Ocean's 8 (2018)

   Director: Gary Ross  With: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Richard Armitage, & James Corden.  Release: Jun 8, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 50 min. 

Director: Gary Ross
With: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Richard Armitage, & James Corden. 
Release: Jun 8, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 50 min. 

 

In the midst of Gary Ross’s, not Steven Soderbergh's (though he was a producer), “Ocean’s 8” there is a scene in which our family made crook, Debby Ocean (Sandra Bullock), is browsing through possible additions to the crew with her confidant Lou (Cate Blanchett). Lou (Cate Blanchett) pulls up a headshot of a rather handsome fella, and Debby (Sandra Bullock) turns him down stating “A him gets noticed. A her gets ignored.” This scene is where I began to catch on to the con being fronted by “Ocean’s 8,” and it's one worth watching. 

The film sets itself as a sequel, instead of a reboot. Taking place years after the heyday of Danny Ocean (George Clooney) who has passed away, at least we assume he has, and his younger sister has seemed to have learned all of his best moves and made them even better. Opening with a scene that harkens back to “Ocean’s 11,” quite literally, in which our feminine lead crook is attempting to earn parole. She says she wants the simple life, that her days as a thief are done, she even gets choked up discussing how her brother’s legacy has not inspired her, but we all know that’s a crock a shit. She, in fact, is playing a con, something that seems to be as natural to her as breathing air. 

Why is she playing a con? To get out of prison right? I mean, obviously, but it's not that simple. Nothing is ever that simple with these movies though, as expected she’s been planning something big. A job that involves robbing the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but not the museum itself, but rather a particular item that is persuaded its way around the neck of the beautiful Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway). Known as the Toussaint, an infamous necklace painted with a French history that is fabricated with six pounds of diamonds and is valued at $150 million. With a crew of eight, that splits the prize at about $16.5 million each, a substantial enticement for anyone who needs anymore persuading beyond the challenge that lies ahead of them in this big, grand, con of the century. 

The money is great, but that doesn’t seem to be the only incentive because these women all seem to share that same appetite for thievery that Debby Ocean (Sandra Bullock) and her family seem to have inherited almost organically. Lou (Cate Blanchett) is an old friend who's been with Debby (Sandra Bullock) since the start; she also shares some of the same connections she does to the old Soderbergh crew of swindlers. Amita (Mindy Kaling) is someone who can fake the jewelry but also lives with her mother whose constant harassment can be quite an enticement to try and steal your way to something better. 

Constance (Awkwafina) and Nine Ball (Rihanna) are the two utility and necessary tools, one is that sleight of hand smuggler, and the other is the hacker. How they learned their trade or who they are beyond that is not very important to “Ocean’s 8,” as Rose Well (Helena Bonham Carter) and Tammy (Sarah Paulson) or any of the other members of the crew that aren’t Debby Ocean (Sandra Bullock) seem to be overlooked and treated as unimportant. It’s a glaring flaw in the middle of “Ocean’s 8” that showcases the lack of style or nuance presented by Gary Ross, who also assisted Olivia Milch in writing the screenplay. The cast feels consistently mishandled, which for a film that is meant to use the sly socio-political messages of feminism to be the little jabs underlying this brash but familiar story, this misuse of the cast seems to be something that directly refutes the notions presented. 

Sister-hood is supposed to be something of pride, and it's something that is never heavily focused upon. If you're reading closely though, you may have noticed that the film is called “Ocean’s 8,” and I have only named seven members of the crew. Well, the eighth member is a bit of a surprise, that’s all I’ll say for now, but it's one of the many surprises that is fantastic. It’s one of the great things that Gary Ross borrows from the past four films in that the wonders that the heist includes, or the hidden cameos and twists of the narrative can be predictable, yet still feel invigoratingly enjoyable.

 It’s almost like a mainstream horror movie in that way, in the sense that the film has twists that are predictable due to the expectational assumptions that are brought to a movie about stealing stuff. You know what’s coming next, but you still want to be a part of the ride, despite the predictability of it's best parts. It’s one of the aspects of “Ocean’s 8” that I was already signed up for, so, to no surprise, it was one of the many things that made me grin during my screening. 

