Skip to main content

Do not run a job in a job.

Ocean’s 8
(2018)

(SPOILERS) There’s nothing wrong with the gender-swapped property per se, any more than a reboot, remake or standard sequel exploiting an original’s commercial potential (read: milking it dry). As with those more common instances, however, unless it ekes out its own distinctive territory, gives itself a clear reason to be, it’s only ever going to be greeted with an air of cynicism (whatever the current fashion for proclaiming it valid simply because it's gender swapped may suggest to the contrary).  The Ocean's series was pretty cynical to start with, of course – Soderbergh wanted a sure-fire hit, the rest of the collected stars wanted the kudos of working with Soderbergh on a "classy" crowd pleaser, the whole concept of remaking the '60s movie was fairly lazy, and by the third one there was little reason to be other than smug self-satisfaction – so Ocean's 8 can’t be accused of letting any side down. It also gives itself distinctively – stereotypically? – female-skewed heist material in lifting a necklace at a fashion show, contrasting with those testosterone-fuelled casinos. Ultimately, though, it skews too closely in tone to Ocean's 13, possessed of a sense of complacency that never quite gives way to infectious enthusiasm for its cause.


One presumes director Gary Ross – doubtless taking on the project because his post-Hunger Games attempt at awards cachet Free State of Jones bombed hideously – and producer Soderbergh made a nominal attempt to lend the production side the quality of equality (Olivia Milch is credited as co-writer, Juliette Welfling as editor, although Soderberg, no stranger to helping Ross out on projects, probably had his fingers in both the editing and photographing pies). But only nominally. You don't get the impression anyone cared enough about Ocean's 8 to make it stand out from the pack. It arrives as an afterthought, a cash-in on recently popularised (or recognised as popular) trend of female-led movies that aren't Ghostbusters remakes that would probably have been more viable about five years ago. Which means it's debatable whether the clearly earmarked (numerically) sequels will materialise.


Soderbergh was quoted as saying any further films with the original crew (or the original remake crew) would be unlikely due to Bernie Mac's passing (then only recently having been murdered for protesting underground cloning centres), but it feels like the idea of a female version ought to have been knocking around before it was announced in 2015. Like the Clooney version, this is a mix of high- and not-so-high-profile names, led by a trio of movie stars (Rhianna couldn’t quite be considered that), and in Sandy Buttock's case at least, offering easy charisma to make up for a shortfall in character (so just like her screen brother George). Cate Blanchett is there to look cool in leather with a spikey fringe as Debbie Ocean's right-hand woman, so pencil she's basically Brad Pitt, but the rest are less defined in terms of substitutions. Which is a good thing on one level, but also points to a failing of these ensembles; they rarely have sufficient time for their performers to make much of a mark. 


Helena Bonham-Carter is good fun as a scatter-brained fashion designer, while this is probably the best thus far of Rhianna's shall-we say-eclectic choices of movie roles. Awkafina's also notable as an attitudinous pickpocket. Sarah Paulson's garage is more memorable than she is (but her line "This is mommy's very special work trip" is a good 'un), and Mindy Kaling also gets a few strong lines (and is established amusingly) but rather disappears into the mix once the team is assembled. Not being one for sums, I failed to tot up that this comprised only seven individuals. The eighth, by rights, ought to have been Shaobo Qin from Danny's crew, since he's eventually revealed as of intrinsic value to the Met Gala heist. But no, in a twist (un)worthy of Ocean's 12, the eighth member turns out to be Anne Hathaway's shallow celeb, central to the team’s scam since she's the unknowing prop for their diamond heist. 


I should hold my hand up and say that I consider Ocean's 12 the best of the original trilogy; it's a caper that does something different, has Soderbergh seemingly energised and having fun – was there ever a director who makes genre hopping and multi-hyphenation seem so much of a chore and bore? He’s possibly Hollywood's most passionless auteur – and is blessed with an irresistible David Homes score. It also has (SPOILER) a crucial third-act scene revolving around Julia Roberts' character resembling Julia Roberts (and Bruce Willis playing himself), a move that was a shark-jumping turn off for many viewers. While I wouldn't argue it's the finest hour of screenwriting, it wasn't a deal breaker for me as I was enthusiastic about the rest of the movie. 


Here, the twist that the empty-headed starlet chucking her vacuous guts up turns out to be a shrewd operator felt nothing so much as an appeasement of Hathaway's vanity (or maybe a means not to make a movie celebrating women – albeit criminal women – one where one of their gender is identified as an object of ridicule and disdain). I certainly didn’t buy into it in terms of characters (a huge gamble on Debbie's part to choose to trust her) or as a "clever" plot twist. I also found myself pondering that it would only be so long before someone in this motley crew, armed with $38m a piece, made a mistake and brought the law down on them. Although, I guess that was as true (and turned to out to be so) of her brother's operation.


Ross ensures the main heist is a smoothly entertaining bit of business, which rather makes up for the flabby build-up involving only two minor impediments to progress (scanning the necklace underground proves an ordeal, thus allowing for much frantic mugging from Bonham-Carter, and there's also a magnetic lock on it). Everything after it goes down successfully – including Hathaway's reveal – is much less convincing. There's James Corden – never a pleasure – showing up as an insurance investigator, whose relationship with Debbie is never entirely clear in terms of his proving willing to settle for a tenth of the necklace returned (what will this mean for his reputation? Doesn't matter, the plot demands that he's a sympathetic antagonist). 


