Review: Ocean’s 8 (2018)

When I came back to the blog recently, it was interesting for me to note that my last post (five years ago) had been about women in movies. These days “women in movies” is a hot topic. Women are coming forward about sexism and sexual harassment in Hollywood, pay disparities are being highlighted (and sometimes corrected), more women are being put behind the camera, and so on. Obviously things have a long way to go before we can declare Hollywood (or anywhere) a truly equitable industry, but the conversations are important in and of themselves. On-screen, too, there’s been movement toward female-led ensemble casts, from Bridesmaids to a Ghostbusters reboot, and now, Ocean’s 8.

I’m not going to go into the premise too much. The original Ocean’s 11 (1960) was a Rat Pack vehicle set in Vegas. The updated Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and its sequels featured an all-star cast led by George Clooney engaging in heists and shenanigans. Nothing too fancy, just solid entertainment. Ocean’s 8 finds us following a complex plan concocted by Danny Ocean (Clooney)’s little sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock) to steal a 6-pound diamond necklace off the neck of a starlet (Anne Hathaway) at the Met Gala. Naturally, she invites a gang of friends along to assist, hijinks ensue, we get a few twists along the way… Nothing too fancy, just solid entertainment. With an all-star, all-FEMALE cast!

Ocean’s 8 is a fun, entertaining movie. The cast (including Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, and Awkwafina) boasts an absurd amount of talent, and everyone delivers. While the script is not quite as zingy as one might like, there are still plenty of great moments and inside jokes. The formula follows that of the earlier Ocean’s movies with a few winks and nods to fans, including cameos by two of the original gang. There are also a number of fun details for fans of both the fashion and film industries; Anna Wintour being interrupted watching a Roger Federer match, Katie Holmes & Zac Posen seated together at the Gala, the requisite cameos of famous Gala attendees, Sandra Bullock getting to employ her fluency in German. And of course, everyone is wearing fabulous clothes (I personally would very much like to have Blanchett’s entire wardrobe). The movie ticks off all the boxes you’d expect from a summer blockbuster, but with a little something extra.

While there may be complaints like “Why do the girls have to rob the Met Gala?” and “How does Sandra Bullock’s hair look so great in prison?”, the movie is really very aware of itself and the different world its characters occupy by virtue of their sex. Anne Hathaway has been rightfully acknowledged as a stand-out for her slyly funny take on a seemingly stereotypically ditzy, self-obsessed starlet. She’s more than she seems, of course, and Hathaway’s portrayal is clearly designed to acknowledge that as an actress, she herself has been viewed through the lens she’s portraying. Bullock delivers a great line at one point about how she wants the team to be women because women are so often ignored, and that’s what is needed for the plan to work. And there’s no love interest! There’s an oily ex (Richard Armitage) in need of comeuppance, but his place in the proceedings is that of a pawn, rather than a prize to be won.

It is often the case that movies with women need to be doubly good to be successful,  and that they are often more harshly criticized when they fail to live up to the standards set by a more conventional (male-dominated) film. When we think about true equality in movies, what we’re really talking about is the ability for women to star in a mediocre film that is nonetheless successful and is viewed as a working formula. Too much time has likely been spent comparing Ocean’s 8 to Ocean’s Eleven, which doesn’t help anyone. But, if we insist on thinking about it in those terms, it is perhaps not as good as Eleven, but is much better than Twelve –  which means, if we can hope that Hollywood will be consistent in how they bankroll projects –  I look forward to seeing Ocean’s 9 in theaters sometime in the next couple of years.

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Sarah Paulson, Sandra Bullock, Rihanna in Ocean’s 8 (2018)

 

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Is This Thing On?

After a mini-rant about Justice League (they just don’t love their characters enough) this afternoon, a friend looked at me and said “You should’ve been a film critic,” and I said “Well…” and started thinking about my old friend, this blog. I still love the movie business and talk about it all the time, and while I don’t watch as many movies as I once did, I’d like to get back into a more regular habit of it. Thus, we’re back? Maybe? No promises.

