Ocean’s 8 (2018)

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I’ll admit now that I have never seen any of the George Clooney led ‘Ocean’s’ movies, but this stands tall by itself thanks to a sparky cast and I’d not begrudge this doing well enough to gain itself trilogy status.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has spent over 5 years in jail but manages to get out after a parole hearing. All that time inside got her concocting a heist to steal a diamond necklace to be worn at the annual Met Gala in New York. She enlists the help of 6 others, including former crime partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) and hopefully her plan will land them all, a lot of dollar indeed.

The script by Gary Ross and Olivia Milch is the weakest player in the game. There’s not enough twisty turns to keep the hustle flowing and one of the swerves it does throw at you, I guessed before even seeing the film, thanks to the trailers, promotional imagery and the name of the film itself. If you overlook the quite formulaic narrative then you’ll be faced with an enjoyable flick.

Anything that reminds me of the cool swindling found in BBC’s ‘Hustle’ makes me happy and the production quality in certain places of ‘Ocean’s 8’ is stylishly pulled off. There’s a sort of revelry to be had in watching guilty folk being tricked which Mickey, Danny and his television chums did all the time. This film retains some of that but doesn’t quite justify Debbie’s actions as she does it because it’s what she’s good at and for revenge; another showcase of the plot not being as strong or dynamic as it could have been.

I enjoyed little character moments of small scams and the planning aspect has some entertaining quirks, if not slightly stretching in places. Luckily the first Monday in May sequence hits and the ladies do their thing as the Met gets well and truly in the swing of things. This big plan is directed well; bursting with well dressed celebrities, slick editing and just a pinch of light tension. This sequence, like the majority of the movie, is a glamorous joy to sit back and watch.

Bullock and Blanchett are a formiddable duo and are on top form playing the intelligent and crafty leaders. The scheme being no major sweat off their brow is utterly believable, as is Helena Bonham Carter playing failing, scatty Irish fashion designer Rose who is on the brink of ruin. Rihanna gleefully plays tech smart Nine Ball and her reactions are priceless as she sells her character enjoying every second of the work she’s been hired into. Sarah Paulson is great in everything and here as Tammy, she plays equal measure of business confidence and mumsy warmth nicely. I’m not a fan of either Anne Hathaway or James Corden but I have to say that the former is clearly lapping up the fun of her egocentric turn as Daphne Kluger. The latter….well, for once he’s well cast as an annoying, smarmy insurance guy who can get in the way.

‘Ocean’s 8’ is harmless fun and the con work may not be groundbreaking but there’s a ball to be had spotting cameos, admiring dresses and feeling the effortless cinematic chemistry of the eight females on show.

6.5/10

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Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

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It wasn’t a long time ago, on a cinema screen not that far away, that we had a Star Wars adventure to revel in. Moving on from the hugely divisive ‘The Last Jedi’, we get this spin-off story which centres on Han Solo and his life before turning into Harrison Ford.

On a less than glamorous planet, lives Han (Alden Ehrenreich) who aspires to be a pilot and see the stars with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). As they attempt an escape, Han ends up by himself and over subsequent years he clings onto any person or team he can, in the hope to make some money, get a ship and find Qi’ra again.

I’ll hold my hands up and say I’m not the biggest Star Wars fanboy. I know enough of the originals to get by and find the recent offerings to be entertaining but hearing that Han was to get a feature, wasn’t something I had any feeling about whatsoever and it still vaguely feels that way after watching the film. It’s enjoyable enough and deepens Han and his world but it never blew me away or felt like something I’d choose to watch more than the one time.

This movie has numerous flaws and a big one lays within the comedic elements the script strains to lean towards at times. The writing of these lighter lines sound forced and maybe boil down to the aftermath of the troubled production; what with previous comedy duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being kicked out and replaced by Ron Howard. The latter director finds his stride away from the comedy moments and he provides some strong directing in the building of the titular character and adding treachery.

There are also a good number of places where I felt this film was lagging and dare I say, lame. It took a while to feel like the cool science fiction western it’s trying to be and earlier scenes setting up everything didn’t exactly do their best in inviting me in like they should. In my opinion the plot does get better as it goes on and nearer the end, as the mission almost wraps, is where I felt the progressing character paths became so much more engaging and interesting. A neat level of are they/aren’t they back and forth is also played with well.

I had fun whilst watching two major sequences; one being an earlier train heist and the other actually showing us the quotable Kessel Run moment. Both these big blockbuster scenarios are gripping and very well made. They each share elements of fun, personal stakes and visual skill which heightens the drama. Luckily these sequences did just about enough to make me forgive the many uses of extremely on the nose dialogue throughout the movie and moments that caused an eye roll – how Han got his name being a major example.

