Review: Atomic Blonde (2017)

Happy birthday, Charlize Theron! I got you this review!

I am, generally speaking, a fan of female-led action movies. Admittedly I should probably watch more of them, but I’m a fan in theory, if nothing else. My love for Angelina Jolie has been well-documented, and I’ve enjoyed seeing more and more women show up in the MCU. While we’ve finally gotten our Wonder Woman, we’re still waiting on that Black Widow stand-alone, and there still haven’t been any particularly good action franchises starring a woman. There were high hopes for various Jolie vehicles, but beyond that, women still aren’t kicking ass at the same level as the guys. But, as a surprise to no-one, I’m sure, Charlize Theron is a great addition to the world of women who kick ass.

Lorraine Broughton is an MI6 operative in the midst of the Cold War 80s. She’s sent to Berlin (on the verge of bringing down the Wall) to retrieve the body of another agent and to finish his mission, which was to retrieve a list of all known operatives on all sides. In addition, she is tasked with discovering the identity of Satchel, a double-agent who is also working for the Russians. Her primary contact in Berlin is David Percival (James Mcavoy), an agent who has perhaps gone a bit too far in embedding himself into the culture of the Berlin underground. Naturally, everyone is after this list as well as a Stasi agent named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) who claims to have fully memorized its contents. Broughton must contend not only with numerous KGB operatives, but also with a French agent (Sofia Boutella) who may or may not be trustworthy. It’s a maze of loyalties and agendas that she must navigate in order to complete her mission and stay alive.

Atomic Blonde is fast and fun. It’s a little sloppy on the details, but those aren’t terribly important when you compare them to a killer 80s soundtrack and intensely stylish set design and cinematography. The movie is based on a graphic novel entitled The Coldest City, and the look and feel truly calls that to mind. While not totally shot in black and white, much of the scenes seem devoid of color except for a pop here and there. Lorraine herself wears an almost entirely black and white wardrobe, and most of the other characters appear in muted colors. The result is something beautiful, sleek, cold. The chill of the Cold War is almost an extra character, enhanced by the lack of warmth from the characters themselves, not to mention Lorraine’s predilection for ice baths and vodka on the rocks.

In addition to the visuals, the film features great performances from Theron and McAvoy. I feel a little ashamed to admit that, despite it being Theron’s movie, McAvoy is actually the standout. He is having a GRAND time as the feral and ambiguous Percival. In contrast, Theron is a little too one-note. While trying to be the standard poker-faced spy, she comes across as being unengaged, and her slipshod accent (which may be purposeful) doesn’t help matters any. Fortunately, she’s fantastic to watch, and the action alone make it all worthwhile. One of the things I particularly appreciated about her fight scenes is that they are not the typical, street/martial arts-style sequences we’re used to. They are brutal. Anything close to hand is used as a deadly weapon (stiletto heel, skateboard, keys, garden hose?). People get their faces beaten into a bloody pulp. Lorraine herself seldom escapes without a scratch – in fact there are more scenes in which opponents are visibly exhausted and barely able to stand, let alone fight, than I think I’ve ever seen before. It’s a welcome (if violent) dose of realism in a genre that often seeks to give its heroes superhuman status.

It’s hard to say too much about the movie without giving away all the twists and turns. I’ve come to realize that I often prefer movies or shows where it is more difficult for me to guess what is going to happen next. In the case of Atomic Blonde, I definitely had a bit of trouble following who was on which side and what was being accomplished as opposed to what had gone wrong. Still, I would say that the audience is ultimately satisfied (if slightly confused) and while we may not root for Lorraine, strictly speaking, we at least have a healthy respect for her methods and abilities. It would be interesting to see how the character of Lorraine Broughton might return to the screen (and actually, according to IMDb a sequel is in development!) and hey: If Tom Cruise is still doing his own stunts well into his fifties, I say we give Theron a shot.

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Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde.

