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‘Ocean’s 8’ Is Old School Hollywood in the Best Way

Jeremiah

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Summer has officially begun. I’ve just seen one of the most breezy, joyful, and slick movies of the year, so far. Ocean’s 8 is a gas.

Ocean’s 8 is part of a long and storied Hollywood tradition, A-list celebrities get together and pull off a heist, sometimes in WWII, sometimes in Vegas, other times during a chilly winter in Detroit. Either way, it’s a bunch of big names committing some form of larceny, grand or petty, and looking fabulous while doing so.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is cut from the same cloth as her brother Danny (George Clooney). Sitting at her parole meeting, she gives a long and sincere speech about wanting to turn over a new leaf. Of course, she gets paroled, or else there would be no movie. Gathering her belongings, one of the guards recites part of her speech and laughs. Debbie’s parting words are assuring the guard that their card game won’t be affected.

Sandra Bullock has built a career on playing “America’s Sweetheart” type characters, with varying success. Recently we’ve been learning she has dramatic chops in addition to her likable presence and comedic timing. With Debbie, Bullock is allowed to play a somewhat new character for her, the cool and collected mastermind. It’s a role she relishes, as evident by the constant smirk that seems to rest on her face.

The Oceans are part of a Hollywood myth, a family of grifters, con men, and thieves. “Everyone but my Aunt Ida,” Debbie confides to an Insurance Inspector John Frazier (James Corden). Why Debbie was in prison and what she’s going to do now that she’s out is the heart of Ocean’s 8.

Once out, Debbie races to meet an old colleague and partner Lou (Cate Blanchett). Blanchett’s Lou seems to have the look of a butch-femme Deborah Harry and crushes it as per usual. Lou runs a club watering down vodka and pulling various small scams. She is a sort of middle-class criminal. Upon seeing Debbie, the two pick up as if five years haven’t passed. Blanchett and Bullock with their dueling cheekbones speed off to Lou’s pad. An old, abandoned, run-down warehouse that Lou has retrofitted into a swanky loft.

Lou’s pad reminded me of Faye Dunaway’s apartment in Supergirl. A literal funhouse in an amusement park wherein she was massively in debt because of the exorbitant rent. Lou is smarter than Dunaway’s character because she owns the warehouse outright. As the two get settled in, Lou sees the special twinkle in Debbie’s eyes and immediately knows there’s fun to be had.

Gary Ross wastes precious little time getting to the actual heist. Once Debbie is out of prison, she visits Danny’s grave. While there she runs into Reuben (Elliott Gould) where he tells her how great the plan is. He also tells her it’s a bad idea. One of the subtle themes throughout the movie, Debbie is warned by others to be careful. But it’s the men who seem to think Debbie won’t be able to handle herself, despite a long, active life of crime.

As Debbie and Lou begin to assemble their crew, we learn Debbie’s plan: to steal the Toussaint diamond necklace off the neck of the famous actress and airhead Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) while she attends the Met Gala. But first, they have to get Daphne to wear it. Debbie and Lou rope famed fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), who’s in debt to her eyeballs to the IRS, to help lure Daphne into wearing the necklace. Daphne is what Lou and Debbie refer to as “the mule.”

The rest of the crew is assembled in short order. The necklace will need to be cut so they need Amita (Mindy Kaling), who works with her mother as a jeweler. Of course, the Met has state of the art security system so they’ll need a hacker, Nine Ball (Rihanna). Stealing a hundred fifty million dollar necklace will require quick and steady hands. Luckily Lou knows of a local pickpocket, Constance (Awkwafina).

Everyone is allowed a scene or two to stretch their comedic chops. Rihanna is given the least to do but what she is given is still choice. The stand out is Awkwafina as Constance—the brash, streetwise pickpocket who can’t help but lift watches. She and Bullock share a scene in which she effortlessly goes from begging for a Metro pass to hitting on Debbie’s dead brother. A kind of camaraderie permeates the film as these ladies start to develop something akin to friendship with each other. At one point, one of them asks a relative latecomer to the crew why she’s doing this. Her response is a simple shrug, “Honestly, I don’t have any female friends.”

