From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. 3 of 4 stars. To read my interview with “50/50″ star Anna Kendrick, click here.
Movie review: 50/50
The cancer comedy finds both uproarious humor and touching tenderness in that dreaded, potentially deadly malady without ever becoming uncaring, or worse, mawkish.
It boasts the most unlikely of premises, but the cancer comedy “50/50” finds both uproarious humor and touching tenderness in that dreaded, potentially deadly malady without ever becoming uncaring, or worse, mawkish.
While Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Huston give subtle performances worthy of awards consideration, film fans’ appreciation of “50/50” largely depends on their tolerance of a hefty dose of Seth Rogen’s usual brand of boorish man-child wisecracking. On a number of levels, Rogen was key to getting the movie made, but his usual raunchy slacker/stoner shtick quickly wears on my nerves, despite a few moments of surprising sensitivity from his best-pal character.
Screenwriter Will Reiser loosely based “50/50” on his own experiences as a 20-something battling cancer during his tenure as associate producer on the British import comedy series “Da Ali G Show.” His pals Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who are among the producers of “50/50,” were writers on the show at the time and encouraged Reiser to pen a screenplay exploring the darkly funny aspects of coping with cancer.
Reiser and director Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”) imbue “50/50” with an easy naturalism and affecting humanity.
Adam Lerner (Gordon-Levitt) is a cautious, precise and low-key sort of fellow. The 27-year-old refuses to jaywalk on his morning run, he won’t learn to drive since car accidents are a leading cause of death, and in his editing job at a public radio station, he struggles to get all the “ums” out of the narration of a volcano story. His restrained personality is a perfect foil to his boisterous and bawdy best buddy and co-worker Kyle (Rogen).
When Adam seeks medical attention for chronic back pain, he gets a shocking diagnosis: a massive, malignant tumor is growing along his spinal column. In one of the movie’s darkly hilarious scenes, his physician doesn’t tell him he has cancer so much as rattle off the doctor-y jargon into a digital recorder while Adam is in the room. After doing some Internet research, the understandably shell-shocked Adam learns he has a 50/50 chance of survival.
Adam’s friends and family react to the sobering news in a variety of ways. His worrywart mother (Huston), who already has to contend with his father’s (Serge Houde) early onset Alzheimer’s, immediately makes Adam feel smothered. While initially taken aback, Kyle quickly begins scheming ways that he and Adam can use the diagnosis to score medical marijuana and sympathy sex. Their co-workers throw Adam an awkward party where the reactions range from patently false cheeriness to practically uncontrolled weeping.
Although their relationship has been troubled, Adam’s self-involved artist girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) vows to stay with him and help him fight cancer. She even buys him a dog, but when she refuses to accompany him to his chemotherapy treatments — she drives him but waits for hours in the car — her loyalty and fortitude are called into question. Adam bonds with fellow cancer patients Mitch (Matt Frewer) and Alan (Philip Baker Hall), whose humor and pot-laced brownies help get him through chemo.
Adam is less willing to accept the support of Katherine (Kendrick), his assigned therapist at the teaching hospital where he is seeking treatment. Although she earnestly wants to help him, Adam is just her third patient, and he never lets her forget it. As she haltingly follows the textbook-recommended counseling methods, Katherine’s sincere sympathy slowly wins him over, but their relationship begins to become less doctor-patient and more potential love match.
Despite its unusual conceit, “50/50” clings a bit too closely to the usual storytelling tropes, and it doesn’t tie up all the loose plot threads. But Gordon-Levitt and most of the supporting cast bring an authenticity to their characters that makes them relatable, whether or not we’ve gone through a similar encounter with cancer.
From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Lady Antebellum “Own the Night” (Capitol Records)
While Lady Antebellum hardly experienced a sophomore slump, the contemporary country threesome shows marked growth and maturity on its third album, “Own the Night.”
Co-lead singers Charles Kelly and Hillary Scott and multi-instrumentalist/harmony vocalist Dave Haywood won five Grammy Awards this year on the strength of their second LP, “Need You Now,” one of the top-selling albums of 2010. But the trio’s sophomore effort didn’t boast the most memorable songs — with the notable exceptions of the unavoidable monster-hit title track and the super-sweet single “American Honey” — and from that standpoint seemed a step back from the group’s substantial self-titled 2008 debut.
Judging from their long list of songwriting credits — including co-writes for Tishomingo resident Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan and Sara Evans — Kelley, Scott and Haywood have been focused on honing their songsmithing skills. Their hard work pays off on “Own the Night,” a more compelling collection of songs exploring love lost and found, fresh and aged.
