Film Review: “Long Shot”

Starring: Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron and O’Shea Jackson Jr.
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Rated: R
Running Time: 125 minutes

I’ll give a smidgen of credit to Hollywood for attempting to change up the tired trope of the average guy getting a woman who is way out of his league. The “Long Shot” follows in line with other movies before it, like “Knocked Up,” “Superbad,” etc. So it’s no surprise that Seth Rogen, the go-to as of late for the down on his luck schmuck, gets paired with Charlize Theron for “Long Shot,” a movie that’s better than it’s supposed to be, but not as good as it thinks it is.

Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is a journalist, who has decided to quit instead of being let-go or continuing to work after his small time paper is bought by a media conglomerate. Through the most bizarre and unlikely of circumstances, Fred becomes reacquainted with Charlotte Field (Theron, his first crush, when she used to babysit him. Charlotte is now one of the most powerful people on the planet, the U.S. Secretary of State. But she has higher aspirations, especially after the President, played briefly, yet incredibly well by Bob Odenkirk, relays to her that he has no plans of seeking re-election. Sparks and complications arise when Charlotte hires Fred on to punch up her speeches as she gets ready to hit the campaign trail.

Whether you like “Long Shot” or not is based solely on the chemistry between Rogen and Theron. The odd couple matching work surprisingly well because Rogen tones down his frat boy antics and Theron demonstrates the comedic timing she’s shown flashes of previously on “Arrested Development” and in “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” Outside of the pull and tug of their contrasting personalities, they manage to have their characters do a bit of soul searching and learning along the way, which elevates the humdrum plot. The comedy is hit or miss, with the hits being crude and the misses being the stereotypical “fat man fall down go boom.”

There’s an underlying smugness to “Long Shot,” but luckily it stops itself from reveling in liberalism for too long in the film’s third act. Granted, I agree with a lot of the film’s political and social insights, but I and others don’t need it being delivered to us in such a ham-fisted fashion. It’s about as politically ferocious as a middle school class president election debate. Although I’d gladly watch a TV show of Rogen and Theron on the campaign trail, munching on the political landscape because it once again plays into the character’s complimentary personas.

“Long Shot” is an average rom-com, where the performances elevate the mundane story. A handful of riotous moments keep the film from dragging during its two-hour runtime, although those with an easily upsettable nature may find the film too crass. It’s hard to ignore the charm of the on-screen duo, even if you find yourself rolling your eyes when the film falls back on rom-com clichés.  

Film Review: “The Disaster Artist”

Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco and Ari Graynor
Directed By: James Franco
Rated: R
Running Time: 103 minutes

“The Disaster Artist” is a film where you have to continuously remind yourself that the characters portrayed on-screen are real people and that the events that transpired actually happened. The absurdity of Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) is like something out of a fantasy novel. His confidence is matched by his obliviousness. He steps onto the stage during an acting class giving a performance that borders reveals his narcissism. On the surface, his awful interpretation of “A Streetcar Named Desire” could be viewed as intentional deadpan genius.

But in the class, looking on after failing to work up the nerve to put together any acting chops, is Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). Unlike the rest of the class, which looks on in gross astonishment, Sestero sees a man who’s unafraid of the lights, the crowd, and of his own lackluster talents. Sestero approaches the Eastern European sounding man, already aged with wrinkles, to figure out how to obtain that fearlessness. Although what Sestero doesn’t realize, is that that fearlessness was birthed in a pool of egotism. But what arises is one of the most bizarre creations of the 21st century.

“The Disaster Artist” somewhat chronicles the beginning of the friendship between Wiseau and Sestero, which led to the disasterpiece known as “The Room,” a film that’s now shown at midnight screenings around the country and mocked much like the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The film is almost a love letter to the boldness of Wiseau as well as the fragile bromance that develops between the two. It’s in the Franco wheelhouse, which brings in other actors and directors from that genre, like Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Judd Apatow.

