Quick Review: 50/50 (dir. by Johnathan Levine)

This is the worst review I’ll ever write. I’ll admit to that up front. This is a highly biased review.

I recently underwent a colonoscopy for what doctors refer to as “excessive bleeding”, which your body isn’t really supposed to do. Part of this also involves a biopsy of tissue to determine if it’s cancerous. I’m still due to find out what was found (because I’ve been dancing around going back as much as I have writing this review), but there’s a sense of dread in knowing that your life can change with just a few sentences from a doctor.  That, coupled with the knowledge that my mom underwent chemo for Lung Cancer and a friend who’s also living with it made 50/50 a hard film to sit through at some points.

I saw the movie on Friday Night, and literally spent the entire weekend with my laptop on my lap with Scrivener open, trying to get this written. The only reason it’s happening now is because I started admitting why I didn’t and wrote a paragraph. If I stop now, this is going to be another Sucker Punch, a film I was going to review when it came out, but refrained from doing so because it hit a little too close to home.

I walked into 50/50 expecting a heavy handed story along the lines of either the last half of Beaches or My Life with Michael Keaton. After all, the story deals with Cancer, which we all know is very serious. I actually left the film glancing at the movie schedule, looking to find out how soon the next showing was. It was a little later than I hoped, so I headed home. If it were any earlier, I would have gone right back. I laughed so much that I might have scared a few of the people sitting in the back of the theatre, and was thankful for the extra tissues I took with me when I cried.

Based on a true story of the film’s writer, Will Reiser, 50/50 is the story of  Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who goes through life making all the right choices. He eats right, jogs regularly and crosses when the walk sign is clear. He loves his girlfriend (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), and his best friend Kyle (played by Seth Rogen) helps him laugh through it all. After experiencing some pain in his back, he heads to the doctor, only to discover that he has developed a rare form of Cancer. The actual moment of awareness when he’s told is done so well that I had to bite my lip. Once you know the truth of things, you can’t return to a state where you “don’t” know, and I’ll admit that shook me.

The greatest part I loved about 50/50 was that it was more a story about the Support Groups that keep us afloat than it was about the problem of the illness itself. There are just some things in the world that you shouldn’t go through alone. Each person in Adam’s circle had a different reaction to what was occurring, but Seth Rogen’s character was by far the best, choosing to not allow Adam to wallow too much in what was happening to him.

Adam is assigned a therapist in the form of Kate McKay (Anna Kendrick), who tries to get him to relax and explain how he’s feeling, to which in most cases, he’d say “I’m fine.” It’s amazing how quickly and easily we can say that phrase to deflect every other emotion we may be feeling, and the writing in this film was good enough to play on that angle as well. His mother (Angelica Houston) wants to help her son a little too much, but Mothers can be that way, I suppose.

Just because this happens to be a story about illness doesn’t mean that it has to be non stop gloom and doom. There were a number of scenes that were laugh out loud funny, particularly those with Rogen. It’s Gordon-Levitt, however, who really carries the film. He does a great job here, and it’s a shame with the weekend over that it seems the film won’t overshadow either The Lion King or A Dolphin’s Tale. It would be interesting if the film has enough legs to last over the next few weeks. It definitely deserves a viewing.

Quickie Horror Review: Ginger Snaps (dir. by John Fawcett)

There hasn’t been as many werewolf horror films as there has been zombie or vampire ones in recent times. Of those that have come out in the last ten or more years one could the number of really good ones in one hand. There was Neil Marshall’s low-budget Dog Soldiers in 2002. Preceding Marshall’s film by two years was an equally low-budget and well-made werewolf and coming-of-age horror film from Canada which has gained quite a cult following since it appeared on horror fans’ radars.

Ginger Snaps took the werewolf tale and combined it with the coming-of-age tale of two sisters growing up in a small Canadian town. Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald are the two sisters who are your usual outcasts in school who feel more at home with their goth interests than the jocks and popular in-crowd. It would be during one night when the two are walking home when things would change not just for Ginger but for the two sisters as a team. Ginger gets attacked by some wild animal and it’s how she and her sister Brigitte deal with the sudden changes to Ginger that the film really earns it’s merits.