The other things that made me grin were the powerhouse of performances brought to the table by this ridiculously talented ensemble of women. Anne Hathaway plays this ditzy girl in hiding, whose obvious sex appeal, and pretty but dumb persona lends to her performance being one that is multi-faceted. Both in the way she is directly trolling her critics and in how she keeps you guessing as to what her importance is to the screenplay. Is she just the butt of the joke, or is she apart of the fun? 

Sandra Bullock is magnificently charming and cunning. She has the dose of calmness and sternness that makes her seem as if she’s sleeping through her performance, but that’s the whole point of her character. This con isn’t her first, nor is it her last. She’s not going to have those rookie jitters; she’s a veteran and one of the best at what she does. Cate Blanchett shares remarkable chemistry with that facade of her character, continually dispensing her charisma all over the screen in a way that makes her feel like she’s giving far more to the role than the role is giving back to her. Rihanna and Awkwafina are the two comic reliefs of the group, something they excel at, and Sarah Paulson and Helena Bonham Carter are given roles that allow them to feel necessary, but never unique. 

Someone who feels completely underused is Mindy Kaling, she’s such a talented actress, and one that deserves some more opportunities because she leaves a lot of her fingerprints on this film, unlike Gary Ross. Not only is his screenplay rather dull in that of the meat of what makes this story tick, but the visual language presented is something of mundane quality as well. He’s continuously showcasing these wide shots of New York City as if we forgot where this film was taking place, and his edits feel more like he’s mimicking Soderbergh, instead of making this franchise his own. 

He plays second fiddle, not to these exceptional women, but to the man that made these films famous. At least the woman look incredible though, thanks to some impeccable costume design from Sarah Edwards who works alongside top designers such as Valentino and Naeem Khan, to name a few. She allows these women to embrace that feminine side of glitz and glamour, something that alongside the constant jabs of feminist pride, can become quite special to watch. 

It’s a long con, pulled off by both the cast and the filmmaker behind them. “Ocean’s 8” is presenting itself as a female-led reboot of a film, one that has no unique attachments, but in all reality, it's just that. It’s a female-led film that has a unique touch because of its womanhood, something that doesn’t get brought to light enough by the “man” behind the camera. If only this film had a director with a woman’s touch, I might not be describing this film as almost great. I guess that might be the great con of it all, a movie about women, with no woman behind the camera, such a shame. 

Upgrade (2018)

   Director: Leigh Whannell  With: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Christopher Kirby, Simon Maiden, Benedict Hardie, Melanie Vallejo, Richard Cawthorne, Clayton Jacobson, Sachin Joab, Michael M. Foster, Linda Cropper, & Roscoe Campbell.  Release: Jun 1, 2018 R. 1 hr. 40 min. 

Director: Leigh Whannell
With: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Christopher Kirby, Simon Maiden, Benedict Hardie, Melanie Vallejo, Richard Cawthorne, Clayton Jacobson, Sachin Joab, Michael M. Foster, Linda Cropper, & Roscoe Campbell. 
Release: Jun 1, 2018
R. 1 hr. 40 min. 

2.5_4 stars.png
 

Indie filmmakers have a particular talent for extending a clever logline to its absolute limit. Leigh Whannell shares that same talent; he takes a familiar and almost bad-shit crazy idea like that of a man being given a chance at revenge by being given a small computer chip implant called STEM (Simon Maiden) to its absolute limit, and then he strides past that barrier. A technological innovation that allows this violently made quadriplegic and technophobe Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) to gain access to his limbs once again, STEM (Simon Maiden) does that for him, as well as becoming a new friend that only he can hear. One that speaks into the drums of his ears and provides a vaster sense of knowledge and ability to himself, but also an inherent danger. 

It’s a “Blade Runner” meets “RoboCop” kind of tale, a man turning to technology to return to life but also to hunt down the men that took that life away from him as well. It takes place in a world that feels apart of that noirish world of “Blade Runner,” almost feeling mimicked even. The grungy technologically advanced future that feels far more disconnected, despite the lack of available connectivity, which is not a nuance theme by any means. Grey (Logan Marshall-Green), is a technophobe with a wife who works for a tech company. He’s a grease monkey that fixes manually driven cars, while she rides in a car that drives itself home. 

