What We Learned This Week: June 3-9

LESSON #1: TOXIC FANDOM IS ONE OF THIS INDUSTRY’S LARGEST UNCHECKED PROBLEMS— What used to be little nit-picky pissing and moaning no more imposing than the Comic Book Guy character on The Simpsons is turning overly voluminous, hurtful, egregious, and flat-out unnecessary.  The latest ugly example came this week when months of harassing and abusive social media actions led Star Wars: The Last Jedi actress Kelly Marie Tran to delete her Instagram.  Notice in the title of the lesson that I said “industry.”  This fanboy immaturity and hate isn’t exclusive to Star Wars fans.  This kind of abhorrent behavior fueled by internet troll courage lights up with comic book films, gaming culture, TV shows large and small, and many other sources far too often and far too loudly.  Let this school teacher tell you that all this bitching about fiction and entertainment is fruitless and unhealthy.  No piece of entertainment is worth any level of the hate and consequences leveled to Ms. Tran.  The support around her is positive but more must be done.  If you claim these pieces of pop culture are core influences of your formative character, then you don’t have a very good core and need help in the form of interpersonal relationships not rooted in fantasy.  I know its the few ruining it for the behaved majority, but turn off the screens, take off the cosplay, put away the toys, grow up, and go engage in real relationships.  At an industry level, accountability is needed, and I love this NBC News piece from Ani Bundell and this Forbes editorial from Scott Mendelson as highly recommended reads.  No matter how you cut it, this is bullying and it’s time to employ the “see something, say something” practices we tell school kids nowadays.  Help report and block improper behavior.

LESSON #2: EACH FILM STARRING WOMEN OR MADE BY WOMEN IS NOT REQUIRED TO ADVANCE FEMINISM— From one torch-bearing subject to another, I referenced a junket interview from the Ocean’s 8 press tour in my review of the film where the leading ladies are tired of answering questions large and small about gender roles.  They made Ocean’s 8 to have fun.  Let Ocean’s 8 be marvelous for what it is (namely a proper heist film) and not curved by who is in it and which chromosomes they have. When someone adds the marginalizing and labeling descriptors of “all-female,” “women-centered,” or, worse, “chick flick,” their narrow vision becomes part of the problem. That goes both ways. Not every film for or including women has to carry a torch and a battering ram for the #MeToo movement.  Let something fun be fun.  Furthermore, in a second interview piece and connecting to Lesson #1, Ocean’s 8 star Sandra Bullock also drew alarming comparison to the flaq the Ghostbusters reboot cast received two years ago.  The wave of hate for that film was off-the-charts higher than what Ocean‘s 8 is receiving, which shows the fickle hypocrisy of toxic fandom.

LESSON #3: THE RIGHT DOCUMENTARY CAN MAKE A FLASHIER DRAMATIZATION UNNECESSARY AND OBSOLETE— This one is more a prophecy than a lesson.  One of my many reactions and takeaways after watching (my full review) the incredibly detailed, moving, and impactful documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is that I, for one, absolutely do not need an upcoming movie biopic version of Fred Rogers’ life story.  There is tangible spirit and a magic watching the real personality of the late TV personality that comes out in Morgan Neville’s film that speaks rightly true and cannot be translated into a glitzy newfangled narrative using dramatic license.  I don’t care how wholesome and loved Tom Hanks is or how immensely talented his is as one of the finest actors walking the planet.  Even he cannot suspend disbelief to become Fred Rogers.  The genuine article is too singular, too unique, and, to borrow his favorite word, too special.  Fred’s central mission and message is strong enough on its own and demands full reality.  Flattering imitation, in my opinion and even cited in the documentary itself with recaps of impersonations done by Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, SCTV, and In Living Color, would take away shine from the gleaming legitimacy of what Fred Rogers stands for.  There is more value to both nostalgic audiences and neophyte discoverers of Fred Rogers to see his actual self in Won’t You Be My Neighbor? than the diluted Hollywood version to come.  Let a documentary become a summer blockbuster for a change.  Get some truth out there and see this film.

LESSON #4: A VENOM CHARACTER NOT IN THE CURRENT MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE IS NOT A REAL VENOM AT ALL— I was right there with you salivating at the idea of Tom Hardy playing a brawny Eddie Brock and his beastly alter-ego of Venom.  Throwing looks and Daily Bugle character history out the window, you couldn’t cast a more imposing threat for an emerging Tom Holland Spider-Man than Hardy.  The problem I’ve always seen has been timing.  Pulling off a Venom film is cart-before-the-horse too soon for a brand-new teenage Spider-Man. Now, the problem has increased to misalignment with the news that the Venom film will not be a recognized part of the MCU.  I know I just talked about toxic fanboy culture earlier in the column, but, I’m sorry, Venom is not Venom without Spider-Man.  What looked to already be an impatient cash grab by Sony to stay relevant with its Marvel character properties now looks to be an expensive and possibly pointless waste of resources entirely.