The film definitely takes some cues from fellow Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg in illustrating and exploring how the curse of lycanthrophy could double as the phase of puberty on two girls entering young womanhood. We see the change happening not just to Ginger’s body but to her personality as well. The more she becomes the wolf (hence embracing her primal side) the more confident and self-assured she becomes leaving her sister behind.

Ginger Snaps wasn’t a film that could’ve succeeded on the film’s direction but the writing (though heavy-handed and lacking some subtlety) was atypically good for a low-budget horror film involving the topic of werewolf, female puberty and sisterhood dynamics. It’s a story that first glance seems like a recipe for disaster, but the performances by the film’s leads in Katharine Isabelle as Ginger and Emily Perkins as her sister Brigitte holds everything together. Even Mimi Rogers as the well-meaning, but oblivious mother to the two sisters does a good job without being too campy in a role that seemed destined to be one.

The film has definitely gained a cult following in the years since it first premiered at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival due more to horror fans discovering it on video. Ginger Snaps is a wonderful werewolf film which combines some dark humor and teenage anxieties to a fresh take on the werewolf legend. It’s a film that really deserves to be seen by those who wonder why there’s not more werewolf horror films.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Dream House (dir. by Jim Sheridan)

As I try to put into words my reaction to the new film Dream House, one phrase comes to mind:


Dream House is about this guy played by Daniel Craig who we’re told, at the start of the film, is a writer.  He’s moved out to his “Dream House” out in the middle of one of those cinematic suburban communities.  He shares his dream house with his wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) and his two little girls.  However, things aren’t quite what they seem.  The girls keep seeing a shadowy figure watching them.  Teenagers keep performing Satanic rituals in the basement.  Craig’s neighbor looks just like Naomi Watts.  Oh no!  Has he been sucked into Mulholland Drive!?

No, not quite.  Instead, he’s just found himself trapped in a painfully slow movie that takes itself and it’s half-baked plot way too seriously.  This film is being advertised as if it’s a horror movie but there’s nothing scary about it and it’s almost as if the film itself is refusing to lower itself to providing us with any “cheap” thrills.  The film instead is a mystery but it’s one of those mysteries where we discover the solution not through any artfully placed clues but instead by random characters showing up and having flashbacks.

There’s a big twist about 80 minutes into this 99 minute film and, as a reviewer, I know that it would not be right for me to spoil that twist.  Fortunately, however, Morgan Creek Productions decided to include that twist in the film’s trailer so, if you want to know, here you go:

Again, it takes this film 80 minutes to reach the twist that the trailer reveals after 1 minutes and 17 seconds.  So, as a result, you spend the first 80 minutes going, “Okay, we know…”  Once the twist is revealed, there’s only 18 minutes to wrap up the film’s plot and this is done in the clumsiest way imaginable.

Now, one reason for this might be that the film’s producers reportedly clashed with director Jim Sheridan and eventually took the film away from him.  Sheridan, Craig, and Watts have all refused to do any promotion for the film and have publicly stated that they hate the version that has been released.  I don’t know.  My natural impulse has always been to side with the artists as opposed to the corporate people.  After all, we’ve all heard about what happened to Erich Von Stroheim’s original cut of Greed and about what Terry Gilliam went through with Brazil.  Still, it’s hard to look at the assembled footage and see any hint that this film could have been anything more than the film that’s currently playing at your local theater.

When I told Arleigh about my feelings towards Dream House, he asked me if I felt it was the “worst one of the year.”  I wouldn’t go quite that far.  Dream House is forgettable but it’s not as pompous as The Conspirator or as insulting as Straw Dogs.

No, Dream House is not the worst.

It’s just bleh.

Review: Korpiklaani – Ukon Wacka

I just found out that Jaakko Hittavainen Lemmetty left Korpiklaani last month. According to the band’s official statement, “his personal health issues made the constant touring and recording impossible.” That might come as no surprise, considering Korpiklaani are one of the most prolific bands on the market. During his tenure they managed to release seven albums in nine years, and in 2010 alone they performed live approximately 100 times. I know I certainly wouldn’t be able to keep up.

His departure lends a sort of heightened significance to Ukon Wacka. Hittavainen might not have been their frontman, but he was responsible for all violins and woodwinds on all seven albums. In other words, half of what really made Korpiklaani folk metal is gone, and however well his replacement, Teemu Eerola, fills the void, their next album is bound to be different. Ukon Wacka might be the last of its kind.

