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Movie Review: 50/50



Mike Finkelstein just went on an emotional roller coaster ride, and for the first time ever, teared up in a movie (don’t tell anyone…).  Here is his review for “50/50”.

PLOT: Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young, healthy 27-year-old with a good job and a beautiful girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard).  However, all of that is turned on its head when he finds out he has a rare form of cancer, and only a 50/50 chance of living.  This is the story of his battle, with the help of his best friend (Seth Rogan), mother (Anjelica Huston), and a young, inexperienced therapist (Anna Kendrick).

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW:  To have cancer in a drama is one thing.  You show all the pain and heartbreak that comes with the battle.  By the end, the audience is either cheering with tears of joy, or choking back sobs.  But a cancer comedy?  How can you balance that?  How do you make the jokes genuine without poking fun?  How do you make the story funny without holding back or being over the top?

The answer is simple: make it about the characters.

50/50 is based on the life of Will Reiser, a writer and producer on “Da Ali G Show”, and one of Seth Rogan’s best friends.  Reiser had a rare form of cancer, and wrote the script’s first draft in remission.  He said in interviews that while the film wasn’t autobiographical, Rogan and producer Evan Goldberg would grill him constantly while rewriting to make sure everything in the script was something he would actually do or he was actually thinking.  They wanted to make the film as realistically human as possible.  They did just that, crafting a movie not only heartfelt, but one that runs the gauntlet on emotions.

50/50 follows Adam, a young, healthy 27-year-old guy who plays by all the rules.  He avoids all drugs and alcohol, never learned to drive (too unsafe), and doesn’t even jay-walk on an empty street just in case a car appears out of nowhere.  He has a good life, but one hell of a nagging back pain.  Turns out the back pain is from a tumor on his spine.  Suddenly, Adam is battling cancer.  He doesn’t go on a huge BUCKET LIST style adventure or violently flip out on everyone, a la SAW.  He takes his medicine and goes to his therapy appointments and does exactly what he is supposed to do, because, frankly, that’s what he’s always done and he doesn’t know what else to do.  That is where the charm is: in the complete and utter confusion and uncertainty that lies within each of these characters.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, and does so beautifully.  After his diagnosis, Adam is, as they say in the five steps, numb.  He is carrying a metaphorical bag of bricks and can’t put them down until either a doctor tells him he can, or he very literally dies.  Gordon-Levitt brings that stoic tension in every frame, and in fact, leads this film.  His eyes show every ounce of frustration and fear building, all leading to a pivotal emotional scene where he is finally forced to deal with his impending fate.  Despite all the jokes Adam’s best friend makes and all the ‘therapy’ his therapist tries to give him, Adam is ultimately alone, and thanks to Gordon-Levitt, we are right there with him.  I honestly don’t know if a lesser actor could have handled such a role, but I’ve very happy I didn’t have to find out.

While Adam is the main focal point of 50/50, what also makes it work so well is the excellent supporting cast.  Seth Rogan plays Adam’s well-meaning yet stupid best friend, Kyle, who just keeps trying to make light of the diagnosis by using it to get laid.  While it’s basically Rogan in every film you’ve seen him in so far (including the fart and sex jokes), he plays the part simple and with major heart, a testament to the fact that it is his real life best friend whom the film is based on.  As for romance, Anna Kendrick plays Katherine, Adam’s young, doctorate-seeking therapist   With Adam only being her third patient ever, we see her struggle to try and follow the school rules, as well as her failing as she starts to really care about him.  Kendrick is absolutely adorable, and together, the two develop a sweetness that makes us beg for even just a kiss.  (On another note, I think I officially found what warm, home baked chocolate chip cookies are made of: the cuteness given off when they’re around each other.)

Rounding out the support are Anjelica Huston as Adam’s mother, Bryce Dallas Howard as his (ex) girlfriend, and Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer as his two fellow chemo patients.  Huston could have easily turned her role into a one-note cliché, but manages, within a mere two scenes, to turn all that around and let us know there is something a lot deeper that comes with a mother’s (and wife’s) love.  As for Howard, I don’t think there was one person who couldn’t tell what was going to happen with her, but she did what she had to do very nicely, and even had her own scene to give just a bit more depth than we were expecting.  And Hall and Frewer are just plain funny.  They may be sick, but let us know that even if you’re down, never take life too seriously.

