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.

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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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Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)

Ocean’s Thirteen. Released: June 8, 2007. Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Runtime: 2h 2 min.

In “Ocean’s Thirteen”, Ocean’s team returns to Vegas when a sleazy casino owner Willy Bank (Al Pacino) double-crosses Reuben (Elliot Gould). The crew plan to get a bit of revenge for by sabotaging Bank’s grand opening of his hotel and casino, called “The Bank.” You can already see the huge ego on this guy, which Pacino plays very believably.

Writers (Brian Koppelman and David Levien) tinker with the formula by having this be more like a sabotage film than a heist film. This had me confused at times because I wondered where the monetary gain was here, but their plot is more for the satisfaction of taking down a bad guy rather than getting a lot money this time. Though, it’s nice they’re back in Vegas because this is where they shine.

They do so in rigging the games in the casino for massive payouts, and the way they go about this is clever and entertaining. The way they solve problems like the Greco player tracker coming to the casino, which monitors all games on the floor to see if wins are legitimate, is well-done.

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Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Thirteen. (IMDb)

It’s also equally rewarding watching the Eleven try to screw Bank over as it was watching them steal from Benedict (Andy Garcia) in the first film. Even though the film isn’t as much a heist film this time, it still has the stylish set-up of how they’ll sabotage the casino and it’s still really entertaining, even if it’s not as great as the first outing.

The characters are still interesting, even though any significant female presence isn’t here this time. Both Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones don’t return because there wouldn’t have been any significant role written for them in the script.

Their absence in the film is explained by Rusty (Pitt) and Danny (Clooney) saying it’s not their fight. Because of this there’s only memorable female character, Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin), who is Bank’s right-hand woman. With the lack of females in this one, it’s no wonder they went for a female-led spin-off.

Score: 70/100

Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

Ocean’s Twelve. Released: December 10, 2004. Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Runtime: 2h 5 min.

Spoiler warning: There’s a spoiler for “Ocean’s Eleven” in the opening paragraph. 

In “Ocean’s Twelve”, the old squad reunites to do one more heist when Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) comes back for what they stole from him in the first film. It’s three years later and he wants the money back with interest. Without much of a choice, the Eleven must do what they do best: steal things to pay off their debt.

A new character here is Catherine Zeta-Jones as a detective, Isabel, on the tail of the Eleven. She also gets nice character moments and doesn’t feel cliché, even though she’s a love interest of Rusty (Brad Pitt).

She’s one of the film’s antagonists, and there’s also the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel), a rival thief who fancies himself the world’s best thief, and challenges Danny’s (George Clooney) team to stealing an item. The character sounds name sounds more like a comic book villain, but he’s just a petty thief.

The individual heists in this film are still entertaining even though they lack the flair of its predecessor. There are a lot more problems raised in this film but there are also a lot of interesting solutions.

Ocean's Twelve

Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and George Clooney in Ocean’s Twelve. (IMDB)

The fact that the franchise exists in the real world with real celebrities gives comedic opportunity for writer George Nolfi. This includes an amusing cameo by Topher Grace, and it also makes things get really fun when Tess (Julia Roberts) gets dragged into the film’s scheme.

Most characters get their chances to shine again. Nolfi thinks of creative ways to get characters out of the picture for some time – like sending Yen (Shaobo Qin) somewhere else in a duffle bag, even though his character’s role is small enough as he just speaks Chinese.

Sometimes getting these characters out of the way for awhile is helpful because it’s hard to keep track of all of them. It’s also interesting to watch the Nolfi tinker with the formula more and see how it works outside of Vegas. It still works and offers entertainment, and it’s nice to see them stealing things again.

Score: 70/100

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Ocean’s Eleven. Released: December 7, 2001. Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Runtime: 1h 56 min.

With Ocean’s Eight releasing on Friday, I thought I’d review the trilogy, which starts with 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven” based on a 1960 Rat Pack film of the same name.

When Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is released from prison, he immediately gets a crew together to rob three Las Vegas casinos simultaneously.