My last post here was in 2013. It seems like an awful lot has happened in the world of movies since then, for sure. That ought to mean that I could find plenty to chat about, if I put my mind to it. The Marvel Cinematic Universe! New Star Wars movies! Strides in film representation! The #MeToo era, additions and subtractions to favorites lists, new things to love and complain about. I even try to watch a little television these days (I will talk to you about Legion all. day. long.)

So like I said, no promises. I’m planning to catch Ocean’s 8 this weekend so maybe we’ll start there. Or, if there’s something in particular you actually want my two cents’ worth on, give me a shout! My Top Five list needs updating, so stay tuned and we’ll see what transpires.

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Look at all these fabulous women. Can’t wait!

Reviews: Women in film edition

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There’s been a lot of Internet talk lately on the subject of women in film. Rather, there is long-term discussion about how there aren’t enough great roles for women, or there aren’t enough movies starring women, and so on. I had originally planned a long post on this subject, but the more I thought about it and looked into it, I decided I really didn’t have that much to say. Are women underrepresented and undervalued in movies? Very probably. But who is responsible for that? Bigwig producers? Movie moguls? Screenwriters, or directors? Nope. It’s us. Society is at fault, for a variety of reasons. We place more value on a woman’s looks than on her intelligence or strength. We hold women to a very different standard than we do men. Films about women are somehow more demographic-specific as well, which again points to society’s focus. While women will often go and see movies about men, it is less common for men to want to watch movies about women. That seems to me to be the crux of the problem: we don’t pay to see movies that focus on women. There are actually plenty of movies out there that feature and focus on female characters, but I think that if you looked at box office numbers, you’d find that they simply don’t match up with their male-centric counterparts. And so, my bottom line is that we can complain all we want, but if we don’t put our money where our mouths are, we can’t expect change. Am I suggesting we all should have gone to the theater and seen The Heat, this summer’s lone representative of women in movies? Not necessarily, but that’s part of my point. As audiences, we are simply more excited to see a movie in which Bruce Willis beats someone up than one in which Julia Roberts has a mid-life crisis. I’m not excusing myself from that, necessarily (although I did go see Eat Pray Love in the theater); I’m merely pointing it out. Hollywood makes movies that they think will make lots of money. If we, as consumers, are not displaying an interest in a certain type of movie, it will therefore not make money, and ultimately, studios will not want to make more of a similar type of movie.

Having said all that, I’d now like to shift gears, and look at a couple of older, “classic” movies that do feature women. One is perhaps the uber-romantic comedy, in which the heroine stands equal to her hero; in the other, while men are a constant subject of conversation, there is actually not a single one to be found onscreen. I’ll just point out that the latter, The Women, was actually remade a few years ago. It turned a modest profit.

It Happened One Night (1934)

Do you ever sit down to watch a movie that’s wildly successful and worry that you won’t appreciate it? It’s critically acclaimed, say, and it won a bunch of awards, and you’re afraid that you just won’t get it? I’ve felt that way about a lot of things; some of the time I’m right, and sometimes, a movie (or a performer: Chaplin, for instance) is really as great as advertised, and you don’t have to be anyone special to understand. It Happened One Night is such a movie. It’s a screwball, romantic comedy, yet it was the first film to win all four of the major Academy Awards (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress). [Trivia time: name the other two!] It was directed by Frank Capra, and stars Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable. And it is absolutely hilarious.

Ellie Andrews (Colbert) has just married aviator King Westley (Jameson Thomas) against the wishes of her father (Walter Connolly), who in turn essentially kidnaps her and holds her hostage on his yacht in order to talk her out of the marriage. Determined to have her own way, Ellie literally jumps ship somewhere off the coast of Florida and attempts to make the journey back to her husband in New York. Along the way, she encounters out-of-work reporter Peter Warne (Gable), who blackmails her into letting him assist her in return for a scoop. Naturally, they both get more than they bargained for.

