Friday, September 30, 2011

50/50: The Film Babble Blog Review

50/50 (Dir. Jonathan Levine, 2011)

Mining the misery of coping with cancer for comedy may not sound like a promising premise, yet 50/50, based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s bout with the illness, pulls it off with humorously heartfelt aplomb.

When Seattle public radio writer/producer Joseph Gordon-Levitt is diagnosed with the disease he’s unsurprisingly devastated, but he has a devoted girlfriend(Bryce Dallas Howard), and a supportive best friend (Seth Rogen) to help get him through.

Uh, make that just a supportive friend, as Rogen discovers at an art gallery that Howard is cheating on Gordon-Levitt and has photographic evidence of this on his cell phone. Howard is soon out of the picture, and Gordon-Levitt turns to Anna Kendrick as a therapist who’s adorably awkward in her newness to the job as she admits he’s only her third patient.

You got to love a movie that makes a convincing case for exploiting your ailment to get laid, a plan that anyone could guess was the scruffy Rogen’s. After helping shave Gordon-Levitt’s head with his “ball trimmers,” Rogen takes his friend out to a club in one of the film’s funniest scenes where they learn that “I have cancer” is not an effective pick-up line.

So the profane, yet mildly profound 50/50 is essentially a bromance in the Apatowian tradition, but it doesn’t try too hard for laughs, they come naturally from conversations and situations that feel lovingly adapted from real life.

Take the case of Gordon-Levitt’s parents. The always welcome Anjelica Houston has the well-worn worried-sick mother part, but doesn’t overplay it. Likewise Serge Houde as the father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Neither character is exaggerated for comedic effect, or absorbed in messy melodrama and that’s incredibly refreshing to witness.

I was amused as much as I was touched by this film. I’m fine with Gordon- Levitt doing big ass Christopher Nolan flicks, and Rogen trying to find his footing in stoner superhero movies (or whatever the Hell you’d call the upcoming JAY AND SETH VS. THE APOCALYPSE), as long as they do funny small scale stories with emotional pull like this every once in a while.

More later...

Friday, September 23, 2011

MONEYBALL: The Film Babble Blog Review

MONEYBALL (Dir. Bennett Miller, 2011)


Some of the best camaraderie I’ve seen on the big screen lately is in the exchanges between Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill throughout this unorthodox take on the traditional inspirational sports story.

Pitt plays the real-life Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, who recruits Hill, as a Yale economy major based on Paul DePodesta, to help him think outside the box in putting together a baseball team on an extremely low budget.

There’s a delicious deadpan thing happening with Pitt and Hill as they employ a statistical approach to scouting for new players, no doubt due to the thoroughy witty screenplay written by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian. It’s a pleasure to see Pitt as basically a regular relatable guy - a divorced dad who is driven to shake things up in his career - trading ideas with Hill, in one of his most likable and believable roles.

A dour Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the field manager of the team, doesn’t quite get what Pitt and Hill are up to so there are some flare-ups, but a rag tag roster of players is assembled (including Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Casey Bond, and Royce Clayton) that pulls off a 20-game winning streak.

Despite such factors as Pitt’s overly precocious daughter (Kerris Dorsey) and his ex-wife (a barely registering Robin Wright), there’s not much of an emotional impact to this material, but the backroom break-downs which make up the bulk of this film are engaging enough to draw one in.

Subdued yet extremely sharp, MONEYBALL isn’t a movie just for baseball fanatics, it’s for anybody who enjoys character driven drama about people experimenting with new methods with compelling determination. Pitt provides one of his most down to earth performances that carries the film superbly, and the inventive pairing of him with Hill works way better than one would think.

Not being a baseball guy, or a sports guy at all for that matter, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this film. It has the drive of the best docudramas – the ones that educate as much as they entertain – and folks should walk away with a good sense of how a couple of everyday guys can really be gamechangers.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011


This documentary drops today on Blu ray and DVD:

CONAN O'BRIEN CAN'T STOP (Dir. Rodman Flender, 2011)

The title shot of this film has Conan O'Brien backstage strumming his guitar framed exactly like Bob Dylan was in the title shot of the 1965 documentary DON'T LOOK BACK. The font is even the same so it appears that director Rodman is attempting to do what D.A. Pennebaker did definitively for Dylan: capture an icon on tour during a pivotal period of transition.

Sadly, this is hardly a definitive or essential piece of work. It's a sloppily assembled, horribly uneven, and only fitfully funny film that jumps around spastically as much as its subject often does during his monologues - only it's less annoying when Conan does it.

I expected so much more from the director of LEPRECHAUN 2!

At the beginning Flender sums up the situation that I'm sure everybody reading this surely knows, so I'll try to keep it brief - after losing his Tonight Show gig on NBC in early 2010, Conan contractually could not appear on television, radio or the internet for 6 months, so he went out on a tour dubbed "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour."

Okay, so that wasn't very brief.

There are a lot of clips of amusing stage antics, and some entertaining excerpts of the stable of songs (mostly rockabilly) played on the tour, but the choppiness of the presentation prevents immersion into the material.

The soundbite nature of the editing makes the interview bits unable to provide much insight. We hear Conan talk about the raw deal he was given (at point he says "sometimes I'm so mad I can't even breathe"), but you're better off with the 60 Minutes interview from last year if you want anything approaching revelations.

