Saturday, 3 December 2011

Sarah's Key, 50/50 and Moneyball.

Kristen Scott Thomas is a big name on both sides of the channel (though her French career is more notable) and Sarah's Key is another fine film that contains another fine performance from Thomas. Sarah's Key tells the story of two people named Julia Jarmond (Thomas) and Sarah Starzynski (admirably played by newcomer Melusine Mayance). Julia is a modern day journalist investigating the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup of 1942 when 12000 Jews were captured and imprisoned (by the French) in appalling conditions ready to be sent off to the Concentration Camps in Poland and Germany. Sarah is one of those Jewish people who were captured by the French; we follow Sarah as she meets empathic guards and kindly Frenchman in a desperate bid to free her brother from a locked cupboard in which Sarah locked him in to avoid his capture.

Sarah's Key is a powerful and harrowing Holocaust drama with two stories that connect with each other despite being, at least, thirty years apart. The story concerning Sarah remains the more compelling one and every time the proceedings are switched to the present day we just would rather be with Sarah as her story is far more engaging, interesting and moving. As time progresses Julia's story becomes slightly more interesting but it is severely bogged down by pointless melodrama concerning her husband and a baby, it may not decrease the power of Sarah's story but it does slow proceedings down. Despite this Thomas is utterly convincing and does hold things together when they threaten to go astray but it is Sarah's story that everyone really cares about. The conditions of the Vel' d'Hiv velodrome are shown in full detail as the lack of sanitation make it a truly horrendous place to be. Melusine Mayance is an absolute sensation. Mayance and Kristen Scott Thomas combine to hold the film together.


Baseball is not the most popular sport in Britain, unlike across the pond where the sport has a much larger loyal fan base thus in the UK Moneyball may struggle in the box office due to the subject matter, which is quite unfair as the film is not really about baseball.

Between the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics there are rich teams, poor teams, fifty feet of crap and then Oakland Athletics. Attempting to compete with teams with budgets that go well into the $100,000,000s with $37,000,000 is a difficult task, so in football terms it's like Norwich City and Manchester City (the latter won 5-1 just recently). After the three best players of Oakland Athletics leave the club to join the New York Yankees Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) must rebuild the team, he does this by enlisting the help Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who uses statistics to win baseball matches. Will this revolutionary change in tactics result in victory or defeat?

Like the best sports movies it matters not one jot what you feel about the sport as, again, like the best sports movies the film is not about the sport itself. My knowledge of baseball is limited and while I did not fully understand every term I thoroughly enjoyed Moneyball due to Aaron Sorkin's (whose previous writing credits include The Social Network) finely written script and some terrific performances from Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. Sorkin's script is full of witty humour and also, and most importantly, manages to avoid most of the sports movie clich├ęs. Sorkin and director Bennett Miller have turned a sport I have very little interest into something very entertaining. The biggest failure of a sports movie is to make the film to much about the sport itself; Moneyball does not do that as it is a film about maths, character and passion and how this passion can drive someone to try something completely different. It's a film about love for a sport ('how can you not get romantic about baseball?') but not a film about the sport. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are superb in their respective roles and exchange witty dialogue brilliantly but yet at a running time of 133 minutes the plot does slacken occasionally but overall Moneyball may not quite hit a home run but it's certainly good fun.


 The central theme of 50/50 is likely to put people off as cancer is a very serious topic and not one to make jokes about but 50/50 is a film that knows when to stop with the comedy and move into the more serious aspects, in fact 50/50 is more moving than it is funny.

Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young man who after visiting the doctor because of back pains has been informed he has a rare form of cancer and after some research on the internet he finds out his survival chances are 50/50 (which according to his friend, played by Seth Rogan, isn't that bad). In order to reduce the size of tumour he must undergo chemotherapy which gives some rather rough side effects including weight loss, hair loss and vomiting.

What 50/50 does remarkably well is combine elements of humour with the more serious elements but never allowing the two to clash thus decreasing the power of the serious aspects. 50/50 is powered by a sensational central performance by Levitt who is undoubtedly the beating heart and soul of the film and it is because of Levitt's performance (and a superbly written script) that 50/50 does not become too sentimental but authentic. 50/50 works well as a comedy but it works marvellously as a piece of drama. We begin to like Adam, we begin to feel for him and thus it gives 50/50 something that so many comedies seem to be without and that is heart.

Seth Rogan does much of the comedy but he also combines this comedy with a more honest and emotional performance of his own. Much the humour is with Kyle (Rogan) who attempts to divert Adam's mind away from his cancer while Adam's mum worries over him. Kyle convinces Adam to use his cancer to get laid and it provides quite a few of the films amusing and VERY awkward moments. There is also one darkly funny joke that Patrick Swayze fans might not appreciate. Anjelica Huston and Philip Baker Hall provide impressive support but much of the credit must go to Levitt's heartfelt and engaging performance. Director Jonathan Levine and writer Will Reiser who do fine job and knew exactly when to stop with the comedy and become a moving drama on how far a loved one will go for one another, how others react to cancer and how the smallest good deeds can mean so much to one person.

Both Levine and Reiser brilliantly avoid running the risk of creating a comedy that is rather tasteless concerning the subject matter but instead create one that becomes wonderfully moving. Women get a rather hard deal here, but Anna Kendrick's junior physiologist is sweet. The film is a greater achievement on an emotional level than it is on a comedy level but that is never a bad thing. 50/50 is a comedy film with a strong heart and emotional performances, it is not your typical Seth Rogan affair but one that features a mature performance from him.



  1. great reviews as always, Myerla. Of the three, I absolutely want to see 50/50. Not too bothered about the other two, but would give them a shot

  2. Thanks Rodders. All of them are worth seeing.

  3. Great reviews, only seen 50/50 but keen to see Moneyball. 50/50 definitely worked much more for me as a drama but the humour was what got me interested in it in the first place. Had me all emotional by the end but still laughing!

  4. I really liked 50/50 and am i'm looking forward to seeing Moneyball tomorrow. Levitt and Kendrick worked well together, both good performances.

    Agree about Rogen too, at first i thought he was just playing another clown, but they gave his character enough serious moments to make him believable.