Friday, December 30, 2011

50/50 (2011)

Seth Rogen has written a movie that completely makes up for the fact I sat through The Green Hornet. This was an honest and intimate portrayal of dealing with a disease that could stop anyone in their tracks.

Adam Learner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 27-year-old journalist who works at a public radio station with his best friend Kyle (Rogen). Adam has a solid relationship with his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) and his family. One day after work, Adam heads to the doctor because of some chronic back pain. It's there that he learns he has a rare form of spinal cancer. Understandably, Adam doesn't believe the diagnosis at first, but then has the unenviable task of coming to grips with it. Rachael and Kyle seem to take the news well, at first, while Adam's mother (Anjelica Huston) isn't as accepting. In order to help deal with the disease, Learner is recommended to take counseling. His case is given to doctoral student Katie McCay (Anna Kendrick). The two of them soon form a bond over the fact they are new to their respective scenarios. Adam's cancer has a 50% survival rate, but he's hoping a good attitude can take him the rest of the way.

I had a great time watching this movie. It took such a devastating topic, one that affects practically every family, and gives looks at it from an emotional and hilarious point of view. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a terrific performance, per usual. Anna Kendrick and Seth Rogen also did great in their supporting roles. While at times this film felt like a Wes Anderson knockoff, the engaging plot and characters kept me from losing interest in the style of film making. This almost assuredly has a spot in my year-end Top Ten list. Grade: A-

Bridesmaids (2011)

While this movie didn't totally live up to all the hype surrounding it, Bridesmaids was still a funny movie in the vain of most Judd Apatow flicks. Except this time the characters were girls.

Thirtysomething Annie (Kristin Wiig) is at a crossroads in her life. Her business has recently shut down, she has a menial service job, her roommates are utterly ridiculous and her relationship status is virtually nonexistent. To make matters worse, her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is getting married and she's asked Annie to be her maid of honor. Of course Annie excepts the offer, but she soon finds out she's in over her head. On top of all that, Annie has to deal with fellow bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne). Helen is Lillian's fiance's boss's wife, so naturally she wants to fit in. Helen is constantly trying to usurp Annie's maid of honor role and Annie is slowly but surely starting to crack under the pressure. Her mother, her quasi-boyfriend and the rest of the bridesmaids are no help. What Annie's going to do to get out of her rut is anyone's guess.

One element that did live up to the hype was Melissa McCarthy. She was absolutely hysterical as one of the other bridesmaids. While Ellie Kemper and Wendi McLendon-Covey did well in their roles, the only one who made me eagerly wait for her next line was McCarthy. All that said, there were still problems with this movie. I really could've done without the needlessly ridiculous British roommates and while I appreciate all of the improvisation, some of it dragged on for no reason other than to show the audience "Hey, they're comedians." I liked this movie, but definitely not enough to call it the best comedy of 2011 as most critics have noted. Grade: B+

Monday, December 26, 2011

J. Edgar (2011)

Powerhouse performances can only take a film so far. Cheesy makeup and a disorienting storyline manage to drag this one down. Disappointment, thy name is J. Edgar.

J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the young, brash leader of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He's never really been on the front lines, but he makes sure the public believes he has. Hoover's life and career follows an unexpected path, but all of it seems to revolve around how his mother (Judi Dench) feels. He soon hires Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) as his personal secretary and Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) as, basically, an assistant and confidant. In the midst of a congressional inquiry, Hoover takes on the now-infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping. Hoover sees this as an opportunity for the FBI, but the case gets bungled early and a lack of resources ultimately does it in. The result of the Lindbergh case puts a damper on his relationships, both personally and professionally. He may never recover from them. Throw in clashes with presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, it's amazing Hoover's career lasted as long as it did.

While I thought the plot included several points in Hoover's life that I wanted to know about, it moved around in such a disjointed way that it was sometimes hard to follow, or even care about. DiCaprio was great as usual and Armie Hammer gave a stellar performance that may give the awards recognition he missed for The Social Network. But, again, watching the older Hoover and Tolson act through that terrible makeup and dark lighting was really difficult. It took me out of the movie completely. I can't recommend J. Edgar, but I'm not going to stop anyone from seeing this. Grade: C+

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Contagion (2011)

Sheer terror and utter chaos inside the mind of the average citizen. That's the central message of Contagion, which is one of the best films of 2011.

Day 2: Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns home from a business trip to Hong Kong with what seems like a nasty cold. When she collapses two days later, her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) rushes her to the hospital, where she dies almost instantly. This case quickly gets the attention of the federal government after similar cases are discovered around the globe. Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), both of the CDC, take different approaches to solving this mystery. Cheever at CDC headquarters and Mears in the field gathering data. As news of more and more deaths start to appear, blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) starts drudging up stories about the disease that are either half-truths or completely false. But his writings help further a worldwide panic that's set in. People start to look at homeopathic cures or any type of medication that could potentially cure them. No matter what the public does, it's no match for a disease that can't be traced.

I loved almost every aspect of this movie. As the disease spreads, the audience sees it from every angle. Publicly, privately, bureaucratically and online. You watch as the panic spreads day to day and month to month. Jude Law played smug-sonuvabitch to a T and Laurence Fishburne was great as a smart man who was clearly in over his head. Even those with smaller roles, including John Hawkes and Demetri Martin, did great in their parts. But the best storyline involved Matt Damon. As he and his daughter try and survive, you see how even small-town America is falling into anarchy. I could've done without Marion Cotillard's storyline, but it was so minor that I'll remember the movie around it. If you love thrillers, do yourself a favor and watch Contagion. This will definitely make my 2011 Top Ten list. Grade: A

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Young Adult (2011)

Dark comedies are some of my favorites movies, but this one got a little darker than it probably should have. On the other hand, the drama in Young Adult felt like it came from a real place. Fortunately, the good slightly outweighed the bad.

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a professional ghost writer. She helped author a once-popular series of teen literature that dealt with drama in a small town. On a whim, this 30-something decides to leave the bright lights of Minneapolis and head to her hometown in an attempt to get her high school sweetheart once again. Problem is, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) is a happily married man. Mavis doesn't care. All she cares about is getting Buddy back. While back in town, she runs into another old classmate. Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) now needs the help of a crutch after being savagely beaten while in high school. Both of them form this odd friendship that revolves around their past lives. Mavis can't shake the adolescence and downright bitchiness she had in high school, while Matt will forever be labeled as the town cripple. In the end, they can only go so far out of their comfort zone to get past their hangups.

Theron gives a great performance, but that's to be expected of her. The real star of the movie was Patton Oswalt. His subtle bravado and intensity shine through in certain scenes and it's really terrific to see. Patrick Wilson, who I'm normally not that fond of, does a good job at playing flabbergasted. My problems with the movie involved certain aspects of the plot. Certain scenes and certain characters just seemed contrived, or even unnecessary. But those didn't happen often enough to throw me off. Jason Reitman directs another good movie, but this one may be his most polarizing. Grade: B