Ehrenreich is a great youthful Solo, he carries a swag and boyish yet capable know-how which works, with just the right level of roguish charm that I’m sure Ford would admire. Clarke is a captivating character helped by the fact she’s a captivating actor. She definitely does well in playing cards close to her chest, being smart, kick-ass and someone you just can’t quite work out. Donald Glover pretty much steals the galaxy, as do his eye-catching capes. It looks like he’s having a ball playing Lando Calrissian; someone else who can be unreadable and whip smart. Phoebe Waller-Bridge may be a good performer but I found the droid character of L3-37 to be an annoying robot sidekick that never grew on me. Paul Bettany is slightly underused but is a believable villain in a world that’s set up as untrustworthy. Anyone could have an agenda against good hearted motives, anyone that is but Han, whether he’d admit it or not.

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ possesses some moments that make you feel as if you’re in the Millennium Falcon; a cinematic theme park ride to enjoy. Then there’s other moments where both the action and story lulls and you wonder why we need to see this story. There’s fun to be had but it’s not a well-oiled machine.

6.5/10

 

 

 

Rampage (2018)

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As you’d now come to expect from films headlined by Dwayne Johnson, this one doesn’t break from the loud, action filled ridiculousness template. Sadly, it does crack at the fun element and feels like more brain-dead than ‘San Andreas’; if that’s somehow possible.

Davis (Dwayne Johnson) is a primatologist who luckily happens to be more an creature fan than a people person. He’s friends with an albino gorilla called George, but one night George is exposed to a pathogen that blends animal genes which makes him bigger and angrier. As George and two other monstrous beasts make a beeline for Chicago, it’s up to Davis and Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to try and stop them.

The plot is gigantically stupid and I know it’s vaguely based on a video game, but it’s still hilariously silly and utterly convenient when it needs to suit a point or keep The Rock alive like a powered up console character. It’s definitely a film where you need to switch off your brains to fully enjoy the spectacle but it still could have been a numbing dud but thanks to the charisma of Johnson; again playing a character he could act in his sleep, we have a movie that’s rocky but an enjoyable blast.

It’s a visual film, not in the way of being dazzling or creative, but more in the usual blockbuster sense of carnage and seeing lots of things tossed around. Helicopters and people become playthings for the animals as they rampage across Chicago. So if seeing buildings crumble, Dave and Busters getting busted and vehicles getting ripped like shreds of paper is your bag, then this is right up your street. It’s odd that even with all this destruction, the film does feel slightly long and almost reaches a tired slog.

Some of this tiredness may stem from the poor attempts at comedy littered lazily through the movie. Normally in a Dwayne Johnson-led vehicle, the zingy one liners do indeed zing, that isn’t really the case with ‘Rampage’. Aside from an amusing reference to his song in ‘Moana’, the repertoire and jokes don’t land well and seem achingly forced. Even the initially interesting, nice built up comradery between Davis and George get muddied and mined for predictable middle finger gags.

Johnson, as stated, is a solid lead playing firmly to stereotype but delightfully so. Harris can do so much better but seems to be having a proper good time opposite Dwayne. Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy present a weird sibling dynamic and their evils could have been more realised and less hammy, but at least Akerman’s character is gifted the brains of the pair and commits an unexpected action. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a government agent with a delicious Texan drawl that is also hammed up and has him spieling like Lotso Huggin’ Bear as he helps the film and Davis rock on.

‘Rampage’ may be as dumb as a brick but I can’t say I didn’t get a kick from watching it.

6.5/10

Blockers (2018)

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Admittedly I wasn’t expecting much when I saw the trailer for this American comedy, but I should learn to not judge movies by trailers because this is a smart overturn on the usual laddish, adolescent sexual awakening that is found in almost every movie of this type.

With prom night coming fast, three best friends since the first day of school, agree to a sex pact of losing their virginity at the same time. Accidentally discovering this news via iPad, the girls parents do all they can to find their ‘sweet’ daughters and block them from having sex.

Kay Cannon; who had great influence behind ’30 Rock’ and ‘New Girl’, debuts as director with this female led comedy. One of the best things surrounding the feel of this film, is how pitch perfect (pun kind of intended) it is, in regards to finally toning down the boring frat boy nature of teen sex movies and seeing how the other half live, so to speak. Obviously, as a guy I can’t speak for the emotions/thoughts women go through before their first time, but it is refreshing to see something where girls go hard and still retain a genuine sister like bond.

A lot of the laughs, mostly from people around me, stemmed from the physical humour played by the adults of the scenario. I didn’t exactly laugh or chuckle very often, but I do agree that this is a fun film and the scrapes the parents end up in, however ridiculous, are entertaining to witness. To balance the comedy, there’s alright chemistry with the friends and enough behind the shift in life that happens, as the children inevitably fly the nest, as we all do. It may be obvious and not exactly refined or clever writing but it works for the target audience.

