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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Molly’s Game (2017)

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What a whirlwind of a life this movie shows us. This drama based on the memoirs from the real Molly Bloom is one that really sends the dialogue flying with laser focused intensity, wit and even humour at times.

After a freak Olympic skiing accident when she was 20, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) keeps putting off law schooling and finds herself working two very well paid jobs. It’s within these placements that she learns on her feet about the world of poker and its players. Soon she sets up her own games but the FBI want her for crimes and only Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) seems to be the one who can help Bloom in her case.

Aaron Sorkin, of huge writing acclaim and fame, is here as a writer but also as a captain in his debut with directorial capacity. His ‘The West Wing’ and ‘The Social Network’ credentials surely show off his knack for writing flair and excellence in dialogue build up and in this film that’s the case again. The directing side of things may not be as confidently managed with the expected back and forth in time and there’s a few times where the film just feels quite long.

The dialogue is pretty much consistently on point, even if it a lot of that comes from narration….a lot of narration. It’s not annoying but it’s certainly overused and I get we’re hearing the story from Molly’s viewpoint but it does ramble with bursts of narrated information. Aside from these negatives, the delivery and content of the writing is razor sharp, Ferrari fast and absorbing. There’s a lot to take in but if you do listen up and keep attuned, then the story of Molly Bloom is definitely one to engage and surprise.

Jessica Chastain plays the whip smart Bloom with incredible confidence and a convincing electric aura. She’s a fascinating talent who keeps on picking sharply written roles for women and she’s deserving of nominations for this part. Not only does she show the softer and more worried state of what she’s done with emotion but she carries an undeniable sense of strength, smarts and power throughout the 2 hour 20 minute run time. Both Chastain and Idris Elba handle the Sorkin dialogue with dynamic flair. Elba is another convincing talent and brings unflinching determination to his role as the defence lawyer. Kevin Costner flits in and out of the story-line and has a couple of smoothly delivered jokes but also sells us with the serious overbearing pushy father qualities.

There is an almost tiresome incessant thread of speedy voice-over but apart from that, I’d say that it’s well buying in and pulling a chair up to this film. Get ready, go all in and jump into a fast and dangerously glamorous world led by a superb Chastain.

7.5/10

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

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This was a film that likely would have passed be my; I hadn’t seen a trailer or knew anything about this, but I’d call it a hidden gem because it’s just wonderfully made harking to the Hollywood of old.

After falling ill before a stage performance, former silver screen actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) wishes to stay at the house of Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) and his kin. Turner and Grahame had been in a relationship for the last two years or so and we see their up and down romance throughout the movie.

Based on a memoir from Peter Turner himself, this romantically themed drama is extremely engaging. Firstly I must comment on the utterly believable relationship between Bening and Bell. This old/young romance never feels wrong, strange or make believe, there’s a genuine affection and attraction built between the actors that helps the film along. The film delves back and forth between her at the house in 1981 and her meeting Turner in 1979, the transitions to and from these moments in time are quite clever and give it an almost one take theatrical vibe as if moving scenes forward on a stage.

For my sins, I had no clue that the glamorous performer in question was actually based on a real actress from the heyday of Hollywood. This only made the story more impacting as I came to realise the true account running through the narrative. I liked to think I know Oscars and actors but I obviously need to brush up on the glitz of 40’s/50’s stardom. It’s this pizzazz and studio based ideal of talent and fitting into a mould to sell pictures that gives Gloria real depth and vulnerability as you see her clinging on to youth and wanting to be loved.

There are some aspects in the film that are predictable and you know what someone may say or what characters will do and a sequence you see from one perspective gets re-shown from the other side with a healthy dose of melodramatic strings rising and clear emphasis on trying to make you emotional, almost cheesy I could say. There’s clear green screen in use for places like New York and beaches of California but they’re apt in a way for this film about acting, gifting the whole feature a movie look as if we’re seeing their memories as glances on a film reel.

