The Lost City

Posted on March 24, 2022 at 5:49 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and some bloody images, suggestive material, partial nudity and language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence, leeches, chases, explosions, guns, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 25, 2022
Date Released to DVD: July 25, 2022

Copyright 2022 Paramount
Let’s get the obvious question out of the way first thing. Yes, “The Lost City” is a lot like “Romancing the Stone,” the 1984 action/comedy/romance movie starring Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglas, and Danny DeVito. Both movies are opposites-don’t-attract-and-then-do stories about shy, bookish-but-beautiful stay-at-home romance novelists who end up on wild jungle adventures with handsome men who are not entirely heroic. Both feature colorful third leads and bad guys scary enough to make the moments of peril exciting.

And that’s a pretty great combination, isn’t it? Especially with four delectable stars at the top of the game: Oscar-winners Sandra Bullock and Brad Pitt plus Channing Tatum and Daniel Radcliffe. Do not listen to those who say that Bullock does not look like a 57-year-old. She looks like a radiantly gorgeous 57-year-old who is completely believable playing someone 20 years younger opposite a leading man who is in reality 14 years younger.

Bullock plays Loretta Sage, a widow still struggling with grief over the loss of her husband and dissatisfaction at her redirection from unsuccessful scholar of ancient civilizations to very successful author of bodice-ripper novels about a pair of very sexy Indian Jones-style adventuresome anthropologists.

Loretta’s purple prose and knowledge of the details of runes and ruins are just one reason for the books’ popularity. The other reason is the handsome, hunky, Fabio-like cover model, Alan (Tatum). He has the broad shoulders, easy charm and flowing locks the fans love. (When I say “has,” I do not necessarily mean growing from his scalp, more like, in his closet to be applied as needed.) He also has something of a crush on Loretta, though he may be confusing both of them for the characters she imagined.

Loretta, who describes herself as a “sabiosexual” (one who is attracted to intellect), thinks of Alan as a brainless pretty boy. She might be a bit jealous of his effortless appeal. She reluctantly agrees to a joint appearance to promote her new book. It does not go well. And then, as she is leaving, she gets into the wrong car and finds herself seated before a lovely array of cheeses and cold meats and an impeccably dressed billionaire who has the most indispensable of all powerful villains, a British accent. He has a clue to a lost treasure, he wants Loretta to translate it, and he won’t take no for an answer.

And so, Loretta is off to the jungle (it was filmed in the Dominican Republic), and Alan, possibly confusing himself with the hero he portrays, goes off to rescue her, with the help of his meditation teacher, a former Navy SEAL played by Brad Pitt, who is as usual the MVP as he is wherever we are lucky enough to see him. This takes nothing away from Bullock and Tatum, who are enormous fun to watch. They have great chemistry and are clearly having a blast. It’s just that Pitt is even more fun. They all get strong support from the rest of the cast, especially Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Loretta’s publisher/publicist and Patti Harrison as the social media liaison. Directors Aaron Nee and Adam Nee keep things moving so the various plot holes fly by without disrupting the popcorn pleasure of seeing Bullock get over her inhibitions and assumptions, Tatum dance, and Pitt be cool in this highly entertaining story.

NOTE: Stay for a post-credit scene.

Parents should know that this movie has extended peril and action with guns, chases, and explosions, and many characters are injured and killed. A character has to take off his clothes to have leeches removed from his body and we see some nudity. Characters use strong language and drink alcohol.

Family discussion: What do Loretta and Alan have in common? What surprised them about each other? Why does Fairfax only want what is impossible to get?

If you like this, try: “Romancing the Stone”

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Oceans 8

Posted on June 7, 2018 at 5:50 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Marijuana, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 8, 2018
Date Released to DVD: September 10, 2018
Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

Heist films are irresistible, especially when they are as twisty and stylish as “Oceans 8.” First, there is the practicality of the puzzle part. I always love the way they set it up to show us how impossible it is, so we can fully appreciate the cleverness of the characters in coming up with plans to surmount the various traps and security features. And then things always go wrong in the moment, so we have the fun of seeing problem-solving in real time. But just as important is the luxury of the fantasy element. We get to identify with people who, like wizards and superheroes, operate outside of the usual rules. All we need is some very slight reason not to worry about the people who are being stolen from (they are usually either unworthy or so institutional it seems impersonal), and we’re on board.

“Oceans 8” has another reason to intrigue us as well. We are already very familiar, perhaps too familiar with the “Oceans 11” series, which rather wore out its welcome by the last in the trilogy and perhaps the original, starring Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. Freshening up the concept with an all-female group of grifters and thieves with a cast that features three Oscar-winners and a sensationally beautiful style icon gives it an embedded freshness and underdog quality. “A him gets noticed; a her gets ignored,” Debbie Ocean says. “For once, we want to be ignored.”

Debbie (Sandra Bullock) is just out of prison after five years, eight months, and twelve days. She explains to the parole board that she has learned her lesson and all she wants is “the simple life. Hold down a job, make some friends, go for a walk after work in the fresh air, pay my bills.” They buy it. And soon she is out, shoplifting herself a new wardrobe and swindling herself a hotel room. She visits the grave of her brother, Danny (the character played by George Clooney in the male “Oceans” movies), though the movie does leave open the possibility that his death might just be another con. And she gets in touch with two of her partners in grift from the past, Lou (Cate Blanchett), who has been dealing in petty cons like watering vodka, and art dealer Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), against whom Debbie seems to have quite a grudge.

