Saturday, January 28, 2012

Random Movie: 50/50 (2011)

One might be able to argue that Dane Cook or Nickelback’s success is funny, but one of the big taboos in comedy is cancer. You typically don’t see much humor derived from an ailment that affects millions each year. Screenwriter Will Reiser though effectively manages to take the topic of cancer and turn it into a honest, genuine, and surprisingly funny look on the craziness surrounding an already terrible predicament in 50/50.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, essentially a stand-in for Reiser, who learns he has a rare form of cancer along his spine in the peak of his life. Seth Rogen, from reports who basically plays himself as he did to Reiser, is the supportive, opportunistic, and (of course) foul-mouthed friend to help along the way. We also meet Adam’s super-supportive girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard), his overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston), and his new-to-the-field therapist (Anna Kendrick) as they try and support Adam though the diagnosis, treatment, and aftermath.

While the previews mostly portrayed this film as more comedic in tone, 50/50 is primarily a drama with a sprinkling of comedy, usually courtesy of Rogen. There is only so much light you can make of a film about a debilitating illness without it coming across as inappropriate or crass. Fortunately, Reiser’s script walks a pretty fine line between making a mockery of the suffering of millions and taking what comes from life in stride. The film succeeds on this front as it is not a heavy-handed “live your life to the fullest” affair but also addresses the hardship that comes with the plights of Adam’s fellow cancer buddies played by Philip Baker Hall and Trashcan Man Matt Frewer.

Not many actors can pull of such a varied performance as Gordon-Levitt did as he hits every stage of the process in perfect form with scenes filled with joy, anger or grief and some all combined together. I would say it is an award-worthy performance but apparently the powers that be do not agree. The rest of the actors merely revolve around Adam in some shape or form with Rogen not breaking too much new ground and Kendrick playing the same young and sensitive, yet inexperienced role that she has in other films. Huston in minimal screentime had quite an impact as the mother that Adam purposefully distances himself from yet relies on when everything comes down to the wire.

Director Jonathan Levine takes what you would anticipate being an ensemble effort and focuses superbly on Adam and his struggle. From the first diagnosis when the “State University” doctor remarks that his cancer is quite interesting because it is rare and yada yada yada, Levine pulls back and focuses solely on the ear of the patient as he tries to comprehend the words being causally tossed at him. We follow Adam throughout the entire ordeal as he has his first chemotherapy, gets high on weed-laced macaroons, and comes to terms with the probable outcome that he will die. The emphasis on Adam and the events in his life during his treatment put you in the mindset of someone in that situation. It is not a joyous, “to hell with rules” mindset but one of reason, despair, and sorrow.

On one hand, 50/50 is not a feel-good movie as it evokes many emotions that most (including myself) would disregard while watching a film. But it is not only a strong movie off the back of Gordon-Levitt’s great performance, but also one that can help you see the bright side in even the worst situation.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Random Movie: The Hangover Part II (2011)

I’ve already said my piece (twice actually) regarding The Hangover Part II, namely that I would not cry if it died in a blazing inferno. No such luck though as the film was released last Memorial Day weekend to buckets of money being thrown at it. I guess that means we can expect another sequel in a year and a half or so much to my chagrin since this entry was just like the first, except not funny.

Perhaps that is too harsh. Perhaps Hangover II is in fact funny but I was too biased to notice. I don’t think that is the case though unless you equate lazy storytelling with funny. Much like the last film, there is a wedding involved, the “Wolfpack” getting into trouble with the locals and the authorities, a missing member of the group, a new addition to the group (this time there are three in fact), and shenanigans as our leads attempt to piece together the previous night’s events. And there is even a random song from Ed Helms and an appearance by Mike Tyson. What a coincidence! At this point, I can’t tell if writer/director Todd Phillips and co-writers Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong are merely trying to emulate the first film or just have nothing else for our trio of Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Helms to do other than recreate the first.

My chief concern for this film, even just hearing about it during production, was that it would be a soulless cash grab missing any of the “charm” of the original. The fact that the main cast members (except Heather Graham, sad) returned was remarkable to avoid a painful recasting or written-out character. From the acting front, everything still clicked as Cooper, Galifianakis, and Helms have a good chemistry together which makes the events fairly easy to watch. Ken Jeong randomly reemerges as Chow but he was quite entertaining in his brief screentime. Even Doug (Justin Bartha) returns although he is left out of the fun and games but not because he is the missing person. That honor goes to Mason Lee as Teddy, who is Stu’s soon-to-be brother-in-law but his interactions with the gang are few thus making his disappearance not as impactful as Doug’s in the first.

