OCEAN’S EIGHT (At the Multiplex: August, 2018)

Ocean’s 8 (Eight) (2018)
D: Gary Ross

Ocean’s 8 (Eight in some of the advertising) is a feminine twist on the Ocean‘s series Steven Soderberg put out a decade or so back, which itself was an updating of a Rat Pack movie from the early sixties. I’ve enjoyed each entry in the series–and felt no compulsion to revisit any of them (though I could see myself watching Sinatra and company again).

This one is just out of the multiplex, but I caught it second run at the college and it fit in with what I  remember about the rest. The plot is improbable, the characterizations shallow, the mood fast and light, the execution not everything it could be, but good enough to get by if you aren’t hung up on the rest of what’s not quite everything it could be. If you don’t have a stick up your rear going in, Ocean’s 8 won’t give you one.

One improvement is that, except for Sandra Bullock, none of the eight we’re expected to identify with have much star power (I include Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway, who, as here, often shine best when the spotlight isn’t on them). The others don’t have much baggage and it lends them a kind of authentic anonymity that suits their parts well.  Our Sandy is still reliable box office and everybody else’s bottomless capacity for blending in with the scenery is an asset in a story that has them disguised as waitresses and cooks and security personnel (or, in Hathaway’s case, a movie star who knows her stardom is on a short leash–hence the need for some serious cash!), on the day of the big heist.

It all comes off pretty well–the heist and the film. The student crowd I saw it with was entertained and so was I.

There is talk of a sequel and perhaps a new series–though where it would go is anybody’s guess. There was a chance to set a new, firmer footing here (the Soderberg series definitely played out to diminishing returns–that much I do remember). Early on, Bullock’s Debbie Ocean, just out of jail, meets with Blanchett’s “Lou” to sell her on the idea she cooked up on the long, lonely days inside. When Lou asks her why she needs to do this, Debbie’s answer–Because it’s what I’m good at–seems to put her in line with Warren Beatty’s character in 1966’s Kaleidoscope (which I watch endlessly). His answer to the same question was Once I had the idea, it was irresistible. Which in turn was not too far out of line with the famous response from the old real life bank robber on why he robbed banks. Because that’s where the money is.

Too bad Ocean’s 8 tries to develop a conscience and give Debbie Ocean a motive that could be mistaken for an excuse–and that, when it comes, it’s something as lame as revenge on an old boy friend. I’ll let you see the movie to find out just how that plays out and whether it works for you. Me, I would rather have any version of Because I can and because that’s where the money is handed to me straight, no moralizing chaser.

If he did you that dirty, shoot him in the head and disappear into the night (like you’ll have to do anyway–I mean the head shot and the disappearing act–if the slightest little thing in your hellishly complicated plot to steal a diamond necklace goes wrong).

If you are going to play at amorality in a first act (which is the working hypothesis for every movie that threatens to make money these days), you might as well go all the way.and leave redemption for the third act, if not out of it altogether.

And whoever is in charge of making the sequels should also get on with it.

Even Our Sandy can’t retain her girlish charm forever. And, when it comes to star power or cultural weight–and, sans special effects, conveying the panache required for an audience to suspend disbelief long enough to keep us from asking why anybody would follow her anywhere–no woman working in movies these days can carry her coat.

She’ll be fine. Her Harper Lee in Infamous (which wasted Catherine Keener’s strong take in Capote) has already proved she can slide into character parts any time she wants.

But where, in a world defined by diminishing results, will that leave us?

FAVORITE FILMS….FOR EACH YEAR OF MY LIFE…BY DECADE…CUE THE OUGHTS

As I feared, slim pickings (which get worse in the teens). These fillms are fine, but except for 2001 and 2006, none of these would have been real contenders eve in the nineties, which was much weaker than the three decades preceding.

I don’t think this Decline of Civilization thing is all in my head. If I ever start to doubt myself, I’ll just go back and read the long lists of titles of the films released since 2000. It’s not conducive to any pretty pictures, either on-screen or in my head.

But I’m soldiering on as there are still some worthwhile films and we must do what we must do…Civilization won’t be resuscitated by failing to finish what we start!

2000 Nurse Betty (Neil LaBute) (over Proof of Life…speaking of fallen civilizations, don’t watch this movie unless you’re prepared to witness a completely gratuitous and hyper-realistic scalping scene…the compensation is stellar work from Renee Zellweger and Morgan Freeman plus Chris Rock justifying his fame)

2001 Me Without You (Sandra Goldbacher) (nothing close…and no shame on the year, which can’t be said for some other years in this decade)

2002 Ripley’s Game (Liliana Cavani) (over The Good Girl…not quite as good as The Talented Mr. Ripley from the previous decade, but further proof that Miss Highsmith’s terrifying age as arrived and a career defining role for John Malkovich even if he’s about as far from the Ripley Highsmith imagined as it’s possible to get without bringing spacemen into it.)

2003 Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton) (fun movie, but you know things are going south when something like this stands alone)

2004 The Incredibles (Brad Bird) (and ditto)

2005 Walk the Line (James Mangold) (over Proof…and I’ll say this much, it’s been an excellent century for musical biopics and small blonde actresses)

2006 Infamous (Douglas McGrath) (over The Break-Up…an unlikely step up from the previous year’s more celebrated and excellent-in-its-own-right Capote…with Toby Jones narrowly besting Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Truman Capote and Sandra Bullock, earning the Oscar they later gave for some hokey nonsense or other, ever-so-quietly laying Catherine Keener’s Harper Lee in the shade)

2007 The Brave One (Neil Jordan) (over Zodiac and Michael Clayton, which isn’t saying much)

2008 Appaloosa (Ed Harris) (over Iron Man and The Dark Knight, which might be saying even less…good western which, in the fifties, would have been one of a thousand)

2009  My One and Only (Richard Loncraine) (fun road trip movie, loosely based on George Hamilton’s childhood, with a rare turn by Renee Zellweger–who also lit up Appaloosa–as a style of southern belle who has rarely been portrayed as accurately or sensitively….over The Hurt Locker and Up…if Up had been released as a short, consisting of its first fifteen minutes, it would have quadrupled the national suicide rate and been the film of the new millennium…which still wouldn’t have deserved it)