Movie Review ~ Long Shot


The Facts
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Synopsis: An unemployed journalist battered by his own misfortune endeavors to pursue his childhood crush and babysitter, who now happens to be one of the most powerful and unattainable women on the planet.

Stars: Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, June Diane Raphael, Alexander Skarsgård, Ravi Patel, Bob Odenkirk, Randall Park

Director: Jonathan Levine

Rated: R

Running Length: 125 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Don’t look now, but we may actually be in a small scale renaissance of the mid-range romantic comedy. There were rumblings that it was coming back when last year’s Crazy Rich Asians made a splash, only to be followed by the popular streaming releases like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Set Up. So far this year, we’ve had the modest hit Isn’t it Romantic and soon after Long Shot’s May release there’s still The Sun is Also a Star to look forward to and Last Christmas for the holidays…plus several more Netflix offerings along the way. It’s not a full scale rebirth of the genre but it definitely gets a healthy dose of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation courtesy of Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron in Long Shot.

Originally conceived as more low-brow comedy titled Flarsky, the script from Dan Sterling attracted the attention of Seth Rogen after it got good buzz on The Blacklist, the infamous Hollywood insider-y annual survey of the “most liked” motion picture screenplays not yet produced. Rogen brought in screenwriter Liz Hannah (The Post) who gave the film a good polish, making the starring female role more of real person and creating more equality between the lead protagonists. With a new title and Rogen’s friend Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies) in the director’s seat all they needed was a star. And boy did they get one.

Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) is the real reason you should be buying a ticket to see Long Shot and is the film’s not-so-secret weapon. Sure, you may be a fan of Rogen, romantic comedies, or just need a solid two hour film that is worth your time but Theron is by far the main selling point Long Shot has to offer. Already adept at playing any genre she’s thrown into, Theron dives headfirst into a role that requires the actress to convince us her gorgeous buttoned-up Secretary of State could fall for Rogen’s lumpy (but lovable) political journalist, all while keeping her composure as she plots out an environmental treaty to lay the groundwork for her presidential run.

Recently fired from his grassroots publication, Fred Flarsky (Rogen, This is the End) is drowning his sorrows with his best friend (O’Shea Jackson Jr., Straight Outta Compton) at an upscale benefit when he runs into his old babysitter Charlotte Field (Theron). Flarsky may have written a few popular pieces on the internet but Field has done considerably better for herself; she’s the youngest Secretary of State under a dim bulb President (Bob Odenkirk, Nebraska) who was elected after playing the Commander in Chief on TV for years. When the President decides not to run again and offers to endorse Field, she gets early reports (from a too-brief cameo by Lisa Kudrow, Friends with Kids) that the public doesn’t think she has a sense of humor. Running into Flarsky and reading his material gives her an idea: why not hire this guy who knew her back in the day and see if he can punch up her image?

For Field, this starts as a business proposition. For Flarsky, this is a chance to get closer to a girl he has had a crush on since he was a pre-teen. Even more than that, he believes in her as a politician and gets behind her as a potential presidential nominee. As they make their way around the globe gathering support for her environmental protection plan, the two get closer…much to the horror of her staff members (June Diane Raphael, Girl Most Likely and Ravi Patel, Master of None) until they become an unlikely item.

It really is on Theron to sell us on her character falling for Fred and Rogen and Levine help her get there (with no small assistance from Hannah’s script) by keeping Charlotte aware of their differences but following her heart anyway. That’s what makes it all work because, unlike other Rogen vehicles where he’s paired with beauties just…because, here he initially winds up with the girl by winning over her brain first before anything physical happens.

Clocking in a tad over two hours, the movie comes in just a hair too long and a wiser editor could have excised more of Jackson’s unnecessary scenes as Fred’s friend that don’t wind up informing the action on anything we don’t already know. As good as Raphael and Patel are, they only work in small doses and their business could be trimmed as well because we really want more time with Theron and, to a slightly lesser extent, Rogen.  I can’t forget to mention Andy Serkis (Black Panther) popping up in a truly bizarre role as a publishing magnate with ties to Charlotte and Fred.  It’s not that the role is bizarre, it’s that Serkis is under heavy layers of make-up to render him unrecognizable.  Why?

The film almost makes it across the finish line without resorting to gross out gags but can’t resist a fairly atrocious bit of toilet humor that cheapens things up at the wrong time. Honestly, I get why they inserted it in the grand scheme of things but it sinks the film to a different level that I thought it was rising above.  Still, that and a rather perfunctory ending can’t erase the fun of the previous 100 or so minutes and any movie that prominently features Roxette’s mega-anthem “It Must Have Been Love” on more than one occasion already scores high in my book.

The Silver Bullet ~ Snatched

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Synopsis
: When her boyfriend dumps her, Emily persuades her ultra-cautious mom to accompany her on a vacation to Ecuador.

Release Date: May 12, 2017

Thoughts: 15 years.  That’s how long it’s been since Goldie Hawn (Deceived) has been seen on the big screen (not counting midnight screenings of Death Becomes Her at revival houses) and for a Hawn fan like me, that’s far too long.  The Goldie drought will end this Mother’s Day as the Oscar winning comedienne teams up with Amy Schumer (Trainwreck) in Snatched, a mother-daughter comedy directed by Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies).  While the optimist in me is hoping for the best, Schumer’s ascent to bona-fide leading lady hasn’t been totally proven and I wasn’t a fan of screenwriter Katie Dippold’s previous buddy film The Heat.  Also, remember the last time we were excited for a road-trip movie with a star that now makes infrequent appearances in movies?  Yeah…we wound up with The Guilt Trip.  The humor looks sophomoric and the production a bit on the cheap…but I’m interested to see what silly sparks Hawn and Schumer can make.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Night Before

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Synopsis: In New York City for their annual tradition of Christmas Eve debauchery, three lifelong best friends set out to find the Holy Grail of Christmas parties since their yearly reunion might be coming to an end.

