Long Shot (2019)

Director: Jonathan Levine

Cast: Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, June Diane Raphael, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgard

Screenplay: Dan Sterling, Liz Hannah

125 mins. Rated R for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use.

 

Long Shot kind of came out of nowhere. I don’t think anyone expected to be such a crowd-pleaser but reviews have been pretty solid for the film. I finally got a chance to catch it in the theater, and while I don’t it is ground-breaking comedy, it was still quite a chuckler.

Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron, Monster, Atomic Blonde) is planning on running for President when currently-seated President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk, Incredibles 2, TV’s Better Call Saul) decides not to attempt a second-term run. Charlotte’s biggest opportunity heading into the race is that she is considered cold and the public doesn’t connect with her, so when she comes across someone she knew from her youth, recently-out-of-a-job journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth, Rogen, This is the End, Like Father), she takes him on as her speech-writer to help connect her to voters. Then, as they work more and more closely together, they find that they each bring out the best of each other, but is Flarsky a liability for Charlotte’s White House run?

The term I would use to describe the central relationship of Long Shot is cute. I genuinely believed the chemistry between Theron and Rogen, and their scenes together were cute. I think director Jonathan Levine (50/50, Snatched) mined the relationship and the screenplay from Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah for some pretty solid comedy gold. This is a surprisingly good role for Charlize Theron, considering we haven’t seen much from her in a romantic comedy aspect. Yes, there have been films like Young Adult and Tully, but those roles have been much more tied into her dramatic performance than the guffaw-style laughs she goes for here.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a level of drama to Long Shot, but it is clear that the film is not taking itself as seriously as the films I have previously mentioned. It’s taking shots at our current political climate, lampooning and laughing at the current administration with its President Chambers, and Alexander Skarsgard (The Aftermath, TV’s True Blood) is rather silly and playful as the Prime Minister of Canada. Not everything works in the film, and some of the comedy dries up near the end as the film somewhat struggles to find its ending, but the last ten minutes were a fantastic finale that plays into its romantic comedy elements while also remaining somewhat unexpected.

The film also features a scene-stealing performance from the enigmatic and often-unrecognizable Andy Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin) as Peter Wembley, a media mogul who bought the paper that Fred previously worked for and also wants Charlotte on his team, politically-speaking. He doesn’t have a lot of scenes but every time he popped up, I lost it laughing. His performance is the best of the film, and some of the things he does are slimy as can be.

Long Shot limps a bit in its second act. It struggles to find its footing in order to get to a reasonably-satisfying conclusion, but thankfully it finds a great ending to land on, saving a fun romantic comedy that strives to be about more than just romance and comedy. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how successful it is in that respect, but I found it quite funny. I would temper your expectations for all the people saying it’s the best romantic comedy in years, but it works quite well all the same.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Escape Room (2019)

Director: Adam Robitel

Cast: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Nik Dodani

Screenplay: Bragi F. Schut, Maria Melnik

99 mins. Rated PG-13 for terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material and language.

 

An Escape Room that tries to actually kill you is quite the high concept for a horror movie. How is plays out onscreen is another thing altogether.

Zoey (Taylor Russell, Before I Fall, TV’s Lost in Space) needs to put herself out there more. She is closed off, nervous, and lacks confidence. So when her professor challenges her to do something outside her comfort zone over the school break and a mysterious invite shows up to her dorm for an escape room, she takes the opportunity, but she and the other members of the escape room quickly learn that this is not a normal game, and they are in true danger. The group must work together to pass all the tests of the escape room and hopefully escape…with their lives.

Escape Room was so much more fun than I expected it to be. I felt like the film would be missing a certain amount of style just from what I’ve seen in other films with a similar concept. That being said, each room has a style and theme to it and most of them are really fun to participate in. I was not in a crowded theater but I found myself joining in with the other people in the theater to guess how to solve each puzzle. It was a great experience.

