Ocean’s Eight (2018)

Ocean's Eight poster

IMDb

Released: June 8, 2018. Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway. Directed by: Gary Ross. Runtime: 1h 50 min.

Midway through “Ocean’s Eight”, the spin-off of the “Ocean’s” trilogy, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) tells Lou (Cate Blanchett) that there’s no room for men in this heist. “I don’t want a him,” says Debbie. “A him gets noticed. A her gets ignored.”

This all-female led cast isn’t one to be ignored. Sandra Bullock stars as Debbie Ocean, Danny’s sister, and the movie starts with her in a parole meeting – the same opening as 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven.” She gets released and with the help of Lou, they round up a team for a heist.

This includes Tammy (Sarah Paulson), the hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling) and pick-pocketer Constance (Awkwafina). Debbie wants do this job because stealing is her talent – established by clever little after she’s out of jail. She tells a guard: “I have forty-five dollars, I can go anywhere.”

The heist is at New York City’s annual Met Gala, and the target’s a diamond necklace called the Toussaint, valued at $150 million, which will be worn by Daphne Kruger (Anne Hathaway).

Hathaway’s fun in the role, playing an exaggerated version of herself, shown best during a fashion-related panic attack. I’m glad the franchise kept that meta sense of humour, even if it’s not as obvious as the scene in “Ocean’s Twelvewhen Julia Roberts plays Tess Ocean pretending to be Julia Roberts.

Everyone’s performances in “Ocean’s Eight” are stronger than their characters. They’re basic characters and Debbie has the most development. Helena Bonham Carter is quirky and entertaining as the Irish fashion designer Rose.

Ocean's eight pic

Sarah Paulson, Sandra Bullock and Rihanna in Ocean’s Eight. (IMDb)

Rihanna’s also great as Nine Ball. Her hacks are clever, and I love that her computer mouse is a nine ball (pictured above). Cate Blanchett and Sarah Paulson are charming, and both Awkwafina and Mindy Kaling are amusing. James Corden is among the only male talent and appears in the third act and makes things livelier, and he’s good for a few laughs.

It’s difficult for this film to avoid comparisons to the original trilogy. Steven Soderbergh brought so much style to his trilogy and to the heist genre. In comparison, this is flat, especially during the setup.

Without any great characters here, the cast mainly kept me interested. It’s entertaining enough on its own but it doesn’t have much style under Gary Ross’s direction. Style only shows up on the night of the Met Gala with all of its glitz, glamour and celebrities.

I like how writers Ross and Olivia Milch make the characters steal something off the neck of someone instead of them having to figure out how to get inside a vault to steal the necklace. There’s creativity in the plot and the implementation of the Met Gala plan is decent fun, even if the suspense doesn’t come close to any of the originals.

Score: 65/100

 

 

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The Monuments Men (2014)

the monuments menReleased: February 7, 2014. Directed by: George Clooney. Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray. Runtime: 118 min.

“The Monuments Men” follows a platoon of unlikely heroes at the end of the Second World War who are tasked with retrieving art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It’s a story about not letting culture die, because if all of this art is to be destroyed, that’s one less piece of history to state that the culture that made it existed.

I think this raises cool cultural ideas because history is an interesting thing, especially seeing and knowing how a culture evolves over time. I’m sure that’s what inspired the real life characters to be a part of this platoon. It’s an educational feature because I hadn’t realized that the Nazi’s stole so much art. The lengths these generically developed characters went through to try to get the art back makes for an okay film.

It’s billed as an action-drama but there’s a limited amount of action throughout, and only a few brief exchanges of artillery, which I find to be a defining trait for any war film. Since that is the case, any action fans out there who are looking for a good war movie with lots of action should seek entertainment elsewhere with the gritty “Lone Survivor.” That one at least has good characters, too. The drama’s okay when it’s happening, but there’s a lot of comedy so its sometimes goofy tone and sometimes serious tone is what makes this have a poor tonal balance.

