Alexander Skarsgard

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.

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.

The Hummingbird Project

First Hit: Jessie Eisenberg brings intensity to his roles, and in this film it adds to an already time driven story about speed.

Vincent Zaleski (Eisenberg) is a Wall Street trader. He’s focused on high frequency trading. Response times of the systems he works on is paramount.

He works for Eva Torres (Salma Hayek) who is relentless and ruthless. Her opening scenes makes this point. It is in these scenes, we get to also know Vincent’s brother Anton (Alexander Skarsgard) who is a coding and engineering genius.

Anton and two others work for Eva in the capacity of trying to reduce the response times of getting and sending trading quotes. Each of the three have separate projects including microwave transmissions which seems to have in insurmountable problem.

Vincent and Anton are convinced that if they can run optic fiber cable from the centralized data center in Kansas to their office in New York, then will be able to realize an advantage by getting quotes milliseconds before other traders and thereby getting an advantage. The goal is to get the data 1 millisecond faster than anyone else. That millisecond is equal to one flap of a hummingbird’s wing (hence the title).

The cost of drilling a completely straight hole ten feet underground from Kansas to New York is expensive, but with the right investor, one who sees the advantage, they could make hundreds of millions of dollars each year for a couple of years when their technology advantage would become obsolete.

Convinced of the possibilities, Vincent finds Bryan Taylor (Frank Schorpion) who’s known to make risky investments. After persuading Taylor to finance the project, Vincent and Anton quit working for Eva. In a ranting scene when they tell her, she vows to retaliate.

To help them drill this straight, twelve-hundred-mile tube ten feet underground, they hire Mark Vega (Michael Mando) who is a genius in his own right. His stories about the places he’s drilled are fascinating.

The rest of the film is about the trials and tribulations of this project, Vincent’s discovery that he’s very ill, Anton’s amazing focus, and Anton’s wife’s patience.

The over-the-top scenes of Eva threatening the two men, especially Anton were engaging to watch. When they hire Ophelia Troller (Ayisha Issa) to figure out how to drill through government land in the Appalachian Mountains, it gets even more complex and interesting.

However, one of my favorite scenes is when Anton is drilling a hole in a file cabinet and his amazingly patient wife comes in and tells him to quiet down. I loved this interaction and the whole scene.

Ultimately, there has to be a race, and Eva hires someone who thinks he can figure out the microwave solution that will be faster and less expensive. The race is on.

Eisenberg was intensely perfect for this role. His fast-talking drive and focus fit this role. His action and reaction to hearing about his cancer was thoughtful. Skarsgard was outstanding as Vincent’s savant like programmer engineer brother. I thought he nailed the role. Hayek was sublimely vicious. She was strong in portraying the win at all costs attitude of the leader of a high frequency trading company. Schorpion was strong as the risky investor. Issa was amazing as the woman who could get them through the mountain. Mando was outstanding as the project manager for the whole project. He was extremely effective in making me believe he knew what he was doing. Kim Nguyen wrote and directed this film. I thought the script was strong and the acting excellent. However, somewhere along the way it became a little tedious and maybe that is because of the intense energy brought by the roles and actors was so overbearing.

Overall: This was a good film and might have been more engaging if they’d taken the time to demonstrate more clearly the advantage of a 1 millisecond advantage in high frequency trading.

The Legend of Tarzan

First Hit:  Although entertaining, action packed, and occasionally thoughtful, the mostly poor CGI, scattered continuity, and unrealistic abilities, made watching this version of the mythical hero mediocre.

As John Clayton/Tarzan, Alexander Skarsgard has the perfectly chiseled body. The lack of spoken dialogue added to his being convincing that he was raised by apes, but when he spoke, I questioned this belief.

The CGI apes were well created, but many of the CGI background scenes were obviously manufactured, poorly done. I was impressed at how well Margot Robbie portrayed a very strong Jane Clayton (Tarzan’s wife). Her story was interesting and engaging.

Overall: King Leopold II of Belgium controlled the heart of the Congo, unless he can harvest the resources, he cannot continue to rule the area because it is costing his government money. He wants to harvest a particular area that has diamonds but it is controlled by a native group who will only give up the diamonds by getting a chance to kill Tarzan.

Tarzan is convinced to go back to Africa because whites are enslaving the natives. Convincing him to go to Africa is a US Government agent George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson). The slave issue is real, but being used by Leopold’s agent in Africa Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) to get Tarzan to Africa to be set up to be killed. The scenes in the African village where Jane grew up were emblematic of the best parts of this film.

Skarsgard did a good job of being Tarzan. His perfect body and athleticism was engaging. Robbie was one of the best parts of the film. Her clear firmness of belief, especially in scenes with Waltz was strongly appealing. Jackson’s character provided humor and reason for the story line. Waltz is a great villain and shows why in this role as well.  His intensity through his face and eyes transcend most peoples'. Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer wrote this overly complex screenplay that dragged at times. David Yates directed this and although entertaining will soon be forgotten.

Overall:  Not a film that will go down as very good.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

First Hit:  Great view of the 70’s and how one young girl grows through her budding sexuality.

The late 1960’ through the mid-late 1970’s were ripe with open sexuality and drug use. This film captures the mood and feeling of this era with some spot on dialogue, scenes and cinema-graphic feel.

The story is about a young girl, Minnie (Bel Powley), who wants to be touched, love and be loved. Her father Pascal (Christopher Meloni) is long out of the picture and his former wife Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) lives the life of partying with drugs and drink. Minnie’s younger sister Gretel (Abby Watt) and she lead their own lives although they are just teenagers.

Charlotte's boyfriend, joining her in this chosen lifestyle, is a vitamin pill producer named Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard). When Monroe makes slight advances towards Minnie, she responds with enthusiasm and their affair starts. Minnie likes her budding sexuality and her sex with Monroe becomes her life's focus. Monroe just cannot seem to help himself around Minnie.

She documents this new adventure and change in her life by drawing cartoons in her notebook and recording her thoughts on cassette tapes. When her mom finds out what has happened, the expected blowup transpired and then takes some odd turns. Minnie works through her pain in her own way. What struck me about the film was the way it was shot.

The director and cinematographer, really captured the way films looked back in the 1970’s. The strengths of the performances effectively carried the theme and attitudes of the era.

Powley was fantastic as the girl looking for love and affection. She created a strong feeling of young angst while also displaying the ability to grow into a new level of maturity. Wiig was strong as a mother of the 70’s. She was able to exemplify the sense of the era. I know because I was a young father in the 70’s as well. Skarsgard was very good as the guy who couldn’t help himself around the young sexually charged Minnie. Watt was perfect as the annoying, yet loving, sister. Meloni was effective as the guilt-ridden intellectual absent father. Marielle Heller wrote a strong script displaying a great feel for the era as well as Minnie’s view of the world. In her direction, Heller did a great job of creating a perfect sense and feel of the times.

Overall:  Although a difficult film to watch, the strong story makes up for it.