As a strictly amateur “student” of film, I found It Happened One Night to be a fascinating, and highly entertaining, movie. It has the smart and snappy dialogue of later comedies like His Girl Friday, but the characters are more developed and nuanced than is often the case. It’s beautifully shot, with wide angles and impeccable detail.

Claudette Colbert plays a real heroine: while Ellie Andrews appears, at first glance, to be nothing more than a clueless rich girl, she is also gutsy, clever, and independent. She’s hounded by her father and by Warne (her husband is pretty much a non-entity), but she gives as good as she gets much of the time, and ultimately she is an equal partner in her life’s story, rather than a passive commodity. Knowing nothing of Clark Gable beyond Gone with the Wind, I was surprised to find him genuinely funny and likeable. He obviously made a career out of playing the gruff type, but Peter Warne is a lot more than he initially seems to be.

In the case of both characters, lesser performers would not have proven to the audience that here are two people worth falling in love with who belong together. That’s often a tall order for a romantic comedy, but It Happened One Night proves itself to be something beyond a standard rom-com, although I’m not sure what we should call it. It’s strong in both the comedic and the romantic aspects, and that’s what makes it a great film, all around.

The Women (1939)

Based upon a successful stage play by Clare Booth Luce, The Women focuses on the lives of various Manhattan socialites. While their relationships with men are a central subject, it is the relationships between the women that are really in the spotlight. Additionally, the story looks at various stereotypes of women, from the homemaker to the homewrecker. It’s a pretty skewering satire of society and relationships that, surprisingly, isn’t all that complimentary to women, despite their being the focus.

George Cukor directs an excellent cast here. Norma Shearer plays Mary, who seemingly has the perfect life but whose husband is actually seeing shopgirl Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford) on the side. Mary’s friend Sylvia (Rosalind Russell) loves to gossip about (and add to) everyone else’s troubles, Peggy (Joan Fontaine) is struggling to find a balance in her relationship, and all of this is under the microscope of the society papers. All of the performances are excellent, with each actress fully committing to her role, even as many of them serve to negatively stereotype women. In terms of the look of the film, I was particularly struck with the opening sequences, which take the viewer through a day spa where the women seem to spend their day in beautifying themselves and gossiping about their neighbors. Naturally, the costuming is excellent, and in fact, there’s a full-on fashion show about halfway through.

Ultimately, I found the film to be somewhat inconsistent, although I can’t pinpoint anything specific that gives that impression. It is less a comedy than one expects, and more a true satire. While there are some “good” characters, it’s really every woman for herself, and it’s fascinating to see how allegiances and relationships change. Despite a somewhat happy ending, The Women doesn’t pull any punches, and that’s a rare thing. For the most part, things are messier at the end than in the beginning, and perhaps that colors one’s overall perception of the film.

Have you heard about…

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Twelve Years a Slave?

Not to disparage you, dear reader, but I often forget that everyone does not check in daily with IMDb the way I do, and so I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you about a movie I’m eagerly anticipating. “This opportunity” being the birthday of Chiwetel Ejiofor, the film’s lead. He’s a really good actor; you may have seen him in Serenity, Children of Men, American Gangster, or Salt. I’m excited about Twelve Years for many reasons, but the main one is that I hope it garners some well-deserved recognition (of the award season variety) for Mr. Ejiofor. If nothing else, we all get to laugh at everyone who has to try pronouncing his name. Anyway, happy birthday to him! Now, about this movie…

Twelve Years a Slave is a true story, based upon the memoir of Solomon Northup (Ejiofor), a black man who was born free in New York, then kidnapped and sold into slavery prior to the American Civil War. The story follows his experiences in slavery, and was a best-seller after its release in 1853. The film is directed by Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame), and boasts a really impressive cast which includes Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, and Alfre Woodard.

