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Movie Reviews

Ocean’s 8 ★★★

It’s all about having a good time and watching these gals steal some expensive jewellery with style to spare.

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Gary Ross

Stars: Anne Hathaway, Awkwafina, Cate Blanchett, Dakota Fanning, Damian Young, Elliot Gould, Helena Bonham Carter, James Corden, Mindy Kaling, Richard Armitage, Richard Robichaux, Rihanna, Sandra Bullock, Sarah Paulson

Released: June 18th, 2018

Very early in this spin-off of director Steven Soderbergh’s trilogy of movies about George Clooney’s ultra-smooth, ultra-smart thief we are introduced to what is and arguably always has been the most fascinating thing about these movies not to mention heist and/or crime dramas in general. This being the fact that the type of people who find themselves in such scenarios have enough self-confidence and charisma to be able to pull-off whatever facade they wish to carry. It’s not about what you may or may not be hiding on the inside or what you know about yourself that you believe everyone who sees you immediately assumes as well, but more it is utilizing your appearance, age, and swagger (or lack thereof) to allow those who see you to make those first, quick assumptions only for you to then deliver upon them so as they don’t think about you again. It is an awareness of sorts that Clooney’s character never fully utilized, he was always the cool guy in the nice suit, but it is almost immediately that his sister, Debbie Ocean, as played by Sandra Bullock utilizes this tool. And then she uses it again. And again. Hell, if her character’s tastes weren’t so expensive she could make a fine enough living as a salesperson given the way she is able to adapt to and go with whatever environment she finds herself in and whatever people she finds herself in front of, but this is a movie that is meant to both continue the Ocean’s legacy while expanding on the diversification of those gender and ethnic gaps that are being actively addressed in Hollywood as of late. Whether you are in support of this or moronically opposed for one reason or another this agenda doesn’t really factor into the execution of the film save for one very pointed line of dialogue that is delivered in such a fashion so as to provide reasoning if not necessarily a justification for this movie’s existence. Whether this was an Ocean’s movie or not though, what gives the film its pulse is this throughline idea of knowing how to interact with people by scanning them upon meeting them and figuring out what type of person they want in their life and immediately becoming that person. Bullock and a few of her co-stars are able to explore this in a few different ways, but it is mostly Bullock who presents a surprisingly layered approach to this train of thought as we see her Debbie battle with how long such a lifestyle can remain exciting as masked by intentions of justice and vengeance. It’s a shame the movie itself doesn’t follow through on these instincts as the movie Bullock presents us with and allows us to assume Ocean’s 8 might become is far more fascinating than the fun, but ultimately derivative one it ends up being.

Directed and co-written by Gary Ross (Pleasantville, The Hunger Games) along with Olivia Milch (Netflix’s DudeOcean’s 8 does what it needs to do to fit into the style and tone of Soderbergh’s world (overcompensating in this aspect to some degree), but it is clear that while having to fit into this certain niche style that Soderbergh re-invigorated for his 2001 re-make of the Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin film Ocean’s 8 also wants to be its own thing. It wants to prove it can do something just as well as the boys while putting its own spin on things and it mostly succeeds in being good fun finding fault not in what it presents or who it is presented through, but more in the inability to capture the energy if not the spirit of Soderbergh’s films. This is glimpsed largely through the editing and pacing of the first act of the film as Ross’ picture struggles to gain its footing after what is both an impressive and nearly flawless opening sequence that introduces us to Bullock’s lead character and perfectly encapsulates who this woman is and how she operates. After this initial introduction the film has an obligation to then introduce the remaining seven members of the crew though, and does so by next presenting the audience with Cate Blanchett’s exquisitely dressed Lou (Cate Blanchett) or who amounts to be the female version of Brad Pitt’s Rusty Ryan in that she is an expert con artist who has connections out the wazoo, but is largely a part of the group because she has the balls and that aforementioned confidence and swagger to do things most people wouldn’t be willing to risk. Bullock and Blanchett make a formidable duo and thus is the reason they seem to so quickly be able to round-up the likes of their hacker in Nine Ball (Rihanna), their low-key thief and pick-pocket in Constance (Awkwafina), their jewel expert in Amita (Mindy Kailing), a fashion designer on the fringe who gives them an in to the world they’re attempting to hijack, Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), as well as fellow con-artist, thief, and all-around criminal aficionado Tammy (Sarah Paulson). It is in this extended montage of sorts that the film is either unable to find its footing or becomes one of those “this happens and then this happens” type of stories and it’s hard to decide which it is as Ross and Milch’s script certainly seems to know what it’s doing and how it’s going to go about making things happen, but it never feels as if the movie really takes advantage of all it has available to it in a fashion that is genuinely exciting or compelling. It’s just kind of there.

