Long Shot

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

Director: Jonathan Levine

Writers: Dan Sterling, Liz Hannah


The story of the low-status man who falls in love with the high-status woman and attempts to overcome the obstacles keeping them apart is at least as old as The Great Gatsby, but in that particular case the underdog hero has always been played by the dashing, desirable likes of Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio. One could probably imagine that if Jay Gatsby happened to be a tubby, scruffy slob, then the beautiful, highborn Daisy would never have looked at him twice and the story would never have happened. That’s how Long Shot would appear to see it anyway as it presents us with the unlikely romance of the unkempt Seth Rogen and the glamorous Charlize Theron. He plays an overweight, unhygienic and unemployed journalist who gets dismissed by most as a loser with nothing of worth to offer the world while she plays an elegant, intelligent and successful politician whom the people revere. The whole film is built around the idea that a classy and stunning woman like Theron’s Madam Secretary falling for a schmuck like Rogen is so far beyond the realm of possibility as to be worthy of being both dramatized and made fun of. The truth of the matter is a subject of some debate considering how consistently Rogen has been playing appealing romantic leads since Knocked Up, but in any case Long Shot makes for a somewhat flawed and outdated if still charming and watchable film.

The movie follows Fred Flarsky (Rogen), a committedly left-leaning investigative reporter who quits his job in protest upon learning that his newspaper has been bought and absorbed into a corporate media empire run by the Rupert-Murdoch-ish Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis). Later the down on his luck Flarsky has a chance encounter with Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Theron), his former babysitter and first crush who even as a 16-year-old Sophomore was determined in her idealism and ambition. Having recently learnt that the inept President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) has no intention of seeking re-election, she has begun laying the groundwork for her own presidential bid. Her polling data however indicates that much of the public views her as rather unapproachable and lacking in warmth and humour. After reading some of Fred’s articles and realising not only what a good writer he is but how deeply he cares about the same issues as she does, Charlotte brings him on board her campaign to punch up her speeches. As they work together for several nights on end and bond over shared values, adolescent memories and inside jokes, their friendship blossoms into a romance that gets put to the test by external prejudice, political pressure and sabotage.

The plot of Long Shot is pretty weak and worn and it goes about it for too long with a two-hour runtime where ninety minutes would have sufficed. What kept me going through it all was the wonderful chemistry between Rogen and Theron, who are thoroughly enjoyable in all of their interactions together. Playing the personas they’ve spent their whole careers cultivating, he as the awkward but lovable stoner nerd and she as the alluring and capable but still compassionately vulnerable lady, both fit naturally into their assigned roles and the comic energy between them endears you all the more to their coupledom. It helps that the film establishes the link between them as being founded on common interests and values and mutual respect for their talents and ambitions. Fred and Charlotte are quite simply two people who like each other in spite of their differences and the movie wastes absolutely no time on pitting them against each other and having them bicker in that Sam & Diane way in order to generate some cheap ‘will they, won’t they’ tension that rom-coms love so much. It’s obvious that these two are going to get together since that’s the premise of the whole movie and the tension arises from whether they’ll be able to make it work despite all the forces that threaten to keep them apart. Their relationship is all the more interesting and delightful for having not indulged in such needless pretence.

The spark that they share does wonders to enhance the comedy side of things, as does the work of much of the supporting cast, particularly June Diane Raphael as Charlotte’s snide and stuck-up campaign manager. As is to be expected whenever Rogen is on board, the movie partakes in gross-out humour and stoner comedy, including a scene where Charlotte is called upon to deal with an international crisis while high on molly and another in which a video of Fred masturbating is unearthed and employed in a blackmail scheme. The film however is at its best and funniest when Rogen and Theron are allowed to play off each other in verbal banter, which is why I wish the film could’ve been a little more Howard Hawks and a little less Judd Apatow. Such an approach however would probably have necessitated a deeper dive into the ideological differences between Charlotte and Fred and a more incisive commentary on the movie’s politics. The film opts to go silly and safe with its brand of humour instead, dropping inoffensively profane one-liners where it can and joking about pop culture and orgasms while paying only mild lip service to a brand of liberalism and gender politics through which they try to score points for progressivism without being so controversial so as to alienate certain audiences. That was where the film lost me the most.

