Romantic comedy

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.

Films that rose above the fray in 2018

This was a particularly good year for films. At first I didn’t think so but after I reviewed the films I watched and wrote about this past year, I was pleasantly surprised. I was entertained by outstanding acting, strong and poignant films about racism, and out loud laughs. My next post will be about the Oscar nominations.

Game Night: This film was funny from the get go and I laughed out loud all the way through.

Leaning Into the Wind: Andrew Goldsworthy: If you liked the film River and Tides, you’ll love Leaning....

The Death of Stalin: There are very funny moments, but I couldn’t help but wonder was his regime filled with that much personal corruptness? Probably.

Flower: The acting lifts this bizarre storyline to funny, engaging and entertaining levels.

Red Sparrow: Although long at 2h 19min, it had enough twists, turns, and detail to keep me fully engaged.

You Were Never Really Here: Beautifully shot scenes, dynamic soundtrack, but this oddly paced film tells a story of redemption, salvation or deeper despair.

Beirut: I really liked the way this film was put together and came to fruition.

A Quiet Place: Well done film and the silence of the actors made all the difference in the world.

Deadpool 2: First Hit: This film is fun, irreverent and filled with out-loud laughs.

RBG: Excellent film about a woman who lives within her strength and defined and changed U.S. law.

Disobedience: Extremely well-acted film about how antiquated thinking can split families and a loving relationship.

Hotel Artemis: Who says Hollywood cannot create a unique and well-acted film.

Blindspotting: Extremely powerful and pointed film and raises the bar for Best Picture of the Year. In my view this unnominated film is by far and away the best film of 2018.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot: A unhurried film revealing the power of how forgiveness of others and self, can make one’s life different.

Three Identical Strangers: A truly amazing story about how sciences’ curiosity didn't take into account the effects on human beings.

Sorry to Bother You: What I liked about this film is that it is funny, unique, and unlike any other film I’ve seen.

Leave No Trace: Sublimely acted and evenly paced film about a man and his daughter living in a public forest.

Puzzle: I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant film about a woman finding herself through a passion.

BlacKkKlansman: Fantastic film about race relations in the United States while reminding the audience about how far we have to go.

Eighth Grade: Outstanding acting and script gives us an insightful view of what it is like to be in the Eighth Grade today.

Fahrenheit 11/9: Covers a lot of stuff but I think it was mostly about Presidents and people in power managing and acting poorly.

Pick of the Litter: It was an fantastic and interesting way to learn about how guide dogs are taught to be amazing caretakers for the blind.

First Man: Compelling reenactment of an audaciously brave time in the 1960’s where we were challenged by President Kennedy to go to the moon.

The Hate U Give: A fantastic film about the existence of racism and, as indicated here, in our police departments as well.

Green Book: Excellent acting, engaging story, and both funny and thought-provoking make this film fun to sit through.

Boy Erased: Outstanding cast delivers sublime performances in a powerful story about LGBT conversion programs.

A Private War: Rosamund Pike (as Marie Colvin) gives a deeply complex performance of a war correspondent who brought personal stories of war victims to the forefront.

Bohemian Rhapsody: Accurate or not, this film was fun, well-acted, engaging, and joyful.

Can You Ever Forgive Me: Excellent acting about a caustic, friendless author that finally finds her voice.

Mary Queen of Scots: Saoirse Ronan (Mary Stuart) and Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth 1) give powerful performances in this adaptation of how Mary Queen of Scots tried to claim her title to the throne of England and Scotland.

Vice: I liked this oddly created film about a powerful yet enigmatic man who really ran our country for a period of time.

Ben is Back: Extremely well-acted story based on 24 hours of a mother and her addicted son’s return for the holidays.

Roma: Outside of the beautiful black and white photography and languid movement of the story, I left the theater with little.

The Favourite: A stark, intense musical score underscores the bizarre and tension filled interrelationships between the queen and her court.

Shoplifters: Wonderfully engaging film about a Japanese family who chose each other while fighting to stay nourished and together.

