Monday, October 31, 2011

Movie Review: “Puss in Boots”

DreamWorks pulls off a twofer for 2011.

**** ½ out of 5
Rated PG for some adventure action and mild rude humor.
90 minutes
Paramount Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Puss in Boots (2011) on Blogcritics.

In a perfect world, there would be no such thing as mediocre amongst the Pixar catalogue. But alas, every few years, John Lasseter wants to deliver another “Cars” film. While DreamWorks may be better known for throwing a few clunkers our way, the last few years have been mighty kind. Maybe it’s losing all those coveted Best Animated Feature Oscars along the way. Not that this weekend’s “Puss in Boots” will completely change that but it’s continuing in the right direction.

All that aside, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it every time: as of now, so long as DreamWorks isn’t trolling out another “Shrek” film, they seem to do mighty fine. Looking back over their list of films since “Shrek” premiered just over ten years ago they’re actually doing way better than I make it sound. The only true stinkers being “Shark Tale,” and the last two “Shrek” films, “Shrek the Third” and “Shrek Forever After.”

When you notice the director of “Puss in Boots” is none other than Chris Miller, the director of “Shrek the Third” (arguably one of the worst DreamWorks feature thus far), it gives cause for alarm. Can he pull a nice little trick out of his hat and deliver the prequel we’ve been waiting for since Puss made his first appearance back in 2004’s “Shrek 2?” We all know Puss has been the best thing to happen to that entire franchise so it was only a matter of time before his tale was finally told.

“Puss in Boots” works as an origin story, but keeps the film within the fractured “Shrek” fairy tale land while never sinking so low as to even conjure up any of those films’ characters. “Puss” (voiced by Antonio Banderas) has his own tale to be told. Here we find that as a young kitten, he is placed within an orphanage in San Ricardo, where he quickly befriends Humpty Dumpty (voiced by Zach Galifianakis). The two aspire to grow up and escape the confines of said orphanage to fulfill Humpty’s dreams of finding Jack’s magical beans that lead to a giant castle where the golden goose lies ripe for the taking if they can get it past the Great Terror.

There’s also a subplot involving Jack (voiced by Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (voiced by Amy Sedaris), who already have possession of the magical beans, as well as one with Kitty Softpaws (voiced by Salma Hayek). Will Puss and Kitty find love amongst the betrayal and swash buckling? Can Humpty and Puss make nice and get over their sordid past involving a bank heist where Humpty is left on a bridge to be imprisoned? Can a film filled to the brim with cat jokes continue the funny for a brisk 90 minutes? Find out all this and much much more because the cat’s out of the bag on this one.

With a surprisingly minimal four credited writers (Brian Lynch, David H. Steinberg, Tom Wheeler, Jon Zack), including an uncredited rewrite from executive producer Guillermo del Toro, the “Puss in Boots” team have delivered and then some. I had high hopes for this entry in the “Shrek” canon but was yet to be convinced. And if it wasn’t for “Rango” and “Kung Fu Panda 2” already having been released, they’d have a mighty fine chance at winning that coveted Oscar for this one. However, DreamWorks now has a fighting chance with two possible nominations where Pixar may not even receive one (“Ohhh,” as one “Puss” character may say).

Charles Perrault’s timeless character is finally given his due, and so are we as one of the year’s flat out hilarious films, along with one of the most action packed, has arrived.

Photos courtesy DreamWorks Animation

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Movie Review: “Paranormal Activity 3”

Genuinely creepy for the first hour. Then comes the "mythology" to screw it all up.

*** out of 5
Rated R for some violence, language, brief sexuality and drug use
85 minutes
Paramount Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 3 on Blogcritics.

Just last week in my review for the remake of “The Thing,” I mentioned that when it comes to prequels, you either have a checklist of unexplained events to answer for or you can have some fun and build upon what’s already been laid out. The new “Thing” did this extremely well. When it comes to this weekend’s horror entry, “Paranormal Activity 3,” not so much. Paramount Pictures obviously wants film after film of groundwork laid, but this is becoming an alarmingly weak foundation.

