Romance

Long Shot

First Hit: Although there some hilarious bits, I didn’t buy the premise of these two being their characters.

The storyline is for the audience to believe that Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is the current Secretary of State for President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk). The President is more interested in a movie career than being President, and so his staff is really running the country. Although the film makes attempts, Fields character as Secretary, isn’t quite established well enough for me. Something was slightly missing.

On the other side of the story, we have Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) who is supposed to be an independent journalist writing for an online publication. He only cares about what he perceives to be the truth and because he writes well and is willing to put himself in awkward positions, there is a self-righteousness to his character that comes across as a bit snarky.

To set up Flarsky as indeed someone willing to do anything to get the story, we find him in the process of becoming a member of a white supremacist group. In the induction meeting, he’s supposed to pledge hatred for Jews (although he’s sitting there - obviously a Jew) and gets goaded into getting a swastika tattoo. While getting the tattoo, one of the members finds out he’s really a journalist and is impersonating wanting to become part of the group. He escapes. This set-up is filled with both funny and vile setups and statements of hatred.

Fields is beautiful, smart, and powerful while Flarsky is schlubby, somewhat full of himself – regarding the truth as he sees it, and ill-mannered. Because of his self-aggrandizing ways, he quits his job when a tasteless publication company buys out the publication he works.

In his sadness and anger, he contacts Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) his longtime best friend who consoles him by inviting him to an upscale gathering after taking him to a few bars to imbibe him.

There Flarsky sees Field who he recognized as his old baby sitter when he was 12 years old. They liked each other then, but the storyline has him recall getting an erection when they kissed. The film spends a bit too much time talking about this and in the end, I’m sure it wasn’t needed for the overall story.

Fields hires him as a speechwriter (first to punch up her humor quotient) and as they work together, he becomes more of her full-time writer. As they work together, they grow to know each other, just as they did as children.

The other side of the slightly overdone plot was the President who spends his time running lines in his office and watching his past performances as a President on a television program. The flippant way in which the President, Secretary of State and the people who work for them acted became something that, in the end, didn’t work for me.

Many of the political aspects and situations portrayed in this movie were pointedly reflective of today’s political environment and current office holders. The story also points out how exploitive publishers act.

Some of the amusing bits include when Fields team discusses her strengths and weaknesses. Also what happens to the tattoo Flarsky got at the suprematist meeting. Another hilarious scene was when the Prime Minister of Canada James Steward (Alexander Skarsgard) shares with Fields how he’s had to learn how to laugh.

As everyone in the audience knows that having Flarsky and Fields falling in love is a Long Shot, the story does end up in its prescribed ending.

Theron is solid as a comedic actress in this role and is absolutely stunning on the screen. Rogen is Rogen. He’s the same character in every film, and my general dislike of his character or personality continues here. June Diane Raphael (as Fields assistant Maggie) is strong. I liked how she pushed her agenda on to Fields. Ravi Patel (as Tom, another Fields assistant) is good. His subservient nature to Maggie was funny. Skarsgard was really funny, especially when he’s showing Fields how he learned how to laugh properly. Jackson Jr. was solid as Flarsky’s black conservative motivational friend. Odenkirk was silly and hilarious as a President who wanted to be a film star. Tristan D. Lalla as Agent M, Fields bodyguard, was outstanding. His sly looks while doing his job were precious. Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah wrote this screenplay. It pushed the edge of being overtly gross more than it needed to be. Jonathan Levine directed the film. I thought many of the scenes were clever, but then when they are pushed towards being overtly overdone, it made me wonder.

Overall: The amusing bits outweighed the overtly unpolished parts.

After

First Hit: Good girl and bad boy, a predictable sappy story of young romance.

This film is made for young teen girls as witnessed by the number that showed up for the early Friday afternoon showing I attended. Cell phones screens lit the anticipatory faces of these young audience members and unfortunately, they kept looking at them during the film.