The heist at the center of the film revolves around New York City’s star-studded annual Met Gala event. After a long five years, eight months, and twelve days in prison Debbie has concocted what she believes to be a perfect plan for how to lift what is known as the Toussaint Necklace. A six-pound, 136.25 carat blue-white diamond piece worth upwards of $150 million, the necklace has been buried deep within the vaults of Cartier at their home headquarters in Paris for some fifty years, but given the theme of this year’s gala dealing in European royalty and the history of the piece having been worn by such Debbie believes that with the right combination of designer and celebrity they can convince the luxurious jewelry company to allow the priceless piece out of their hands if not their sight for a single night. Enter Bonham Carter’s Rose who is something of a relic of a fashion designer that can’t help but to dig herself further and further into debt in an effort to resurrect her career. She is the perfect mark for Debbie and Lou to bring into the fold and make promises to while at the same time having to unwittingly convince this year’s honorary event day chair, actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), to choose Rose as the designer that will dress her for the event. It seems a lot of holes to jump through and a lot of trust to extend which would seemingly make some of Bullock’s dialogue rather bullish considering how confident she is in her plan, but alas Debbie and Lou are able to convince Rose and in turn Rose is able to convince Daphne rather quickly and successfully that, despite her current reputation, nostalgia is in and she’s the perfect unexpected choice for Daphne. Lou recruits the likes of Rihanna’s tech expert who is one of the few hackers that isn’t Russian as well as Awkwafina’s pick-pocket neither of which Debbie seems initially impressed with and both of which serve to exemplify the biggest weaknesses in this spin-off. In Soderbergh’s films each member of the crew was an integral part of the heist-that much is still true here-what has changed is how well we get to know each of the characters involved and how much those individual characters are developed. As previously stated and what we’ll delve into more here in a moment is how much more Bullock brings to the table than what seems might have existed on the page, but while Rihanna, Awkwafina, and even Kailing serve their purpose as far as plot goes their actual characters are little more than the skills they bring to the table; there is nothing beyond who these people are beyond those skills and therefore viewers are only invested in the job so far as if it is successful or not rather than being invested in whether or not these specific people are successful.

So, Debbie. Ms. Sandra Bullock. She had no need to bring in what was this unfiltered aspect to her character-a character that was christened into the church of criminality and made to live or die by how good she was at being cunning and conniving-also seems to be a person who is lost without a job to look forward to. This isn’t exactly a revelation as most criminals-like adrenaline junkies-don’t do these things or risk their lives, freedom, etc. for the sake of the outcome, but more for the thrill, the high of executing the gigs. With Debbie, there is this keen sense that she is well aware of her addiction and the ugly pattern it typically follows, but in one scene where she is both giving herself a pep talk and preparing a rousing speech for her troops she essentially reminds herself how much all of this is worth even if it doesn’t go exactly as she imagined it the many, many times she went through it and revised it while in prison. Like everything else in Ocean’s 8 this scene isn’t communicated with much weight nor does it contain any techniques that might suggest something more at play from a filmmaking standpoint, but rather it is a piece of a dialogue meant to serve as the calm before the storm where everything is neatly summarized before being put into action punctuated with a slight joke to ensure tonal consistency and yet Bullock brings this authenticity to the character; this sense that this is who Debbie genuinely is and can’t help it even if she wanted to be someone else. She may or may not desire the life she satirizes in the opening scene of the film when pleading her case to the parole board, but even if what she said included a hint of truth there is more fear to let slip what she sees as the security her skills as a criminal provide than to ever have to try and actually make an honest living. Debbie’s arc inevitably proves that she can indeed go on doing what she knows she’s good at, but in giving this line that goes, “a him gets noticed, a her gets ignored and for once…we want to be ignored,” there is this sense not only of what women’s roles are in society and what they’re expected to be, but such awareness of one’s self and the inherent nature to adapt to mirror the people one surrounded by at any given point is a case of constantly feeling like you have to sell yourself. Why would someone constantly feel the need to sell others on themselves? Any number of reasons, but in the case of Debbie it seems to be this hope she might stumble upon something better, something more purposeful and in understanding she only has so much longer before she’s stuck with what she was always destined for it’s not hard for Debbie to embrace that destiny rather than take this moment to do something normal which, for her, would be quite difficult.