Rich Crazy Asians

First Hit: There are some very funny bits in this revealing film about Crazy Rich Asians.

Having dated a number of Asian women, I’ve experienced some of the familial ties as represented in this film. The closeness, nepotism, and sacrifice in business and family situations is difficult to fully comprehend by an outsider. The cultural differences are part of this film’s attraction. Adding social and financial differences within the Asian community only adds to the insight and delight.

The film sets up the Young family as wealthy and ruthless in the first scene. It opens with a young Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) entering a swanky hotel with her two young children (Nick and Astrid) and her mother. They have reservations for the biggest and best suite in the luxurious hotel. However, because they walked in wet from a pouring rain and the kids had muddy feet, the snooty desk staff felt they weren’t really the type of people they wanted in the hotel. Refusing them their reserved room, and suggesting a room in Chinatown, Eleanor calls her husband who immediately buys the hotel. Walking back into the lobby, the current owner pops out the elevator and tells the staff that the hotel is now owned by the Youngs. The now sufficiently humbled staff get them checked into the hotel immediately.

This is a wonderful setup to show racism, the power of money, and how family ties can make something work.

The film moves forward in time about 25 years and we meet Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a gaming theory economics professor, teaching her class about confidence through a poker demonstration she had in class. Rachel was raised by her single mother Kerri (Kheng Hua Tan) who worked multiple jobs to sacrifice her life for her child’s education and wellbeing.

Rachel’s boyfriend is Nick Young (Henry Golding) who was the young boy in the opening hotel sequence and who went to school with Rachel and hasn’t told her about his family’s wealth which has now blossomed to be the wealthiest family in all of Asia.

Nick wants to bring Rachel home to meet his family while he serves as best man for his best friend’s wedding. The wedding is in his home country of Singapore. What makes this an easy decision for Rachel to join him is that her best friend from college, Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina), lives in Singapore and Rachel will get to visit her.

Getting on the plane, Rachel expects to eat what her mother packed for snacks and sitt in the crowded economy section. However, Nick and her are ushered to a private first class room at the front of the plane and this is when he explains to Rachel his family is wealthy.

The rest of the film shows an overindulgence of rich Asian families. For instance, Peik, who comes from a wealthy family of her own, drives Rachel to the Young family compound in a Audi R8 sports car. Remaining outings in cars feature Bentley and Rolls Royce cars. The parties are over the top extravagant and beyond the means of 99% of the population, including the bachelor party where everyone is flown out to a huge container ship, tricked out as a huge disco, in helicopters. The maid of honor party is the take over of an entire island and it's resort facilities where they shop, get massages, and party.

The heart of the family rejection of Rachel is Nick's mom Eleanor who doesn’t think Rachel is good enough for her boy, although Eleanor’s mother Ah Ma (Lisa Lu) likes her and her “auspicious nose.” Many of Eleanor’s friends participate in the hating of Rachel, and that is only part of the problem. There are many girls in Singapore that want to be hooked up with the very eligible and rich Nick, so most of young girls despise Rachel as well and think she is just a gold digger.

With these plot devices, the story is filled with comic opportunities and the director takes advantage of this. The romantic part of the film is a test of Nick and Rachel’s love for each other along with Rachel’s ability to own her power.

Wu was wonderful as Rachel. She showed the right kind of strength of character to make this role work. Awkwafina was hilarious as Rachel’s best friend. I loved how she kept specific outfits in her car for all occasions. Golding was strong as Nick. He embodied humbleness and his position of wealth is an elegantly. Yeoh was outstanding as Nick’s protective mother. Some of her steely looks were perfect. A priceless scene was when she and Rachel played a round of Mahjong. The intensity and pointed dialogue was executed by both Wu and Yeoh was spot on. Tan was great as Rachel's mom. Lu was wonderful as the matriarch of the family. Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim wrote a poignant and culturally pointed screenplay. Jon M. Chu did a wonderful job of keeping the film both light hearted and well intentioned through all the scenes.

Overall: This somewhat tongue-in-cheek film has some great comedic and heartfelt moments.

