Director: Betty Thomas
Starring: Sandra Bullock
There’s a lot to like about 28 Days, mostly how very 2000 it is, but its setting is not its best attribute; the popularity of mental ward/rehab center dramas was a regrettable fad that should never have caught on, and this film indulges in that fantasy with far too much fervor. We don’t need human torment to be popularized for entertainment purposes; de-stigmatizing yes, play-acting no. 28 Days does a few things well, a few passably, and some miserably, but if it ultimately works, that’s despite its cliched random-funny-messed-up-people routine, not because of it, and despite its star, who, although she puts on the performance of her career, was never good enough to be taken seriously.
Hi, this is Gwen, she’s an alcoholic, and she’s about to ruin her life. She’s a writer, a drunk, an addict a terrible sister, and a complete train wreck, whose drunk driving incident will get her tossed in jail unless she agrees to four weeks in rehab. So off she goes, though Gwen doesn’t think she has a problem, she thinks she can quick drinking and popping pills whenever she wants to, she simply doesn’t want to. Oldest tale in the book there Gwennie, you’re not fooling anyone, especially not the other residents, who have all been there, done that. She meets some great personalities, starts some surprising friendships, and just might learn a thing or too before all is said and done.
Sandra Bullock is a bad actress, always has been, always will be, there’s really no arguing that point. We adored her in Speed, we thought she was fun in Miss Congeniality, but that’s literally it, and don’t even get me started on the white savior-ism of The Blindside. She’s not that talented, she’s just oddly likeable, which works part of the way here, but not as far as it needs to. She leads the film, sure, but not with any special quality, more like by default. The setting is ridiculous and cluttered with cliches, the morals are pandering, and if we end up learning anything by the end it won’t have much to do with anyone involved in the film pushing us there, although the cast is pretty impressive just based on names: Sandra Bullock, Dominic West, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Alan Tudyk, Mike O’Malley. But the film does have a very turn-of-the-century feel to it that’s obvious watching it back, with some tilted angle camera work, heavy messaging, kooky characters, and simple theme. It’s not a bad movie, really, it’s just clinging to the 90s and relying on tropes, masquerading as something better when it wasn’t even terrible at its core; it was simply in dire need of a shot of inspiration, not a plucky blast of Bullock.
Director: Will Gluck
Starring: Emma Stone
I’d like to open with the best thing about Easy A, and it’s not even close; the parents. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a duo portrayed with so much love and humor at the same time, like I wanted to be them, to be near them, for them to be my parents, and for them to be in a movie of their own. Stanley Tucci & Patricia Clarkson deserve all the awards for being all that parents can be and all that we want them to be: funny, caring, breezy, concerned when it’s needed, awkward in just the right ways. I don’t know, they were amazing, it’s the only true reason to watch this film, but it’s strong enough for me to recommend that you at least see them shine, because it’s something special.
Olive is a nobody at school; she’s quick as a whip, but not so great about making connections with other kids. She has friends, sure, but she doesn’t date, she’s kind of invisible, and it bugs her that she’s not more approachable. When she tells her bff a small lie and it gets out, things will change, and at first for the better, but ultimately to her detriment. Well, it’s not a small lie really; she says she had sex, for the first time,with a college guy, and somehow the story gets blown way out of proportion, making Olive, suddenly, the slut of the school. Now boys are asking her to make up more lies so that they can be popular like she seems to be, which is fun at first, but not in the long run. Respect is earned but it’s also lost, and Olive’s goals aren’t to be an imaginary whore, they’re to find a great guy who likes her for who she is, not for the harlot she pretends to be.
Apart from the parents, who were perfect comedically and absolute angels parent-wise, Easy A is just OK. It’s a teen romp/coming of age/rom com/life lesson that we’ve seen a hundred times before, and it’s nowhere near as interesting as the movies it references. It’s flippant, it’s predictable, it’s average, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, but some consider it multiple steps above the norm, and I’m here to say that it isn’t, or maybe just one small step. It does boast both Tucci & Clarkson, as well as Emma Stone, who we all can’t help but love, and she pulls off the role well, since it’s all she was good at, really, this kind of character, until she grew up, stepped out, and showed us she was something more. I like her, she carries the story, at least as far as it can go, and the rest of the cast is pretty fun: Amanda Bynes, Thomas Hayden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell, Fred Armisen. The boys, the loves, the morals; those were all silly, and brought down what maybe had the potential to be game-changing, but settled for cheaply entertaining instead.
