Monday, October 3, 2011

50/50; Tucker and Dale; Dream House; Moneyball REDUX via THE KID

My writings have been light as of late...when I sit in my chair at night, I can barely keep my eyes open.  I am a tired, tired man...

But life is for living, so tired I shall be, but I am having loads of fun along the way.  Within that loads of fun is one of my favorite pastimes, catching flicks.

I will say it has been harder lately to walk into the theater, leaving temperate 70 degree, sunny days outside and to head for the climate control, darkened theaters.  But my love of cinema often outweighs my desire to enjoy a nice day.  Movies are my therapy.  They keep me well adjusted.  They let me laugh, wince, and sometimes cry or even sob at the exploits of larger than life characters.

My most recent flick was just such a day at the theater...

50/50 - 4.5/5 Horns
This has been billed as a cancer comedy, but it is anything but that.  Don't get me wrong, there were a lot of laugh out loud moments, but this is a great drama through and through.  Seth Rogen is funny and just hearing him spout everyday dialogue brings a smile to my face, but what he gets right are depictions of the relationships that exist between longtime friends.  Friends in their 20's who make jokes with each other above shaving balls and getting are right, I am not going to crack jokes with a co-worker about blow-jobs or getting pissy drunk, but if you rally the three amigos, the gloves come off.

Seth Rogen gets this right.

And in this film, the story of Will (Joseph Gordon Levitt), Rogen's real-life friend who (spoiler alert)....survives cancer.  This film depicts the many stages of enduring such a life trauma and as a useful plot device, even gives us a therapist to spell out the different stages that we are seeing on screen.  The therapist scenes may have played out as too didactic if not for adding the presence of the magical Anna Kendrick, a young star that is rivaled by few. 

Throw in a sprig of Bryce Dallas Howard, a dash of Angelica Houston, and an Alzheimer's subplot; when mixed appropriately with Rogen, you get the best of both worlds:  The laughs that come with a realistic depiction of friendship and facing challenges with those friends but also the retching pain that comes with that same realistic depiction, but in dealing with the deepest of cuts.  Treading water while headed for the falls, this film makes you smile in one moment and tears your heart out the next. 

This movie worked for me, but it may not for you...mixing cancer and laughs, regardless of my opinion, is frowned upon by quite a few people.  My theater had some walk outs, but in the moments of catharsis in this film, there were shared moments of both heartbreak and joy.

If you think you might like this movie, give it a try.  It is the kind of flick I don't know that I will ever want to see again, but I am better for having seen it once.

Will Reiser was urged by Rogen to pen this flick, after surviving the dreaded.  I think for Rogen's unique blend of pot humor, sex jokes, and interesting sounding voice (and laugh), the entertainment industry is a much better place with him around.

Oh Canada....

Dream House 1/5 Horns
A movie directed by Jim Sheridan, starring Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts, has a great sounding line-up, but absolutely fails in its mechanics and delivery.  This movie failed on every level for me and it really got me thinking about the nature of films in general.  I see a Shutter Island like premise on the face of this, and while the combo is way short of Marty and Leo, I am sure that Dream House started with fairly lofty aspirations.  I wonder when along the road to release, if ever, that the filmmaker, the studio, or anyone involved with the film, realized it was a stinker.  Do they still believe in the film, the same way they did in pre-production, when they had a clear vision of what the movie would be?  The moniker of Alan Smithee is always available for those directors who wish to disassociate themselves with the end product.  But few directors would ever do such a thing.  I mean it must be better to be working and making garbage than to be jobless and looking too needy, right?

I guess if I mean anything from this rambling, it is this.  I can forgive most films, if only those involved with making it can admit what they have done.  Make a movie that fails to reach an audience....any audience.  Own it.  Own the bombs in the Hollywood system...own them and get behind them.  When a movie drops and drops hard, make week three a live-cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000, or something.  Have a showing synced nationwide where everyone live-tweets a roast of the flick.

If the film industry would become self-aware, the world would be a better place.

Self aware?  Kind of like...

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil 4/5 Horns
 I love movies like this....this is the anti-hollywood movie.  This film is self-aware...A flick made for just under $3 million by a first time filmmaker (Eli Craig) with a couple of culti-fanboy fav-leads (Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine).  If you don't listen to the Slashfilm Cast, you should, but definitely catch the after-dark with Eli Craig (Slashfilm). 

Tucker and Dale is pure genre fun.  A horror comedy in the vein of Evil Dead 2, with high production values on a budget, drawing the most possible from the building materials provided.

Tucker and Dale are "hillbillies" and in this story, its the same old story, the hillbilly clan versus the city folks, except it is nothing you expect and everything you will love, I promise.
So this is part review, part rant, but for all I do, its all I have for now...Check out Tucker and Dale in most forms of Video On Demand, or beginning this past weekend, it became available in 30 markets nationwide and may be expanding soon.  According to the director, after a few weeks in the theater, Tucker and Dale will be making their way to Netflix Watch Instantly...keep an eye out!

He is back!!  And he is bringing some much needed journalistic integrity to this post.  Kid, it's always a pleasure to have you!

Hello Reel Rhino readers. Part time correspondent The Kid in the Helmet here, checking in with a couple quick reviews...