So while the cast was good enough here, the really issue lies with the story which is just a shameless rip-off of the original. Many of the scenes that originally drew big laughs from myself and I’d imagine many others are almost painstakingly recreated here which just leads to a yawn and fond rememberance of a film that was wild and unpredictable, as opposed to this film that was unpredictable only in how many callbacks to the first it could jam into the 1 hour 40 minute running time. While I didn’t pick up on the location of Teddy like Stu did (although that seemed a bit forced as well), pretty much everything else in the film is so predictable and easy to see coming. That is of course unless you haven’t watched the original.

Everything else on a technical level was sound with quite impressive shots of not only the gritty, urban Bangkok locale but also of the remote private Thailand island where the wedding is to take place. Honestly, it was the end of the film which solidified that I did not care for this movie with the random realization of where Teddy is, followed by Alan taking control of a speedboat to get back to the wedding (nothing can go wrong, right?), and then Stu finally standing up to his douche of a father-in-law. It all seemed so forced and convenient since the rest of the movie has established that everything will happen just like the first so we know that Stu’s nuptials are not in any real danger.

Whereas I liked the first Hangover because it was crass, silly, and unexpected, I dislike its sequel because it has all of those same characteristics but nothing else to bring to the table. Was it funny learning that Stu has “semen in him?” Quite. The random monk beating Helms and Cooper with a cane? Pretty funny. But there are so few moments in this film that are not almost directly lifted from its predecessor to make it anything more than Hollywood’s poster child for churning out sequels that no one (well, maybe just me) wants to see.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Random Movie: Final Destination 5 (2011)

I caught a lot of crap at work for “liking” the Final Destination series. Primarily, this is coming from a guy who proclaims his favorite movie ever is the original Saw, so I consider his opinion moot. Given the unevenness of the series, I would say “tolerate” is a more appropriate verb for my feelings on these films. That seems fair since Final Destination films seem to range from pretty good, like the original, to the offensively stupid, such as a large chunk of part 3 and all of part 4. Since the various writers and directors of the previous four films seem to have moved on, Final Destination 5's writer Eric Heisserer and director Steven Quale have almost a blank canvas to create on.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Random Movie: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

In case it isn’t apparent, we at Movie Scum are big fans of David Fincher. He is, in my opinion, one of few standout directors currently working even if his resume does not have the broad appeal of a Spielberg or a Cameron. Perhaps it was my excitement upon hearing he was involved in the American version of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo that drowned out any feeble complaints of another American remake of a foreign film. I have not read the Stieg Larsson novel nor seen the entire Swedish adaptation, so I bring no preconceived notions of the story to this film and can hopefully be as impartial as possible.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Random Movie: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Written by: Tabitha Johnson

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows picks up close to where the last one left off. Sherlock (Robert Downy Jr.) has spent an untold amount of time between films piecing together a continent wide conspiracy. With Watson (Jude Law) getting married he knew he had to finagle him into also being interested in the conspiracy. There has been bombings throughout Europe and he concludes that it his arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). He safely stops one bomb just for the mark to be assassinated none the less by the hit man. In guise of Watson's Bachelor party Holmes sets out to collect more clues. Enter Noomi Rapace (Girl with the DragonTattoo) as Madam Simza the soothsayer. Fighting ensues and a disastrous and drunk evening winds up with a disheveled Watson late for his wedding the following day. Holmes was used to being the smartest man in the chase until he tangles again with Moriarty. The professor is always two steps ahead and not shy of grand gestures to aid Holmes in meeting his maker even if innocents are hurt. The great reveal comes with Moriarty admitting that even if he didn't start the world war he was fine taking the world over financially with supplying the weapons to maintain the wars destructiveness. Throughout the film the history is slightly tweaked to fit the plot and help the audience make sense of it all. The climax and confrontation is set (where else would it be in a comic book style storyline) at the Summit Meeting between the nations.

