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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 10, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 19
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Theron and Rogen's romantic campaign helps Long Shot win election
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

LONG SHOT
Now playing


President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) is not running for a second term. This is wonderful news to his ambitious Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron). Not only does she clandestinely think this former TV star who somehow lucked his way into the Presidency is an idiot, but she also harbors a desire to run for President herself. Yet, as he is incredibly popular with a large cross-section of the American public, Charlotte knows she needs to get Chambers' endorsement if she is going to have any chance to win the election. He wants her to score an international political victory in order for him to give it to her, and she's got just the proposal that's virtually guaranteed to make that happen.

Enter Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen). He's a gifted writer who lost his job when his small, independent publication was bought out by multibillionaire media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis). Attending a high-class environmental benefit with childhood best friend Lance (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), mainly for the free booze and the opportunity to meet Boyz II Men, much to his embarrassment Fred inadvertently runs into Charlotte. She used to babysit him when she was a senior and he was a freshman in high school, and even then the future journalist knew she was destined for greatness. Because of that he's positive the current Secretary of State doesn't want to be reminded of the crush he had on her when they were both teenagers, attempting to leave the charity benefit before she realizes he's there.

It's a good thing Charlotte is okay with being reminded about the past because otherwise Long Shot wouldn't exist. Safe to say that the Secretary of State is just fine with being reunited with Fred, so much so she hires him to be a speechwriter as she travels around the globe garnering support for an ambitious plan to combat climate change. This allows Theron and Rogen ample opportunity to interact and play off one another, the two actors sharing surprising chemistry as their working relationship slowly morphs into friendship before finally transforming into something far more amorous in nature. Dan Sterling's (The Interview) and Liz Hannah's (The Post) ambitiously multifaceted script works as both political satire and character-driven romantic comedy, director Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies, 50/50) handling it all with a confidently relaxed naturalism that mitigates the inherent silliness and implausibility of the fairy tale relationship at the center of the story.

Theron is great, the Oscar-winner proving once again there's practically nothing she can't do once the cameras start rolling. She saunters through the film with a magnetic authority that fits her character perfectly, her athletic physicality coupled with an intuitive intelligence that makes Charlotte a natural leader and an imperious force to be reckoned with. But even better are the moments where she does let down her guard, when the actress allows the character's buried insecurities to briefly come into the light. This gives her extra layers of depth that are incredible, the actress going in directions that are almost always a joy to discover.

There's a spellbinding bit where, after receiving devastating news, Charlotte convinces Fred to surreptitiously take her out on the town so she can cut loose and blow off steam in a manner that would compel the President to force her resignation if he ever caught wind of what they were doing. This ends up leading to a fantastic scene where the Secretary has to navigate an unforeseen international crisis right at the one moment where she'd rather curl up in bed and sleep for 12 hours. What Theron does during this moment is sensational, the actress delivering bits of laugh-out-loud hysteria that are unexpectedly coupled with a level of mature emotional insight that held me in a state of captivated awe.

Rogen doesn't necessarily match his costar, but he does raise his game considerably in order to be believable as her romantic partner in political depravity. He gives Fred unanticipated gravitas, and I liked how passionate he was about the things he believed in even if his steadfast pigheadedness sometimes caused a wide variety of angry confrontations that made it almost impossible for others to hear, let alone consider, any of his ideas no matter how good they might be. Rogen's self-deprecating wherewithal is quite intricate, and there's always something of a mystifying question mark as to if his character is going to be able to expand his horizons, listen to alternate points of view and accept constructive criticism without giving up on the core ideals that make him who he is.

The supporting cast is universally strong, especially Straight Outta Compton scene-stealer Jackson Jr. and June Diane Raphael as Charlotte's snarky Chief of Staff Maggie Millikin. The former doesn't have a lot of scenes but he more than makes the most of them when given the opportunity. As for the latter, she's superb, her cutthroat intensity as she spells things out for Fred as to what his job is, what is expected of him and how his hoity-toity high ideals will lead to nothing getting done if he's not willing to even ponder the concept of a compromise a barnstorming corker of comedic and satirical insight that's a pleasure to behold.

None of this is very believable, and I honestly think Levine and the two writers don't mean it to be so. Some of the stuff that happens would never remain a public secret, while a third act turn of events involving a hacked laptop's webcam doesn't work nearly as well as the filmmakers intend it to. But at the end of the day this is a fairy tale, one that makes a plethora of valid and prescient points as it pertains to women and what they are allowed to do and the mistakes they're never going to be forgiven for making once they are in the public eye, but still a fairy tale for sure. Allusions to what happened in 2016 (and to what is still happening right now), especially in regards to big money manipulation of public discourse as well as how having an unqualified nincompoop in the White House is bad for the country, are by design, the more blatantly satirical aspects and some of the strongest ones the film has to offer.

Ultimately, it is Rogen and especially Theron that make Long Shot work as well as it does. They are a terrific romantic comedy pairing, and the manner in which they organically allow Charlotte and Frank's relationship to take root and blossom is the primary reason I ended up enjoying this one as much as I did. The two stars are delightful, and if they ever decide to team up again in the future I'll certainly cast my vote stating this would be something I'd be willing to purchase a ticket to see.