One of the girls is struggling with their sexuality and I found this a possibility to fill the film with more heart, to acknowledge all aspects of who are and who we like. It works in regards to the eventual father/daughter chat, but the moments where the film shows us the character looking at this caped beauty, arrives with mystical almost Oriental music which felt tonally off and like they’re playing this attraction for laughs. It almost harks to the Lady in Red use in ‘Dodgeball’.

There’s no doubt that this movie belongs to John Cena, who manages to squeeze overly worrying fatherhood in every look and action. It’s not exactly hilarious but it’s damn close. Leslie Mann excels as the clingy mother and Ike Barinholtz effectively annoys as the absent dad but gets his chance for predictable redemption. Angela Hayes lives another life as Julie; a girly girl who likes ‘Sixteen Candles’ and hopes for a perfect first time, played convincingly by Kathryn Newton. As a general note, it would have been good to see more of the 3 teens stories and less of the prat falls and dilemmas the parents face.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is a cracking comedy, but there are good sparky moments that can make you laugh and best of all, it’s an open minded film about womanhood, sex, family and John Cena having a ball.

6.5/10

Ready Player One (2018)

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Screeching into cinemas this weekend at 88 mph, is the latest feature from Steven Spielberg. It’s fast, fun and enjoyable but that doesn’t completely override the shortcomings of the plot.

Set in 2045, the population are avid fans and players within the OASIS; a virtual reality world where they can be who they want and try to find an Easter egg, only obtained by finding 3 keys placed by creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Trying to lead the pack is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) who soon learns from fellow gamer Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) that there’s more at stake, than just a sprawling game.

I’ll kick off by saying, this is an energetic and pacy film that certainly, for the first two thirds at least, manages to speedily put across a massive virtual landscape of endless possibilities. The immersive quality isn’t fully felt but it comes and goes nicely, as if we’re window shoppers to this electrically charged Easter egg hunt. It’s only within the last third that this movie begins to trail and slightly feel like a slog, as the story it’s thinly been telling, takes over from the nostalgia trip and descends into a predictable and less than exciting mode.

There may indeed be problems but I can’t review this Spielberg outing without spouting fanboy praise for a sequence at the Overlook. I wasn’t expecting that at all, it’s at once hilarious and effectively spooky to see the hexagon carpeted floors of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, in a film that families will watch! The entire sequence was done brilliantly and I enjoyed it further, knowing what would happen in rooms etc.

Nostalgia is clearly what is selling this film and I have no issues with that, it’s a seat filler. People love being reminded of fun flashes to their past and this movie sees games and pop cultural figures storm the cinematic screen with giddy abandon. Marvin the Martian, The Iron Giant and Halo Spartans are just a few of the brilliant visual tie-ins Spielberg and the effects team have gifted us, but there should be more to it down to the main narrative, yet at points it does feel like this is a film solely riding on the cool delight of spotting characters from games, film and TV dotted around.

Music also forms a huge factor of the feel-good fuzzy feeling as Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and Van Halen all riff on this film’s clear course to Nostalgia-ville. There’s a general fun vibe to had with this film and even though there are problems with the story being devoid of heart or much emotion, a side-lined female character who becomes not much more than a love interest and a show of characters that don’t really develop and therefore never grabbed my attention, it’s a movie of wonder and bright colour, zippy visual treats and a technological feat that should be admired.

Sheridan plays the guy out in the sticks aspiring to win and the lead with a lesson in love, in a way that’s alright enough but I’d never say he was someone I rooted for, he’s kind of just there amongst a world bursting with other avatars. Cooke sprinkles some cool chick moves to her turn as the helpful love sidekick and I found her more interesting to watch than Sheridan, as I did with the hench figure of Aech and their subsequent reveal. Ben Mendelsohn is always an effective presence but his role as the villainous Nolan Sorrento is hot and cold, there’s flickers of chilling menace and then it dissipates. Rylance comes and goes but is a fun addition, with a kind of Wayne’s World/Bill and Ted gamer geek, stoner attribute to his character.

The story isn’t as strong or as engaging as it deserves to be but I have to applaud Steven Spielberg and the visual effects crew, for creating a film that is a lively rush for the senses.

7/10

 

Pacific Rim Uprising (2018)

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Almost 5 years after ‘Pacific Rim’, comes this monster follow up that sees a debut role for Steven S. DeKnight as feature film director. Gladly, Guillermo del Toro has producing credit and seems to have retained some neat apocalypse cancelling world-building in what is otherwise a silly yet joyous popcorn flick.