Steven Soderbergh’s style is what helps make this film so much fun. The writing by Ted Griffin is also stellar and the way he introduces the members of the Ocean’s Eleven is so great and it tells you all you need to know about them.

This is best shown in the scene when we meet twin brothers Virgil (Casey Affleck) and Turk (Scott Caan) Malloy as they’re bored passing time and Turk runs over Virgil’s small remote-control monster truck while Turk races it in a giant monster truck. Their banter’s one of the consistently funny things in the franchise.

The montage-like explanation of how they’re going to execute the heist is also entertaining. The team of characters and the cast is great and everyone plays their roles well. Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) is Ocean’s sidekick and helps recruit the team. His banter with Ocean is strong. Julia Roberts is also great as Danny’s ex-wife, Tess.

Rounding out the eleven include sleight of hand guy Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), insider blackjack dealer Frank (Bernie Mac), tech guy Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison), grease man Yen (Shaobo Qin), master of disguise Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) and explosives guy Basher (Don Cheadle).

There’s also Reuben (Elliot Gould) who bankrolls the heist because of a vendetta against casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the man they plan to steal from. They plan to steal $150 million on a busy casino night from his vault.

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Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Eddie Jemison, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, Shaobo Qin, Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Eleven. (IMDb)

We find out how they want to get in but Reuben points out it’s really an impossible heist because the hardest part is getting out. “Once you’re out the front door you’re still in the middle of the fucking desert,” he says. Gould’s a delight, here, especially when he does his recap of the most successful casino robberies (still colossal failures). He’s funny, and in these cutscenes is a spot where Soderbergh’s style and cinematography shine through.

During the leadup and during the heist, the writing’s really smart because we as the audience aren’t always in on the plan and it’s fun to see how they do what they do. It makes it more entertaining.

What works best for the film besides its editing, score and great direction is that all of the actors have a flawless chemistry. There’s amusing banter between all of them. It helps that their characters are well-written, too, and there’s a believable hostility between Ocean and ex-wife Tess.

It’s hard not to be entertained by this. I mean, I watched this over two years ago and I was still on the edge of my seat and thoroughly entertained because I only vaguely remembered what the twists and turns were. However, that just might be an ode to my bad memory.

Score: 88/100

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Released: April 14, 2017. Directed by: F. Gary Gray. Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron. Runtime: 2h 16 min.

After being a series primarily about street racing, The Fast and the Furious franchise is now a different beast entirely – featuring heist films, revenge stories and everything in between.

The franchise keeps things fresh as they display huge action set pieces that defy logic and gravity – but they’re high-octane fun because they’re so ridiculous and it embraces the insanity.

When a mysterious woman seduces Dom into the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before.

The Fate of the Furious, though it pleases, is the weakest film since the franchise shifted direction after the fourth outing. Old characters are brought back that never felt super important, but others like Mia (Jordana Brewster) are left out. She’s off-the-grid with Bryan O’Conner (the late Paul Walker) raising their baby, as Bryan’s alive in the movie universe. They’re in retirement now after the beautiful tribute to Walker at the end of Furious 7. It’s just strange not to have Mia there since she’s actual family of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s always saying he doesn’t have friends – he has family.

A new female’s introduced in the form of Charlize Theron’s Cipher, the franchise’s first female villain. She’s a malicious hacker and mastermind who gives hacker Ramsay (Nathalie Emmanuel) a run for her money.

She’s generic in motivation in generally wanting to see the world burn. Everything she says is also a bit of a cliché. It’s totally fine because Theron gives the character such a presence, which makes her a good villain. She’s one of those enemies who does things from the comfort of her high-tech plane and has minions do her bidding, and gets peeved when she needs to leave the office. It doesn’t give her a lot to do, though.

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Charlize Theron and Vin Diesel in The Fate of the Furious. (Source)

She’s able to lure Dom to the dark side, make him betray his family and do her bidding. The story packs surprises in characterization, especially since it’s surprising he’d betray the people he loves. I won’t go further into that, because, spoilers.

