“Long Shot” full movie review

Old fashioned rom-com meets political satire in this reverse Pretty Women that’s clever, heartwarming–oh yeah–and hilarious! After years of absence, the American romantic comedy has been slowly making a comeback in recent times; take last year’s Crazy Rich Asians for example. Directed by Jonathan Levine and written by Dan Sterling and Elizabeth Hannah, this edgy, smart comedy uses its two charming yet unlikely lovers as a conduit through which the socio-political state of America is explored in unapologetic, candid ways. Starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen, this movie demonstrates that real issues facing us today can be acknowledged but never become the central focus of the movie. It is the superb chemistry and character development of Theron and Rogen that carries this movie. Simple plot, complex characters. Although there are very Rogian moments, Theron and supporting actor O’Shea Jackson Jr, playing Rogen’s best friend, help to balance him out. Thanks to the outstanding comedic writing powered by external and internal conflict, this movie elevates the rom-com to rise above the predictable to deliver an endearing story that is equal parts whimsical and plausible. Theron and Rogen deliver stellar performances that carry the movie from start to finish. And you know what, it looks like they are having a great time!

When Fred Flarsky (Rogen) learns that his independent newspaper has been bought out by a media conglomerate, he quits instead of having his voice silenced or conformed to fit the new business model. By sheer happenstance, Fred runs into his childhood babysitter Charlotte Field (Theron) the current Secretary of State at a party to which his best friend (Jackson Jr.) brought him to cheer him up. When Field decides to prepare for a presidential run, she hires Flarsky to punch up her speeches because she likes his honesty and chutzpah. Little did either know that this business partnership would ignite old flames that would give way to political and relational conflict.

Not to oversimplify, but everything in this movie works. And that is rare for a comedy to work this well for me. If you’re familiar with my writing, you’ll know that I do not watch many romantic comedies, and seldom truly adore one; but, I sincerely enjoyed this movie. Levine demonstrates a commitment to effective directing that builds upon the impeccable casting and solid screenplay. Long Shot is one of those rare comedies that gives us captivating characters from the onset and a plot that, albeit unlikely, could very well exist in real life. Whereas it would have been so easy for the focus of this politically charged fish-out-of-water meets romantic-comedy to be overly concerned with the politics to the point that the characters and plot suffer, the story is consistently character-driven by using the plot to explore socio-political commentary that ultimately fuels the conflict. Topics such as the environment, racism, religion, and feminism are highlighted but never steal the spotlight from the journey of Flarsky and Field. And the screenplay gives us some thought-provoking reversals that go to show that the very group that claims to be the most tolerant of differences might actually be the least tolerant of all. The fact that Field is a woman and must play by different rules than male politicians is acknowledged but doesn’t become the focus either. In short, this movie has a well-defined central character (Charlotte Field) with a clearly defined external goal (to become President), fueled by an internal need (connection, both with herself and a partner) and motivation to achieve the goal (to make a positive difference for the American people). That is why the writing works as well as it does. Everything else is icing on the cake–and it’s delicious icing that is neither too stiff nor too sweet.

Pretty Woman works as well as it does, and has found itself a beloved movie not because of the social commentary but because the audience fell in love with the stars and desired to see them find happiness. The same can be said of Long Shot. I was hesitant going into the screening since I am not usually a fan of Rogen’s comedy; but I was confident that with Theron, an actress I have long since found to be outstanding in talent, beauty, and philanthropy, Rogen’s over-the-top self-deprecating acting would have a equally charismatic actress to balance him out. The relationship between Field and Flarsky is so incredibly genuine. No pretense here. Both of them say precisely what they think, not shying away from feedback or rebuttals that could mean the end of the friendship, partnership, or careers. Combining Field’ workaholic, domineering, savvy Secretary of State turned presidential candidate and Flarsky’s radical, uncouth, abrasive journalist turned speechwriter provides audiences with a refreshing take on a staple genre of motion pictures. They have have different ways of showing it, but both characters are Type As that are stubborn, idealistic, and seek to do the right thing by the American people–Field as a politician and Flarsky as a journalist.