The Story: Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) is headed to college. Her mother Carol (Selma Blair) has worked hard to create this opportunity for her daughter. Tessa is smart, pretty, and wholesome. Her boyfriend Noah (Dylan Arnold) is a senior in high school and a year behind her in school. He’s wholesome and is liked by Carol.

Arriving at her dorm room, both Carol and Noah are taken aback by Tessa’s roommate Tristan (Pia Mia). She’s hanging out with another fellow girl on the bed, and she’s pulling on an electronic cigarette while dressed in a very skimpy outfit.

Carol immediately wants to go to the housing authority to find her daughter another room. Pulling her mother off the ledge of embarrassing her, Tessa tells her mom, “let me figure this out on my own.”

Getting to know Tristan loosens Tessa up a little and when she goes to a party Tristan knows about; she’s out of her element. At the party she meets the bad boy, Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). During a truth or dare, Tessa is asked to kiss Hardin, she is lulled into getting close, but pulls away at the last second. Walking through the party’s house, she stumbles into Hardin’s room and sees all the books on his shelves. He comes in, she’s interested to follow through with the kiss, but she also wants to honor her relationship with Noah and pulls away again.

The stage is set because they both have had absentee fathers. We learn more about why Hardin has such a sad view of love and relationships through his upbringing which is demonstrated through a classroom discussion. We also see Tessa’s cautiousness towards intimacy because her father walked out when she was very young.

The story goes back and forth with Tessa and Hardin getting together and then splitting up. She’s naïve to some of the life that Hardin has lived. There are moments of wonderful tenderness between the two and then there are moments of coldness by them.

The pacing of this story is slow, and it isn’t difficult to know where the movie is going and why. I’m not sure how well it held the audience it was meant for, because a whole row of young girls got up and left two thirds into the film. Additionally, two others in the row in front of me left in the last fifteen minutes.

Langford was okay in this role. There was nothing outstanding about her performance and it was believable. It was good to see Blair again, it has been some time since she’s been in a film role and she was good. Tiffin was mediocre as the bad boy. It was predictable and there was nothing that really made his performance stand out. I didn’t think there was much chemistry between him and Langford. Arnold was good as the, wise beyond his years, high school boyfriend. Mia was strong as the slightly edgy fun lesbian roommate. Jennifer Beals and Peter Gallagher were good as Hardin’s new mother-in-law and father. It was a pleasant surprise to see Beals again. Susan McMartin wrote a slow-moving predictable story. Jenny Gage directed in a way that ended up feeling compromised and mediocre.

Overall: I patiently waited for this film to end and left knowing it wasn’t worth the cost of making it.

The Aftermath

First Hit: It took a while to develop, but Keira Knightley (as Rachael Morgan) made it work.

Keira Knightley has developed into a wonderful actress, and her look and presence are uniquely suited to period pieces.

The beginning shows Rachael on a train arriving in Hamburg, Germany. It’s a few short months after WWII has ended. She’s coming from England because her husband Captain Lewis Morgan is in charge of rounding up the remaining Hitler supporters, keeping peace in Hamburg, and trying to make things better for the ruined city.

This is a difficult position for him to be in and we see it in his face and demeanor. One thinks that having his wife join him that it will be better. But when he meets Rachael at the train station, there is a distance between them because they barely hug, and she turns her head away when he awkwardly attempts to kiss her. Something has happened between them, and this part of the story takes a long time to unfold.

Because of the distance between them, Lewis can’t share the difficulty he has with his job. He’s not only battling something that’s gone wrong with Rachael, but he is also facing own past actions in the war, and now he’s managing the aftermath of the war and its ugliness.

The Germans are giving up their surviving homes to the British who are managing this reconstruction. Because Lewis is the highest ranking, he gets the best home. They move into a large luxury home belonging to Stephen Lubert and his daughter Freda (Alexander Skarsgard and Flora Thiemann respectively).

