By Marc S. Sanders

Sandra Bullock’s film The Lost City is nothing more than rollicking fun at the movie theater.  A popcorn movie.  You can simply focus on gorging yourself with endless amounts of popped kernels and large fizzy drinks and you’ll never find yourself lost in a complex plot.  It’s a screwball adventure in the same vein of Romancing The Stone.  What I appreciate is that it is not a duplicate blueprint of Romancing The Stone.  Maybe just the opening scene, but no matter.

Bullock is Loretta, a reclusive romance novelist, who knows that her books are nothing more than cheesy pulp material to the umpteenth degree.  Her agent Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) keeps a positive attitude as she encourages a book tour to promote Loretta’s newest installment in a series that follows the adventures of Loretta’s fictional swashbuckler.  That hero is preserved on the covers of her novels in the image of fashion model, Alan (Channing Tatum) – a Fabio inspiration.  Alan dons the gorgeous blond locks wig with the beefcake chest and the fans seem to go wild for him more than they do for Loretta’s work.  Even the glittery purple jumpsuit with stiletto heels that Loretta dons for an appearance at a book fair doesn’t deter the screaming fans away from Alan’s muscular build and chiseled chin.

When Loretta is captured by a spoiled brat of a villain known as Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), she finds herself having to research the location of a lost city on a remote island rumored to possess treasures beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.  Somehow, within Loretta’s fiction she implied the actual location of this place.  Abigail needs her to delve even further towards the destination.

This all sounds cliché.  It is, actually.  So what!

What saves The Lost City is the screwball comedic approach to the film.  Bullock and Tatum are nearly twenty years apart in age.  Yet, they make a great pair in the same way that Hepburn and Grant did in Bringing Up Baby.  I could care less about the actual lost city and whatever treasure was there.  The symbols etched on an old piece of parchment that Loretta attempts to decipher never mattered to me.  Two days after seeing the movie, I don’t even remember what the lost city revealed when they eventually got there.  I did like the endless pratfalls of Tatum and Bullock, however. 

Channing Tatum looks like the adventurer of a romance novel.  Yet, he’s nothing more than a pretty boy or a “mimbo” as Jerry Seinfeld might describe him.  He’s actually got a crush on Loretta and upon determining that she’s been kidnapped, he recruits the legendary problem solver Jack Trainer (who could only be encapsulated in the form of a gorgeously blond, tan and muscular Brad Pitt) to rescue Loretta.  It’s important to Alan, though, that he gets recognized as the savior.  So, he kind of learns as he goes. 

Adventures in the jungle abound.  There are bad guys on motorcycles.  Guns, of course.  Fires within Alastair’s luxury SUV. Rock climbing.  Rivers with leeches.  Dark caverns and on and on and on.  Yeah.  I’ve seen this all before.  Again, I say so what!  It’s just a fun time at the movies that brought me back to the fast-paced escapades found in the 1980’s films I grew up on.  Yet, it has its own spin thanks to the relationship of Alan and Loretta.

Daniel Radcliffe and his beard are also great characters.  It’s a nice departure from the shoe horned role that’ll never leave him as a certain boy wizard who will not be named here.  He just brings out his fun bratty side.  His beard seems to wink along with him.

A better side story could have come with Da’Vine Joy Randolph though.  As the agent goes from one traveling step to the next as she attempts to find Loretta herself, Randolph just doesn’t look comfortable in the role with her sky-blue pant suit and big breasted physique that is intentionally in your face.  Where’s the slapstick that should be accompanying her?  She’s specifically made up to look like diva luxury and you’re waiting for one disaster after another to befall her. Beyond having to fly on a puddle jumper plane carrying farm animals, she simply survives her trek unscathed.  Either this storyline should have been excised all together, or it should have been rewritten to be just as silly as what Bullock and Tatum are delivering.  A flop in the mud or a slip in the river would have helped this plotline. 

The Lost City is just a cute film for Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum to look…well…cute together, and in a world where celebrities are slapping each other silly on live television, isn’t this a much better escape on a Saturday afternoon?


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta Jones, Channing Tatum
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 83% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A young woman’s world unravels when an anti-depressant prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects.

Side Effects is a rare creature indeed: a movie released during the first two months of the calendar year that is not only good, it’s stunningly good.  It’s too bad almost no one even remembers this movie exists.

Steven Soderbergh’s film tells the story of a young woman, Emily (Rooney Mara), who suffers from depression after her husband returns home from serving a prison term for insider trading.  After a series of events where she apparently tries to harm herself, she sees a psychiatrist, Dr. Banks (Jude Law) who prescribes a brand new anti-depressant called Ablixa.  While it is effective, it also comes with some side effects, including sleepwalking.

One day, Dr. Banks gets a call: Emily has stabbed someone to death, and she did it while sleepwalking, which was caused by the Ablixa.  Banks interviews her; she remembers nothing of the incident.  But now the doctor’s professional and personal life is in turmoil as well.

What we have here is a classic Hitchcockian story…actually, two stories for the price of one.  You’ve got Emily, the wrong woman in the wrong place at the wrong time.  She didn’t ask for any of this.  She just wanted to feel better, be a better wife, be a better person.  And the drugs were working: she was feeling better, doing better at work, doing better with her husband…but now, thanks to this drug and its unintended side effects, people think she’s crazy.

And you’ve got Dr. Banks, the wrong man also in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He was doing his job, prescribing medication that he felt would help…and it WAS helping.  But thanks to this unforeseeable tragedy, his practice dries up.  Who wants to see a psychiatrist whose patient killed someone due to medicine he prescribed?  This creates problems in his personal life: he just bought a new apartment, but now his income is severely diminished.  He and his wife fight more than they used to.  And so on.

…and that’s where I’ll leave it because, like all the best films, it’s better if you watch Side Effects cold, not knowing what to expect.  No doubt there are people out there who saw the various twists and turns coming, but I am not one of them.  I was utterly hoodwinked, and I loved it.

We are a culture of pills and quick fixes, the quicker the better.  Side Effects is remarkably even-handed in presenting us with both sides of the worst-case scenario involving this culture.  (Or I guess one of the worst-case scenarios, but I don’t want to get sidetracked.)  Not only is this strategy effective in providing mental fodder while watching, but it’s also a great storytelling device.  Whose side should we be on?  Historically, “Big Pharma” has been one of the handiest movie villains since the Nazis.  The public perception of mega-corporations with billions of dollars at their disposal, dollars that are used to cover up embarrassing media stories and pay off corporate whistle-blowers, is just too perfect not to use in movies.  But Side Effects gives us the other side of that coin, the dedicated physicians and psychiatrists who are committed to helping people using the best available methods.  If a pill can help people, who would blame a doctor for wanting to prescribe it?  …unless the side effects turned out to be a little extreme?

That conundrum is at the heart of the movie.  But on the surface, it’s just a fantastic mystery/thriller.  Soderbergh directs with restraint, using very few camera moves.  Everything we see is presented with a minimum of flash and maximum impact, so when you’re watching the third act of the movie, you can remember everything you saw in the first two acts with great clarity.

It’s a little bit like a Gene Kelly dance routine.  You know he must have worked for hours to get those moves down, but when you see him in action, he barely looks like he’s working at all.  That’s what Side Effects feels like.  The film is telling a complicated story, but it doesn’t feel like it’s working hard.  It’s just gliding along, showing you this scene, showing you that scene, ho-hum, pay attention now, all leading to the fantastic payoff at the end.

I don’t know if Side Effects is available to stream or not, but I heartily recommend it regardless.