50/50, The Ides of March, Drive

50/50 Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Seth Rogen
50/50 starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen

50/50

5 Stars

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Huston

I was warily intrigued when I first heard the concept of a comedy about a guy dealing with cancer. Especially one starring Seth Rogen. But I was pleasantly surprised, and delighted, with the final product that was 50/50.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, 500 Days of Summer) stars as Adam, a 27-year-old writer for NPR who receives the lift altering news that he has a rare form of cancer. He moves through his life with the help of friends and family and comes to terms with the state of his life.

The main obstacle this film had to overcome was the contrived nature of a cancer story line. It immediately tugs on your emotional strings. Or if it’s written by Nicolas Sparks, it punches you in the face. But writer Will Reiser, making his feature debut, handled the subject matter with an earnestness that tends to be glossed over in most cancer tales. Reiser based the script on his own experiences following a cancer diagnoses and getting through it with the help of his friend, co-star Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, Funny People). There’s a feeling of realism to the dialogue that helps you empathise with what Adam’s going through, and I’m sure many men of my generation would act and react in a similar fashion.

Gordon-Levitt handles the subject matter with a delicacy so as not to disrespect it. But you can feel the humour and despair he exudes as Adam. Rogen does something bizarre. In the same role, he plays the familiar man-child archetype he’s perfected over the course of his career, but at the same time brings an air of poignancy.

I highly recommend this film. It’s funny in all the right places, but knows exactly when to be serious, and never feels trite. A must watch for the year.

The Ides of March
The Ides of March starring Ryan Gosling and George Clooney

The Ides of March

4 stars

Starring Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Evan Rachel Wood, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei

I went into The Ides of March expecting one film, but got a completely different one, marked by stellar performances from an amazing cast.

Ryan Gosling (The Notebook, Blue Valentine) stars as Stephan Meyers, a young, idealistic campaign manager for a Governor running for President (George Clooney, who also wrote and directed), who gets caught up in the dirty political machine that threatens his views and career.

I was anticipating a tight political thriller in the vein of All The President’s Men or State of Play. And I was completely let down. It’s not that it isn’t a political thriller, but it’s a lackluster one. It lacks any sort of punch to really keep the audience on the edge of their seat. But we do a thoroughly engaging character study on what the political machine can do to a person, and feels like an inside look at what goes on behind the scenes of a presidential campaign.

Throughout the course of the film, Gosling’s Meyers goes through a transformation from idealistic young political hotshot, to jaded, cynical, willing to the play the game staffer. It’s that transformation that makes the film, and Gosling’s performance sells it.

It’s interesting how well the cast mirrors the theme. You’ve got the heavyweight veterans supporting the young rookie (relatively, to the rest of the cast). Clooney delivers a so-so performance as the candidate, but it’s Hoffman (The Big Lebowski, Capote) and Giamatti (Sideways, Cinderella Man) who really shine as competing campaign managers who show Meyers how it’s really done. Evan Rachel Wood (Across The Universe, Thirteen) is enchanting as a young intern who serves as the cornerstone for a potential scandal.

It’s not genre defining, but definitely one of the best political films in the past few years, despite laying the actual politics on a little thick.

Drive
Drive starring Ryan Gosling

Drive

5 stars

Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Ron Pearlman

The Transporter is a sometimes pleasing, but mostly over the top action franchise. But what if The Coen Brothers directed an installment? That’s the feeling I got off of Drive, and it was a damn good feeling.

An enigmatic stunt driver moonlights as a getaway driver, living by specific set of rules. But when a deal goes south while trying to help a friend, he finds himself on the run from the West Coast mob.

This is the odd movie that has the feel of a 70s/80s B-Movie, but doesn’t fully drop into over-the-top ridiulousness to make it cheesy. It’s actually a great edge-of-the seat action thriller, that touches on the right amount of gore, and has the perfect blend of drama and action. And a lot of credit must go to Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson). I don’t want to say he was the best for the job, as I’m admittedly unfamiliar with his work (though it’s all in my Netflix queue), but I do get the feeling that under a less capable director, the film would have devolved into Drive Angry.

Gosling steps into “Strong, Silent” or “Daniel Craig” mode for this film, and is never really given a name (at least not to my recollection, correct me if I’m wrong), which only adds to the air of mystery. There’s a calm, understated intensity to his demeanour until he needs to defend himself or the ones he cares for. That’s when he explodes, and it’s fantastic to see him work.

We’re given the supporting cast in small doses, no one really given too much to do, but enough to leave an impression. I was particularly fond of Albert Brooks (Finding Nemo, Broadcast News) as the villain. It seemed to be new territory for him and he slipped into the role magnificently.

This is hands down one of the most surprising films of the year, and definitely one of the best. Following these two performances (this and Ides of March), Gosling is a shoe-in for at least one Oscar nomination.

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