Caffeinated review: Ocean’s 8

I have seen a new movie! -impressive drumroll sound fx- And it was a good movie, so let me share a few words about it, eh?

The movie: Ocean’s 8

A few words:

Well, Danny Ocean isn’t actually in it. But it is an Oceans movie. Pardon me a potential spoiler, but… Danny Ocean was dead to begin with. It says so right at the beginning and then again on the marble his sister and Ruben visit at the cemetery. And Ruben passes along a very clear message from her dearly-departed brother that Debbie Ocean should not do the fool-proof heist she has been planning for 5 years. So make of that what you will, but the baton was certainly passed on to the Ocean sister. (My money’s on the theory that there will be another Oceans movie and that was the setup.)

Armed with the non-blessing of family, Debbie sets out to do the heist she’s been planning for 5 years. She pulls together her team of 7 questionable experts, all of them female because “a man will be noticed” and the job they’re attempting requires invisibility. (That’s actually a conversation they have.) Some of them have worked together before, some are scouted, some are novices so green they give up the gig. It is not a professional team but it is pulled together by professionals with a foolproof plan, so of course it will work. It’s an Oceans movie.

Oh, and no matter what you have heard, they are not robbing the Met Gala, they are only robbing one person *attending* it. So it only needs a few people. They can fence the $150million dollar necklace and make off with their cuts, no one the wiser. Easy peasy…

If you know the Oceans movies, you know they go big and then they go home. This movie went a different kind of big entirely. The big deal in this one was the slight of hand throughout, and they show you the pass offs and the cons and the surprises along the way. They show the plans coming together and they show the places where it gets weak and gets shored up. No tunnel diggers are necessary for this scheme. It is all on the ladies, each of them doing their job flawlessly and anticipating problems. It’s all about the characters of this team and this movie does not let you forget that you are watching a bunch of women kick ass and take names in the criminal world without a single drop of blood.

On that note, this movie is a kind of accidentally big feminist movie. The conversation about women-are-invisible kind of puts it right on the nose. Otherwise, the references are more subtle. Characters put on lifestyle facades that make them the good-girl (or the bad-girl) stereotype, show their hustle and their lives, and then throughout the movie, you see exactly what a con job it was. Cate Blanchett is a human chameleon just as an actress in general, and Anne Hathaway redeemed an absolutely obnoxious character. I have never seen Helena Bonham Carter play a quiet-spoken, nerve-wracked, has-been, and didn’t think she was capable of it, but she was a joy to watch. Mindy Kaling was perfect, and I didn’t know Rihanna could act, tbh. The ladies played full characters off and showed that women work the system and know how to game it, too. Ocean’s 8 working title could have easily been The Secret Life Of Women and not been a lie. It was amusing to see.

That being said, this is an Ocean’s movie that Danny Ocean could not have pulled off. It felt like they had an idea for the story but couldn’t find the character-mix to fill it. So they made it a new movie with a heavy tie-in at the ready, thus continuing the series until the next green light comes along. That’s why it’s an accidental feminist piece, just an afterthought, a bit of a bonus.

Does it pass the bechdel test? Well, yes and then again, maybe not. The one weak spot in the movie involves the long-con, and it doesn’t present itself until the last act when we get James Corden and Richard Armitage’s characters brought in.

Up until that point, all the ladies are signed up to pull this gig for purely financial reasons. It’s part of the daily grind, it’s money, everybody’s gotta eat, and gee, wouldn’t it be nice to eat off a bank account with $16mill in it? But the script itself gets dicey when it tries to break off of that plain and believable motivation and weave the boys back into things. It felt forced and shoehorned and was the least genuine aspect of the script, leaving a few glaring questions unanswered all for the sake of making the story ultimately about all the boys.

Saying more would be unfair spoiling, but not mentioning it would be unfair to me, because I sat in the theater watching that hook play out and just kinda feeling let down a bit. If ever I have had a “Bitch, don’t you do it!” meme moment, it was at that one segment of exposition in the last act that dealt a huge blow to the otherwise Girl Power!!! theme of the movie. It’s like an afterthought they had to toss in to stroke the egos of the movie execs. So when you see it, I’m suggesting everyone ignore it, pretend it never happened, it wasn’t necessary to the story anyway.

But the girls did rally and they kick all ass. It is an Oceans movie, after all. It ended exactly where it promised it would. It’s a fun movie, with a great cast, and an enjoyable adventure into the criminal world of Cartier and the Met Gala.

Review: Solo – A Star Wars Story


At the suggestion of my friends, I have decided to try the whole “movie review” thing. It’s words, it’s movies, I should be able to form a coherent opinion on that, right?

Right.

So, brave reader, press on, if you wish to know my opinion on a movie. Which movie? Fair question!

Solo: A Star Wars Story

The obligatory disclaimer is that I have not submerged myself in the full world of the Star Wars Legends. I am a fan of the movies (minus a few of them…) but I did not once pick up a book (aside from the Shakespeare rendition of the tale) nor watch the animated series that are out there. According to one friend well-versed in the Legends, there were references to the Legends stories in the dialogue and events of this movie, and I will have to take her word for it. All I can comment on is Solo’s standing as its own movie and within the movie-verse I’ve grown up with.