To its credit the movie does make some timely observations about the position of women in today’s political sphere and the unique challenges they face. It rightly observes, for example, how ambivalent men still are about powerful and ambitious women, what regressively narrow parameters the public is willing to accept for their profiles, and how much higher they have to jump to hit the same targets as men. Charlotte, despite being hyper competent at her job, impeccably qualified, and boasting a bulletproof public record, still has to work harder to be accepted as a satisfactory presidential candidate than Chambers, whose one and only qualification was that he played a fictional president on a popular TV show. However, the film never provides any deeper insights into these issues because it’s ultimately only willing to go so far in reflecting the political realities of the world today. Instead the film glosses over how ugly and complicated the political minefield of moral compromise, partisan opposition, and sexist double standards can be, opting for an uncontroversial, centrist ideal with its false equivalencies and simplistic solutions. I could perhaps be a little more charitable and look at the movie as more of a Sorkin-esque political fantasy (the similarities with The American President are unmistakable), one where the strong independent woman gets to have her cake and eat it too. I think that’s a little disingenuous though considering how at the end of the day it’s the woman who has to learn the lesson and change her ways rather than the man.

With little of political substance to fuel the character dynamics and comedy, the quality of the film comes down mainly to the talents of its cast and the execution of certain gags that are often funny in the moment even if they don’t have any lasting consequence. One highlight is when Rogen is outfitted for a fancy banquet in Stockholm. He and Theron work wonders when they share the screen and I can only imagine what they might have accomplished with a smarter and more daring script. The two work so well together that the movie’s total fixation on its central gimmick, that being the comical unlikelihood of their relationship, soon loses its novelty. The way they keep returning to the idea that the gross, fat man and the beautiful, elegant woman have no business being together grows all the more monotonous the clearer it becomes what much more interesting and funnier things they could be doing and talking about if only the movie would let them. You become so convinced of the couple’s suitability that you start to wish the film would engage with them less as comedic archetypes and more as people. It is during the more human moments that Long Shot well and truly shines and that humanity, as determined by the main characters’ core political ideals and struggles in the face of adversity, is what the movie is sorely lacking.

★★★

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The Disaster Artist

Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver

Director: James Franco

Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber


The Room is one of those movies that really has to be seen to be believed. It is a movie that fundamentally does not work on any conceivable level, and yet it is so remarkably unique, mesmerising and endlessly rewatchable. It is one of the great cinematic paradoxes; The Room is a terrible film, but it is also great cinema. If you asked the greatest director in the world to make the worst movie of all time, they couldn’t get any closer to making this film than Gus Van Sant could get to making Psycho. Genius (or maybe ‘anti-genius’ in this case) is something that cannot be replicated, it can only be imitated. There is something there behind the shots and between the edits that cannot be faked, a sense of effort and sincerity that only comes across when the artist truly believes in what they are making. With The Disaster Artist, James Franco takes us behind the scenes to show us what was really going on beneath it all.

The movie follows Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), the author of the book the movie is based on, as a young actor in San Francisco. At one of his acting classes he meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a strange-looking man with a weird accent who inspires Greg with his fearlessness. As soon as the two become friends, Tommy suggests that they move to Los Angeles to try and make it big. There Greg signs up with renowned talent agent Iris Burton (Sharon Stone) while Tommy gets turned down by everyone he approaches. Later he grows jealous of Greg as he enters a relationship with Amber (Alison Brie) and becomes more disheartened with every rejection. As Greg’s auditions start drying up, he reaches out to Tommy, who then decides to write, direct, produce, and star in his own movie. Thus he writes The Room, a drama in the vein of Tennessee Williams, and offers Greg a prominent part. Together they set about making this movie with the help of Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen), the script supervisor, and Raphael Smadja (Paul Sceer), the cinematographer. As the chaotic production proceeds and unravels, only Tommy seems blind to the horrendous quality of the movie they’re making.

The obvious comparison here is Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, a movie that celebrates the director who made another movie often proclaimed as ‘the worst ever made’. And ‘celebrate’ really is the right word because what made Ed Wood a great movie was the way it admired Wood’s passion, sincerity and optimism, even as it understood that the movie he was making was rubbish. That same feeling of admiration is present in The Disaster Artist. There’s a scene where Tommy and Greg stand on the sight of James Dean’s fatal car crash and are inspired to follow his example and show the world what they can do, no matter the obstacles. That scene is there because the movie doesn’t want us to laugh at these two for making a crap movie, it wants us to identify with them and root for them to make the movie that, for better or worse, would make them both stars. Tommy may be the Disaster Artist, but he is also a dreamer and it is clear from watching this movie just how much James Franco admires that dream.

