Saturday, June 16, 2018

Ocean’s 8 / *** (PG-13)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Debbie Ocean: Sandra Bullock
Lou: Cate Blanchett
Daphne Kluger: Anne Hathaway
Rose Weil: Helena Bonham Carter
Tammy: Sarah Paulson
Amita: Mindy Kaling
Nine Ball: Rihanna
Constance: Awkwafina
Claude Becker: Richard Armitage
John Frazier: James Cordon

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Gary Ross. Written by Gary Ross and Olivia Milch. Based on characters created by George Clayton Johnson and Jack Golden Russell. Running time: 110 min. Rated PG-13 (for language, drug use and some suggestive content).

I think there’s an expectation with a heist movie these days that it will be action-filled, have a bunch of twists and turns, and involve a plot that is so complicated it could require a couple of viewings to understand. The new female-centric heist flick Ocean’s 8 follows a more classic notion of the heist flicksomething more akin to Rififi, considered by many to be the greatest heist flick of all time. The formula involves a group of characters with specific skill sets, who each provide a vital aspect of the heist that they lay out in precise detail and then visually execute for the audience to appreciate how it all plays out. The outside elements are well-considered by the heist crew and the pleasure comes from watching these characters work together towards a goal while the rest of the cast remains oblivious as to how they are being played. Not every detail in the plan is revealed ahead of time, but the capable and charismatic author of the heist has any speed bumps well in hand. It’s not so much about whether they’ll pull it off, but an appreciation of well-written characters and the actors who are hired to depict them.

This fourth in the franchise of up-until-now male-centric Ocean’s movies, introduces an entire new cast of characters. There are a couple of characters who make cameo appearances from the original trilogy, but spoiler laws don’t allow me to reveal them here. Getting out of a 5-year prison sentence on parole is Debbie Oceansister of the George Clooney character Danny Ocean from Ocean’s 11-13. Sandra Bullock plays Debbie, and I can’t help but think that this sibling pairing means most all of us were handed genetic lemon cards. It is revealed that Danny has passed away recently, but Debbie and the audience are skeptical.

Five years has been just enough time for Debbie to work out every last detail of the perfect score; and despite her parole, she immediately goes to work getting a crew together, stopping first to draw in her right hand girl, Lou, played with adept casualness by Cate Blanchett. Their mark is an actress, Daphne Kluger, who has been tapped to host the latest Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Anne Hathaway has a great deal of fun as Kluger, imbuing her with all the elitist behavior she’s accused of having by her critics as well as the insecurities that are most likely a reality for the actress.

The score requires a desperate fashion designer, Rose Weil, to adorn the insecure actress in a $150 million diamond necklace that they will steal during the extravaganza event.  Helena Bonham Carter nearly runs away with the show as Weil, who is nervy and flighty along with bringing some of the more brilliant moves to the operation. Mindy Kahling is the diamond expert Amita, willing to do anything to get out from under the thumb of her mother. Rihanna shows some dramatic chops as Nine-Ball, the team’s hacker, who wisely uses many of the Gala security company’s fail-safes against them. Hip hop artist Awkwafina plays the street tough pickpocket hired to perform the most delicate part of the plan, getting the goods off the mark under high security.  Finally, their fence, Tammy, another former crewmember, now a homemaker with quite a side business of her own, is played by the always excellent Sarah Paulson.

Like any heist film there are details that come to light late in the game that make for some minor surprises. The delight of this film, however, is just watching these women work. All of these actresses are at the tops of their games playing very likable criminals who are also at the tops of their games. I can’t stress enough, however, how delightful Carter is as the fashion designer. I hear she’s being considered for the next Bond villain, and although this is a very different role than that one surely would be, I couldn’t be more excited for that prospect based on her performance here. Blanchett is the pinnacle of cool, as always. And Bullock’s presence here makes me think that she should probably be offered more roles like this one. She’s the perfect replacement for Clooney as the confident leader and consummate professional. Kahling could’ve used a little more comedic riffing throughout, however.

The film suffers the same problem as the other Ocean’s movies, however, in that the crew of thieves is so smart and so good at what they do their success is never really in question. The antagonists in these films never seem to be given a chance by the scripts to pose a real threat to the protagonists. Here we are given two. Claude Becker is a former con man turned legitimate artist burning up the New York art scene. He’s pulled into the con due to his involvement in the con that sent Debbie to jail. Debbie’s plans for him are really no surprise. James Cordon plays John Frazier, the authority figure who could just ensnare the crew. Since he’s an insurance adjuster and not some form of law enforcement, he’s never really treated as a direct threat. The tension is a little low as a result.

Despite it’s somewhat laid back treatment of the heist formula, Ocean’s 8 is a fun time at the movies. It looks great and so does the cast. They play well together, and the con they’re playing is a fun romp. While it’s not a must see, it won’t disappoint or offend anyone, and it leaves the door open for more. The question still remains, is Danny really dead, or is that just another con?

Monday, April 30, 2018

Super Troopers 2 / **½ (R)

Fox Searchlight
Mac: Steve Lemme
Rabbit: Erik Stolhanske
Thorny: Jay Chandrasekhar
Foster: Paul Soter
Farva: Kevin Heffernan
Captain O’Hagan: Brian Cox
Genevieve Aubois: Emmanuelle Chriqui
Guy LeFranc: Rob Lowe
Mountie Podien: Hayes MacArthur
Mountie Bellefuille: Tyler Labine
Mountie Archambault: Will Sasso
Governor Jessman: Lynda Carter

Fox Searchlight Pictures presents a film directed by Jay Chandrasekhar. Written by Broken Lizard. Running time: 100 min. Rated R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug material and some graphic nudity).

For those of you waiting for the return of the dysfunctional group of Vermont State Troopers that brought the comedic crew of Broken Lizard into the modern lexicon, the wait is finally over. And what a wait it was. In fact until April 20th was close enough for everyone to start making social media memes alluding to getting high but never outright saying it, I’d forgotten all together that the planned follow up to the 2001 cult comedy hit Super Troopers was even coming. In fact, it’s been almost ten years since the comedy troupes’ last feature all together.

I was a fan of their work, and it feels like I should add “back in the day” to that statement. I thought Super Troopers was some kind of stupid comedy genius, and I was a huge fan of their 2006 movie Beerfest as well. Club Dread (2004) and The Slammin’ Salmon (2009) didn’t have quite the cleverness of the other two though. I’ve missed their conversational comedic style and hope it won’t be as long before they come out with more original work. Unfortunately, there does seem to be a slight staleness to the Super Troopers universe.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War / ***½ (PG-13)

Marvel Studios
Tony Stark/Iron Man: Robert Downey Jr.
Thor: Chris Hemsworth
Bruce Banner/Hulk: Mark Ruffalo
Steve Rogers/Captain America: Chris Evans
Natasha Romanoff: Scarlett Johansson
James Rhodes/ War Machine: Don Cheadle
Doctor Strange: Benedict Cumberbatch
Peter Parker/Spider-Man: Tom Holland
T’Challa/ Black Panther: Chadwick Boseman
Gamora: Zoe Saldana
Nebula: Karen Gillan
Loki: Tom Hiddleston
Vision: Paul Bettany
Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch: Elizabeth Olsen
Sam Wilson/Falcon: Anthony Mackie
Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier: Sebastian Shaw
Heimdall: Idris Elba
Okoye: Danai Gurira
Mantis: Pom Klementieff
Drax: Dave Bautista
Groot (voice): Vin Diesel
Rocket (voice): Bradley Cooper
Pepper Potts: Gwenyth Paltrow
The Collector: Benicio Del Toro
Thanos: Josh Brolin
Peter Quill/Star-Lord: Chris Pratt

Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo. Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen Feely.  Based on the Marvel Comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Captain America created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Star-Lord created by Steve Englehart and Steve Gan. Rocket Raccoon created by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen. Thanos, Gamora & Drax created by Jim Starlin. Groot created by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. Mantis created by Steve Englehart and Don Heck. Running time: 149 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references).

