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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Tuesday, October 4, 2011- 5

Bitter and sweet in '50 50'
Gordon-Levitt and Rogen lend
humor and pathos to cancer film
By Akshay Seth I For the Daily

Don't criticize
ambition

Comedy-dramas have been
called many things in the past,
usually ranging somewhere
between unwatchable B.S. and
average/forget-
table. Well, my ****
cynical friends,
that's about to 50/50
change because
"50/50," the At Qualityl6
latest dram- and Rave
edy by Jonathan Summit
Levine ("The
Wackness") is
bold, unexpected and thoroughly
uplifting.
For one thing, it's a comedy
that goes where you wouldn't
expect it to. In a world where
the average American male,
diagnosed with cancer, has no
guarantee of surviving the next
five years, "50/50" offers a light-
hearted and humorous take on
dealing with a very real and
deadly disease. Surprisingly, the
result is a heartwarming tale of
friendship that finds one way to
accurately reveal the psyche of a
20-something forced to deal with
the notion of mortality.
The script, loosely based on the
true story of writer Will Reiser
(TV's "Da Ali G Show") starts off
in an expected fashion, giving us a

taste of how normality defines the
everyday life of protagonist Adam
Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt,
"Inception") and his obnoxious
yet loveable best friend Kyle (Seth
Rogen, "The Green Hornet").
Eventually, Adam notices a per-
sistent pain in his back and visits
the doctor, where he learns of the
rare spinal tumor concentrated
in the lower half of his back. The
name of the film is a reference to
the 50-percent survival rate asso-
ciated with this form of cancer.
As Adam proceeds with the
typically morose battery of
treatments - chemotherapy,
cancer-counseling and a weekly
cancer support group meeting -
the movie's humorous tones begin
to shine through. Instead of the
characteristically weepy atmo-
sphere you would expect after the
initial burst of shock, the script
opts for a lull in emotion that falls
in line with Adam's slightly awk-
ward personality and is comple-
mented by the repetitive routine
Adam develops. This was an intel-
ligent choice on the writer's part,
because the generally calm and
collected nature of the writing
adds more weight to the relatively
few plot developments and makes
Kyle's antics - which include tak-

"But Joseph, that many dream layers is too unstable?"

ing advantage of Adam's illness
to get girls and procure medical
marijuana - all the more amus-
ing.
But what really sets this film
apart and puts it a few cuts above
the everyday comedy-drama is
that the acting affords it legiti-
mate emotional weight. By the
beginning of the third act, all
of the characters have been laid
out so completely that the audi-
ence starts to genuinely care
for them. We don't roll our eyes
when Adam begins to question
the significance of his existence or
when Kyle, the guy who suggest-
ed chucking knives at a painting
made by Adam's manipulative ex,
shows a more pensive and caring
side. Even Adam's psychiatrist,

played wonderfully by Anna Ken-
drick ("Up in the Air") as tentative
and awkward, attracts sympathy
from the audience.
At the end of the day, "50/50"
is a showcase of how good direct-
ing, good writing and really good
acting allow a movie to fulfill its
purpose. In this case, that pur-
pose doesn't just entail putting
Rogen in front of a camera to spew
profanity and smoke pot (even
though he does a little of both). No
matter how cheesy it may sound,
this film shows us why keeping
our heads up and pointing for-
ward can define the way we deal
with our problems. If you choose
to see for yourself, expect plenty
of laughs, some tears and one hell
of a good movie.

