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Movie Review: Ocean’s 8

oceans 8 posterUsually in a movie like this, one actor will break out and steal every scene they’re in. Somehow, Ocean’s 8 manages to assemble a crew of master thieves who steal every scene from each other and more. Every performance is delightful and fun and a cure for any summertime blues or blockbuster fatigue you may be feeling.

The film completely understands its pedigree and apes the best of the previous Ocean’s caper films with its emphasis on style, fun and personal stakes beyond just whether the thieves pull off their crime.

Sandra Bullock plays the eponymous Debbie Ocean (sister of Danny Ocean from the other films). The film’s opening plays an explicit homage to the opening of Ocean’s 11, with a parole hearing and Debbie being released to the outside world. And then we begin to see exactly how different from (and probably better than) her brother she is.

Yes, she assembles a crew to pull off an impossible heist — in this case to steal a $150 million dollar diamond necklace at the Met Gala in New York — but she runs things differently and has personal reasons for what she’s doing.

Her right-hand woman is Lou (Cate Blanchett) who helps her assemble the team. Remember the scene stealing problem? Here are the main culprits:

Helena Bonham Carter plays a somewhat batty washed-up fashion designer. She is having so much fun with the role and is one of her best performances is years.
Anne Hathaway is playing Hollywood starlet Daphne Kluger, the mark from around whose neck the crew will have to steal the diamonds. Her performance is pure magic as a crippling indictment of the shallow, vapid personas of the Hollywood elite. And then in the final act it becomes something more, as you realize the actress is acting, too, and she’s only pretending to be that stupid, because that’s what society demands of her. It’s one of those classic “not just a pretty face” moments sets up a beautiful confrontation in the third act that completely flips the movie on its head. She is the Rosetta Stone of the film. More on this in a moment.
Awkwafina plays a pickpocket who can’t help but lift every single frame of the movie she’s in. She’s so delightful and compelling.
Rihanna is a master hacker who also is just a good thief. Rather than play up the “socially awkward nerd” trope, she’s just a normal human being who happens to be good with computers.
Sarah Paulson is a seemingly bored housewife who is secretly a criminal mastermind, selling stolen goods from her garage covering as having an EBay business.
Mindy Kaling is a jeweler henpecked by her mother who wants her to get married.

On top of this, you also have some incredibly fun other members of the cast including Richard Armitage as a dashing art dealer and a fun third act turn by a cast-against-type James Corden as an insurance inspector hot on the trail of our protagonists.

Each of them is so perfect and has specific things to do and a character arc. Of all of them, I would complain that Kaling’s character is a little bit underwritten, but her natural charisma more than compensates for any script deficiencies, as does a fun little bit about her learning how to use Tinder.

Speaking of the script, this was written and directed by Gary Ross, who has written some of my personal favorite movies like Big and Dave as well as writing and directing the first Hunger Games. Ross is good here and especially adept at writing and directing this cast of luminaries, but if there’s one complaint it’s that he’s not quite Steven Soderbergh, who just directed the hell out of Ocean’s 11. He’s also not quite Ted Griffin, who wrote the 2001 screenplay as well as other caper projects like Matchstick Men and the-yes-I’m-still-mad-this-got-cancelled-yes-as-mad-as-people-are-about-Firefly tv show Terriers. Ross apes the style and feel very well, but it’s missing a little bit of that je ne sais cuoi. One might argue that a female writer and director could’ve better brought this to the screen, but you have to give Ross a lot of credit for doing this so well, and it’s hard to judge against a hypothetical. Regardless, this isn’t a failing. This is still a strong script and strong direction.

One of the best pieces of the film is understanding its deepest meaning. In 2018, it should no longer be remarkable to have a female-forward cast. It’s almost trite and simple now to simply say, “Yeah! Girl power! Women can lead movies, too!” or “Diverse casts are awesome!” because, ya-doy, look at the box office.

Whenever some Status Quo Warrior (SQW, nee SJW) defender of the white male hedgemony gets his snowflake knickers in a twist and decides to start a tiki torch parade, all you have to do is look at the box office and what’s making money. All of our top-grossing films now have diverse casts and most have strong female leads.