Because the film plays out as an ode and embrace of Wiseau’s misguided efforts, it does tend to gloss over some of the troubled rumblings of the production of “The Room.” Tales of gross negligence and fights are shown, and sometimes played for laughs, but we don’t get a good enough grasp on the story behind the movie. A lot of that may be because Wiseau and Sostero, in real-life, remain good friends and even still work together. It’s understandably tough to trash talk a friend, but “The Disaster Artist” could have benefitted from getting out of bed with Wiseau’s quasi-charming ambiguity.

Mirroring the film’s creation, Franco is the director, lead, and one of the producers of this film, highlighting his eerily physically similarities to Wiseau as well as perfecting the mannerisms of the mysterious man who explains away his Eastern European accent as being from New Orleans and profusely lying about his age. Franco plays Wiseau as an unlikable dolt who shouldn’t be liked or applauded for his efforts. But by the film’s end you find yourself warming up to Wiseau with likability that’s almost beyond explanation to a layman.

Generally when discussing the latest Marvel film, I don’t tend to think about how the average moviegoer, who has no prior knowledge of the other films. Marvel’s cinematic universe sometimes requires a little bit of visual homework, but superheroes are so pervasive in culture, you’d be hard pressed not to find someone who doesn’t at least know of Captain America and others. However, you’ll find plenty of people scratching their head over Wiseau’s name and who might mistakenly think of Brie Larson’s award winning role in the film “Room.”

“The Disaster Artist” is more or less bonus content for fans of Wiseau’s passion project and cinematic abortion. I’m in that camp and enjoyed Franco’s recreation of particular scenes, along with the behind-the-camera retelling of insufferable moments with Wiseau, as well as the monumentous occasion where Wiseau premiered the six million dollar film that’s considered one of the worst in modern history, if not all time. For those outside that bubble of knowledge, you may find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about. For those in that bubble, you’ll relish and eat up this biographical travesty.

Film Review: “Sausage Party”

Starring the voices of: Seth Rogen, Kristin Wiig and Salma Hayek
Directed by: Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour 29 mins
Sony Pictures

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Have you ever thought about the food you eat? Until this morning I didn’t. I’ll explain that comment later.

As the lights come on, signaling a new day at the local supermarket, the various food items sing a song, paying homage to the food Gods and hoping that today will be day they are “chosen” to go into the Great Beyond. Among those singing are Frank (Rogen), one of many sausages in a package, Brenda (Wiig), the sexy bun that Frank pines for and a jar of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride). Honey Mustard is chosen but later returned. Instead of great tales of the Great Beyond, he begins to tell wide-eyed stories of horrible atrocities. Of course he is not taken seriously, which leads to some pretty tragic – and hilarious – results.

Sidesplittingly funny, the first half-hour of “Sausage Party” is a comedy masterpiece. With great jokes and an amazing musical number, the film delivers on all cylinders. However, when the “chosen” ones realize what the outside world has in store for them, it becomes a hit or miss comedy. And a filthy one. Parents who may think they are taking the little ones to see a family film about a talking hot dog are going to be in for a HUGE surprise.

That being said, there are some great things about the film. The voice cast is perfect. Besides the three mentioned above, you have Edward Norton as a Bagel, in constant conflict with David Krumholtz’s Middle Eastern flatbread, with additional great work from such familiar names as Salma Hayek, Bill Hader, Craig Robinson, James Franco and Paul Rudd. You even get a nice musical montage sung by…wait for it…Meatloaf himself.

The animation is well done and, overall, the film entertains. If you don’t have a problem learning that your bacon may be suffering when you throw it in the pan, I highly recommend it. Which reminds me. Every day I take a snack to eat mid-day to work, usually some raw veggies. This morning, I took some green peppers. And I must admit, I did take pause before I thrust my knife into them and sliced them up. Sorry my crispy, green buddies!

Win Tickets to the Kansas City Premiere of “Sausage Party”

Media Mikes has teamed up with Sony Pictures to give (10) lucky readers, and their guest, a chance to attend the Kansas City premiere of the new animated comedy “Sausage Party.”