I have to admit, when Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman were announced as directors of the series’ second prequel, I breathed a sigh of relief. Here are directors who know the genre all too well. Their extraordinary “Catfish” was a work of sheer genius. How much of their documentary was fake, who knows. And who cares? It was a great thrill ride featuring one of the best twist finales in years. It also featured a few horror elements sprinkled in a couple of scenes which is no doubt how Joost and Schulman scored this gig.

Unfortunately, they’re also straddled with the screenplay courtesy of Christopher B. Landon. From the mind who gave us both “Disturbia” (fun) and “Blood and Chocolate” (atrocious), he also was partially responsible for “Paranormal Activity 2.” Given that both “sequels” are prequels, I can only imagine that this format to the series is mostly his. And it’s a nice twist on the standard genre trend. Why not keep going backwards to root out “how the activity began,” as the film’s tagline reads? I’ll tell you why not, because none of it makes a lick of sense.

If you watched these three films chronologically, they’d function the same way most horror series do. If “3” came first it could be heralded as fantastic in comparison to “2” and “1,” which would come off as being standardized sequels. This theory actually makes sense as the end of the original Paranormal Activity” was the worst thing ever sprung from the mind of Steven Spielberg. People may pick on “Hook” or “The Lost World,” but we all know by now that the first “Paranormal” ending was his idea, and what a horrible idea if there ever was one. What worked marginally well for a good 85 minutes has the final minute completely obliterate any sense of fun.

The same is pretty true with “3” as well. We begin somewhere in the timeline of “2” with Rey sisters Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Katie (Katie Featherstone) prepping for the birth of Kristi’s baby boy. Katie has also brought along some boxes she got stuck with after their grandma Lois passed away. And so begins the new installment. Now we are treated to the series’ most likeable couple, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) and Julie (Lauren Bitter), Kristi and Katie’s mother. Dennis is their stepfather and is looked down upon by Lois because he doesn’t offer any financial security by just being a wedding videographer. Of course, this means that he has access to multiple video cameras and keeps a steady supply of video tapes in the garage where his editing station is.

Now we learn that as a child, Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) has an imaginary friend named Toby. Katie (Chloe Csengery), is always playing the older sister role by making Kristi participate in family birthday parties and calling her a baby for having an imaginary friend. Soon enough, all sorts of spooky noises are heard through the house and all kinds of paranormal activities rear their head. At least this time Joost and Schulman play up some nods to “Poltergeist,” along with its sequel (for better and worse here), and a dash of “The Blair Witch Project” for good measure.

The performances in “Paranormal Activity 3” work as the film’s superglue. But even superglue has the ability to wear away after so long. Like I said, eventually Paramount Pictures seems to have demanded that the film continues its headlong nosedive into the series’ own mythology, which just makes the proceedings more ludicrous as the minutes tick by. This is also by far the least boring of the three films, but some would wholeheartedly argue with that.

In the end, if you’re a fan of the series you will love this entry as Ariel and Schulman pull off some fun stunts, and they even get to rely on the age old drama of someone dropping something down the garbage disposal. So if you like these films go for it. There’s really not much playing right now in the way of horror, and it is October for crying out loud. The good old days are definitely behind us as we’ve already been treated to both “Insidious” and “Scream 4” all the way back in April, while “Final Destination 5” spectacularly killed off its latest round of pretty young actors last month before “Fright Night” vanished, and the only other horror film playing right now is “The Thing.” While the better of these two won’t make a lick of money compared to the other, at least “Paranormal Activity 3” isn’t a total bust. I just wish that someone could figure out how to end one of these things... if not the whole enterprise.

Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Movie Review: “The Thing”

Some“Thing” wound up being the best horror film of the year.

