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?

WHAT IMPRESSED ME THIS WEEK (Bobby Fuller on the Sunset Strip and John Ford at the OK Corral)

The Bobby Fuller Four–Celebrity Night at PJ’s (Recorded–1965, Initial Release Cancelled–1966, Officially Released–1997)

(Listening close for the first time in years. My original copy, included in the awe-inspiring 1997 box set The Bobby Fuller Four: Never To Be Forgotten, got away in the great CD sell-off of 2002 and was recently reacquired when the collector’s price that soared into the stratosphere during my period of indigence finally dropped back to earth. So….)

This is possibly the strangest recording ever made.

PJ’s was a Sunset Strip night club that had begun as a cool jazz venue in the early sixties and, as the decade progressed, transformed itself (at least part of the time) into a swingin’ dance club where the younger Hollywood set could go to Twist and Watusi (the sleeve for the album has photos of Fuller posed with Sally Field and Ann-Margret, not Twisting or Watusi-ing alas, but merely smiling professional smiles).

Bobby Fuller’s band had made their way to Los Angeles in the mid-sixties after slogging it out for years on the era’s West Texas equivalent of an indie circuit.

By dint of having become perhaps the best straight ahead rock and roll band in America (and it was an extremely competitive time!), they had fought their way to the top of the L.A. pack, releasing several singles that caught on in the local market and one (“Let Her Dance”) that nearly broke nationally, plus becoming a sort of quasi-house band at PJ’s itself, by then a top-of-the-line gig (the actual house band at the time was the Standells of “Dirty Water” fame, no mean straight ahead rock and roll outfit in their own right).

A month or two after the Bobby Fuller Four recorded this show, they would break all the way, when “I Fought the Law” reached the national Top Ten.

Six months after that, Fuller was found dead in his car.

The coroner checked “accident” and “suicide” on the cause-of-death form and put question marks next to both.

Perhaps not surprisingly, dozens of murder conspiracy rumors have circulated in the decades since, involving everyone from Frank Sinatra to Charles Manson to Elvis (who had Bobby snuffed in a dispute over a car, don’t you know–proving yet again that people didn’t start saying stupid stuff about Elvis just yesterday even if it seems like a lot of them were born then!…it’s all nicely chronicled in this set’s truly outstanding liner notes.)

There was no way for Fuller and his band to know fame and death were waiting in such short order when they played “Celebrity Night” on the Sunset Strip in December of 1965.

But they certainly sound like a band who could feel the world both opening up and closing down.

Hence the album’s mysterious and utterly unique pattern, which, with a single brief break for a ballad early on, plays out something like this for well over an hour:

The band storms through a ferocious piece of hard rock (beginning with the not-yet-a-hit “I Fought the Law,”) played exactly as though they were still trying to fight their way out of the gut-bucket beer-and-blood circuit back home, the kind of places where people are there to drink and dance and don’t much care who is providing the background noise.

Then they are met with a tepid round of Vegas-lounge style applause from a crowd who are clearly there to see and be seen and, well, don’t much care who is providing the background noise.

After the “applause” dies down, Bobby then says some version of “thank you very much ladies and gentleman,” sometimes with a little plug for the great life at PJ’s thrown in.

Then the band takes a deep, collective breath and plunges in again, harder and louder and faster than before.

Along the way, a curious kind of tension develops. The band seems to keep betting themselves that this time–THIS TIME!–they will pull it off. They will finally play loud enough, fast enough, tight enough, that the crowd will have to respond.

And each time the crowd does not.

So the band goes another round–cranks it up another notch.

And the crowd does not respond.

So the band goes another round–cranks it up another notch.

And the crowd does not respond.

So the band goes another round–cranks it up another notch.

And the crowd does not respond….

Ever.

Not even once.

And the band does not stop pushing.

Not even once.

All the way to the end, where the evening is concluded with a thunderous medley of “Money/Shakedown” and is met by a crowd…that does not respond.

The planned live album was cancelled.

The reasons why have never been any clearer than the cause of Fuller’s death.

What is clear is that, on a night in December in 1965, the Bobby Fuller Four had every reason to believe they were as good as anybody on a planet that, just for starters, held the Beatles and the Stones and the Who and the Rascals and (just down the street) the Byrds, and no reason at all to suspect that the Oscar bait in the seats could tell them from the Rat Pack.

Bobby, wherever you are, I just want you to know….I’m leaning suicide.

The Bobby Fuller Four “Let Her Dance/Another Sad and Lonely Night” (Shivaree, before a somewhat more receptive audience)

The Bobby Fuller Four “Miserlou” (Live recording…However, NOT done at PJ’s, so who knows if it would have made the difference!)

My Darling Clementine, John Ford directing, Henry Fonda and Victor Mature starring, 1946.

I’ve seen the film many times. I was, however, newly impressed by the gunfight sequence.

Wisely, the sequence, like the rest of the film–also wisely–has little to do with any of the rather mundane and highly insignificant historical events that actually took place in Tombstone in the early 1880’s (though Ford may or may not have been duped, by Wyatt Earp himself, into thinking his portrayal of the gunfight, at least, was accurate).

But it does, oh-by-the-way, (the sequence, not the film, which contains multitudes) invent the essence of Sergio Leone in much the same way that the climactic sequences of Ford’s last two Will Rogers movies had once invented the essence of Preston Sturges.

Off-handedly as it were and without fanfare.

Just another reminder that, in art, there is the thing and there is the shadow of the thing.

Say what you will about him, Ford was always the thing.

Here’s the sequence:

Gunfight scenes from My Darling Clementine