Category Archives: Dark Comedy

50/50

50/50 is an emotional and occassionally funny story that examines a young man coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis. This is a tale everyone can relate to on some level, as I doubt there are not many people who have not been affected by this disease in some meaningful way. The story introduces us to Adam, a bright and driven employee of NPR in Seattle, who, early in the film is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer with a frightening 50% survival rate. We watch as Adam endures emotionally confusing times and shows difficulty accepting his disease, after all, how could this happen to someone like him “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink…I recycle!” he exclaims dismayed. The story is based on the experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser, who was encouraged by his friend, Seth Rogan, to write the script after enduring cancer in his early 20’s. Seth Rogan, who co-stars in the film, essentially plays himself (he helped support Reiser through his illness), and is at the top of his game as Kyle, Adam’s supportive yet exasperating best friend. Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in yet another great performance as Adam, bringing emotional clarity to the role. It’s honestly impossible for me not to fall in love with Gordon-Levitt in each of his films, and his performance sweeps me off my feet again. We also see strong supporting roles turned in by Angelica Huston, who plays Adam’s over-protective, yet emotionally tough mother, and Anna Kendrick, as Adam’s therapist.

Reiser’s screenplay is excellent for the majority of the film, and walks the fine line between hope and despair. While we see Adam going through difficult moments, the film never digs too deep into the physical horrors of the disease and treatment. Instead it focuses on Adam’s mental state and his relationships with his friends and family. Although there are many engaging personal confrontations in the film, Adam’s interactions with his less than loyal girlfriend (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) feel a little too rushed. The issues involved on each side for this couple are undoubtedly complex and I felt as though their scenes were brushed aside. While the audience sides with Adam, we lose much of Rachel’s perspective, although there is a fleeting attempt to convey it. While not defending her characters actions, it would have served the story well to gain a perspective on the stress debilitating sicknesses can have not only on those diagnosed, but others in their supportive network.

Despite a few drawbacks, this is an excellent film, with very strong performances and superb writing. I highly recommend 🙂

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House (Hausu)

A few weeks ago I went down to The Pacific Cinematheque (one of my favourite haunts) to check out House (Hausu). I didn’t know what to expect, other than that it had become a cult classic in Japan. To this day I am not sure if anything could have truly prepared me for the insanity that awaited. The story follows a group of 7 school girls on their summer holiday. The lead protagonist, Gorgeous, (each girl is named after a ruling personality attribute ie. Prof, Kung Fu and Fantasy) convinces the girls to come visit her aunt out in the country who she hasn’t seen since her childhood. Unfortunately her aunt is haunted by the memory of her lost lover, and has since become a malevolent spirit in possession of a demonic cat, a sinister house and a ravenous hunger for young girls. Gorgeous and company soon learn after the mysterious disappearance of some of their group, that they’ll have to rely on their wits and individual strengths to discover the secrets of the house if they want to make it through the night alive. House is completely deranged, and I do mean that in the most complimentary sense. Released in Japan in 1977, it only began to be distributed in North America in 2009. House fuses genres, taking a typical horror storyline and turning it on its ear, combining it with comedy and melodrama. Part soap opera, part paranoid delusion, House makes ample use of wind machines, vaseline on the lens gauzy effects and stage blood. One of House’s strongest points is that it takes ideas that are genuinely creepy and pushes them over the edge to comic absurdism. Furthermore, the experimental effects utilized by director and producer Nobuhiko Obayashi are hands down the highlight of this film and maximize its surreal impact. Nobuhiko Obayashi reportedly wanted to achieve an unrealistic look and makes use of paint, animation, and over the top stage gore. Not willing to compromise his vision, Nobuhiko uses these effects to bring his audience memorable images of murderous pianos and renegade lamp shades. It is honestly difficult to find a flaw in this film, since I believe that every element contributes to the overall feeling. While the acting is amateur and over the top (Obayashi used mainly non-actors) and the dialogue inane I feel that it all just adds to the experience of Obayashi’s funhouse. This film is not for everybody, but for anyone who wants to let go of all sense of reason and just have fun for an hour and a half, House provides a surreal and ridiculous dreamscape, and it’s well worth it.

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Filed under Dark Comedy, Horror

Harold and Maude

Harold and Maude may not have appealed to audiences when it was first released in 1971 but it has since become a cult classic held close to the heart of many film lovers. The strange yet simple tale follows the ultimate odd couple: Harold, a young man obsessed with death, and 79 year old Maude, an eccentric with a lust for life. These two apparent opposites fuse a tender and beautiful friendship which forms the glittering heart of this film that explores themes of alienation and existentialism.
Harold is an awkward young man who drives a hearse, stages mock suicides and attends funerals for amusement. His mother does not seem to understand him, nor make much of an effort to, being concerned mainly with surface appearances and the façade of normalcy. She attempts to set him up on blind dates and strives to ignore him. Harold’s life is fairly sombre and without meaning until he spots Maude at a funeral he has crashed. When he sees her at yet another funeral, Maude takes the opportunity to introduce herself and sows the first seeds of their friendship.

The performances in the film are fairly simple, yet engaging. Although he was rarely cast as a leading man in subsequent films, Bud Cort delivers a fantastic performance as Harold, drawing both laughs and compassion from his audience. The story is at once touching and darkly humourous as viewers are simultaneously presented with seemingly opposite views of life, the dark and the beautiful. For instance, while Harold enjoys watching cars being destroyed in a junk yard, Maude revels in nature and has no qualms with liberating trees from public property. Harold’s obsession with death and oblivion seem to stem from the fact that he has no stake in this world, and feels no personal connection to anyone around him. Maude is able to curtail Harold’s obsession for destruction by showing him the beauty of nature and the fulfillment life can offer when lived with vitality.

This being said the film carries with it a very existentialist perspective. Maude constantly reminds Harold that all in life is transitory, enjoy it while you can, but never trick yourself into thinking that you have true ownership of anything in this realm. Not much is revealed about Maude’s past in the film other than her recollections of being involved in social protests and the fleeting glance Harold and the audience is able to catch of a Auschwitz ID number tattooed on her forearm. Maude clearly has a history and allows Harold to see that if he is willing he can create a meaningful future.
If you have yet to see this American film classic, I suggest you correct that unfortunate condition!

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Filed under Comedy, Dark Comedy, Film