Frank Sinatra and his alpha-male Rat Pack cohorts would be tickled, or possibly aghast, to see what their 1960 crime caper Ocean’s Eleven started.
First, there was the well-received 2001 remake with George Clooney in the Sinatra role as wise-cracking heist mastermind Danny Ocean, followed by a pair of shakier sequels.
And now there’s an all-female gang doing the crime-capering, with Sandra Bullock (playing Danny’s sister, Debbie), Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter and popstar Rihanna all in lively form.
Another knee in the crotch on behalf of those screaming gender inequality in Hollywood, or just a contrivance to squeeze even more dollars out of a franchise that was becoming tired? I’ll let you decide.
Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock and Rihanna get a thumbs up starring in Ocean’s 8
Either way, the good news is that this is the best of the Ocean-going films since 2001.
But first, some caveats. Unlike the fabulous diamond necklace at the heart of the story, the film is not without flaws.
The character development could be better (ie, there could be some) and James Corden, joining the action late, is miscast as an astute insurance investigator.
He’s a talented fellow and all that, but I don’t think he’s quite the actor he and everyone else seems to think he is.
Somehow, playing a facetious clever-clogs, as he does here, he’s more of an irritant to the audience than he is to the characters, which isn’t the idea at all.
At any rate, Oscar Isaac, a very classy actor indeed, played a similar part in last year’s Suburbicon (directed by Clooney, coincidentally) and effortlessly stole all his scenes. Corden, just as effortlessly, rather botches his.
Those are the negatives. But looking beyond them, Ocean’s 8 is great fun, a giggly, escapist joyride of a picture slickly marshalled by The Hunger Games director Gary Ross, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Olivia Milch.
Incidentally, she is the daughter of David Milch, the hotshot TV producer who created hits such as NYPD Blue and Deadwood. And Ross’s father was Arthur A. Ross, the screenwriter behind Creature From The Black Lagoon.
Hollywood family trees teem with inter-marriage and myriad connections just like those of European royalty, which aptly enough brings us to the plot, because European royalty is the theme of the Met Gala, annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and highlight of the year for all New York City socialites, which Debbie and her gang are targeting.
The film begins with her getting out of jail after serving five years for fraud, and diving straight back into a life of shoplifting and petty scams.
But she has something bigger in mind. Danny is dead and she needs to live up to the family’s reputation for grand larceny.
So she hooks up again with her old accomplice Lou (Blanchett), a leather-jacketed rock chick.
The script hints coyly at a past lesbian love affair between the pair, but personal lives play second fiddle, maybe even third fiddle, to the intricacies of Debbie’s scheme to get rich.
Her former boyfriend, an oily English art dealer played by Richard Armitage, who helped to send her to prison and with whom Debbie has vowed to get even, is more a device than a character.
The all-girl group of swindlers are trying to steal expensive jewellery from stars at the Met Gala like Anne Hathaway
Lou runs a nightclub these days, and watering down the vodka is the height of her dishonesty. She quickly buys into Debbie’s ingenious plan to steal the famous $150 million ‘Toussaint’ necklace, which is kept deep in the vaults of the jewellers, Cartier.
Naturally, to pull off the heist, they need assorted criminal talents, but they also need a stooge. Hathaway plays spoilt, self-absorbed actress Daphne Kluger (sending up all spoilt, self-absorbed actresses beautifully), who is identified as little more than a mannequin.
At the insistence of the eccentric Irish fashion designer dressing her (Bonham Carter, deliciously over the top, recalling the excesses of her fairy godmother in 2015’s Cinderella), Daphne will wear the necklace to the gala.
With some brilliant jiggery-pokery, Debbie and her team must then pinch it from under the noses of a formidable security detail.
That’s the plan, which also relies on the expertise of a computer hacker (Rihanna), a pickpocket (Awkwafina), a fence (Sarah Paulson) and a jewellery-cutter (Mindy Kaling), making the titular Ocean’s 8.
Additionally, the film throws us a few 24-carat celebrity cameos (Anna Wintour, Serena Williams), which is another reason not to take it the slightest bit seriously. If you go along with that, an hour and 50 minutes will pass very enjoyably indeed.
Hereditary: Chilling but overwrought
Hereditary, by contrast, is being taken extremely seriously, with some giving Ari Aster’s debut feature equal status to The Exorcist in the pantheon of great horror films.
I was reminded more of the World Cup, which is now under way in Russia, meaning that we must brace ourselves for a month of football cliches.
Here, aptly, is a film of two halves. For an hour, Hereditary unfolds compellingly, chillingly, as a genuinely harrowing study of bereavement, grief, guilt and recrimination.