Ten years have shuttled by since the monstrous Kaiju breached the Pacific Ocean and destroyed many cities. Now, former Jaeger front-runner, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) is taken out of his scavenging ways to train new cadets. A promising talent lies within Amara (Cailee Spaeny), but is she and the battle station ready for the troubling return of the Kaiju?

I haven’t actually seen the 2013 movie since it was released but I recall it being a tremendous blast on the IMAX screens and enjoyed the moments of del Toro handled monster-lore in between the beast vs robot carnage. This one definitely seems to have a tongue firmly stuck in its cheek with a movie that is more about the fun side of proceedings.

You really don’t need to go into this film remembering many aspects of the first feature, or in fact with your mind on at all, it’s a pre-summer blockbuster kind of film that is as subtle as having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick! If that’s your thing then you’re in for a great treat and I honestly have to say that I enjoyed pretty much the entirety of this film.

How the trainee cadets are ever ready to perfectly mind-meld for duty and fight the Kaiju is a thought to push away, as is the question about never once knowing Idris Elba had a son, oh and the countless helpful convenient plot points. But, this isn’t a film warranting script scrutiny, as said, this is one of these films that doesn’t try to be anything more than the big screen madness of its smashy smashy noise.

DeKnight takes over from Academy Award holder del Toro and you can unmistakably see his TV show – ‘Spartacus’ style. The robots beating the metal crap out of each other, the lighthearted asides, the frequent almost epic slow-mo shots all come from his Starz days, from a show I rather enjoyed to tell the truth and that gladiatorial experience has helped craft an enjoyable sci-fi combat movie.

Boyega excels in a fun role here, bursting almost to the seams with quips to counter any possible predicament. It’s a character with far more energy, engagement and sparkle than Finn from the recent Star Wars movies. Scott Eastwood doesn’t really do much in a supporting role that sees him bark orders at people and twinkle his ‘handsome’ eyes when necessary. Spaeny is a talented up and coming actor, her performance is refreshing, vulnerable and yet brashly confident which works well opposite Boyega. Burn Gorman and Charlie Day resume their characters from before, with the former doing well in a backseat science supervisor kinda way and the latter pulling typical Charlie Day shouting and vague comedy that feels wrong considering where his amped up role journeys.

I was never eagerly awaiting a sequel but now this one has arrived in cinemas I can’t say I dislike the fact it exists. It’s a rampaging delight of big and bold destruction and in the words of the late, great Eduard Khil: “Trololo” indeed, this is a damn fun film to feast upon.

6.5/10

 

Mom and Dad (2018)

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You won’t get many chances to catch your breath, whilst watching this manically charged black comedy accelerate from nought to totally bananas in the blink of an eye.

Living in a picturesque yet typically suburban American neighbourhood are the Ryan family. A household like many others, they deal with arguments, school runs and midlife crises. As their usual routine begins, we see that other parents are inexplicably murdering their offspring and it isn’t long until Brent and Kendall (Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair) are keen to kill their children.

The entire film is just downright bonkers and frankly, marvellous because of it. Brian Taylor directs this movie like he’s just drank a warehouse of energy drinks, though he does ensure to keep the laughter in measure with a couple of darker moments revolving around the murder sprees. It is clear we’re watching the director of the ‘Crank’ movies as ‘Mom and Dad’ shuttles along it’s 83 minute burst, because there’s a joyful twisted bite to almost every souped up sequence.

This is definitely one of those films where you can switch off your brain and simply revel in the madness. Saying that, there are still some interesting ideas about a pent up family going nuclear, in and around this there’s also some fantastic editing and blasting music. On the flip side, a major issue I had when watching this, was many scenes are difficult to keep up with and that’s down to the crazy cuts amongst the fighting, obviously it reflects the crazed subject of the narrative but it was a tad too much and the ending is way too sudden and weak compared to what’s been seen before.

Nicolas Cage takes a note to be a nutty father and runs with it to extreme levels of insanity and frenzied humour. I laughed out loud multiple times thanks to Cage’s over the top performance. He unquestionably steals the show with mad eyes and dialogue delivery that’s spat with self aware loony delight. Selma Blair brings a needed sense of motherly humanity in brief pangs of subdued calm, either before she turns or in great pretences of the doting mum. She also plays the deranged side with convincing attack. Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur showcase youthful confusion and fear in great measure, almost riffing Kevin from ‘Home Alone’ in their house bound terror. Winters adds expected but great teen angst to the film which is nicely rounded with a caring big sister arc.

This movie is Barmy with a capital B, I thoroughly enjoyed the carnage and the crazy plot which needs no explanation as for why. ‘Mom and Dad’ may not be perfect but it’s a rip roaring grin inducing ride.

7/10