I have been looking forward to this one for quite some time as I am a huge baseball fan. And living in Kansas City and being a die-hard Royals fan I can sympathize with the predicament the book/movie presents: How can small market teams like The Oakland A’s succeed in a baseball culture that pits the rich against the poor. Currently sitting at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes it is summarized as follows, “Based on a true story, Moneyball is a movie for anybody who has ever dreamed of taking on the system. Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A's and the guy who assembles the team, who has an epiphany: all of baseball's conventional wisdom is wrong. Forced to reinvent his team on a tight budget, Beane will have to outsmart the richer clubs. The onetime jock teams with Ivy League grad Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) in an unlikely partnership, recruiting bargain players that the scouts call flawed, but all of whom have an ability to get on base, score runs, and win games. It's more than baseball, it's a revolution - one that challenges old school traditions and puts Beane in the crosshairs of those who say he's tearing out the heart and soul of the game.”

For me this movie is as close to perfect as movies get. As Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane says, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?” And while I would agree I will say that I would qualify that by saying, “How can you not be romantic about baseball…if you are already in love with baseball?” Those who are not hard core fans of America’s Pastime may find the movie a bit slow. But for baseball geeks like me it ranks in the top tier of baseball movies along with Field of Dreams, Bull Durham , The Sandlot, and Major League.

While perhaps not as dynamic or over the top as his characters in Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, or Inglorios Basterds; Pitt’s performance as Beane is one of his best. You truly believe he is a, “baseball guy,” who, “hates losing more than he wants to win, and they are two different things.”

Jonah Hill is a delight as always. It was really neat to see a versatile side of him. He tackles the dramatic moments with ease and excellence while still maintaining the sense of humor we have come to know and love from his many comedies. I look forward to more dramatic roles from him in the future, which are most certainly on the way after this performance.

This is a different type of baseball movie than we are used to seeing. It is far more about what goes on behind the scene of a Major League Baseball team than it is showing dramatic on the field sports moments. In that way it is kind of the Jerry Maguire of Baseball Movies. That said, Royals fans will be excited to see their Boys in Blue featured in the one scene with the most on field action. I found myself cheering for the fictional on screen version of the 2002 Royals. Yes, something is seriously wrong with me.

So while big time baseball fans will probably take more away from Moneyball, there is still a lot to enjoy for the casual fan. The summer blitz of blockbusters is over and right now Moneyball is one of your best bets for your entertainment dollar. I give it 5 out of 5 KC Royals batting helmets.

Last week I had the chance to see “Drive.” Currently sitting at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes it is summarized as such, “Ryan Gosling stars as a Los Angeles wheelman for hire, stunt driving for movie productions by day and steering getaway vehicles for armed heists by night. Though a loner by nature, Driver can't help falling in love with his beautiful neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a vulnerable young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld by the return of her ex-convict husband Standard (Oscar Isaac). After a heist intended to pay off Standard's protection money spins unpredictably out of control, Driver finds himself driving defense for the girl he loves, tailgated by a syndicate of deadly serious criminals. But when he realizes that the gangsters are after more than the bag of cash in his trunk-that they're coming straight for Irene and her son-Driver is forced to shift gears and go on offense.”

This is definitely an interesting flick and one that will keep you thinking for a few days after you see it. Taken strictly as a performance piece it is spectacular. Ryan Gosling delivers a quiet, understated performance as the sad yet confident Driver. Fans of AMC’s Breaking Bad and Mad Men will recognize the familiar faces of Bryan Cranston and Christina Hendricks, respectively. Cranston plays a two bit criminal who gives Driver a job at his body shop and assists him with his “extra-curricular activities” by providing souped-up get away vehicles. Sadly, Hendricks is given far less to do in this one as she takes part in the botched robbery and then falls victim to what happens to those who are involved in botched robberies. It’s a shame because most audiences know what she is capable of and would have liked to see her in a more substantial role. Personally I would have preferred her over Carey Mulligan as the female lead. Her performance is more than admirable, but she’s no Christina Hendricks. Albert Brooks also delivers a masterfully performance as the Jewish Mafia Boss. Usually cast as a funny man it was interesting to see Brooks branch out and he is truly terrifying.

What struck me most about this movie is the fact that it’s a modern day western and yet has a feel and a soul that is very 80’s. Take the basic story line: Our hero has no name (Gosling is billed simply as, “Driver”). He is the, “strong silent type.” He appears to be a bad guy, but there is more too him than a typical criminal and there is good in him. He works with criminals but he is not the same. He is morally ambiguous. He falls in love with a girl and in order to help her and her son he agrees to do a job for the, “real bad guys.” Things go horribly wrong and much violence ensues. Remove the fast cars and replace them with fast horses and you have a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. Even the ending is (somewhat) ripped right from the 1953 classic western Shane.

Overall the title of this movie is misleading. There is not a whole lot of driving in the flick. The opening five minutes contains the most driving and is by far the best part of the film. Here is a quick tease of the first couple minutes The word Drive applies more to the ambition of Driver to do whatever it takes to help the woman he loves. There is some good action and violence but this is more of an Art House picture than an action popcorn flick. So if you are going in expecting to see The Transporter Part 37, you will be disappointed. It does drag in parts and is fairly depressing. But if you like watching actors act and want to see a movie that has a true vision, give it a shot. 3.5 out of 5 Driving Helmets for me.
Thanks Kid!  Until next time, this is Reel Rhino, saying so long...

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