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Book Review: Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies (And Why We Don’t Learn Them From Movies Anymore), Hadley Freeman

 

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The Breakfast Club

It pains me to admit it, but “classic 80s movies”, as a genre, are a bit of a knowledge gap for me. Quite recently a friend was telling me that her husband and his family hadn’t ever seen Footloose, and I shamefacedly admitted that I hadn’t, either. I was a kid in the 80s, making me too young to see many of the great teen films when they were released, and I haven’t done the greatest job of playing catch-up.

Regardless, when I learned about Life Moves Pretty Fast … I immediately added it to my “to-read” list. What I have seen of 80s movies I love, and any discussion of lessons learned from such movies as Dirty Dancing, The Princess Bride, Pretty in Pink, Ghostbusters, and of course, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is going to be a good time, right?

One-word review: YES. I made the comment on social media that I was two chapters in but already wanted to marry this book. Hadley Freeman is a fun and engaging writer, and she LOVES 80s movies. So much so that one of my main criticisms of the book is that she seems to love them to the exclusion of most movies made before or since. I can appreciate that you want to sell your argument that a particular period in film history was highly influential and will likely never be replicated, but she spends a little too much time trying to convince her reader that all other movies are simply no good. Or maybe I’m just sensitive because she blames Clueless for ruining the teen movie genre, and states that “all superhero movies take themselves too seriously.” And she seems to hate Robert Downey, Jr (who might deserve it). But I digress.

Each chapter of the book features a movie made in the 80s (there are several more in addition to those I’ve listed) and ascribes to each a valuable life lesson.  For instance the chapter on Steel Magnolias is subtitled “Women Are Interesting.” She then dissects the movie (or sometimes movies) specified with regard to their subject matter, their relevance both at the time and today, and delves a bit into the workings of the film industry. She was also able to interview a lot of the actors and directors from the time period, which adds a great layer of authenticity to her ideas. A common theme throughout the book is that a lot of the movies made in the 80s would simply not get made in today’s blockbuster market. Many of our favorite classics are, when you think about it, pretty weird movies that even indie filmmakers might consider a stretch in this day and age. A lot of that, according to Freeman’s research, has to do with the fact that the American market for movies has been constantly shrinking, and studios are more interested in making movies that can translate to the international market in order to recoup their costs. As much as I didn’t enjoy the suggestion that superhero movies are bad and are destroying cinema, it’s a difficult point to argue with. It is pretty hard to imagine a movie like When Harry Met Sally being made the same way today (her indictment on rom-coms is damning and, in my opinion, spot-on).

Negativity aside, her commentary on the themes of these movies is impressive and well-presented. Two chapters in particular stood out to me: Dirty Dancing (Abortions Happen and That’s Just Fine) and “Eddie Murphy’s Eighties Movies” (Race Can Be Transcended). In the former, her thesis is essentially that Dirty Dancing is a feminist movie, and she sells it completely. The main character, Baby, is fully embracing her agency and her sexuality, and the film reflects that across the board. Think about male gaze versus female gaze here. Who is objectified by the camera? Hint: it’s not Baby. At no time does the abortion subplot pass judgment on the woman having the procedure – rather it blames the guy who refuses to take responsibility. It’s easy enough to think of Dirty Dancing as a fun and fluffy piece of entertainment but the way Freeman sees it (and the way its writer intended), it was astonishingly ahead of its time and is still an example to films being made today.

Similarly, her chapter on Eddie Murphy looks at the ways in which some movies in the 80s were actually more open-minded and progressive than now. She examines Murphy’s meteoric rise to stardom at a time when there were very few people of color in the industry. Eddie Murphy “succeeded” Richard Pryor as Hollywood’s black comedic talent, and he paved the way for many of the stars who came afterward. A number of the films that became megahits for Murphy were originally intended to feature white men (most notably Beverly Hills Cop), but by casting Murphy instead, the films were fundamentally changed and were perhaps huge hits because they starred him. The flip side of this transcendance, Freeman argues, is that Eddie Murphy became so emblematic of blackness that he lost his artistic freedom, and in opening the door to other talented people of color, he ultimately canceled out his own success (hence the “terrible” but lucrative films made later in his career).