If anyone ever asks you how to do a cancer comedy, point them in the direction of 50/50.  Director Jonathan Levine, writer Will Reiser and producers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan have created a film that just set the bar.  Heartfelt and most importantly real, 50/50 will have you laughing one moment, crying the next, and in the end, just plain thankful to be alive.  Let’s see what awards season brings…


Mike’s LIKES:

1) JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: I can’t rave about Joseph Gordon-Levitt enough.  While he is ‘calm’ on the outside, you could see the twisting and turning and battling of emotions on the inside.  He finally lets everything go in one climactic scene near the end, and it’s extraordinary.

2) CANCER SUPPORT GROUP: Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer have some of the best moments as Alan and Mitch, the two other chemo patients.  The Cheech and Chong or Waldorf and Statler of cancer are warm, comical, and somehow even made chemotherapy funny.

3) SUPPORTING CAST: Every supporting actor deserves a mention here.  Seth Rogan plays his usual idiot self, but does so with charm and care for his friend.  Anna Kendrick is absolutely adorable as the young therapist-in-training, and Anjelica Huston IS a mother in turmoil who would do anything for her son.

4) I NAILED YOU!: Great line by Rogan!  He said everything the audience was thinking, and I loved relishing in that moment!

5) MUSIC—“SOMETHING” AND “YELLOW LEDBETTER”: Listen closely to the score during any moments with Adam and Katie, and you’ll hear a faint resemblance to the Beatles’ “Something”.  Also, we have the best usage of “Yellow Ledbetter” I’ve heard in a long time…

6) BREAKDOWN: The scene referred to in like#1.  Wow…that is all…

7) TOUCH FOR COMFORT: The theme of touch for comfort is spread throughout the film, and when you see how such a small thing can impact a person’s life, you can’t help but get emotional.


1) NONE: Just an excellent, emotional roller coaster ride of a movie.


1) The film is based on Will Reiser, who developed cancer while working as an associate producer on “Da Ali G Show”.  Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, worked as writers on the show at the same time, and encouraged Reiser to write.

2) James McAvoy was originally cast as Adam, but had to drop out due to personal conflicts. Joseph Gordon-Levitt accepted the lead role just two days before shooting was about to start.



Who Is This Brian Balthazar Guy, Anyway?

Did you see Brian on TV today? Wondering who he is? Here’s much more than you wanted to know. They leave the part out that he loves a well mixed Dark And Stormy, but let’s keep things professional…




You may have seen Brian Balthazar on television this morning, heard him on the radio, or read about some recent developments in the world of media and pop culture. But who the hell is this guy? Brian Balthazar leads a double – triple – okay, maybe quadruple life. Part journalist, actor and comic, he appears on many TV shows as a guest, but is also a developer and creator of several television shows behind the scenes. This when he’s not renovating homes and making snacks for his websites, and

After launching the fourth hour of the Today Show with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, he turned his attention to cable television, overseeing the direction and development of several shows on HGTV, including Flip or Flop, Love It Or List It, Christina On The Coast, House Hunters, Hit Properties with Nathan Morris, Flea Market Flip and dozens more.

As a comic he served as the opening act for Russell Brand In New York City and the MTV series Man and Wife featuring hype man Fatman Scoop.  He has performed at The Comic Strip, Caroline’s On Broadway, Gotham Comedy Club and more.Wendy Williams Show Feb 2013

In addition to being a frequent guest on “The Wendy Williams Show,” (he co-hosted several times during Williams’ three week break) and appearing on the “Today” show, where he guest co-hosted with Jenna Hager-Bush,  Brian has frequently been seen co-hosting the syndicated TV gossip show Page Six TV.

Additionally, he was the sideline reporter for HGTV’s Rose Parade Coverage, hosted the HGTV Special I Bought A Famous House, and has appeared on CBS’s The Talk, HLN’s Showbiz Tonight, MSNBC’s Caught On Camera, The Joy Behar Show, and more.

Brian Balthazar Kathie Lee Hoda

An appearance on the fourth hour of the TODAY show with Kathie Lee and Hoda.

He has also been an emcee for many notable events and sponsors, including work as a brand ambassador for Bombay Company, the co-host of the Miss Tennessee and Miss Mississippi USA pageants, and a red carpet host at the Daytime Emmy Awards.

You may also have seen Brian in some viral videos, most notably a recent parody of Bird Box, and a satirical look at House Hunters’ Writers’ Room.

HGTV – House Hunters Writer’s Room from Buffalo Picture House on Vimeo.

 Brian Balthazar Bombay

Appearing in a series of videos for Bombay Company.


