Love on the Shattered Lens: Long Shot (dir by Jonathan Levine)


2019’s Long Shot is a film that truly took me by surprise.

I have to admit that, when I first saw the trailer for Long Shot, I had my concerns.  First off, it was an American political comedy and it’s been a while since there’s really been a good one of those.  There’s been many attempts, especially after Donald Trump was elected in 2016.  But, for the most part, the American films are always at their weakest when they try to be overly political.  There’s always a disturbing lack of self-awareness that, when mixed with the type of strident tone that can only be maintained by people who have never seriously had their ideas challenged, tends to make for a very boring viewing experience.  And, no, don’t you dare say, “What about Vice?” because Vice was freaking terrible.

Secondly, the trailer emphasized that Charlize Theron was playing the Secretary of State and that she was running to become the first woman elected President.  This led me to suspect that the film might essentially be Hillary Clinton fanfic.  Over the past few years, there’s actually been quite a few films and television show that have featured idealized versions of Hillary Clinton — i.e., all of the accomplishments without the albatross of her husband or the reputation for being casually corrupt.  (For six seasons, there was a TV show called Madam Secretary that basically only existed to present an idealized version of Hillary.)  Hillary fanfic, with its attempt to rehabilitate the image of a candidate so inept that she actually lost to Donald Trump, is always cringey.

Finally, as much as I hate to admit it, I was concerned that the film not only starred but was produced by Seth Rogen.  And don’t get me wrong.  I love Seth Rogen.  Seth Rogen is literally my favorite stoner.  I think that, with the right material, he can be one of the funniest performers around.  The problem is that, in the past, Seth Rogen has always been brilliant as long as he wasn’t talking about politics.  Whenever he started talking politics, he just turned into every other wealthy and rather self-righteous progressive.  While Rogen’s political tweets were never as banal as the thoughts of uberboomer Stephen King, there was still nothing about them that suggested that Rogen would be capable of producing one of the funniest and most good-hearted political comedies to come out in the past few years.

And so, like a lot of people, I skipped Long Shot when it was playing in theaters.  I waited until it was released on video to watch Long Shot and you know what?  It turned out that almost everything that I had assumed about Long Shot was incorrect.

Yes, it’s a very political movie but it’s also far more self-aware than I was expecting it to be.  Seth Rogen apparently knows that he has a reputation for being a very loud, knee-jerk leftie because he actually does a very good job of poking fun at his own image.  Rogen plays Fred Flarsky, a loud and crude journalist who quits his job when he discovers that the underground newspaper that he was working for has been purchased by Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, playing a not-at-all disguised version of Rupert Murdoch).  Fred is about as far to the Left as one can be and he tends to assume that all of his associates agree with him, even though he never bothers to ask them.  One of the best scenes in the film comes when his best friend, Lance (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), reveals to a stunned Fred that he’s not only a Republican and a Christian but that he’s been one the entire time that he’s known Fred.  Fred never caught on because he just assumed that Lance, being black, would naturally be a Democrat.  When Lance asks Fred why he thought Lance wore a cross around his neck, a befuddled Fred can only reply that he thought it was “cultural.”  It’s a great scene and one that’s wonderfully played by Rogen and Jackson and it works precisely because it remains true to what we’ve seen of both characters.  Almost everything that Lance says over the course of the movie does reflect a traditionally conservative mindset but, like Fred, we don’initially don’t notice because Lance is being played by Ice Cube’s son.  When Fred discovers that Lance is a Republican, it doesn’t change Fred’s mindset but it does teach him that progressives can be just as guilty as conservatives when it comes to making assumptions about people based on where they’re from or what they look like.  As a stunned and chastened Fred puts it, “I’m a racist, you’re a Republican, I don’t know what the fuck’s going on.”

