Review: THE OLD MAN & THE GUN (2018)

It was an immense privilege to see what could be Robert Redford’s final film on the big screen at LIFF 2018. Though I’ve always been more of a Paul Newman kinda gal, films like Barefoot In the Park (1967), Out of Africa (1985) and All the President’s Men (1976) played a huge part in my movie education while growing up. He’s always been someone that’s there, an actor you could always rely on. Redford has maintained an irresistible charm that has seen him through even the most throwaway fare (looking at you The Horse Whisperer (1998)…still love you though xoxo)  

His final project then The Old Man and The Gun (2018) by surprisingly, A Ghost Story (2017)’s  David Lowery, is accessible fare and loosely based on a 2003 long article in The New Yorker on the real life ‘old man’. The film is a off-kilter tale of Forrest Tucker’s insatiable desire to rob banks. But this is no Point Break (1991) mind, the well-dressed Forrest (Redford) simply walks into a small town bank in the 1960s and 70s, befuddles the cashier or bank manager with a tip of his hat, and walks out with a case full of money – like a Redford-style dangerously charming bandit of old.

In its best moments it reminded me of another Redford film, the oft-forgotten The Electric Horseman (1979). Though this time, the political commentary is nearly non-existent in TOMATG (as no one is calling it), it is an easy slice of American apple pie served with a folksy tale of life on the edges of American society, and set in a time when Bonnie and Clyde were still fancifully regarded as home-grown daredevils that couldn’t resist the pull of the open road or each other.

It was a joy to witness Sissy Spacek as Jewel, a largely sidelined but prepossessing as a woman whom Tucker meets as he tries to commandeer her car for a getaway. The frame glowed in Spacek’s presence, and as I had recently re-watched Carrie (1976), it was a hoot to see two actors who occupied to completely different schools of 1970s filmmaking come together on screen. Jewel is left to wonder about the man who flits in and out of her life with little care or honesty, and as romance blossoms, you can’t help but wonder if Forrest is just doing this same routine with every widowed rancher he finds in every town. 

The film doesn’t linger long on Forrest’s criminality, nor his appetite for emotional destruction though, and a cameo from Elisabeth Moss as his long-abandoned daughter is largely wasted. The law enforcement hot on his tale (headed by Lowery regular and drawl connoisseur, Casey Afleck) seem almost mildly in awe of Forrest and his expert crew (Donald Glover and an on-form Tom Waits), dubbed ‘The Over-The-Hill Gang’s’ antics. 

Footage from Redford’s long filmography is adoringly spliced in for a nostalgic montage sequence of daring prison escapes that is fun to see unfold, and remind ourselves just how alarmingly good looking Redford was (and talented, cough, of course). Redford elevates Forrest Tucker to folk tale hero and has the jawline for it too. 

TOMATG works best as an easy viewing, chortle-heavy heist movie and serves as a fitting swansong to a Hollywood legend. Though I didn’t see his acting chops being particularly tested, for anyone new to his career, it is a satisfying ‘best of’ reel. 

Advertisements

Review: THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER (2018) [Leeds International Film Festival]

Maggie Gyllenhaal is one of a handful of actors that can compel me to go see a film simply by virtue of their name alone. Such is her mercurial talent and on-screen charisma, whether its playing the timid but sexually-awakened titular character in Secretary (2002) or a commanding but conflicted peer in The Honourable Woman (2014), Gyllenhaal has carved out a niche for playing interesting and withholding characters both on TV and in cinema. Her draw then, extended to yet another title role, this time The Kindergarten Teacher, written and directed by Sara Colangelo. 

Due to the increasingly intense nature of the story, I’ll keep the synopsis brief: Gyllenhaal plays Lisa, an unfulfilled teacher begins to claim the spontaneous poems spouted by a young pupil in her class as her own for her poetry class. It’s a simple but intriguing set-up, and being based on a 2014 Israeli film of the same name, it has a lot to do to make the remake worthwhile.