So, McQueen is fairly acclaimed for his two films, Hunger and Shame, both of which star Michael Fassbender, and there’s a lot of positive buzz surrounding Twelve Years, which has the potential to be a more mainstream hit for the director. The support and participation of Brad Pitt (whose production company, Plan B, has a credit as well) lends the film a bit of class and star appeal, and the cast is seriously first-rate. Originally slated for a late December release, there has been talk of the film getting a bump to October, based on strong test-screenings. While there’s no trailer yet, you can see some stills from the movie here.

In short, I think that this movie has great potential. Excellent cast, acclaimed director, good story. I’m excited to see it, which isn’t always the case with heavy material. How about you? Does this brief primer whet your interest at all? I know a lot of folks out there are big fans of Cumberbatch and of Fassbender (myself included) so I’m hoping their involvement will draw in some audiences. I’ll be keeping an eye on the reviews for sure, and I’ll be crossing my fingers for favorable reports; hopefully I’ll make it out to the theater myself. Stay tuned!

2011/2012 Catch-up

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As you might recall (and that’d be awfully sweet of you), I created “wrap-up” posts for both 2011 and 2012. As part of those posts, I listed the five movies released in those years that I most wanted to see. Having watched one of said movies recently, I decided to revisit those lists to see what kind of progress I’d made, and I thought it’d be fun to share that progress with you. These are some pretty good movies, and I’d recommend nearly all of the ones I’ve seen so far; if you missed my reviews, here’s a chance to catch up. Let’s delve!

2011
Beginners: Check.
The Artist: Check.
Hugo: Check.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Check.
Midnight in Paris: Check.

Wow, all five! If you have yet to see Beginners, The Artist, or Midnight in Paris, you could definitely do worse. I was sadly disappointed with both Hugo and TTSS.

2012
Pitch Perfect: Just watched it! Super-funny, with a million great one-liners (hint: listen closely to Lily). I’m really not a fan of the a capella music craze, but most of it is palatable; overall the film is a great, sort of meta-teenage flick. Anna Kendrick seldom fails to disappoint, and if you liked Rebel Wilson’s scene-stealing turn in Bridesmaids, you’ll get more of the same here.
Moonrise Kingdom: Check.
Anna Karenina: Not yet. I have plans for a larger project involving this one, so it might be a while.
Skyfall: CHECK.
Cloud Atlas: Not yet.

Three out of five isn’t bad, I’d say, particularly since we’ve been busier this year and have seen fewer movies (I think) overall. Skyfall is the big winner here, and if you haven’t seen it, I strongly suggest you do, whether or not you’re a fan of the Bond films. I’ll just have to bump Cloud Atlas in the queue, I guess.

How about you? Any movies you’re still meaning to catch up on? I have to say, there are lots of movies due out this year that will find themselves under consideration for a 2013 wrap-up!

Happy Birthday, Judy Garland: Five Favorite Routines

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Today is the anniversary of Judy Garland’s birthday. I’m a latecomer to Garland fandom, but I think I’ve made up for lost time in the last couple of years. It doesn’t hurt that she made three movies with Gene Kelly, of course. Since I’ve got a few major films still to catch up on, I didn’t want to do a “favorite movies” post; obviously, since she’s known for her singing talents, a “favorite routines” post was the way to go. Here they are in chronological order, and before you ask: no. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” isn’t one of them. Enjoy!

For Me and My Gal (For Me and My Gal, 1942)

This is the first Garland/Kelly collaboration, and I just think it’s so charming. They’re both young and gorgeous and have such great chemistry. If you’ve spent any time on this blog you’ve already seen this multiple times, but I hope you won’t mind watching it again. I never do!

The Trolley Song (Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944)

Meet Me in St. Louis is a great specimen of Judy Garland’s work. It was directed by Vincente Minelli, who married Garland shortly after making the movie. I think that viewers fall in love with Garland through Minelli’s lens, probably just as he was. “The Trolley Song” became a Garland standard for many years, and so it just barely edged out “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” for this list.