Secondly, the film’s romance is incredibly charming.  Charlize Theron plays Charlotte Field, the Secretary of State who used to be Fred’s babysitter.  After they run into each other at a reception, Charlotte hires Fred to work as a speech writer for her nascent presidential campaign.  You would not expect Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen to have a ton of romantic chemistry but they do.  Theron is an underrated comedic actress and there’s a lot of fun to be had in just listening to her and Rogen bounce lines off of each other.  In fact, as funny as Rogen is, I’d have to say that Charlize Theron is even funnier.  One of the highlights of the film is when Fred and Charlotte sneak away to a club, where they dance and end up taking ecstacy.  Over course, as soon as the drugs kick in, a major diplomatic crisis breaks out and an extremely high Charlotte has to deal with a hostage crisis.  Theron appears to be having a ball with the role and really, this is the film for which she should have been Oscar nominated.  Theron convinces us that 1) she’s a masterful diplomat, 2) that she could be elected President of the United States, and 3) that she could fall in love with someone as messy as Fred without sacrificing her own ambitions.

Long Shot has its flaws, of course.  Andy Serkis is a bit too over-the-top in his villainy and the film has a 125-minute running time, which is way too long for what is essentially a fairly simple romantic comedy.  Some of the scenes of Fred and Charlotte traveling around the world probably could have been cut without harming the story.  There’s an environmental subplot that feels a bit too obvious and there’s a joke about Fred accidentally ejaculating on his own face that’s never as funny as the film seems to think that it is.

That said, Long Shot is often a surprisingly charming film.  (I know what some of you are saying: “Yes. Lisa Marie, Seth Rogen ejaculating on his beard sounds really charming.”  I know, I know.  But the majority of the film is charming.)  If you missed it when it came out the first time, give it another chance.

Godzilla: King of Monsters 2nd Official Trailer


Godzilla King of Monsters

This past summer we saw the first trailer to Godzilla: King of Monsters. To say that the reaction to that trailer was positive would be an understatement. It was one of the highlights of San Diego Comic-Con 2018.

Now, Warner Brothers Pictures saw fit to release the second trailer for the film. This time with less classical music and more Kaiju mayhem visuals instead. Michael Dougherty takes over directing duties from Gareth Edwards and this time it shows as the film stresses the action in the film rather than the human interactions underfoot.

Kaiju films have been fan-favorites for decades upon decades because of the monsters and less about the humans. The humans really were just there to give voice to the different factions of monsters duking it out. It looks like this time this sequel will follow the same formula.

Godzilla: King of Monsters is set for May 31, 2019.

Film Review: Den of Thieves (dir by Christian Gudegast)


Den of Thieves is quite simply one of the most exhausting films that I’ve ever sat through.

It’s not just that the film itself is overly long, though that’s definitely an issue.  (Den of Thieves last 2 hours and 20 minutes.  For the sake of comparison, that’s 17 minutes longer than last year’s best picture winner, The Shape of Water.)  Instead, the real problem is that there’s really not a single unexpected moment to be found in Den of Thieves.  Every cliché imaginable shows up in Den of Thieves and, after a while, the film’s predictability becomes a bit much to take.

It’s a bank heist film.  We know that because it opens with a strangely portentous title card that informs us that more banks are robbed in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the country.  This is one of those heist films where a self-destructive police detective goes head-to-head with a ruthless yet sympathetic criminal mastermind.  If you’re thinking that this sounds a lot like Heat, you’re right.  In fact, imagine if they remade Heat without any of the stuff that made Heat more than just another crime film and you have a pretty good idea what you’re going to get with Den of Thieves.

The detective is named Big Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler) and we know he’s a badass because he’s got a lot of tattoos and a beard and when he’s not busting criminals, he’s either getting drunk or getting served with divorce papers.  Nick’s an asshole but that’s okay because Nick … NICK GETS RESULTS, GODDAMMIT!  Nick has a crew that’s devoted to him.  Of course, a lot of them will be dead by the end of the movie.  That’s just the way things go when you’re living in a clichéd crime film.