Tommy Wiseau with his unidentifiable accent, ambiguous age, and vampiric demeanour is very much an enigma to those who’ve seen him and his movie, and one of Franco’s successes is finding the human being within that enigma. He still allows us to laugh at Wiseau’s strangeness because, to put it simply, he is a very strange person. He insists that he’s from New Orleans despite not sounding like anything from planet Earth, he appears to be infinitely wealthy but cannot seem to explain where the money comes from, and he claims to be the same age as the twenty-something Greg even though, well, look at him! He’s also at the very least sexually ambiguous and the nature of his feelings towards Greg are never made very clear but are enough to raise some red flags with those around them (what with the way he keeps calling him ‘babyface’ and all). There’s also a monstrous side to Wiseau that comes out in his attempt to be the next Kubrick or Hitchcock which Franco showcases in one particularly revealing scene where Tommy mistreats his co-star Julliette Danielle (Ari Graynor). Yet, beneath all of that, Franco is able to find a vulnerable, insecure side to Tommy, someone who wants nothing more than to be admired and celebrated. It is a wonderful performance.

There is tragedy to The Disaster Artist, but from that tragedy comes laughter. The movie Wiseau made may not have been received the way he’d hoped and he may not be the enigmatic, inspired auteur he wanted to be, but through all the heartbreak and humiliation he made a movie that has brought endless joy to millions of people all over the world. To see just how much of a cult following The Room has gathered, look no further than the number of celebrities who join Franco in his celebration. This includes the likes of Kristen Bell, J.J. Abrams, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Scott, and Kevin Smith, who all appear in the opening montage to discuss The Room and the impact it’s had, and also Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, Melanie Griffith, Hannibal Buress, and Bob Odenkirk, who all make cameos. It’s a movie which reminds us that there is inspiration to be found not only in the greatest successes but also in the greatest failures, and The Room might very well be the greatest failure in the history of cinema.

★★★★

Sausage Party

Cast: (voiced by) Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, Nick Kroll, David Krumholtz, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek

Directors: Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan

Writers: Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg


In the spirit of Pixar, which has provided emotional portrayals of toys, fish, robots and even emotions, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg posed what seemed to them an innocent question: what if our food had feelings? It did not take them long to realise how messed up that would be, leading to Sausage Party. By venturing into animation, Rogen and Goldberg have found a format that perfectly complements their juvenile and crass sense of humour. The film is able to be coarse and explicit while also being childish. Sausage Party is a movie that appeals to the immature thirteen-year-old in all of us. In a way, it’s a little like South Park if they took out the sharp social commentary and masterfully crafted humour. Sausage Party is vulgar, infantile and dumb and had me laughing in spite of my better judgement many times.

The movie is set in a supermarket called Shopwell’s where every food product dreams of being chosen by one of the gods who will take them to the Great Beyond. Among them is a sausage called Frank and a hot dog bun named Brenda who cannot wait to be chosen together so that they may finally consummate their relationship. However a jar of Honey Mustard who was chosen but then returned by one the gods hysterically declares that everything they’ve been led to believe about the Great Beyond is a lie. After telling Frank to seek out the Firewater, the Honey Mustard commits suicide. His death causes Frank, Brenda, Kareem the lavash, Sammy the bagel and the antagonistic Douche to fall out of their shopping cart and get left behind in the store. Douche is discarded and vows revenge against Frank. Barry, a sausage who had inhabited the same packet as Frank, is taken into the Great Beyond where he learns the secret that drove Honey Mustard to his death. Frank meanwhile leads the others on a quest through the supermarket to discover this terrible truth.

I’ve been dismissive of Rogen’s brand of humour before in such films as Bad Neighbours 2. Personally I’ve found that while these types of films often hold much potential for comedy, a lot of that potential does not get realised because not enough thought or craft goes into their development. The result of this lack of discipline is a bunch of semi-improvised bits and jokes that don’t really go anywhere. This is perhaps why I found Sausage Party to be a more humorously fulfilling experience, because animation is not a format that really lends itself to ad-libbed gags and spontaneous riffing (at least not to the extent that Rogan tends to favour). This was a film that demanded tighter scripting and the comedy is more consistent because of it. The animation also enabled the film to play around with some of the possibilities of visual comedy, as in one sequence that pays homage to Saving Private Ryan.

The humour is typically Rogen/Goldberg-esque and has plenty of stoner jokes, sex jokes, and just plain fucked up jokes with a plethora of food puns for good measure. There are countless ideas in this film from the lesbian taco played by Salma Hayek to the intoxicating effects of bath salts to the explosive finale that made me think “only the imagination of Seth Rogen could’ve come up with this”. I did think that the larger story the film was trying to tell about diversity, tolerance and faith was a little too hammered in and felt kind of unwarranted. It tries to do this in a number of ways such as the inclusion of a Jewish bagel and a Muslim lavash who clash over the differing ideologies until they come together in the weirdest, most shocking way imaginable. There are enough laughs to be had in their depiction of this theme (I had a good chuckle at the German beer declaring his intention to kill all the juice), but overall it felt to me like the film was trying to be smarter than it was or needed to be.

