Review of “Long Shot”

Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) has plans to run for President in 2024; however, when former TV actor, President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), tells Charlotte he plans on leaving office after his first term to act in movies, she moves her ambitions up to 2020. Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) is an investigative journalist whose small liberal Brooklyn-based newspaper has been purchased by conservative billionaire media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis) and Fred quits his job in protest. Fred’s best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson) takes him on a night on the town to cheer him up. The wind up at a fund raiser for the World Wildlife Fund where Charlotte is also in attendance. Charlotte and Fred knew each other growing up as they lived next door to each other. Fred had a crush on young Charlotte and even kissed her, leading to an embarrassing reaction. Charlotte and Fred talk briefly where they reconnect over their shared past. Wembley is there and Fred confronts him then falls down a flight of stairs. Charlotte wants to add Fred to her staff as a speech writer, much to the chagrin of her assistant Maggie Millikin (June Diane Raphael) who thinks Fred is too big a risk to her fledgling campaign. As they travel and work together, Fred and Charlotte develop an affection for one another that goes beyond friendship and could derail her presidential ambitions.

“Long Shot” asks a great deal of its audience, namely believing Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen are convincing as a romantic couple. While the film takes a few shortcuts to get the pair to fall in love, screenwriters Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah do a good job of building a world where these two could be a couple. They also include some very funny situations and good jokes to smooth the way.

Charlize Theron is amazing in the movie. She comes across as a legitimate and polished government official and she can be very funny. Theron has proven in “Young Adult,” “Tully” and “Gringo” she has the comedy chops to steal any film from her costars and she does that in “Long Shot.” While Rogen has his moments, Theron is given the best lines and delivers them with gusto. A sex scene where she makes requests that shock Rogen’s Fred is a brilliant bit of role reversal that Theron delivers with the proper amount of lust and intensity, so you believe that’s what she wants, and she means to get it.

Theron also has the gravitas to make the scenes of Charlotte carrying out her duties ring true. Her walking through the halls of the White House, going over the schedule with her aides or dealing with a crisis in another part of the world, reminded me of Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing,” except when she’s tripping on Molly and having to deal with a third world dictator. That’s more like a Rogen comedy than a Sorkin drama. That scene still works because of Theron and her ability to convincingly play a person on drugs holding it together to get past the emergency while trying to convince everyone else she isn’t high. It’s a scene that could have derailed the whole film, but Theron makes us believe Charlotte is capable and experienced enough to pull it off.

Rogen is mostly playing his usual man-child, but the script plays to that strength and makes the character increasingly self-aware. There are actual moments of growth and maturity for Rogen’s Fred as the story progresses. It’s not the kind of performance that will win any awards, but this is one of Seth Rogen’s better performances.

If the movie has an issue, it’s the high-mindedness of Charlotte. Perhaps I’m too cynical when it comes to politicians, but I simply couldn’t believe a decision Charlotte makes near the end of the film. I won’t give it away, but Charlotte chooses a path that is political suicide and does so for love. Actually, that mostly gives it away, but it’s a rom-com, so you know something along that line has to happen. Anyway, Charlotte’s decision is the kind of thing that wouldn’t happen in real life. It especially wouldn’t have the positive outcome as it does in the film. It’s the kind of thing we would hope our leaders would do, but they don’t.

“Long Shot” is rated R for strong sexual content, some drug use and language throughout. Along with the aforementioned sex scene, we see the outcome of a moment of self-pleasure along with discussions of a sexual nature. Fred and Charlotte take Molly, and at a security check point, Fred empties his pockets showing us he’s carrying several drugs. Foul language is common throughout the film.

Seth Rogen is frequently in films where his character is paired with a woman that is, based on looks alone, out of his league. “Knocked Up,” “Neighbors” and its sequel, “The Green Hornet,” and “Like Father” (a Netflix film), all pair Rogen with very attractive women as his love interest. I suppose this is part of the underdog theme that runs through most of his films, showing even the messy schlub can find happiness with a put-together and attractive woman. It’s just another part of the film that stretches credibility to near breaking point, but the script makes this “Beauty and the Beast” scenario work. It’s a minor miracle.