Downy's performance is successful in delivering the quirky, intelligent, animated, lovable performance that we got used to from the first film. With Law bringing his cynical, realistic outlook on life attitude back they are a match still made in heaven. ThereĆ¢€™s been some time since there has been a male pair that shared such charisma and elegance on screen together. They both put their best feet forward. Only downside, writing more so than performance, was there was no depth given to the Holmes character. There were instances where you knew there was going to be more than his intellectual insanity but it fell away as quick as it appeared. Watson seemed to see through the exterior but it was never delved into further than him acknowledging non-verbally that it there. There was an entire sub plot that never developed. Watson being married at the end of their adventure that would have left Sherlock alone in the flat could have been used to really define SherlockĆ¢€™s need for companionship. The loneliness behind his smile should have been given some room to be explored. However, It was still a very well put together action film.

Noomi's character should have been given more of a role than just a plot device. Her talent was not used to the best of her ability. I guess when coming from such a spectacular trilogy maybe it was a personal choice to cross over to the American Cinema with this type of role. She is not bad by any means. She still works well with what she was given but there should have been more given. When you take such a strong actor and give them a mediocre role it shadows their true talent. Harris kicks in the door with his performance. I have never loved and hated a character so much. He is a genius in his evil, super villain with pizzazz role. You began to root for him and his despicably absurd ploy for financial world domination. With what we know of Moriarty I was shocked that it look so long for the hand-to-hand combat to come. His devilishly handsome and overly confident self meets Holmes move for move to leave us holding our breaths as they get close to the edge of the falls.

The entire film is action and adventure sprinkled with dialogue and great direction. There are moments like when they get to the Summit that seem a little dragged out to make up for too many fighting sequences. The attention to detail is lacking in the action sequences and some may never notice but I did. Sherlock Holmes resides in Britain for most of his life, so why is it that he has an Eastern fighting style? I understand it is what most movie goers these days expect but that little anachronism changes the way I see the Guy Ritchie franchise of the great detective. It is why there is so much action in the movie bringing the film more current than the actual setting, appease the audiences. If some of the none plot building scenes were dropped the two hour plus movie wouldn't have felt like three hours. Ritchie stayed true to his form with the slow motion this-is-what-went-down technique and flash backs to cover what had previously happened but was skipped temporarily in the film. Over all it was a very enjoyable film. I would say it was slightly better than the original but sets expectations for a third higher to set itself apart from this good film.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Monster Scum Archive

Vampires, Giant Insects, Fish-Men, Werewolves, Extraterrestrials, Mummies, Mutants, Dinosaurs, Zombies, Carnivorous Plants, Phantoms, Psycho Hillbillies; October just wouldn’t be the same without Monsters. Whatever your favorite flavor of freaky-creature, we here at Movie Scum are tipping our hats to all the many monsters that live on the big screen. Every day in October leading up to Halloween will be dedicated to a different monster movie, starting in 1980 and moving up through the last three decades. Join us, won’t you, for the Monster Scum Marathon.

Monster Scum Marathon

Day 1 – The Awakening (1980)
Day 2 – The Evil Dead (1981)
Day 3 – The Beast Within (1982)
Day 4 – Christine (1983)
Day 5 – C.H.U.D. (1984)
Day 6 – Day of the Dead (1985)
Day 7 – Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Day 8 – Predator (1987)
Day 9 – Pumpkinhead (1988)
Day 10 – DeepStar Six (1989)
Day 11 – Tremors (1990)
Day 12 – Subspecies (1991)
Day 13 – Candyman (1992)
Day 14 – Body Snatchers (1993)
Day 15 – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)
Day 16 – In the Mouth of Madness (1995)
Day 17 – Zarkorr! The Invader (1996)
Day 18 – The Relic (1997)
Day 19 – Deep Rising (1998)
Day 20 – Idle Hands (1999)
Day 21 – Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Day 22 – Evolution (2001)
Day 23 – Dog Soldiers (2002)
Day 24 – Darkness Falls (2003)
Day 25 – Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Day 26 – Alone in the Dark (2005)
Day 27 – Abominable (2006)
Day 28 – The Mist (2007)
Day 29 – Cloverfield (2008)
Day 30 – Alien Trespass (2009)
Day 31 – Monsters (2010)

Monster Scum Lives

Day 1 - Halloween (1978)
Day 2 - Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Day 3 - Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Day 4 - Shaun of the Dead(2004)
Day 5 - The Thing (1980)
Day 6 - Freaks (1932)
Day 7 - King Kong (1933)
Day 8 - The Exorcist (1973)
Day 10 - Frankenstein (1931)
Day 11 - Diabolique (1955)