For a review of “Oceans 8,” see Page 3
Some movies are more about parallel play than actu- al playground interaction, and despite a screenful of terrifically skillful talents, “Ocean’s 8” never quite gets its ensemble act together. It’s smooth, and far from inept. But it isn’t much fun. That’s all you want from a certain kind of heist picture, isn’t it? Fun?
Sandra Bullock takes the linchpin role of Debbie Ocean, sister of Danny, played by George Clooney in the three “Ocean’s” movies of widely varying quality directed by Steven Soderbergh. Bullock seems deadset on not just deadpanning her way through this reboot, but going beyond deadpan to uncharted regions of sphinxlike minimalism. That style and tone often works with caper films, where the characters’ poker-face nerve is typically outclassed only by the clothes.
This surely was the case when Clooney, Brad Pitt and company swanned through Soderbergh’s larks. The first of that trilogy, released in late 2001, clicked with post9/11 audiences happy to slip into a comfortable retro groove. Soderbergh updated the 1960 “Ocean’s 11” (pretty arthritic, but with great opening- and closing-credit sequences) starring the emblems of old Vegas: Sinatra, Dino, Sammy, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, plus all that glorious neon and electric signage. Those were the days. When men were men and women, pure decoration, barely spoke.
In “Ocean’s 8,” at least, they speak. Released from prison after being set up by her equally devious art-dealer lover (Richard Armitage), Debbie reunites with her partner in crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett), for a score somewhat larger than their bingo money scams of old. The quarry: a Cartier diamond necklace worth $150 million, or roughly twice the production budget of “Ocean’s 8.”
The jewels, on loan but closely guarded, dominate a swank wardrobe designed by has-been clothier (Helena Bonham Carter), who’s in on the scheme, for an imperious movie star (Anne Hathaway) attending the annual Metropolitan Museum of Art fundraising gala in New York City. A jeweler (Mindy Kaling), a pickpocket (Awkwafina), a fence of stolen goods (Sarah Paulson) and the inevitable, all-important computer hacker (Rihanna) complete the circle. Their tools include surveillance gadgets (eyeglasses equipped with video) and impersonations (Bullock, too briefly, pretends to be a huffy German guest of the Met Gala). James Corden pops in as an insurance investigator, on the hunt for whoever stole the necklace and replaced it with a knockoff version.
That’s an apt description for the movie itself. With cowriter and director Gary Ross’ script, written with Olivia Milch, you keep waiting for the banter and the interplay to take off, and take you with it. Bullock, to Rihanna: “What’s your name?”
“Nine Ball,” she says. “What’s your real name?” “Eight Ball,” comes the reply, which sounds like a joke and times like a joke but isn’t really much of a joke. Refreshingly, “Ocean’s 8” doesn’t resort to the customary pointless brutality found in so much contemporary escapism. Now and then there are glimmers of panache, as when Kaling perfectly judges a one-word rejoinder, or when Rihanna enters the gala looking like $150 million herself.
The movie feels tame, and virtually sexless, which could be said of the Soderbergh “Ocean’s” movies, I suppose, one of which I really liked (the first one), one of which I hated (the third one), and the middle one, eh. I wish “Ocean’s 8” were livelier; I like movies that set an elegant, amusing trap with some flair. Also, I really don’t want to hear one word from a single idiot male moviegoer who KNEW a female-driven variation on “Ocean’s 11” was DESTINED to UTTER FAILURE.
Then again: “Ocean’s 8” isn’t likely to provoke the same hostile pushback that met the recent and not-very-good “Ghostbusters” reboot. The “Ocean’s” movies are aiming at an older, less fanboy-obsessive audience. What Ross’ film reminds us, more than anything, is that movies operate on baseball percentages at best. And everything has a chance to go a little wrong, long before the cast arrives on set, ready to play.
“Ocean’s 8,” a Warners Bros. release, is rated PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content. Running time: 110 minutes.
Every so often, a directorial debut comes along that just so happens to be an instant classic. Such is the case with writer/director Ari Aster’s family horror film “Hereditary,” a sensation at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and one of the most bone-chillingly terrifying films to come along in quite some time — a masterpiece of film form and storytelling.
Starring the legendary Toni Collette, “Hereditary” is a horror film that harkens back to ’70s classics like “Rosemary’s Baby” in its slow burn, dread-filled narrative style. Aster parcels out the terror sparingly at first but uses camera movement, editing and sound design to create an atmosphere of such intense tension and dread that the smallest sounds and briefest of images startle and shock. You’re in such a tense state that by the time the truly horrifying stuff gets going, you don’t even know how to react.
“Hereditary” is most satisfying when you know as little as possible about the plot going in. Collette plays Annie, the matriarch of a family dealing with the repercussions that reverberate throughout their home after the death of her mother. After a difficult relationship and years of estrangement, Annie isn’t quite sure how she feels about her mother’s death, and so she focuses on her work as an artist, creating miniature tableaus, as well as her children — most importantly, her 13-year-old daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), an odd duck with a close connection to her grandmother.
In her eulogy, Annie describes her mother as a secretive person, with “secret rituals.” And as she reckons with her passing, Aster slowly begins to peel back the layers on the family secrets. Odd occurrences start to pop up: Apparitions and tricks of the light and strange sounds. But what does it mean? Is it just the process of grief, or is something supernatural happening? The beginnings are simple, quotidian, and as a viewer you don’t know whether to trust the characters or to even trust ourselves in what we see and hear.
Part of that is the masterful filmmaking by Aster. He manages to imbue scenes that would be rather mundane on paper with a breathless tension, simply through camerawork and a sound design and score by Colin Stetson that clucks, ticks and tap dances. Aster builds an almost unbearable sense of suspense throughout ostensibly straightforward scenes that are incredibly nervewracking, thanks to the filmmaking choices, and especially the performances.
And oh, the performances. It’s no surprise Collette is unbelievable as Annie, a woman who goes from a place of numb survival to manic hysteria, sometimes from moment to moment. Where other actresses would play a single note, Collette plays a symphony of emotions. She will nearly bring you to tears and then make you laugh before you know it. Academy Awards don’t even feel like enough of a plaudit for this kind of performance. Stepping right up there with her is Alex Wolff, who plays her teenage son, Peter. Wolff has put in the work, with 20 film credits from blockbusters to indies under his belt by age 21, but this feels like a true breakthrough role for him, as he goes toe-to-toe with Collette and just about walks away with the film.
“Hereditary” is about our legacies, the things we inherit — what we can’t choose or give away, or even escape. The idea of that can be chilling, and “Hereditary” pushes that concept right to the edge, and then all the way over it. It’s a stunning debut from Aster, the kind that is going to stand the test of time.
“Hereditary,” an A24 release, is rated R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity. Running time: 126 minutes.
Toni Collette, left, and Ann Dowd star in “Hereditary.”