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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!

Movie Reviews

Skyscraper ★★★★

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Released: 12th July 2018

Directed By: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Be honest. Sooner or later, you knew The Rock was going to make Die Hard. It was inevitable. As he ascends higher and higher thought the upper echelons of the – increasingly spartan – Hollywood star system, this was always going to be coming. The only question really, was going to be whether or not it was going to be either any good, or even welcome in a world in which even a bonafide Die Hardsequel now typically ranks among the worst of whichever year it’s released in.

Alas, Dwayne Johnson is no Bruce Willis, and that quality control barrier could not be any clearer as Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno – with a dash of The Fugitive – for Skyscraper. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s adrenaline-fuelled ride takes DJ to China as amputee and former FBI tactical agent Will Sawyer, an American tasked with signing off on the security of The Pearl – the tallest building in the world. When terrorists seize The Pearl, however, Sawyer finds himself the subject of a Chinese manhunt and forced to find a way back into the building in order to save his wife and children from not only the terrorists seeking to fulfil their own agenda, but also to the out-of-control blaze that threatens to consume them all.

Johnson’s played in the sort of arena on more than a few occasions now, with Skyscraper arguably skewing closest to San Andreas as regards the sort of tone and polished spectacle you’re in for. There are some offhand nods to more classical genre archetypes – hell, it makes more Die Hard references than Jake Peralta – and there’s the requisite degree of fistbumping and utilisation of the term “brother”, but those still unsure of what to expect can rest easy on the promise of what’s essentially an Irwin Allen movie with a Neal Moritz sensibility. It ain’t clever, it doesn’t want to be, it just wants you to sit on the edge of your seat and then cheer afterwards. Which you will. A lot.

Neve Campbell brings an impressive amount to what’s an already impressively sketched out female supporting character in Sawyer’s wife (take notes, Bedelia – that’s how you handle hostage takers), and Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) continues to make for an engaging added value element. Roland Møller, meanwhile, makes for a decent enough villain, but lacks the charisma needed to really sell the ludicrously named Kores Botha as much of an evil mastermind. Sure, he was never going to rival Hans Gruber on the scale of action movie villains, but Botha’s so thinly devised as a villain that he’s not up to the grade of Tommy Lee Jones’ Under Siege villain either. And that’s a real detriment when your action hero lead is someone as genuinely charismatic as Dwayne Johnson. Both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Joe Manganiello took the wrong Rock movie, would be a decent takeaway.

In lieu of a captivating villain, Thurber nonetheless ensures value for money is had with a barrage of spectacle-fuelled set-pieces the likes of which will have you squirming in your seat biting your fist for dear life – IMAX could well inspire a sense of vertigo with this one. It’s a glossy-looking actioner – thanks to some smooth production design and slick visuals from cinematographer and Mission: Impossible alum Robert Elswit – and fight choreographer Allan Poppleton goes above and beyond to stage Johnson’s antics not as the all-powerful action commando, but a credible fighter dwarfed by the spectacle of what’s up against him.

It’s a good time for all. Sure, it’s in no way destined to become an enduring classic of the action genre – though, the spoilerific marketing campaign does well and truly show off what will become one of this summer’s more memorable movie moments – but it’s Die Hard on fire. With The Rock. In 2018. And if there’s an easier sell for a good time at the movies than that, it just means Dwayne Johnson has another movie out. In which case, still see Skyscraper first.

 

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Featured Review

Mission Impossible: Fallout ★★★★★

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Released: 25th July 2018

Directed By: Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Michelle Monaghan, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

‘What the hell is he doing!? I find it best not to look.’

Rebecca Ferguson. You’re certainly not alone in questioning the thought process of a man seemingly gunning to be ‘The Greatest Stuntman’. Another one Mr Cruise? I imagine his reply is Never Enough. Never. Never.

22 years and six instalments in. Facing stiff competition from Bond, Bourne and a plethora of comicbook darlings along the way. This particular Tom has continued to be a marvel, risking life and limb to give us the adrenaline-pumping thrills we crave, admirably relying on old-school practicality instead of the obligatory CGI bombast we modern cinemagoers have grown accustomed to.

Previous instalment ‘Rogue Nation’ boasted an elegant operatic set-piece in Vienna, with returning (a first for the series) director Christopher McQuarrie masterfully pulling the strings in the background. Well imagine ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’ as a grandiose death-defying symphony, that could easily leave you breathless in the front row, never mind the upper tiers of this cinematic arena.

Whilst consistent in its entertainment value. It could be argued these films haven’t dug deep enough into the psyche of IMF’s main man. McQuarrie is quick to remedy this right from the outset as a pulsating plutonium power struggle ensues, with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) still reeling from his encounters with Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the latter a mere pawn now in the eyes of a terrorist organisation called the Apostles.