Five year-old Jimmy, played by Parker Sevak is also an impressive but unnerving presence. Much like his character, Parker seems unaware of his talent, displaying a placid exterior but perhaps slightly weary of his teacher’s unwarranted attentions. As Lisa becomes more and more compromised, we’re left feeling concerned, perhaps even terrified, for the genius child’s welfare. I can’t remember feeling more scared during a swimming scene since Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Almost immediately, however, you are lulled into the narrative, and the indie touch to the domestic and school scenes are matter of fact, unshowy and believable, even if the teenage children are merely ciphers to demonstrate the generational stalemate that adds to Lisa’s unsatisfied life. Almost all of Gyllenhaal’s lead performances could be classed as a career high, but as the alarmingly determined Lisa, we are never on safe footing, but party to a performance that shakes with ruinous mid-life frustration. A fellow film writer, Rhys Handley termed this as “Maggie Gyllenhaal’s own Taxi Driver” and I couldn’t have summed it up better. Damn. 

Yet again another masterclass from Gyllenhaal, reaffirming her position as one of the boldest actors out there. If you can handle having your stomach in knots for pretty much most of the third act, then give The Kindergarten Teacher a go. 

Review: SUSPIRIA (2018) [Leeds International Film Festival]

Viewed at Hyde Park Picture House as part of #LIFF2018.

It would be remiss of me to not mention that Suspiria is gory. While the original poured deep red colours into its set design and cinematography, the gushing blood red in this incantation of Suspiria are reserved only for the acts of body horror that occur. The violent body transformations are shocking and nauseating, and dreamlike fast cuts of disturbing imagery have a trance-like, subliminal power. Certain scenes will last for a long time in the memory, that’s for sure.

Welcome to Luca Guadagnino’s reimagining of Suspiria, a 30-year ambition finally realised and hot off the heels of his evocative  2017 sun-drenched tale, Call Me By Your Name. A switch to horror and a ‘remake’ of a Dario Argento classic befuddled many, but with a stellar cast, an updated but equally unforgiving plot and flashes of gore, Suspiria tantalises and mystifies in equal measure once again.

Set in Berlin in 1977 at the prestigious Markos Company dance school, Tilda Swinton is Madame Blanc, the austere but brilliant principal who is immediately drawn to new American student, Dakota Johnson’s Susie Bannion. As Guadagnino has been keen to point, Swinton also plays Lutz Ebersdorf as Dr. Josef Klemperer, a kindly psychiatrist that is more or less the emotional centre of the film.

Chloë Grace Moretz’s cameo as Patricia looms large over the opening acts, a young student targeted by the teachers within their secret coven, but determined to escape their grasp. Johnson, previously seen in Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash (2015) alongside Swinton, is mesmeric as Susie, unknowable and seeming naive to the real trade of the Markos Company. Johnson and Swinton’s scenes together, even those as they stare at one another within a mirrored rehearsal room or appear to be talking without speaking across a crowded restaurant, are electrifying.

As points of view shift, the well-worn narrative of ‘an American in a strange country’ is left behind as Susie soon becomes a dancing conduit for the coven’s sadistic spells. Contorting, tribal dancing are never too far away from seeming like demonic possession and the camera, and Madame Blanc’s gaze, lingers on Susie’s unexpectedly libidinous movements. We are left to wonder if this is just her dancing style or has her time at the Markos Company transformed her already?

A history of the coven’s acts are hidden deep in the bowels (wrong choice of words there) of the school, horrific antiquities and weapons of choice such as the swift metal hooks that swipe as Thom Yorke’s haunting soundtrack swells. Berlin in 1977, the backdrop of the film seen on TVs or echoed through a radio, is a turbulent time that saw the hijacking of a plane and kidnappings by the Red Army Faction. The real world events act as a counterpoint to supernatural violence and its struggles for supremacy. Female autonomy, expressed through cruelty and occultism subterfuge, is attainable, if only as a result of atrocity and suppression. Taking place in a decade that rode the wave of radical feminism and when Germany continued to grapple with its position as a post-war nation, the coven’s secrets mirror the setting’s overwhelming struggle for normalcy. The coven’s power is an affirmation of the period’s feminist movement operating on the fringes of mainstream society.

The abuse of power is an overwhelming force throughout Suspiria, from the long-lasting generational guilt and Vergangenheitsbewältigung, to the coven’s secret manipulation and disposal of unsuspecting students. The school’s faculty are like a rubber band, stretching and contorting between the need for secrecy and culpability. As Susie, Patricia, Sam and Dr Klemperer become further entangled in the dance school/coven’s acts, the more they become manipulated, enlightened and repulsed by the coven’s violent tyranny.

