50/50, movie

A sense of doom runs through the latest DVD releases

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50/50, movie
50/50: the movie shows a lightness of touch that hits the spot every time

Inspired by a true story 50/50 (Lionsgate) focuses on Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mysterious Skin, Brick), a 27-year-old journalist who discovers that he has a rare form of cancer and must undergo chemotherapy. Concerned to read online that his chances of survival are rated at 50/50, Adam is forced to take stock of his life and prepare for the worst.

Unwilling to allow his overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston, The Grifters) to care for him – she already looks after his Alzheimers-suffering father – Adam agrees for his shallow girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard, Lady In The Water) to take care of him, much to the chagrin of disapproving best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen, Knocked Up). Kyle, meanwhile, attempts to lift Adam’s spirits by getting him to socialise, and much to Adam’s aggravation, seems determined to use his friend’s illness to help him pick up women. With nowhere else to turn Adam begins to derive support from his inexperienced therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick, Up In The Air), and the two build up an unlikely rapport.

After the eye-catching but underwhelming All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, director Jonathan Levine impressed with 2008’s hip-hop-fuelled coming-of-age drama The Wackness. 50/50 sees him deliver the goods once more, and he displays a welcome lightness of touch when dealing with potentially unwieldy material. Thanks to an engaging, plausible performance from the always-reliable Gordon-Levitt, Levine’s mischievous hybrid of ‘bro-mance’, rom-com and cancer drama hits the spot throughout, and Seth Rogen’s trademark slacker sidekick adds enough crass comedy into the mix to distract you from the film’s maudlin outlook. It may be unusual and difficult to classify, but Gordon-Levitt’s top-notch performance elevates 50/50 above similarly bittersweet fare.

 

The Awakening, movie
The Awakening: an early creeping sense of doom begins the haunting tale set in Cumbria

Set in post-World War 1 England, The Awakening (StudioCanal) tells the story of Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall, The Town, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), a celebrated author and notorious paranormal sceptic who finds herself invited to a sprawling Cumbrian boarding school by teacher Robert Malory (Dominic West, The Wire) to investigate an apparent haunting. Florence reluctantly takes up the assignment, and is determined to debunk the schoolboy rumours that have spread like wildfire. However, just when she thinks that she has explained the alleged sightings of a ghostly child with a grotesque twisted face, she experiences a series of chilling encounters which make her question her otherwise rational beliefs.

After a quirky, intriguing opening The Awakening loses its way as it reaches its mid-point, and the scary moments are neither jumpy nor frequent enough to sustain the creeping sense of dread built up by the film’s measured opening section. While TV director Nick Murphy acquits himself reasonably well in his feature-length debut, his script – co-written with straight-to-DVD horror veteran Stephen Volk – goes seriously awry, and leaves the generally impressive duo of Hall and West looking increasingly uncomfortable. Even worse, as the film edges towards its big reveal the plot becomes downright ludicrous, and the baffling secret at the film’s heart seems utterly ill-judged, especially in light of what has gone on before. A mixed bag, and one that flatters to deceive.

 

The Doom Generation, movie
The Doom Generation: second of Gregg Araki's loose ‘Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy

Originally released in 1995, The Doom Generation (Second Sight), is the second of a loose trilogy of films by Gregg Araki known as the ‘Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy’, which commenced with Totally F****d Up and ended with Nowhere. In light of Araki’s growing reputation at the vanguard of the New Queer Cinema movement, The Doom Generation was witheringly subtitle ‘A Heterosexual Movie by Gregg Araki’, although that tongue-in-cheek tag only tells half the story.

The movie follows the exploits of foul-mouthed teenage speed-freak Amy Blue (Rose McGowan, Grindhouse) and her dopey boyfriend Jordan White (James Duval, Donnie Darko), as they pick up a charismatic drifter named Xavier Red (Johnathon Schaech, Prom Night) after a night out at a club, and embark on a demented road trip prompted by Xavier’s gory murder of a convenience store owner.

Unfortunately the years haven’t been kind to The Doom Generation, and the mix of bad-taste shock-tactics, scatological humour and nihilistic blood-lust feels dangerously out of date. Released barely a year after Oliver Stone’s similarly-pitched Natural Born Killers, The Doom Generation feels like a pale imitation of its better-known predecessor, and anyone who found Stone’s hyper-stylised assault on the senses hard to swallow is likely to choke on Araki’s weak re-tread. Stripped of NBK’s satirical charge, The Doom Generation seems merely vacuous and quickly begins to grate.

The most recent phase of Araki’s career has seen him veer from the sublime (Mysterious Skin, 2004) to the ridiculous (Smiley Face, 2007), and his back catalogue is similarly uneven, with The Doom Generation likely to offer scant appeal outside of his core fan-base.