Obnoxious Detective Pikachu strictly for Pokémon fans
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU
Now playing


As popular things go, I can't really say the Pokémon phenomenon has ever been a thing I've attempted to embrace. My little brother loved Pokémon, however, so I certainly got my fill of these strange little creatures who were doing battle in a variety of competitions. I also discovered I could do the Pikachu voice, a bumblebee-colored furry Pokémon with an adorable smile and a normally pleasant demeanor that could channel electricity during battles, pretty much perfectly. I could walk around the house and squeak out in a high-pitched squeal, 'Pika pika!' or 'Pika pi!' and seconds later I'd hear a goofy giggle coming out of the mouth of a happy five-year-old, the look of delight on his face making my doing this worthwhile.

But that's really as far as my affinity for Pokémon ever went. I didn't care for the animated television series. I never played any of the video games. I didn't know anything else about its Japanese anime and comic book origins other than it seemed expressly designed to annoy me. All of which means I can't say the idea of Pokémon Detective Pikachu spoke to me or that I was clamoring to give the film a look, itself based on one of many video game offshoots the franchise has generated over the past two-plus decades or so. As handsome a production as the trailers made this comedic mystery look I knew I wasn't going to be the target audience, something I feel I should admit upfront before continuing with this review.

While my initial trepidations in regards to Rob Letterman's (Goosebumps, Monsters vs. Aliens) latest proved to be somewhat unfounded, it still wasn't like Pokémon Detective Pikachu won me over entirely. While it's breezily paced, magnificently animated (the visual effects showcasing a world where human and Pokémon exist side-by-side are nothing short of sensational) and gorgeously shot by two-time Academy Award-nominee John Mathieson (Gladiator, Logan), the movie still got on my nerves on a number of occasions. Seemingly composed in committee (between the story and the script there are five credited writers), the narrative is a massive hodgepodge of hard-boiled gumshoe mystery clichés only told with a kid-friendly (and Pokémon-centric) flair for the absurd. It also doesn't know what to do with any of its supporting characters. It's almost as if every actor appearing in this film is seemingly performing in a different motion picture than their fellow performers standing right next to them.

The exception to this is the fine work turned in by both Justice Smith as the film's human lead and by a game Ryan Reynolds voicing the titular character. They are fully invested in the proceedings, injecting warmth, heart and emotion into the narrative, all of which likely wouldn't have been there otherwise. They are a strong pairing, and even if Reynolds is doing a more family-friendly variation on his Deadpool schtick there is still an underlying warmth to his performance that couples nicely with Smith's emotionally fragile intensity. They are the heart and soul of the film, this odd, crazy little mystery remaining easy to watch even when the script refuses to make a lick of sense or during those moments where Letterman overloads the screen with action beats that are noisily chaotic.

As for the plot, as nonsensical as all of this ridiculousness becomes, it's honestly fairly straightforward and easy to follow. After learning his father, a vaunted Ryme City detective, has been killed in the line of duty, morose insurance agent Tim Goodman (Smith) returns home to face his personal demons. The pair were estranged after the tragic death of his mother when he was only 11-years-old, the young man choosing to live in the country with his grandmother instead of having to share the same house with his dad. Even so, once back in the Pokémon-friendly Ryme City Tim's surprised to discover just how badly his father wanted to reconcile with him, his sadness that they will never get the chance to do so substantial.

Enter Pikachu (Reynolds). He was Detective Goodman's partner and while everyone else only hears that standard variety of pika-pikas coming out of the creature's mouth, for some odd reason Tim can understand every single word the furry black and yellow electrically-charged Pokémon says. Pikachu is certain the detective is still alive as he was there when their car was blown off the road by an unknown assailant. Problem is, he also has amnesia, so he's flying blind as he tries to put together the puzzle pieces of this mystery and learn who it was that tried to rub both of them out. Pikachu convinces Tim to join the investigation with him, the two becoming supportive friends as they go on a journey that will reveal a level of devious doings at the heart of Ryme City that could shake this safe haven for human-Pokémon relations down to its very foundations.

The movie basically heads into Raymond Chandler meets Isaac Asimov territory from there, Pikachu and Tim joining forces with an energetic television news intern, Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), while also getting support from billionaire philanthropist Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) as they attempt to figure out what happened to Detective Goodman. But Lucy is too irritating for her own good, Newton trying to channel her inner His Girl Friday-era Rosalind Russell and, while her efforts to do so are appreciated, they're unfortunately equally annoying. As for Nighy, he's fine but not really anything more than that, and as his character is pivotal to the eventual outcome of the story the fact Clifford becomes oddly forgettable is an enormous problem.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu works best when it focusses exclusively on Tim and Pikachu as well as when it revels in the absurdist sights and sounds of this zany little world. When it breaks things down to basics and just shows the pair following clues and interviewing suspects it can be a lot of fun. But when the earth begins to shake and villains finally show their true colors things get far less interesting. It becomes a cacophonous smorgasbord of sound and fury that's frankly tiresome, and while the younger members of the audience (as well as die-hard Pokémon fanatics) won't likely care about any of that, for my part I still can't say I understand what all the fuss is about.

But I can still do the Pikachu voice and it still makes my brother giggle when I do it. Make of that what you will.








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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
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Theron and Rogen's romantic campaign helps Long Shot win election
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Obnoxious Detective Pikachu strictly for Pokémon fans
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