Brian has provided analysis, interviews and helped co-host the Tony Awards backstage show. He also followed all the backstage madness at the launch of Fashion Week in New York City while co-hosting the Red Dress Event. He has been a roving reporter for the Dr. Oz show. Earlier in his career he was a features reporter and contributor on NBC, MSNBC, United Airlines In-Flight Entertainment and more.

For A&E network, Brian appeared in an episode of Biography about Jim Carrey. He also provided play by play of some of film’s greatest car chases for a documentary about, well, car chases. (Ask his family and they will tell you: NO one would have expected to see him in a show about cars. We’ll leave it at that.)


Before ‘finding himself’ professionally, Brian was a singer on a ship, a publicist for a trance medium, an insurance customer service rep, waiter, bartender, activities director, substitute teacher, website programmer, pianist at a camp for spoiled children, and college mascot. None of them worked out. Let’s hope this does.

To contact Brian, email

To check out his video clips from NBC, HLN, and MSNBC, click HERE…

And – become his friend on facebook!

For a more extensive listing of his TV appearances visit his IMDB page.

And he’s apparently getting better about Twitter. So he says. He’s @BrianBalthazar.

Thanks for reading POP GOES THE WEEK!

For his TV Appearances, Click on the TV APPEARANCES page.

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POP in the Kitchen! The Perfect Snack and Cocktail Pairings.



POP Goes The Week’s Brian Balthazar is part of the all new Food Network Kitchen App! Cook LIVE alongside Brian as he makes get party food and the drinks that go perfectly with them!

Hey everyone! I’m so excited for this – I was thrilled to be a part of the new app, which is an all new way to cook with your favorite chefs and cooking experts. In the app, you can get the recipe and ingredients and recipe in advance, check the live class schedule, then cook at the very same time as your instructor!

I was fortunate enough to be invited to do a live snack and cocktail pairing, which you can still watch – and cook along with me! Trust me, these all start out as live, which means anything can happen! (I have an adventure with the broiler in one of them!)

Download the app here.

For my recipes, I made a pulled pork toast with queso, sour cream radishes and green onions, along with a smoky mezcal paloma.

Pulled Pork Toasts with Sour Cream, Queso, Radishes and Green onions, garnished with cilantro. The recipe is literally those ingredients stacked onto baguette slices!

In another class, I make lavender honey that gets drizzled right on top of baked brie with herbs, then use that same lavender honey for my own interpretation of a “Bees Knees” cocktail that I call a “Bees Knees Breeze.” I came up with the variation because the original recipe, simply gin, honey and lemon was just TOO strong for me and I found myself always getting plastered!

Check out the gallery of what I made, all available on the FNK app!

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I hope you can check them out, AND all your favorite instructors like Bobby Flay, Giada de Laurentiis and Ree Drummond!



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‘Saved By The Bell’ Cast Reunited For 30th Anniversary – And I’m So Excited



If you think your high school experience feels like ancient history then it won’t bring you any comfort to know that Saved By The Bell debuted 30 years ago!

Back in 1989, Saved By The Bell hit the small screen and quickly became a television staple. Over the course of its four seasons, the sitcom followed Zach Morris and his unique blend of friends as they navigated the tricky waters of high school. Everyone had a favorite Bayside Tiger and the series spawned many memorable scenes…but you are a liar if you didn’t say your favorite scene was where Jessie broke down crying after coming to terms with her caffeine pill addiction while crying out the most iconic line ever, “I’m so excited…I’m so excited…I’m so…scared”


In any event, some of Bayside’s most memorable students reunited over the weekend to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the hit sitcom. Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Zach Morris), Tiffany Thiessen (Kelly Kapowski), Mario Lopez (A.C. Slater) and Elizabeth Berkley (Jessie Spano) all gathered together to hit us right in the nostalgia. Notably missing were Lark Voorhies (Lisa Turtle) and Dustin Diamond (Screech). Berkley wrote on her Instagram “FRIENDS FOREVER!!!” along with some sweet and fun hashtags. Lopez upped the ante and posted a video recapping the fun time the gang had as they reminisced on the days way back when. WHY WASN’T THIS TELEVISED?!? Many are speculating the reunion to be the beginnings of a reboot or revival but nothing of the sort has yet been confirmed.



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FRIENDS FOREVER #spousestoo!!!❤️❤️❤️#imsoexcited #buddybands #love #friends #family #life #magic

A post shared by Elizabeth Berkley Lauren (@elizberkley) on



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Credit card roulette comin up! #OldSchool

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