The screening will be held on Monday, August 8, at the AMC Studio 28 Theatre in Olathe, Kansas. The screening will begin at 8:00 p.m., preceded by a cocktail party before hand. Pass winners will also be allowed to attend the cocktail party and they and their guest will each receive one free drink.

To win, all you have to do is head here and get your tickets. This is a first-come, first-serve promotion and, once all of the passes have been given away, the contest is over. Good luck!

Film Review: “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”

Starring: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Rose Byrne
Directed By: Nicholas Stoller
Rated: R
Running Time:   1 hour 35 minutes
Universal Pictures

Our Rating 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Did “Neighbors” need a sequel? Absolutely not. It didn’t even end with a cliffhanger or any storyline that would necessitate the need for a second. But in today’s theater age, profit=sequel. Of course I may further incite the need for a “Neighors 3” with the following statement. Despite the same plot, and a gender swap out, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” is funnier and even more charming than the first.

A couple of years after the events of “Neighbors”, Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) are expecting their second child and looking to move into a more spacious home. With the fraternity no longer hosting raging keggers, they find a buyer with no problem. The only problem is escrow. Since I’m not a homeowner, nor have I attempted to buy one yet in my life, I was unsure as to what escrow means. Apparently Mac and Kelly don’t either. It means that the buyers can change their mind in 30 days if there’s something they don’t see fit about the home. Of course this could easily just be a plotline convenience created by the movie.

Coincidentally, the old fraternity house is about to become alive with again with a sorority. Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) are sick of the generic sororities, at least the typical Greek life tropes the movie portrays. Instead of conformity, forced cheeriness and male degradation, the trio creates their own sorority meant to empower their inner-lioness. Obviously a bunch of screaming girls, hosting their own raging keggers, doesn’t sit well with Mac and Kelly. The rest of “Neighbors 2” is the various hijinks and escalating pranks that happen between the two warring neighbors.

The first “Neighbors”, which I didn’t like, was about the bond of men in college as well as learning to grow up. “Neighbors 2” has the girls at an age of 18, so we can’t really expect them to “grow up”. Instead we get a more meaningful theme of acceptance and empowerment. Even the grossest scene of the movie, the sorority sisters throwing used tampons at Mac and Kelly’s home, is a lesson. Albeit a blood soaked, gross lesson. I know that might be hard to believe, but trust me.

There are the typical cheap laughs that we’ve come to expect from a Rogen comedy. I guess we’re supposed to laugh at Rogen being fat, people getting high, vomit on the face during sex, and other tired jokes. It actually makes the tampon scene feel a lot cleverer in retrospect. It’s socially aware enough to make us feel guilty about laughing or make us actually develop a thought while laughing.

It’s just unfortunate that such an enlightening movie has to hammer home its theme at nearly every chance it can get. It’s nice to see that the five male writers were willing to flip the script and poke fun at the overtly sexual nature of college men who see women as objects. But I think at least a sixth writer, preferably female, could have helped these guys guide their justified moral outrage in funnier, more unique, and in less, obvious ways.

Teddy (Efron) is back as a man-child who still can’t grow up. He serves as the mentor for the sorority at the beginning and switches sides when he’s disowned by the sisterhood. Watching Teddy grow as a person during the movie is most character development an Efron character has ever seen. In that sense, and others, “Neighbors 2” surprised me a lot. I was expecting a lazy rehash, but I have to give credit where credit is due; the six-man writing team realizes that a little empathy for all their characters can go a long way.