A warped, unsettling and nihilistic film that slips from grasp just a handle on it seems within reach, Suspiria is likely to frustrate as many as it is devilishly delights. Immaculately directed and designed, Guadagnino shows once again why he is a contemporary master at period detail and sensuality on screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: HALLOWEEN (2018)

If you have been listening to the hit podcast My Favorite Murder, you might be a tad more clued up on the horrors of serial killers lately than most, and you will know that serial killers were pretty prolific in the 1970s – operating slap-bang in the Vietnam War, before the Cold War preoccupied 1980s and the ‘satanic panic’ of the decade. The period informed the horror monsters of cinema from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) to Friday the 13th (1980).

So it’s easy to see why John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) itched at the fears of so many upon its release. Now 40 years later, are these fears still terror-inducing? As one character in the latest reboot-sequel, Halloween (2018) says, there are so many more scary things to be afraid of these days, why focus on a long-imprisoned middle-aged serial killer wearing a (warped William Shatner) mask?

But as the new instalment, directed by David Gordon Green, posits, the societal fear might have changed, but the bogeyman of trauma will still haunt. This rings true in a world that is seemingly constantly having to cope with the reveal of past and hidden crime, from the abuses of the casting couch, a would-be senator’s college frat parties and most public spheres across the spectrum. Crimes can be buried, perpetrators might even be caught, but the slate is rarely wiped of the vivid trauma that will affect whole lives and communities. This is part of the reason why Halloween unexpectedly gets to be a relevant tale for our times. The slow-moving man in a mask might induce the odd titter from modern viewers of the original, but Michael Myers works as a reincarnated spectre of our world-weary anxiety.

Jamie Lee Curtis, one of the original ‘final girls’, is finally given an opportunity to put demons to rest, namely Myers, who first murdered her friends four decades earlier in 1978. The quiet, bookish 17 year-old Laurie has transformed into a hard, jacked-up action woman in the intervening years, isolating her family in the process. The film demonstrates how Laurie has coped, for better or worse, choosing life as a self-created recluse in her fortress-like compound.

Laurie’s strained relationship with her family, namely her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak), is excellently depicted, hinting at a childhood scarred by a mother’s maniacal determination to better equip her family to eliminate invading evil. One scene where Laurie implores Karen to take hold of a gun for her own familial home’s protection is a particularly telling moment, saying plenty about the cognitive dissonance that occurs in the people of Haddonfield, Illinois when seeking revenge on a murderer…with murder.

Halloween manages to be a satisfying generational story as well as a truly blood-splattering gorefest, upping the scares of Carpenter’s original for a modern audience without slipping into lazy gratuitousness. The score, also updated by Carpenter himself, is more lavish, much like the rest of the film (the Halloween of 1978 was made on a shoestring and the gloriously understated Carpenter always stated he was the cheapest composer he could afford). The same haunting piano stabs once again, but this time with added modern synths, playing ominously over the nostalgic opening credits.

After the countless sequels and reboots that Halloween inspired (when even WAS Halloween III: Season of the Witch, though!?), David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley managed to make a continuation worth telling, a rare feat in Sequel City, Hollywood. It does descend into the well-worn horror tropes, much of them first conceived in the first Halloween, but manage to play out as affectionate nods rather than tired rehashes.

Just a final note to say what a thrill it is to have Jamie Lee Curtis headlining a movie again. She really gave her all to this role and it shows. Long live the mature female lead and the final girl. Now thanks to Halloween (2018), that’s the same thing.

 

 

 

Review: THE WIFE (2018)

A lesser known quote from Maryon Pearson goes: “Behind every successful man, there stands a surprised woman.” In The Wife (2018), Glenn Close is anything but surprised as the titular spouse of an American writer Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), who wakes up to the news that his has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

As the Nobel circus descends on the Castleman clan’s seemingly deferential Connecticut set of admirers and family and whisks them off to Stockholm, Close’s Joan is a myriad of emotions, all serenely displayed on her icon-making expressive face. At times she is demur and contemplative, and at others, cracking with bridled trauma and resentment. Jonathan Pryce plays the typical Great American Writer type and charming elder statesmen of literature, a sort of Philip Roth meets Alan Alda, still trying to seduce the impressed ingenue but now also worrying about the amount of butter in his diet.
He is erring on the side of simpering in his instance that is his wife the support that allowed his career to flourish, and its just off-kilter enough to want to peel back the layers to discover more about this marriage.