“Long Shot” gets five stars.

It’s a full slate of films opening this week, hoping you’ve seen “Avengers: Endgame” as many times as you can stand and looking for something different to watch. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Hustle—

Pokemon Detective Pikachu—

Poms—

Tolkien—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Tully”

Marlo (Charlize Theron) has just had her third child, a healthy girl she and her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) name Mia, and she’s overwhelmed. Her oldest child Sarah (Lia Frankland) is eight and doing well in school. Her son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) is five and has developmental and emotional issues making him difficult to handle when his routine is disrupted. The addition of a newborn pushes Marlo to the edge. Her brother Craig (Mark Duplass) tells Marlo he has arranged for a night nanny as a baby present to come over and give her a break. Initially reluctant to have a stranger in her house and interacting with her child, Marlo changes her mind after a particularly frustrating day. That night there’s a knock on the door and Marlo opens it to find Tully (Mackenzie Davis). Tully is in her 20’s and she is something of a free spirit juggling multiple relationships and viewing life as an open and positive adventure. She is excellent with Mia and Marlo is finally able to catch up on her sleep. Tully even cleans the house and bakes cupcakes for the kids to take to school. She is perfect in every way and is able to give Marlo a break to catch her breath.

Motherhood throughout history has never been easy unless you had the money to hire a nanny to do most of the day to day work of raising a child. “Tully” takes a slightly skewed look at modern child-rearing with a family that is familiar and a mom that is heartbreakingly relatable.

Charlize Theron is amazing in “Tully.” Her fatigue and frustration as the film starts is palpable. I grew tired just watching as Marlo repeats the routine of breast feeding, changing, rocking, pumping and all the other mundane but required aspects of taking care of a newborn. You can hear the voice in her head as she thinks to herself, “If I could just get one good night’s sleep everything would be fine.” That sleep never comes and even if it did we know the routine would just begin again the next day. Theron embodies Marlo fully. It is a little scary how Theron disappears into a role so completely. Much like with her Oscar-winning turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Theron packed on weight to play the three-time mother. The fullness of her face and body adds to the feeling of fatigue and exhaustion. There’s also pain in her performance. It isn’t physical pain but emotional. Marlo feels trapped in her life and wants to break free. While she would never abandon her family it is clear Marlo believes there is something more she should be accomplishing with her life. It is a performance that should get Theron talk of another Oscar nomination if it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of late season films.

Also giving an Oscar-worthy performance in a supporting role is Mackenzie Davis as Tully. It is a masterful high-wire act that Davis successfully pulls off. Tully could have quickly become an annoying lightweight character; but the brilliant writing of Diablo Cody and the skillful performance of Davis makes Tully like a warm blanket that we want to snuggle into. Tully initially comes off as a space cadet filled with idealism that we know will either be beaten out of her by life or she will run off with a guy named Space Child or Unicorn and live on a commune where they only bathe once a week and everyone sleeps in a stinky pile. Quickly, Davis reins in the crunchier aspects of Tully and she becomes a voice of calm and wisdom that Marlo and the audience start to believe in. We all see Tully as a beacon of hope for Marlo: Her lost idealism and youth. Tully embodies the energy and joy Marlo once had and longs for again. Mackenzie Davis is a breath of fresh air and the perfect person for this role.

The story by Diablo Cody is both painfully familiar and fresh. Rarely does the camera’s lens peer inside an average family’s home and Cody’s script pulls no punches in making this family mundane and unappealing. The constant demands of the new baby isn’t the most exciting story to put on film but Cody also manages to find small pockets of humor in the unending demands of life. Throwing in the added pressure of a special-needs child cranks up the heat on an already simmering pressure cooker. There isn’t much else that could be added to the mix that won’t cause the whole house to explode. The arrival of Tully and her calming influence on an initially skeptical Marlo is the release valve that keeps this situation from blowing up.