Lady A co-wrote 10 of the 12 tracks on the new album, including the powerful opener and fast-rising second single, “We Owned the Night,” about a perfect but all-too-brief affair. The trio, along with Dallas Davidson, also put their pens to the lead-off single, “Just a Kiss,” about taking a promising new romance slowly that has already hit No. 1 on the Billboard country songs chart.
But the group isn’t afraid to give the prime album-closing spot to “Heart of the World,” a heartfelt ode to a loving, lasting marriage written by Scooter Carusoe and Tom Douglas that spotlights the stellar vocal chemistry between Kelley and Scott.
“Own the Night,” which last week debuted at the top of the multi-genre Billboard 200 chart, also showcases Lady Antebellum’s burgeoning musical savvy. The group and producer Paul Worley add all kinds of sonic flourishes to keep it interesting from the funky percussion of “Singing Me Home” and the Celtic flute solo at the end of “Cold as Stone” to the brawny good-time rock guitar opening of “Friday Night” and the old-school country fiddles in “Love I’ve Found in You.”
From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. I’ll be giving away copies of the new VeggieTales DVDs “Larry Learns to Listen” and “Bob Lends a Helping Hand” in the coming days on the official BAM’s Blog Facebook, www.facebook.com/brandybammcdonnell.
“VeggieTales: Larry Learns to Listen”
VeggieTales, that well-seasoned bunch of computer-animated vegetables that sings ditties, cracks jokes and quotes scripture up and down the produce aisle, reinforces the importance of listening with the compilation DVD “Larry Learns to Listen.”
The new DVD pairs an older, well-loved VeggieTale adventure, 1997’s “Josh and the Big Wall,” with a fun newer episode, 2010’s “Pistachio — The Little Boy That Woodn’t.”
A spirited retelling of the biblical story of the Battle of Jericho, “Josh and the Big Wall” stresses the value of heeding and following God’s directions, even when those instructions conflict with our own inclinations. Although the animation isn’t as sleek and bright as more recent episodes, this childhood favorite of my now-16-year-old son proves as entertaining and enlightening as ever.
As the title indicates, “Pistachio” offers a loving spoof of Carlo Collodi’s fairy tale “Pinocchio,” which Disney immortalized with its classic 1940 animated feature. Rather than emphasizing the fable’s obvious moral about staying honest, the Veggie version focuses on teaching children to listen to their parents since they are older, wiser and have their little ones’ best interests at heart.
The message gets an extra boost from the short title cartoon, a five-minute musical vignette in which Larry the Cucumber (voice of Mike Nawrocki) breaks his new video game because he refuses to either read the directions or listen to the advice of a pal who has played it before.
DVD features: A sing-along to “Song of the Cebu,” one of my all-time favorite of the “Silly Songs with Larry”; a sing-along to the new song “Listen”; an interactive book version of the title cartoon; and a featurette that goes behind the scenes of a marionette theater.
Today’s featured event:
Hear Texas country music standout Wade Bowen at 11 tonight at the Wormy Dog Saloon, 311 E Sheridan. Doors open at 6 p.m.
For more information, go to www.wormydog.com.
For more events, go to www.wimgo.com.
The Smithsonian Channel will rebroadcast “Wanda Jackson: The Sweet Lady with the Nasty Voice,” a great documentary about the Oklahoma rockabilly legend, at 7 p.m. Saturday, according to NewsOK TV blogger Melissa Hayer.
Here is the film’s description:
The story of the first lady of rockabilly and one of Elvis’s girlfriends – rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Wanda Jackson. As Rolling Stone said: “Jackson was the first to bring a woman’s intuition into the boy’s club of early rock-n-roll.” The film follows the Grammy Award nominee and legendary singer as she performs in Maine, Austin, New York City, Oklahoma City, Washington, D.C., and overseas in Sweden and Finland.
The “Inside the Music” documentary features interviews Elvis Costello, Patti Scialfa, Bruce Springsteen, Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead and Slim Jim Phantom of The Stray Cats. It also chronicles the long efforts of these rock stars and others to get Wanda Jackson inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Maud native and longtime Oklahoma City resident was ushered into the rock hall in 2009.
The Smithsonian Channel will be premiering three new “Inside the Music” documentaries in October: “Phil Collins: Going Back to Detroit,” “Real World of Peter Gabriel,” and “Hip Hop: The Furious Force of Rhymes.” Click here to see when they will air.
Jeff Dunham’s comedy special premieres to 5.5 million TV viewers; tickets to Tulsa show on sale Friday morning
Stand-up comic/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham is bringing his “Controlled Chaos” tour to Tulsa’s BOK Center for a Feb. 26 performance.
Tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday for the Tulsa show. All seats are $45.50 and will be available online at www.bokcenter.com, Arby’s Box Office, all Tickets.com outlets, or by calling (866) 7-BOKCTR.