After dropping off one of his renovated projects to a wealthy technological innovator, Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), who introduces him to his newest prototype known as STEM (Simon Maiden), this self-driving car goes haywire. Driving off the road and an accelerated speed before crashing and flipping upside down. The droned recording devices for the Police arrive promptly to watch a group of men come and kill Grey’s (Logan Marshall-Green) wife and paralyze him completely. These droned footage finders are unable to assist in finding these murders though, seeing as they removed some kind of chip that allows them to remain escapable from the reach of the law because criminals always find a way, don’t they?

Drenched in grief and unable to overcome his lack of physical ability, Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) finds himself unable to desire to live. Being offered a reset on his life by Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), he states “I’m not looking for the reset button kid, I’m looking for the off switch.” He gives in though, reminiscing on the idea of what his wife would want for him. The procedure goes all-too-well, and he soon finds himself with a technological “Upgrade” that pushes him towards vengeance in a sequence made famous by the trailer in which he gives STEM (Simon Maiden) permission to take over his bodily functions. Making for some exceptional acting from Logan Marshall-Green in which he delivers facial expressions of surprise and third-person perspectives because his body is now a separate entity from his mind. 

It makes for Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde kind of character, but a character that was never brought to light enough to evoke resonance from me. He hates technology and something terrible happened to him is about all we learn about the man controlled by a machine, but the action and surprisingly hefty themes attached to his character’s journey provide that extra boost that the film needed which harkens back to an indie filmmaker stretching an idea as far as possible. 

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell (“Saw” & “Insidious”), “Upgrade” is an expected action flick with no heart and no ambition, but becomes an action film hidden inside of a sci-fi drama discussing the dangers of technology and our desire for self-happiness over human prosperity. Whannell stretches this story way farther than expected, writing something that continuously maintains a constant state of investment in this world, despite his characters never making me fret for their well being. 

There is some insane ingenuity that makes for sheer cinematic momentum like that of a gun for an arm or sneezing razor-wired germs. This is a world that weaponizes the limitless potentials of technology, and one that remains to feel both original and reprinted from fellow sci-fi masters. It’s not just the world-building, or the ingenuitive writing that becomes too big for its own good, Leigh Whannell also visualizes this story exceptionally. 

The camera movement is especially interesting because it's both frustratingly cutting while maintaining childlike excitement. The camera snips and snaps in some fight scenes, but in others, it moves with our hero, like that of something out of a video game or a comic book. It pushes the limits of camera maneuverability while allowing the flaws of the quick cutting of the action genre to remain prevalent. It’s as if Leigh Whannell got lazy on some days, and was caffeine filled excited on others. 

Someone that remains consistent is Logan Marshall-Green, who is the only actor worth mentioning because everyone else plays the stereotypical bad guy or necessary girlfriend. He provides a performance that gives his character far more emotion that it deserves, he delivers one of his best performances yet, but his character noticeably limits his reach at times. 

Unlike that character though, Leigh Whannell surpasses the limits of this fun-filled logline of a screenplay. He goes further and more profound than expected, but that third act finale is a bit too much. He slams on the gas pedal towards something ambiguous and thought-provoking when he should have steadily applied pressure towards the finish line. 

He’s expanding “Upgrade” past my expectations, and he helms it remarkably, but like every other compliment I can give him, there is a fair critique to be stated. Constantly pushing the film too far, and not far enough. He extends it to the point that is sheerly remarkable that it all makes sense that we went from a man on a path of vengeance to a philosophical glimpse on our desire for happiness. Our mind has limits, and this film does too, I just hope Leigh Whannell didn’t pull anything while stretching “Upgrade” to it’s stumping finale.  
 

X-Men (2000)

   Director: Bryan Singer With: Anna Paquin, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, & Halle Berry.  Release: July 14, 2000 PG-13. 1 hr. 44 min. 

Director: Bryan Singer
With: Anna Paquin, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, & Halle Berry. 
Release: July 14, 2000
PG-13. 1 hr. 44 min. 

 

Time affects all things, especially superheroes (well, most of them). The genre has grown beyond not only our margins of expectations, but it's own as well. It’s developed a levitated formula though, and for those who've become tired of the lightheartedness of superheroes, go back and watch Bryan Singer’s “X-men.” A film where the jokes are almost non-existent, but so is the depth for the characters as the origin story is, usually (A la Deadpool, A la Wolverine, not well-known origin stories for either) the most integral tale for a superhero. 

We need to understand their reasons, their growth, their cause for justice or injustice. “X-Men” seems to forget the significance of origin. Despite spending almost half of the film on flushing out the characters, we only learn surface level things about most, if not, all of the characters. 

