The Lost City

This one should be short and sweet, it is a popcorn picture that for the most part succeeds and It’s not trying to do anything too innovative. This is a combination Romantic Comedy/Adventure film, and if you hear the title of “Romancing the Stone” in more than one review of the film, there is a reason why, the premise is exactly the same. A romance writer gets caught up in a real life adventure and finds the man of her novels in the real world. The pitch for this movie would be word for word the same as the 1984 film.

Instead of Kathleen Turner we get Sandra Bullock, who may be just a little too long in the tooth for this kind of film, but she gets a pass because she is talented, funny, and has a long history of Rom Coms behind her. Channing Tatum is turning into a great utility player who can be both a romantic lead and a comic foil, and he is both in this movie. If you watch the trailer, you might for a moment believe Brad Pitt is the hero of the film. Pitt is great, don’t get me wrong, he steals a scene with just his voice while doing his trademark munching,  but he is in the film very briefly. 

The big surprise is that Daniel Radcliffe, is a great villain and he has a wicked sense of comic timing in some key scenes. That’s right, Harry Potter is the Voldemort of this story, if Voldemort was a victim of sibling rivalry and had a sense of humor. Even the moments where he plays it straight are pretty effective so good on him. I don’t know why Da’Vine Joy Randolph is new to me, when I looked at her IMDB page, she worked in like eight TV series in the last couple of years, anyway she was very amusing as Bullock’s agent, who takes a serious responsibility for her client. 

A lot of the best bits of humor are spoiled by the trailer but there are a few additional moments that you can still be surprised by. One of the things that surprised me were the clever lines that came every few minutes, directed at our culture of Instagram addicted, barely literate, and now aging millennials. You may find yourself the target a a few barbs here and there. Speaking of sibling rivalry, the movie was co-directed and co written by brothers Aaron and Adam Nee, who look to be in charge of the Masters of the Universe movie that has been promised for the last couple of years. If you are looking forward to that film, you should probably check this one out to get a sense of how these two visualize a story and try to bring humor to it. 

Except for one brief bloody moment, the film is mostly cartoon violence and you can feel pretty safe taking your teens and your Mom to see it. Just be sure you get the refillable bucket of popcorn, because this will keep you munching throughout and enjoying a couple of hours of empty calories for your eyes as well as your stomach. 

Ocean’s 8

It’s been more than a decade since this franchise had an entry. The purpose of a re-boot like this is of course money, but that does not mean that there can’t be something worth watching as a result. The Three Soderbergh films were sort of a mixed bag. The first was delightful, the second one strained and lacking the light touch of the first and then the third one coming close to the first in deftness. He is an Executive Producer on this film but this is really the baby of writer/director Gary Ross. Mr. Ross has been hit or miss for me as well, penning and directing the great “Seabuscuit” and “Pleasantville”, but also writing “The Tale of Desperaux” which I wanted to love but did not. With this outing however, we are on solid ground.

Maybe it is a high concept twist to put together an all female crew to mimic the skills and character points of the male version, but for the most part it works. The plot set up is a little clunky in tying the cast to the other films, but in the long run, marketing is what got this film greenlit in the first place so it is essential from that perspective. From a story point of view, not so much. Nothing that happened in the previous films is relevant to anything that happens here. They only serve as a model for the twists and diversions a heist picture must make to create some suspense and make the film entertaining. For the most part, Ross and his team follow the template well.

There is an extended opening section where we meet the main character, Debbie Ocean, Danny’s sister. We see her being released from prison after making a persuasive plea for parole. The guards aren’t taken in because they know from first hand experience that she is still a hustler. There are several moments where we get to see her strut her stuff and establish that she is a clever thief and capable of pulling off the confidence games that are going to be part of the heist that serves as the center of the film. Sandra Bullock can play these moments effectively, and there are a couple of times when she needs to be a bit cold-hearted, she does that well too. The rest of the opening section involves recruiting the team and setting up the crime. Like the other films, we are only given enough information to keep us going in the right direction, while still being able to be surprised along the way.

The one weakness that I see in the film that is fairly obvious, is that the other members of the team are drawn in a sketchy manner. Wheras character development was a big part of the men’s version of this plot, the women end up simply reflecting some stereotypes from crime films. There is a cool counterpart played by Cate Blanchett, a mysterious hacker played by Rihanna, and a meticulous fence in Sarah Paulson.  Mindy Kaling gets the nerdy counterfeiter part and there is a street smart pick pocket. The only member of the team that really develops some character is Helena Bonham Carter, a clothing designer that gets drawn into the plot. Her part was better fleshed out than any of the other cast except Bullock.

You have to make a few allowances for heist films. Nothing ever follows the plan, that’s part of the fun, but things can’t fall into place with the degree of certainty that happens in most films of this ilk. If you can let those moments go and just sit back for the ride, you will enjoy the little treats along the way, and the song score helps as well. This is a refreshing crowd pleaser that lacks the angst of some of the bigger films out there, but it will go down well with a cold beverage on a summer night.

Minions

Much as happened with “Cars 2”, secondary characters have been given the lead in a sequel and it craps out. What is cute for brief interludes in a complete story becomes boring as the feature attraction. There are many elements in this film that are clever and fun but the material needs to exist in a context that you can care about and there is no real point or goal for the story other than to be an engine for the next bit. I was a real fan of the original “Despicable Me” and I thought that “Despicable Me 2” lived up to the quality of the original, even if it was not quite as strong. I like the Minions but I did not like their stand alone film.

The movie starts off promisingly, with a clever delivery of the Universal Theme music as the credits start. The first ten minutes of the film are summarized very effectively by the main trailer. We are told of the origins of the Minions and their need to serve the most evil figure they can find. This was a little dicey from my point of view, it leads me to think that Minions would be in places that no one would ever be making a animated comedy about. This point needed to be worked on a little more because it creates a dark theme that is disturbingly distracting. If the Minions had some kind of attachment disorder that draws them to megalomaniacal  figures, then it would not have quite the same undertone.

Once the longer history of the Minions is told, we are dropped into the situation where they are isolated and without a figure to follow. Three Minions go in search of a new evil character to follow. It turns out that the majority of the film is set in the 1960s, and there are only two reasons that this was done. First it is a prequel story to the events of the other films, but more importantly, it allows the film makers to raid the pop charts of the sixties for familiar tunes that the audience will latch onto for brief set pieces. The music is not an enhancement to the story telling, it is an attractant, a form of social pheromone designed to keep the adults engaged while the childish behaviors on screen delight the kids. I enjoyed hearing the Turtles, Box Tops, Stones, Kinks and assorted other icons of the period, but the tunes have almost nothing to do with the material going on in the story. It seems pretty shameless to me that this was just being done for obvious commercial reasons rather than making the story take flight, these interludes look like they paper over any need for narrative energy. I guess I should not really be surprised. The movie really is just a marketing tool anyway.

Minions are working for a corporate overlord who is selling toys, not really selling a movie. When “The Care Bears”, and “He-Man” and “G.I. Joe” were accused of it in the 1980s in TV shows and Movies, it was not as annoying as this is. This movie is more subtle, but still just a big ad for product.

I wanted to like this movie. I still find the Minions cute and if they are used in the right way, they can be funny. This movie ran out of steam for me as soon as the main evil character appears. The senseless nature of the Minions recruitment and the stupid plot points that follow are the laziest kind of storytelling one can imagine. When Sandra Bullock’s character tells the three Minions a bedtime story and makes up the plot on the spot and just uses the situation they are in at the time, she was actually doing more work than the writer of this film.

Those of you who are sick of the Minions will be gloating over this disappointment. It is going to be a leading candidate for negative lists at the end of the year. Those of us who still like the Minions will be able to move on and go back to the original two films without being wrong. In the film it is often the Minions who cause a plan to go awry, it was not the characters of the Minions who failed here, this time it was the person they served.