We’re a Couple of Swells (Easter Parade, 1948)

Judy’s co-star this time around is Fred Astaire (stepping in for an injured Gene Kelly), and here’s my favorite number from this adorable movie. I love that it’s not the usual, glamorous kind of thing, and that both Garland and Astaire embrace the fun. Garland’s facial expressions and little added mannerisms prove what an amazingly talented and dedicated performer she was.

I Don’t Care (In the Good Old Summertime, 1949)

These last two picks are straight Judy with no help, and she nails them both. I just love this song, and it’s a major showcase for Garland’s singing. She looks like an absolute knock-out in that red dress, too, and a couple of shots of Van Johnson looking super-handsome in a tux certainly don’t go amiss. I highly recommend this movie, which is another version of “The Shop Around the Corner.” Johnson and Garland have fabulous chemistry, and as always, it’s such a cute story.

Get Happy (Summer Stock, 1950)

Summer Stock is the last movie that Judy Garland and Gene Kelly made together, and it’s the last musical she made for MGM. At this point, her many problems were working against her, and I think that seeps into the movie in some ways. It’s very inconsistent: there are some great numbers, but it lacks the sparkle of earlier Garland performances. The “Get Happy” number doesn’t entirely seem to fit the film, in some ways, but it’s such an electrifying moment that I always come back to it as a favorite. It’s a testament to Garland’s huge talent that even with all of her issues, she still commands the screen here.

Happy birthday, Judy!

Reboot

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In case anyone has been concerned, yes, I am still alive. I am even still watching movies, albeit not as many as I used to. I have no excuse for being absent from this blog, really, but I’m going to be making an effort to get back to business. What I’m not going to do is try to backtrack; I’m a little too far out from some things I’ve seen recently, so writing full reviews would be hard. Instead, I’ll recap a bit for you, and we’ll move forward.

Here’s what I’ve been watching lately!

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

This was our next AFI list movie, and we didn’t enjoy it. It seems like sort of standard late sixties fare; bleak, gritty, and so on. I will say, though, that Dustin Hoffman’s performance is incredible, and that the resemblance between Jon Voight and Angelina Jolie (he’s her dad) is kind of disturbing.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Oh, you guys. When RDJ and Jude Law fail to entertain, something is wrong.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

This is more like it. Possibly my new second-favorite superhero movie (right after The Avengers). The script and direction of Shane Black were awesome, and all of the acting was top-notch. RDJ as Tony Stark continues to put in a performance that ought to receive more real recognition. Highly recommended.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

I’m really late in seeing this, and I have to say that I was a little disappointed. Seeing this many awesome British actors in one place is great, but the plot was just a little too opaque, and honestly, I can name half a dozen other Gary Oldman performances that he ought to have received Oscar nominations for. It’s a very well-made movie, but it’s really hard to follow, and is ultimately unsatisfying.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Why yes, this does mean that we have seen two films in the theater recently. I know, it’s a miracle. I felt sort of ambivalent about seeing this one; the first one was fun, and I like Eric Bana, but this one didn’t have a favorite actor to recommend it. I’m by no means a novice to the world of Star Trek, but I’m not a die-hard, either, so I could’ve gone either way. However, this was a really fun watch. I was further impressed with the re-characterizations of Spock, Bones, and Kirk (Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Chris Pine), and was happy that a few female characters (Zoe Saldana and Alice Eve) were given a reasonable amount to do. Benedict Cumberbatch was physically impressive but emotively inconsistent as the main baddy, and hey! Peter Weller shows up! The story and plot struck me as fairly solid, although the last 30 minutes or so get a bit bogged down, and could’ve been edited more strenuously. A totally worthwhile addition to summer blockbuster season, though.

I also recently rewatched some favorites, which I don’t get to do all that often. I don’t think I’ve written a love letter to Gosford Park yet, so keep your eyes peeled for that one.

How about you? What’s been on your radar lately?