All throughout the movie, conflict arises out of Flarsky’s reactions to Field’s platform and policy changes; furthermore, additional conflict arises out of Field’s reactions to the choices made by Flarsky as they could damage her chances at the presidency. Despite all the conflict, it comes from being committed to a passion, and it’s that unapologetic passion that draws them to on another. That, and the fact they are childhood friends, and are affected by the power of nostalgia. The TV celebrity turned President of the Unites States is definitely built from tropes and characteristics of our current POTUS, but never feels too much or forced. Likewise, the character of the media mogul is clearly derived from Rupert Murdoch. Both these oppositional characters are entertaining without ever going over the top to make a point.

Although it is Rogen who is first billed, and therefore is likely the intended central character (from the perspective of Lionsgate), it is Theron’s Field who is the central character of this story. Just because you are introduced to a character first, doesn’t always mean that they are your central character. In a manner of speaking, Rogen plays the role of Field’s conscience, a sort of moral/ethical compass that doubles as a vessel through which Field rediscovers her ambitious youthful self and all the convictions therein. Rogen is not the only conscience/moral compass in the movie, he too has one in the form of his best friend. The best scenes in the movie are those where heated arguments or passionate disagreements take place. No real surprise there, but these arguments always have something to teach the characters and, by extension, the audience. One of Flarsky’s purposes is to remind Field why she got into politics (even during her time running for student council) at such a young age and that she should never compromise on her convictions–stay true to herself. Furthermore, he is also the vessel through which Field rediscovers and connects with her needs as a human, as a women. A need to reconnect with her playful self that will ultimately unleash who she truly is. Likewise, Flarsky’s successful best friend surprisingly emerges as his conscience. Only instead of providing moral/ethical direction in the world of politics, it is on a more relatable sociological level. Flarsky is confronted on his gross intolerance of all those with whom he disagrees in terms of religion, love and support, and even racism. He buys into the stereotypes just like those he accuses. Great scene!

Thinking of this movie and Pretty Woman, I am left with this one being the superior movie. Not knocking Pretty Woman, I still respect it, but Long Shot takes what Pretty Woman did right, and elevate it to the next level. One of the biggest differences between the two is the style of comedy. Long Shot is definitely a hard R comedy whereas Pretty Woman is more “family friendly.” You can enjoy both equally! A movie about underdogs, this movie may very well be an underdog at the box office in May, but it’s certainly worth the watch if you’re in the mood for an edgy adult comedy.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Tully” film review

A no holds barred, unapologetic story of the realities of motherhood. Focus Features’ Tully starring Charlize Theron is a brilliant film that shies not away from what being a mom is truly about during postpartum depression, a subject seldom touched on in film or TV. Directed and written by Juno’s Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody respectively, this film represents the best work of Reitman and Cody since the groundbreaking Juno which was followed up by the outstanding Young Adult, and showcases just how incredibly diverse an actor Theron is. See her in a role unlike her typical roles as she so incredibly authentically brings to life a middle-class working mother who is faced with many obstacles as she rears her three kids, one of which is a newborn. As a male, I cannot begin to fathom just how difficult it is to be a mother (or by extension, a single father); but after watching this film, I have a whole new respect for the many hats that a mom has to wear in order to manage a household. Some might even say that this film is so incredibly effective at laying out the hardships of being a mom, that it may work better than more conventional birth control. However, the film is not only about the trials of motherhood, but it also spends time on the joys. Tully is what I characterize as a dark comedy that has some truly terrifying moments.

Already the working mother of two kids, one of which displays signs of a developmental disorder, Marlo (Charlize Theron) is not pregnant with baby number three, in what her brother identifies as an “unplanned pregnancy.” Marlo’s wealthy brother desires to help his sister by gifting her a night nanny in order to help Marlo through the rough transition of a newborn in an already chaotic house. Marlo’s husband is hardworking, makes lunches, and assists his oldest daughter with her homework, but fails to understand that Marlo needs to be taken care of as well. In order to not go completely insane during postpartum depression, Marlo reluctantly decides that she could use the night nanny that her brother offered to pay for. Hesitant to the extravagance of having a nanny at first, Marlo forms an unexpected bond with the unconventional, challenging hipster Mary Poppins named Tully.