To that end, I think Solo didn’t do so bad at all. It’s was thoroughly beat-up in the opening-weekend earnings race by pretty much every other franchise movie out there so far, and it hasnt fared well at all since, but I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of the movie. (For me, it meant that back when I saw it on a holiday weekend, I didn’t have to contend with a huge crowd or fight for parking, so YAY!)

I know the production had its ups and downs, and I’d forgotten Ron Howard was attached until I saw his name scroll by at the end. Whatever he was given to work with by the time he came on board, I think he got it all strung together seamlessly, as was his job. The script met its markers, and didn’t leave any glaring loose ends from what was promised in the beginning. The heart of the story is still boy-meets-girl, and after all the adventure and the battles and the Kessel run (12 parsecs, rounded down.) they managed to return to that thread in a very Han Solo way without forgetting the aloof nerfherder the rambunctious young scrapper grows up to be.

Since way back when I first learned about the movie, I was never in love with the casting of the lead, but I think what “Han Solo” character the actor lacked, (any utterance of “baby!” stands out as archaic here, for instance.) the script did the job in making up for. By the end, yes, I think they found a good match. This movie’s Han has a bit more energy and determination than Harrison Ford’s original incarnation, which adds to the world-wary charm by the time Han runs into Luke years later. The smuggler has seen some things by then, calmed down, learned better to pick his battles. There’s a believable progression there that adds depth to the character. I also think it respectfully sets to rest the whole “Han shot first” debate with a bit of fun.

The movie seemed to want to tie up a few origin-variances between the old Lucas-Star Wars and the new Disney-Star Wars. Watching Han and Chewie sort out their early differences was a highlight of the flick for me, and Han making all of his still-bold, early mistakes navigating a big universe was, as I said, a complement to the full growth of the character I think. The other characters that he learned from definitely left a mark on him, but none of them felt reverse-engineered or static at all. (And I think, if I’m honest, this is the best acting I have ever seen from Woody Harrelson.) As with the characters from the other movies, such as with Rogue One’s awesome crew, the good guys and bad guys in this one all had their own stories behind them and didn’t feel like they existed just to tell Han’s story. (Also, I kinda loved the implied backstory on why Lando is so attached to the Falcon. So that will be fun to watch for.) ((Also-also, Donald Glover nailed this character.))

This movie did get a little more 80’s style campishness with some of their designs in creatures and costumes and sets, (I promise, you will forget about the dumb Creature From The Claire’s Lagoon by the end of the first act.) but it was only distracting for me a couple of times. Mostly it was a fun exploration of the expansive world they’ve been building. It fits right in. There’s spaceship races and creepy monsters and explosions and an awesome soundtrack. There’s robots and aliens and Stormtroopers who can’t even aim their vehicles. There’s Warwick Davis even, but not an ewok or porg or Jar Jar in sight.

It’s a Star Wars story. I loved it. I wish this movie and Rogue One had been around when I was a kid so I could have seen those pieces in place from the start. If you haven’t yet, and if it’s still out in your area, go see it. You’ll have fun.

Some Thoughts on Storytelling

I found this great article, “What Makes a Really Good Story?” by Ted Albrighton, that looks at storytelling through the lens of commercial use.  You don’t often think about commercials as “stories” because, in theory, you know they’re trying to sell you something, not to entertain you.  Stories come with this connotation that they are how we “waste time” and check out of reality.  We don’t often think of them as valid forms of communication and a tool set to be relied on; if we did, getting an English degree wouldn’t have resulted in my hair-dresser telling me I wasted my money and should have gone for a business degree like she did.  Storytelling is a business, it has a function, people can profit from it if that is their goal in life.  Storytelling has been around as long as mankind; it wouldn’t have survived that long if it didn’t have a purpose. The marketing world is tapping into that.  So, buyer beware, they’re looking to lure you in with stories. And it will work, hook, line and sinker.

The one thing I dislike about this article is the very narrow focus they have on what constitutes a story. A story is anything that gives you something to follow to a conclusion. One of the best examples of this that I’ve ever heard is “I threw the ball. It bounced. You caught it.”  That has a beginning, middle and end.  It evokes engaging images. It has characters. It is the movement of information from one source to another. Nine words made a story. Six words can tell just as effective a story; I’m sure you’ve heard of “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” largely attributed to Hemingway. Did I just sell sports equipment or baby shoes? No. But they were stories. So my caution here is to not get caught up on formulas of what works or what defines a story, because there are an endless variety of ways to craft a story. The only one that’s “the right way to do it” is the one that eventually gives you a product you’re satisfied with.

The article has this really useful infographic that breaks down traditional storytelling in an easy to follow fashion, but with the focus being instead on what will sell.

Image copyright ABC Copywriting.  See the link!
Image copyright ABC Copywriting. See the link!