It all seems like a perfect bit of upper middle-class white privilege; but Cody is too good a writer to leave well enough alone. The film takes an unexpected turn late that practically knocked me out of my seat. Looking back there are signs and clues for what is to come but Cody buries and camouflages them in commonplace and everyday events. When the turn happens it makes for a truly shocking bit of storytelling. While I’m handing out Oscar nominations, let’s give one to Diablo Cody for best original screenplay.

“Tully” is rated R for some sexuality/nudity and language. Most of the sexuality comes from Marlo watching episodes of Showtime’s “Gigolos” where we see a couple having sex on the screen. We also get a couple of looks at a woman’s bare nipple as she prepares to breast feed. Foul language is common.

“Tully” is a nice break from superheroes and special effect-heavy blockbusters. It is a slice of life film that takes its time in telling a story of average people dealing with the common challenges of parenthood. It has great performances and a compelling story that takes a zig when most would expect a zag. It is a movie mothers will understand on a cellular level and will, I believe, enjoy.

“Tully” gets five stars.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Life of the Party” for WIMZ.com.

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest streaming, movie and TV news wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Atomic Blonde”

M-I 6 Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is being debriefed in 1989 following a failed mission in Berlin by her superior Mr. Gray (Toby Jones) and a representative of the CIA (John Goodman). The mission was to retrieve microfilm stolen from a murdered agent that contains the names of all the Western agents embedded in the Soviet Union. It also has the name of a KGB double agent known only as Satchel. Broughton meets another M-I 6 agent named David Percival (James McAvoy) who has been in contact with the East German Secret Police agent that stole the microfilm who is known only as Spyglass (Eddie Marsan). After the microfilm is stolen Spyglass tells Percival that he has committed all the names to memory and he wants to defect to the West along with his family in exchange for not giving the information to his bosses. Upon her arrival in Berlin, Broughton is attacked by several KGB agents who knew her name and what time she would be arriving. Unable to trust anyone, Broughton is certain she is being compromised at every turn. She notices a young woman following her around and later discovers she is a French spy named Delphine (Sofia Boutella). Delphine is new to the espionage game and is in over her head. She and Broughton begin a physical relationship and Broughton believes she may be of some use in the case. Everywhere she turns Broughton is ambushed and pushed to her physical limits. Who is setting her up and trying to cause the mission to be a failure?

“Atomic Blonde” is based on a graphic novel released in 2012 called “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. The movie is a violent, dark and gritty look at the coming collapse of the Soviet Union and how the last vestiges of Cold War gamesmanship played out over the course of a few days in the divided city of Berlin. There are brutal fights and sneaky double crosses amongst secret agents that are all aware of each other and their professed allegiances yet no one can be believed at their word. It’s a world that would be impossible to navigate which is one of the reasons “Atomic Blonde” is so good: You never know who is on what side and if they’ll stay there.

The trailers for “Atomic Blonde” do a good job at selling the action and there is plenty more in the film. Charlize Theron’s Lorraine Broughton is a very bad woman when she’s forced to defend herself. Anything can be a weapon: A high heel shoe, a set of car keys, a corkscrew, and a garden hose, anything she can reach can be used against her attacker. The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed and believably executed. Many are shown as a single unedited shot while others have sneaky edits inserted by whipping the camera around or sending the combatants into a dark corridor. Director David Leitch has figured out how to shoot the action in a way that is both close enough to where you almost can feel the impact of the punch but not so close you have trouble seeing what’s going on. It’s one of my biggest complaints about many action films including all the “Bourne” movies. The camera in those films is almost between the combatants and is constantly moving. In “Atomic Blonde,” the action is shot at the perfect distance and is always centered in the frame.

The action is also handled in a realistic way to the character. By that, I mean that Broughton isn’t always going to beat up every man she faces. Poorly trained East German police don’t give her much trouble but experienced KGB and Stasi agents get in almost as many punches as she does. Broughton takes a great deal of punishment over the course of the film and her body, which we get a few chances to see, shows the signs. Broughton isn’t shown as the kind of hero that doesn’t face a real test until the very end like in most films of this type. In “Atomic Blonde” the hero faces challenges at nearly every turn making her all the more believable and human.