I struggle to find exactly what to discuss about Marvel’s latest epic cinematic enterprise, Avengers: Infinity War. Marvel is very good at building toward big events such as this one, and they’ve spent several movies worth over the past few years building to this movie in particular. Just look at that cast list. Don’t think I’ve listed the only faces you’ll recognize from other Marvel movies either. The subjects of those movies have their own unrelated adventures, and little details and credit cookies in them lend hints toward the greater story that they all are building toward. Now it is here. It is a good story and a fitting one considering the grandeur of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The set ups are done and the players play their part and to say any more than that would spoil everything they’ve built. So, I will leave you with this biblical verse, which in itself may be saying too much.

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
                                                                                                                        Genesis 3:19

Saturday, April 07, 2018

A Quiet Place / **** (PG-13)


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Paramount Pictures

Evelyn Abbott: Emily Blunt
Lee Abbott: John Krasinski
Regan Abbott: Millicent Simmonds
Marcus Abbott: Noah Jupe

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by John Krasinski. Written by Bryan Woods & Scott Beck and John Krasinski. Running time: 90 min. Rated PG-13 (for terror and some bloody images).

Noise is something we take for granted. There’s always noise. Even in the darkest moments of night when the world at large is resting, our world is filled with noise. I can hear the hum of trucks from the interstate a quarter of a mile away at night when everything else is quiet in the house. However, nothing ever seems as quiet as it does when you are startled awake in the night by a nightmare. At that moment, silence can be stifling. And when all seems as still as it can be, with that nightmare lingering in your brain, the slightest little sound—a creak in the floor, a branch on a window, the fractional settlements of a house that occur throughout a structure’s lifespan—can bring an uncontrollable start. That moment when you suddenly think that the breaking of the silence will cost you your life, that is where the entirety of the new horror movie, A Quiet Place, exists.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Ready Player One / *** (PG-13)

Warner Bros.
Parzival/Wade: Tye Sheridan
Art3mis/Samantha: Olivia Cooke
Sorrento: Ben Mendelsohn
Aech/Helen: Lena Waithe
I-R0k: T.J. Miller
Ogden Morrow: Simon Pegg
Anorak/Halliday: Mark Rylance

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline. Based on the novel by Ernest Cline. Running time: 140 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language).

There’s an interesting trend going on in filmmaking today that I don’t believe we’ve ever witnessed in cinematic history. It seems to have started at the dawn of the superhero movie, but has been building to a crescendo as more and more filmmakers who grew up in the 80s are coming into their own in Hollywood and are turning modern films into a sort of meta homage to the films of their youth. One of the filmmakers primarily responsible for the great popularity of cinema in the 80s was Steven Spielberg, who directed many of the iconic films of that era. With Ready Player One, it seems Spielberg has been inspired to up the meta level of modern filmmaking by making his own homage to the era that he was in great part responsible for building.

Spielberg chooses the right material for his meta gambit in his adaptation of Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One. Cline is making a name for himself as an 80s enthusiast—his second novel Armada is also heavily soaked in 80s nostalgia. I can’t imagine the nerdgasmic feeling that must’ve come over Cline when he discovered that Spielberg himself was interested in adapting his 80s nostalgia-centric novel. Anyway, Spielberg’s many professional connections to all things 80s and Cline’s obsession with them makes this a near perfect teaming of creative minds. Spielberg brings in frequent superhero scripter Zak Penn, also responsible for the story behind the equally nostalgia-driven Last Action Hero, to shore up Cline’s own screen adaptation.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Unsane / **½ (R)

Bleeker Street

Sawyer Valentini: Claire Foy
Nate Hoffman: Jay Pharoah
Violet: Juno Temple
David Strine: Joshua Leonard
Angela Valentini: Amy Irving

Bleeker Street Media and Fingerprint Releasing present a film directed by Steven Soderbergh. Written by Jonathan Bernstein & James Greer. Running time: 97 min. Rated R (for disturbing behavior, violence, language and sex references).