Release Date:  November 25, 2015

Thoughts: I think I’m really getting old…because at one time I think this trailer might have generated some excitement in my movie-going bones.  As it is, it looks like another exhaustive exercise in excess from the team that brought you This Is The End, Neighbors, and (shudder) The Interview.  As annoying as Seth Rogen (The Guilt Trip) is, I know that he’s capable of more than these types of dumb-ass stoner roles and I surely know that Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon) can do better.  Rogen and Gordon-Levitt reteam with their 50/50 director Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies) for this act-your-age comedy and Anthony Mackie (Pain & Gain) completes the triumvirate of stars.  This foul-mouthed red-band trailer lets us know that audiences are in for some drug-fueled ribaldry this holiday season…joy to the world.  Wake me up when these three actors find a worthier project to peddle their wares in.

Movie Review ~ Warm Bodies

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After a zombie becomes involved with the girlfriend of one of his victims, their romance sets in motion a sequence of events that might transform the entire lifeless world.

Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich, Analeigh Tipton, Dave Franco

Director: Jonathan Levine

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 97 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Though it won’t be released until early February, fans of quirky romance films will want to make some space in their schedule for Warm Bodies.  It’s a unique love story that successfully brings together several different genres and themes to form a successful and quite entertaining winner of a picture.  There’s enough going on in the movie to satisfy the needs of most moviegoers.  If you’re looking for zombie action, there are brains to be eaten.  If you’re starved for a romance and can’t wait for Safe Haven or Beautiful Creatures, you’re in luck because the chemistry between our two leads is wonderful and flows freely from the screen. 

Adapted by director Levine (50/50) from a novel by Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies opens like many post-apocalyptic zombie films do…with legions of slow-moving undead milling about a deserted location (in this case, an airport).  We’re introduced to R (Hoult), a different kind of zombie that will be our engaging narrator and star for the next 97 minutes.  With a wry sense of humor to his narration, R remarks on his situation as a zombie and provides clever commentary on the state of the world. 

On a routine feeding, R happens to chomp down on someone close to Julie (Palmer) and when he catches her eye his undead heart doesn’t so much skip as beat as it does start to beat again.  Protecting Julie from his fellow zombies is a relatively easy task and removes unnecessary suspense from what happens next. You see, the connection R and Julie have over the next few days sparks something in the zombies of the world…a spark that could change the fate of everyone both living and dead. 

The movie is so centrally focused on R and Julie that without the right leads the movie would have been as ho-hum as they come.  Levine has aced his casting exam here by hiring two very good actors that fit together with their parts and each other so well.  Hoult in particular is one of the most endearing zombies you’re likely to meet and his performance is reason enough to see the film.  Looking alarmingly like a young Tom Cruise, Hoult captures the frustration going on inside R with genuine pathos without being as emo as his hair and outfit would suggest.  His leading lady is no slouch either with Palmer (a blonde doppelganger for Kristen Stewart…and a better actor too!) keeping pace with him by turning on her own blend of charm. 

Hoult and Palmer share much of their onscreen time together in an honest dance between two people that shouldn’t be in love but find themselves hopelessly headfirst in the thick of it.  Levine uses a diverse soundtrack to chart the course of their courtship…the music springs forth mostly from a record player and is occasionally sweetened by composers Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. 

Supporting our two lovebirds is Malkovich as Palmer’s father who just happens to be the militant leader of an army that hunts down corpses just like R.  Tipton is a snazzy hoot as Palmer’s best friend as is a nicely restrained Corddry as R’s fellow zombie bud.

Even working with a smaller budget, there are a few nice effects here with the Bonies (zombies that have deteriorated to just bones) adding an extra bump of adrenaline to a few action sequences.  It’s actually in these moments where the movie feels the most flat…probably because the action can’t manage to be more entertaining than the one on one scenes between R and Julie.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll draw some parallels between this film and another classic tale (just look at the character names if you’re stumped) but try not to jump too far ahead of the film that’s in front of you.  With assured performances from Palmer and especially Hoult partnering nicely with Levine’s easy-going direction, Warm Bodies created a nice warm feeling in this viewer – it’s not going to change the face of the romance picture but it’s worthwhile, quality entertainment that I’m happy to recommend.

The Silver Bullet ~ Warm Bodies

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Synopsis: After a zombie becomes involved with the girlfriend of one of his victims, their romance sets in motion a sequence of events that might transform the entire lifeless world.

Release Date:  February 1, 2013

Thoughts: The resurgence of the zombie craze has inspired some interesting projects.  The gigantic popularity of TV’s The Walking Dead has given cable television another hit and 2013’s World War Z is hoping for summer blockbuster status.  Throwing the genre a bit on its ear, Warm Bodies looks like any other troubled teen romance…until you consider that one of the teens is a member of the undead.  What’s interesting about this film is the appearance that everyone is in on the joke-y nature of the premise…which could spell a lot of fun for audiences.  An appealing cast and promising director (Jonathan Levine did great work with 2011’s 50/50) are added bonuses.