Other readers may not value the ideological arguments made in this book as much as I did, but for me, a frank discussion of the ways in which Hollywood has progressed (or regressed, more to the point) was welcome in today’s climate. Life Moves Pretty Fast was written in 2015, and so I spent a lot of time wondering what Freeman would think of movies made more recently that seemingly represent steps forward in terms of women’s place in film (she liked but didn’t love 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot, and I really want to know if she watches GLOW) or the more-recent surge in films made by and for people of color. Beyond those serious topics, the book is a fun memoir of someone who grew up with these movies and found much to love in them. Mixed in among the chapters are lists like “Top Ten Fashion Moments” and “Top Five Eighties Steve Guttenberg Moments” which are hilarious. If nothing else, I feel I’ve been handed a great list of movies to catch up on.  For fans of movies, the eighties, and/or eighties movies, Life Moves Pretty Fast is a must-read.

 

 

Midweek Break: SDCC = Meh Edition

I was SO POSITIVE last week that we would hear something, anything about Captain Marvel out of Comic-Con and instead … crickets. So … meh. I could share some of the buzzed-about trailers but you’ve already seen ’em if you want to, so I’m not gonna.

am going to share this post about Johnny Depp at Comic-Con because I wish I’d written it. I would also like to hereby propose a boycott of the movie being promoted, not that I’ll convince any rabid Harry Potter fans. The first one was entertaining enough but the problems dogging the production (outlined nicely in the linked piece) don’t particularly incline me to see a second.

You know how last time I said I wasn’t that into podcasts? Well, after that my husband told me about Thirst Aid Kit, which is literally a podcast about hot guys. Why did nobody tell me people would listen to a podcast about hot movie stars? I would’ve started one ages ago! Among the objects of thirst discussed so far: Oscar Isaac, John Cho, and Tom Hiddleston. Yes, indeed, Banana Oil Movies-approved!

I’ve got a couple of trailers for you this week: the first will likely require no explanation if you’ve ever had a conversation with me about movie stars I like. It’s called Boy Erased, and it’s a true story about a young man whose parents put him into a gay conversion program. It’s got quite a cast, and looks really good.

The second trailer is for a Netflix feature called Sierra Burgess is a LoserIt stars Shannon Purser (of Stranger Things fame) and is essentially a gender-bent, updated take on Cyrano de Bergerac. I am an absolute sucker for literary adaptations done well, and this movie looks like it absolutely fits the bill.

Late-breaking item of interest! Just saw on Twitter that Lin-Manuel Miranda is going to be producing a limited series about Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon starring Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams. Um, wow.

What’s on your radar this week, friends? Anything good? Let me know!

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Because I can include John Cho gifs if I want to, so there.

Midweek Break: Other Cool Stuff

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This may or may not become a (semi-) regular feature, depending on whether enough things pop up to warrant my interest. I’ll try to share  some cool movie-related items from the internet (and beyond!) that I think others might have fun with, as well as maybe a new trailer or opening I’m particularly excited about. Let’s do it!

I have long been a fan of Tom & Lorenzo, a couple who write primarily about celebrity fashion. They delve a bit into movie/television reviews as well, and are perhaps best-known for writing a series of posts analyzing the costumes on Mad Men. Today, however, I really want to plug an incredible series of posts they did recently called “Redefining the Hero,” about the costuming decisions for some of the big blockbusters of the past couple of years: Wonder Woman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens/The Last Jedi, and Black Panther. See anything in common there? Yeah. You want to check these posts out. They’re amazing.

Do you like podcasts? I am not the biggest fan out there, but I have one podcast that I follow religiously. It’s called You Must Remember This, and the tagline is ” The podcast about the secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood’s first century.” The host, Karina Longworth, is a Hollywood historian who uses recent scholarship and technology to delve into stories (sometimes salacious, sometimes not) of Hollywood and Hollywood-related people. It’s a really fascinating look at the industry and the people; Longworth does a good job of keeping things academic as opposed to merely gossip-y, and has a tendancy to look at things through a feminist lens that I personally appreciate. The current season (there are three, I think?) is called “Fake News: Fact-Checking Hollywood Babylon” and it promises to be just as engaging as past seasons.