Hathaway’s ditzy and vain Daphne Kluger is the perfect mixture of broad and nuanced. She’s parodying the public’s perception of her, at the same time indulging in the joys of exaggerated comedy. Her Diana Kluger is delightfully vapid in a way that never approaches disbelief. Hathaway is so much fun that it’s only icing on the cake when it’s revealed that still, waters may, in fact, run deep.

Ross realizes the magnitude of the talent in his cast. This isn’t Shakespeare but it is a delicate balance nonetheless. Watching Ocean’s 8 we get to see our favorite actress do something we rarely get to see, play around. Bonham-Carter’s Rose in someone else’s hands might be well played. But it would lack the off-kilter wide-eyed outlandishness she brings to every role.

Blanchett stalks around the frames exuding that strange alchemical quality she has that can only be described as Cate Blanchett. In Thor: Ragnarok she camped it up to a thousand as she and Jeff Goldblum had a vamp off throughout the movie. Blanchett brings an air of mystery to Lou. While she’s more outgoing than Debbie, she tends to be coyer.

Eventually, Ocean’s 8 gets around to how Debbie ended up in prison. She fell in love with another con man, a debonair tool Claude (Richard Armitage). Lou eventually realizes what the job really is, payback, and warns Debbie about “running a job inside of a job.” Interesting she would call it a “job” considering Lou and Debbie seem incapable of doing anything but planning and scheming.

Ross co-wrote the script with Olivia Milch. The script is peppered with little moments of sharp commentary about womanhood. Tammy (Sarah Paulson), a woman whose skills of getting anything and everything the crew needs borders on wizardry. She shows Debbie pictures of men she has in mind for a small but integral part of the job. Debbie shoots them down. “Is it because they’re hims?” Debbie nods. “Hims will get noticed. Hers won’t.” A sly dig at the fact that while women are constantly objectified they are also sometimes considered, especially in movies such as these, merely part of the scenery.

The script allows for the exact thing we go to movies like Ocean’s 8 for: banter. Lou and Debbie’s riffs expose decades-long intimate knowledge. The two have a way of looking at each other and interacting as if there might have been, at one time, something more than friendship between the two.

Ocean’s 8 has a wonderful dearth of men in its cast. Gould’s Reuben pops in for a scene but then pops out again. Corden’s Frazier is a minor character who only pops up for the third act. The only real man of consequence is Armitage’s Claude, but Ocean’s 8 never really gives Claude all that much thought. After all, he didn’t give Debbie any thought at all, so why should the movie?

Ross, and his cameraman, Eigil Bryld happily leave the male gaze behind. Yes, there are montages of women in fancy gowns, and our characters each get a splendid dress designed just for them. But we would get these shots in other Ocean’s movies as well, only with men in suits. The dresses are one of the many toys the women are allowed to play with.

Unlike, this year’s earlier Lara Croft, the absence of the male gaze doesn’t mean a lack of an eye for shot composition. Bryld seems bemused and delighted by the Met’s architecture. He uses doorways and hallways to create frames within the frame. Bryld uses architectural geometry to adorn the edges of the frames and give us scenes of squares and triangles.

Ocean’s 8 is a glamorous old school Hollywood movie. Ross wastes little time with Ocean’s 8. We are spared romantic couplings or unnecessary drama. Ross never loses focus; this is a heist movie and nothing more. None of the ladies end the movie with a man or any kind of romantic entanglement, a rarity in of itself. Ross and Milch give us women who want the money, love the thrill of the job, and view men as either momentary pleasures or as tools to be used to their end.

Ross even allows the older generation to come and play. No less than Marlo Thomas, Dana Ivey, Elizabeth Ashley, and Mary Louise Wilson get brief cameos as well. Actress tend to be unfairly tossed aside after a certain age. Their screen time barely amounts to two full minutes combined but what they do in that time shows us that talent does not fade with age.