Big Nick wants to take down Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), who is a former marine turned bank robber.  We know that Merrimen is a badass because he’s got a beard and he’s got even more tattoos than Nick!  In fact, his entire crew is covered with tattoos!  You have to wonder how smart these criminals are, all getting body art that will make it very easy for the police to identify them.  But they’re a good crew.  In fact … THEY’RE THE BEST!  THEY GET RESULTS!  And only Nick can take them down because … ONLY THE MOTHERFUCKING BEST CAN TAKE DOWN THE MOTHERFUCKING BEST, GODDAMMIT!

Sorry, am I yelling a lot?  This is one of those films where everyone yells a lot.  Basically, this entire movie is drenched in testosterone.  This is one of those films where no one gets interrogated with getting knocked around beforehand and where every meeting is some sort of confrontation.  When the end credits rolled, I was shocked to learn that some of these people actually had names.  Just from listening to the dialogue, I assumed everyone in the film was named “Motherfucker.”

And again, it just all gets exhausting after a while.  Maybe if Den of Thieves had been a 90 minute action flick or had featured any of the self-aware humor of Baby Driver, it would have been entertainingly dumb.  But 140 minutes is a long time to spend with a bunch of thinly drawn stereotypes.

Now, there are two positive things that can be said about Den of Thieves.

First off, one of the thieves is played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr. and he’s got enough screen presence that he can overcome some clunky scenes.  (A scene where he’s interrogated by the police literally seems to go on forever.)

Secondly, the film itself looks great.  The film’s opening scenes do a good job of capturing Los Angeles’s unique mix of grit and glitz.  The opening shootout is pretty well-done and briefly suggests some promise on which the film ultimately doesn’t deliver.

Anyway, Den of Thieves came out this January and despite middling reviews, it did well enough at the box office to earn itself a sequel.  So, in 2020, look forward to more scenes of Gerard Butler … GETTING RESULTS!

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Ingrid Goes West (dir by Matt Spicer)


We start with a wedding.  The bride is beautiful.  The groom is handsome.  Everything looks so perfect that you’re almost relieved when Aubrey Plaza suddenly shows up.

Seriously, why wouldn’t you be?  We all know Aubrey Plaza from her role as the apathetic and sarcastic April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation.  If anyone’s going to bring this potentially bland wedding to life, it’s going to be Aubrey Plaza!

Aubrey Plaza walks up to the bride and starts screaming at her … wait a minute, that’s not typical Aubrey Plaza behavior … where’s the deadpan snarker that we were all expecting…

Suddenly, Aubrey is pulling out mace and spraying the bride in the face.  The bride is writing in pain while Aubrey screams at her…

So begins Ingrid Goes West.

Aubrey Plaza, of course, plays the title character.  Ingrid spends some time in a mental hospital after crashing that wedding.  She explains to both her doctors and the bride that she was just acting out because she was upset over her mother’s recent death.  Ingrid seems to feel that she and the bride were good friends but, as we quickly learn, they actually barely knew each other.  The bride just made the mistake of commenting on one of Ingrid’s social media posts, leading to Ingrid deciding that they were actually best friends.

Using the money that she inherited from her mother, Ingrid heads out to Los Angeles.  She has a new obsession, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen).  Taylor is a paid social media influencer, famous for being famous.  Ingrid left a comment on one of Taylor’s pictures and Taylor left an innocuous reply.  It’s the type of thing that happens every day on social media but to Ingrid, it means that she and Taylor are destined to be BFFs.