I suppose I should mention the trailer for Life Itselfan ensemble cast drama from Dan Fogelberg (This is Us). It doesn’t really look like my kind of thing, but the cast is worthy of attention: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening and Mandy Patinkin star. Opens September 21.

The Spy Who Dumped Me opens on August 3, and I’m thinking (pending reviews) about making it my next “Female-Driven Ladies’ Movie Night” outing. Co-written and directed by Susanna Fogel and starring Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon. Looks like it could be fun!

I’d love to hear what you think of these suggestions or if you have any of your own!

Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

After the dramatic and awesome one-two punch of Black Panther and Infinity War, it was hard not to feel skeptical about Marvel’s decision to release the second Ant-Man movie in the middle of the summer blockbuster season. Do we still care about the little guy? Do we  (okay, I) need a break from all these superhero goings-on?  Maybe. But, as you might expect, it turns out Kevin Feige and the gang knows exactly what they’re doing, and I was wrong, once again, to doubt them.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a perfect summer popcorn flick. If it existed in a world without the likes of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, we’d still be blown away by it. I said of the first Ant-Man (2015) that it was a “surprisingly enjoyable little action flick,” with a stellar cast and solid execution. As such, director Peyton Reed didn’t mess with his formula too much: he added a few more excellent additions to the cast (Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, and Hannah John Kamen, amongst others), kept the winning combo of action, humor, and heart … boom. Box-office gold.

I’ve been asked a couple of times if it is necessary to be caught up on the MCU in order to watch Ant-Man and the Wasp, and by and large the answer is no. The action picks up immediately following the events of Civil War, but those events are not relevant beyond the fact that we find Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) on house arrest for his involvement. Hank Pym and his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly) are on the run from the Feds as well, but are working on a quantum tunnel which will theoretically allow them to find Hope’s mom, Janet (Pfeiffer), who has been lost/presumed dead in the quantum realm for decades.  Naturally, the three are forced to team up again in order to achieve their goal, and of course, a bunch of other people are trying to stop them. They include Randall Park as the FBI agent assigned to Lang, Walton Goggins as a sleazy businessman who wants to get into quantum tech, and Ghost (John-Kamen), who joins the ranks of the new type of Marvel villain who is not so much evil as misunderstood.

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Evangeline Lilly and Paul Rudd as the Wasp and Ant-Man

One of the most impressive aspects of the movie is that it manages to juggle all those people and interweave their various storylines into a cohesive unit. The pace is quick but comfortable, and there’s plenty of time for humor and heartfelt moments. The film almost feels like an homage to Ferris Bueller: Lang’s out having adventures but also has to make sure he doesn’t get caught out of the house.  The jokes strike just the right balance and the running gags, mostly courtesy of Michael Pena, TI Harris, and David Dastmalchian as Scott’s trio of business associates, never get old. The characters and their relationships were so well-defined in the first movie that we can spend more time catching up with the characters, rather than learning more about who they are and where they’re at with each other.

The biggest, and most important, change is that Hope has taken on the mantle of The Wasp. She’s the first female superhero in the MCU to receive title credit! Evangeline Lilly steps into full superhero mode like she was born to it, and matches Paul Rudd beat-for-beat. In a way, The Wasp is a more stereotypical hero than Ant-Man. Part of what makes Rudd so likable in the role (aside from his endless charisma) is his Everyman persona; while he has certain skills, he’s not a genius (which is frequently played to great comedic effect). He’s not supremely noble like Cap or endowed with any superhuman qualities, whereas in addition to being a skilled fighter, Hope is a brilliant scientist in her own right and has a laser-like focus on obtaining her goals. They balance each other wonderfully and make a great team.