Dunham premiered his fourth TV special, “Controlled Chaos,” Sept. 25 on Comedy Central, drawing 5.5 million viewers and a 2.6 rating with viewers 18-49.
Chart numbers for the home market DVD and Blu-ray sales of “Controlled Chaos,” which hit stores on Tuesday, jumped to No. 1 in comedy titles and No. 5 in all DVDs/Blu-ray title sales. “Controlled Chaos” is being released by Comedy Central Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment. He has sold more than 7 million units to date on his three previous specials and TV series.
Dunham also stoked a significant buzz with the special, coming in as the third most-talked about cable show that night behind the premiere of the second season of the acclaimed HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” and a pivotal episode of the six-time Emmy Award-winning show “Breaking Bad.” The statistics were measured by Trendrr.tv, a comprehensive television index that ranks shows by their activity across a number of social networks, according to a news release.
The American premiere of “Controlled Chaos” was part of an unprecedented same-day worldwide debut of a comedy special that saw the show bowing in a dozen territories around the globe, including Canada, U.K., Holland, Sweden, France, Australia and other nations.
Since Dunham debuted his first self-produced comedy special, “Arguing With Myself,” in 2006, he has jumped from the comedy club circuit into theaters and then into arenas and other major venues in North America and overseas. For three years running he has been the highest-earning live comedy act in North America as well as for two years in a row worldwide in the wake of three tours of Europe as well as visits to South Africa and Australia.
His Internet presence is just as significant with more than half-a-billion worldwide views of his online clips, nearly 6.5 million Facebook followers, and being the No. 1 comedian on MySpace. He also scored last year as an author when his unique autobiography, “All By My Selves” – just released as a trade paperback on Sept. 6 – spent three weeks on The New York Times Book Review bestsellers list.
“Controlled Chaos” will air again at 9 p.m. Saturday on Comedy Central. He now takes his new “Controlled Chaos” live show on road starting Oct. 6 in Loveland, Colo., and throughout the U.S. and Canada into 2012.
During the Comedy Central special, Dunham introduced two new puppet pals that he is taking on the live tour: Achmed Junior, the not-as-equally skeletal son of Achmed the Dead Terrorist, and Little Jeff, a mini-version of the ringmaster himself.
For more information on the Tulsa show, go to www.bokcenter.com or www.jeffdunham.com.
Country music stars The Pistol Annies will take aim on the latest episode of the hunting-theme reality TV show “Tom’s Wild Life,” airing at 8 p.m. Sunday on Great American Country (GAC).
From the looks of this preview, posted after the break, the all-girl trio of Tishomingo resident Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe seek out training in the arts of shooting and hunting from well-known Kansas-based outfitter Tom McMillan in the episode. And it seems that Lambert’s hubby and fellow country star Blake Shelton puts in an appearance as well.
“Being the Pistol Annies, it’s only fitting that we make sure all of us know how to shoot,” says Lambert, who is an avid hunter, on the show. But it appears that not all the Annies have spent as much time firing their pistols as they have put into firing off great songs.
Shelton and Lambert also were featured prominently in the debut episode of the series “Tom’s Wild Life,” which launched in September on the cable network.
See the preview after the break.
Oscar-nominated actress Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air”) has been busily promoting her new movie, the Toronto Film Festival favorite “50/50,” because the acclaimed cancer comedy is opening in theaters Friday.
But of course Kendrick, 26, has been fielding plenty of questions about “The Twilight Saga” along the way.
The Maine native has been part of the supernaturally popular vampire romance series since the first film, 2008′s “Twilight,” playing a supporting role as Jessica Stanley, a gossipy classmate of human heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart).
She will reprise the role in the hotly anticipated two-part franchise finale “Breaking Dawn — Part 1,” opening Nov. 18, and “Breaking Dawn — Part 2,” due out in fall 2012. Hence, all the “Twilight” questions.
Sorry, Twihards, but Kendrick declined to reveal any secrets about the last two movies based on Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling book series. But she did describe the feeling of finishing up filming on the five-movie franchise in a recent phone interview.
“It’s sad but it’s not sad. It’s more like a peculiar feeling for it to not be there anymore. But we weren’t maudlin on the set; we were happy to get out of the cold,” she told me by phone from Dallas. Since much of the filming was done in Vancouver, British Columbia, that makes sterling sense.
As immense as the Twihard fans’ love for “Twilight” has grown, the franchise has never been a favorite of critics and has attracted an almost equally passionate backlash. But Kendrick said she isn’t flustered by fangirls recognizing her in the grocery store or perturbed by haters eager to bash the movies.
“It’s so big that I guess that’s to be expected. I’m pretty immune to it. I don’t know, I guess it just feels like people find it polarizing, so I guess I’m not surprised by either reaction any more.”