Change is a pretty foreign concept to Korpiklaani, both in their sound and in their line-up. That is a point I’ve always appreciated about them. If it’s not broke, why fix it?

Louhen Yhdeksäs Poika

Ukon Wacka is no different. As always, the album makes no attempt at an introduction. It just kicks off from the get-go as quintessential Korpiklaani. Jonne Järvelä goes on rolling out incomprehensible lines at a break neck pace to a constant melody of accordion and violin, brought to life by standard metal instrumentation that’s designed to accent the folk, not compete with it. Throw in an awesome violin solo towards the end, and you’ve got a song that’s entirely unique to the band and entirely to form with everything else they’ve written. The stylistic monotony is hardly a fault, what with nearly all of their 80+ songs accomplishing a distinct and addictive melody. I probably get more Korpiklaani songs stuck in my head than any other band out there; I just might be at a loss to put a name or album to them.


One of many long-standing traditions Ukon Wacka upholds is the booze track. Not that every song isn’t designed for copious consumption, there’s always been at least one song that requires no knowledge of Finnish to convey its lyrics. With Wooden Pints on Spirit of the Forest, Beer Beer on Voice of Wilderness, Happy Little Boozer on Tales Along This Road, Let’s Drink on Tervaskanto, Vodka on Karkelo, and now Tequila, Korven Kuningas remains the only album that doesn’t really fit that mold. And like all of those others, Tequila stands out as one of the album’s most memorable songs.


When it comes to closing songs, the band has been a little more diverse in their selection. But, aside from on Tales Along This Road, they’ve always seemed to save their most reflective or otherwise inspiring song for the end. Surma might not match Karkelo’s Kohmelo or Tervaskanto’s Nordic Feast, but it’s certainly the high point of Ukon Wacka as far as I’m concerned.

There’s not much I can say about the album really, because it sounds just like all of their others. I suppose Korpiklaani might be regarded as a bit shallow, at least in so far as most of their songs, especially in the absence of any understanding of the predominantly Finnish lyrics, are just fun and fairly thoughtless numbers about partying and getting drunk. But there’s also a sort of authenticity to that which renders them significantly more enduring than comparable acts like Finntroll. While I don’t think any particular Korpiklaani album holds a candle to Nattfödd or even Nifelvind, in the long run I always end up listening to them more. A lot of folk bands that don’t take themselves very seriously can only really be appreciated in their own right. Korpiklaani, on the other hand, extend beyond themselves, presenting a sort of continuity. I can’t really speak of them imitating or incorporating Finnish folk because, much like Irish punk and metal bands, they’re more the modern continuation of a long-standing tradition than an attempt to resuscitate it. I’ve never seen them live (they’re about to kick off a North American tour with Arkona that I might give in to a five hour drive across the state for), but I imagine their show incites a lot more dancing than headbanging, if you know what I mean. Authentic folk really implies community participation, and that’s the sort of thing Korpiklaani cater to, on Ukon Wacka as strongly as on anything else.

Song of the Day: In the House – In a Heartbeat from 28 Days Later (by John Murphy)

The start of the 31 Days of Horror Reviews for October began with a review of 28 Days Later. With that out of the way the latest “Song of the Day” is a piece of music from John Murphy’s film score for the film.

“In the House – In a Heartbeat” is one of the more recognizable pieces of music in the film. This song appears several times during the film, but it was it’s appearance in the climactic scene near the end of the film where the song really makes it’s impact known. John Murphy’s composition of the song slowly builds from a quaint opening with each passing moment more and more instruments join the electric keyboard and acoustic guitar. This gradual build-up as the chords repeat over and over lends to the growing sense of dread and horror of the survivors in the film both civilians and military. Jim’s return to the manor as it experiences a breach of it’s defenses by a freed Rage-infected reaches a crescendo just as the song reaches it’s own.

The song has become one of the more iconic pieces of film music in the past ten years that it’s been used by many other filmmaker, commercial directors and in trailers for other films. It even makes an appearance in another John Murphy-scored film during a tense and action-packed sequence for 2010’s superhero film, Kick-Ass.