Director: John McNaughton
It might be cool to kinda like Wild Things even though it’s terrible, but I can do that with other movies, not this one, this one sucks. I know, I know, they were trying to be bad; well they succeeded. There is some fun in being awful on purpose, I get that, I can enjoy that, and this film definitely went overboard with intent, it’s not a complete accident that everything in it is horrible. But, I mean, my eyes still have to see, and what we’re being asked to watch isn’t something that’s worth the forgiveness that a b movie requires. When I was 16 it was sexy, now it’s just dumb, and not worth a trip down memory lane.
In the rich town of Blue Bay, Florida, the Van Ryan’s rule all. Sandra Van Ryan is the queen of an empire her husband left her, Kelly Van Ryan is her beautiful daughter, and they both get what they want when they want it and no one says no. Well, until Kelly crosses paths with her guidance counselor Sam Lombardo and decides she wants him, which he refuses, which makes Kelly mad. So she accuses him of rape to get back at him and convinces another girl to do the same, although Sam swears he’s innocent. What follows is a twisted tale of back stories and back stabbing, as everyone seems to be in on some sort of con job, and no one is getting out alive.
I like the Florida setting, the overtly ridiculous opulence and melodrama, the Silk Stockings feel to the whole thing. That’s fun, and the story is tricky, and the girls are hot, and when I was a teenager all that was enough to entertain at least, but not now; now I need more. Well, there isn’t more, that’s the thing, there’s nothing else to be given, because no one involved in this movie is talented, except for Bill Murray, who really steals the show. Everyone else sucks, can’t act, looks dumb, and might as well just be spouting random lines and conspiracy theories because the dialogue never feels like two people would ever speak to each other that way, even in fiction. Denise Richards was an icon, it’s fun to see her here, but that’s about it; the rest is an attempt at b-excellence that’s more like d-ignorance.
Director: William H. Macy
The Layover may start out as a surprising good time like The Sweetest Thing, a girls-trip romp that somehow becomes a cult classic, but quickly becomes The Other Woman, a throw-away film about cheating & bonding that’s just plain crappy. You could tell what they were going for here, that’s something in their favor I guess, but they missed the mark by about a hundred miles, handing us a rom/com wannabe rather than a genre film that at least checks the boxes. This movie may have two of the hottest women on the planet in it, and that may or may not be why I watched it, but it’s a far cry from quality entertainment; even if it teases with possibility, it definitely doesn’t deliver.
Meg and Kate are best friends, but they couldn’t be more different and they aren’t doing very well at the moment. Meg runs a cosmetics business but it’s failing, and she hooks up with a ton of guys but it’s never anything serious. Kate is a teacher but might get fired, and she’s so anxious that she never does anything fun. With their lives crumbling, the pair decide that what they need is a vacation, so off they fly to Florida. Unfortunately, there’s a hurricane and they’re forced to land in St. Louis, but luckily they meet a gorgeous guy named Ryan who’s being forced to layover as well. Ready, set, start the race for the hottie, as both women go after the same man and friendship is temporarily set aside. Apparently so is decently, sanity, and sometimes clothing; dating is a mess, and love is a complete disaster.
Days gone by, we would have called The Layover a chick flick and been done with it, dismissed it out of hand as a movie only for women to go see with their girlfriends and not worth a second look. But we’re a little more open-minded now, I hope, we want actresses to make their own career choices, to be raunchy if they choose, any one can enjoy that silly genre, the more the merrier. And that’s all great, but this is still a bad movie, an awkward attempt at comedy, and hasn’t really done the movement any services. At the beginning, you think it might work; the crass humor, the road trip, the sex, the competition, it’s fun, much like Sweetest Thing. But it really takes a u-turn about midway through, and starts playing humanity’s least desirable qualities for laughs, which is simply off-putting. WHM is hardly a director, I’m not sure he qualifies, and Upton is in no way an actress, so that doesn’t work, and relying on the hotness of your main characters only takes you so far; we need a little more, come on. There were moments when I laughed, some slapstick that worked, but mainly you’ll eventually start wondering why you’re watching, and you probably won’t be proud of yourself for sticking it out to the end.
Director: James Mangold
Like Kingdom of Heaven, which I just reviewed and gave a mediocre rating because it wasn’t as good as we thought at the time, Girl, Interrupted is a film that seemed neat when we saw it 20 years ago but smacks a little of absurdity now. And the main reason is the same as well; the lead actor simply sucks at acting. Orlando Bloom has a look, but not the talent, and the exact same is true of Winona Ryder, who is by no means as good as her fame would suggest. She has an air perhaps, an indefinable quality I guess, but that doesn’t translate to skill, and we shouldn’t expect her to carry a film very far; she simply isn’t qualified. This film falters because of her, and for other random reasons as well, stumbling far too often to be considered great, and aging so badly that we might even consider it poor.