Debbie has spent her time in prison devising a heist of delightful complexity and ingenuity. Of course in reality it was devised by director Gary Ross, who wrote the script with Olivia Milch, and one of their best ideas was to set the robbery at the most glamorous event in America, the annual Met Gala (that’s GAH-la, not GAY-la). Their plan: to get the event’s celebrity chair, an air-headed actress named Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) to wear a $150,000,000 diamond necklace so they can steal it.  And this gives us a peek into the most exclusive party of the year, with a delicious chance to get up close to huge celebrities in fabulously over-the-top gowns (though gala empress Anna Wintour is played by an anonymous extra in an impeccably coiffed wig).

This will involve a combination of talents from the psychological (persuading Kluger to choose an out-of-fashion designer and persuading Cartier to loan the necklace) to the technological (everyone needs a hacker these days) to the embedding of various moles to good old-fashioned pickpocketing. As we used to say in the 70’s, sisterhood is powerful.  I won’t spoil any of the twists or surprises; I’ll just say that I enjoyed them all very much and this crowd and they are welcome to steal a necklace from me any time.

Parents should know that this film has criminal behavior, some mild peril, brief strong language, alcohol, and marijuana.

Family discussion: If you had a crackerjack team of thieves, what would you want to steal? What would be the biggest obstacle? What was the movie’s biggest surprise?

If you like this try: the documentary about the Met Gala, The First Monday in May and other sophisticated heist movies like the original and remake versions of “Oceans 11,” “The Italian Job,” and “The Thomas Crown Affair” as well as “How to Steal a Million” and “Topkapi”

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Our Brand is Crisis

Posted on October 29, 2015 at 5:38 pm

Copyright Warner Brothers 2015
Copyright Warner Brothers 2015

As we gear up for one of the most improbable and even outlandish Presidential campaigns in US history, we get a movie based on a real-life Presidential campaign in Bolivia, with imported American political consultants transplanting the media-savvy, scorched-earth, mud-slinging “expertise” that won elections in the US. What could go wrong?

The name of the film is “Our Brand is Crisis,” also the name of the 2006 documentary about what happened when James Carville, an architect of the Clinton campaign, went to Bolivia with his group of consultants and strategists to help elect the Bolivian-born, American-raised Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Actually they went to help re-elect him. He had served as President from 1993-97. He was trying to regain the Presidency, and who better to help than the team who helped the young governor of Arkansas beat a sitting President, George H.W. Bush?

Sandra Bullock, taking a part based on Carville and originally written for George Clooney, plays a consultant known as “Calamity” Jane. She is burned out and living in a remote rural area when she gets a visit from two former colleagues.

Nell (Ann Dowd) and Ben (Anthony Mackie) want her for two reasons. First, she is good at what she does. Second, she is “disposable, expendable, and deniable.” If their candidate (named Castillo in this film and played by Joaquim de Almeida) wins, they get the glory. If he loses, they can blame “Calamity” Jane. Win win, and a good introduction to the small-p politics of the world of strategists and consultants who work on campaigns.

Jane is not interested, even though she needs the money, until she learns that Castillo’s opponent is being advised by her arch rival, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), a man who has been on the other side “three or four times” and beaten her “three or four times.” Much more interested in trouncing anyone Candy is advising than in any of the issues or the quality of the candidates, she agrees to fly to Bolivia, where she spends the first few days breathing oxygen from a tank and throwing up due to the altitude.

Finally she begins to wake up and her fiercely competitive spirit takes over. She brings in a secret weapon, a young woman with crackerjack online research skills known only as LeBlanc (Zoe Kazan), a sort of Lisbeth Salander who looks like a sophomore at Yale. And she starts barking orders, telling her candidate to take off his jacket and roll up his sleeves and to turn toward the camera if he feels a tear in his eye. “We are the syringe that injects the people’s voice into your campaign,” she barks. He is so far behind in the polls that he has no alternative.

Jane’s short-term goal: to humanize her candidate, who is seen by the electorate as imperious and out of touch. Her medium term goal: to persuade the electorate that there is a crisis and only his experienced hand can guide them through. Her ultimate goal: complete annihilation of Pat Candy, with a side order of public humiliation.

The political sophistication of the screenplay is below the level of an AP history class, with a lot of scorched earth posturing and the inevitable idealistic youngster to provide contrast to all the superficial cynics. A reference to Adam Smith’s theory of the invisible hand is there for a gloss of political sophistication, but the aphorisms are tired (“If you fight with monsters for too long, you become a monster”) and the film is almost as cynical as its characters. The reason to see it is Bullock, who gives one of the best performances of the year, as complex, nuanced, savvy, and honest as the film would like to be. She’s got my vote.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, vulgar sexual references, smoking, drinking, and some violence including riots, tear gas, and guns.

Family discussion: Why did Jane take the job? What will she do next?

If you like this, try: the documentary of the same name that inspired this film and “No,” starring Gael Garcia Bernal, based on the 1988 election in Chile

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