Feist's 'Metals' shiny but too soft

Go
jumps
newes
natur
flashy
Fei
bit fei
electr
days,
was
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name
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then
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Despi
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Metal
ing tr

By KATIE STEEN on an almost intimidating power.
For the Daily She keeps everything in check
with a seemingly reassuring
ne is the shimmering sequin chorus, the familiar Feist voice
suit of "1234." Leslie Feist's swaying , along0 with !orchestral
st album Metals casts a more and brass accompaniments. The
al, less lyrics, however, remain delight-
'glow. fully down-to-earth as they muse
st was a * : about, quite simply, a couple withr
stier in her Feist issues.
'o-punk Unfortunately, "The Bad in
when she Metals Each Other" is a bit misleading.
known Metals is flecked with gold, to be
Chrryfree/ nrt anihi
:he stage C y sure, but it begins to tarnish in
"Bitch Interscope some areas. The instant favorite
ap." Since will likely be "How Come You
she's tamed down: The Never Go There." It has an unas-
rmance of "1234" on Sesa- suming coolness, taking its time
treet? Yes, that happened. in developing a three-and-a- Feist, being feisty.
te trips to Egypt and Mexi- half-minute rhetorical question.
ist claims that the four-year After a slow beginning, "Grave- Metals maint
'etween The Reminder and yard" slowly revitalizes itself as a of volatility in t
s was filled with mostly bor- youthful-sounding chorus chants, motion." It star
ivialities. She planted some "Bring'em all back to life." of strings spicca

'.
' > _ ^
:

wo recent films strike
me as especially impor-
tant in the current
cinematic landscape. The first
is Terrence Malick's "The Tree
of Life,"
which, after
its release in
May, quickly
became
one of the
most talked
about and
contentious PHILIP
movies in CONKLIN
years. After a
particularly
controversial Palme d'Or win at
Cannes - the most prestigious
prize at arguably the most pres-
tigious film festival in the world
- the film went on to create a
gaping rift in critical and pub-
lic opinion, abhorrence or awe
seemingly the only responses
to this either pretentious or
ground-breaking film.
The other is Miranda July's
"The Future," which, though
a much lower-profile film, is
equally meaningful. The film
has not garnered acclaim or
hatred on the scale of "The Tree
of Life," but it too has provoked
strong and disparate critical
reactions.
The two films, on the surface,
appear different to the point of
being antithetical: "The Future"
is an indie dramedy about a
young, hip couple adrift in Los
Angeles. "The Tree of Life" is a
sweeping, dead-serious drama
about a family in rural Texas
in the 1950s. But beneath these
broad narrative strokes, the films
are strikingly similar. Each col-
ors its benign, even banal, prem-
ise with supernatural elements
to explore profound questions
about human nature and the-
meaning of life.
This brings us to the most sig-
nificant similarity between these
two films, and what makes them
important: They are ambitious.
These are not just films that tell
a compellingcstory about their
characters, though they each
do that. They are films of broad
scope that, like all great art,
have something to say about life,
something important to tell the
audience. And whether you think
they succeed or not (I happen
to think they both do), it is the
attempt that defines ambition.
And it seems ambitious films
are sorely needed in the cur-
rent movie climate, in which
the trend is moving rapidly and
lamentably away from ambition.
Franchises abound in Holly-
wood, with the Avengers series
("Thor," "Captain America,"
"Iron Man"), "Pirates of the
Caribbean" (the series's fifth film
is set to be released in 2013) and
many others. Now couple that
with the recent rash of remakes
- "Conan the Barbarian,"
"Fright Night" and "Straw Dogs"
to name a few - not to mention
Disney's shameless money-grub-
bing in the form of the re-release
of "The Lion King" in 3-D.
In other words, the movie
industry lacks even the ambition
to come up with an original idea.
Instead, studios rehash the same
already-tired material over and
over again, or dredge the annals