Charlize Theron plays Broughton with a cold, detached and world-weary stare. She’s seen it all and done it all so nothing will faze her. When she is told she has a different look in her eyes when she’s telling the truth she responds that she won’t do it again as it could get her killed. Broughton is the quintessential yet stereotypical working woman in that she feels like she must be better at her job than any man and she can’t take time for a personal relationship as she would be seen as weak and not serious about her profession. In a way “Atomic Blonde” is a statement about how working women are held to a different standard than men but that is only if you think about it too much.

“Atomic Blonde” is all about the action and the intrigue. No one can be trusted and everyone is a potential traitor. This keeps the tension going throughout the film. Who is Satchel and will Spyglass and his information make it out of East Berlin? I won’t spoil it by telling you the answer but I will tell you finding out is a great deal of fun.

“Atomic Blonde” is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout and some sexuality/nudity. There are numerous bloody fights and shootings. Theron and Boutella have a sex scene where breasts and bottoms are shown. We also see Theron getting out of an ice cube bath and see her mostly naked. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

As usual with a female-led action movie much is being made of having a woman performing stunts and engaging in brutal violence in a film. Any time a woman stars in a film genre that is usually the domain of men it generates articles and blogs about how this is a great step forward for women or cautionary stories wondering if it will make enough money to justify more action movies with female leads. The discussion is silly since the sex of the top-billed star is irrelevant: Is the movie any good? Does it deliver a good mix of action and story? Does it make sense? In the case of “Atomic Blonde” the answer to all three is “yes.” All the bloggers should look for more important stories to worry about.

“Atomic Blonde” gets five stars.

This week there’s a Stephen King adaptation and another female-led action thriller arriving at your local multiplex. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Dark Tower—

Kidnap—

Listen to my new podcast The Fractured Frame available at wimz.com/podcasts, on iTunes and the Google Play Store.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

 

Review of “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Most of Australia is a desert that is roamed by gangs looking to steal from others or make them slaves. In this harsh world is Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a former cop who is dealing with the deaths of his wife and daughter at the hands of the aforementioned gangs. Max hallucinates seeing and hearing his wife and daughter. Max is captured by War Boys who are the soldiers of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Joe controls both the water and food for his followers, making him their king whether they like it or not as both are in short supply. Also a valuable commodity is gasoline used to fuel the various gangs modified cars and trucks used as war machines. Going out on a run to collect gas from a nearby refinery is Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who was kidnapped from her clan when she was a child. Max is discovered to be a universal blood donor and is used as a living blood bag for one of the War Boys named Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Nux is a dedicated soldier of Joe’s and is willing to die for him to receive salvation in the next life in Valhalla. Furiosa has helped Joe’s five breeding wives escape his compound and deviates from her route trying to take them to her old home territory called the Green Place. Joe’s people are watching and see her change course. Joe checks and finds his wives are gone and gives chase along with several War Boys, including Nux who has Max strapped to the front of his car giving him a constant transfusion. The wives all begged Furiosa for her help and she believes this is the best chance she has to escape Joe’s domination and return home.

There’s very little story or dialog in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Most of the film’s two hour running time is filled with a massive car chase through the desert that is punctuated with incredible stunts, huge explosions and the occasional brief bit of discussion between the characters. Most other films that follow this formula would receive a fair amount of criticism but director and co-writer George Miller has delivered an action picture that succeeds despite what for many other movies would be shortcomings.

