OceansEightPosterI’m a bit pissed off.

I’m going to say some uncharitable things about Ocean’s 8 and I don’t want anyone to think that it’s driven by the fact that it’s a female sequel to the Ocean’s trilogy. Let me be clear. The cast and the acting (ignoring James Corden, which I wish was as easy to do in practice as it is in theory) is first rate. Absolutely brilliant. Rhianna is a revelation here. Sandra Bullock does her best to be Clooney and her best is pretty good. And who’da thunk Anne Hathaway could be so self-deprecating? Honestly, the problem here isn’t the women.

The problem is the man who co-wrote the script and directed this garbage. Step forward, Gary Ross. Big was a long time ago, wasn’t it, Gary? Hunger Games wasn’t last year.

Danny Ocean is supposed to be dead, although no one seems to be quite sure. His sister, Debbie (Bullock), manages to convince a parole board to let her out of prison on the promise that she’ll be on the straight and narrow from now on and stay away from ne’er-do-wells. This promise is broken before she actually tastes fresh air. Seems our Deb has been hatching a plan for the last five years; a plan to pull off a mammoth heist that will earn her and her six accomplices a multi-million dollar pay day and maybe — just maybe — see her get some revenge on the guy who put her behind bars.

But wait a minute. 6 + 1 = 7. Not 8. Who could the eighth member of the gang be? The movie might as well break the fourth wall and ask this of the audience. Don’t worry, though. This is the least of the issues.

Deb starts bringing her band together. Soon we have Lou, Cate Blanchett, signed up. Lou has been watering down vodka for a living, the minx. Debbie reveals her plan to steal the Cartier Toussaint, a $150m necklace that’s been down a vault for the last fifty years and she plans to do it during a party at the Met Gala. It’s a leap from watery vodka to six pounds of Cartier diamonds, but Lou seems up to it. They’re gonna need some help, though.

They sign up fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham-Carter), necklace designer Amita (Mindy Kaling), pick-pocket Constance (Awkwafina), hacker-genius Nine Ball (Rhianna), and the fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson). Seemingly, they can contrive matters so that Rose can end up being the dresser for dumb mule Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) who is scheduled to host the Gala and convince Cartier to let the necklace out of the vault.

I bored myself typing all that out. How Gary Ross managed to stay alert enough with Olivia Milch to peck out a 110 minute script is anyone’s guess. Maybe they took shifts prodding each other awake. I hope to God the two of them weren’t driving while discussing it.

Here’s the problem. The heist is dull. It’s the fourth-best heist idea they’ve got. There’s nothing to smile at. The movie lacks the invention, the fun, the complexity, and the swagger of the predecessors, particularly Eleven. Any issue is quickly resolved, regardless of the plot hole that emerges in its place. There were a couple of chuckles to be had but they were few and far between. It’s just so pedestrian and lazy. The direction feels almost non-existent. Absolutely nothing stands out to me four hours after leaving the movie theater.

When the best thing you can say about a movie is that at least it didn’t do what it was obviously warning you that it might, you know it’s going to be a slog.

What a waste.

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large_hereditary_ver2It’s been a couple of hours since I left the cinema and I’m still not sure what I just watched and I’m barely able to think about how I feel about it all. I’m a bit in shock. Under those circumstances, what better to do than write a blog post about it.

The trailer has been on heavy rotation for months now, which has done a marvelous job at raising intrigue without giving too much away; giving anything away really. I went in aware but totally unprepared.

Toni Collette plays Annie who’s mum, Ellen, has passed away before the movie started. We learn that it was a long illness and based on Annie’s eulogy, it would seem that the relationship between the mother and daughter was fraught to say the least. Ellen was a secretive woman to the extent that Annie is surprised at the number of people at the funeral.

Annie is mother to teenaged son Peter (Alex Wolff) and tween daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and we get the impression that the relationship between these three isn’t much better. Peter is distant and Charlie is simply awkward and kinda misshapen and it appears that Ellen was highly protective of her. In the background is Gabriel Byrne who more or less is an observer to everything else that happens but sounds far more Irish on the phone than he does in the flesh. From the opening seconds, the music — the sound design is astonishingly good — lets us know that nothing in this wee universe is well.

Annie works on making miniature models of houses and scenes that reflect her life and the lives of those around her, so we see interpretations of Ellen’s last days and her relationship with Charlie. It’s not long before Annie starts to think she’s seeing her mother lingering in the shadows of her workshop. Then, at a bereavement group, she meets Joan who instantly feels too touchy-feely and claims to have had a rough old time of it herself. Then a bird flies into Charlie’s classroom window and she spies a big pair of scissors on the teacher’s desk.

