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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Ocean’s Eight

“Superfly” is also new to Blu-Ray this week

Yup—“Ocean’s Eight” is an “Ocean’s” movie all right. It’s a sleek and stylish heist movie with a hip vibe and a diverse cast, all of whom bring something to the table. The story is full of twists and turns to keep you guessing—and grinning—and overall the movie is a well-made, polished to a shiny product that’s entertaining in a shallow yet satisfying way.

This wouldn’t be an “Ocean’s” movie without an Ocean in charge. Good thing there is Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), the never before seen or talked about sister of Danny Ocean (George Clooney) from the previous trilogy. As “Ocean’s Eight” opens, Debbie is in prison and Danny is dead. Even Irish folk songs don’t begin this somber. But soon she’s out on parole and visiting him at his mausoleum wall grave—crafted from some fine quality polished Arabescato marble, so he’s well-kept even in death. That is, if he’s actually dead. Debbie has her doubts. A surprise visit from Reuben (Elliott Gould) doesn’t provide any definitive answers and his cameo serves as nothing more than to tie the Clooney movies to this one.

The sadness ends quickly after Debbie pays her respects and she begins hatching the plan she concocted while in prison for the past five years: A jewel heist at the Met costume gala in Manhattan. This would be grand-grand larceny if she got caught. With no intention of getting caught, she recruits an expert in each field she needs to pull off the caper. There’s Lou (Cate Blanchett), her partner and co-planner; Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), a down on her luck dress designer; Amita (Mindy Kaling), gem expert and jewelry maker; Nine Ball (Rihanna), hacker and computer expert; Constance (Awkwafina), the pick pocket with quick hands; and Tammy (Sarah Paulson), the part-time fence and full-time mom trying to live the quiet life in Connecticut. Then there’s the dupe, Daphne Kluger, played by Anne Hathaway as someone who is more complex and intelligent than the flighty, self-absorbed sucker she would appear to be.

The usual beats are struck as the ladies come together. We first see them in action in the real world. Amita is unhappy working at her family jewel shop and Constance hustles a guy at three card Monty, as examples. Then Debbie meets them, a conversation is had as to what they will do and what their cut would be, they sign on, and the part of the plan that involves them moves forward. This could become rote and stale, but each woman is so unique in dress, speech, attitude, and personality that it never feels like the same conversation is being had over and over again. It also helps that the direction by Gary Ross (who co-wrote the screenplay with Olivia Milch) is very light and breezy. A healthy pace is kept throughout so that while nothing feels too rushed, the movie never feels sluggish or bogged down either.

Oceans8 2

Of course, “Ocean’s Eight” is one of those movies where the plan is so intricate and detailed that one little foul-up will throw the whole thing off. There are way too many variables for anything like this to ever work out in real life, but there is a cathartic joy to be had in watching such perfectly executed fantasies play out. The ladies really only hit one major snag in their plan, but Nine Ball just needs two scenes to solve the issue and they’re back on track.

I have to give “Ocean’s Eight” credit for being a bit different and going the extra mile after the heist. It’s typical for the caper to be complete, our heroes (who are criminals) get away scot free and are out of danger (1969’s “The Italian Job” with Michael Caine notably excepted), and they all move on with their lives. There is an extended post-script in “Ocean’s Eight” in which an insurance adjuster from the UK, played by James Corden, hops across the pond to do a bit of snooping around. This puts the tension back on the ladies to hope that they did in fact execute the plan as flawlessly as they think they did, since the smallest clue left behind could send them all to prison. I appreciate this added bit to the movie, and especially admire the fact that it was legitimately engaging and didn’t make the movie drag at all. It also helped to tie a B-story thread together with the main story, and lead “Ocean’s Eight” to a gratifying conclusion. Buy it.

Also New This Week

Superfly

“Superfly” is the kind of movie we get when the basics of playwriting (and by extension, screenwriting) are forgotten. I am in particular talking about the Aristotelian playwriting principle of the unity of action, which states that a play should have a single plot line with minimal sub plots, if any. While there is value in bending Aristotle’s three unities (action, time, and place), especially in movies since so much more can be done than in a play, it does a disservice to the art to totally abandon the unity of action, as screenwriter Alex Tse did here. What we wind up with is an overstuffed mess of a movie with way too much going on.

There are at least three plots in “Superfly” all competing to be the main plot. The one saving grace is that they all involve the same protagonist, Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson, looking more like Prince than he does like Ron O'Neal in the 1972 original movie of the same name), a cocaine dealer in Atlanta, Georgia. One involves a rival gang of dealers called the Snow Patrol, and the run-ins that Priest and his crew have with them. Another involves Priest making a move to get one last big score and retire by undercutting his supplier Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams) and going direct to the Mexican cartel kingpin (Esai Morales) himself. Then there are a pair of corrupt cops, played by Brian Durkin and Jennifer Morrison, who shake down Priest and want a piece of the action. A good, 85 to 90 minute movie could have been made out of any of these plots. Instead, I wasted 115 minutes of my life watching a fetid attempt by a man called Director X. to make sense out of this jumbled nightmare of a script. He doesn’t. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Brain Dead,” annoying 1990 movie that jerks you around in terms of what is real and what isn’t, only notable since both Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton are in it and they probably only signed on so that people would stop confusing the two of them with one another.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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