What is most remarkable about Ocean’s 8 is that, yes, on the surface, you could gender swap every role and it would work the same. The same that Kaling, Rihanna, and Awkwafina’s characters could all be played by white people. But the point is that they’re not and they bring specifically bits of what it is to be, for example, the daughter of Indian parents who expect you to be married already, or how being a black woman allows for such erasure that you can easily sneak into a secure office building by posing as a janitor.

This leads to another of the film’s Rosetta Stone moments. When discussing their plans, Blanchett and Bullock are discussing bringing on another crew member who might be a man. Bullock stops her and points out that men get noticed. Women get ignored. And in this case, they want to get ignored. That’s part of the con.

If that doesn’t stop and make you think for a second, you missed the heart of this movie. Mix this with our Hollywood starlet intentionally playing dumb and vapid to meet everyone’s expectations, and it really skewers the soft bigotry of low expectations. Yes, there is an equality in terms of “women can do anything that men can do.” But in this case, it’s how society still treats women, and especially women of color, differently and ignores them that is the main point. Ultimately the caper that gets pulled here is on us.

But even if that social message breezes right by you (it’s quite subtle, like all good heist movies) you’re just left with so much fun. Every single one of these performances will bring a smile to your face just out of sheer enjoyment. Even with my most favorite films of the year so far, I didn’t get as much pure joy and fun out of them– often because they were more serious or dour.

But this is that time of year when blockbuster fatigue really starts to set in. Alongside this week’s release of Hereditary, these two films provide a beautiful counterprogramming to everything not clad in spandex and full of CGI and explosions. And if you’re not in the mood to have the bejeezus scared out of you, then this is your movie. Ocean’s 8 is that perfect summer poolside cocktail meant to be sipped and enjoyed over and over.

3.75 out of 5 stars


Movie Review: Interstellar

interstellar-photos-pictures-stillsAfter seeing the first few trailers, I was psyched to finally see director Christopher Nolan‘s new movie Interstellar. Written by Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, the movie is a mess of a film that attempts to do too much, and does none of it well.

The world is dying, and a team must head through a mysterious wormhole to explore worlds that might hold the key the mankind’s salvation. Headed by Matthew McConaughey‘s Cooper, the team includes Amelia played by Anne Hathaway, Doyle played by Wes Bentley, and Romilly played by David Gyasi. The cast also includes Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, John Lithgow, and more. That star power, that directorial and writing pedigree, and the subject, we should have an instant classic. Instead the film is my biggest disappointment so far of 2014.

Where to begin with the issues…. the film can’t decide what it wants to be. Is it an homage to Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant 2001? Is it a visual follow up to Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity? It attempts to be both, and throw in Contact and a little bit of Nolan’s breakout Momento too.

If the film instead focused on one or two items, it could have been brilliant, but instead it’s a muddy mess. At times we see flashes of the horror in space that was 2001. At other times we see what could have been a movng story about family and loss. But, with a twist ending that makes Contact look like a solid payoff, and visuals that fall flat compared to the directorial amazement that was Gravity, and you can see where I’m going with this.

Nolan at times is visually amazing. Nolan often times puts out a fantastic concept, or concepts, that don’t quite pan out in the actual story. As a director and writer Nolan to me is more hype than delivery. The film felt like an art film student given a big budget. He’s a hi-brow Zack Snyder, who also delivers fantastic visuals and stories and characters an inch deep. Nolan is Snyder for the artistic set, who enjoy debating philosophical concepts through movie visuals, and in it all miss the mark and come off as too good for a popcorn blockbuster. Think the counter jockeys of High Fidelity debating interstellar travel and the bending of time and relativity.

Interstellar will be a movie that polarizes folks. They’ll either love it, or they’ll hate it. I’m clearly in the latter.

Direction: 6 Acting: 7 Plot: 5 Overall: 6

Obama’s Favorite Part Of The Dark Knight Rises

She’s spectacular. I got a chance to see Batman, and she was the best thing in it. That’s just my personal opinion. – President Obama

The President in Geek has weighed in on his favorite part of The Dark Knight Rises at a fundraiser fundraiser hosted by Anne Hathaway, Aaron Sorkin, and Joanne Woodward. We know the President is an admitted fan of Spider-Man and Conan. I want his opinion on those two recent reboots!