Refreshingly, Ocean’s 8, is the rare movie whose length is as long or short as it needs to be. Ocean’s 8 is easily some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year. Frothy and delicious, it hums along with a finger-snapping briskness. Finally, a movie I wouldn’t mind if they made a sequel to. Which probably means they won’t. I hope I’m wrong.


Image Courtesy of Warner Bros

Jeremiah lives in Los Angeles and divides his time between living in a movie theatre and writing mysteries. There might also be some ghostbusting being performed in his spare time.

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Disney Unveils First Look at ‘Toy Story 4’

Kori

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It’s the franchise that started it all for Pixar, and now with a fourth installment set to drop in theatres next summer, Disney has treated Toy Story enthusiasts to a small look at what some of our favorite characters are up to.

Up to meaning dancing hand in hand in a circle formation to Judy Collins’ seminal hit “Both Sides” now. They look happy, considering the song is far more introspective than most of the scene showcasing the toy family shows. Granted, there’s always a catch, and that comes in the form of a kid-crafted spork utensil turned into a toy, and having a serious case of the wiggins about its identity and hysterically screaming it’s not a toy before running away and causing a circular collision of all the other toys. I’d say there’s an opportunity there for some identity symbolism to be explored in the movie, but that’s probably expecting a tad too much.

Still, it’s nice to see the friends many of us have literally grown up with for over two decades. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are both back as Woody and Buzz, and they’re joined by regulars like Joan Cusack and Jeff Garlin. Bonnie Hunt, Laurie Metcalf, Annie Potts, and Patricia Arquette also lend their voices to the film.

Toy Story 4 premieres in theatres on June 21, 2019.


Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

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‘The Grinch’ Doesn’t Skimp on Charm

Jeremiah

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The Grinch is a harmless, but charming, remake of the beloved television classic. The third attempt to tell a story that no one really thought needed to be retold. The original 1966 television special is so perfectly preserved in popular memory as being near perfection it bothers the brain as to why a remake is even necessary.

Thankfully, the latest version of The Grinch understands a very profound and delicate thing: how to tell a story for kids. Dr. Seuss stories succeed because they play with the boundless wonder of a child’s imagination, while also trusting in the simple but potent faith each child possess. In other words, The Grinch doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel so much as add some spokes.

The story is still the same as we remember it. The Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) lives atop the mountain overlooking Whoville. A giant green oval shaped creature with an expressive face he is as his name implies, not a happy being. Every year, around Christmas, the Whos down in Whoville begin their annual celebration of Christmas and it drives the Grinch mad because he was born with a heart two sizes too small. So he steals Christmas.

Like all characters, he eventually realizes the error of his ways; his heart grows three sizes, some say. Look, the original animated special was some twenty-six minutes with credits included. The Grinch is a scant eighty-six minutes, with credits. I mention this only to say, yes they added filling, but not necessarily padding. The directors Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney show a great faith in the Seuss original.

For instance, Cindy Lou Who (voiced by Cameron Seely) has a  story all her own. As some of you may know, Cindy Lou Who is the little girl who catches the Grinch in the act of stealing her Christmas tree. In this, her story is simple and in fact, adds to Cindy Lou Who’s character and her relationship with the Grinch.

Cindy’s mother, Donna Lou Who (voiced by Rashida Jones) is a single working mother of three. Cindy wants to get in touch with Santa so she can wish for some happiness for her Mother. Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow have hammered the script into such a shape that we understand Donna isn’t unhappy. But Cindy sees her Mom struggling one morning and is sad she can’t do anything to help. Swerdlow and LeSieur lay the groundwork in a clever roundabout way.