After an affair with a married man and during a time in her life when all options seemed equally negative, Susanna swallowed a bottle of pills with a bottle of alcohol, and woke up in the hospital. Now, although she’s 18, her parents want her to go to a mental hospital to recover, where she’ll have to check herself in and trust the doctors there to let her out. On the inside, Susanna meets the other patients and begins to understand a little of what she almost did to herself, with the help of many surprising friendships and the caring Nurse Valeria. But another girl, Lisa, who has escaped more times than anyone can count, keeps drawing Susanna into destructive tendencies, at first appearing as the voice that she needs to hear to come to terms with her life but quickly becoming something far more harmful.
This is a true story, written by Susanna Kaysen about her year & a half long stay at an institution in the 60s, after a suicide attempt. So it’s personal, it’s realistic, it’s honest, at least to a point, and I guess it sheds some light on what some people might be going through; if it does that and it helps someone, then bravo. Otherwise, the movie’s not that good. The beginning is, the flashbacks, the drips of info, the ward, the characters, all that was intriguing, and I didn’t even mind Ryder. But then the meat of the movie was asked to be excellent and it just couldn’t do the job, mostly because Winona isn’t a very good actress, she’s more a solid idea than a strong professional. The rest of the cast is interesting: Goldberg, Jolie, Clea Duvall, Brittany Murphy, Elisabeth Moss, Jared Leto, Jeffrey Tambor, Vanessa Redgrave, Kurtwood Smith. There are some historic references, the mood is right, but by the end the acting has become a problem, and the setting seems a little forced, not transportative. Ryder loses it, Jolie becomes a bad guy, Goldberg is pretty one-note, the action because cliched, and you lose respect for what the film might have been saying as what it’s actually laying down isn’t as perfected as you’d like to see from a film of this level of intensity. Angelina Jolie won an Oscar for her role, which I just don’t see, and which, at the same time, makes the rest of the team seem a little sad since nothing else was even nominated. Girl, Interrupted might have had its heart in the right place, we might have liked it in 1999, but it doesn’t stand up; it just isn’t strong enough.
Director: Ridley Scott
Kingdom of Heaven is not as good as we thought it was 15 years ago; it has aged badly since and can’t compare to others of its genre that didn’t suffer the same fate. What was our obsession with Orlando Bloom anyway: Lord of the Rings, Black Hawk Down, Pirates of the Caribbean, Troy. That’s almost completely his entire film career, at least what matters, and it’s sad that it came & went so quickly, from 2001-2005, the rest mostly more Pirates movies and Hobbit movies that didn’t require much beyond just showing up. He’s a terrible actor, in hindsight, I don’t know why we were enamored with him, it makes very little sense, and it makes Kingdom of Heaven a weird movie to have enjoyed once upon a time.
In the 12th century, Europe waged war in the Middle East, as a hundred years of battles rolled over the region with one city at its heart; Jerusalem. The Crusaders had come in swarms to conquer the Holy Land, and now a sort of fragile peace ruled the land, with King Baldwin on the throne and the mighty Saladin waiting impatiently in the desert. Some wanted open warfare, like the Knights Templar, and tried to lure Saladin’s forces into conflict, but most wanted to live together, Christian, Jew, Muslim, all together sharing their most sacred landmarks. A young man, Balian, the unknowing heir to knighthood and land near Jerusalem, finds himself traveling there to face his destiny, meeting the King and his sister, Princess Sibylla, and entering into politics that he doesn’t understand, ultimately becoming a potential savior of Christianity’s hold on the Kingdom of Heaven, but only if God wills it, and only if he can stay alive.
This story is spectacular, and probably should have led to a film that was easily Best Picture material, immediately on scale with Braveheart, Gladiator, and the like. It’s broad, huge, sweeping, epic, amazing, and tells a true tale that’s so fascinating, the history of a place that’s still hotly contested to this day. It’s one of those stories that takes history, plops an eye witness down in the middle, and let’s us experience the moment through his eyes, which is so fun and so much fun to watch. The music, the armies, the costumes, the characters; this is grand theatre at its finest, at least as far as preparation was concerned. The problem lies in Orlando Bloom, who is both no good and no good at being this specific leading man. He seems out of place, so anachronistic, and never relates to the other actors, especially Eva Green, who he is supposed to love. The other actors in the film are fantastic, including Green and Siddig, and gathering in the rest: Michael Sheen, David Thewlis, Liam Neeson, Kevin McKidd, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Martin Csokas, Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Irons, Ed Norton, Ghassan Massoud. It’s a phenomenal cast, the tale is spun nicely, but Bloom brings things down, and the entire feel starts to weigh a little heavy with cultural problems, religious nonsense, and perhaps simply a bit of out-of-touch film making. Kingdom of Heaven isn’t quite as good as I remember it being when I was 22; now at 37, I see it a bit more cynically, much more critically, and its problems rise to the surface, which doesn’t stop it from being ‘awesome’ by definition, but stops it from being amazing by experience.
Director: Jason Woliner
The original Borat is, oddly enough, one of the most infamous movies ever made and one of the most purely recognizable films of the past 20 years. It’s perhaps the most original, off-the-wall, bizarrely entertaining, absolutely memorable pieces of whack-a-doo we’ve ever seen, and yet it has remained with us, it has cemented itself as an icon, and it will always live on in pop culture history until, some day, an alien will watch it and wonder why this is a piece of our collective culture, and if we were there we wouldn’t know what to say to defend ourselves. Maybe it’s that simple; there is no defense for Borat and there is also no reason, it just exists, and it’s one of the funnest things ever made, although no one knows why. Borat 2, a repeat of the madness, another round of shots, another excuse to die laughing? Bring it on.
Borat Sagdiyev, the Kazakh journalist, known for promoting his small country in ours to the embarrassment of all, is back with a chance at redemption. This time, his government wants him to deliver a gift to Vice Premier Michael Pence, so that the leader of Kazakhstan might be added to the cabinet of evil dictators that McDonald Trump has surrounded himself with in recent years. Borat must deliver a famous chimp to Pence in Texas, but when the plan goes awry Borat’s daughter will have to do as a present, and any one of Trump’s friends will do as a recipient. But the world is in the middle of a pandemic, Republicans have taken over the conspiracy theory message boards, and Borat doesn’t know exactly what to do. To make matters worse, his daughter is starting to think for herself and is no loner willing to be caged like an animal and to be forbidden to have independent thoughts. It’s a wild world, but our hero will face it like he always does; oddly, uncomfortably, and ultimately the worst way possible.
The first time around, Borat caught us with our pants down. Cohen’s film was all over the place, but at its heart it was about pulling back the curtain and exposing some real evil and idiocy. He exposed a lot prejudice, he embarrassed a lot of people, and that’s great, because we needed to see what was happening, and what could still happen even when people knew the camera was rolling. And, of course, some of it was just plain stupid, ridiculous fun, and that’s probably why we love Borat so much, because he’s so irreverent and awkward and upsetting and entertaining. Round two hits even harder, because Cohen focuses on our biggest current problem; Conservatives. Right wing ideals are as much a disaster as COVID, and he breaks that news to us with no Novocaine; here they are, here’s what they believe, here’s how they act, how is this happening. The virus, the rallies, the false info, the hypocrisy, the leaders of it all; we get under the surface because Borat can take us there, and it isn’t pretty. And it’s all still heavily sprinkled with lunacy and fun, belly laughs and cringe-worthy moments, all the patented appeal that you knew would be there again and enjoyed so much the 14 years ago. If you like the first you’ll dig the second; it slaps that hard.
Over the Moon is what happens when you combine Moana, Abominable, Trolls 2, Lego Movie 2, and some random, chaotic, over-the-top pop culture; the result is not pretty. Pearl Studios’ first and only film is Abominable, so it’s not a coincidence, they simple took a similar story and hired some Disney guys to make it all work, and that type of “borrowing” doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s a ripoff in so many ways that it becomes distracting, and it seems like the original content is only there to mess things up further. Made worse by a hundred different styles tried all at the same time, Over the Moon becomes a bumpy ride that even younger audiences will notice doesn’t terminate somewhere great.
Fei Fei loves her family and the traditions they have always kept, honoring the Moon Goddess in stories and making Moon Cakes in their shop. But when her mother gets sick, Fei Fei will be challenged to move on, to accept new truths, to deal with loss in a way she wasn’t ready for, and that will prove to be very, very difficult. Instead of accepting things, she sets out on an impossible quest; to reach the moon in a homemade rocket ship and to bring back proof of the Moon Goddess’ existence. Well, as far-fetched as it sounds, Fei Fei reaches the Moon and meets the Goddess, but things aren’t what they seem, and her mission will bring her closer to her own self-awareness.
It’s just too derivative, which makes it hard to appreciate. Moana morals, Abominable characters, Trolls 2 chaos, Lego Movie 2 pop, with still more sprinkled in for good measure: Frozen, Bolt, Next Gen. It’s a mess, and a mess of the leftovers of other films, which makes it even worse. There’s nothing original here at all except the music, which is absolutely terrible. At first, I was pleasantly surprised; it seemed like the film would be a stage musical set in a China, with deep meanings and awesome characters. Then they went to the Moon, everything became neon, the songs sucked, and the world turned upside down (Hamilton reference, hello Phillipa Soo). The animation was terrific, that I can point to, and the beginning was great, that I can appreciate. But the rest not even my kids could enjoy; it was a blunder of bad ideas and stolen content, not even worthy, I’m sad to say, of lesser-Netflix.