First-time director Ari Aster does a remarkably good job at building tension and generating an almost threatening sense of unease. He also manages to coax the performance of her life out of Toni Collette. She is utterly spell-binding throughout. You never doubt for a second any emotion she’s portraying. Byrne isn’t really asked to stretch himself too much, but the two kids, particularly Milly Shapiro (in her first role, no less) never come close to letting the side down.

For the first ninety minutes or so, I was completely invested. Unsurprisingly, there’s a history of mental illness and suicide in Annie’s family and she reveals fairly early that she has been known to sleep-walk, so we find ourself constantly questioning what is real, what is fantasy, and what is dream. We are, I think, supposed to know that something’s not right, but we don’t know what; something is haunted, but we don’t know what or who.

In the final thirty minutes, we get a denouement that would even put mother! to shame and we kinda get answers to these questions. The movie goes off in a direction I found ill-judged and while there are other movies it reminded me of, I won’t share here in case it spoils it for anyone. I almost walked out. Not because it was bad. It isn’t bad. It’s just wrong. And I didn’t want to watch how wrong it was going to get.

But here’s the thing. Like mother!, it’s lingering with me. There are images I saw today that I can’t unsee and, for the first time since I don’t know when, I’ve got an empty tonight. The lights will be remaining on. Maybe this should’ve been a review of Ocean’s 8.

It remains a good movie but for an hour and a half, it was a brilliant movie. For an hour-and-a-half it was movie-of-the-year material.

 

 

blockersChicken Blockers? Rooster Blockers? Hen Blockers? Nope. I’ve got nothing. It’s obviously far too sophisticated for the likes of me. Kinda like those which will fill first puzzles or those memes that rely on no one remembering the order of operations. I guess I’ll have to remain in the dark.

The poster actually does the movie a disservice. I had assumed, entirely because of it, that this would be a pretty dumb, lowest common denominator experience. Maybe something that Johnny Knoxville would’ve happily put his name towards, something that someone would’ve been able to blackmail Robert De Niro into appearing in. I’m happy to put my hands up and admit that I was wrong.

Leslie Mann plays Lisa, the single mother to Julie (Kathryn Newton). Julie plans to lose her virginity to her boyfriend at the upcoming prom, which prompts her friends, Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and the orientationally-confused Samantha (Gideon Adlon), to do likewise and so #SexPact2018 is born. Once the girls and their partners are all limoed up and on their way to womanhood, thanks to an open laptop, Lisa and Kayla’s over-protective dad Mitch (John Cena) and Sam’s estranged father Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) get wind of the plans and so begins a night of chasing the girls down at the prom and various after parties in an attempt to block them and maintain their precious virginities.

It was something of an unexpected surprise to discover how well the premise is handled, and how the movie has such a good heart, almost as much as it is to see a teen sex comedy with female protagonists. To their credit, although the girls’ partners aren’t exactly awful people and are flawed, they’re flawed in ways that don’t make them sexual predators or utter deviants. Given the fact that there are FIVE WRITERS credited on this, it’s even more surprising that the end result is so warm and homely and works so well. Okay, so there’s plenty of effing and jeffing. There’s drug abuse. There’s a beer enema, which I didn’t realize was a thing. There’s a set of male testicles on view. There’s John Cena’s toosh. It earns its R rating, but it’s still charming. And it’s also hilarious.

And who’da thunk that The Wrestling would’ve produced two of my most dependable acting chops? It’s impossible to entirely dislike anything The Rock signs up to, and John Cena is fast becoming the same. But it’s non-wrestling Geraldine Viswanathan who steals the show as Mitch’s daugher. Her character is very clear in her wants and expectations and Viswanathan plays it perfectly and is utterly delightful in doing so.

The theme of three parents looking to usurp their daughters’ sexual awakening may on the surface seem slightly problematic. No such concerns were ever aired, for example, in Superbad. But in its favor, the movie challenges this throughout, through ancillary characters and ultimately the daughters themselves. It’s a complication I can’t imagine making it to the production script even five years ago.

Fowl Blockers? Poultry Blockers? Jings. Clue anyone?

a quiet placeThe previews for A Quiet Place have been doing the rounds for some time, looking all the world like the distant cousin of 2016’s Don’t Breathe that had studied and went to college. We’ve all been stung before by trailers that look good and turn out to be bitterly disappointing. I feel bad for admitting this but there was a time when I thought that Sucker Punch looked kinda interesting. I’m not proud of that. I had higher hopes for this.

Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are a married couple who find themselves, their deaf daughter (a brilliant Millicent Simmonds) and two sons (Noah Jupe and Cade Woodward, both brilliant) on the wrong side of some kind of Catastrophic Event, presumably an alien invasion. The aliens are heavily armored, blind, but with an extraordinary sense of hearing. Make the slightest sound — just a cough or a sneeze — and it might just be the last thing they do. So the family walk on their bare feet, they communicate with ASL, they paint the squeak-free boards on their floors.

We join them three months after The Catastrophic Event, and already society has been mostly wiped out. Only small pockets of survivors remain, communicating their existence by way of hillside fires at night. On a recee into town to grab some meds for a fever, the youngest of the family attempts to steal a toy shuttle. Dad wisely says no, but the deaf daughter secretly gives it back to him, and then he sneakily doubles down on a pair of AAs. On a bridge out of town, the wee boy finds a switch that turns the shuttle into a klaxon and at that point, everything changes. A year later, and with Emily Blunt now heavily pregnant, the family is quietly coming to terms with those events.

The movie poses its bold questions early on. Exactly how is Emily Blunt intending to give birth without making a sound? How do they plan to keep their newborn baby quiet? How safe is the deaf daughter ever going to be when she’s unaware of any noise she or others in her vicinity may be creating? And what if any of them snore? It’s these questions that never stray too far from the viewers’ minds and it’s because of them that we know this wee family is about to be put through the mill.

For what is 95% a silent movie, the actors convey an enormous amount of emotion, mostly through expressions and body language. Not content with displaying his considerable acting chops, Krasinski directs with the precision of John Carpenter and also co-wrote the bad boy. One suspects he also rustled up a jambalaya or two in the catering truck.

The end result is an old-fashioned creature feature that genuinely does not let up the tension for the entire 95 minute running time. I say this as a good thing, but it’s actually physically exhausting to sit still throughout. Better yet, once the creature has been on screen, somehow it manages to retain its terrifying properties, which is quite an unusual achievement. And it’s all done so easily, so effortlessly. It’s difficult to come out of it and not think that all horror movies should be as good as this.

So it’s a scarier version of Don’t Breathe that, much like The Babadook, asks what it takes to protect a family and keep it together. It’s a great horror movie. Furthermore, it’s just a great movie.

A triumph!

 

isle_of_dogsIsle of Dogs. Is it named after an area in That London? You’d think so. Otherwise, it would probably be called Island of Dogs, given that the location in the movie is called Trash Island and not Trash Isle. But there doesn’t seem to be any point in that nod to the Docklands. There’s nothing Cockney in this whatsoever. So maybe it is just coincidence. Aye. These are the thoughts that go through my mind. Inconsequential. Forgettable. Almost not worth mentioning.

So. The movie, Isle of Dogs, then.

The latest offering from Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums) is set in a near-future Japan where the authoritarian Mayor Kobayashi — not to be mistaken for the porcelain manufacturer in The Usual Suspects — exploits a dog flu epidemic to banish all dogs to from the city of Megasaki to Trash Island. Because he really, really, hates dogs. The first pooch to be dispatched is Spots, friend and protector of Atari Kobayashi, young ward of the Mayor. Atari is none too taken by these events and so nicks a plane and flies to Trash Island (see, told you) to get his dog back. But the island (not isle) is now residence to hundreds of dogs, all of whom are sick, most of whom are hungry, and not all of them are prepared to give Atari a warm welcome to their new (smelly) home.

The stop-motion animation has a slightly jerky feel to it, as though every second frame has been removed but, if anything, it works better because of it. While it would appear each scene has been carefully structured, and there are many scenes that are simply gorgeous, there are a number where the composition is a little weird; heads of speaking characters appearing at the very bottom of the frame, f’rinstance. I’m sure it’s deliberate. I just can’t think why, and it’s distracting. On the flip side, the fight scenes that are a mixture of clouds and limbs are an absolute delight.

It’s an embarrassment of riches in terms of voice talent. Bryan Cranston, Ed Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, and, surprisingly, Yoko Ono (playing a character credited as Assistant Scientist Yoko Ono) all make the requisite noises with their mouths and tongues to a very high standard, delivering the lines with a deadpan detachment that injects a little humor into the most mundane of situations.

Aside from an oddly slimline storyline of One Boy and His Dog, I’m not sure if I was impressed by the representation of Japanese culture, or by Wes Anderson’s best guess at representation of Japanese culture, and the character who seems most in tune with the corruption of the Kobayashi political class is, of course, American. From Ohio, to be exact.

But perhaps the biggest — and unforgivable — letdown is that this One Boy and His Dog movie never really threatens to trouble the emotions and that it fails to linger much in the mind beyond the walk back to the car. For all the crying the characters did, there was never the threat of that happening in real life.

Inconsequential. Forgettable. Almost not worth mentioning.

lady_bird_ver2A generation much younger than mine will surely look at Lady Bird and think of it as their The Breakfast Club. That’s how much I loved this movie. And to make it even better, it doesn’t rely on an eighty-five-year-old Judd Nelson pretending to be sixteen. Huzzah!

Saoirse Ronan, fast becoming one of my most favorite actors, plays the titular teenaged Lady Bird, a name she gives herself to replace the far more everyday Christine that her parents thought to give her. Sheldon’s mom, Laurie Metcalf, plays her mother. Laurie Metcalf is also excellent. I kinda love Laurie Metcalf. No, that’s not right. I love Laurie Metcalf. From the opening scene, we understand everything we need to know about their relationship. On a drive somewhere, they’ve been listening to the audiobook of The Grapes of Wrath. They share a tear together, and then fall into a horrendously bitter argument that ends with Lady Bird throwing herself out of the moving car.

There’s little plot beyond that, as such, and the story as it exists is based around Lady Bird’s final year of high school, how her relationships change and she grows up. Lady Bird longs to move from her Sacramento hometown to attend college on the East Coast. She hates her home life. She thinks she deserves better. She thinks that her family should appreciate this. She’s embarrassed by her surroundings. Her mother responds to this by reminding her of what she owes to her family, particularly her depressed but hard working father. And that’s pretty much it.

As light as that sounds, it’s heart-breaking, it’s funny, it’s real, it keeps true to its ideals throughout, and most importantly, it works. Everyone involved in this project is at the height of their game. The acting is first rate. Aside from the leads, Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s dad, and Beanie Feldstein as her best friend are equally great but for different reasons. Director Greta Gerwig is clever enough to not let any scene drag too long. She’ll happily cut where another director would be half way done. How so much talent to write, direct, act and still just be in her thirties is beyond me, and slightly infuriating.

So is there anything I didn’t like about it? Well, yes. There’s a toilet door that you’ll question why it wasn’t locked, and there’s a job interview confusion that felt a little there just because of plot. That’s it. I’m done. It was great. It was emotional enough to make me cry, and say Ooft! but not in the places I expected it to. If you haven’t seen it, you should do so now.

A triumph!

 

death wishAt the time of writing, there are exactly 297 days left in 2018. Which means that 2018 has 297 days left to release a 90 minute movie of Bruce Willis doing nothing more than sitting in the middle of a paddling pool full of creamed rice, wearing an Easter bonnet and making bibble-bibble noises by drumming his fingers over his lips. If 2018 delivers, and that movie actually comes out, there’s only a 50/50 chance that it will be more stupid than Death Wish.

It’s the remake no one was waiting for. Michael Winner’s 1974 original, starring Charles “Charlie” Bronson, was extremely problematic thanks to a brutal rape scene and the unquestioning siding with the vigilante. The solitary positive to be taken from this mess is that Eli Roth’s 2018 version chooses not to linger too much on the sexual violence. If this were an M Night Shyamalan movie, that would have been the twist.

Bruce Willis, almost ten years older than Bronson was at time of filming, plays Paul Kersey, who seems to be the only working surgeon in Chicago. At the start of the movie, before the opening credits, he’s interrupted from one operation to try to save another gunshot wound victim, something he ultimately fails to do. For a good fifteen minutes, the movie does it’s level best to make us care about him and his family; wife Lucy (Elizabeth Shue) and daughter Jordon (Camila Morrone) and ne’er-do-well brother Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio). It does so by allowing us to watch them have breakfast and be cute together. It doubles down on this by showing Jordan playing soccer while Paul confronts but fails to fight a profane parent on the sidelines.

Try as we might, we simply don’t care about those people so when the house is broken into by masked people related to the baddies from Home Alone, leaving Lucy dead and Jordan in a coma, aside from an unintentionally funny pan-of-boiling-water-to-the-face, it’s difficult to muster up anything more dramatic than a sigh.

Enter at this point Chicago’s only working detectives; Dean Norris (who you’ll remember being a million times better in Breaking Bad) and Kimberly Elise (who you’ll probably remember from nothing at all). They’re really bad at their jobs, which may or may not be intended to be funny, and after an amazingly strange post-funeral encounter with his father-in-law, Paul decides to investigate the crime himself and take matters into his own hands by becoming a cold-blooded killer and tactical mastermind after watching one gun shop commercial. Hey, he didn’t spend all those years at medical school NOT learning to how to hurdle dumpsters while escaping gunfire.

We all know how this is going to turn out. What’s disappointing is that Eli Roth does nothing to usurp that sense of premonition. The kills are largely dull and uninteresting, given his track record, and when we see a bowling bowl, inexplicably poised on a raised shelf, anyone who’s ever seen a Fred Quimby Tom & Jerry cartoon know that ball is destined to meet cranium before too long.

As predictable and stupid and bothersome as it is, it’s fatal crime is that it is terminally boring. Bruce Willis seems to be forgetting how to act. Eli Roth doesn’t know how to shock anymore. When the most memorable thing about the movie is Dean Norris’s attempts to stick to his diet, you know that you’re in trouble.

Okay 2018. Let’s see what you’ve got. 297 days and counting. Bibble-bibble.