The story’s biggest faults are in the structure. The first scene of the film, set in the escape room, uses misdirection quite poorly. Then, it flashes back to earlier events and the story goes fine from there for the most part. The finale, though, gets very clunky. Getting to see more about the makers of the escape room didn’t really work, and then the film goes on too long trying to build a mythology. The last scene just flat-out didn’t work.

The characters are fun to connect to, even though many of them are archetypes of characters we would see in a horror film. They are enjoyable to watch as people get picked off but they aren’t extremely well-put together for the film. Zoey is the girl that is super-shy. Ben (Logan Miller, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Love, Simon) is the weird awkward guy. Jason (Jay Ellis, A Boy. A Girl. A Dream., TV’s Insecure) is the rich douchebag who is just out for himself. Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll, Silver Lake, TV’s True Blood) is the pretty and tough ex-military woman. Everyone has their archetype, the most interesting being Danny (Nik Dodani, Alex Strangelove, TV’s Atypical), a guy who has been in escape rooms before and is kind of the expert, but even he is the nerd of the group.

Escape Room is a flawed but extremely enjoyable time at the movies. I’m happy to hear that a sequel is on the way because I believe this has the makings of a franchise. They need to fix the mythology or throw it out altogether and just focus on the rooms and character development. This is a popcorn thrill ride at the core and so much fun.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Adam Robitel’s Insidious: The Last Key, click here.

The Giver (2014)

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Director: Phillip Noyce

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Cameron Monaghan, Odeya Rush, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift

Screenplay: Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide

97 mins. Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence.

 

The hotly anticipated adaptation of the dystopian novel The Giver has arrived and initial response has not been great. What did I think? Well, wouldn’t you like to know?

The Giver is the story of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, Oculus, Maleficent), who lives in a normalized version of reality set some time in the future. His world is one of plainness, of emotionless life filled with routine followed by more routine. It exists without color and without free thought. Life is good. Jonas is about to go through a life-changing ceremony along with friends Asher (Cameron Monaghan, TV’s Shameless, Click) and Fiona (Odeya Rush, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, We Are What We Are). This ceremony grants each of them jobs in their society, and Jonas has just been granted the most important role of all as Receiver of Memory, a role of passing down information from a man known only as The Giver (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski, R.I.P.D.), who has some very valuable information for Jonas.

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The Giver isn’t a bad movie as much as it is a rough one. I get the sense that this movie wasn’t fully completed. I also feel as though the book, through fantastic, was not made to be adapted. There is just too much that feels like it would work until you actually see it.

Jeff Bridges is wonderful in the titular role, and he should be, as he has been trying to get the film out of development hell for almost two decades. He even previously filmed a version using family members in the roles to prove that the film was doable.

We also get some great, though very underutilized work from Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada, Into the Woods) as the Chief Elder, a woman who has her own secrets and doesn’t really trust that Jonas will stick to the guidelines of his role, just like ten years previously when a young girl named Rosemary (Taylor Swift, Valentine’s Day, The Lorax) failed as the Receiver of Memory.

Brenton Thwaites is passable, though very underwhelming at times. The saving grace is Odeya Rush as Fiona, a girl who helps inspire emotion with ease.

As for the parental units, Father (Alexander Skarsgard, TV’s True Blood, The East) is pretty good while Mother (Katie Holmes, Batman Begins, Jack and Jill) poses too many questions, the most important being, “How does Katie Holmes keep getting work?” Seriously, I haven’t seen a passable performance since…wait, give me a minute.

As for Taylor Swift, come on. Not good. Not horrible, but definitely not good.

This adaptation was trouble from the start. The entire civilization is without emotion so much so that watching it would be kind of boring. Then again, add any noticeable emotion and people will claim that it breaks its own rules.

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I personally enjoyed myself over all, but the film is not without its problems. That much I can promise you. I just keep thinking. It could have been so much more.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

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Director: Brett Ratner

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellan, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Patrick Stewart

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn

104 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language.

 

After X2: X-Men United, the superhero series was invigorated and raring to go again. Bryan Singer left to direct Superman Returns, so Brett Ratner took over the chair and creative control of the franchise. This has often been seen as a bad idea. Brett Ratner, not to be blunt, is terrible.

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It’s the story of the mutants dealing with the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, GoldenEye, Taken 3) in the previous film. Logan (Hugh Jackman, The Prestige, Prisoners) appears on the surface to have gotten over her death and has taken on a more important role within the school alongside Ororo Munroe (Halle Berry, TV’s Extant, Cloud Atlas). Meanwhile, Eric Lensherr (Ian McKellan, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Golden Compass) has been recruiting new mutants to join The Brotherhood in the fight against the government, which has created a new treatment or “cure” for mutants. Rogue (Anna Paquin, TV’s True Blood, The Piano) is interested in the cure, but her boyfriend Bobby (Shawn Ashmore, TV’s The Following, Frozen).

There a lot of moving plot points in this movie, but the script is far too weak to fully explore them all. There are multiple times when dialogue is unreal, too much exposition is given (or sometimes, not enough), and characters are doing things that betray their character traits.

The actors are trying to perform to a weak script, and most of them do as well as they can, but Brett Ratner focuses too much on trying to be a spectacle, often sacrificing character moments under piles of action. Now, the action is good, and leads to a solid climax which is handled nicely, but we have a conflict of style. On one hand, we have the previous film, which establishes a seriousness and a stake in what happens. On the other hand, we have a goofy style which pushes against and a more-comic-booky look to the film, something that was handled much better in the prequel X-Men: First Class.

While the climax is handled nicely, Ratner chooses to play down the denouement, which, considering this was supposed to be a closing of the trilogy, is what really kills this movie. We have so many plot threads untreated and ultimately unthreaded that it set the series up for several films of trying to fix the damage, before finally X-Men: Days of Future Past was able to do.

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This isn’t the worst X-Men movie of all time. That honor is currently held by X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but that doesn’t mean that this wasn’t an epic letdown from X2, and served to topple the franchise for a couple years.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of X-Men, click here.

For my review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

X-Men (2000)

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Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn, Ray Park, Anna Paquin

Screenplay: David Hayter

104 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.

 

This is where it all begins. Remember when you saw Spider-Man or Batman Begins or even Iron Man. The Modern Superhero Revolution. It all started 14 years ago when Bryan Singer brought together a star-studded cast and a great script from David Hayter.

X-Men follows Logan (Wolverine) and Marie (Rogue), two lost souls in the near-future, as they team up with Professor X and his heroic team of mutants to stop Magneto from turning human beings into mutants like him. It is a more complex story than I originally expected, with a nice amount of twists and turns.

This cast is one of the main reasons that this film not only succeeded, but also developed the superhero genre into more than cheese. We have Hugh Jackman in his first portrayal as Wolverine, a character who be a staple on the franchise and appear in every installment. Logan is a complex character, and Jackman gets to flex those claws a lot more in later installments, but this is a nice introduction to the character. We get to see the softness in his relationship with Rogue (Anna Paquin, TV’s True Blood, The Piano). We also get a nice strong turn from Halle Berry (Cloud Atlas, The Call), still somewhat early in her career (we are talking pre-Bond girl Berry here), as Storm.

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Nice work should go to Famke Janssen and James Marsden as Jean Grey and Cyclops, respectively. Their relationship in this film offers some conflict to be mined, and Marsden is portraying Cyclops for crying out loud, not an easy sell, as the character could have just come off as silly.

All these able performances are under the powerhouse work of Bromance buddies Patrick Stewart (TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ice Age: Continental Drift) and Ian McKellan (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Stardust). These two classically-trained actors bring such depth to the characters of Professor X and Magneto. They carry the film and up the ante for future comic book adaptations.

The soundtrack in this film is absolutely iconic now. I find myself humming it and getting pumped up at the same time, very nice work.

The special effects do seem a bit dated, but there isn’t much to be done about that.

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This is a great start to a franchise and every single superhero movie since owes something to Bryan Singer’s incredible saga. You really feel like you know the characters from this original outing alone. Easily one of the most impressive superhero blockbusters of recent memory.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of The Wolverine, click here.

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