Stephen’s wife died in a firestorm bombing by the Allied forces, and because of this, Freda acts out and is very resentful that the British are living in their home. Stephen and Freda are supposed to move to a camp, but Lewis’ kind heart convinces Rachael that he wants to offer the Luberts a place to stay.

The angst of Rachael and Lewis unfolds as the audience slowly learns that they had a son who died years earlier during a bombing run by the Germans over London.

Feeling very separate from her husband, Rachael’s inner passion is sparked to life by Stephen’s advances.

In another part of the story we see Freda and Rachael have a beautiful moment together at the piano but Freda’s resentment at the loss of her mother, home, and feeling distance from her father, she gets involved with Nazi sympathizers who want information to harm Lewis.

In addition to this, the inner conflict of Lewis is continually brought to a head by one of his fellow officers Burnham (Martin Compston) who is hell-bent on continuing to make the Germans suffer. Lewis is more reflective, seeing the pain of both sides, while Burnham wants the Allied victory to be oppressive and pronounced.

As Rachael and Stephen’s relationship grows, the distance between Rachael and Lewis becomes more pronounced, until the deep hurt and resentment come to the foreground. Will the attempt to heal their struggle be too little too late or can they reconcile.

That’s the point of the film. As I indicated it took a meandering path, and the story wasn’t really engaging, but because the camera stays on Knightley (as Rachael) it holds together because she made it work.

Knightley was excellent. She’s full of passion and approaches it angularly. I like how Kiera can project sexuality while also being proper. She’s very skilled. Clarke is keen as the embattled Army Captain who is battling both inner and outer battles. He’s effective at creating that hidden volcano look. Skarsgard was terrific as the lonely man attempting to deal with the ravages of war including the loss of his wife and the distance between him and his daughter. Thiemann was terrific as the young girl, lost. With no mother, distant father, finding some solace with a Nazi sympathizer teaches her what really is essential. Compston was good as the soldier wanting to assert his power over the Germans. Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse wrote the screenplay. It languished from time to time, but it did pay off in the end. James Kent adequately directed this film, but it was Knightley that made it really work.

Overall: It wasn’t a great film, and it did have something to say about sharing your pain with your partner.

Gloria Bell

First Hit: I thought the concept was interesting, but it fell a little flat on the screen.

This story is about a middle age woman who has two grown kids, has been divorced for 12 years, and her flirtation with another romance.

Gloria (Julianne Moore) works for an insurance firm as an adjuster. Her favorite pastime is dancing at a local club. The club she goes to is filled with people her age (40 – 60) who are also looking for a good time and possibly a hook-up. Gloria drinks and dances her evenings away. She meets nice gentlemen, but there isn’t any spark and it doesn’t seem to matter.

I never got the feeling that she wanted to get involved in a relationship, and to fill the spaces of time in her life she tries to get more involved in her grown children’s lives. They are slightly open to her intrusions.

Anne (Caren Pistorius), her daughter is a yoga teacher who is engaged to a big wave surfer. She loves her mom, but she’s a young woman who wants to create distance from her mom, despite loving her, to dive into her own life. Her son Jeremy (Michael Cera), is raising his daughter alone as his wife is off “finding herself.” Gloria tries to be helpful and Jeremy tells her to back off because he wants to show her that he’s got everything covered, his way.

One night, while dancing, Gloria meets Arnold (John Turturro). He’s recently divorced and wants to be in a relationship. In fact, his hunger for a relationship is almost too telegraphed.

Gloria and Arnold hit it off. However, the sticking point is that his daughters and his ex-wife keep calling him because they are dependent on him for everything. Although his daughters are grown, he’s expected to pay for everything and solve every problem. The phone ringing in each scene with him is a moment in abject disgust and suffering for him, Gloria and the audience.

Despite their powerful physical intimacy, the calls, his insecurity around her family, and his dependence on being a savior for his girls, give this film it’s saddest and troubling moments.

My favorite scene in the film is when Gloria shoots paintballs at Arnold and his house. A very freeing moment for Gloria.