Director George Clooney is just too eager to please with this one, because he adds so much funny banter it makes many scenes feel quite goofy. I’m one for comic relief in dramas, but the comedy takes too much precedence here for a film billed as a wartime drama, and there are even a few scenes that don’t complement the story, and could just be seen as mere opportunities for the actors to remind us that they can be funny every once in awhile. The scenes are funny, but it leaves me thinking “Well, it might have been funny, but how pointless was that?” There is also one scene that’s pointless, but not that funny, it just feels hollow. Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), who seems to be Viktor Stahl’s secretary. Stahl is one of the Nazis responsible for hiding the art, and when Claire spots him moving the art to another location via a train, she says “I see you Stahl!” He looks at her, hops on the train and starts shooting at her as it’s going along. Well, he’s not going to hit her at the distance they are from each other; so is he trying to be menacing, or is he just trying to lighten his gun for no apparent reason?

At least the humour hits when it isn’t too predictable, and they have to spice up a plot so simplistic somehow, if there’s not much action going on and if the characters aren’t the best overall. It’s difficult to remember what exactly their role is within the platoon, but they are introduced at the beginning of the film at their work – in one of those early-on recruiting sequences. Clooney is simply the leader of the platoon, the Lieutenant. Hugh Bonneville portrays a man named Donald Jeffries, who gets the most character development as a recovering alcoholic. Matt Damon portrays a painter who is best characterized as a man who cannot speak French to save his life, as the French person he speaks to tells him to speak in English after two sentences.

As previously mentioned, Cate Blanchett’s Claire is Stahl’s secretary, and also a valuable intelligence source. Bill Murray portrays an architect but really only gets depicted as a guy who likes to tease Bob Balaban, who looked like he was directing a stage play in his recruiting scene where George Clooney just sits behind him smiling. John Goodman portrays Walter Garfield, a sculptor who might as well just be the Funny Guy. Jean Dujardin plays a character I’d just refer to as The Guy Who Can Actually Speak French. The cast does their best because they all do get a few laughs in, and it’s quite an ensemble; but when their characters are generic like this, it’s hard not to think that a certain few (Clooney and Damon in particular) are surprisingly phoning in their performances.

To me, this feels like a film with a clear A to B plot. Only a few surprises, a few brief action scenes, but enough humour to keep viewers mildly entertained throughout. The tonal choice to be serious at times, and often too goofy, is fatal. I don’t know if Clooney intended to make this part caper part wartime drama feel as goofy with its humour as “National Treasure” (a fun movie) at times, but that’s the result. Compared to his [Clooney’s] other works as a director, this is disappointingly sub-par.

Score55/100

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit -  An Unexpected JourneyThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Release Date: December 14, 2012

Director: Peter Jackson

Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

Runtime: 169 min

Tagline: From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends

A curious Hobbit of The Shire, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is confronted by the magnificent wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), who wonders if Bilbo would enjoy going on a great adventure. The quest is to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Bilbo soon joins Gandalf and thirteen dwarves, led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Amitage). They must gander through Middle Earth, fighting the likes of Goblins, Orks, and many other creatures. Their mission is to get to the East where the Lonely Mountain is, but the Goblins and Orks are close on their tail. Bilbo learns how to muster up enough courage that he didn’t even know he had, with a little help from the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis).

Mostly everyone knows that Peter Jackson (director of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) is a fairly innovative director. This time, he shows his innovative side by being the first person to film using 48 frames per second (f.p.s.). While it is an admirable experiment, it is mostly a needless one. The visuals have the tendency to get very distracting, even though the screen is very clear. However, the visuals are nonetheless beautiful and usually not that bothersome as other critics might say. It might deserve a second watch in a 2D regular 24 f.p.s. screening.