(via Flavorwire)

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Dark Knight Rises Teaser PosterI originally went to write the review for The Dark Knight Rises early Friday, but it’s difficult to focus on a review without reflecting a bit on the tragedy that’s occurred. That being said, I’m confident what follows is my opinion regardless of events. Also, I’ll do my best to not reveal any spoilers, but when I can’t avoid it, you’ll see [Spoiler] [End Spoiler] with text that needs to be highlight in between.

I went into The Dark Knight Rises expecting a masterpiece, and hoping it’d live up to my expectations, or at least come close. While half of the movie knocked it out of the park, the other half struggled in an incoherent mess that lacked a narrative. This was two movies. An epilogue to The Dark Knight and then The Dark Knight Rises which harkens back to Batman Begins. It’s a fitting end cap to the trilogy, but struggles when examined on it’s own.

I should back up on my thoughts on the first two movies. Batman Begins was a realistic take on the character, a reboot and jolt to comic book movies similar to what the comic book market experienced during the early part of the “gritty” 80’s. It was a voice and vision not really seen at that point and showed “comic movies” can appeal to mass audiences, while not losing their self and also update material for a modern age. The Dark Knight had brilliant acting and action that was amazing. However, while there was improvements on the original, what I could tell was originally two movies was rushed and compacted into one film. It was compressed and felt that way, giving short shrift to some plot points, like Dent’s turn into Two-Face.

The Dark Knight Rises attempts to fix that compressed feel experienced in the second film. It opens as a prologue to it. Giving us the events following Dent’s death and the subsequent cover-up. Gotham is now “safe” and Batman is retired. This is a choppy experience without a narrative, instead being told through scenes and events. We’re introduced to the villain Bane, a terrorist who is doing…. something. The voice we worried about in the teaser video shown is redubbed over and at times is out of place. There’s still issues understanding what Bane (and others in fairness) are saying, but that might have been the audio in my theater.

Now we come back to Gotham, Christian Bale is back as Bruce Wayne is a hermit hobbling around and locked in one wing of his manor. He walks with a cane, and we have to come to our conclusions as to why, though a specific reason isn’t given. We assume it’s from wear and tear from his time being Batman. Since he has no purpose, he has no direction and has locked himself away. He was order and law, so what does he do in a city where there is order and law.

Enter Anne Hathaway‘s Selina Kyle/Catwoman who decides to rob Wayne. This gets Wayne to start looking around again. The law and order is broken, he must return it.

Through a very complicated plot, Bane, actor Tom Hardy, comes into play which drags in Garry Oldman‘s Commissioner Gordon and Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s John Blake, a rookie cop into the mix as well. Bane is chaos, pure and simple. He wants to take from the rich, but what he really is after is revenge. [Spoiler] Bane it turns out is part of the League of Shadows, which you might remember from the first film and he’s come to Gotham to achieve what the League couldn’t. [End Spoiler]

Wayne finds out his company is in shambles and enter Marion Cotillard‘s Miranda Tate to the rescue and save the corporation. She’s interested in the clean energy project it’s been working on.

From there, the movie borrows from various Batman comic book stories including Knightfall and No Man’s Land. There’s absolute themes director/writer Christopher Nolan was going for. Balance in society is one. Whether it’s balance of wealth or balance between good and evil. It’s prevalent throughout the movie. Though he rips from the headlines and people might think of the Occupy Movement while seeing the movie, Bane and his terrorists as more in common with Al Qaeda and their battle against the West and their claim of it’s decadence.

Once Batman confronts Bane, the movie picks up with twists and turns you at times don’t see coming. The final reveals left the audience gasping. The ending of the film is beyond satisfying, really feeling like a proper ending and at the same time, leaving itself open to what comes next and absolutely ends on a high note. I left the theater smiling, and this is one of the few movies I’ve seen three separate applause sections, where the theater went nuts with approval.