And peel it back it does, based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer, a writer ripe for adaptation and directed by Björn Runge, the action goes back to 1950s to see the genesis of their relationship, initially as college professor and pupil. Close’s daughter Annie Maud Stark impresses as the younger Joan, determined in her pursuit of a writing career despite abrupt advice to give up her dream in a male-dominated era: “Don’t ever think you’ll make them listen” Elizabeth McGovern’s resigned author tells her – a disturbingly relevant situation that could still play out today.

At times Joe’s ego infuses the stifling family unit, irritating their overshadowed and under-worked son, David (Max Irons), and causing Joan to constantly be in the role of subjugation. The direction is unshowy, the camera at all times drawn to Close, even as the rest of the cast steps up to her mark, especially in the two-handed scenes. Christian Slater appears to put his trademark Jack Nicholson smarm to work as a ruthless writer desperate to write Joseph Castleman’s biography, and letting neither fact nor fiction get in the way.

As can be expected, there is more going on under the surface than I can give away, but as events unfold and Joe gets closer and closer to receiving the Nobel Medal, now the film’s very own MacGuffin, the film remains focused on woman’s silent role in male achievements. Close says at crucial juncture “I am a kingmaker”, the real meaning of this statement still reverberating. In a climate where women seem unable make their voices heard, it’s a telling moment that will resonate.

 

Review: THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST (2018)

Some films make you angry, some films make you cry, and some films make you squirm, and some of the best make you feel them all. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is one of those films.

It’s a hard sell to a mainstream audience I suppose – the story of a young LGBT+ person’s experience of gay conversion therapy – but it’s a vital watch for anyone in doubt that these issues are no longer prevalent and affect lives daily. Like Spike Lee’s BlacKKKlansman, also out in cinema, both are period stories that starkly reflect the fractured and disturbing prejudices and methods of discrimination that still pervade throughout in the US today. It’s easy to factor in that this film was made during the 2016 presidential election, a putrid time that uncovered a swath of uncertainty and fear about how minorities, including the LGBT+ community, would be treated in Trump’s American nightmare.

The director of TMOCP, Desiree Akhavan first came to my attention with her writing/directing debut, Appropriate Behaviour (which may still be on Netflix if you have a quick search), a funny and seemingly personal tale of an Iranian-American bisexual person navigating the single life and familial relations in New York. The non-tropey bisexual on film is such a rare find, so Appropriate Behaviour was something of a revelation to me. I couldn’t think of anyone more suited to take on this new story of another LGBT+ experience.

The 1993-set TMOCP is adapted from the novel of the same name by Emily Danforth, and the film takes the core plot of Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz), who after being caught having sex with her best friend on prom night, is shipped off to a Christian camp called God’s Promise to be cured of her “same-sex attraction.”

The camp is an eerie place of fake smiles and hushed tones, where even Cameron’s cassette tape of The Breeders is even too risqué for consumption. We watch in disbelief as Cameron’s and the other camp members’ “sins” are explained away as symptoms of prior traumas. Being over indulged with sports by a parent is weaponised as tool for shame. Thankfully, the film creates moments that allow for humour, piercing what could be unbearable into a more manageable, if still shocking, world to witness. There’s a rendition of 4 Non-Blondes ‘What’s Up’, as much an anthem for confused discontentment now as it was in 1993, that raises genuine smiles. And in case you wondered, ‘Blessercise’ is a real thing.

Moretz is excellent, her eyes are incredibly expressive as they scan the rest of her therapy group as she tries, or perhaps hopes to not, see herself in them. At times we’re unsure if the ‘therapy’ is finally working on Cameron, just as we are party to the devastating affects of what is essentially, sanctioned torture. My joy at seeing Jennifer Ehle (please cast her in everything please) was short-lived due only to her stand-out depiction of Dr. Marsh, a softly spoken Nurse Ratched, rigid in her belief of being on the right side of morality.  Co-stars Sasha Lane, winningly called Jane Fonda,  and Forrest Goodluck are Cameron’s cool-for-school kindred spirits as they come to terms with just how they got to God’s Promise in the first place and if indeed, they will ever get out as the same people. I particularly enjoyed Cameron’s assigned roommate, Erin, who easily could have been used simply as a mode of diffusing the tension, but like everyone in this film, gets a chance to show many facets of themselves.

Though the ‘doctors’ of God’s Promise attempt to reduce everyone down to their own  unique behavioral ‘iceberg’ diagrams, the characters constantly, with varying degrees of success, break free from their icy surroundings and assigned gender/sexual  straitjackets. I was reminded also of Todd Hayne’s Safe, another film that dealt with clinical psychologies and enforced communal life in the 1990s.