of film history in search of a not-

quite-forgotten idea to be resold
to the next generation.
In the face of such barefaced
avarice, films like "The Future"
and "The Tree of Life" should, it
seems, be heralded as the saviors
of cinema. Instead, though the
critical response to both films
was generally positive, audi-
ences and critics alike seemed
to be threatened by these films.
Even critics who liked the films
were sometimes put off by the
bizarreness of "The Future" and
the supposed pretentiousness of
"The Tree of Life."
But the films are not overly
bizarre, nor pretentious; they
are ambitious. Sure, "The
Future" is bizarre - in it, the
moon talks, a T-shirt comes to
life and time stops - but July
uses these strange elements
to express ideas about life and
the human condition, big ideas
that could not adequately be
expressed in conventional ways.
And sure, "The Tree of Life"
seems pretentious - it depicts
the formation of the universe -
but why should a film not have
lofty aspirations?
What is art if
not innovation?
'Pirates of the
Caribbean' five.
Some detractors also com-
plained that the deliberate
pace of "The Tree of Life" was
alienating. But the film is slow
because Malick had the courage
to compose frames that stand
alone;,that each tell their own
story, and to linger on these
images is necessary. And the rea-
son the film is nearly plotless and
is told in voice-over is because
the story is lyrical, rather than
linear - the viewer's reactions,
rather than the action on screen,
is what forms the narrative.
Malick is pushing the boundar-
ies of the medium, attempting
to expand the capabilities of
cinema.
Certainly these films are con-
fusing and can be intimidating
for viewers, but they should not
be disregarded as pretentious or
too strange because they aspire
to do more than entertain. They
should be lauded.
This is not to say that films
should not be entertaining. Of
course films should entertain,
and if they fail to do so they
are unsuccessful ina way. But
regardless of a film's ability to
entertain, if it aims to do noth-
ing other than divert its audi-
ence for 90 minutes, then its
existence is superfluous. But if
a film aspires to be considered
art, if it is challenging enough to
provoke thought and debate, it
has succeeded as more than just
a diversion. "The Tree of Life"
and "The Future" are two films
that do this, and other filmmak-
ers should be ambitious enough
to follow suit.
Conklin is off re-defining
genres. To join his quest,
e-mail conklin@umich.edu.

PE

ains some sense
he track "A Com-
ts with a frenzy
ato-ing in unison,

tomatoes - how lovely. Record-
ing Metals, she spent two-and-
a-half weeks in a wooden room
located in beachy, mountainous,
rainy, February California. These
pleasant banalities combined
with naturally breathtaking sur-
roundings seem to offer a perfect
explanation for Metals. It's a ten-
derly crafted amalgamation -
earthy, gorgeous, but admittedly
dull at times.
Metals opens with the highly
melodic "The Bad in Each Other."
An untiring energy instantly
asserts itself, as the song starts
with an emphatic repetition of
stomp-claps whose beat bears
resemblance to a metalsmith at
work, hammering away at the
beginnings of a shining creation.
Feist effortlessly melds in an
electric guitar and the song takes

The
a v
Feist
appealc
in "Und
that gra
minates
belting
semi-m
mounta
have fig
an echo
"Comfo
repetiti:
round o
out of'
point.

Feist's voice weightless above
the percussive bowings. She then
singer 'with commissions a gang of men to
yell, "A commotion!" and the song
oice of gold. detonates, in perhaps Feist's most
b dramatic chorus to date, adding
significant weight to the album.
However, half.of Metals seems
returns to the primal to be on the less-precious side.
of repetitive incantations Feist's voice gilds the album
discovered First," a song with the warm glow present in,
adually inclines and cul- well, every song of hers ever. Her
in yet another chorus most appropriately titled track,
out rhetorical questions "Anti-Pioneer," is a melancholy
etaphorically related to anti-tune that drones on for
ins and rivers. She must five-and-a-half minutes. A brief
sured two songs ending in orchestral upsurge attempts to
ing mantra isn't enough: conduct some sort of energy, but
rt Me" too concludes in is stubbed much too prematurely
on, this time a rousing by Feist. Her singing is, as always,
f "nah's." Maybe she ran beautiful, but it's unfair for Feist
words to repeat by that to rely on her signature croon
to carry a song, let alone half an