Of course, Ocean’s 8 isn’t really interested in following any of those paths or developing further as a character study, but more it is about having a good time and watching these gals steal some expensive jewelry with style to spare. In this regard, Ross delivers as he and his teams re-creation of the Met Gala is rather impressive if not for the host of cameos and clothes featured, but more for actually adding some palpable tension into the mix as each of these films has always hinged on the nitty-gritty of executing the master plans and Ross, his script, and his actors nail this part of the pre-requisites. Furthermore, while the cast of characters are more undercooked in some areas while more sporadically entertaining in others there needed to be more of an overall sense of camaraderie or at least better rapport between more combinations of these characters than what is on display in the final product as the aforementioned lack of characterization in some of these individuals leaves much to be desired. That said, and while Bullock is certainly the lead and provides whatever substance a movie like Ocean’s 8 might have to offer, it is actually Hathaway who comes away with the most to gain as her performance here as a spoiled, catty, super diva plays up exactly what Hathaway herself has been accused of being over the past few years with it seeming as if the actress took this role and took full advantage of the opportunity to play Kluger so as to show what a true diva might look like and then shut every one of her haters and shamers down with what is a truly fun, versatile, and admittedly wild performance that gives the film that boost of energy and shot of rhythm it desired and needed to be considered akin to Soderbergh’s trilogy.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Featured Review

Climax ★★★★★

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Released: 21st September 2018 (UK)

Directed By: Gaspar Noé

Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull and Giselle Palmer

Reviewed By: Dion Wyn

Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure.

Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has been warping our fragile little minds for over 20 years. After the vast disappointment of Love 3D in 2015, he finally returned to Cannes this year. Where he won best picture at Director’s Fortnight; with his latest feature Climax. The win truly has reinvigorated interest and buzz of Noe’s work. The big question is does it actually live to the hype? Climax is set in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. They then make one last party around a large sangria bowl. Quickly, the atmosphere becomes charged and a strange madness will seize them the whole night. If it seems obvious to them that they have been drugged, they neither know by who nor why. And it’s soon impossible for them to resist to their neuroses and psychoses, numbed by the hypnotic and the increasing electric rhythm of the music. While some feel in paradise, most of them plunge into hell.

Climax grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Gaspar Noé’s fine form has returned with his sangria-soaked neon nightmare. Climax opens very subtly with interviews from the dance troop. We get a candid view into their lives and what drives their passion for dance. Noé shows the naivety of his cast before we enter the pressure cooker of the dance hall. Once the usual closing credits happen at the beginning, the true story starts to unfold. The opening dance sequence is electrifying and full of raw kinetic energy. You have succumbed to the euphoria of Noé, the camera becomes another dancer in the troop. We are witnessing the synchronicity and passion for the art of dance. You suffer from a slight come-down after the initial performance, but the depravity and relaxed inhibitions of the dancers start to flow out. There is no real script to Climax it is largely improvised, we delve into the sexual depravity of the dancers. These conversations are not for the faint of heart. You start to see where Noé is going with Climax or do we?

Once the LSD soaked sangria kicks in Noé begins his wizardry behind the lens. Distortion and blurriness are subtly put into frame. You can feel the sweat pouring through the walls. The music intensifies and the dance becomes a lot more aggressive. We have now entered the hellish nightmare we were expecting from the get go. It isn’t the drug trip we witnessed in Enter The Void either. Once the LSD has kicked in, you only see the reactions to their hallucinations. Gaspar Noé challenges you to think what is actually going on? The usual camera trickery now ensues, a classic Noé move. The journey warps your senses and you don’t always know what is going on. The crucial element in sustaining the tension is the killer soundtrack. It really is the beating heart of Climax (Vinyl has been pre-ordered all ready). After the explosion of this pressure cooker of a situation, the story goes no holds barred with scenarios of extreme violence, incest and self harm. Noé doesn’t create an in your face scenario in this instants, it is rather out of character for him.