And, amazingly, it all seems to work at first.  Online, Taylor shares just enough about her life to allow Ingrid to come up with a plan to meet her.  Ingrid not only gets to know Taylor and her husband, a painter named Ezra (Wyatt Russell), but she is briefly allowed to enter into Taylor’s world.  Of course, Ingrid fails to notice that no one in that world seems to be very interested in her.  To Ingrid, everything is perfect.  Or, at least it is until Taylor’s obnoxious, junkie brother (Billy Magnussen) shows up and starts to call Ingrid out…

Ingrid Goes West really didn’t get as much attention as it deserved when it was released earlier this year.  Unfortunately, it was advertised as being some sort of wacky comedy when, in fact, it’s a deeply unsettling and, at times, rather disturbing movie.  Yes, there is humor but very little of it is of the “laugh out loud” kind.  Instead, it’s the type of humor that makes you pause the movie so you can make sure all of the doors and windows are locked.  Ingrid Goes West eventually goes to a very dark place.  In some ways, it’s a Taxi Driver for the social media age.

Holding the film together is Aubrey Plaza, giving a performance that is both bracingly vulnerable and frighteningly angry.  Plaza makes Ingrid both sympathetic and annoying at the same time.  Your heart cries for her but you still wouldn’t necessarily want her to live next door.  Ingrid Goes West is not a perfect film.  At times, it’s hard to believe that Taylor wouldn’t know better than to invite a complete stranger into her life and some of the scenes with her brother are a bit too over the top.  But Aubrey Plaza’s brilliant lead performance makes up for all of those flaws.

Definitely see Ingrid Goes West.  Just expect to be paranoid for a week afterward.

Playing Catch-Up: Straight Outta Compton (dir by F. Gary Gray)


Straight_Outta_Compton_poster

Let’s just start with the obvious.

I am probably the last person who would be expected to appreciate Straight Outta Compton.   In the months leading up to the film’s release last year, I doubt anyone expected me to be a part of the audience.  After all, I’m a Caucasian girl from Texas.  I may have been born in Oak Cliff but, for the most part, I’ve lived in suburbs, small towns, and a few farming communities.  When it comes to music, my taste runs that gamut from EDM to more EDM.  I was less than a year old when NWA formed and I hadn’t even heard Straight Outta Compton or Fuck tha Police until I first heard about this movie.  Going into the movie, I knew who both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were but, otherwise, I knew nothing about NWA.

And yet, with all that in mind, I was in tears by the end of Straight Outta Compton.  That’s proof of how strong a film Straight Outta Compton truly is.  I went into the film with next to zero knowledge of what I was about to see but from the very first minute, it captured my attention and my emotions. From the minute I saw Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) fleeing from a police raid at a crack house, Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) dreaming of becoming a success, and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) being threatened by both gang members and police, I was totally invested in their stories.

Straight Outta Compton is a big film and director F. Gary Gray is obviously interested in a lot more than just telling a conventional musical biopic.  Instead, he uses Straight Outta Compton to explore what it’s like to grow up and live in the shadows of America.  That pre-credits raid on that crack house sets the tone for much of Straight Outta Compton, revealing a world where the only escape comes from money and where the police are essentially an invading army.

The film also deserves a lot of credit for capturing the excitement of creation.  The scene where NWA records their first album is pure exhilaration and even better are the concert scenes, all of which capture chaos in the best possible way.  Perhaps the best sequence comes when a defiant NWA performs Fuck tha Police while a similarly defiant swarm of policeman make their way through the crowd, all holding their badges in the air.  In that scene, Straight Outta Compton captures the feel of a society at war with itself.

Straight Outta Compton is an ensemble film in the best sense of the word, with Hawkins, Jackson, and Mitchell all giving excellent and charismatic performances.  Somewhat inevitably, Paul Giamatti shows up as their manipulative manager, Jerry Heller.  It’s a role that feels as if it was tailor-made for Giamatti and, needless to say, he performs the Hell out of it.

I’ve read that Straight Outta Compton takes some liberties with the historical facts and it’s true that the other two members of NWA — MC Ren and DJ Yella — are both largely portrayed as being bystanders.  (That said, Neil Brown did have some funny lines as DJ Yella.)  Towards the end of the film, whenever Eazy-E said, “I should have listened to Dre and Cube!,” I was reminded of the fact that Straight Outta Compton was produced by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube and not Jerry Heller.