No pretense about this story of motherhood. Cody’s brilliant penchant for self-deprecation, dry humor, and stark naked emotion is witnessed once again in Tully. I cannot think of a present screenwriter that could have created such a compelling story. Unlike her timeless modern classic Juno, Cody shies away from the comedy you may be accustomed to seeing from her, and focus on the darker side of being a mother. And it works superbly. I laughed, cringed, and cheered during the film, and so did many of the others in the audience. There is an authenticity in this story that is seldom seen in other melodramas. Possessing a raw, gritty narrative, Tully will have you empathizing quickly with the struggles Marlo continues to face throughout the film. There is so much that is praiseworthy in this story; but unfortunately the sharp, precision that supports the first two acts becomes a little dull during the realization (or resolution) on the third act–the same chutzpah that was in the DNA of the majority of the movie is not as apparent at the end. What Tully lacks is a well-defined external goal. The weak end game is uncharacteristic of Cody, as both Juno and Young Adult had solid realizations. As I tell my screenwriting students, dealing with life is not a goal (it’s incidental). Still, everything else about this film is effectively compelling.

Theron displays a genuine, uncompromising commitment to character in this motion picture. Aside from the fact she literally put on 50lbs for the role (that’s right, no fat suit), she provides audiences with a fearless portrayal that is both vulnerable and fiery. Coupled with waves of mania, anger, and complete exhaustion, Theron delivers a razor-sharp performance that will leave you breathless and bleeding from the unbridled intensity and emotional rawness. In this slice of life story, there was certainly the room to demonize Marlo’s husband, the sister-in-law, the former roommate, and school principal, but Cody includes these individuals that many moms actually have in their lives but chooses to focus on the physiological and emotional struggle of Marlo as she recovers from her unplanned pregnancy. Of course, there is a brilliantly funny scene of Marlo confronting the pretentious private school principal. It’s the kind of encounter that many of us want to have with those who refuse to shoot straight and annoyingly avoid confrontation because they are so afraid to be candid, and it just comes off as a facade. Theron’s ability to completely sell a mother on the verge of a breakdown who’s constantly facing situations in which she asks herself how-the-hell-am-I-going-to-get-through-this is unparalleled. I cannot think of another movie that has a character quite like Marlo in Tully.

The film’s title character is a Mary Poppins of sorts that comes to the aid of Marlo when she is at her wits’ end. You may be wondering why the film is named after the night nanny instead of Marlo. For the same reason Mary Poppins is the name of the story that is really about Mr. Banks. Marlo may be the central character, but Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is so incredibly instrumental in supporting Marlo through this time. Furthermore, she opens her mind to new possibilities and the joys of being a mom, even when Marlo isn’t feeling it. Tully embodies that free spirit that many of us have or had in our 20s that somehow gets lost as we get older. Tully enables Marlo to channel her younger self in an effort to be emotionally healthier for her kids. Taking care of yourself first so you can be there for your kids, is one of Tully’s many messages to Marlo. There is a whimsy about Tully that is contagious, and will put smiles on the audience’s faces amidst the majority of the film’s darker moments.

You’ll encounter all the different kinds of people that an emotionally struggling mom has to deal with on a regular basis. From an out-of-touch snobby sister-in-law to a husband who just doesn’t get you, from a pretentious and absurdly conflict aversive school principal to a former roommate, the film provides commentary on how each of these kinds of relationships affect a mom who’s trying her best to keep sane and not murder everyone. The film even touches on how having a kid with a developmental disability is physiologically and psychologically draining, even though you love your kid unconditionally. It’s important to note that Marlo’s husband is shown to be an active participant in his family by way of, not only his financial support, but being there for his kids in the evening and helping to make lunches. However, he does withdraw to playing video games after the kids have gone to bed; but that’s because he is like many fathers that are unaware that their spouses need to be comforted, cared for, and shown appreciation during this rough transitional time. Hopefully, after watching this movie, fathers will have a better idea of what their spouse may be going through. One of the strongest themes one can write into a film is a commentary on what it means to be human–the human condition–but seldom has a film been so specific to comment on what it means to be a mother. In this respect, Tully is provocatively groundbreaking.

