Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Nov. 30 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Nov. 30

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DREAM HOUSE Between its tell-all trailer and its tell-all poster, there's not much to tell about Dream House except that it's a crushing disappointment considering all the Herculean talent on display. A bastard child of a movie that got caught in one of those ugly divorces between a studio and a filmmaker, this was wrested away from director Jim Sheridan (In America) and reshaped by Universal Pictures into the mess that's been foisted upon paying audiences. To be honest, I'm not sure that Sheridan's version would have been a rousing success — the script was written by David Loucka, whose past credits include Whoopi Goldberg's shot-in-Charlotte turkey Eddie — but I have to assume it would have been better than this cut, which doesn't even have the support of the stars who initially were excited enough about the project to sign up but have since refused to promote it. That would be Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, playing a married couple who move into a quaint house with their two young girls. Before long, they learn that the house was previously owned by a man who murdered his wife and children, and that said killer has just been released from prison. Craig and Weisz are fine (Naomi Watts is on hand as well, but she's wasted as a supportive neighbor), but this movie will prove to be obvious and illogical even to those who haven't been privy to what surely must rank as the clumsiest marketing campaign of 2011. *1/2

DRIVE The latest in a long line of silent anti-heroes as the ultimate in celluloid cool, Ryan Gosling plays a character known only as Driver. He's employed as a wheelman for crooks, but that's merely the least reputable of his three jobs: When he's not working on the wrong side of the law (as illustrated in a spectacular opening set-piece), he's a movie stunt driver as well as a mechanic in a garage owned by the shady Shannon (Bryan Cranston). Shannon is his link between all three jobs, which becomes problematic once they get involved with a pair of high-end criminals with notable cruel streaks: Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), a former Hollywood producer, and his crude partner Nino (Ron Perlman). Causing even further complications is Driver's growing affection for his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), who has a young son (Kaden Leos) in her care and a husband (Oscar Isaac) on the way home from the clink. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, who won the Best Director prize for Drive at this year's Cannes Film Festival, has fashioned a work that's as slick as its protagonist: Its muted Euro-sheen mingles easily with its American atmospherics, and it's all punctuated by bouts of brutal and unsightly gore that never feel like exploitive overkill but instead serve to feed the urgency of the moment. Aside from a curiously miscast Mulligan, the entire supporting roster is strong, although Brooks deserves his own standing ovation. The nebbish from Broadcast News and Lost in America has been reconfigured as a slow-burning sadist, and it's a sight to chill the spine. Drive is such a sterling achievement for most of its running time that it's alarming when it crashes and burns during its final 15 minutes. After approximately 90 minutes of careful buildup, the end feels maddeningly rushed, with the actions of various characters bordering on the illogical and their fates succumbing to genre expectations. This unfortunate turn of affairs doesn't irreparably damage the overall package, but it does leave its mark, as surely as oil leaking from a rusty pickup puttering down the highway. ***

50/50 The new comedy-drama 50/50 centers around a cancerous presence, and that refers to Seth Rogen as much as it does to the malignant tumor found located on the spine of young Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Carve Rogen out of the picture, and its chances of being a truly moving picture about people coping in sickness and in health increase exponentially. This is nothing personal about Rogen, who I generally enjoy watching — heck, I didn't even mind him bringing his slobbery man-boy act to the iconic role of the Green Hornet. But 50/50, inspired by scripter Will Reiser's own battle with cancer, doesn't need his services, which only get in the way of a potentially heart-rending story about how a 20-something who theoretically has his whole life ahead of him must cope with a tragedy that threatens to cheat him out of his future. Gordon-Levitt delivers a sensitive portrayal as Adam, perpetually trying to get a grasp on emotions that understandably don't know where to go. Adam shares an interesting relationship with his therapist (Anna Kendrick), a medical newbie who isn't quite certain how to comfort her patient. He has trouble with his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), who's mentally ill-equipped to deal with a partner who's now bald and barfing all over the place. He bonds with two older cancer patients (Matt Frewer and national treasure Philip Baker Hall) who take him under their wing. And he has difficulties communicating with his mother (Anjelica Huston), a drama queen who's already dealing with an Alzheimer's-afflicted husband (Serge Houde). These are all intriguing relationships, but every time we become immersed in these particular character dynamics, along comes Rogen as Adam's unlikely best friend Kyle. Kyle clearly has Adam's back, and had Rogen, in his capacity as one of the film's producers, graciously allowed another actor to play the role, we might have had something special. But the film's delicate mood is broken anytime Kyle opens his mouth to talk about shaving his balls or getting laid or basically anything that trumpets his obnoxiousness. 50/50 is a good movie about 60% of the time, but a higher percentage would have been appreciated. **1/2

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