When reviewing a movie like Steven Soderbergh’s latest feature, Unsane, a critic is faced with a dilemma of split purposes. On the one hand, you are reviewing a thriller that depends upon the tropes of the genre and the storytellers’ abilities to surprise and create tension for the audience. On the other hand, you’re reviewing an experiment of sorts. Soderbergh’s second feature film back from his brief “retirement” is not the first feature film to be shot on an iPhone, but the success of such films—mostly in terms of box office—has yet to reach a point where any sort of verdict has been made as to an audience’s willingness to accept such a film medium as mainstream. For the most part, Soderbergh’s experiment is a success in that it doesn’t feel like an experiment in the slightest; which raises the question, why exactly was this screenplay chosen for this experiment?

The screenplay by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer raises questions about the mental health industry in this country. These questions are important and legitimate, focusing on the very real practices of a select few voluntary admittance facilities that take advantage of their clients’ lack of knowledge about their rights and the willingness of insurance companies to cover such admittances without question for short periods of time. Unfortunately, other aspects of the screenplay bring into question the legitimacy of the mental health industry as a whole and could be seen as exploiting the realities of mental health issues for the purposes of schlock entertainment. I’m all for schlock, but there were times while watching this film that I felt uncomfortable about how little understanding the filmmakers were displaying in order to pump up the horror entertainment value of their story.

Monday, March 19, 2018

7 Days In Entebbe / *** (R)

Focus Features
Brigitte Kuhlmann: Rosamond Pike
Wilfred Böse: Daniel Brühl
Yitzhak Rabin: Lior Ashkenazi
Shimon Perez: Eddie Marzan
??: Ben Schnetzer
Patricia Martel: Andrea Deck
Jacques le Moine: Denis Ménochet

Focus Features presents a film directed by José Padilha. Written by Gregory Burke. Running time: 106 min. Rated PG-13 (for violence, thematic material, some drug use, smoking and brief strong language).

At Midnight of May 14, 1948 the Provisional Government of Israel declared the new State of Israel and applied for United Nations membership the very next day. Since then the State of Israel has been in conflict with the Palestinian people, who were displaced by the UN when the Israelis were given land the Palestinians claimed as their own. The conflict has frequently been bloody and involved the international community at large in the form of hijackings and violent protest throughout Europe. Even in writing these sentences I am wary of my word choices for fear of offending one side or the other. I have no dog in this race, but since it has been an international political issue for the entirety of my life, I am somewhat fascinated by the subject matter.

The new film 7 Days in Entebbe examines the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight by two Palestinians and two Germans, who took the fairly inspired and unexpected tactic of landing the plane in Entebbe, Uganda for negotiations under the protection of the unpredictable leader of that country, General Idi Amin. This is the fourth cinematic telling of this particular story, but the first to come after much of the details of the incident have been declassified by the Israeli government. The screenplay by Gregory Burke, who previously wrote the screenplay for the politically charged ’71, focuses on three different storylines. His first focus is on the two German hijackers, Brigitte Kuhlmann and Wilfred Böse, portrayed by the film’s biggest names Rosamond Pike and Daniel Brühl. The second examines the decision making process by the Israeli government, in particular the opposing viewpoints between then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Minister of Defense (and future Prime Minister) Shimon Peres. A third, less fact-based storyline follows an unnamed Israeli Defense Force soldier who is part of the elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal responsible for executing the risky rescue operation cooked up by Peres’s staff.