***** out of 5
Rated R for strong creature violence and gore, disturbing images, and language.
103 minutes
Universal Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: The Thing (2011) on Blogcritics.

Remakes are probably way too easy to make these days. When motion pictures have been on a virtual production line since 1914’s “Birth of a Nation,” there’s an interminable amount of features you could consider. Making a prequel, however, gives someone the opportunity to both not only take a few liberties but also satiate fanboys’ desires at the same time. When the film you’re leading up to is John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” you’ve got yourself quite a heavy load.

Having just rewatched the original merely days ago on Blu-ray, I couldn’t help but walk into director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s prequel with a long checklist of events that need to happen. To say that he, along with screenwriter Eric Heisserer (“Final Destination 5,” 2010’s “Nightmare on Elm Street”), succeeded is a bit of an understatement. There may be a few things that lend themselves to the territory of remake as well, but through and through, their “Thing” still finds plenty of new ways to cover old ground. Let’s also not forget that even Carpenter’s take was a remake as well. All three based on John W. Campbell Jr.’s short story, “Who Goes There?”

After the appropriately 1980s version of the Universal logo raises some serious goosebumps, and the 1982-version of font begins, expectations were immediately raised. It’s 1982 all over again as we’re swept away to the icy tundra of Antarctica. A group of Norwegian researchers, including Olav (Jan Gunnar Røise), are following a signal and it’s not long before they fall into a tight cavern uncovering a spacecraft that’s later mentioned to be 100,000 years old.

Turns out, there’s also a specimen on site so Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) recruits Columbia University paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to help him uncover the find. Now Kate is headed north along with Sander’s assistant Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen), who explains to Kate that in the three years he’s worked with him he’s never seen Sander this excited. Along with a group of diggers and scientists, they all land at Thule Station with the news that a big storm’s headed their way. After the specimen is excavated, it’s only a matter of time before all hell breaks loose.

You may think you already know everything walking in, but Heijningen and Heisserer have conjured up a prequel with rare ambition. They never try to outdo Carpenter’s version, instead paying tribute in all the right ways. Everything from how the axe found its way into the wall to the man with the slit wrists in the chair to the man with the melting face is given its due. And, of course, it all organically leads into the beginning of the 1982 film. That is if you stick around for some of the end credits, FYI.

Thankfully, even with the use of some shaky cam, you always know what’s going on when the action and/or horror strikes thanks to some great cinematography courtesy Michel Abramowicz. And Marco Beltrami gives us the best creature feature score this side of Michael Giacchino’s “Super 8”. Some may balk at the use of today’s modernized CGI in some of the creature effects, but Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr.’s practical effects are put to splendid use as well. As Kate repeatedly yells through the film, be sure to “run!” to this new version of “The Thing.” It just may wind up being the best horror film of the year.

Photos courtesy Universal Pictures

Monday, October 10, 2011

Movie Review: “Real Steel”

“Real Steel” is real dumb.

** ½ out of 5
Rated PG-13 for some violence, intense action and brief language.
127 minutes
Touchstone Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Real Steel on Blogcritics.

Some movies have the ability to start out with great pedigree then succumb to the nature of being cannibalized by Hollywood. For instance, say a film features two quality producers in the likes of both Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. Next, add in the fact that the film being adapted is based on a dystopian short story by none other than Richard Matheson. And finally, say the adaptations story is credited to Dan Gilroy (“The Bourne Legacy”) and Jeremy Leven (“Don Juan DeMarco,” “The Legend of Bagger Vance”). This is only some of the behind-the-scenes talent involved with “Real Steel,” but don’t get your hopes up just yet.

An official adaptation of a Rock’em Sock’em Robots film somehow just feels inevitable with Peter Berg bringing us an alien-infused “Battleship” and Ridley Scott is trying to get a “Monopoly” film on the way. But in the meantime we’re left with Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman, amidst the directing duties of Shawn Levy. Bear in mind this is the same man who has burdened filmgoers with such calamities as “Big Fat Liar,” “Just Married,” “Cheaper by the Dozen,” “The Pink Panther,” and two “Nights at the Museum.”

