Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Almost a quarter-decade ago, The American President came out; it’s a cutesy romantic comedy starring Michael Douglas as a Bill Clinton-like president and Annette Bening as the lady he wants to date. America swooned, but I threw up. I hated it.

Now, in the Trump era, we get Long Shot, a different twist on a high-profile politician dating a commoner. This time out, Charlize Theron stars as Charlotte Field, secretary of state and potential presidential candidate. Her eventual romantic interest is Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a journalist-turned-speech writer who, not surprisingly, smokes lots of weed.

Long Shot is better than The American President. It’s a lot better than The American President.

Flarsky is a dweeby, wind-breaker-wearing columnist whose alternative-weekly newspaper is sold to a conservative media mogul (an unrecognizable Andy Serkis). He quits his job and finds himself attending a high-society party featuring Charlotte and Boyz II Men along with his best pal, Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr., showing he’s a lot funnier than his reasonably funny dad, Ice Cube).

It turns out that Fred knows Charlotte; she was a neighbor when he was a kid, and she (being three years older) baby-sat him. They get reacquainted; Fred gets a job as her speech writer; one thing leads to another; and there you have it—one of the year’s most unlikely rom-com pairings. It works swimmingly, because Theron and Rogen have serious onscreen chemistry.

Before you go squawking that a woman of Theron’s caliber would never date a Rogen-type in real life, I’d like to point out that Theron seriously dated the scrunchy-faced Sean Penn. Seth Rogen kicks Sean Penn’s ass in many categories, including looks. Just saying.

Whatever you may think of this pairing before you see the movie, trust me: Theron and Rogen pull it off. Their courtship is funny, awkward, hilariously drug-laced and utterly convincing. There are many fantasy elements to this movie, but most of those play out on the political side. As for the romance part, that’s the most realistic thing happening in this film. Charlotte likes to party, and much of the Fred character is modeled after Rogen—and Rogen is the king of partying. It’s a good match.

The political stuff is hyper-satire, with Bob Odenkirk scoring big points as the former TV star-turned-president who won’t be seeking re-election, because he wants to make the big leap into film. (He idolizes Woody Harrelson.) Oh, if only this were this the case in 2020 …

Long Shot is directed by real-life Rogen buddy Jonathan Levine. (The two worked together on 50/50 and The Night Before.) Levine proves to be the right choice to pull off the wacky screenplay by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, a script that gives equal time to environmental issues and accidentally jacking off into one’s beard (a moment reminiscent of There’s Something About Mary). It’s a daring script that takes chances, like a nuclear-bomb thriller portion. Not all of the jokes hit the mark, but enough do.

Theron is one of the best actresses at work today, and she’s also one of the funniest. (See her stint on Arrested Development for further evidence.) She’s actually funnier than Rogen in this movie. That’s not a dig on Rogen; he’s funny, but Theron wins the funny war in Long Shot. As for Jackson, his Lance deserves his own spinoff movie.

Sadly, Long Shot got its clock cleaned at the box office by a little movie called Avengers: Endgame. It looks like America isn’t convinced it needs to see Theron and Rogen making out while high on molly. Whatever. If you are skipping this because you think the pairing looks ridiculous, know that it is indeed a ridiculous movie—but the pairing is the least-ridiculous thing about it. They are a good onscreen couple. I hope they work together again, and I hope Long Shot finds life in the future on streaming platforms.

Long Shot is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Selecting Ryan Coogler to helm Black Panther is a major triumph: His entry into the Marvel universe is a majestic, full-bodied, exhilarating treatment of the African-king title character (Chadwick Boseman) with the crazy-cool suit. Marvel has yet another big success with a grand future.

Coogler has three feature films to his credit now—one masterpiece (Fruitvale Station) and two very good movies (Black Panther and Creed). He’s officially one of the best directors currently calling the shots. This is also his third collaboration with actor Michael B. Jordan, who brings a fleshed-out, complicated villain to the screen in Erik Killmonger. Man, you need to be bad with that last name.

The pre-opening-credit scenes involves Black Panther’s dad and predecessor having a confrontation in 1992, in Oakland, Calif. A major event takes place as some kids playing basketball look on. It turns out to be one of the more brilliant and heart-wrenching setups for a Marvel-movie character yet.

The action cuts to present day, where Black Panther/T’Challa is dealing with the death of his father due to an event that took place in Captain America: Civil War. (The producers and screenwriters linked these films together very well.) He’s set to become king, but must pass through a ritual with some risk involved. He overcomes the obstacles, gets his throne and prepares for his rule. However, his kingdom doesn’t get a moment to breathe before trouble ensues.

Elsewhere, Killmonger has come across an ancient weapon forged in Wakanda (the Black Panther’s homeland), made from vibranium, a precious resource that fuels much of Wakanda’s advanced technology, including the Black Panther suits. With the help of Wakanda enemy Klaue (Andy Serkis, acting with his real face as opposed to a motion capture suit), Killmonger obtains the weapon, threatening world stability.

The story is told with a stunning level of social relevance for a superhero film, especially when it comes to Killmonger’s motives. He’s not just some guy looking to enrich himself for selfish purposes; he’s got some big reasons for having gone bad, and they make him a far more sympathetic character than, say, Loki from Thor.

As good as Boseman is, and he’s really good, Black Panther is a big success thanks very much to the cast around him. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o plays the possible love interest in Nakia, getting her finest post-Oscar role yet. The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira makes a confident graduation to big-screen action hero, while Letitia Wright gets a lot of laughs as T’Challa’s mischievous and extremely smart sister, Shuri.