Is the movie perfect? Absolutely not, there’s lots of flaws. But the focus not on Batman, but those around him mixed with themes relevant to today’s society and acting that’s beyond what you expect in a “comic movie” makes the movie a win and satisfying experience and conclusion.

Directing: Nolan does a great job, but there’s absolute flaws. The first half of the movie is choppy in scenes with very rough transitions. I felt like I was watching scenes play instead of a flowing narrative. Also, one of the big money shot scenes of the movie [Spoiler] Where Bane breaks Batman’s back [End Spoiler] is quick, instead of the dramatic lingering shot I’d of expected and wanted. The second half of the movie flows really well though, covering a lot in a little time and avoiding modern movie directing cliches like action scenes you can’t follow. Grade: 7

Acting: The focus on the movie is the supporting cast. Oldman, Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine especially. Oldman and Caine pour on the emotion in scenes where they lay out their motives and reasons for acting the way they do. This is as much the supporting cast as Bale’s. Hathaway and Hardy are great additions. Hathaway does great with what she’s got mixing in action and sexiness along with independence and vulnerability. Thought Catwoman’s motives and background is thin, she does a lot with what she’s given. Hardy’s Bane is supposed to be a brute and Hardy plays that role well. Event with a mask obscuring his face, he can tell what he’s thinking and his mood. In every way I believe he’s Batman’s equal if not his better. Grade: 9

Plot: I’ve discussed how the beginning has issues and the second half though satisfying and clearer is still pretty complicated and convoluted as far as the scheme Bane is attempting. Other issues… [Spoiler] What is it with comic movies having the hero reveal his identity!? Blake just guesses and Wayne doesn’t try to deflect it?! This rookie cop is that smart and no one else can figure it out. Also, the corporate take over schtick was a bit much to find the nuclear generator. Finally, the Bat seemed out of place. The new Batmobile and Batpod seems realistic, but that vehicle was out of place. I will say the use of the knife in Miranda/Talia’s attack on Batman was fantastic, especially since there was a discussion between Bruce and Fox about knives and the suit protecting against them in an earlier movie. Another example of organically tying them together in numerous ways. [End Spoiler] The movie ties into the first and second movies quite well though, capping off a trilogy and tying it all together in a way I wasn’t expecting. Grade: 7.5

Overall: It’s funny in that I’d rate the overall trilogy higher than any one of the movies. The Dark Knight Rises is a fitting ending and boy one hell of an ending. I got chills as it played out it’s conclusion. The movie is very flawed, but an experience that’s a must see. Relevant to today’s world, and a plot that doesn’t dumb it down for the audience, it’s a visual feast full of action and acting that we should expect from a summer blockbuster. It’s an absolute must see, I just wish I could rate it higher on it’s own. Overall Grade: 7.5

Side Note: Where was DC in promoting their comics at all!?

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman

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We’ve seen Superman, but an official pic of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman in next years The Dark Knight Rises, has been released as well.  The still shows her on what looks like the Batpod, his motorcycle.  We’ll see if we get more of a cat-like costume.

Anne Hathaway is Catwoman Too

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During the announcement of Anne Hathaway‘s casting in the newest Batman movie as Selina Kyle, there’s been much speculation as to whether she’ll also be donning a mask herself as Catwoman.  Well it looks like in an interview with Oprah she let the cat out of the bag.

The Dark Knight Rises and So Does Searches for Hathaway and Hardy

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batman and robin breaking newsWith the announcement of Anne Hathaway being cast as Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Tom Hardy as Bane in the next installment of the Batman movie franchise The Dark Knight Rises, searches for the two and characters have boosted online.

Searches soared for those two involved with some impressive numbers:

  • 3,693% increase for Anne Hathaway
  • 17,662% for Tom Hardy

Variations on those two like “tom hardy bane” also had the same sort of volume.  That’s some fantastic buzz and interest by the public.

The Batman movie franchise has been fantastic with their online promotions with The Dark Knight having an Alternative Reality Game that saw a political campaign being waged to elect Harvey Dent.  Lets hope we see something just as groundbreaking for this one.