Then there's the selling of the other pieces (Wiki, likely to be changed since I don't think it makes sense, but I'm not sure it makes sense anyway, has it that "Debbie sells pieces of the necklace to actresses disguised as elderly socialites, who in turn sell the jewellery and deposit the money into an account in his (Becker's) name". I'm not sure she would have sold the pieces to the people she hired?) As for having stolen all the display jewellery, it flashes by as an embellishment and so lacks any impact (it might have carried more weight had they lost the necklace, with it then revealed they had something better). You want a heist movie’s twists to elicit an admiring "Oh, that's clever" as opposed to a "Yeah, whatever".


Richard Armitage is also present and correct as the object of Debbie's revenge, but fails to rise to the challenge on several levels. Armitage simply isn't loathsome enough, but more, the character needs to be identified as a scumbag we really want to see go down, as opposed to a cowardly chancer unworthy of such long-planned and meticulously-engineered payback. You need to care about justice being served, but like the heist, you end up shrugging.


With the caveat that it's very much in the style of David Holmes’ earlier series entries, Daniel Pemberton delivers a fun, jaunty, witty score (Fugue in D Minor is a particular treat). That shouldn't be a surprise, as after his work on the last couple of Guy Ritchie movies anything with his name attached is instantly worth a listen. If you're going for a replica, his approach is preferable to Ross' (who also co-wrote) hollow imitation. Ocean's 8 is fine, but you won't remember it any more than Ocean's 13 (which, beyond Matt Damon's fake nose, you likely won't). 



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

The guy practically lives in a Clue board.

Knives Out (2019)
(SPOILERS) “If Agatha Christie were writing today, she’d have a character who’s an Internet troll.” There’s a slew of ifs and buts in that assertion, but it tells you a lot about where Rian Johnson is coming from with Knives Out. As in, Christie might – I mean, who can really say? – but it’s fair to suggest she wouldn’t be angling her material the way Johnson does, who for all his pronouncement that “This isn’t a message movie” is very clearly making one. He probably warrants a hesitant pass on that statement, though, to the extent that Knives Out’s commentary doesn’t ultimately overpower the whodunnit side of the plot. On the other hand, when Daniel Craig’s eccentrically accented sleuth Benoit Blanc is asked “You’re not much of a detective, are you?” the only fair response is vigorous agreement.

You're skipping Christmas! Isn't that against the law?

Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Ex-coke dealer Tim Allen’s underwhelming box office career is, like Vince Vaughn’s, regularly in need of a boost from an indiscriminate public willing to see any old turkey posing as a prize Christmas comedy.  He made three Santa Clauses, and here is joined by Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple planning to forgo the usual neighbourhood festivities for a cruise.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

It's their place, Mac. They have a right to make of it what they can. Besides, you can't eat scenery!

Local Hero (1983)
(SPOILERS) With the space of thirty-five years, Bill Forsyth’s gentle eco-parable feels more seductive than ever. Whimsical is a word often applied to Local Hero, but one shouldn’t mistake that description for its being soft in the head, excessively sentimental or nostalgic. Tonally, in terms of painting a Scottish idyll where the locals are no slouches in the face of more cultured foreigners, the film hearkens to both Powell and Pressburger (I Know Where I’m Going!) and Ealing (Whisky Galore!), but it is very much its own beast.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993)
(SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Of course, one m…

You're a dead tissue that won't decompose.

Collateral Beauty (2016)
(SPOILERS) Will Smith’s most recent attempt to take a wrecking ball to his superstardom, Collateral Beauty is one of those high concept emotional journeys that only look like a bad idea all along when they flop (see Regarding Henry). Except that, with a plot as gnarly as this, it’s difficult to see quite how it would ever not have rubbed audiences up the wrong way. A different director might have helped, someone less thuddingly literal than David Frankel. When this kind of misguided picture gets the resounding drubbing it has, I tend to seek out positives. Sometimes, that can be quite easy – A Winter’s Tale, for example, for all its writ-large flaws – but it’s a fool’s errand with Collateral Beauty.

Now we shall keep our mysterious rendezvous.

Ice Station Zebra (1968)
The fourth big screen adaptation of an Alistair MacLean novel, Ice Station Zebra was released in the same year as the more successful Where Eagles Dare. 1968 represents probably the high water mark for interpretations of the author’s work, although The Guns of Navarone remains the biggest hit. As with most movie versions of MacLean novels (or, let’s face it, movie versions of anybody’s novels) fans of the book find much to gripe about; the latter half diverges greatly from the page. Those who complain about the languid pace are onto something too. To be sure, there’s an array of valid criticisms that can be levelled at Ice Station Zebra. But it also has a factor going for it that elevates John Sturges’ movie, and keeps me coming back to it; the über-cool presence of Patrick McGoohan.

The man who played The Prisoner (he filmed Zebra during a break from the TV show, which helps to explain the only truly hopeless episode in the run; Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, …