Films in the franchise between Fast Five and Furious 7 have good stories, but the eighth offering is the most generic plot in recent years, as the villain endgame is so familiar. The story just feels slapped together to work as a frame for the amazing stunts and nutty action.

The story dissatisfies but it’s not the most important part. The big, glamorous action makes this worthwhile and it’s still a lot of fun. From a street race in Cuba that offers a short trip to the series’ roots, a getaway in Berlin, to a fists-flying prison break, the action is great. Hacking plays a cool role in a big action scene in New York City, the film’s main setting.

After things calm down after the New York action, the finale is where things get most exciting and the crew learn that in Soviet Russia, submarine chases you! The franchise also keeps things interesting with diverse settings, as the globe-trotting team spans three continents this go around.

The Fate of the Furious makes Dom feel fresh by giving a new look at the character, but other characters are becoming stale after eight outings – namely Letty. It makes me wonder if they’ll have enough gas left in the tank for two more films.

Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) returns and is good again, and a new character includes Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). Comic relief Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) rip on him a lot and they’re generally funny, per usual. Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw is really awesome and even outshines Johnson’s Hobbs, who’s trying to fill the leader role of the good guy team.

Hobbs has memorable lines as talks in puns and silly dialogue. He sees something particularly gruesome at one point and his response is simply “Hmm, nasty.” When he often has such vivid threats and comments, you can’t help but feel disappointed because it’s such a perfect opportunity for a laugh or a pun. It’s almost like the writers stop trying.

Score: 65/100

 

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Released: March 31, 2017. Directed by: Rupert Sanders. Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano. Runtime: 1h 47 min.

In a futuristic world that’s trying to advance technology even further, Hanka Robotics takes a woman horribly injured in a car crash and puts her consciousness into a cyber-enhanced body and call her Major (Scarlett Johansson). She becomes a cyborg cop working in Section 9’s anti-terrorist bureau, fighting the world’s most dangerous criminals.

First, it feels necessary to talk about the whitewashing controversy – which has been dogging Ghost in the Shell’s production since Scarlett Johansson’s casting as Major Mira Killian. I haven’t seen the original film, but Johansson’s casting affects some believability. Even if you can get past the controversy, it’s still not that enjoyable.

It’s nice to have a female-led blockbuster but Johansson’s stiff, bland and robotic. I know she’s all robot except for her brain, but it would be nice if the brain would give her human emotion or personality. Her brain makes her an imperfect soldier because at one point she disobeys orders to try to save some lives. The character’s compassionate in the scene, but her face doesn’t get the memo and she doesn’t emote compassion or make me believe it. Major’s a hard character but it’s Johansson’s first performance I don’t like, mostly because she’s bland and there’s little depth.

The martial arts part of her character is cool – though an explanation for her powers of invisibility would be nice. The invisibility makes action scenes great when she’s fighting and flipping a guy in shallow water. The splashing and choreography makes great eye candy, and the visuals are the film’s strongest aspect. There are other fun action scenes, so it’s a shame so many other aspects are bad.

The world created is fascinating. The norm is for everyone who has enough money to have cyber-work done to enhance their bodies – one character gets a new liver so he can drink more booze – and it’s so normal that people ask you on the street if you want an enhancement instead of drugs. The skyline – full of Geisha and koi fish, indicating most likely they’re in Japan – is interesting but giant holograms in the background are so distracting that a man going for a casual jog becomes a scene-stealer.

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Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell(Source)

The world is as creepy as it is cool. Being fully human is weird now, and there are creepy characters galore – especially ones with jagged teeth, and robotic Geishas are the source of nightmares when they open their faces. There’s other nightmarish imagery abound, and if the world feels creepy in live-action – I’m curious to watch the original to see how it’s portrayed in anime.

Batou (Pilou Asbaek), Major’s partner, has rather creepy eyes, but his character design is based on the source material. The supporting cast’s generally fine and Michael Pitt is strong as Kuze, though he sounds like Stephen Hawking’s computer voice malfunctioning. I like the supporting players more than Major and their personality make this more bearable.

