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Capsule reviews: `50/50,' 'Take Shelter'

The Associated Press, Wednesday, September 28, 2011, 11:24am (PDT)

Capsule reviews of films opening this week:

"50/50" — It could have been agonizingly mawkish: The story of a young man with everything ahead of him who learns he has a rare form of spinal cancer, one that he only has a 50 percent chance of surviving. Instead, "50/50" is consistently, uproariously funny, written with humanity and insight and directed with just the right tone every time. Comedy writer Will Reiser crafted the script based on his own cancer diagnosis when he was in his early 20s. His words are filled with dark humor and a wry recognition of the gravity of this situation, but also with real tenderness. And director Jonathan Levine pulls us into this intimate world through an abiding naturalism. He's made a film about cancer that's effortlessly affecting. It helps that he has Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an actor of great range and subtlety, in the starring role as Adam. He goes through all the requisite stages of denial, frustration, fear and eventually acceptance, but he does so with such believable imperfection, he never feels like a saint or a martyr. But Adam has an ideal balance in his lifelong best friend and co-worker, played by Seth Rogen in the kind of garrulous and lovably crass role Rogen has built a career on. But Gordon-Levitt's most moving scenes are with the delightful Anna Kendrick as Adam's young, eager-beaver therapist. R for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use. 100 minutes. Four stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Sarah Palin: You Betcha!" — Director Nick Broomfield's documentary doesn't tell you anything you didn't already know about the former governor of Alaska and 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate, and it won't change any minds. If you walked in thinking she was a bumbling, inept idiot who's more concerned with surface than substance, you will walk out thinking the same thing. Similarly, if you're a fan of Palin and believe she's a straight-talking breath of fresh air, a woman of the people with vision for the country, then you will continue to believe that. Actually, there's such jokey condescension in Broomfield's approach, his film will undoubtedly fortify her supporters who feel she's been unfairly targeted. In his typical style, Broomfield ("Kurt & Courtney," "Biggie and Tupac") inserts himself in the action, traveling to Wasilla, Alaska, where Palin once served as mayor, and spending months on a "quest for the real Sarah Palin." Trekking through the ice and snow in a furry hat with ear flaps and a red-and-black-checke red flannel jacket, he's like Elmer Fudd on the hunt, wielding his microphone as his weapon. His dry, monotone British accent and the absurdity of his fish-out-of-water presence are good for consistent laughs, and he does come up with some lively interviews with the insular locals. But rather than enlightening us, Broomfield and co-director Joan Churchill trot out old material and end up with a portrait of a petty 12-year-old girl in an ambitious politician's body. Unrated. 91 minutes. Two stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Take Shelter"— The first thing you notice are the skies. They can be vast and blue or ominous and gray; they send sheets of rain that shatter the sun's rays, with thick drops that glisten with the yellowy sheen of motor oil. Either way, they seem sprawling, powerful, inescapable, and they clearly portend an encroaching danger in "Take Shelter." But the question is, is this an external threat? Or does it originate from within? Writer-director Jeff Nichols keeps us guessing until the very end — and even the ending is open for interpretation. His film is both daring thematically and striking aesthetically, even as it pierces at the heart of the most relatable, everyday anxieties we all experience. He achieves such a seamless balance and such a gripping, tense tone, it's hard to believe this is only his second feature film. At the center of this increasingly frightening scenario is the tremendous Michael Shannon as Curtis LaForche, an ordinary man whose subconscious produces extraordinarily disturbing visions. Curtis works as a crew chief for a sand-mining company and lives in a modest house in small-town Ohio with his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), and their 6-year-old daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart), who's deaf but is awaiting corrective surgery. He is stoic, hardworking, devoted. But then the nightmares begin. R for some language. 120 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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