While the first “Museum” was arguably passable entertainment it doesn’t hold up to repeat viewings at all. And the only film on his resume worth any attention is the Steve Carrel/Tina Fey venture “Date Night” . But I’m sure that film had everything to do with the cast involved and nothing to do with the screenplay or direction. Speaking of screenplays, while Gilroy and Leven are credited with the screen story, it’s John Gatins who receives credit for the screenplay. Here’s a man responsible for bringing us such classics as “Summer Catch,” “Hardball,” and “Coach Carter.” What? You don’t remember any of those flicks? Well, unfortunately I do and knowing this bit of information makes me less surprised about some of the machinations, let alone terrified to see what he will wring out for Zemeckis’ first live-action film (“Flight”) in eleven years.

In the year 2027, I will be 47 years old, but apparently the only thing that will have changed is literally only cell phones. At least as far as the world according to Levy is concerned. Humans in sports have also become a thing of the past and have been replaced by the World Robot Boxing League (WBR) where now we get giant robots; that are probably pretty cheap effects after three “Transformers” films. In the film however, these robots are far from cheap. They run upwards of $50,000. At least when they’re names consist of Ambush or Noisy Boy. The man behind these robots is Charlie Kenton (Jackman) who is a former boxer who luckily has not let his body go to waste.

After Ambush is gutted by a bull at a fair event, he now owes money to cowboy Ricky (Kevin Durand). Ricky wants his money but Charlie takes off in his truck to meet up with love interest/seeming-mechanical expert Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly). On the day Noisy Boy shows up Charlie is also introduced to his abandoned son Max (Dakota Goyo, a kid as annoying as his name would suggest). Charlie has just signed over his parental rights to the boy’s aunt Debra (Hope Davis) in a secret exchange with her husband Marvin (James Rebhorn) for said $100,000; half now, the other half after they return from a nice, long trip to Italy sans child.

Now Charlie has Noisy Boy, the best robot to come out of Japan, but is also stuck with Max for the summer. After Charlie arrogantly gets Noisy Boy pummeled to pieces, they scavenge a metal recycling compound in a rain storm looking for parts to rebuild it. But in true Spielbergian fashion, Max is sliding down a ravine only to be saved by a generation two robot Max digs out and names Atom. Before you can say father/son bonding, Max learns that Atom can understand him when the plot requires him too and that he’s got a built-in shadowing program which also comes in handy whenever convenience necessitates. Meanwhile, Farra (Olga Fonda) offers Charlie and Max $200,000 to make Atom a sparring ’bot for their world champion Zeus but of course Max refuses to sell and now Atom and Zeus may be pitted against each other in a duel to the death.

For a film about fighting robots and as being marketed as such, there’s an awful lot of awful dialogue. The humans are of absolute zero interest, yet there they are, scene after scene just yucking it up amongst themselves. This may be Levy’s most accomplished looking film to date but that doesn’t save any of us from his lack of subtlety, let alone Gatins even worse command of it. Even Jackman can’t hold up as the lead when all we want to see are the robots fighting each other but there’s maybe twenty minutes of that in a two hour feature. As a deadbeat father, Jackman just can’t pull it off. When he’s not trying to look like he’s about to cry, he can’t keep himself from maneuvering one Wolverine air kick, meanwhile Goyo just won’t shut up thanks to drinking the never-ending supply of the film’s biggest promoter, Dr. Pepper. Even poor Danny Elfman gets downgraded here providing the film nothing more than to cue the violins.