The final wordless scenes in the film are as optimistic as we can hope to expect in a tale that so rooted in realism, and though we cannot know what the future holds for these characters, the morning sun has never felt more liberating.

Review: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT (2018)

I broke the code to tell my cinema companion that the colon was in the wrong place on the BBFC titlecard, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this action ‘six-quel’ (which no one is calling it), Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

My relationship with the M:I series has been a rocky one. The first film was first viewed on VHS, thanks to a friend’s enviable video collection, while the second film lasted only in my memory thanks to it’s nu-metal soundtrack and for first making me aware of Thandie Newton. The Gillette advert opener with Tom Cruise scaling a cliff was not enough to save the rest of it. Fast-forward to the third installment, I eventually caught it on TV after an alarming number of people had claimed “it’s actually good, I’m promise!”

My personal favourite was actually Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, probably thanks to going into the film with zero expectations, other than vaguely hoping to see Tom Cruise once again scaling a building, a plane or some other death-defying stunt. The story was spy-lit lite but easy to follow, the villain (Sean Harris) was genuinely creepy at times, and most surprisingly of all, we had an interesting female character to encounter – Ilsa Faust played by Rebecca Ferguson. I could watch the scene in the Vienna opera house over and over again.

I was pleased then that this latest film, Fallout, continued the winning formula of the fifth, with Christopher McQuarrie remaining as writer and director (for the first time in the series) and hurrah, Ilsa Faust returning!

I’d recommend seeing Rogue Nation before tackling Fallout, but Fallout most definitely covers new ground, creating a whole new narrative despite picking up on tensions and emotional ties from previous outings.

The IMF spring into action again when nuclear weapons are stolen by a shady syndicate (of course) called the Apostles, hell-bent on chaos throughout the world in order to create a new world order. Ethan (Tom Cruise), Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) are tasked with reclaiming the bombs, taking them across Europe in quick lightning speed, and encountering a CIA operative (Henry Cavill) and a black market arms dealer (Vanessa Kirby) along the way.

Everyone in the cast gets their share of scenery to chomp and the action sequences were relentless but ingenious. Wringing my sweating hands as I watched Cruise race to the Tate Modern or motorbike through famous Parisian traffic, I gave myself over to the mindless thrill of seeing accomplished action scenes click effortlessly into place as if operated by clockwork. So many action/thriller films rely on fast cuts and shaky camera work to obscure the action and disorientate viewers, but the fight scenes, particularly the one in the silent club bathroom, was like a ballet of sinew and white-tiled fury.

Six films in and the series is now attempting to reflect on the destruction the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), namely Ethan Hunt, has created in the name of keeping the world and the people closest to them, save. When so many of the installments in the series have been individual ventures – thanks to idiosyncratic directors like Brian De Palma and John Woo picking up the gauntlet – the era of ‘cinematic universes’ has forced the producers to attempt to weave these wildly varying films together to create a narrative arc for Ethan Hunt. I appreciate the effort… just maybe for the next one they could resurrect Kristin Scott Thomas and complete the circle?!

M:I works best when it acts as an heist movie in the spy genre. Seeing a dastardly plan be thwarted or Ethan Hunt attempt another daring escape has always been where M:I excelled, even if the characterisation and plot was lacking. Ethan Hunt, in my mind, is just a cipher for a more palatable Tom Cruise. Less jumping on sofas more running across the roofs of London please.

 

Review: HEREDITARY (2018)

When the posters proclaimed that Ari Aster’s debut feature Hereditary was as terrifying as The Exorcist, my first thought was: “Is The Exorcist actually as scary as we claim it to be?”

Side note: A school friend of mine gave me a copy of the extended director’s cut to keep and I was too afraid to watch it for years. Mark Kermode, I can assure you, I have watched it since!

This provocative statement works only as a way to make us remember our own ‘horror’ surrounding The Exorcist, as a ‘do we dare?’ sleepover movie option, or as a way to boast to friends in the school playground that we’d seen the infamous spiderwalk with our very own eyes. The hysteria that existed around the film in someways was more influential than the film itself. If the execs could harness even at little of that hype for Hereditary, they’d be onto a box office winner. No wonder they put it on the poster.

