has just discovered he’s got 50% chances of dying from cancer, is not exactly anybody’s idea of a Fun-Saturday-night-at-the-movies. Furthermore the concept itself of dealing with such a downbeat subject within a Hollywood comedy with Seth Rogen (known mainly for his not-too-sublte humour) sounds potentially catastrophic.

However “50/50”  not only handles the cancer subject with respect, honesty and restrains but also gets the balance between both the irreverent comedy and the actual drama absolutely spot on.

Amazingly this is a film that makes you both laugh and cry within the space of minutes: the laughs may be few but they are always carefully placed to exorcise that sense of fear, angst and sorrow that runs through the rest of the movie in a way that never feels forced or gratuitous. It is funny without being flippant and heartwarming without being cheap or cheesy.

Apparently it was Seth Rogen himself who helped writer Will Reiser to cope with the disease and later pushed him to write the screenplay for the film. And this is clearly the work of somebody who’s lived through this agonising experience: there’s a certain rawness and matter-of-factness in the way the details and minutia of what must be like to live with such burden are depicted.

It’s certainly not a masterpiece (some of the secondary characters are fairly sketchy and on the whole stylistically and visually it feels more like a TV-drama than anything) but  it’s very well handled throughout and though the ending might feel a bit too conclusive and rather too optimistic (especially the bit with Anna Kendrick), “50/50” is never exploitive or cheap, it rarely pulls back and it never looses sight of the harsh reality of cancer: chemotherapy is tough, dealing with the illness is no joke for both for the patient and the people around the patient, and people do actually die.

Everybody in the film plays to their strengths and do what they do best: Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a way seems to play an extension of his character from “500 Days of Summer” (in my view one of the most refreshing comedies of the last few years): he brings with him a charming sweetness which makes him very likable and yet he does it without ever resorting to cheesy or cute winks to camera. In fact quite the opposite, as he’s willing to go that extra-mile to make it all look and feel real (he even shaved his hair in one of the most memorable scene in the film in what must have been a one-take affair). His performance is subtle and mostly underplayed and yet truthful and powerful as his character Adam moves through shock, denial, acceptance, anger, defiance. The whole movie rests on him and if the film works as it does, it has a lot to do with his performance.

Seth Rogen too, as Adam’s best friend, does his usual Seth Rogen stuff, bringing his crass humour with him and yet always rooted to some down-to-heart reality. The relationship between him and Adam is possibly the highlight of the film: never for a moment you doubt that the two of them could be real best friends.

The women in the film are slightly short-changed: the girlfriend character is under-developed and rather annoying, and the subplot with the inexperience therapist sweetly played by Anna Ken­drick feels a bit tagged on. Only Anjelica Houston manages to make the most of her slightly under-written role as Adam’s mother and shines with a couple of Oscar-worthy moments.

The music too, like the whole tone of the film, is carefully balanced, alternating a large amount with pop song (At times it almost feels like a Cameron Crowe movie) and a restrained score by Micheal Giacchino (who seems to be doing everything these days) which never falls into schmaltzy territory.

I am not sure I would want to watch this film again, nor I would be willing to suggest it to anyone who’s looking for a good day out in the cinema, but it’s a brave one and for that it’s to be commended. If only all drama-comedies were so unfussy, courageous, subtle and honest, Hollywood would be a better place.

7.5/10

04 June 2012 – in fact since writing the review above, I have watched this film again, and somehow, knowing the ending, I was able to relex more and enjoy the film even more than the first time around. (I even bumped it up by half a vote). I still feel the all-too-cute resolution with the therapist should have been cut out, but aside from that I think this is one of the strongest film that came of Hollywood last in 2011. Looking back, Joseph Gordon-Lewitt really deserved some award for this!

Inception – Review

INCEPTION 

Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen PageTom HardyKen WatanabeCillian MurphyTom BerengerMarion CotillardPete PostlethwaiteMichael CaineLukas Haas

THIS REVIEW ASSUMES THAT YOU HAVE SEEN THE FILM AND IT’S FILLED WITH SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM YOU SHOULD NOT READ IT, BUT YOU SHOULD GO OUT RIGHT NOW AND BUY YOURSELF A COPY ON DVD OR BLURAY !!

So much has been written and talked about this movie that it’s hard to say anything new about it. However I didn’t want to miss my chance to talk about what I thought was one of the most inventive and challenging blockbuster of the last few years (and the top film of the year in my view), and with its release on DVD and BluRay (I guess the first of many), to the risk of repeating what’s already been said, I’ll just add my voice to the many others among the people who loved this film.