A good replacement for Jackman probably could have been made with Josh Holloway who’s already costarred with both Lilly and Durand on “Lost.” Perhaps then there may have been a chance for at least some chemistry between Charlie and Bailey and he could have brought a more respectably smart ass tone to the character. Now all we’re left with is a film ripe for cameos that never materialize and a bunch of humans who do all the talking when like I keep saying, all we want to see is robots fighting. Granted, I will give credit that what we do see of the fights is pretty awesome and could have made for grand entertainment. But alas, it all comes down to making the film family friendly and easily digestible for the masses. Something Levy knows far too well. In a world where Spielberg could have used this as an opportunity to whet our appetite for his upcoming “Robopocalypse,” unfortunately, “Real Steel” is just real dumb.

Photos courtesy Touchstone Pictures

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Movie Preview: October 2011

Just gotta trudge our way through October before Oscar comes calling.

Article first published as Movie Preview: October 2011 on Blogcritics.

When it comes to October, I guess the days of a new horror movie opening every weekend are long gone. While you may be able to curl up on the couch at home every night, there’s a mere two horror flicks opening this month. While one looks way better than the other, the latter still has something going for it behind the cameras that have piqued my interest. So alas, let us delve into the haunt free October that is 2011.

October 7

Kicking off with only two new openings comes one for the family, and one for the rest of us. Shawn Levy is not the man who first comes to mind when it comes to big budget action films with Steven Spielberg executive producing and Robert Zemeckis producing. Yet here comes the man behind such disasters as “Big Fat Liar,” “Just Married,” “Cheaper by the Dozen,” “The Pink Panther,” and the second “Night at the Museum,” bringing us an unofficial Rock’em Sock’em Robots film. Granted, the first “Night at the Museum” wasn’t a complete bust but I have no doubt the only thing holding “Date Night” together was Tina Fey and Steve Carell. In “Real Steel,” the gist is that it’s set in the future where robots duke it out in the ring instead of humans. I have some choice words to say about this one and they’ll all be available later this week.

On the flip side of things, we do get a new George Clooney movie! Whether he’s in front of, or behind the camera, the man just does not produce a stinker. Okay, maybe “Ocean’s 12.” Now he brings us another possible Best Picture front runner with “The Ides of March.” Also in the spotlight is star Ryan Gosling who’s having the year of his life. Hot off his performance in “Blue Valentine” last year, 2011 has already given us “”“Crazy, Stupid, Love.” and “Drive.” Maybe we should just give him Best Actor right now on account of collective performances. Anyone? Anyone? Here Gosling plays second fiddle to Clooney’s Presidential candidate where he gets a crash course in corruption. While it sounds slightly cliché, Clooney is directing his own screenplay based on Beau Willimon’s (also credited as co-writer) play “Farragut North.” I think Clooney and company have cooked up another winner.

October 14

Two remakes hit screens this day and while I have seen one already, I can vouch that the other will be the greater of the two. First we get a completely unnecessary remake of the Kevin Bacon starring (cult) classic, “Footloose.” While that film may have been another step to securing Bacon as the huge star that is now, can the same be said for Kenny Wormald? I’ll let audiences be the judge here, but I’m sure had director Craig Brewer opted to adapt the Broadway version he may have really been onto something. But that’s about all I can say about this now.

Meanwhile, another John Carpenter classic gets a makeover in what’s being called a “prequel.” But anyone who’s ever seen his remake of “The Thing from Another World,” simply titled “The Thing,” knows that it’s a remake through and through. Thankfully they kept the R-rating and probably upped the gore quotient, even if it appears to be handled from the inside of a computer instead of with stellar practical and makeup effects ala Rob Bottin. At least director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. is keeping things looking cool enough to keep us hot-headed fanboys from getting too bent out of shape. Plus, it gives us all another chance to behold Mary Elizabeth Winstead up on the big screen.

