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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Hotel Artemis

HOTEL ARTEMIS

** SPOILERS **

Hotel Artemis is the cinematic equivalent of one of those distracted boyfriend memes that's been all over the Internet for the last couple of years. You know the one. Written and directed by Drew Pearce, Hotel Artemis posits an exclusive, members only secret Los Angeles hotel sanctuary for criminals run by the Nurse (Jodie Foster). It's a haven for bad guys who can't turn to traditional avenues for hospitality and medical care. 

However, outside the confines of the hotel is Los Angeles circa 2028 (a year before the events of the original Blade Runner; the universes are unrelated but the spirit is evoked). LA is in lockdown. The city is in the grips of a destructive riot as ordinary people take to the streets to protect the lack of clean drinking water. The City of Angels is a warzone. Helicopters are shot out of the sky by rocket launchers and explode into buildings as law enforcement struggles to contain the mob, These events, fleetingly glimpsed by news reports and by the film's main characters occasionally stepping outside the hotel, comes off as so much more compelling than what's actually going on in the Hotel Artemis. Hence. the distracted boyfriend meme, Hotel Artemis version:


Since we're mostly stuck in the hotel with criminals, albeit portrayed by some charismatic actors, you'd think the interactions between these bad guys with different agendas in such cramped quarters would be super interesting, but no, not really, though the actors try. Sterling K. Brown and Sofia Boutella are standouts; he just accidentally robbed the biggest crime boss in the city, Jeff Goldblum, and is trying to protect his dying brother from that very crime boss who's on his way to the hotel. Meanwhile, Boutella is a sexy international assassin here to kill Goldblum, but she runs afoul of a foul-mouthed skeevy arms dealer played by Charlie Day. Meanwhile, the Nurse tries to hold all this chaos together with the help of her loyal and good-hearted orderly Dave Bautista

A lot of scores are settled and there are revelations dropped about the Nurse's past and how it all ties into Goldblum, but it all feels undercooked and unearned. The third act, especially, should be taught in film schools, but as a cautionary tale since the reasons why the characters do just about anything they do are bewildering. Their actions feel more in service of the plot than anything that might actually benefit them from the way they're set up inititially - after all, they are criminals. There is bloody action and shootouts, but this isn't a visceral violent tour-de-force like John Wick either - though they try by giving Boutella a Daredevil-like hallway fight scene that she's fantastic in. Meanwhile, we're left wondering how the clean water riots turn out and the events that sparked them, all of which could have made for a hell of a lot more interesting a movie than Hotel Artemis turned out to be.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Ocean's 8

OCEAN'S 8

** SPOILERS **

Like the cubic zirconia duplicate of the $150-million Cartier diamond necklace Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) plots to heist, Gary Ross' Ocean's 8 is an imperfect copy of Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Trilogy. Debbie Ocean is the younger sister of Danny Ocean (George Clooney), who is believed to have died but she doesn't know for sure. Either way, Ocean's 8 spends a lot of its running time genuflecting at the feet of its predecessors, making it very clear that they're heisting in the spirit of Danny Ocean and his crew. "You would have loved it," Debbie swears to Danny's grave at the very end, and one can picture George Clooney's affable grin and agreeable nod, though what Danny Ocean was really thinking we never knew for sure. He'd probably react the same to Ocean's 8.

Debbie spent 5 years in prison masterminding a jewelry heist at the Met Gala (while making it clear their score is stealing from someone at the museum and not from the museum itself - though that turns out to be a lie). Once out of the clink, she immediately assembles roughly 70% of the crew that her big brother usually ran with: Cate Blanchett is her partner, Rihanna is their hacker and tech guru, Mindy Kaling is their forger, Sarah Paulson is their fence, Helena Bonham Carter is their accomplice, Awkwafina is their pickpocket, and Anne Hathaway is their unwitting mark, until she isn't. 

Hathaway blows everyone away and is the best thing in Ocean's 8; she delights as a wry parody of how people perceive celebrated movie star actresses (especially herself) behave, but she's also the only one with a character arc in the film. Blanchett, in the Brad Pitt sidekick role, does her best despite having to actual character to play; she even lacks Pitt's constant eating as a running gag. As for Debbie Ocean herself, Bullock is subdued, as if she's either keeping a private joke or stifling the urge to sneeze the entire time. Debbie Ocean's 8 lack the overall charm of Danny Ocean's Eleven (and Twelve and Thirteen), but the actresses' raw talents rise above what little there is for them to work with on the page.

Of course, Debbie is working a side hustle, just like big brother was. Danny's original Las Vegas score was also a plan to reunite with his estranged wife Tess (Julia Roberts). For Debbie, it's the opposite: she's out to frame and send her ex-boyfriend Richard Armitage to prison for ratting her out and sending her to the slammer for five years. Like Brad Pitt did to Clooney, Blanchett objects when she finds out, then goes along with it anyway.  What Ocean's 8 sorely lacks, however, is a villain of any sort, and Ross' film illustrates how vitally important Andy Garcia's malevolent casino owner Terry Benedict was to Ocean's Eleven. Without an opposing force that puts the Ocean crew at risk, Ocean's 8 essentially sails through its heist in a breeze. All of their plans go off without a hitch, they're never in any jeopardy whatsoever, and what little that does momentarily go wrong is covered up by Sandra Bullock yelling at someone in a foreign accent.

Overall, Ocean's 8 is entertaining enough but proves itself to be a fraction as good as Eleven or Thirteen (it probably ranks alongside the unmemorable Twelve). After each scoring eight figures in the end, even the rewards the ladies choose for themselves are boring: Hathaway decides to become a film director (why?), Blanchett buys a motorcycle, and Bullock takes a subway ride to Danny Ocean's tomb instead of buying a house in Lake Como, which is what big brother would do.

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