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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12 Years a Slave (2013)

12 Years a SlaveReleased: November 8, 2013. Directed by: Steve McQueen. Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch. Runtime: 134 min.

Imagine you’re at home enjoying your life as a free black man in upstate New York. Your beautiful wife and kids go away for two weekends, and when two men approach you with an opportunity to make some money, why not say no? One couldn’t predict that by saying yes to making a paycheck, they would then be drugged and sold into slavery. That’s exactly what happens to Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a real person sold into slavery in 1841.

The premise is part of what makes “12 Years a Slave” such a powerful film. In any case, anyone being uprooted from their life is a terrifying reality, even today. Back then, it seems that many were a bit more clever than staging a home invasion. Solomon is backstabbed by business parters he trusted, portrayed by Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam. This film might just be the one to open people’s eyes as to why the black people of today are so protective of their rights.

It’s an educational feature, and the most powerful film of the year. It’s one of my favourite slavery films as well, at least for educational purposes. I’d give this a rewatch with pleasure, which would also allow me to watch a few scenes again that I didn’t comprehend completely. I prefer Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” but that and this cannot be more different in tone. “Django,” to sum it up in so many words, is an entertaining treat. Another similarity is that both films probably hit the 100-mark with using derogatory statements, mainly the ‘n’ word. Paul Dano might have said it about 40 times it one cruel Southern tune.

John Ridley (director of “All is By My Side” which I didn’t like) adapts Northup’s 1853 novel very well, and director Steve McQueen knows what makes humans tick. This film is the platform for a harrowing odyssey of a man’s bravery and will to survive. Solomon’s drive is his family and he is making sure he does not sink into despair, by keeping their memory alive. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever see them again, but he tries to be as cooperative as possible in order to survive – which isn’t very at times, when he cares about fellow slaves. One of his friends is a woman named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) who plays a critical role in the film. He meets her on Edwin Epps’ plantation/farm.

Epps is portrayed by Michael Fassbender, in a haunting villainous performance. Don’t be surprised to get chills from him in a few scenes. Epps is known famously in those parks for breaking his slaves’ spirits, it seems – even if his wife (Sarah Paulson) thinks he could do a better job. He is a malevolent soul, and he makes a previous slave owner of Northup’s (Ford, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch) look like a saint – and he already was a very considerate man. Northup meets several characters along his long journey, helping this film have a star-studded cast, even if some big-name actors have about seven minutes of screen time (like Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Garrett Dillahunt – to name some).

There’s one main problem that the film has, it never really allows viewers be aware of what year it is. The only clue is the title. It starts out in 1841, and since there’s a scene at the beginning that shows up again in roughly the third act, we know that we’re caught up – but we still can’t tell what year it is. It doesn’t affect one’s enjoyment severely, but even cues like older make-up for Solomon would assist the film. It would give us an idea of how long he has been slaving for. There are some scenes that feel like they will go on forever, but that is purposeful in one scene to show that slaves cannot interfere when someone is being punished, so to speak. That being said, this has quite a few shocking moments – so it’s not for the faint of heart!

The film’s power is greatly prominent in Ejifor’s performance, as he tries to hang onto his humanity, not give up his hope and not sink into despair. Many slaves give up much faster than Solomon Northup, but he has something to fight for; and that’s what makes this film so inspiring and moving. It also helps it become an unforgettable experience.

Score95/100

Mud (2013)

MudTwo teenage boys encounter a fugitive living in a boat in the trees on an island. They form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and to reunite him with his true love.

Release Date: May 10, 2013

Director: Jeff Nichols

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland

Runtime: 130 min

If you take anything from this movie; it should be that Southern gals named Juniper are bad news.

Mud is a modern-day fairy tale, a crisp chase thriller, and a coming-of-age drama all in one. It’s a gritty fairy tale because Mud is waiting for his love on an island; and there are themes of happily ever after, true love; but it’s less “Repunzel, Repunzel, lay down your hair!” and more like “Mud, Mud, let down that boat!” It’s a chase movie because Mud is a fugitive on the run, attempting to evade some lethal bounty hunters. As for the coming-of-age tale, that mostly lies with Ellis (Tye Sheridan).