Where the two films can be compared is in the overwhelming feeling of dread that pervades throughout both pictures. And while I never particular found The Exorcist to be ‘terrifying’ as such, just creepy and incredibly atmospheric, Hereditary did seriously spook me at several key moments.

Horror and the cinematic themes of motherhood go hand-in-hand, just look to the modern Australian classic The Babadook or return to 1960s to see how Rosemary’s Baby tells very different tales of terrorised young mothers. In this way, both The Exorcist and Hereditary are insights to parents increasingly distanced from their children, with seemingly supernatural intervention setting a course for the destruction of the family unit.

While Regan and her mother Chris (played with steel by Ellen Burstyn) appear to be close to begin with in The Exorcist, despite Chris daring to have a successful acting career alongside motherhood in the 1970s, the Graham family’s disharmony in Hereditary can be felt almost immediately from the first scene. Tension flares merely from forgetting to take shoes off at the door or from asking to borrow the car. When the terror kicks into overdrive, we are truly left to wonder that if this family do make it out the other side alive and sane, will they even make it out together?

Toni Collette is Annie Graham, once again putting in a bruising performance as a neurotic, anxious artist, understandably concerned about the influence her distant (and recently deceased) mother has had on her quiet daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Collette recently admitted that she had initially wanted to work on lighter project that required less crying for a change, but that she couldn’t turn down the opportunity to be in this film. And I am grateful she did. Whether it is a blistering rant at the dinner table that says so much about the way that grief can exacerbate unreleased anger, or her character’s faltering attempts to make herself understood to her family, Collette is stellar as an artist increasingly unable to occupy her stifling reality or find solace the artificial worlds she creates in her artwork.

Son Peter (Alex Wolff) appears to be a typical teenager, at odds with his parents, getting stoned at any opportunity and despairing at having to take his younger sister along to a party. When something horrible occurs that turns the family’s inner turmoil inside out, the Graham family is exposed to horrors that exploits their precarious power-keg existence to the limit.

For a debut film, Aster’s direction is exemplary and confident, while cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski’s camera work is manipulative and hypnotic. Jump scares, the go-to weapon of choice for horror films of late, are dispensed with, instead the slow creep of the camera far more terrifying, and a clever use of the 90-degree camera-tilt is the choice of a director unafraid to delve into the box of tricks to make his mark on the horror genre. The tone is uncanny, nervous audience laughter is borne of strange silences, stilted conversations and bizarre imagery, while the score is minimal but affecting. I can’t wait to see what Aster does next, and would love to see him continue his experiments in the horror genre.

Upon reaching the conclusion of the film, you either go with it or you don’t. I personally find horror films more unnerving when things are left relatively unexplained, as a little moments exposition in the certain moments feel a tad unnecessary. I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or to scream by the end of Hereditary, and I have a shuddering, gnawing feeling that’s exactly the point.

Review: OCEAN’S 8 (2018)

To say I was anticipating this film would be an understatement. As a longtime fan of the first Ocean’s 11, well, Steven Soderbergh’s own reboot of the classic ensemble heist movie anyway, but less so of the subsequent sequels, an all-female spin-off was thigh-rubbingly exciting. And without the vitriol facing the all-female Ghostbusters film released the year Ocean’s 8 began principal photography, we were left to eagerly await the movie in peace. And quietly (or not so quietly, in my case) pray for the gay.

I’ve been always been happy to wallow in the subtext for my queer fix, whatever Ocean’s 8 would gift me, that’s just part and parcel of my film watching experience, and I was certainly happy to just enjoy an all-female cast in a big budget movie. And what a cast. Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett is a combo I never knew I wanted, and as ringleader Debbie Ocean (George Clooney’s Danny’s sister and fellow swindler) and the effortlessly cool Lou, there was plenty to ‘squee’ over. Honestly, whoever decided to put Blanchett in all those suits deserves the Oscar for Best Costume Design. The collective sighs and swooning as set pictures were released during filming remain justified upon seeing the final film.

Making up the eight are Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Rhianna, Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina. I did get the impression that there was a lot that was probably left on the cutting room floor with this script, as each of the eight are given paper thin backgrounds and motivations, but once the heist gets underway, it’s all about the mechanics of the play at hand. The goal? To steal a diamond Cartier necklace from under the noses of security and celebrities at the New York Met Gala.

