Tag Archives: Phillip Baker Hall

Jonathan Levine’s 50/50

If you’re going to make a film about something as heavy, upsetting and uncomfortable as cancer, you have to make it lighthearted and uplifting enough to contrast such a horrific phase of someone’s life, no matter the outcome of it. But you damn well better not make it too schmaltzy, syrupy or saccharine either because your audience will see right through it and tear your film to shreds. Honest, heartfelt, upfront and simple is the way to go and 50/50 hits the sweet spot squarely. It doesn’t hurt that it’s very closely based on a true story either, the script feels achingly authentic on both comedic and dramatic terms, both of which interplay with each other seamlessly and organically in the central relationship between Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon Levitt, the latter of which is saddled with a rare and very scary cancer diagnosis at an age where no one should have to hear such news. The film explores the many relationships in his life beyond best friend, confidante and personal court jester Rogen. There’s his overwhelmed mother (Anjelica Huston) who he has a hard time loving or letting in, his intern therapist (Anna Kendrick, is there a lovelier girl on this planet?), his cold sociopathic girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), two elderly buddies (Phillip Baker Hall & Matt Frewer) he gets quite close with during rounds of chemo and ultimately his relationship with himself, which might sound a tad cliche but during such an intense process one would have no choice but to look inward, evaluate one’s beliefs, feelings and augment perception accordingly. Levitt handles this expertly in a beautiful performance of love, righteous anger, kindness and refusal to give up, even when it seems like the easiest option. There are a few heart wrenching moments of brutal emotional honesty from the actors here and one gets a sense that no one, on either side of the camera, was willing to compromise this story to make it more ‘Hollywood accessible.’ Rogen is obviously the bawdy comic relief and is intermittently hilarious, but he finds a slow revealing emotional centre and gravity here I’ve never seen elsewhere in his work, he’s phenomenal. Kendrick is the sweetest girl in the world on camera and fills every frame she’s in with genuine charisma, mellow empathy and just a touch of adorable awkwardness, her and Levitt have chemistry that borders on transcendent. One doesn’t usually group ‘feel good films’ and ‘cancer films’ into the same category but this one is both for me, a life affirming, down to earth, honest piece that rings true with every rewatch.

-Nate Hill

Janusz Kaminski’s Lost Souls

The rise of Satanic Panic in the 1990’s always seemed to permeate into Hollywood, as the collective fears of a decade often do. Devilish cinematic efforts ranged from excellent (End Of Days, Fallen, The Devil’s Advocate) to lukewarm (Stigmata, The Order) to mediocre (The Ninth Gate) but I can now say that the only one I would consider an absolutely terrible film is Janusz Kaminski’s Lost Souls. This thing is one of the murkiest, muddiest, laziest, most bizarre pieces of celluloid I’ve ever sat through shaking my head at and I found myself wondering how it got past the pitch phase with such a paper thin script like that. Here’s the ‘plot’ and the only reason I know is because I IMDb’d a synopsis, there’s no telling what’s going on by watching the actual film itself: a catholic school teacher (Winona Ryder) with an apparent personal history of demon possession is recruited by her former priest (John Hurt) and his associates to find the human avatar for the Antichrist, who will soon take earthly form. This particular human is a bumbling atheist true crime author (Ben Chaplin) who is more than a little confused at these implications. There’s also an inexplicable subplot involving a serial killer making media headlines, another rogue preacher (Phillip Baker Hall) and other dimly lit gobbledygook that makes little to no sense. Ryder is listless and meandering, Chaplin never makes a huge impression anyways. Hurt barely registers beyond looking vaguely worried and you know your film is in serious trouble when even usual scene stealer Elias Koteas is cast in an inconsequential bit part with no lasting impression. Director Kaminski is a well renowned cinematographer who has shot all kinds of prolific stuff but he probably should have stepped out of the director’s chair back into a DoP position because this looks like it was shot through a burlap sack filter. Mucky browns, grainy greys and tinny blues abound and not in a good way. The score sounds like an amplifier being dropped onto a marble floor (not in a good way either I might add) and every actor in this thing either looks like they have no grasp on the flow of the story (which is almost nonexistent) or would simply rather be somewhere else. How this thing ever got released is beyond me.

-Nate Hill