Luckily, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto/Erik Lyncher (Ian McKellen) are flushed out through long stenches of monologues and superb performances. Erik (Ian McKellen) is the son of Holocaust victims whose unique belief, sparked outrage from Nazis, much like the uniqueness of mutants sparks outrage from humanity. He seeks to change everyone's mind by mutating them, forcing them to evolve at a rapid pace that is both unhealthy and unlikely. It’s a bit unthought out, but sociopathically it makes sense. He’s a man that came to the simple conclusion that it's hard to be racist towards the same race that your apart of. Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in on the opposing side of the spectrum, attempting to save those caught in the crossfire of his and his oldest friends’ differing ideologies. He thinks that humanity will evolve with time and with undying faith, he manifests a team that stands in front of the tyranny of Magneto (Ian McKellen). 

Beginning with Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), a telepathic and telekinetic being who seems to desire a continuing of her training, I think, it's kind of only hinted at in one or two scenes. Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman) is enjoyable to watch as a younger man, and he is the most charismatic and intriguing member of the ensemble, but he’s never given time. We primarily follow him as a man looking for answers and purpose, but he’s only given one or two scenes to extenuate upon that desire for intent. Cyclops/Scott Summers (James Marsden) and Storm/Ororo Munroe (Halle Berry) are primarily crafted by their powers, so guy with laser beam eyes or inter-dimensional, ruby colored, concussive force beams which are the technical terms, (Nerdy, I know) and a girl with weather controlling powers.

The character that embarks us in discovering all of these characters though is Rogue (Anna Paquin), a young teenage girl whose mutation becomes a curse more than a blessing. With the ability to absorb another’s mutation, memories, and personality,  she can drain the another of all their powers through physical contact, which can become more of a defense mechanism than an offensive one. For example, she stumbles into Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) room when he’s having a nightmare. Out of rage, he awakes and extracts his claws in a fury, stabbing Rogue (Anna Paquin) in the chest. In a flight or fight response, Rogue (Anna Paquin) slowly places her hand on Wolverines’s (Hugh Jackman) cheek and absorbs his healing ability to restore the punctured holes in her body. 

It’s scenes like this and the continuously unfinished themes that bring “X-Men” to a jolting stop on more than one occasion. The story has fascinating, building block, topics involving marginalization, grief, depression, and unity. Each one of these themes is introduced wonderfully but never built upon. They are pyramid designed themes with only the bottom block attached, being used as a finished project. I appreciate the ideas and their meaning, and their use in a superhero genre film, but I can’t help but become bored from the lack of depth given to each of these emotionally investing themes. They are dripping with potential, that the X-Men cinematic universe explores later on, but this was the time to do it. Start strong, not soft. 

Bryan Singer strongly delivers though, providing a remarkably created, visually evocative world that feels almost tactile. Unlike comic book films before it (Batman (1989), is excellent but feels and looks fake, same goes for “Superman”), “X-Men” has a great deal of atmospheric realism attached to its story, primarily because of Singer’s direction. The visual effects have aged, but that look far better than they should due to Singer underutilization of them. The practicality stands out magnificently, like a window to an older and wiser soul. The action, what little there is, is produced efficiently and when it does finally arrive, it’s well worth it. I needed more action in this superhero movie though, “Logan” is dark and dour, but it blends it's characters and story together with action and great comic book filmmaking, as does “The Dark Knight.” 

Sadly, “X-Men” did not have these films to learn from, but setting blazing a path for greater films was the best gift “X-Men” could have given us, a path that eventually led to “Deadpool.” (I heart that) The direction is fantastic, and the visual imagery is tactile-like, but the characters and story are mere facades for deep emotionality that is trapped by its own ambitions. I respect “X-Men” more than I love it, but the story’s maturity, well performed characters (whenever they are well-depicted), and necessary questions pushed the genre farther into today’s prime time of success. I enjoy watching the film, but I can’t say that I am ever invested in it. I love seeing a mature comic book story (“Dark Knight Returns,” “Old-Man Logan,” “The Killing Joke,” “Infinity,” or any “Thanos” comic almost), but they only work if you provide time and depth to your characters so that they can become something for us to invest in. After rewatching “X-Men,” the only thing I’m invested in, is the idea of watching and reviewing the awesome sequel.