Takeshi Kitano plays Daisuke Aramaki, the unit’s Chief, and it’s jarring that he’s the only one who speaks Japanese in the film. Everyone responds to him in English – but can apparently understand Japanese. Since everyone has robotic upgrades – you’d think a language component can be downloaded that let’s you speak Japanese. While it’s never crystal clear if this is set in Japan, but if it is, it’s especially strange that he’s the only person who speaks Japanese.

Some action scenes are memorable – notably the finale – but the only source of good entertainment is the film’s final 30 minutes when the story goes somewhere and we get answers for Major’s visions and glitches. It’s the only point where Major is almost interesting. I say almost because she’s just so dull that there’s an emotional wall that makes it difficult to become invested in her story.

The plot itself has some surprises but it rarely enthralls. The futuristic world’s interesting, but it’s even more fun to leave because it’s so bereft of passion.

Score: 40/100

 

Going in Style (2017)

 

Released: April 7, 2017. Directed by: Zach Braff. Starring: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin. Runtime: 1h 36 min. 

Joe (Michael Caine), Willy (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin) are retired, lifelong friends who are losing their pension after the company they worked for is bought out. To make matters worse, Joe’s in danger of losing his home because of a mortgage payment plan he was sold.

He discusses that with a sleazy banker (John Pais) in the film’s first scene, and it’s saved from being boring thanks to a funny bank robbery.

If Joe loses his home, he, his daughter Rachel (Maria Dizzia) and granddaughter Brooklyn (Joey King) will be homeless within 30 days. He rallies Willy and Albert to rob a bank so he can save his home and stick it to the banks. They figure they’ll take what would have been theirs in pension payment, and at the tail end of their lives – they don’t have much to lose and they’re going out in style.

Surprisingly, Going in Style doesn’t actually have a lot of style. It’s basic filmmaking and the direction’s unremarkable. This is Zach Braff’s third film (at the biggest budget of $25 million), but it doesn’t have the quirkiness of his writing featured in his first two films Garden State and Wish I Was Here. The film’s written by Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures), based on the 1979 film of the same name. The writing’s formulaic at best.

It’s a predictable caper but it’s so heartfelt and enjoyable. Its heart is always in the right place and it’s a benign tale about loving life and making the best of everything, no matter your age.

It’s also very funny, too, and the cast have great comedic timing and make the best jokes hit their mark. The best part of the film is having Caine, Freeman and Arkin share the screen. Their presence is what makes it special, even this isn’t as good as it should be – like the way that it’s great at the time but it’s forgettable.

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Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine in Going in Style. (Source)

Still, they’re so charming and they help make this a good time at the movies. Their chemistry is great, and you can feel like these guys have been friends their entire lives. They’re all mostly the same age, but their development feels diverse, especially in terms of motivation for the robbery.

Joe’s motivation is pure since he’s trying to provide for his family. His friendship with granddaughter Brooklyn (Joey King) is sweet and one of the reasons I was most invested in Joe. Brooklyn’s really the only family of the trio that have a good role – and even Joe’s daughter could be written out entirely since she’s there for two scenes.

Willy’s motivation is so he can have enough money to see his family more than once a year. Albert’s the curmudgeonly guy of the group – suiting his delivery – and he’s content being alone. The bachelor gives into the heist because he’s tired of being broke. He also meets a new lady, Annie, who gives charisma to his development – and she’s played by the delightful Ann-Margret.

Its third act has some clever moments inside and outside of the heist, and the training they get from a criminal insider (John Ortiz) is fun. Though, it could benefit from more action.

It’s understandable that there isn’t since they’re a trio of good guys who don’t want to hurt anyone. It sucks out some excitement out of the heist – even though it still feels tense. It’s nice that there’s two heists and the main one is fun – but the one at the beginning is funnier.

I liked that they’re trying to rob a bank at a geriatric age and it makes for a different sort-of heist caper. It has low-speed chases instead of high-speed chases, like when they have a practice theft at a grocery store and hijack an old lady’s motorized shopping cart. It’s one of the funnier moments, and it’s scenes like these when you know it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s better for it.

Score: 70/100