But, historical liberties or not, Straight Outta Compton is an exhilarating and important film and one of the best of the year.

 

Here Are The NAACP Imagine Award Nominations!


Beasts_of_No_Nation_poster

Awards season continues!  The 2015 NAACP Image Award nominations were announced earlier today and here they are!

Outstanding Motion Picture

“Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
• “Concussion” (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
“Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)
• “Dope” (Open Road Films)
“Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture

* Abraham Attah – “Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
* Chiwetel Ejiofor – “Secret in Their Eyes” (STX Entertainment)
* Michael B. Jordan – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)
* Michael Ealy – “The Perfect Guy” (Screen Gems)
* Will Smith – “Concussion” (Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture

• Lauren ‘Keke’ Palmer – “Brotherly Love” (Flavor Unit)
• Sanaa Lathan – “The Perfect Guy” (Screen Gems)
• Teyonah Parris – “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
• Viola Davis – “Lila and Eve” (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
• Zoe Saldana – “Infinitely Polar Bear” (Sony Pictures Classics)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

• Chiwetel Ejiofor – “The Martian” (20th Century Fox)
• Corey Hawkins – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)
• Forest Whitaker – “Southpaw” (The Weinstein Company)
• Idris Elba – “Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
• O’Shea Jackson, Jr. – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

* Angela Bassett – “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
* Gugu Mbatha-Raw – “Concussion” (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
* Jennifer Hudson – “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
* Phylicia Rashad – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)
* Tessa Thompson – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Outstanding Independent Motion Picture

• “Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
• “Brotherly Love” (Flavor Unit)
• “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
• “Infinitely Polar Bear” (Sony Pictures Classics)
• “Secret in Their Eyes” (STX Entertainment)

Outstanding Documentary – (Film)

* “Amy” (A24)
* “Dreamcatcher” (Rise Films, Green Acres Films & Vixen Films in association with Impact Partners and Artemis Rising Foundation)
* “In My Fathers House” (Break Thru Films)
* “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” (PBS Distribution/Firelight Films)
* “What Happened, Miss Simone?” (A Radical Media Production in Association with Moxie Firecracker for Netflix)

Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Film)

* Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)
* Christopher Cleveland & Bettina Gilois, Grant Thompson – “McFarland USA” (Walt Disney Pictures)
* Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley – “Inside Out” (Disney/Pixar)
* Rick Famuyiwa – “Dope” (Open Road Films)
* Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer Pictures)

Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture – (Film)

• Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (Fox Searchlight Pictures / Rhode Island Ave)
• Charles Stone, III – “Lila and Eve” (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
• F. Gary Gray – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)
• Rick Famuyiwa – “Dope” (Open Road Films)
• Ryan Coogler – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Trailer: Straight Outta Compton (Red Band)


 

Growing up during the 1980’s meant popular music was divided between rock and pop. Yes, there were the non-friendly music genres that hundreds of millions also listened to but were seen as music of the outsider (heavy metal, punk). Yet, something happened in the latter half of the 80’s.

Rap has always been part of the music landscape since it’s early days during the 1970’s. The genre was either about partying or pushing a social awareness agenda that kept it out of mainstream audiences (with the exception of Run DMC and the Beastie Boys). Then a rap group out of South Central L.A. released an album titled Straight Outta Compton which took the world by storm.

Gangsta rap has broken through that wall which has kept most of rap from mainstream popularity.

The latest film from F. Gary Gray will tell the story of the beginnings of the group N.W.A. right up to the tumultuous events of the Rodney King riots. As most biopic go this one may just be a major hit just for the fact that N.W.A. has had such a huge impact on pop culture and the music industry that their music and influence still remain relevant today.

Straight Outta Compton is set for an August 14, 2015 release date.