By BRUCE DENNILL
Ocean’s 8 / Directed by Gary Ross / 13L
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri / Directed by Martin M Donagh / 16DLPV
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom / Directed by JA Bayona / 13LV
Suburbicon / Directed by George Clooney / 16LPV
My Blind Brother / Directed by Sophie Goodhart / 16DLPS
Going In Style / Directed by Zach Braff / 13L
A story of equal (criminal) opportunity – directed by a man, ironically – this entertaining heist film sees Danny Ocean’s (the smooth-talking protagonist of Ocean’s 11 through 13, as personified by George Clooney) sister Debbie get out of jail after the better part of six years and immediately dive back into a life of crime. Her ever-more elaborate plan to steal a set of fabulous jewels from the Met Gala requires a widening circle of women with a diverse set of skills, and it is these characters, and the chemistry between the high-profile women who play them – Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter and Rihanna among them – that give Ocean’s 8 its impetus. As with the crime at the hub of the script, the film features a group of able professionals doing their jobs with a knowing wink and a smile. Few boundaries are pushed, but everything looks great and there’s good pace and energy throughout.
Finding value in imperfect people is perhaps the greatest challenge of all but the most reclusive member of society. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a tough, biting, beautiful film follows a messy, brutal route towards that goal, and going along for the ride is a moving, heartbreaking experience. At the centre of the piece is a crime that is often referred to, but never actually seen – the sickening rape of a young woman. That woman’s imperfect mother (Frances McDormand) is an abrasive, fierce, driven woman who will go to almost any length necessary to see justice for her child. The imperfect police chief (Woody Harrelson) of the town in which the incident took place has a good reputation among the townspeople, though the system he’s bound to work within and personal circumstances make him ineffective in closing this particular case. And the police chief’s imperfect protégé (Sam Rockwell) is a belligerent, unstable accident waiting to happen, though his boss has reason to believe there might be reason to believe in him. There is plenty of humour in the piece, though all of it is harsh enough to make you gasp. More often, the emotions you feel will be related to the tar-thick melancholy of the situation: something is terribly, irreparably broken, and any redemption will be only partial, and even then hard-won. Rockwell’s cop is a magnificent character for any actor to land – an unrefined thug who learns at glacial pace, but who does move forward – and Rockwell occupies the man’s thick skin and pig-headed perspectives with alarming authenticity. McDormand is the film’s spine, connecting all the pieces and never letting the moral message get diluted, however intricate the obstacles she faces. This is a film that will, tragically, remain as relevant as it is now in 20 years’ time. And 50 years beyond that. And in the next century, as long as imperfect people exist.
It’s unlikely that the Jurassic Park franchise will end anytime soon, what with the original concept being broadened to include threads that have dinosaurs – and the technology to recreate them – making their way into the wider world beyond the theme parks and research stations the story began in. If that is to be the case, it is no bad thing, provided the whole thing doesn’t degenerate into Transformers With Lizards. This instalment, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, involves literally non-stop action as pro-dinosaur activist Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and former Velociraptor trainer – a hell of a thing to have on your CV – Owen (Chris Pratt) lead the charge to not only rescue stricken creatures from a stricken facility but also to counter the intentions of an evil syndicate focused on using the dinosaurs for profit and nothing more. The pace is relentless, with the CGI, happily, easily keeping up. The tension of the huge setpieces is rather undermined by the unflappable cheerfulness of Pratt and Howard, but on balance, the family-friendly works well. A pleasing evolution of a screen success story.
Matt Damon and George Clooney. The Coen brothers. Throw in Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac. This should be a recipe for something that doesn’t fail. And yet it does. It might be because Suburbicon doesn’t know what it wants to be, in which case Clooney as director must take responsibility, for all the good intent he has in changing tack halfway through. The first part of the story takes the American Dream, plonks it on a chopping board and hacks away at it with a satirical cleaver, revealing the all-smiling, white picket fence model to be a mask for the pettiness, deception and cruelty that sees the average, selfish person put their need permanently ahead of others. The second part, which – to be fair – leads naturally from these unpleasant discoveries, focuses on racism as a specific outcome of this general character, with the riot setpiece in the film based on a real event in which a black family moved into an all-white suburb in Levitton, Pennsylvania in the 1950s (the era in which the film is set). The subplots are each reasonably powerful (though not brilliant) in their own right, but they don’t knit together as a convincing whole. Damon and Moore are strangely unpersuasive, with the latter’s second character (she plays two) a thoroughly unlikeable creature. Oscar Isaacs, as a fraud investigator with no more scruples than those he suspects, gives easily the best performance of the lot, but he has no more support from the script and direction than his colleagues. A film with a wealth of resources but no cohesion.
There are certain films where the marketing material does absolutely nothing to give a true sense of the depth of the story. My Blind Brother seems to be pitched as a sort of Fatrelly brothers-style grimace-fest involving a pair of brothers, one blind but arrogant (Adam Scott) and one insecure and easily pushed around (Nick Kroll). That twist on expectations – the disabled individual being the outspoken leader – is enough to get the ball rolling, but jokes about blindness (non-sight gags?) would very quickly get tiresome. Writer-director Sophie Goodhart’s take is an altogether more interesting affair, and one that is both darkly funny and exquisitely awkward. Chiefly responsible for the success of the piece is Scott, who has made a career of playing snarky, pushy types but who judges how far to push the limits (clue: further than you’d think) wonderfully well here. Kroll is a strong foil, his character willing to put up with the abuse his brother hands out because of his guilt about the part he played in his brother ending up as he has. The siblings’ relationship is further complicated when a woman named Rose (Jenny Slate) happens to begin playing an important role in both of their lives at around the same time. Rose is a quirky sort – hardly a goddess men fall over themselves to get to, but with a charm and vulnerability that is easy to fall for – and the emergence of a love triangle in an already complex situation provides a platform for more tension, more laughs and more tenderness. Goodhart doesn’t try to make her characters into ideals of any sort: all three are flawed; all have some strengths; and all remind viewers of some facets of themselves and some aspects of others they find attractive or repellent. The result is a story that is oddly relatable, given its components and a set of outcomes that feel satisfyingly viable – a curious strength in an escapist medium.
A heist movie starring three octogenarians? Yaa….ay. If this is to work, whatever gimmick has been worked in to dilute the inevitable cheesiness has to be smart. Instead, it’s more of a question of worthiness – with friends played by Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin and Michael Caine deciding to break their usual routine with a bit of armed robbery on account of their pensions being snaffled by an evil corporate somewhere. That’s a horribly real scenario and one that doesn’t readily lend itself to comedy, though the scale of their revenge plan does, in this context, fit the bill. But there’s still not enough of substance in that situation to make Going In Style a success simply because it has a huddle of A-listers up front. There are a number of good lines and a handful of amusing setpieces, with Arkin the pick of the cast, but either there was a genuine need to keep things light and fluffy because of the actors’ advanced ages or boundaries remained unpushed in order to keep matters as family friendly as possible. Neither of those is a bad thing, but it does make for a film that’s surprisingly inconsequential, given the skills of its cast and the proven comic nous of its director, Zach Braff.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]