Sausage Party is an outrageous, crude, stupid film and is absolutely hilarious. It is a shameless movie that revels in its debauchery, obscenity and immaturity. Those who enjoy bad taste comedy will find much to enjoy in the film’s utterly disturbing concept, its explicitly graphic imagery that cannot be unseen, and its unrelenting, unabashed perversity and depravity. People will be offended by this film, of that I have no doubt. There are some who won’t appreciate the topical references and others who just won’t be able to handle the film’s more decadent aspects. However, as opposed to something like South Park, Sausage Party is by no means a mean-spirited film. It takes its shots but in truth this film is laughing at itself more than it is at anything else. Getting offended by this movie is a bit like being offended by a loudmouth child with a crude imagination; it’s futile. Sausage Party is a silly, childish film for grown-ups and is a lot of fun to watch.

★★★★

Bad Neighbours 2

Cast: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloë Grace Moretz, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz

Director: Nicholas Stoller

Writers: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg


This is a film that I was really dreading. After the horrid, sordid experience that was Dirty Grandpa, I was in no mood to see another Zac Efron offering in his campaign to prove that he’s no longer the squeaky-clean Disney kid from High School Musical. While I thought the original Bad Neighbours had its moments, I felt that it lacked direction and discipline in its humour and that some of its gross-out elements came across as crass rather than funny. There was certainly potential for good comedy in the film but I only ever saw flashes of it in the semi-improvisational riffs between the actors. Since the cast had no solid writing or clear direction to work with, most of these riffs amounted to little more than the exhaustive throwing around of random gags. I was not looking forward to the prospect of watching two more hours of the same. Even if had enjoyed the first film, I still would’ve been concerned by the thought that I can probably count the number of successful comedy sequels that I’ve seen on one hand.

Some time has gone by since the events of Bad Neighbours and now Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) have decided to sell their home. However the prospective buyers decide to put their house on escrow for 30 days, meaning that they can drop by for a surprise inspection at any time and can opt to drop out of the deal if they find any problems. Meanwhile college freshman Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) has just joined the Phi Lamda sorority only to find that they are forbidden to throw their own parties on campus. Instead they must attend frat parties, which end up being perverse and depraved affairs marked by female objectification and sexual harassment. Therefore Shelby teams up with Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) to form their own sorority. The girls look at the house next door to the Radners where they meet Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) who, having recently been asked by his friend to move out of his apartment, agrees to help the sorority in exchange for residence. Afterwards it isn’t long before Kappa Nu’s parties start to aggravate the Radners and the two houses go to war with one another.

In short, this film is pretty much the same as its predecessor. Same gross-out humour, same ad-libbed banter between actors, and same abundance of shirtless scenes for Seth Rogen and Zac Efron. This time however the premise is gender-reversed. If you’re a fan of the original film then this is all good news. To me however it meant more drawn out riffing that doesn’t really go anywhere, more crass jokes that aren’t as funny as the filmmakers think they are, and more directionless humour that only manages to hit the mark on occasion. These films seem to think that cussing, vulgarity and slapstick alone are enough to generate laughs and so little of the humour is actually derived from either the characters or the plot. This time around however the film does introduce an unexpectedly sound feminist perspective as it outlines some of the sexism, both casual and perverse, that young women often undergo. It’s not exactly Mustang but it’s still more than I expected from this film.

For some viewers the cast alone may be enough to make this film work. Those who enjoy watching Seth Rogen quip the odd one-liner, make a whole bunch of weed jokes and show off his chubby physique will not be left wanting. Rose Byrne rarely ever disappoints and it is refreshing that the film allows the wife to be just as bad as the husband rather than a joyless stick in the mud. Zac Efron is by all means a charismatic and talented actor but, for whatever reason, he continues to make these trashy, red band comedies where he’s expected to do little more than spout expletives and provide eye candy. The girls in this film do have a bit more going for them than the guys did in the previous film in terms of character but that isn’t really saying much. Moretz does have her moments but she can do so much better than this film.

It’s simple really. If you liked Bad Neighbours and want more of the same then there is no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy the sequel. If the former did nothing for you however then the latter has very little to offer. I’d probably rate this film a little higher than I would the original but I certainly wouldn’t call it a good film. Most of the jokes fell flat for me, the parts that some viewers might find uproarious were quite simply vulgar to me, and there was little the cast could do to save any of it. When I think back to Dirty Grandpa however and just imagine what this film could have been, I’m relieved that the film never tried to be more than a silly, coarse, unapologetic comedy. While I still don’t think it’s good, I also don’t think it’s without comedic merit. If crudeness, slapstick and shamelessness is what you’re looking for, then by all means enjoy.

★★