For his first trip back to the dystopian world he last visited 30 years ago, Miller has populated “Mad Max: Fury Road” with his most twisted and distorted group of characters yet. Most are freaks in some very obvious way. The War Boys have very pale white skin with many scarred with massive images on their chests and backs. Nux seems to be suffering with an ailment that causes large tumors just under the skin. He mentions that either the tumors or the night fever will probably kill him. Immortan Joe is covered with open boils and wears a breathing apparatus. Other secondary characters have ailments ranging from facial deformities to massively swollen legs and feet. The only people who look fairly normal are Max, Furiosa and Joe’s wives. Furiosa has an artificial arm that straps on with leather belts. My guess would be she ran afoul of Joe in some way and the loss of her arm below the elbow was her punishment. Joe obviously selected the five young women with which to breed due to their apparent lack of physical deformities. He also protects his property, as he calls them, by equipping each one with a chastity belt. Joe is willing to risk everything to get his wives back, even leaving his compound largely undefended to chase after them.

Joe’s dominance over his people is a bit puzzling. He requires a great deal of physical assistance from his inner circle as well as equipment to help him breathe. It doesn’t seem like it would take much to overthrow his regime by someone with a little courage. All the various gangs appear to be led by people who could be easily deposed. While these characters are certainly colorful, the world they populate seems to be geared toward those who are physically able to take and hold power. None of the primary gang leaders appear to be up to that. Something else that strikes me as odd is the availability of gasoline. If the world economy has completely collapsed it would seem that industry would be the most vulnerable. It isn’t easy to find and pump crude oil and it takes a fair amount of technology to refine it into gas and diesel. All this takes infrastructure, manufacturing, skilled labor, transportation and more. The world of “Mad Max: Fury Road” appears to be lacking most of the things needed to keep an industry producing yet there are dozens of gas guzzling vehicles running at full throttle over vast stretches of barren desert. I’m probably trying too hard to apply logic to a movie but these things stuck out to me.

My issues aside, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a visually spectacular film that should sate the appetite of action fans. The number of vehicles that must have been destroyed is likely enormous. Modified cars and trucks are flipped end over end and rolled numerous times right after they’ve been hit with an explosion. The stunt coordinator and stunt performers should all receive any and every award there is as bodies are sent flying in these crashes. Riders are shot off of motorcycles while flying 20 feet or more in the air. Gang members are swaying back and forth from tall polls and are dropping into moving vehicles during a lengthy fight scene near the end of the film. Many of the stunts were performed live with a minimum of computer effects making this one of the more dangerous shoots for stunt performers. This is action filmmaking the old fashioned way where there’s a chance people could die. No one did but that’s beside the point.

Aside from the stunts, the vehicles of “Mad Max: Fury Road” will catch your eye. Volkswagen Bugs covered in spikes, sawblades mounted on swing arms, trucks outfitted with dozens of speakers and a guy playing a flame-throwing guitar, a car running on tank treads, it all is on display and much more. If there is a backyard mechanic with ambition watching this film, it will likely make him or her start looking for a beater that can be modified into one of these automotive visions from Hell.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images. There are of course numerous car crashes and more than a few people being run over by vehicles. We see several people shot by various weapons. There is also a scene of a baby being cut from the womb of a woman who has died. The baby is also dead. It isn’t gory but it may be disturbing to some.

Tom Hardy isn’t given much to do in “Mad Max: Fury Road” other than to look angry or concerned. It sounds like most if not all of his dialog was overdubbed adding more bass to his brief speaking parts and grunts. It’s a bit of a reminder back to the original “Mad Max” when Mel Gibson’s and most of the other actor’s dialog was replaced with American actors covering up the Australian accents. In that instance, it was done since no one in the film was a well-known star and the script contained Australian slang terms. This time, the slang has been left intact but Max’s voice has still been overdubbed but by the same actor as playing the role. I suppose this was done to set the character apart and make him seem somehow special and almost supernatural. To me, it just stuck out as odd. Of course, this movie is populated by the odd who in the world they inhabit are the normal ones. That probably makes the action of the film just another day in the Australian outback even if it isn’t your usual fare in American movie theatres.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” gets five stars out of five.

The summer movie season rolls on with two highly anticipated new films: One is a remake of a classic 1980’s film while the other is a project that was kept tightly under wraps until recently. I’ll see at least one of them and let you know what I think.

Poltergeist—

Tomorrowland—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.