New York Film Fest Review: “Steve Jobs”

Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg
Running Time: 122mins.
Universal Pictures

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

No one removes a limb nor falls in a pit beneath an Indian outhouse in Danny Boyle’s new awards-season biopic Steve Jobs, but I do suspect many people will accuse it of dragging the late Apple CEO through the mud. Working from a fast-paced script by Aaron Sorkin (aren’t they always?), the film pulls no punches when it comes to Jobs’ pseudo-Machiavellian pursuit of his Mac computer. Unlike Sorkin’s previous computer-minded outing, The Social Network, Steve Jobs feels even harsher for the span of time in which we’re tuning in. We stay with Mr. Jobs’s and his collateral damage, the loved ones and colleagues frequently left floundering in his wake, over the course of fourteen years and three epic product launches. It pits Jobs’s minor launch glitches against far greater interpersonal struggles and the suspense lies in what will finally warrant his attention. The small acting ensemble revolving around Michael Fassbender’s fierce portrayal of Jobs–including Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels and Michael Stuhlberg–ensures that it’s a fair fight. In this highly focused fashion, Boyle has delivered not the complete biography of Jobs, but an energetic strong impression of the man behind the curtain. And the iPod.

The three ‘acts’ that occupy the real-time action of Boyle’s film see Jobs as he successfully launches Macintosh, then outside of Apple with the disastrous NeXTCube and as the prodigal son returning with 1998’s iMac. To see the launches go off without a hitch is Jobs’s goal but through Boyle and Sorkin’s film, Steve’s launch is like a juggling act where more balls keep getting thrown into play. The major crisis with the first Macintosh is that Andy Hertzfeld (Stuhlbarg) can’t get the demo computer to say ‘hello.’ And Steve is much scarier than Yoda in the “there is no try” department. Hovering on the sidelines of the epic hello struggle is Joanna Hoffman (Winslet), Apple marketing guru and the only person able to wrangle Steve’s attention for any quantifiable amount of time. She doesn’t see why the computer must say hello, oh and also Steve should do something about his daughter and her mother waiting for Steve in the wings. The daughter he’s so publicly denied fathering, and half blames for his losing Time Magazine’s Man of the Year title. Priorities. Meanwhile Steve Wozniak (a deeply touching Rogen) just wants Steve Jobs to say thank you to the Apple 2 guys, an earlier model that the company thrived on. And for good measure, a stoic Jeff Daniels as exec John Scully steps in to remind Steve of his own parental issues (he was adopted) at exactly the wrong times.

These basic components are tossed in and out of focus over the course of the launches, with Boyle slyly throwing in the occasional additional flashbacks in time to further flesh out Steve’s relationships–especially with Wozniak and Scully. As a fiery Fassbender plays young Jobs, it’s easy to see how he sold his team of people on going on these technological ventures under his leadership. Important for us to see considering present-Jobs can so often be despicable. Jobs’s chief struggle in most of his interactions, whether he admits it or not, is with common human decency. Long-suffering Wozniak seeks only acknowledgment while Joanna is frequently going to bat on behalf of Jobs’s daughter Lisa since her mother (Katherine Waterston in a small but effective part) is drifting further away. In this core struggle, Winslet emerges as the film’s heart when its protagonist doesn’t have time for his. In Joanna, Winslet is both fearless and vulnerable. She knows Steve the best, she’s knows she’s too valuable to his enterprise to be cast off and she uses this to stand her ground. If audiences find it hard to root for Steve as he is ruthlessly scripted by Sorkin, they will definitely side with Joanna who only wants Steve to be a better person. It’s clever and Winslet is no doubt as awards-worthy as Fassbender is in this film.

Boyle and Sorkin shy away from actually showing their version of one of Jobs’s epic announcements–we have youtube for that–but at every juncture the Mac masses are omnipresent. We see stamping feet and full theater lobbies of faceless groupies which only serve to amplify Steve’s power in these spaces. While other realms of Jobs’s life were out of his control, at least at these launches every minute detail could be dictated by him. To situate the whole story around these launches is to show Jobs at his most intense. The resulting film is a vibrant, unsympathetic portrait of a man whose work continues to evolve how humans connect with each other whether or not he ever mastered that skill in his own life.

I saw Steve Jobs at this year’s New York Film Fest, the film receives its nationwide release on October 23rd.