The Truth About Lies

First Hit: Enjoyable little indie film about how lying can catch up with you.

The film begins with the main character Gilby Smalls (Fran Kranz) having a really bad day. He gets fired from his job, his apartment burns down and just as he goes over to his girlfriend’s house with boxes full of his remains from the fire, she tells him he cannot stay there. Standing in her living room, she dumps him as she gets ready to go out with a man she’s been seeing on the side. The world crashes around him.

To set up how he lies, we see him in a job interview and his lying is hilarious. Then, going to a friend’s family party he runs into Rachel Stone (Odette Annable) who is his friend’s sister and she's a knockout. His conversation with her is sidesplitting because he lies the whole time. Each time she catches his lie, he segues into another lie. It is even more funny because you know he doesn’t even really believe his own lies but he tries to make the other person believe them.

When Rachel’s husband Eric (Chris Diamantopoulos) has to go on an extended trip, he hires Gilby to run his company because Gilby told him he had previously sold a company that was just like his. This, of course, is a lie.

What drives him in this new endeavor? Partly it is because he’s fallen in love with Rachel and the other part is that he wants to be successful. With nowhere to live, he moves back in with his mother May (Colleen Camp). His mother has never told him who is father was because she slept around a lot and has no idea whose Gilby’s father is. After berating his mom for a name, she finally names a man, James Lance (Arthur J. Nascarella) as his father which is, of course, a lie.

All of these lies, get found out and Gilby, Rachel, May, James, and Eric all finally get the truth. And as we all know the truth does finally set Gilby free.

Kranz is very good in this role. He’s funny, self-effacing, and convincing with the stories he tells. Annable is strong as the woman wanting a different life than the privileged one she has. She has to own her truth as well. Nascarella is very good as Gilby’s potential father. Diamantopoulos is strong as the company owner whose self-importance has him missing the beauty of his wife. Camp is funny and excellent as Gilby’s mother. Phil Allocco wrote and directed a fun and pointed indie film.

Overall: This is a nice little film that is funny and has a story worth telling.

The Five-Year Engagement

First Hit:  There are moments of smart writing and acting intermingled with waiting for the next good scene.

Having just been through an engagement and recently married it was fun to see how this imaginary couple handled their engagement and hopefully marriage.

I loved the scene of how Violet (played by Emily Blunt) and Tom (played by Jason Segel) met at a New Year’s eve party where they were supposed to be dressed as their favorite superhero.

Violet was dressed as Princes Diana while he was dressed in a big pink bunny outfit with a crudely taped “Super Bunny” label across his chest. This sets this couple up as an unconventional couple that will find their own way.

Tom, being dressed as a big bunny gives the impression that he is in-touch with his feelings. He’s a sous chef at a high-end restaurant in San Francisco, while she is in a doctorate course at UC Berkeley. Their engagement dinner was a well-written scene. They are planning to get married but then she gets an invite to work on her doctorate program in Michigan. They put off their marriage for 2 years for her to finish this program, he quits his job and they head to Michigan.

Some of the scenes here are convoluted and I don’t think required (IE: All the hunting scenes and his wearing a very ugly homemade sweater). While her career flourishes his fades into despair. In the end they have to decide what is right for them and their relationship.

This film could have gotten their in a more interesting and crisper way, but it didn’t. However, as indicated in my “First Hit” there are moments of brilliance in the writing and direction.

Blunt is well cast and unfortunately some scenes are not written well enough to have it work. Her smile and laugh are her biggest asset. Segel was good at times but seemed to lack life or interest in the film as well as in the character. Yes this could be exactly what the director wanted but when I have a thought that he really doesn't care about not caring, a red light goes on for me. It was if he was going through the motions). Chris Pratt, as Alex, was strong as his best friend and fellow chef. Alison Brie, as Suzie was very watchable as Violet's sister. Jason Segel wrote an occasionally strong script while also wasting time with other material (IE Sweaters) that didn’t really add to the film. Nicholas Stoller directed the film which was too long for the material they covered.

Overall: Might be worth a Sunday evening kind of film to watch on video.