But then, suddenly, it lurches into something else altogether, a tale of the supernatural which gets more and more overwrought, stopping it ever being truly scary.
Still, Toni Collette is fantastic throughout as Annie Graham, a mother of two whose job is crafting scenes of everyday life in miniature.
Toni Collette is understandably horrified by a burning man on Herditary
Clearly, this is significant. The implication from the outset is that just as Annie manipulates her mini-people in their dolls’ houses, so she, her decent husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and their children, dope-smoking Peter (Alex Wolff) and social misfit Charlie (Milly Shapiro), are themselves being manipulated by a greater, malevolent power.
At the start, her mother has died and Annie must cope with some ambivalent feelings, because they were estranged for many years and, even when they were reconciled, never really got on.
Her mother was a cold, distant woman. But Annie has plenty of love in her, and there is no such ambivalence about a later, infinitely more shocking death in the family.
Annie finds what comfort she can in collective grief-counselling sessions, through which she meets another bereaved woman, Joan (Ann Dowd), who evidently can offer her the help she so desperately needs.
This is about the point at which the film changes in tone and character. Many will disagree, but I wish it had teetered on the edge of creepiness, instead of taking the plunge into full-on horror.
Nonetheless, writer-director Aster, who somewhat alarmingly is said to have been inspired by his own family experiences to make this film, announces himself as a serious talent.
Rupert’s still wild about Oscar, even as a down-and-out
Rupert Everett wrote and directed this film about the squalid final years in the life of Oscar Wilde, between the disgrace of his 1895 conviction for gross indecency and his death, aged 46, in 1900.
He takes the lead role, too. For Everett, the importance of being Oscar should not be under-estimated. He has also played him on stage, and has featured in several screen adaptations of Wilde’s plays.
Plainly, this is a passion project — and happily Everett (making his directorial debut) does his celebrated subject full justice, presenting him compellingly not as a caricature, dispensing rapier one-liners all over the place, but as a sad, complex, brilliant, tragic, flawed man.
Rupert Everett wrote, directed and starred in a film about the squalid final years in the life of Oscar Wilde, between the disgrace of his 1895 conviction for gross indecency and his death, aged 46, in 1900
It is a shock to see him, as it doubtless was to see Wilde once prison had reduced him. He is overweight, jowly, a shambling, self-pitying shadow of his former self, yet still capable of holding an audience spellbound with his wit and charisma.
Sweetly, in his Parisian exile, he treats an urchin and his older brother to a rendition in French of his fairy tale, The Happy Prince. Wisely, Everett only hints that this might be in exchange for certain services rendered.
The film chronicles Wilde’s faltering relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (Colin Morgan), his beloved ‘Bosie’, whose father, the vindictive Marquess of Queensberry, had activated his downfall.
But Bosie is himself shown as shallow, selfish, feckless. Far more loyal are his friends Reggie Turner (Colin Firth) and in particular Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), although Wilde is far too self-absorbed to value their devotion.
There are some memorable scenes, including one in a Parisian absinthe bar where Wilde drunkenly entertains the regulars in a desperate echo of the days when he held Victorian society in his thrall.
Occasional flashbacks whisk us back to those heady times, but Everett does not overdo them. He is far more concerned with Wilde’s decline, and with his persecution.
Another striking scene follows what might now be called a homophobic pursuit through the streets of Dieppe after a band of young Englishmen on holiday have recognised him.
A terrific supporting cast also includes Emily Watson (as Wilde’s long-suffering wife Constance), Tom Wilkinson and Beatrice Dalle. But, really, this is a one-man show.
Super Troopers 2: Unwanted sequel’s not much cop
No sooner has all of Canada bridled at Donald Trump’s latest barrage of insults than there arrives this bumbling comedy about a border dispute between the two countries.
This ignites lots of mutual abuse as our hapless band of Vermont highway troopers try to extend U.S. jurisdiction over a town filled with resentful Canadians.
So the best that can be said about this little-awaited sequel to a widely-forgotten 2001 film is that it’s distinctly timely.
Brian Viner pans Super Troopers 2 as an unwanted sequel that though timely, is feeble
Otherwise, it is a pretty idiotic, boorish affair, with loads — and I really do mean loads — of feeble phallus gags.
Rob Lowe has fun hamming a Canadian accent as the town’s mayor, and Britain’s own Brian Cox looks craggily long-suffering as the troopers’ chief, but really the film is not worthy of either of them.
Mind you, not everyone in the audience was as unamused as I was; a young woman along the row from me hooted more or less from beginning to end.
So you just never know.