We also get a new comedy from director David Frankel. While not a household name, he did provide us with “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Marley & Me.” Now he’s behind the camera again with his biggest comedic cast yet for an adaptation of the Mark Obmascik novel “The Big Year.” When your three leads consist of Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black, it’s even more surprising to find a supporting cast packed to the gills such as this. Not only will the comedic trio be on the lookout for the rarest birds in North America, they’ll be in cahoots with the likes of Jim Parsons, Rashida Jones, Anjelica Huston, Joel McHale, Tim Blake Nelson, Diane Wiest, Anthony Anderson, JoBeth Williams, Brian Dennehy, Kevin Pollack, and Corbin Bernsen… phew! I think I smell a sleeper hit in the making with this one.

October 21

Three different genre films open this day; our second horror helping along with a big, dumb, action movie, and another comedy. Up first is the film I should have absolutely no interest in seeing. After being burned by the first two “Paranormal Activity” films I should be holding this third at arms length. Yet leave it to Paramount Pictures to talk the minds behind one of my favorite Sundance Films (“Catfish”) into helming “Paranormal Activity 3.” Now we get to see how it all started back when Katie and Kristi are kids. Leave it to a spooky game of Bloody Mary to commence the shenanigans. While the series seemed headed for diminishing returns, I can’t help but love the trailers and TV spots for this one. Plus, like I said, I loved me some “Catfish” and was totally disgusted when the Academy deemed it ineligible for Best Documentary. Let’s see if Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman can finally give us what we’ve been waiting for.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson has honestly never made a quality film. Even his “Death Race” remake is just about the only thing he even has close to a guilty pleasure, which isn’t saying much. So now he sets his sights on bringing us yet another big budget explosion extravaganza with his version of Alexandre Dumas’ “Three Musketeers.” All I’ve gotten out of this so far is that things will blow up, swords will clang clang and swoosh swoosh, and cleavage will rear its head at every chance. I may feel cold on this one, but I have yet to even see one TV spot for the other action film headed our way today.

Another “Johnny English” heads our way, because apparently Universal is under some kind of contract to release all of Studio Canal’s features regardless of whether they make any money in the states or not. Needless to say, Rowan Atkinson’s titular character is “Reborn” and I’m sure audiences are as likely to show up as they were last time.

October 28

Just because the rest of the month seems lackluster doesn’t mean we can’t have four major releases this day. I’ll try to be quick as there’s only two really worth mentioning. First up is director Roland Emmerich’s first foray into a film that does not revolve the end of the world in some manner. Instead he thinks it’s a good idea to proclaim Shakespeare a fraud in “Anonymous.” If that doesn’t make one balk already, I don’t know what could.

Meanwhile, Andrew Niccol thought it was a good idea to cast Justin Timberlake “In Time” as the next big action star alongside Amanda Seyfried’s breasts. While the filmmakers are caught up in legal action, Timberlake tries to play serious action which will probably only make audiences laugh harder than when he’s in his annual “SNL Digital Short” contributions.

Finishing out the month is a couple of suave exercises in live action and the third dimension. First, DreamWorks finally brings forth the long-awaited “Puss in Boots” film with Antonio Banderas slipping into his most recognizable character as we all get to see what lead up to that fateful day where he meets up with “Shrek” and company. Director Chris Miller gives Charles Perrault’s feline lead his own flick, but let’s just pray that he learned from his mistake that was the unbearable “Shrek the Third.” Maybe the blame could solely be placed on that film’s thirteen(!) credited writers compared to “Boots’” seemingly simplified four here but we shall see.

And alas, here we also get treated to more semi-autobiographical misadventures of Hunter S. Thompson courtesy of Johnny Deep in “The Rum Diary.” Last time he slipped into the warped shoes of Thompson we were treated to Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” While I still may not be able to sit through that head trip in one sitting, things look far more streamlined here thanks to writer/director Bruce Robinson. Tagging along for the ride in debauchery this time is Amber Heard, Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart, Richard Jenkins. Having not directed a feature since 1992’s “Jennifer Eight,” I’m suspecting a lot of love to be awash over Robinson’s production.

So that about sums it up for October. Yes, not a whole lot to be excited about but definitely some tasty morsels sprinkled about to satiate our sweet tooth while we continue waiting it out for November and December when Oscar season really starts to kick it into high gear.

Photos courtesy DreamWorks, Fox 2000 Pictures, Universal Pictures, Summit Entertainment, Paramount Pictures

Monday, October 3, 2011

Movie Review: “50/50”

So this is what Summit Entertainment uses their “Twilight” money on. Allow it.

Rated R for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use.
99 minutes
Summit Entertainment

Article first published as Movie Review: 50/50 on Blogcritics.

When you set your sights on Hollywood, it’s probably hard to keep your independent filmmaking cred in tact. Using Will Reiser’s autobiographical debut screenplay and enlisting the likes of stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen was the best choice for director Jonathan Levine. After cutting his teeth with “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” and winning the Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award in 2008 for “The Wackness,” it’s no surprise to see Levine dipping his toes in the Hollywood pool. And now he brings his best film yet with “50/50.”

The mixture of humor and heart has long been a Hollywood staple. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it does, it’s a thing of beauty. Not to mention possible Oscar accolades. When you consider the fact that Reiser based the screenplay on his personal battle against cancer, it just kicks things up a notch. At first glance, Rogen and Gordon-Levitt may seem like an odd pairing but the two share a much more natural rapport than you’d assume. Also in Levine’s favor stand Anna Kendrick further proving herself so much better than those horrendous “vampire” flicks she’s contracted into, along with the charming as ever Anjelica Huston, and Opie’s daughter Bryce Dallas Howard in a possible chance at winning Best Villain at next year’s MTV Movie Awards.

The story is simple: Adam (Gordon-Levitt) lives a life of abiding by the rules; he won’t even jog against street signs when there’s no traffic in sight on an early Seattle morning. He has just provided his artist girlfriend Rachael (Howard) her own drawer and relies on his best friend Kyle (Rogen) to drive him around when he’s not taking the bus. After a few weeks of consistent back pain, Adam finally heads to the doctor only to be diagnosed with schwannoma, i.e. cancer. He tells Kyle, whose reaction is that he may throw up, along with Rachael, who claims she’s going to stand by him when he presents her with the easy out. But he hesitates to inform his smothering mother Diane (Huston), whose already dealing with enough issues as his father Richard (Serge Houde) has Alzheimer’s.

Soon enough, Adam finally feels the gravity of his situation. He’s starts chemotherapy sessions where he befriends older cancer patients Alan (Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer) who talk him into some pot macaroons. Adam also starts seeing Katherine (Kendrick), a therapist who happens to be a doctoral student only on her now third patient. As the condition worsens, Kyle continually tries to help Adam make the most of his situation after they shave his head when they start trying to pick up chicks at the bar using his cancer and medicinal marijuana to lure them back to his house. Let alone that all this is after Kyle catches Rachael kissing a bearded hippie at an art gallery confirming suspicions after Adam tells Kyle they haven’t had sex in weeks. Finally, Adam begins to rely on himself, his friends and family, and Katherine, to make it through the hardships.

If you’re not laughing one minute, you’ll be crying the next; at least in the final half hour. Thankfully the film never relies on simply cuing the violins or having the characters break into hysterics to pull the sentiment out of thin air. Here is a group of people you truly care about and want to see prevail against the odds. Even when Adam realizes that finally driving a car will have to make do as his Make a Wish. The cast plays like gangbusters and I won’t be surprised to see Gordon-Levitt nominated come Oscar time. Levine also has high chances as he pulls no punches with Reiser’s brilliantly self-deprecating yet emotionally brutally honest screenplay. I personally hope to see “50/50” nominated in at least four categories if not more. And I’d say if Reiser’s odds were that good, then so is the film’s. So far it’s definitely my personal pick for Best Picture.

Photos courtesy Summit Entertainment