The motivation of Debbie, much like her brother’s in Ocean’s 11, and under the guise of it being “what’s she’s good at”, is in part to get revenge. While Danny sets his goal on reuniting with his ex-wife, it works less well in this instance. The greedy former lover is a distraction from the main narrative, and when Lou confronts Debbie about her need to balance the scales with the man who effectively put her in prison, you are never really convinced of Lou’s threat to walk nor of the plan being in jeopardy. It’s needless extra impetus in a film that is most successful when we get to see female con artists unable to resist the pull of doing what they do best, regardless of the possible gains at the end of it all.

Though an ensemble cast, Bullock and Blanchett do carry most of the film, as Clooney and Brad Pitt did in their first scheme together. Bonham Carter does great with what she’s given – another ‘kooky’ character, and Hathaway as the ludicrously annoying Daphne Kluger remains on the right side of believable. Rhianna, possibly the most surprising piece of casting, is great too, effortlessly snarking and hacking her way through tasks. Awkwafina and Kaling are instantly likeable, but again, many of the scenes that aren’t directly related to getting the heist on the road appear to be prematurely cut short.

And well, the gay isn’t overt, but Bullock and Blanchett do share enough glances and chemistry to make my heart flutter all the same. And not since Archie Panjabi and Gillian Anderson in TV’s The Fall did a motorbike scene scream: ‘GAAAAAAAAAAAAAY’…

Overall, Ocean’s 8 offers me everything I love about the franchise, but contains few surprises, despite a sprinkling of callbacks to the earlier films and a couple of heist-y (not a word) twists. The whole eight-sided package is watchable, popcorn, Saturday night entertainment that I can definitely see myself picking off the DVD shelf when I need a fun, girl-tastic, kick-ass caper to indulge in.

Ocean’s 9 anyone?

Review: A QUIET PLACE (2018)

Amazingly, my local cinema was truly engulfed in silence on Sunday night. Despite the optimistic purchases of popcorn and other confectionery, they were all but forgotten once A Quiet Place, John Krasinski’s (of The American Office, It’s Complicated and Away We Go) debut horror feature took hold.

The concept is gripping one: you make noise, you die, which is essentially a movie tagline writer’s dream, and follows a family who must live life in silence while hiding from creatures that hunt by sound. What we do know is that most of Earth’s human population has been wiped out by an invasion of alien creatures with hypersensitive hearing.

All of this is expertly told without over-explanation or exposition. The streets of an already sleepy town are strewn with undisturbed leaves from passing seasons, drugstores have been raided and trails of sand have been marked so that surviving inhabitants can creep quietly without fear of detection. One such band of survivors are the Abbott family. They talk in whispers, but mostly by cannily using American Sign Language, in part due to the fact that one of the children is deaf.

Scenes of the family attempting to go about their daily lives are still somehow fraught with tension. Even an innocent game of Monopoly is dicing with death. Our discovery that the mother, played with steel and gumption by the always brilliant Emily Blunt, is also pregnant is gut-punch of a plot point.  The camera pans over the wall calendar to glance at the due date, and a wave of dread hits. The family wouldn’t survive an inadvertent clink of plates on the dining table, never mind the arrival of a screaming newborn baby.

Coming in at just 90 minutes, the film makes quick use of the premise, turning even the smallest of drama into an opportunity for the family’s devastating annihilation. The protruding nail on the stair scene in family romp Home Alone will forever now send me screaming back to the gory horror of A Quiet Place. And when the father, also played by Krasinski, takes his youngest to a nearby waterfall, it is an understated scene of catharsis for both his understandably nervous son and the audience.

I’m not sure I want to put too much weight onto the allegorical nature of the film’s themes, but the best horrors have always played on societal fears. That’s just Film School 101, right? A Quiet Place is equally ripe for unpicking. Pressure to keep quiet and obfuscate, plus our increasing acquiescence about being ignored in a world of noise and fake news are flipped on their head in this silent wasteland. Expression, the act that differentiates us from animals, is somehow now the method of our own extinction. So when Blunt and Krasinski come together to share an earphone rendition of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon,  it is a touching moment, but its one that disturbs the silence we’re now all too comfortably complicit in.

As expected, the good old-fashioned tropes kick in wonderfully and the Alien-style cat and mouse chase across the family’s farm makes for an unbearable watch at pretty much every beat of the action. With multiple perilous set pieces to grip the armrest through  and a monster that is seemingly unbeatable, A Quiet Place is a sweat-inducing time in the cinema. Nerves are shredded and nails are bitten and as soon as it ended, I wanted to do it all over again.