Still, Conan is an extremely funny guy so the film can't help have some hilarity - you gotta love a guy who says "it's in God's hands now" after sending a tweet. Sometimes Conan comes off mean with his constant comical verbal abuse of his assistant Sona Movsesian, the school boy punches to the shoulders of staff members, and the merciless ribbing of 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer - but hey, that's just the man's patented attention seeking persona. He acknowledges as much: "I might be a fuckin' genius and I might be the biggest dick ever, I don't know. Or maybe both - that's what Patton was."

It's obvious that Conan is always "on" when he's in front of a camera (I bet a lot of the time off camera too), so its a documentary that will be most enjoyed by hardcore fanatics i.e. Team Coco.

Although CONAN O'BRIEN CAN'T STOP isn't a great documentary, it's a worthwhile Blu ray/DVD because of its abundant special features.

The commentary with Conan, Flender, and the crew is much funnier than the movie (Conan says he wanted the tour's lengthy name to be even longer: "I wanted to call it 'The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour Because of Jay Leno Tour'"), there's a fairly insightful 11 minute interview, and a nice smattering of watchable outtakes which are listed below.

Special Features: Commentary with Director Rodman Flender, Conan O'Brien, Andy Richter, Mike Sweeney and Sona Movsesian, Interview with Conan O'Brien, Interview Outtakes, Additional Scenes.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

ATTACK THE BLOCK: The Film Babble Blog Review

This British sci-fi comedy is playing exclusively in the Triangle at the Colony Theater in Raleigh:

ATTACK THE BLOCK (Dir. Joe Cornish, 2011)

A breath of fresh air after this superhero/sequel saturated summer, ATTACK THE BLOCK posits a teenaged South London street gang versus an alien invasion with thrillingly funny results.

There's a bit of a GOONIES filtered through the sensibility of SHAWN OF THE DEAD (Edgar Wright co-executive produced) thing going down as the kids race around a grimy low-income apartment building known as "the Block" (as in Block of flats), battling black furry monsters with green glowing teeth that they call "bear/wolf/gorilla motherfuckers."

The leader of the gang is the unsmiling John Boyega as Moses, who seems destined to the life of a go nowhere drug dealer until this unexpected attack puts him to the test. Boyega's crew is made up of Simon Howard, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, and Leeon Jones.

The underaged hoods first encounter the aliens in the middle of mugging a nurse (Jodie Whittaker) on her way home to the same complex they live in. Whittaker gets away as the gang go after the creature and kill it figuring that it's something they can maybe sell on Ebay.

Moses stashes the dead monster at the apartment of deadly drug kingpin Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter), who has a weed selling underling played by Nick Frost (there's some of that SHAWN OF THE DEAD vibe I was talking about).

Despite their prickly first meeting, Whittaker joins forces with Boyega and his boys (boyz?), while the spot-on Luke Treadaway, as a geeky stoner gang member wannabe, also gets wrapped up into the warfare.

The film builds into a chaotic action-packed blast as the kids pull their resources (mostly fireworks) to battle the bunch of bear/wolf/gorilla motherfuckers (just wanted to type that again), and there are tons of laugh-out loud lines (like "this is too much madness to fit into a text!"), every step of the way.

The movie is a bit too dark - not thematically, but lighting-wise - as some shots are hard to follow through the murky shadows, yet its small scale special effects work well enough to serve the story and tone.

ATTACK THE BLOCK looks destined to be a future cult movie, perfect for late night viewings, but don't wait until then - this is well worth seeking out now while it's still on the big screen.

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Friday, September 09, 2011

CREATURE: The Film Babble Blog Review


(Dir. Fred M. Andrews, 2011)

With its skinny dip in the swamp beginning featuring the full frontal nudity of Jennifer Lynn Warren, we get a good sense of what’s in store in the low budget directorial debut of Fred M. Andrews. Warren is attacked from underwater by an unseen entity, and she frantically tries to swim back ashore. She loses her legs then her life, so there we have it - the first casualty of CREATURE.

The film has the familiar set-up of a group of young couples on a road trip camping out in dangerous territory. The guys (Mahcad Brooks, Dillon Casey, and Aaron Hill) are Marines, and Serinda Swan, Lauren Schneider, and Amanda Fuller play their girlfriends. They stop at a old country store run by Sid Haig, where they learn about the local legend of Lockjaw, a half-man, half alligator that they first dismiss as a “Southern fried version of Bigfoot.”

They soon find out otherwise when they make the mistake of setting up tents in the backwoods of the Louisiana Bayou.

On the way to that destination we get the intense back story that the creature began life as an inbred man named Grimley, portrayed by Daniel Bernhardt. It’s cool that the monster is not a CGI creation, but Bernhardt in a full body costume – a scary sight that was effective enough to make the cover of Fangoria magazine.

There’s lots of blood and gore plus plenty of violence, and the before mentioned nudity so brace yourself for a gripping, if at times grueling, good time.

In an ensemble cast of unknowns, Haig stands out. Film fans should recognize him from movies such as HALLOWEEN (the Rob Zombie remake), KILL BILL 2, HOUSE OF A 1000 CORPSES, and many more.

It obviously recalls SWAMP THING, and, of course, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, but director Andrews, who co-wrote the screenplay with David Morse, pays homage to those movies by playing it straight.

In a phone conversation with Andrews, he told me that he thinks of the film as an “anti-horror horror movie.” I think that’s a good way of putting it.

Although it's a bit disjointed and definitely not for the squeamish, CREATURE is a creepy cheapie that should delight old school horror fans and lovers of monster movies. Exploitation die-hards will likely embrace it too.

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