Summer Blockbusted 2020: Now Playing…May 15 (FILM FUN/VIDEO)

The Summer Movie Season isn’t closed, it’s just…different.

Welcome to Week 3 of Summer Blockbusted 2020.

Through the end of August, I’m curating a weekly slate of movies from summers past, ranging from big blockbusters to small counter-programming indies. But now, instead of new options for the multiplex, they’re classic ones for your personal home theater.

Every single Friday. All summer long.

(To read more about how each week’s slate is determined, click here.)

This week: films that were released around the third weekend of May.

When possible, archived video reviews from Siskel & Ebert are included (whether I agreed with them or not).

(Find links to other weeks from Summer Blockbusted 2020 at the end of this article.)

NOW PLAYING…MAY 15, 2020

  • Star Wars “Pick Your Prequel
    • The Phantom Menace (May 19, 1999) 136 min Rated PG
    • Attack of the Clones (May 16, 2002) 142 min; Rated PG
    • Revenge of the Sith (May 19, 2005) 140 min; Rated PG-13
    • If I’m picking just one, that’s easy: Revenge of the Sith. Like the other two, Sith has its issues, but it’s the least problematic of the prequels and, ultimately, the most consequential. But if I’m picking just one sequence, that’s also easy: the “Duel of the Fates” lightsaber battle from The Phantom Menace.
    • (Episode I: Final numbers: $431 million domestic; $1.02 billion worldwide.)
    • (Episode II: Final numbers: $302.2 million domestic; $645.2 million worldwide.)
    • (Episode III: Final numbers: $380.2 million domestic; $868.3 million worldwide.)
  • Tony Scott Triple-Feature: Top Gun / Beverly Hills Cop II / Crimson Tide
    • Top Gun (May 16, 1986) 110 min Rated PG (but more like a PG-13)
      This testosterone-soaked action flick secured Tom Cruise his status as a global superstar — and it’s easy to see why. As Maverick, Cruise truly is The Coolest and is having a blast being it. There’s plenty of hot romance for the ladies, too (including some way-oversexed scenes for a PG movie), but the chemistry and banter between Cruise and Kelly McGillis worked for all sensibilities, male and female alike.
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      Director Tony Scott set the tone for producer Jerry Bruckheimer‘s signature aesthetic (colorful, golden hour gloss, much of it in slow-mo), a style he further developed with Michael Bay. It was first established here by Scott in all of its cocky, cheesy, immensely entertaining swagger. Add to that: some truly remarkable and real aerial fighter-jet sequences that would put modern digital effects to shame. What all of that adds up to is timeless blockbuster entertainment, and that’s exactly what Top Gun is. (Final numbers: $180 million domestic; $356.8 million worldwide.)
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    • Beverly Hills Cop II (May 20, 1987) 103 min; Rated R
      Bruckheimer brought Scott onto his — and Eddie Murphy‘s — biggest franchise with this sequel to the 1984 Christmas hit. Beverly Hills Cop II is a hard-R action-comedy that, like the first, is a showcase for Murphy’s charisma, but the character of Axel Foley also allowed him to lean into some surprising dramatic chops that other early roles did not. Cop II may not be as original as the original, but it sure delivers slick summer action and Murphy in his most iconic role, fueled by one of the best song-compilation soundtracks of the 1980s. (Final numbers: $153.6 million domestic; $300 million worldwide.)
    • Crimson Tide (May 12, 1995) 115 min Rated R (25th Anniversary)
      Same look. Same swagger. Much more intelligent. Roughly a decade after Top Gun, Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer return to the Navy. This time, however, the action is deep underwater rather than up in the skies. The conflict has shifted, too, from Cold War to post-Soviet in this submarine thriller, and the stakes are literally nuclear. The conflict is also internal as the hawkish Captain Ramsey (Gene Hackman) is ready to follow an order to fire nukes while second-in-command Lt. Hunter (Denzel Washington) wants to verify a second message that was cut-off midway. Is it a confirmation or an order to stand down?
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      Navy protocols are murky and debatable, which is exactly what the debate between Ramsey and Hunter. Crimson Tide is a blockbuster with a brain, a first rate entertainment that plays out a legitimate real-world simulation, one where ethics and consequences collide in a life-and-death scenario that’s up against a ticking clock. Hackman and Washington are evenly matched, a duo on the level of De Niro vs Pacino, delivering the kind of intensity and magnetism you want from two formidable acting legends. Quentin Tarantino provides uncredited polishes, too, with the kind of clever pop culture references that stick out in the best way, especially as delivered through his colorfully-macho dialogue. (Final numbers: $91.3 million domestic; $157.3 million worldwide.)
  • The Matrix Reloaded (May 15, 2003) 138 min; Rated R
    • Somehow, conventional wisdom has emerged over the years that only the first Matrix is good but that both sequels were major letdowns. That is categorically false. The Matrix Reloaded, the second chapter in the trilogy, not only matches its predecessor, it arguably elevates it with even more fascinating, mind-bending mythology and state-of-the-art VFX spectacle. It was a huge hit at the time and had audiences primed for the trilogy capper that would be released six months later. The Matrix Revolutions was a disaster, but it’s not the Matrix movie that Reloaded should be associated with.
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      Revolutions eventually blue-pilled the franchise, but Reloaded kept the red pill excitement alive with ingenuity and jaw-dropping ambition. Contest that if you wish, but remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more. (Final numbers: $281.5 million domestic; $741.8 million worldwide.)
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  • What About Bob? (May 17, 1991) 99 min; Rated PG
    • A Gen-X comedy favorite, What About Bob? doesn’t entirely hold up. Nevertheless, Bill Murray still makes it worthwhile. The premise is thin, i.e. Dr. Leo Marvin, an uptight fame-hungry psychiatrist (Richard Dreyfus), is stalked while on family vacation by his new, relentless patient Bob Wiley (Murray). It’s a stretch to see matters escalate to the degree that they do when one phone call to the police or proper authorities would’ve put a quick stop to it all. That aside, the bigger problem with What About Bob? (to the extent that it has one) is that it has two antagonists but no protagonist. There’s no one to root for. Leo is the victim but he’s also a vain jerk, while Bob is the stalker but he’s so darn lovable. As a result, the movie’s sympathies are with Bob.
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      That’s where our sympathies land, too, despite the fact that Bob is entirely in the wrong (at times dangerously so). Director Frank Oz asks viewers to give his movie a lot of allowances…and, ultimately, we do because Murray is so entertaining as he puts a neurotic twist on his unique persona. As Bob works his charms on Leo’s family and friends, Murray work his charms on us. It’s all completely absurd, mind you (the climax especially), but Murray’s shtick is irresistible.
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      Plus, in the age of Coronavirus, Bob’s obsessive germ phobias don’t seem quite so phobic. (Final numbers: $63.7 million domestic and worldwide.)
  • Ishtar (May 15, 1987) 107 min; Rated PG-13
    • Telling the truth is dangerous business, or so goes the lyric from Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman’s doofus singing duo. Well, how’s this for dangerous: Ishtar – one of the biggest financial and critical flops of all time – actually isn’t that bad. In fact, some of it is really good.
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      That’s not really the hottest of takes, given how Ishtar has gained vocal admirers over the years (Martin Scorsese included) following its infamous bloated production and disastrous release. Yes, parts of this comedy (about two awful singer-songwriters who get caught between West African leftist rebels and CIA agents) are awkwardly embarrassing and they always will be, like a #MeToo-offensive breast-fondling sight gag (by the progressive Beatty, no less).
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      Beatty, who also produced for his close friend and past collaborator Elaine May (who wrote and directed), is mediocre at best playing an against-type bumbler that women don’t find attractive. Dustin Hoffman, however, really anchors this thing with some truly deft comedic skills. His scenes with CIA-op Charles Grodin are the film’s best, and it makes you think how much better Ishtar could’ve been had Grodin been cast in the Beatty role. (The movie would’ve been more affordable, too.)
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      Nevertheless, more works here than doesn’t. At times, the bits earn LOL reactions, including most of Beatty and Hoffman’s scenes of either writing or performing their laughably-earnest music. (Final numbers: $14.3 million domestic and worldwide.)
  • The Horse Whisperer (May 15, 1998) 169 min; Rated PG-13
    • A beautiful film in many, many ways, The Horse Whisperer is Robert Redford’s most underappreciated work as a director, and one of his most as an actor. The obligatory romance is the only soapy drawback to an otherwise deeply effective, tender story of trauma and healing (the opening 12 minutes are pretty unsettling, but it makes the journey more rewarding), all told against a truly epic backdrop of the American West (shot by cinematographer Robert Richardson, a favorite of Tarantino and Scorsese).
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      The supporting cast is strong, including Dianne Wiest, Chris Cooper, and Sam Neill, with a breakout performance from pre-teen Scarlett Johansson. On balance, it’s worth putting up with the romantic melodrama because the rest is so genuinely affecting, as are the story’s themes and insights. You may find yourself reflexively gasping at the grand, breathtaking landscapes, too. Bottom line, The Horse Whisperer is better than Ordinary People, Redford’s Oscar-winning directorial debut. There, I said it. (Final numbers: $75.3 million domestic; $186.8 million worldwide.)
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  • Willow (May 20, 1988) 126 min; Rated PG
    • True story: I’ve never seen Willow. Somehow, this George Lucas-produced / Ron Howard-directed fantasy myth passed me by. Stranger still, I was only mildly interested in it at the time when it debuted in 1988. Given that it sort-of flopped (or, at least, that it didn’t inspire another huge Lucas franchise), it was never a movie I felt compelled to catch up with.
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      But it’s on Disney+ now and so, I gotta say, I’m legitimately intrigued. The prospect of a new-to-me pre-CGI adventure has me kind of giddy, given how I still prefer optical effects over the video game textures of modern day digital wizardry. In addition, there’s a ton of affection out there for this one, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the journey into Nelwyn has in store. (Final numbers: $57.3 million domestic; $137.6 million worldwide.)
  • A Little Princess (May 19, 1995) 97 min; Rated G (25th Anniversary)
    • “All women are princesses. It is our right.” That sentiment is embraced and then put to the test in A Little Princess, an artful adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel (author of The Secret Garden). You know, there are girl-centric family films that I would also recommend for boys but A Little Princess isn’t one of them. That’s not a slight. If anything, it’s a strength. This early effort from two-time Oscar winning director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Roma), A Little Princess leans heavily into being the little girl’s story that it unabashedly is.
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      The year is 1914; when Sara (the daughter of a single-father British soldier) is sent to an all-girls boarding school with a strict headmistress, her eyes and empathy are opened to the less fortunate and marginalized (including a black servant girl). But after a tragic event, Sara becomes indentured into servitude herself. Production values are lush for this early 20th Century fable, set first in India and then New York, all beautifully captured by multi-Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman, The Revenant). His work here (along with the art direction) was Oscar-nominated, a rarity for G-rated live action family fare.
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      The period piece boarding school setting is one that will capture the imagination of most girls, but so, too, will the beautiful story that’s beautifully told. It’s one that not only encourages dreams and imagination; it also understands that, in them, children create bonds and discover who they are – including little girls. Each one, in their own way, is a little princess. (Final numbers: $10 million domestic and worldwide.)

If you’d like to suggest summer movie titles for future weeks, you can email your requests to: icantunseethatmovie@gmail.com

Other weeks from Summer Blockbusted 2020:

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