LESSON #5: YOU CAN’T WASH THE STINK OF MICHAEL BAY OFF THAT EASILY— Much like Venom in a way after its recent trailer surprises, I don’t care how good that Bumblebee trailer looked this past week (and yes, Mr. Ignore-All-Trailers over here did see it).  It’s going to take more than a decent teaser or two and a whole heap of deeper narrative work from Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight on the final product to improve this tainted franchise.  Hope is there with Knight’s reputation, but plenty of films, when manipulated correctly with marketing magic, have duped us before.  I will still preach tempered expectations for Bumblebee.  Michael Bay’s cinematic skunk spray is still all over this.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

MOVIE REVIEW: Ocean’s 8

OCEAN’S 8 (2018)

1 Hour and 50 Minutes (PG-13)

There is something magnetic about this film series. The crew up of unique and attractive personalities , the detailed planning, the intricate heist, and (almost always) the twist are all elements we love to see come together in a new way. But even when they don’t have anything drastically special to offer the genre, as long as the story is good and the cast sells it, we’re willing to be entertained. For this go-around, Steven Soderbergh exits the director’s chair and passes the torch Gary Ross (The Hunger Games, Seabiscuit). Missing is the former’s saturating color palette, replaced by a brighter and crisper one that serves the New York City setting well. Remaining is the recognizable mosaic filming style that Soderbergh utilized in Ocean’s 11-13, replicated by Ross to great effect.

Story-wise, Ocean’s 8 is fairly simple. Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), estranged sister of series protagonist Danny Ocean, is being released from prison and seeking to assemble a crew for a major heist. Having spent her entire sentence planning the detailed job, she wants no part of her brother’s advice to move on from the criminal life and wastes no time in reuniting with longtime friend and partner in crime Lou (Cate Blanchett). From there the film follows a familiar structure as Debbie finds the players necessary to pull off stealing a $150 million necklace during the annual star-studded Met Gala. For this job, Debbie wants an all-girl squad, because in her opinion “A him gets noticed, a her gets ignored.” The crew includes the usual roles required: Nine Ball (Rhianna) the hacker, Amita (Mindy Kaling) the jewelry expert, Tammy (Sarah Paulson) the suburban mom and fence, Constance (Awkwafina) the quick-handed thief, and Rose (Helena Bonham-Carter) the fashion designer, whose job is to ensure that superstar actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) is wearing the diamonds the crew intends to steal. There is quite a bit of the film spent on the planning phase of the heist and it is quite enjoyable learning about the various members of the team and their unique talents and personalities. Understandably, they cannot all have top billing and those actresses not named Sandra, Cate, or Anne are truly supporting characters. They are given just enough development, but don’t expect deeply personal backstories and character arcs. All of the cast members fill their roles fantastically, though, with Awkwafina’s humor and Rhianna’s snarky intelligence standing out.

Debbie, however, is definitely in this for more than just the money. In a sense, the film touches on the very real problem many criminals face. When it’s time to come back to society the only thing they know is what put them behind bars in the first place. If that’s what your good at, and your entire family history involves said criminal activity, why would you do anything else? And she is good at this. Very good. The plan is very cool and includes some modern tech like 3D printing. Many things that happen (including a late third act surprise) require a sense of disbelief because if one thing goes wrong, it all falls apart. But in a way these heist films are like superhero stories – doing the impossible is part of the appeal.

One of the best parts of the Ocean’s series has always been seeing bonafide movie stars come together and exist in this somewhat meta universe where celebrity cameos are a common thing. Sandra Bullock is great as Debbie and Blanchett is her usual perfect self. The chemistry between these two is especially good and their relationship is probably one of the things I would have enjoyed spending more time developing. The real stunner of the cast, though, is Anne Hathaway. Her silly charm is just adorable to behold and she provides plenty of laughs as she steals every scene she is in. The guys that feature in the film are fine and serve their purpose, too, but neither Richard Armitage or James Corden do anything memorable. This is about the ladies, of course, and it’s presented in a way that is both respectful of the films that came before and freshly empowering as a thing all its own.

VERDICT

For me, Ocean’s 8 is likely to be the film in the series that I revisit the most. It’s fast fun from start to finish with great humor, strong cast chemistry, amazing costume design, and an exciting heist. It doesn’t offer the depth of relationships present in some of the other films or the most difficult heist, but it never stops being entertaining and does not try to force becoming something that isn’t a natural fit. If this is the start of a new trilogy, I’m absolutely in favor of it, and can’t wait to see what Debbie Ocean and her crazy crew cook up next.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.