As Cindy is trying to deliver a letter to Santa she runs into the Grinch, who is in town shopping for food. Being the Grinch he yells at her and comes dangerously close to doing something one of the most unforgivable things one could imagine: tell Cindy that Santa isn’t real. He doesn’t tell her, but he does imply. So when Grinch is disguised as Santa and he meets little Cindy once more, well let’s just say the Grinch was not the only person whose heart grew three times that day.

Mosier, Cheney, LeSieur, and Swerdlow allow The Grinch story as a whole to be visually expressive. From the Grinch’s sparse, cold, and granite home to the warm embracing circular geography of Whoville, the universe of the Grinch looks and makes sense.  Well, sense enough. Blessed be the script never tries to overreach and explain logistical fallacies or complex municipal services. They simply allow Whoville and the Grinch to exist.

The animation by Illumination Studios is, far and away some of the best they’ve done. The studio’s movies such as Sing, Despicable Me, and Smallfoot have all been nice to look at but The Grinch has texture and depth that the other movies were lacking. It’s one thing to look good, but it’s another to understand camera placement and cleverly figuring out comedic gags that don’t feel forced.

Cumberbatch Grinch is impressive for its lack of vanity. You could argue that Cumberbatch has been working towards his role his entire career considering all his characters tend to be akin to either the Grinch or Oscar the Grouch. His voice work is so complete I had to remind myself who was doing the voice. Notice the timber of his voice as he realizes Fred, the reindeer, who he’s captured to help pull his sleigh, has a family.

Keean Thompson has a small role as the jolliest Who in Whoville, Mr. Bricklebaum. Thompson walks a fine line between playing him as naive without mocking him or making him a fool. Thompson’s Bricklebaum is a man so in love with life and Christmas that he can’t understand how anybody could be so happy. His faith in people is such that he somehow believes the Grinch and he are the bestest of friends. A fact that the Grinch is as baffled by as we are.

Pharrell Williams takes place of Boris Karloff and Anthony Hopkins as the narrator. His laid back smooth voice anchors The Grinch. He handles the Seussian rhyming scheme with aplomb and even gives his own remix of the classic You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. A perfect fit, Williams narrates without treading on the words. Being a musician he treats the words as Seuss intended; music to the ears.

There’s not a lot to say about The Grinch. It’s a simple straightforward and charming children’s movie which never panders. For being the third attempt at telling this story, it is remarkably free of any cynicism. The humor is both sly and broad and the emotions are genuine. After sitting through the cynical tripe of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, The Grinch feels like a soothing balm. It’s not Christmas yet, but at least with The Grinch, I didn’t mind celebrating a little early.


Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

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Vince Gilligan to Make Breaking Bad Movie

Bo

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Five years after “Felina” ended the landmark, all-time great show, Breaking Bad is set to return in film form. Details are scarce, with the plot mostly unknown and no confirmation yet whether the movie will release in theaters or on television. Obviously, it’s also unclear whether this will take place before or after the series’ timeline.

Does this matter at all to me? Nope. I’m the kind of hesitantly excited that’s bordering on speeding past hesitancy.

What little we do know is that Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan will write, produce, and possibly direct. Better Call Saul producers Mark Johnson and Melissa Bernstein will also be involved. The rumored plot right is said to “follow the escape of a kidnapped man and his quest for freedom.” This has everyone (obviously) thinking the movie will feature Jesse Pinkman post-series as he escapes his kidnapping by the white supremacists Walt kills in the finale.

This sounds like a very, very good idea, even if I’m worried to see Jesse suffer more. Can this movie be about him changing his name, moving to LA, ending up on the couch of a former sitcom star, and going on a series of wacky adventures?

Whatever my natural worry, about taking Breaking Bad to the big screen, Vince Gilligan’s heavy involvement deserves optimism. After five fantastic seasons of Breaking Bad, he and Peter Gould have gone on to create another brilliant show in Better Call Saul. Gilligan clearly knows this universe. If he says he has a story to tell, then I want to hear it.

The Breaking Bad movie will be the first project of a three-year overall deal Gilligan signed with Sony TV this past July.


Images Courtesy of AMC

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