Annette Bening better get recognised come awards season, if she’s not up for an Oscar then a Golden Globe at least because she is sublime in this. The mannerisms and the way she talks are an almost sweetly yet seductive Marilyn Monroe quality and she carries confidence and false confidence in equal measure. She completely buries herself into the role and I bought her turn as Grahame hook line and sinker. Jamie Bell gives Turner great care and love, you buy into this man that isn’t much of anything, a success or triumph but a funny, interesting and kind guy who cares deeply for this enigmatic presence in his life. He plays opposite Bening with convincing ease and they’re both fantastic together. It’s great seeing Bell reunite with Julie Walters who dons a Scouse accent rather well and brings that expected and needed heart and comedic touch. I also want to comment on the much too short but almost scene-stealing turn from Frances Barber who plays Gloria’s sister. The icy stares and sharp tongue were brilliant.

This is a film that doesn’t seem to acknowledge the intelligence of its audience with predictable moments and repeated scenes driving home points we’d already gathered but it’s a special movie with a fragile soul beautifully illustrated by the exceptional performances from Bening and Bell.

7/10

Focus (2015)

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It can’t be denied that this cocktail of romance, heist thriller and black comedy all looks glossy and stylish but there’s a serious stumbling block in the absence of gritty substance. The whole con team angle is ripe for the picking but it’s played around with mildly at best and the long con is a drippy pay-off to wait for.

A savvy and well trained con artist named Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) becomes romantically entangled with the promising talent of Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie). After training and working superbly well together, Nicky tries his hand at another game but a temper fuelled racing driver and Jess’ return could knock Nicky’s magic.

This film is a weird jumble of ideas, one minute it aims and scores quite successfully at the dark thriller and then, whoosh, people are riffing and making jokes turning the scene into a jarring comedy play of words and egos. John Requa and Glenn Ficarra are the figures behind the script and though every now and then they conjure up some interesting ideas, in the grand scheme of things, this movie doesn’t pull them through. Perhaps if it stuck with one genre stronger consistently the film could have benefited but in general the con is a quite lame one to sit through and the Oceans team have no concerns.

Xavier Perez Grobet can certainly present the locations necessary. He captures New Orleans and Buenos Aires in a slick photographic light, giving the backdrops a photo-shoot quality, making the places Nicky and Jess go to pop more than they may have done before. It’s almost as if the characters are stepping through travel catalogs thanks to Grobet’s cinematography.

Maybe Ficarra and Requa tackling directing roles as well as writer calls is an explanation for the film not being as great as it could have been, because honestly there is potential in this film, it has glimmers of real showmanship, the chemistry is there from time to time, it looks great and the first half of the film is a neat thing. I honestly believe they think they were being cleverer than the feature actually is. There’s too many twists or attempts at good turns in the plot and unlike the drip feeding of clues and con moves in the BBC show ‘Hustle’, which I adored, this one reveals things with no prior knowledge, going back over things making the con seem more manufactured and movie-like, taking you out of the film.

The music delivered by Nick Urata, is like a score of what you’d expect to hear if you were invited to a sleek opening night function with the biggest and brightest. It sizzles away almost, adding the glamour to the film. Also a clever reference and utilisation of a Rolling Stones tune works nicely, but that’s all I shall say.

Will Smith possesses that charm and cocky swagger needed for the character and though I found him the less interesting of the characters, Smith gave him enough emotion in stages to make him more human. As if perfectly flicking a watch off a passer by he gives Nicky this ooze of confidence and know-how that makes him believable as a con artist even if the editing of his training scene cuts too much, losing the flow needed to sell it properly. Margot Robbie is a pure stunning actress and her role as Jess was more interesting, I would have liked to know more about her as opposed to the generic male orientated focus on Nicky. She has a beaming smile that welcomes you in and can flip that masterfully, when broken by developments. She’s certainly an engaging and gorgeous talent to keep an eye on and Harley Quinn is exciting.

Appearing like a shiny article from Esquire magazine, this film is hot and glamorous but is in total a silly unbelievable series of events that leave Robbie and Smith caught up in a misfired movie. Watch Hustle instead.

5.5/10