If you’re in advertising, this is useful.  If you’re looking to be published, this is also really useful! Publishing is sales, because people have to buy the work you publish. So in that sense, the graphic gives you some “insider” perspective on what’s most important and why.  In terms of just a writer, sitting down to put words on the page and get their story drawn out of their brain in the most logical, understandable way, this is still useful because it is relying on the recognized elements of a story. The article goes into more depth on them, but is focused on the marketing perspective to the point of distraction.

Look through it, add your own, come up with your own “writing rules” to live by.  There is no such thing as a “proper” story.  It’s yours, so tell it how you wish!

 

 

Caffeinated Reviews – Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

This weekend, I went on a Percy Jackson binge.  After watching Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, I dragged my friend to see Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.  I didn’t like the writing in the books well enough to read past the first installment, but I do like the movies. The books are “young adult” and written for the average 10 to 14 year old reader, while the movies are enjoyable for the actual “adult” demographic. There were maybe two kids in the theatre I saw it in, (I went to an early Sunday morning showing) and a good fifteen to twenty adults aged 20 through 50.

So what’s it about? When Half-Blood Camp is attacked and endangered, Percy must overcome his own misgivings – and an old enemy – in order to find the mythic Golden Fleece capable of restoring the camp’s protections. There’s adventure, fight scenes, a smattering of drama, and a good wash of humor to keep the movie entertaining. I left the theatre with that confidence that comes from $8 well-spent on a 1.5 hour reality check-out. (I call it the movie-buzz.)

Going a little more in depth at it – without spoiling anything – I give good marks across the board. I liked the continuity it maintained from the first movie. It felt like the same world, even though the actors were all older and the characters were dealing with different problems in their teenaged lives. I thought they showed age-appropriate dialogue and characterization, too; Teenagers sounded like savvy teenagers and showed growth from the first movie.

The weak spots were easily overlooked with an eye roll but they were there. (And here thar be spoilers. ) Tyson was an awkward thread. From his parentage to Anna-Beth’s reaction to him, it felt shoehorned for awkard morale-drama and played out a bit over-done.  Percy was feeling down and out and needed another quest to cheer him up. The quest was enough to work with. But with the addition of Tyson to the quest, they lay on the “it could be worse, you could have been born a freak!” just a little thick. One of the reasons I like this series is the empowerment it brings to kids who didn’t grow up playing football and hanging out with the cool kids, and bringing in a character that looks funny and thinks slow to be mocked and feared by Percy’s crowd – even temporarily – messes with that.  Tyson had to hide who he was to fit in which works against message for the series. Worse, the acting in those scenes just didn’t work as well as the rest of the movie.

The story also still has an odd timeline in regards to locations, relying on a bit of magic-wand waving over issues of transportation, same as in the first movie.  The kids crossed the eastern coastline in good time, but I’m not sure how they managed it.Everything else is detailed and researched, but they couldn’t address how the heroes got around on their quest while working under a deadline? Small details like this distract me from the story!

My only other nit-picky observation is that it was possibly a little heavy on the external monologue – hello Percy Hamlet, nice to meet you – and family drama, but considering it is centered around demigods with daddy-issues that comes with the territory.

The movie made good use of location and CGI combos. Pretty things to look at and weird things to ewww at, both used to drag the viewer into Percy’s world. I particularly liked the sci-fi fandom nods in casting and scripting, but you can go on that scavenger hunt yourself. (And if they weren’t intentional, they left in some very clever ad lib choices.) I also loved the score, and the original music at the end was something I hadn’t seen done in awhile and appreciated for that. I’m not that old, really, but I get pretty nostalgic about movies over the strangest things. Songs written for movies is one of these things apparently.

All in all, I would (and do) recommend this movie if it falls in your genre. Go to have fun and you will more than likely leave with the mission accomplished.

Reviews

It has been decided – by me, of course, because I own this particular digital neighborhood – that I shall wander into the over-heated world of reviews. Book and movie reviews. Why would I do this? What gives me the right to opinionate on someone else’s hard work? I’m not published, after all, I have never accomplished what they have, so why should I begrudge their work?

The answer is simple. I’m a reader. A viewer. The audience.  If it works for me, if I like their work, then I can write a review to share that. If there are parts that don’t work for me, I can politely and thoughtfully explain what those were. Should the writers ever stumble on these web-documented thoughts, hopefully my point of view will be helpful rather than offensive.  Feedback is a writer’s friend and if they have gotten this far in their career that I would be reading their work off the shelves of the local bookstores, they have developed pretty thick skin. In the meantime, it goes toward my own stockpile of “things not to do” when I find those things that don’t benefit my experience of the story.

However. If I’ve bothered to read the book/watch the movie (or both) and think about it enough to write a review, there are very good odds that I don’t have anything scandalous to say about it. It is far more likely that I would be impressed and secretly wishing I could buy the author a cup of coffee and pick their brain for their success secrets. Maybe use the cuppa as a distraction to steal their writing pens.