I have already seen it three times and I guess I am now fully comfortable with its story and structure, but also I did notice the few cracks here and there.

However, it is so refreshing to finally see a big budget Hollywood movie that doesn’t treat its audience like a band of lobotomized idiots but actually attempts to do something a bit more challenging, beyond the silly Pirates of the Caribbean or the awful Transformers movies, but it seems to me that this is what blockbusters have become in the last few years. I honestly cannot remember what’s the last big Pop Corn summer movie I have enjoyed. Can anyone help?

This film makes no apologies for its labyrinthine structure and it’s as if  you could almost hear Nolan saying to me “c’mon, keep up! Keep up!”. It is a mentally draining experience (I don’t think I have been so exhausted since Nolan’s Memento, which I loved, or even Mullholland Drive, which I’m still trying to work out… ). Basically in this film if you miss even 5 minutes, you’re screwed! And I love it for it!

But the most interesting thing I noticed this time is that the film is actually made in such a way that even if you don’t completely understand it, you’ll understand it enough to be able to appreciate the action and the basic plot with its intricate layers of dreams.

You’re supposed to get lost in the beginning, but never lost enough to lose your patience… and then slowly you start to understand just enough to be able to cope with it… So basically, the film makes you believe that you are pretty clever in being able to work it out by yourself, while in fact the huge amount of exposition helps you immensely.

People have been criticizing the fact that half of the movie is essentially exposition, where the characters are telling you what’s going on and what they are going to do and how… Well, funnily enough I though that was part of the fun. I don’t mind exposition, if it’s done in a clever, fast and intriguing way like in Inception.

People have been criticize it for its cool and clinical approach to characters. I have been hearing people complaining about not feeling anything for Di Caprio’s internal  pain. Well, I don’t know what to tell them about that, but I thought the scene where Marion Cotillard commits suicide was actually emotionally incredibly strong and Di Caprio’s performance was pretty faultless. Yes, maybe Ellen Page’s character was just a functional piece of the puzzle but actually pretty two-dimensional, but hey, does it really matter? Was I sitting there thinking “Oh My God, what is she feeling? I want to know more about her?” No!! I was completely unwrapped in the story to notice any of that and it didn’t matter to me. Marion Cottilard is utterly terrifying as the ever-present ex-wife. Just her presence is enough for me to give me a great sense of unease. She’s perfect in it and she’s quickly becoming my favorite French actress. Cillian Murphy in his character manages to convey both strength and weakness: at the beginning you think he’s got the world in his hands and at the end you almost feel pity for him and you understand his pain. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is incredibly watchable. Surely it must not be too easy to be next to Di Caprio and come out just as strong and sympathetic as he does. We’ll be hearing a lot about him (but then again, I was already a fan from the time he did “Mysterious Skin”). Tom Hardy is the surprise of the film. I knew what to expect by all the other ones, but Hardy really took me by surprise and did so much with what was quite an underdeveloped character, making him likable, sharp and witty. Finally I should probably mention Michael Caine, who does almost nothing in this film, and yet, just by the fact that he’s there he gives me a sense of security and serenity that it’s un-replaceable.

Also the visuals obviously are so stunning that you sort of want to forgive even any little character development. The CGI effects in Paris are some of the best ones and most inventive I have seen in recent times. It is so hard nowadays to still be able to amaze us with any Visual Effects and yet Nolan has been able to do it over and over again in this film. It’s the combination of clever Production Design, imaginative Visual (and most of the time Practical) Effects that make it work seamlessly.

The corridor sequences are just a joy to watch and the cross-cutting between the van falling off the bridge in slow motion and all the other levels is just so pleasing and works so well: it’s intricate and yet so simple at the same time, so much so that you wonder why hasn’t anyone done it before?

Where the film falls a bit is in the final act, the so-called “James Bond moment”, that is when we get to the level with all the snow. Maybe because at that point it becomes in part almost like a normal action film, and actually not a very good one either. The staging of the shootout and the chase sequences on the snow are all pretty average and slightly drawn out. Mind you at that point there are so many other things going on and you’ve been so bombarded by so much that you don’t really mind it too much, but it is the weakest part of the film in my view. Also in a way, since you are in a dream, they should have probably pushed it a bit further. But hey, I’m really picking needles here.

I wish all the blockbusters were just 20% as inventive, challenging and beautiful to look at as Inception was. I can’t wait to see what Nolan does next (well of course, Batman 3… but I mean beyond that).

9/10


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