50/50 (4.5 Stars)
50/50, released in 2011, is the endearing tale of a very real moment that is thrust upon countless individuals; being diagnosed with cancer. The story follows Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 27-year old who’s life comes to a crashing halt when he discovers he has a rare form of spinal cancer. Adam must now come to grips with his diagnosis, attempting to carry on in life while knowing he’s been given a 50% shot at surviving. With varying degrees of support coming from his best friend (Seth Rogen), his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), his mother (Angelica Huston), and new therapist (Anna Kendrick), Adam strives to process and cope with this cataclysmic change to his life. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is at the top of his game here, delivering a career best performance in the central role. His everyman demeanor works perfectly for the character, serving as an avatar for the viewer and how they would likely go through these events. It’s a well-executed strategy that pays off. The supporting cast is strong as well, being set up to thrive by the screenplay. Seth Rogen is likeable as the obnoxious yet loyal friend that can be spotted in every group. His humor often proves divisive, but he is operating as the best version of himself here. Additionally, Anna Kendrick is producing some of her best work, portraying an idealistic, albeit inexperienced therapist forced to grapple with the struggles that accompany working with Adam. The role carries shades of a character Kendrick has played routinely, but on this occasion a thoughtful screenplay and a nuanced portrayal allow her to rise up with some of her best work to date. Anjelica Huston is perfect as the worried/overbearing mother, capturing the essence of what we can all picture a parent possessing during this sort of ordeal. Bryce Dallas Howard is unable to hang with the acting showcase going on around her and it shows with a much less layered portrait of her character and clear Achilles heel of the film. Overall though, 50/50 is a heartfelt glimpse into a real-life scenario many people are forced to reckon with. A wonderful screenplay deftly balances comedy and drama to create something unique that is carried from start to finish on the shoulders of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s powerhouse performance.
Scott Pilgram vs The World (3.5 Stars)
Scott Pilgram vs the World, released in 2010, is a cleverly conceived film by director Edgar Wright that blends genres and swings for the fences on every pitch. The outcome is a movie that has its fair share of strikeouts, but more than makes up for it with plenty of home runs. The story follows Scott Pilgram (Michael Cera), a 23-year old bass guitarist who one day meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Scott attempts to win Ramona’s heart, but must first vanquish her seven evil exes in combat. The highlight of the film is without a doubt the original screenplay, which coupled with wonderful visuals, creates a vastly entertaining experience. The cinematography is wholly unique, displaying a clear video game vibe, which results in some incredible fight choreography. Wright doesn’t just take inspiration from video games while piecing this story together, he also references countless other facets of pop culture to generate a joyride that cranks the entertainment up to 11. The acting on display isn’t anything special, aside from Kieran Culkin who is delightful as Scott’s roommate. Cera continues to play the same role he always does to diminishing returns, but the supporting cast is entertaining, with colorful portrayals provided by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aubrey Plaza, Allison Pill, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, and Brie Larson. The film goes all out in every way, resulting in many great comedic moments, but also some misfires. Not all the comedy lands, and certain moments delve into stupidity, but these situations are mixed in sparsely. In the end, Wright gives it his all to deliver with a story that has never before been seen on the big screen, pushing the boundaries of storytelling with something that’s action packed, comedic, romantic, stupid, and real all at the same time.
Panic Room (3.5 Stars)
Panic Room, released in 2002, is an expertly crafted thriller from director David Fincher. It follows a divorced mother (Jodie Foster) and her daughter (Kristen Stewart) who have just moved into their new home and are enjoying their first night, only to have burglars break in (Forrest Whitaker and Jared Leto). What proceeds to transpire is a heart pounding game of cat and mouse between the two rivaling parties. An intelligent script provides the strength of the film, as the taut story is continuously propelled forward with excellent pacing and an ever-growing atmosphere of tension. The film rides on the back of Jodie Foster, who is solid enough in the lead role to keep viewers engaged. Unfortunately, the majority of the cast is unable to elevate the story further, providing lackluster takes on generic characters. Overall though, Panic Room is a simple, yet clever premise that is highly executed by Fincher to create a claustrophobic thrill ride that merits a watch.