Everyone also knows that his features are usually lengthy (like The LOTR Trilogy, or his remake [more like new film altogether] of King Kong). He gives us another awesome, but long, adventure back to Middle Earth. He writes it with help from three other writers, including the also legendary Guillermo del Toro (writer/director of Pan’s Labyrinth) and it is adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. All the writers express that they are not afraid to insert some silliness and foolishness into a great Middle Earth fantasy story. However, they insert some jokes so relentlessly, that you may forget that any of the story is intended to be serious. Usually, though, it isn’t bad – and you just can’t help but laugh and have a good time. Especially when the great Gollum shows up. There’s an exuberant amount of comedic dialogue inserted in that specific riddle scene shared between Gollum and Bilbo, but it also makes for one of the greatest scenes in the film. This time around, some of the more talky scenes are the best; while the action sequences are simply visually stunning and intense, but the material we’ve seen before outweighs the new and fresh content.

I am unsure of how faitful the writing is to its source material, but the fun that the cast and writers had making the film is definitely present. The writing is very smart; and the introduction of Old Bilbo putting his journey into writing for Frodo is a perfect touch for any fan of the adventures of Middle Earth. The antagonists (like the Pale Ork or the nasty looking Great Goblin) are also fine and the backstories for some characters and the plot lines are great.

There is never a dull moment in this feature, but there are some scenes that could have been so not over-the-top. When Bilbo, Gandalf, and company, visit the land of Rivendell, the introduction of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) is just too over-dramatic. Sure, she’s beautiful as anything, but it didn’t have to be over-done like that. Also, when Saruman (Christopher Lee) does his brief cameo, the audience (those who have seen Lord of the Rings) will feel a certain loathing because we know what this character will do in sixty years. Often enough, the problem with prequels is we know some good characters will turn evil (like Saruman) or we know some will survive. SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LORD OF THE RINGS Like we do with Bilbo and Gandalf. END OF SPOILERS. It may take away from the suspense, but it’s all about knowing how they survive. The reappearance of certain characters (like Galadriel, Elrond, Gollum, Frodo) will be a treat for any fan of Tolkien’s magnificent universe. However, it’s a little difficult to get emotionally-invested with the new characters like we did the first time we saw the older characters.

There are just too many dwarves to keep an eye on. Thorin Oakenshield, the leader; Ori, the one with the slingshot; Balin, the charming elderly one; and Bombur, the chubby eater, are the ones that really stand out. If any dwarves decease, the viewer may feel sad for a minute, but it’ll soon wear off because there are many others. All share the same traits, and it feels as if the writers took traits from Gimli and Legolas (some dwarves are archers) and lent them to the new dwarves. The majority feel, unfortunately, expendable. They are just a little too alike, or don’t say much. Bilbo is both a new character, and an old one. Those who have seen Lord of the Rings are familiar with the older version of him. Now, we are introduced to the young Bilbo, before he learned all the life lessons or even left The Shire. He is great, and the fact we get to watch him grow is a scrumptious treat. Martin Freeman is the perfect actor to play him, as is the casting of the dwarves.

The first installment of a new Middle Earth trilogy is much like The Fellowship of the Ring; not a lot happens. They only complete a small amount of the journey, and upcoming antagonists and ones that are going to appear again in the series are established. However, please don’t forget that the story will all come together in the end of the trilogy. For what it is, it is a great experience, and there are enough action scenes to probably keep you satisfied. Though, some of those said action scenes are a little familiar. Am I complaining, though? Not particularly, because it’s still fun.

As a stand-alone feature, this is an awesome adventure-fantasy film. Compared to the likes of The Lord of the Rings, it is simply satisfying and usually visually stunning. Some of it is familiar, the visuals are distracting, and the dwarves are a little too alike. However, there is never a dull moment – even when one moment is over-dramatic. The cinematography, the visuals, the writing and the performances are stellar. The silliness is very enjoyable, especially the scene shared between Bilbo and Gollum (and Precious, of course). Simply put, this is the beginnings of a fine, new Middle Earth trilogy.

75/100