One of the things that makes the MCU so compelling is the mix of epic and personal storytelling. After a world-shattering event like Infinity War, scaling things back to the lives and experiences of a few individuals was definitely the right choice. When they’re done well, these small-scale pieces are no less compelling than the grand ensemble films. Other reviewers have pointed to Spiderman: Homecoming as the best example of a stand-alone episode that loses nothing in enjoyment despite its lack of global consequence. Ant-Man and the Wasp is another great instance of this. The stakes are truly confined to Scott Lang, the Pym/van Dyne family, and a few others, and that intimacy allows for more of a connection with the characters and makes their stories more personal.

That Marvel can combine that kind of storytelling with blockbuster action and effects is a testament to what they’ve built in the MCU, and it’s what keeps viewers coming back for more. If you’re caught up, the second Ant-Man installment is a palate-cleanser; you’ll have fun and feel refreshed before we return to more bombast next year (CAPTAIN MARVEL YOU GUYS!!). If you’ve been sporadic in watching the MCU, you’ll still have a blast watching this movie and my only suggestion would be to skip the mid- and post-credit sequences. Either way, Ant-Man and the Wasp is the perfect way to spend a few hours this summer; air-conditioning will feel like a bonus.

 

Ranking the MCU

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One of the things that struck me when I revisited this blog was just how much of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) had come and gone in the past 5 years. It is still surprising to me that they keep churning out more movies, and that most of them are really pretty good. Back in January, we started a full rewatch in order to be ready for Infinity War when it came out in May, and it was fun to revisit and catch up with the characters I have (mostly) come to love. Since it would be a lot of work to go back and talk more specifically about all the films since I last blogged, I’m going to offer up my ranking of the MCU. Obviously such a list is highly personal  –  nobody’s are going to look exactly alike. I’ll give some justification for my choices, but of course you are welcome to disagree. I’d love to hear your take; I could talk about these guys all the time.

1. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) : It was no small feat when Joss Whedon pulled all the big guns together and produced a fun blockbuster with enough heart and character development to go around. I personally believe much of the continued success of the entire universe is owed to that first group outing. Some of the others may have more strengths, but this was the moment we knew it was gonna work.
2. Black Panther (2018) : Much was riding on Black Panther, and it delivered. Not only was it historic in its production, but it’s just a damn good movie – that also happens to be a superhero flick. It has some of the best characterizations and EASILY represents the best treatment of female characters in the entire universe so far. (Dear Captain Marvel, please be awesome.)
3. Thor: Ragnarok (2017) : The characterization took some time to gel, but finally someone realized the astonishing truth: Chris Hemsworth is really, really funny. Add in the godlike powers of Cate Blanchett, continue to develop the Thor/Loki relationship (best in the MCU) and you’ve got a winner.
4. Iron Man (2008) : Sine qua non. Had Robert Downey, Jr. not created the genius playboy with a heart of gold, none of us would be here. Sure, the third act is really weak and Jeff Bridges kicked off the trend of wasting major talent on one-off villains, but Iron Man set the tone and remains a singular achievement in a field littered with them.
5. Avengers: Infinity War (2018): It might still be too soon to talk about this movie, but once again, Marvel took a zillion characters and somehow gave all of them their due in a monster undertaking. The usual criticisms are in play here ( shaky pacing, under-served female characters) and for some of us the emotional punch is tempered by our understanding of the film industry, but you’ve got to give credit to the successful culmination of a long-term project like this.
6. Iron Man 3 (2013) : If you haven’t seen Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, I suppose you won’t agree with this. But I love that movie and Shane Black did it again with Iron Man 3. Tony Stark is my favorite character and he’s had the best arc of all – I loved rewatching these movies and realizing what a good character he is and has always been. Taking him out of the suit for this installment reminded us all of what a great and charismatic talent RDJ is, and that Tony Stark’s greatest weapon has always been his mind.

7. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) : The second time around I realized that the first Cap installment really did an impressive job of stretching the time period covered by the MCU. The technology used to make Chris Evans look like a 90-pound weakling is still kind of weird, but the intro to Steve Rogers is perfect in laying out exactly who he is and how important Captain America is to the world.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) : Nobody knew what to make of GotG. “There’s a tree, and a raccoon. How can this possibly be good?” Turns out it was crazy (and good!) fun, and gave audiences something they hadn’t seen before. Even if you don’t love some of the individual characters (I am NOT a Peter Quill fan) you still have to root for the team.
9. Captain America: Civil War (2016) : Here we come to perhaps my least-popular decision. I really disliked Civil War. It’s as good a movie as any of the rest of them, but for me personally, the decisions made by Cap are incredibly problematic and ultimately the movie seemed like a bunch of grown white men beating each other up instead of acknowledging their feelings and taking responsibility for their actions. Notable primarily as our (awesome) introduction to T’Challa, for whom I swoon.
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) : Another one I might need to apologize for, but y’all, I thought Winter Soldier was booooring. The pacing is SO slow and as much as I think Black Widow is the unsung hero of the team, you can only get so far on banter. People like to refer to this as a great Cold War spy thriller and to them, I respectfully suggest watching The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and then getting back to me.
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) : I personally enjoyed this one but I can acknowledge that it’s not as great as the first Avengers. I didn’t have a problem with the Nat/Bruce pairing (it’s been telegraphed all along), was thrilled to see Paul Bettany in the flesh finally, and my biggest gripe is that I really wanted more of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver. 

12. Thor (2011) : I have enjoyed all of the Thor movies, but then I am a literature nerd with a taste for Shakespeare. In rewatching these, it became clear that the high-flying heroism never sat particularly well with Hemsworth, but the visuals were stunning and Kenneth Branagh did a good job of moving along an origin story with lots of details.
13. Ant-Man (2015) : Crammed in amongst all the heavy-hitters, Ant-Man is a surprisingly enjoyable little action flick. The cast is fantastic and the structure is standard but well-executed. I am actually really excited for Ant-Man & the Wasp, which opens in a couple of weeks.
14. Spiderman: Homecoming (2017) : Another unpopular decision. I have a friend who gets mad at me for this, but I was pretty much just whelmed by the newest iteration of Spidey. I don’t see why we needed YET ANOTHER one, first of all, and while Tom Holland is a fun presence, I thought the movie itself was very predictable.
15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) : There are things I loved about this movie, but overall when I watched it again it felt a little forgettable.  The ‘twist’ on a villain was fun, but the movie started to drag after a bit. Great emotional content, and I definitely hope to see Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha return at some point.
16. Doctor Strange (2016) : Most of these movies follow a formula, and their success tends to be relative to how well they navigate within that formula. Doctor Strange benefits from being able to use a lot of great visual effects, but the characters weren’t well-developed (or felt like retreads) and I didn’t personally feel that Benedict Cumberbatch gave me a character I could root for. He was much better as a supporting player in Ragnarok and Infinity War.
17. Thor 2: The Dark World (2013) : The second Thor installment might be the most egregious example of a wasted villain. Not only was Christopher Eccleston unrecognizable, he didn’t have anything to do. As was previously mentioned, Hemsworth does better with less serious dialogue. The Dark World just wasn’t very fun.
18. Iron Man 2 (2010) :  Sophomore slump? On paper this one ought to have been good but somehow it never seemed to find its footing. I am extremely #TeamCheadle so I was happy with the new Rhodes, and we got our introduction to Black Widow, but other than that … meh. Sam Rockwell deserved better.
19. The Incredible Hulk (2008) : Poor Hulk. It’s so disappointing that they couldn’t get the character right until Mark Ruffalo came along. Edward Norton seemed like good casting, but he didn’t find the balance or the sympathy in the character. The effects were not good, and for me personally, this movie had a much different feel that made it an awkward fit for the overall universe. I almost wish we could go back and have a Ruffalo stand-alone, but it definitely feels like that ship has sailed, and he might be better in a supporting role as well. 

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)