album. The lyrics throughout
Metals make a commendable
effort to make up for lackluster
melodies, but metaphors about
wind, trees and various bird spe-
cies can only do so much.
Feist's album seems to have
been created, most of all, for Feist.
While perhaps self-indulgent, her
songs are certainly less likely to
glitter and fizzle out like "1234"
did. In an interview with Agence
France-Presse, Feist explains that
Metals is meant to be a timeless
and more malleable album.
"I tried to plant the possibility
for it to adapt with me," she said.
"I tried to be really responsible
for the fact I know I'm goingto be
singing these songs for the rest of
my life."
But while Feist may be singing
these songs for the rest of her life,
the rest of us are left with a vague
recollection of semi-melodic
digressions and ecological meta-
phors.

In its third season, 'Glee' loses the fun to become a cash machine

By MACKENZIE METER
DailyArts Writer
When "Glee" was a brand-new
show, an infant in the world of
primetime television, it was fresh.
It was fun. But
most of all, it
wasn't the over-
the-top show Glee
it has become.
Now in its third Season Three
season of sing- Premiere
ing and dancing
to show tunes Taesdaysat p.m.
and chart top- FOX
pers, "Glee"
lacks that particular magic that
propelled it to the top of the rat-
ings and into the hearts of middle

school students everywhere. It
has become the annoying11-year-
old boy with a mop top who
thinks he can get away with any-
thing - everyone in the room just
tunes him out and silently prays
that he grows out of his awkward
phase soon.
"Glee" has potential. There are
two great numbers in the sea-
son premiere - one is a fabulous
mash-up of "Anything Goes" and
"Anything You Can Do" and the
other is the ever-stirring, ever-
inspiring "You Can't Stop the
Beat." These two songs comprise
the only worthwhile moments
through the show's 45-minute
duration. The mash-up is per-
formed by non-Glee Club mem-

bers and features the lovely
Lindsay Pearce ("The Glee Proj-
ect") as Harmony, Rachel Berry's
(Lea Michele) pseudo-doppel-
ganger. She shines on stage with
a group of new faces and rocks
the number as much as it can be
rocked, shocking Rachel and Kurt
(Chris Colfer) into realizing they
are not, in fact, the greatest thing
to hit musical theater since Oscar
Hammerstein II.
"You Can't Stop the Beat" is
the last song in the show. If a little
heavy-handed, it's an extremely
appropriate commentary on the
continued bullying experienced
by the members of New Direc-
tions. Rachel uses this song as a
club-wide rallying cry after the

heartless - albeit foreseen - sab- will be an opportunity for the
otage of their attempt to recruit writers and producers to make
new club members by none other more money. In the meantime,
than Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch, we will have to watch as the
"Party Down") and the Cheerios. show forces nonsensical plot-
lines that seemingly appear out
of nowhere - like Sue's race for
a seat in Ohio's government and
poller: Sue Kurt's sudden interest in becom-
foils plots, ing president of the senior class.
There are issues - usually petty
and dumb and caused by Sue
Sylvester - that result in unnec-
But here's the thing: Nobody essary problems, which are, of
can stop the beat of "Glee" until course, solved a few episodes
it has been bled dry of any and all later by even dumber things like
possible opportunities for mak- "expressing yourself through
ing lots of American dollars (see song" and Mr. Schuester (Mat-
"Glee: The 3D Concert Movie"). thew Morrison). The show needs
As long as there are Gleeks, there a renaissance and it needs one

quickly - the format is becoming
dull and the viewers are getting
bored.
While the two good musical
numbers saved the show from
total dumb-plot meltdown, "Glee"
has a long way to go if it expects
viewership to increase, let alone
stay steady. The writers need to
find a way to freshen up the plot
and get out of the realm of over-
the-top, sellout-style television
before people realize they are
wasting a perfectly good evening
watching "Glee" when they could
be clipping their toenails or some-
thing equally better than star-
ing at adults solving trivial high
school problems for 45 minutes.
God help them.

4

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