After offering up another strong performance in “50/50,” film fans should expect to see a lot of Kendrick. Of course, she’s already busy with a number of upcoming projects, which is no surprise following her Oscar nomination last year for Jason Reitman’s stellar drama “Up in the Air.”
In 2012, she will star opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in “End of Watch, ” a cop drama written and directed by David Ayer (who wrote “Training Day” and directed “Street Kings”), and headline the cast of the apocalyptic indie “Rapturepalooza.”
“‘Rapturepalooza’ is this crazy little comedy that we shot in like no time at all, so I’m really looking forward to seeing that one,” she told me.
In addition, she is part of the voice cast of the upcoming animated comedy “ParaNorman,” about a misunderstood boy who can speak with the dead and must battle ghosts, zombies and goofy grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse. Leslie Mann, John Goodman, Casey Affleck and Christopher Mintz-Plasse also will be lending their voices to the project.
Kendrick is part of another all-star cast with the currently filming “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” a narrative based on the popular pregnancy guidebook. The film co-stars Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks, Jennifer Lopez, Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock, Chace Crawford and Oklahoman Megan Mullally.
“They created this sort of big ensemble story about women getting pregnant and all the things one might go through,” she said.
As for “50/50,” Kendrick said she enjoyed working with screenwriter Will Reiser, who wrote the movie based on his own experiences as a 20-something battling cancer.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, I was a little nervous to meet him and I wasn’t really sure what that was going to be like. And he’s just so lovely and funny and really intelligent that very quickly you just started to think about him as your writer and producer, which I think is exactly how he would like to be seen,” she said. “He was on set all the time, he’s a talented writer, and we all thought of him like that. You know, we didn’t think of him as like ‘Oh, the real cancer survivor’s on set today, and we have to walk on eggshells’ or anything like that. He was just a friend.”
To read more of what Kendrick had to say about “50/50″ and “Twilight,” look for my story Friday here on BAM’s Blog, on NewsOK and in The Oklahoman.
Broken Arrow native Kristin Chenoweth will appear today on “The Rachael Ray Show,” which airs here in Oklahoma City at 11 a.m. on KFOR-4.
The Tony- and Emmy-winning singer/actress is continuing to promote her debut country album, “Some Lessons Learned,” which was released Sept. 13. To read my review, click here.
The Oklahoma native is best known for her work Broadway, particularly in the shows “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Wicked,” and most recently, “Promises, Promises,” and for her TV roles on “Pushing Daisies,” “Glee” and the upcoming “Good Christian Belles.”
She called her venture into country music with “Some Lessons Learned” a return to her Oklahoma roots, particularly her childhood experiences singing in church and at rodeos.
Her country debut, released on Sony Masterworks, became her best-charting album on the multi-genre Billboard 200, as “Some Lessons Learned” debuted earlier this month at No. 50, according to Billboard.com. It concurrently bowed on the Billboard Country Albums list at No. 14, marking her first entry on that chart.
The chart success is just the latest career high Chenoweth has achieved this year. Already in 2011, she has sung for President Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II and Oprah Winfrey.
In addition, Chenoweth will be inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in November and co-host with Trace Adkins the second annual American Country Awards Dec. 5 on Fox.
Commonsense financial guru Dave Ramsey, a best-selling author and nationally syndicated radio host and newspaper columnist, will sign copies of his new book “Entreleadership” from noon to 2 p.m. today at Mardel’s 4848 Northwest Expressway.
In “Entreleadership,” Ramsey shares his own path from novice entrepreneur running a business from his living room table to his current level of business success, reports The Oklahoman‘s Mood Editor Heather Warlick Moore. In the book, Ramsey shows readers how to turn their dreams into goals and accomplish them, how to manage time better, how to handle employees and how to operate their business debt-free.
The book debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller List in the Hard Cover Advice category, Ramsey’s team posted on his official Facebook page Wednesday.
The new book is especially timely as the nation’s current financial instability has forced many people to become entrepreneurs due to lack of job opportunities.
“There have been a lot of extremely talented people forced out into the job market,” Ramsey said in an email interview with Heather. “This is a great time for those people to take their dream, their passion, and make it into a business. A lot of very successful businesses began during a down economy. I think this is a great time to be an entrepreneur — an ‘EntreLeader.’”
Ramsey also addresses many of the most common mistakes made by men and women new to business.
“A lot of entrepreneurs mistakenly believe that you have to go deeply in debt to start a business,” Ramsey told Heather. “Most businesses are bootstrapped — pay as you go. You may grow slower paying cash, but you avoid the risk that other businesses take on with debt. Building a business is going to take more time than you think, and it’s going to cost more than you think — you are not the exception to the rule.
Readers also can ready Ramsey’s advice in his column in The Oklahoman.
For more information, go to www.daveramsey.com.