There are so many great performers in this movie that there isn’t enough room here to give them all praise, but here are a few more: Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, Daniel Kaluuya and Sterling K. Brown all play formidable roles. It’s early in the year, but this will surely stand as one of 2018’s best ensemble casts.

Coogler proves he can handle a big-action blockbuster. His action scenes mostly snap with precise energy and efficiency, but some of them are a bit jumbled and hard to follow due to low light or ill-advised camera angles. I saw the film in IMAX 2-D, so perhaps some of what I was seeing played better in 3-D. There was nothing too sloppy, but some moments were not as tight as the rest of the film.

Black Panther is a superhero saga rich with culture and gravitas, and yet it does not skimp on the good humor and action thrills we’ve come to expect from Marvel. DC’s recent offerings (Justice League, Suicide Squad) make everyone involved with them look like goofballs in comparison (with Wonder Woman being the lone recent exception). Black Panther and Marvel show us that big-screen superhero entertainment can be about much more than suits and explosions.

Black Panther is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The enthralling modern Planet of the Apes trilogy comes to a close with War for the Planet of the Apes, its best chapter yet.

Caesar (played via motion capture by Andy Serkis) is holding his own in the forest with his band of ape soldiers when a crazed colonel (Woody Harrelson) finds him and delivers a painful blow. Caesar finds himself on a revenge quest, with the likes of Rocket (Terry Notary), Maurice (Karin Konoval) and a new character named Bad Ape (a funny Steve Zahn) in tow. It all leads to a man vs. ape showdown for the ages—and the special effects that were great in the first movie are 10 times better in the third.

Fans of the original Apes films will be happy to learn that this movie is a virtual love letter to the series. It even has a mute girl named Nova (Amiah Miller)—the same name as the girl who saw the Statue of Liberty with Charlton Heston in the original.

Matt Reeves, directing his second Ape film, has managed to fill his special-effects-laden adventure with genuine emotion. This is a big-budget blockbuster with heart and soul.

While this concludes the trilogy, it’s a safe bet it won’t be the last for the Apes. If you recall, some astronauts went missing in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and events in this film seem to be leading up to the events of the original movie. We might be getting a new dude in a loin cloth barking at Lady Liberty in our cinematic future.

War for the Planet of the Apes is playing in regular format and 3-D at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The motion-capture apes take another step toward world domination in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a film that’s just as good as its predecessor—and a step forward when it comes to pure, unadulterated, ass-kicking ape action.

The movie picks up 10 years after a well-meaning doctor played by James Franco first shot an experimental drug into a chimp and unintentionally initiated the downfall of the human race. Caesar (Andy Serkis, doing his motion-capture best) is leading a group of genetically modified apes in the redwoods near the Golden Gate Bridge. Life is good, and the humans have seemingly disappeared, thanks to the simian flu brought on by the Franco character’s experiments.

However, some humans have survived, led by Gary Oldman’s frustrated Dreyfus, who fears the humans will soon run out of fuel for their generators. There’s a chance for some hydraulic power via a dam in the woods—a dam that just happens to be near the apes’ compound. A band of humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), sets out to repair the damn, and stumbles upon the apes—who aren’t happy to see the humans.

While Caesar has a few positive memories of humans to go with the bad ones, other apes are 100 percent, justifiably pissed at mankind. Koba (Toby Kebbell), who figured prominently in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, isn’t too happy about his days as a lab experiment. He has no interest in a peaceful existence with humans, and he’s going to do some pretty nasty stuff to ensure acrimony. This not only creates discord between apes and humans, but ape-on-ape feuding as well.

Everything leads up to an exciting battle between apes and humans in San Francisco, with a decaying Golden Gate Bridge figuring prominently in the action—along with the blessed sight of Joba blasting away astride a horse with machine guns in both hands. While this installment isn’t as strong with the human element (Franco rocked in Rise), the action in Dawn is far superior.

One of the cooler aspects of the film is that you can’t help but feel bad for Koba, with his clouded-over eye and surgical scars. No amount of compassionately delivered optimism from Caesar will ease Koba’s mind. He’s out to mulch some humans, and his vengeful mannerisms are understandable. This makes him a great, compelling villain.

Clarke, who was awesome in Zero Dark Thirty, holds his own. Keri Russell (who worked with director Matt Reeves years ago on TV’s Felicity) does decent supporting work as the soothing companion with some first-aid knowhow. Oldman is his typical, frantic self as the human with an ax to grind. (His character, like many others, lost his family to the simian flu.)

I caught the film in 3-D, and things seemed a little dark. My first thought was that the filmmakers were perhaps cheating a bit by making things dark so they could cut some corners on the CGI. However, when I lifted my glasses, the images looked a bit brighter. Skipping 3-D might be the way to go.

Reeves, who directed Cloverfield, Let Me In and the vastly underrated The Pallbearer, proves to be a more-than-ample choice for the Apes job. He’s already been announced as the director of the next film in the series, due two years from now.

It’ll be interesting to see where the Apes franchise goes next. I’m holding out hope that it’ll jump many years into the future, with the Icarus spacecraft returning to Earth to make some startling discoveries. Icarus was the ship Charlton Heston rode in the 1968 original, and it was mentioned in Rise during some background news footage and newspaper headlines. The return of Icarus would be many kinds of awesome.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is playing in theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews