Tag Archives: Sandra Bullock

Romancing the D

The Lost City

by Hope Madden

A romance novelist who’s really a bit of a hermit becomes a reluctant adventurer looking for legendary jewels in a far-off land, with a roguishly handsome man—part hero, part heartthrob—at her side.

No, it isn’t Romancing the Stone. It isn’t even Jewel of the Nile. Aaron and Adam Nee’s romantic adventure comedy The Lost City offers less adventure, more screwball comedy. And more sequins.

Sandra Bullock is Loretta Sage, whose romance novels are known less for their anthropological mysteries than their hunky hero. That hero has been depicted over many book covers by Alan (Channing Tatum).

Promoting their latest effort, The Lost City of D, Loretta gets nabbed by a wealthy villain (Daniel Radcliffe, playing delightfully against type), who believes she can decipher a map leading to untold riches.

The real gem in this film is Brad Pitt in an extended cameo as the tracker hired to find Loretta. The Oscar winner and veteran leading man is just so much fun when his only goal is to be funny, and in this movie, he’s a riot. (It helps that he gets to deliver the film’s single best line.)

Bullock and Tatum are both solid comic performers, but neither is given much to work with in this odd couple romance. A grieving widow given up on love, Loretta doesn’t offer Bullock a lot of room for hilarity. Instead, she becomes a rather dour anchor for the project.

Tatum’s dunderheaded beefcake is appealing enough, but can’t quite keep the film afloat. A side plot featuring Da-Vine Joy Randolph (Dolemite Is My Name) feels like filler, which this 2-hour film did not need.

There are some chuckles, especially when Pitt’s onscreen. Bullock and Tatum share enough chemistry, deliver physical comedy well enough, and generate enough charm between them to keep the breezy entertainment enjoyable.

The Lost City offers pretty, lightweight fun, not unlike a romance novel.

Family Jewels

Ocean’s 8

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

More than 15 years ago, Steven Soderbergh recast the Rat Pack, pointing out a set of Hollywood A-listers led by George Clooney who were as stylish and cool as Sinatra and the fellas.

Three films later (four, if you count Soderbergh’s hillbilly version Logan Lucky, and you should) and the Ocean family is drawn once again to the big payoff.

This time it’s Danny Ocean’s sister Deb (Sandra Bullock). A life of crime runs in the family, it seems. Fresh from incarceration, Deb is looking to execute the con she’s been fine tuning over the last 5 years in lockdown.

What Debbie needs is a team, and she knows what kind.

“A ‘him’ gets noticed. A ‘her’ gets ignored.”

That’s a line well-placed and well-played, and though the film seems awfully familiar from the jump, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The music bumpers, throwback scene segues, strategy meetings and comfortable pacing set the cool vibe, and Ocean’s 8 is cheeky enough in its outright impersonation of the previous installments to shrug off feeling derivative. Instead, it comes off as second class, which may be more disappointing.

Though director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) can crib the style—his cast (including Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna and a spunky Awkwafina) can’t generate the same chemistry. No one does a bad job, far from it, but Ocean’s 8 lacks the overlapping dialogue and easy rapport of earlier efforts. They have the talent, they just don’t have the material.

Anne Hathaway is the real thief in this caper, stealing every scene with a fun and funny send-up of the Hollywood diva persona (including her own). James Corden, popping in as a fraud expert investigating the theft of a multi-million dollar Cartier necklace during the Met Gala, brightens up the third act as well with his fresh perspective and savvy delivery.

Otherwise, the side characters are neither as meaty or as interesting as in previous franchise efforts. Surprisingly it’s Blanchett who disappoints most. Too dialed down, her Lou lacks the color and definition to be effective as Debbie’s second banana, and Blanchett’s casual greatness feels wasted.

The best of the Ocean’s films rely on sharp characterizations and sharper sleight of hand. You believe you’re watching the con unfold only to find that …whaat?….the real heist was somewhere you weren’t looking. It is you who’s been conned.

While 8 follows that formula it succeeds only to a degree, its script simply not crisp enough to charm you into buying all in. The con itself is not believably intricate and Ross, who co-wrote the screenplay with Olivia Milch, cops out in act three with heavy exposition.

But hey, heist movies are fun, and movies with this much star power are fun. Ergo, Ocean’s 8 is a fun time at the movies.

Glitzy, forgettable fun.





So Much for Brand Names

Our Brand is Crisis

by Hope Madden

In 2005, with her film Our Brand is Crisis, documentarian Rachel Boynton unveiled the puppeteering that American political-strategists-for-hire undertake the world over. Her film followed James Carville’s team as they set their sights on putting their candidate in office during Bolivia’s 2002 presidential elections. With insight, cynicism, mirth and horror she detailed their “no wrong but losing” efforts – and its bloody aftermath – breathtakingly painting the way competition utterly eclipsed the good of a nation.

Director David Gordon Green takes a stab at updating Boynton’s tale, adapted by the generally quite wonderful Peter Straughan (Frank, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). They enlist Sandra Bullock as “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a longtime political strategist who, after a series of embarrassing losses and a spate of even more embarrassing behavior, has retired from the biz.

But she’s pulled out of retirement – What? No way! What’s the lure? It’s not the lame duck Bolivian presidential candidate supported by former colleague Nell and her partner Ben (Ann Dowd and Anthony Mackie – both embarrassingly underused). No, it’s the involvement of old nemesis Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton – the spitting image of Carville), lead strategist for the leading candidate.

An unkempt Bullock and slickly creepy Thornton offer fiery chemistry, and as long as they share the screen, Our Brand is Crisis captivates. But the film can’t decide whether it’s a political comedy, a change-of-heart drama, or an underdog thriller.

While Straughan is an almost sure bet, Green’s unpredictable thumbprint as director is more of a question mark. His best films blend comedy and drama with an almost poetic balance, but he cannot find his footing here.

Straughan’s uncharacteristically muddled writing sinks sharply comical jabs at our political machinery with an undercooked conscience, a patronizing representation of Bolivians, and an oh-so-tired White Savior routine.

Although Scoot McNairy is a hoot.

In retrospect, it’s hard to explain the hot mess that is Our Brand is Crisis. It had all the elements it needed to be a winner – talented director, wonderful writer, heavy-hitting cast. Sometimes, though, even a sure bet comes up a loser.

Verdict-2-5-Stars





Oscar Countdown: Snubs Galore

The Oscar nominations always cause a stir, what with the Academy’s glaring myopia when it comes to certain films. This year, the snubs were fewer and less harsh than in years past (like that year they totally ignored three of the best films of the year in Drive, Take Shelter and Young Adult, and failed to nominate the year’s best lead actress performances). We may never get over 2011.

Still, as always, there are some very curious omissions. Here we run down our 5 biggest gripes.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis

The magnificent Coen brothers’ immersive character study set in the unforgiving winter of the Greenwich Village folk scene garnered no love for its outstanding lead performance or its pristine screenplay or its rich and textured direction or even its music! That’s a lot of snubs for one film. It would certainly have been tough to find room for the wondrous Oscar Isaac in a leading actor field more crowded than most, and though the Coens are perpetual competitors for best director (by Oscar’s standards or anyone else’s), who would we bump this year? Scorsese? That’s a hard choice.

When it comes to original screenplay, we may have dumped Dallas Buyers Club in favor of Llewyn. There’s no question that we would have given it the best picture nod over Philomena.

 

2. Stories We Tell

The Academy had their heads up their asses with this one. In fact, there are a number of documentaries better suited to the award than this lineup suggests, but Sarah Polley’s deceptively complicated, brave and clever film cries out for recognition. Not only among the best documentaries of the year but one of the very best films overall, we would certainly have knocked Dirty Wars from the list in favor of Polley’s film. Truth be told, the only film in the category more deserving is The Act of Killing, so we’d have been fine with kicking any of the others to the curb to make room.

 

3. Her

The most imaginative and lovely film of 2013 went without acknowledgment in acting and directing, which is sinful. Our first order of business would be to get Scarlett Johansson a best actress nomination, even though the studio pushed her for supporting. Let’s be honest, regardless of the fact that she’s never onscreen, she plays one of two lovers in a love story. She’s the lead. And in a brilliant voice-only effort, she easily deserves Sandra Bullock’s spot. (In fact, we’d pick Johansson over Bullock, Streep or even Dench this year.)

Joaquin Phoenix should have edged out Leo (though we loved Leo’s work, it’s just a very tight race this year!). Director is as tight as actor, and while Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese are 1) geniuses and 2) nominated for outstanding work this year, we’d have given one of their places to Spike Jonze for crafting a beautiful love story set in an unerringly crafted near-future, and doing so without a hint of cynicism or derivation.

 

4. Blue Is the Warmest Color

Apparently France couldn’t get off its cheese eating ass to get the film released in time for Oscar consideration, which is an absolute tragedy. The film should, by all accounts, boast two nominations, one for Best Foreign Language Film and another for Best Actress. The fact that Adele Exarchopoulos’s career-defining turn in this romantic drama will go unacknowledged is a crime.

 

5. And the Rest

We’d rather see Julie Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said) for Best Actress than Meryl Streep. We know that sounds like heresy, but her performance in August: Osage County is so hyperbolic that it’s more exaggeration than acting. True, the weak direction of A: OC is most likely to blame, but the end result just doesn’t measure up.

We would also have given either Daniel Bruhl (Rush) or James Gandolfini (Enough Said) the nod over Jonah Hill for Best Supporting Actor.

 

For more on our Oscar picks, listen to George’s stint on the Sunny 95 (WSNY Columbus, OH) morning show.

 





SciFi of Significance

by Hope Madden

The wondrous galactic epic Gravity delivers an unmatched cinematic achievement. Co-writer/director Alfonso Cuarón sets you adrift in space, and for 90 minutes he leaves you breathless at the glory of the universe, and wrung out at the drama of attempted survival.

His work will make you remember why you go to movies – to the dark auditorium with the big, big screen. It will make you remember a time when a trip to the cinema utterly dwarfed the experience of movie night at home.

To create this magnificent beast, Cuarón created tools and technology that simply did not exist prior to this film. He created what he needed to authentically craft the sense of zero gravity, utter silence, cosmic lighting – all in 3D, no less.

When it comes to the vehicle for all this gadgetry, Cuarón, along with co-writer and son Jonás, seems to understand that simplicity is his friend. He refuses to complicate the tale, and the paired down narrative allows the primal terror and exhilaration of the space adventure to take hold.

Cuarón’s camera takes us to the outer reaches, and then crawls inside the space suit, allowing us to hurl unmoored through space along with Sandra Bullock’s novice astronaut. She is a medical researcher on her first space voyage, and she is in over her head, unprepared for all that she will experience. Just like us.

A playful George Clooney tags along for camaraderie, helping Cuarón create a joyous calm before the crisis. They’re astronauts. Look how cool that is! No wonder they risk almost unimaginable peril to do it.

Though the narrative makes a misstep here and there with emotional trickery and melodrama, what errors Cuarón makes with words he more than compensates for with the overwhelming visual experience.

The action will wring you out as you curse the clumsy suits, rail against the unpredictability of gravity, strain with heroes desperate to rush in a silent calm that will not allow it. Gravity doesn’t just deliver a magnificent view of space; it also offers perhaps the most breathlessly exciting action adventure of the year.

Visually glorious does not begin to describe Cuarón’s film. More than that, Gravity is realistic – jaw droppingly so. And this is why people began making movies in the first place – to transport you someplace magical, someplace otherworldly. Few if any have succeeded in this quest quite as Cuarón has with Gravity.

 

Verdict-4-5-Stars

 

 





Have I Seen You Somewhere Before?

The Heat

by Hope Madden

It’s interesting how a film can be so familiar and so unusual at the same time. Take The Heat. Pairing an A-list movie star with a proven comic talent for a buddy cop comedy is hardly a fresh idea. 48 Hours, Rush Hour, The Other Guys – it’s been done, and it doesn’t always work. Still, it is a well-worn concept that often delivers enough laughs to merit a couple of hours.

Now, thanks mostly to the deserved popularity of Bridesmaids, it has finally occurred to someone in Hollywood that women can shoulder an R-rated comedy. So, bro-mance is not a requirement for this odd couple caper, in which both cops are women – specifically,  Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.

Bullock is the uptight Ashburn to McCarthy’s loose cannon Mullins, the Felix to her Oscar, the Danny Glover to her Mel Gibson. They’ve been paired against their wills to ferret out a Boston drug lord. Maybe they’ll exploit each other’s foibles in the process, maybe even find an unexpected friend. (I’ll give them this – at no time does either detective say she is getting too old for this shit.)

The two leads fill the requisite roles quite well, Bullock’s angular, anal-retentive is the perfect foil for McCarthy’s unkempt profanity volcano. Bullock keeps pace admirably, but McCarthy is such an inexhaustible comedy explosion that the rest of the cast doesn’t have to work too hard. Her every line feels improvised, giving Katie Dippold’s otherwise predictable script much needed vitality.

McCarthy’s riotous performance honestly outshines everything about a film that’s content to coast on the novelty of female casting. Nothing else about The Heat bears remark – clichéd comedy trappings familiarly staged and directed, with Sandra Bullock relying on her Miss Congeniality stylings. It’s not terrible, but certainly nothing to write home about.

But there is nothing stale about McCarthy. Her talent for physical gags, her impeccable timing, and her bottomless well of one-liners gives every scene, however tired, the opportunity for a laugh.

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars