Summer Blockbusted 2020: Now Playing…May 29 (FILM FUN/VIDEO)

The first month of the Summer Movie season comes to a close with most movie theaters still closed along with it…but there remain plenty of actual movies to choose from!

Welcome to Week 5 of Summer Blockbusted 2020.

Through the end of August, I will be curating a weekly slate of movies from summers past, ranging from big blockbusters to small counter-programming indies. Instead of new options for the multiplex, however, they’re classic ones for your 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 (mostly) released over the last weekend of May, starting with my REC OF THE WEEK.

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

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


  • REC OF THE WEEK: Sister Act (May 29, 1992) 100 min Rated PG 
    • This “oil & water” comedy of a casino singer going into the witness protection program at a strict nunnery makes for some fun, clever laughs over the first half, especially when Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith (as the Head Abbess — how perfect is that?) are facing off against each other. But then as the second hour begins and Whoopi’s undercover nun Delores takes over as leader of the convent’s failing choir, a level of sincere heart and sentiment kicks in that is genuinely moving and inspiring. I got legit choked up a few times.
      The comedy remains, but it’s all elevated considerably as these two sides create a sisterhood. (Kathy Najimy, Wendy Makkena, and Mary Wickes are particularly endearing standouts.) Each side is changed by the other and all for the better (as is to be expected) but in sincere and affecting ways, and always in reverence for the spirituality of the Catholic monastic order rather than being dismissive of it, its creeds, or its vows.  Delores isn’t trying to “change” them; she genuinely wants to empower them to fulfill their callings, and she allows herself to be changed by them as well. I wouldn’t say that Goldberg deserved an Academy Award for her performance here, but I would say she’s more worthy of it (in a role that highlights her talents as well as any has) than for the one she nabbed for Ghost.
      Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I’ve laughed out loud this often during a comedy, nor had one make my heart so absolutely full. No need to pray on this one or wait for a sign from God: watch it. It’s streaming right now on Disney+. (Final numbers: $139.6 million domestic; $231.6 million worldwide.)
  • Pearl Harbor (May 25, 2001) 183 min Rated PG-13 (Director’s Cut: Rated R)
    • A belated Memorial Day entry (there were simply too many for last week’s slate) but one worth revisiting despite its tarnished reputation. Director Michael Bay’s three-hour epic had ambitions of being the Titanic of war movies. Here comes the hot take: on balance, it succeeds. Critics ripped Pearl Harbor for being what it wasn’t (i.e. Saving Private Ryan) rather than being fair about what it was, an unapologetic throwback to the war-torn romances from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Released just 3 1/2 months before 9/11, one wonders how differently it would’ve been received (and appreciated) had it been released after.
      Bay applies his stylized, polished aesthetic to Norman Rockwell-styled iconography in a movie that, quite often, is stunning to look at. The love triangle is effective, too, mostly on the strength of Kate Beckinsale and Josh Hartnett. Ben Affleck is the weak link but not disastrously so; serviceable if not always convincing. Fun ensemble work adds solid entertainment value, too, from the hotshot flyboys to the pin-up worthy nurses (including future Affleck ex Jennifer Garner), all of whom are portrayed as valiant heroes. Also noteworthy: Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays Dorie Miller, the first African-American soldier to receive the Navy Cross, the Navy’s second highest decoration for valor behind only the Medal of Honor.
      The Rated R Director’s Cut isn’t any longer than the PG-13 theatrical release but the carnage is more graphic, and both versions are surprisingly sober (yes, even in the vein of Saving Private Ryan) while also exploding across a rather spectacular sweep. I’ll go ahead and say it: the battle scenes are some of the best ever made. If you’re a new subscriber to HBO Max, consider cueing this up. Even with some occasional cheesy interludes, this one may surprise you. (Final numbers: $198.5 million domestic; $449.2 million worldwide.)
  • Notting Hill (May 28, 1999) 124 min Rated PG-13
    • The hook of Notting Hill is more inventive than the actual script, but the latter is just good enough to deliver what is, on balance, a very satisfying rom-com. Notting Hill is an inverted modern-day fairy tale where the gender roles are flipped; Julia Roberts plays the “Princess Charming,” a famous actress on a press tour in London, who serendipitously swoops in to sweep a commoner bookstore owner off his feet (that’d be Hugh Grant) – and the two fall in love.
      Beyond that hook the script is pretty flat but the leads elevate it considerably, especially Grant. As written, his William Thacker is way too wishy-washy for way too long. Yes, Julia’s Anna Scott is in the alpha position, but after awhile you want him to be a man and assert himself (at least I wanted him to) rather than be led around by Anna, by fate, by events, etc. His lack of spine is a weakness that stretches the credulity of the whole conceit and Anna’s attraction to him, but Grant’s sincere stammering charm makes the best of it as does Roberts’ perfectly-cast star wattage.
      There’s a wonderful ensemble of supporting talent, too, which makes the journey both funny and endearing. It’s streaming now on HBO Max. (Final numbers: $116 million domestic; $363.8 million worldwide.)
  • Rocky III (May 28, 1982) 99 min Rated PG
    • None of the Rocky sequels lived up to the Best Picture winning original, and most age more poorly with each passing year (with Rocky II taking the deepest dive in hindsight; oof, it’s not good). Rocky III is the ultimate formula movie, following every predictable beat of overwrought melodrama like a reliable but predictable machine, right down to a villain that’s caricatured rather than formidable. But as formula machines go, there’s still some cheesy satisfaction to it. (Final numbers: $125 million domestic; $270 million worldwide.)
  • Godzilla (May 20, 1998) 139 min Rated PG-13
    • The second of two “belated” Memorial Day options this week, Godzilla (1998) is a blockbuster bust that packs a full trilogy into one movie. The pitch was obvious: Jurassic Park meets Independence Day, from the director of the latter, with destruction and mayhem being wrought on the Big Apple. Yes, this is a reboot of the classic Japanese monster, but in Jurassic terms the film’s feature-length “trilogy” flows as follows: the first 90 minutes is akin to a T-Rex rampage on steroids, the next half-hour the Raptor-like sequel, with the final stretch being the inevitable Return of T-Rex.
      Godzilla wasn’t the huge hit that the industry was expecting, but it’s not the worst waste of time either. Sure, you could probably jump right to the 45-minute mark without missing a beat, and the perfunctory romance is flat (namely because of an actress you haven’t seen before or since), but director Roland Emmerich really knows his way around satisfying popcorn filmmaking (yes, even in that bloated first act), and Matthew Broderick is more sturdy in the lead hero role than I had remembered (almost as if Ferris Bueller had become a scientist).
      The best part? You can stream it now on Netflix. If at any point you do want to bail, at least you haven’t wasted an actual rental fee. (Final numbers: $136.3 million domestic; $379 million worldwide.)
  • Finding Nemo (May 30, 2003) 100 min Rated G
    • Unlike most people, I don’t have a deep affection for Finding Nemo. The story is pretty a by-the-book “father & son” formula at the core, and the plot is mostly a series of episodic contrivances meandering towards an inevitable conclusion. The saving grace (and really, what makes it all worthwhile) is the characters, especially most of the supporting ones (from Ellen Degeneres’s Dory on down).
      There’s some inspired character-rich comedy all along the way, even as the sentiment mostly feels calculated. Still, if I had to choose, I’d rather have a basic plot with rich characters than a dense plot with thin ones. Finding Nemo gives us the former and a colorful eye-popping palette to go with it. You can stream it now on Disney+. (Final numbers: $339.7 million domestic; $871 million worldwide.)
  • Fletch (May 31, 1985) 98 min; Rated PG (35th Anniversary)
    • Essentially, this was Chevy Chase’s Beverly Hills Cop, an action-comedy not originally intended for him that was tailored to his specific set of comedic skills (similarly, BHC was transformed from a Stallone actioner to a breakout for Eddie Murphy). While it didn’t enjoy the huge success of BHC, Fletch nevertheless does the job of being the perfect Chase vehicle it was designed to be, probably the best of his entire career (and certainly the most endlessly quotable).
      And like BHC for Murphy, Fletch made room for Chase to show off some dramatic strengths, too, as he nimbly shifted from goofy to serious throughout, sometimes on a dime. Oh, and synth composer Harold Faltermeyer did the score, too – the same guy who provided the distinctive music for Axel Foley. (Final numbers: $50.6 million domestic; $59.6 million worldwide.)
  • Smokey and the Bandit (May 27, 1977) 96 min; Rated PG
    • This isn’t so much a recommendation as a warning. I’d be remiss to exclude the Burt Reynolds classic Smokey and the Bandit; if it weren’t for Star Wars, it would’ve been the biggest movie of 1977. But oooooo doggie, it does not hold up, and for a whole variety of reasons. You can imagine how unsophisticated audiences may have had fun with it at the time, but now Smokey is dated in all the worst ways.
      In hindsight, only Sally Field acquits herself well; Jerry Reed is fun, too, as Burt’s truck driving co-conspirator, but otherwise this is just flat-out embarrassing, especially for a legend like Jackie Gleason. It’s shocking, really, how many law-breaking antics people will commit for some Coors Light. (Final numbers: $126.7 million domestic; $300 million worldwide.)
  • The Tree of Life (May 27, 2011) 139 min; Rated PG-13
    • You couldn’t ask for more artier counter-programing than this. Director Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is a meditation on life’s existential struggle between the cruelty of nature and the necessity for grace. More poem than plot, this story of a family in conflict during the 1950s and 60s in Waco, Texas (as well as scenes with the oldest son in the present) is told mostly through internal monologues. Well, “told” isn’t quite the right word; “experienced” would be more apt.
      Many critics hailed The Tree of Life as the best film of the past decade but, in all candor, it’s likely inaccessible for anyone simply looking to plop down on the couch to “watch a movie”. But for those willing to invest and be challenged, The Tree of Life reaps deep, spiritual rewards, ones that even include a 15-minute Creation sequence that starts about twenty minutes in, rendered on a grand scale equal to the ambitious scope of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yes, there’s even dinosaurs. And Brad Pitt. (Final numbers: $13.3 million domestic; $58.4 million worldwide.)
    • There’s no Ebert review for this (he had retired from TV by this point), but this 20-minute video essay is beautifully done, and worth watching either as an enlightening supplement to the film after seeing it or as a way to lay the foundation (even with its spoiler details) for it if you’re hesitant but curious.

If you’d like to suggest summer movie titles for future weeks, you can email your requests to:

Other weeks from Summer Blockbusted 2020:

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