Such a perfect film for the upcoming Mothers Day weekend. Even if you are not a mom or (let’s not forget) single father, there is something to learn from this film because you may have a mom or single father in your circle of friends or family. Never before has a film stripped away all the magic of motherhood at the time when your kids are little. No frivolous, ostentatious gender reveal parties, gym moms-to-be, or ridiculously lavish baby showers for this mom. Why? Because those are events and experiences typically found on Pinterest, in the movies, or reserved for upperclass society that is hasn’t a clue what it’s like to be a struggling mother balancing her full-time career and being a full-time mom. Tully tells it like it is for so many, and why it is such an outstanding motion picture.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Kubo and the Two Strings” movie review

kuboAbsolutely beautiful! A dazzling display of the best that cinema can be! Laika and Focus Features’ Kubo and the Two Strings is truly a testament to the art of motion pictures! Brilliantly animated in an eye-catching stylistic way, this film provides audiences with a simple and intimate journey through a dynamically epic world of adventure, laughter, and tears. Directed by Travis Knight, from the opening to the final fade to black, Kubo is arguably the best animated feature length film to hit theaters in a long time. It contains the incredible storytelling that few films, live-action or animated, strive for but often fail to accomplish. Rarely, do audiences witness a perfect film, but this one comes very close to being perfectly written, directed, acted, shot, edited, and produced. With an A-list of vocal talent behind the characters in this immaculately animated world, Kubo will surely impress all those who watch this fantastical story. In some ways, I could argue that this film displays signs of being self-aware. Self-aware in that this simple but effective visual story is all about the very concept of storytelling. Cecil B. DeMille said, “the greatest art is the art of storytelling;” and this film proves that, in a world of high concept blockbusters that are produced to simply generate revenue at the sacrifice of storytelling, there are films with beautiful imagery, writing, and even a great message that hold true to the very idea what launched more than 100 years of cinema.

Following a daring escape from an unknown enemy across a treacherous ocean of tsunami sized waves, a young women survives a nearly fatal crash and washes upon the shore of a beach in the shadow of an imposing mountain with her infant. Many years later, Kubo (Art Parkinson) has grown up to be a young man with a passion for storytelling that he learned from his mother. Never having fully recovered from the accident, so many years ago, Kubo has the responsibility to take care of his mother. Harnessing his talent for magical origami, a stringed instrument, and storytelling, Kubo makes a little money each day for him and his mother. Little did Kubo know that his mother’s warning to not stay outside of their home after dark was for good reason. Soon, Kubo will find himself on an epic journey to unlock a secret legacy that he could have only dreamed of. Along his journey, he meets up with a monkey (Charlize Theron) and a man-beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who protect and teach him along the way. Don’t blink, even for one second, because you may very well miss something of grave importance.

The first thing you will observe in this movie is the exquisite and stylistic combination of two different animation methods. Claymation, which most are familiar with, and the lesser used papermation. Although typically used by themselves to tell an animated story, the brilliant combination of both methods to concurrently tell this epic story will leave a lasting impression upon you. There is a beauty in this film unmatched by any other in recent times. In many ways, the visual appeal of this movie reminds me of the early Walt Disney and Pixar animated films. Audiences can easily witness the absolute passion in every movement, detail, and landscape. I was completely sucked into Kobo’s fantastic world of Japanese influence. In addition to outstanding technical achievements in animation, lighting, and cinematography, Kubo is a film that is equally outstanding in its ability to tell a simple but inspirational story. It is the epitome of an ideal relationship between artists and engineers. This film successfully combines an artisan handcrafted charm with the precision of sophisticated visual storytelling technologies in a dazzling display of cinematic art that will surely be cherished for a lifetime.

Simple. The plot is so simple but yet very much profound. While so many studios are cranking out franchises, adaptations, complex plots, and young adult dramas, the Laika production company chose a different route. It chose a route that proves that the mastery of visual storytelling that showcases the art of cinema is still alive. In a world of the business of moviemaking, Kubo returns us to the art of filmmaking. Not confined to art house theaters in Greenwich Village or West Hollywood, this film is evidence that truly artistic masterpieces are still desired by the American audience. “The art of making art, is putting it together” (Sunday in the Park with George). Knowing that just the leaf ship sequence at the turning point between the first and second acts took 19 months to create, design, and produce, it is clearly apparent that a tremendous amount of time, love, and energy went into every frame of this stunning movie. As someone who has a passion for the very concept of storytelling, this film brought tears to my eyes because of the sheer beauty of the film and the experience of watching it on the big screen. Although it is an endearing film filled with love and adventure, it is also quite scary during some of the intense conflict between Kubo and those who wish to do him harm. From Kobo’s magical origami birds and samurai warrior to the playful banter between Monkey and Beetle, I was awestruck at the brilliance of the film in both writing and visuals.

I highly recommend this film for those who have not seen it yet. I only wish I had made it to the movie before last night. After hearing what others have said and written about this movie, I have come to the same conclusion that many have voiced: this film is exceptional by any known measurable means of evaluating a film. If any animated film this year is destined for an Oscar nomination or win, this one is it.

“Huntsman: Winter’s War” movie review

HuntsmanWintersWar“Let it go” Universal, Disney already has dibs on the Snow Queen. Prepare for the unnecessary prequel/sequel Huntsman: Winter’s War this weekend. It won’t take long for you to realize that you have seen this story before. Albeit, a more family friendly and Disney’d version, but this plot nevertheless. However, after researching the actual Hans Christian Andersen fairly tale The Snow Queen, it is clear that Universal Pictures does a more accurate job of adapting the fairy tale’s words than Frozen did. The problem with this attempt is that it feels like it’s coming around a little too late. With one-dimensional characters and a predictable plot, Huntsman attempts to tell the “real” story of the Snow Queen that appeals to teens and adults, but it looks so incredibly “Frozen” that it leaves you feeling like you’ve done this all before. Although there are increased action and romance scenes in the film, the whole idea of close sisters having a falling out, the one heading to the frozen north, while the other remains in the south with the north creeping on its doorstep, and love melting frozen hearts, is the foundation of the narrative and feels like a bad case of deja vu with little to add.

Travel back to the land of Snow White, and come face to face with a little known story that has yet to be told. Before poison apples and dwarfs, Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and her sister were running the kingdom after the death of the good king (Snow White’s father). Ravenna’s younger sister Freya (Emily Blunt) falls in love with a man promised to another woman but has come to bare his child. After Freya finds her lover having set fire to the nursery and the innocent child, Freya becomes acutely overcome with anger, grief, and hatred and suddenly displays powers of ice and snow. Unable to control her anger and power, Ravenna send her sister to the north to find a kingdom of her own. After having her child murdered, Freya decides to raise a kingdom by making love illegal and taking children from villages and raising them up as warriors known as huntsman. When she finds that two of the huntsman Brighton (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) have committed the unpardonable sin of falling in love, Freya steps in to put a stop to their forbidden love. Banished from the kingdom of the frozen north, Brighton is contacted by Snow White’s kingdom to retrieve the infamous mirror filled with dark magic before it falls into the wrong hands.

Every once in a while, I come across a movie that really doesn’t require a lengthy description of the critical elements of the film; and this is one of those. Just felt very much under-developed and forced. Anyone who has seen Frozenand let’s face it, that’s practically everyone whether they wanted to or not–will instantly pickup on the parallels between both movies. Huntsman: Winter’s War is definitely geared towards an adult audience but it still feels like it stole many elements from Frozen. Even the coloring and costuming are very similar. For those who have examined Frozen from a critical perspective and read up on the development of the blockbuster, you may be familiar with the evolution of the script: it starts out as an adaptation of The Snow Queen but then the writers scrapped that idea for more of a contemporary Disney animated feature story. But then the writers didn’t like that direction either, they essentially took the first half of the first draft of the script and spliced it together with the second half of the second draft, added in some catchy music and boom! You have FrozenHuntsman is similar to what you would have got in Frozen had the first draft been the produced movie.

On the plus side, this film contains some beautiful imagery and simple but stunning visual effects. The goblins are extremely well done–too bad you get so little time with them in a scene that is completely removable from the rest of the film. That scene and others were clearly under-budgeted and under-developed. Despite the fact that you can watch this movie in D-Box and IMAX, there is really no reason to spend the extra money. Watching it in a standard auditorium will suffice perfectly. If you want to get a better idea of the darkness of the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale before Elsa and Anna, then you may enjoy this movie. However, if you would rather wait for it to be on Amazon Prime or iTunes, then that works too.