Moore is very good at portraying what she wants, her vulnerabilities, and what makes her happy. One of those things that makes her happy is singing in the car with complete abandon. These moments are priceless if you are a car singer. Pistorius is very good as the daughter that wants to follow her own dream and not have to live up to mom’s expectations. Cera, likewise, is strong in his portrayal of living up to the father he wants to be and do it his way. Turturro is excellent as the guilt and caretaker man who is caught between his love for Gloria and providing for his family’s needs. Brad Garrett is good as Gloria’s ex-husband. Alison Johnson Boher and Sebastian Lelio wrote a tepid screenplay that had more possibilities. However, it is a difficult subject to film. Lelio directed this film and many of the scenes were captured nicely.

Overall: Although at times tedious there are moments of laughter.

Alita: Battle Angel

First Hit: The integration of human CG characters and humans in film reached a new level here.

In the past, computer graphic (CG) characters have not, visually or emotionally, felt human enough to engage the emotional or deep feeling part of the audience. Despite the action-oriented basis of this film and the main character, Alita: Battle Angel effectively makes this leap and crosses this border.

We begin with Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) is wandering through a massive pile of debris which is being created by Zalem, a tethered city floating about a mile above the earth’s surface. The waste pile is the discard of Zalem.

Ido finds and picks up the remnants of an android that has a human face, but without a body and an engaged brain that appears undamaged. Taking it home, he attaches a body that he’d built for his now deceased daughter and names the girl Alita, after his dead daughter.

He and his ex-wife Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) had a daughter whom they called Alita. She didn’t have use of her body, and Dr. Ido was building a mechanical body to attach to her head so that she would survive. The daughter died too before he could finish. Bitterness between Ido and Chiren developed, and Chiren joined Vector (Mahershala Ali) to control the earth’s inhabitants. Vector gets his direction and commands from Nova (Edward Norton) who is the supreme being on Zalem.

The new Alita has no previous memories of where she came from and who she is so when she tries an orange for the first time, is blown away by the flavor. Although later she tries chocolate and thinks this taste is far better than the orange.

Alita soon learns she has skills as a fighter and after meeting Hugo (Keean Johnson) begins to show signs of being able to have and show deep feelings. Hugo wants to go up to Zalem that is dumping the garbage on earth because he thinks his life will be better there. Alita is not so sure that this is a good thing as she begins to understand that Zalem is where she came from, she was a weapon.

Where the film excels is watching Alita grow into her emotions and having some emotional intelligence as a young teenage looking girl is impressive. Showing her love for Hugo and her father is so well done that often I didn’t think of Alita as a robot but as an odd looking human with amazingly expressive eyes and facial features even though she had a body made of Nanotechnology components.

The script also gives Alita plenty of opportunities to show her fighting skills. She becomes a Hunter-Warrior. Hunter-Warriors kill enemies of the people and are paid by representatives of Zalem. All the other Hunter-Warriors think Alita is incapable of fighting until they challenge her. Throughout the film, she proves them wrong about her abilities. Through these battles, Alita proves she’s the best warrior on the planet when she wins the famous Motorball game in which the winner gets a free pass to Zalem. The fights are fun to watch, but they are typical CG in that most of the movements are humanly impossible. However, it is her humanness that makes this better than your standard CG fighter film.

Rosa Salazar as Alita was used as the model to develop the facial features and movements for the CG personnel. Waltz is excellent as Dr. Ido, Alita’s creator and father. He does so much with his facial expressions which help us to believe that Alita is real. Connelly is good as Ido’s ex-wife and right-hand person to Vector. Ali was outstanding as Vector the being who controls earth for Nova. Johnson was excellent as Hugo, the young man who has misguided ideas and falls in love with Alita. James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, and Robert Rodriguez wrote the complicated screenplay that also indicates follow-up films will be made. Rodriguez did a great job of using CG technology to bridge the human/machine gap.

Overall: The enjoyment is in the emotional context of the film as the action scenes are typical.