Sofia Boutella has shed away the action star. Her raw and untameable energy is addictive. She flows so powerfully through Climax and you can feel her passion for dance. The casting of the dancers is a master stroke. They all bring a different element to the piece and the diversity of characters gives it great balance. Our inner darkest ideas and nightmares flow through Climax like a virus. You are tested from the get go and Climax is a true cinematic challenge. It is a true testament of youth and the ever flowing challenge of perfecting your artistry. Gaspar Noé’s Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.

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Movie Reviews

The Little Stranger ★★★★

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.

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Released: 21st September 2018

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill

Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.

Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.

From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.

The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.

The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain.  This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.

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Movie Reviews

Dogman ★★★

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Released: 19th October 2018

Directed By: Matteo Garrone

Starring: Marcello Fonte

Reviewed By: Rhys Handley

Dogman is the anti-Paddington. Antithetical to the marmalade-loving bear’s enduring mantra – “if we are kind and polite, the world will be right” – dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) carves out a life in the dilapidated outskirts of Rome modestly tending to his estate’s canine residents and enjoying the respect of his neighbours.

But Marcello’s submissive, accommodating kindness is pushed closer and closer to its limit by the hulking Simone (a terrifying Edoardo Pesce, surely masked in near-mutant prosthetic), a brutish ex-boxer who stalks the estate terrorising the residents. Unable to say no to a friend, Marcello facilitates Simone’s egregious coke habit to little recompense.

When Simone’s scheme to rob a nearby jeweller’s implicates Marcello and he is apprehended by the police, the Dogman takes the fall himself and goes inside for a year for the sake of the bully who pretends to be his friend. When he comes out, something has changed.

Marcello, diminutive and always sporting a toothy grin, strikes an unimpressive, but likeable figure. He is perfectly happy with his lot as the film opens – a divorced father who takes pride in his work and loves trips to the beach with his daughter. While director Matteo Garrone makes a meal of the grim, filthy aesthetic of the film’s setting, he peppers in moments of levity and blissful tranquility to reinforce the humble satisfaction of Marcello’s daily life.

To see him repeatedly indulge the cruel, selfish whims of Simone quickly becomes a source of frustration, as the brute encourages vices in Marcello that seems entirely at odds with his persona. Marcello is swept away on break-ins and hedonistic strip club nights in jarring scenes more in keeping with Garrone’s work in the gangster canon such as 2008’s Gomorrah.

In these scenes, the toxicity fuelling Marcello reveals itself. Fonte delicately skews the kindly facade when Marcello enters Simone’s world. Behind his courteous smile is a sickening glimmer of delight – Marcello loves the thrill and decadence of life of crime. His latent desires mix with his better nature, to create something more insidious than Simone’s overt depravity.

Dogman stumbles in its closing chapter as Marcello is released from prison, returning to a community who despises him for violating their trust and chasing Simone’s false offers of brotherhood and fortune. Marcello reemerges not exactly changed, but more honest to himself about what he is. Garrone and his co-writers steer this portion of the story with a steady hand, but it is hard to shake comparisons to other established squares-gone-rogue like Walter White.

Marcello’s resolve and vengefulness is convincing thanks to Fonte, but its emergence is sudden and teeters dangerously close to cliche. His push and pull with Simone is rote, which makes its languid pace a little irritating – this has suddenly become a very different film, and it can’t carry the slower moments of contemplation as well as it could before Marcello was locked up.

An inevitable confrontation takes place, bursting with brutality and gore. But rather than a release of tension, it feels like a betrayal of the thoughtful, measured character piece Garrone set up. The violence overreaches for shock value where Garrone had before been satisfied with something more pensive and empathetic.

Luckily, he pulls back in the final moments of the film and dovetails elegantly by concluding what is essentially his thesis on ‘little guy’ psychology. He frames Marcello not as a good man pushed too far, but as someone whose better and worse natures are intrinsically tangled to create a monster very different to the bully who ultimately leads him to snap.

No matter how kind and polite the Dogman might try to be, he cannot deny the malice that festers in his heart – and Garrone artfully distills Marcello’s melancholic final moment of self-realisation in a resonant closing shot that gracefully irons out the kinks in this curious, inconsistent little film.

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