He’s at the delicate age of fourteen, the age where one begins to choose role models. His parents are on the brink of divorce, and they really aren’t there to offer much advice; so the role model he chooses is Mud. Ellis must make his way through adult lies and learn his own way through hardships of love. Neckbone doesn’t latch onto Mud the way Ellis does, mostly because he finds a solid role model within his Uncle Galen (Michael Shannon). Mud is a superstitious character, but he’s also a serial liar. He tells great story after great story, and as the film progresses, the audience learns he is appropriately named, because he really is full of shit. The character contrasts are fascinating; Mud wants things to be done, but Ellis (and Neckbone) are the two to do them. Ellis seems to have a lot more backbone than Mud ever would. The lady loves of the story, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), Mud’s love, and May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant), is the gal that Ellis has his eyes set on; some of their character traits have striking similarities, and the way Jeff Nichols makes them mirror each other is truly stunning and creative.

Jeff Nichols writes in a lot of themes, and while they may suffocate the story at times, they’re still very beautiful. Nichols suggests that the water current could really make one’s hardships more difficult, because Ellis lives on a makeshift boat on the banks of an Arkansas river, and his parents are struggling with their relationship. Nichols seems to have a true handle on some natural elements. The symbols of snakes and Mud’s wool shirt are thought-provoking and, often enough, poignant. Nichols’ third feature film states that he just didn’t become lucky with a few winners, this states that he is an artist; and most will love the story Nichols has to tell.

The story has a comfortable pace and it knows where it wants to go. It’s slow, but engaging. There are some scenes that might feel redundant at the time, but they don’t interrupt the flow of the film. The cinematography has a crisp feel to it, and it’s stunning when the camera is looking out into the hopeful horizon. The characters will keep you engaged. The relationship that blossoms between Mud and Ellis is about as beautiful as a relationship between a thirty-something sandy-haired fugitive and a fourteen-year old boy can get. Juniper and Mud want to be together; and even if we do not feel we can always trust Mud, he’s always very intriguing and has a lot of depth.

Matthew McConaughey delivers a tour de force performance, and seeing what he does here, it’ll make you much more excited for the upcoming Dallas Buyers Club. Tye Sheridan portrays Ellis very well; he’s capable of being tough, sweet, confused and vulnerable. The performances are superb all across the board. Jacob Lofland gets outshined by Sheridan, but he’s a great comic relief, and a nice presence. His name also reminds us that this is truly a Southern film. Some of the actors have characters that just don’t do much.

Reese Witherspoon portrays Mud’s love, Juniper. She has about ten minutes of screen time. Witherspoon does well with what she has, but if she gets an Oscar nomination for what little she does; it will only be a smaller farce than Jacki Weaver’s nomination for Silver Linings Playbook. Though, Witherspoon being under-utilized is not Nichols’ biggest crime. Michael Shannon has a criminally low amount of screen-time. He portrays Neckbone’s uncle, Galen, where he works as a role model for Neckbone and he wears this huge, comical scuba diving gear – and that’s about it. Shannon is a go-to guy of Nichols, as he is been in his two prior films, as the lead in Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories. It’s great to see Shannon in anything, but if you’re not going to use a guy of Shannon’s talent extremely well, don’t use him at all. This is Nichols’ biggest mistake, and if he does show a preference to use him, he should have cast him as Carver (Paul Sparks), the main bounty hunter adversary of Mud. He would rock that role!

The cast is an excellent ensemble, also including Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon and Sam Shepard. The story is impressively engaging, even if it has little wiggle room because of its many themes. Jeff Nichols writes a story that has enough power to strike you down like a mighty current, and raw emotion that will maul at your tear ducts. One thing is for certain, you will never believe a movie with such a dirty title could become such a beautiful work of art.

86/100