Trust in Ethan’s methods diminishing with the addition of CIA superior Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) who compares him to a scalpel, she introduces a ‘hammer’ to the situation in the form of August Walker (Henry Cavill), who is tasked with assisting Hunt and his usual suspects Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) in preventing further global atrocities. Interrogation? Not for this Man Of Steel.

Intertwining plot threads left dangling by its predecessors to layer its absorbing narrative, with Michelle Monaghan’s love interest Julia a notable inclusion. McQuarrie truly allows the audience to become emotionally attached to these characters this time around beyond the wisecracks and gadgetry, which only serves to fuel the tension and raise the stakes of its balletic action choreography. Playing a lead protagonist who can easily be perceived to be indestructible up to now. The moral angst that engulfs Cruise’s Hunt is refreshing, as his unwavering loyalty to his fellow field agents is deemed a weakness in achieving their intended objective.

Only for this aspect to be amplified by the compelling complexity of Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust who returns with her own agenda, remaining appreciative of Hunt’s relentless nature to complete a mission by any means necessary, with one particular Paris stand-off utterly engrossing. Whilst Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane continues to favour chilling prose, it’s a joy to finally see Henry Cavill utilised in a blockbuster effectively as August Walker, a bruising no-nonsense adversary whose reloading arms prove a worthy match for Hunt.

Yet for all its superior characterisation. Mission Impossible would amount to little without its enthralling stunts, with the film gleefully  looking to out-do the previous set-piece throughout its running time, only to succeed in jaw-dropping style. From heart-stopping halo jumps at 25,000 feet to a heady helicopter chase that made me audibly gasp at its sheer audacity, McQuarrie’s dizzying camerawork and respectful capture of its sleek locations as we witness Cruise’s crazy antics close-up, is as pure as popcorn cinema gets.

‘Fallout? With this franchise? I suspect that thought will self-destruct in five seconds once you clap eyes on this outing. An astonishing genre offering in its own right, in a series that continues to evolve in exhilarating fashion.

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Movie Reviews

First Reformed ★★★★★

Consider the bar raised…

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Director: Paul Schrader

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer

Released: 13th July 2018 (UK)

First Reformed has been dubbed as Paul Schrader’s triumphant return to cinema. Widely praised by critics and audiences, it finally hits UK cinemas. What is First Reformed all about you ask? Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a solitary parish priest at a small church in upstate New York. Now more of a tourist attraction catering to a dwindling congregation, it has long been eclipsed by its nearby parent church. When a pregnant parishioner (Amanda Seyfried) asks Reverend Toller to counsel her husband, Toller is plunged into his own tormented past and finds himself questioning his own future and where redemption might lie. With the pressure on him beginning to grow, he must do everything he can to stop events spiralling out of control.

Alienation, social decay makes First Reformed one of the most powerful self portraits in cinema. First Reformed tackles current event topics like the environment, organised religion, politics, and alcoholism as a backdrop for Reverend Toller’s  journey through despair. Hawke’s Toller establishes the key theme early in the film: we’re told that we must hold onto both despair and hope simultaneously. Toller’s efforts to live this self-contradicting life, leads him down a path of madness.We discover that existential crises and sincere Christianity make quite the self destructive couple. Toller finds he must reject the shiny glossy presentation of modern contemporary Christianity, and discover his own self belief and re-build his faith within himself. The careful logic of it draws us in; it’s difficult to see where Toller and society goes wrong.

Paul Scharder’s visuals are utterly striking, each shot is rich with balance, depth and artful symmetry; despite the fact that the film is presented in an unusual aspect ratio of 1.37: 1, it pulls its viewers in with nonstop beautiful photography, mostly high-contrast shots with a muted colour palette.The story is spiritual as you would expect but it’s surprisingly political. The pace of the film is steady and switches seamlessly between snapshots and long takes. The scoring slowly builds its ominous tone, every element of First Reformed is built with intention that serves its sobering themes.

Ethan Hawke has delivered the performance of his career as Toller. This performance is truly next-level from him, and I cannot describe enough to you about how captivating it is to watch Hawke. He is spectacular in this, and an early front runner for award season. First Reformed is quietly intense, disturbingly real with a memorable ending. Paul Schrader carefully tackles controversial topics, especially with handling the concept of Christianity. The movie is neither preachy or anti-Christian in its delivery, but rather shows religion for what it is: a reasonable release for sadness and guilt, but also a burden. First Reformed is without a doubt one of 2018’s finest films.

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