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Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter
Release Date: June 8 (U.S)
Going into Ocean’s 8 as a novice to the Ocean’s franchise, it was clear from the off that this was not your everyday heist movie. For one, whilst the premise of another remake featuring a gender-swapped cast (See: Ghostbusters) seems overdone and tedious, Ocean’s 8 swiftly defies expectations whilst staying true to the slick and clever nature of the original trilogy.
Perhaps the greatest praise that can be afforded to Ocean’s 8 is that the fact that the spin-off doesn’t feel unnecessary or gratuitous. The plot is fairly generic; complete with a ‘twist’ at the end that most of the audience had guessed some twenty minutes into the movie, so the real highlight is the ensemble cast. Sandra Bullock carries the main crux of the movie as Debbie Ocean (sister of George Clooney’s Danny) with ease and, in a pairing with Blanchett, often makes a play to steal every scene. That honour, however, undoubtably goes to Anne Hathaway who fits almost too seamlessly into character as a spoilt acting megastar. Kaling, Paulson and Awkwafina do well with the sometimes limited screen-time they get and Rihanna makes a solid attempt at redemption after her tragic debut in 2010’s Battleship. Maybe the one weak link between the 8 is Bonham Carter’s incomprehensible Irish accent but even this doesn’t detract from the onscreen chemistry that the titular group clearly have.
The moments where the film falls short are often when it branches out from the main heist; namely the sometimes unclear subplot revolving around Debbie and her former flame Claude (Richard Armitage) and, most jarring of all, an experience from expatriate James Corden whose character seems terribly at odds with the rest of the film. Suffering from poor comic timing and the fact that his character appears to be simply ‘Brit-who-has-history-with-the-protagonist”, this is not a film for Corden to come away from with much praise. The aforementioned twist at the end of the film (not to be spoiled here) goes someway to get back into the spirit of the first half of the film and its testament to the screenwriters that the final montage of the women feels like a natural conclusion to their story.
So where does Ocean’s 8 place amongst the plethora of this summer’s blockbusters? Well it certainly doesn’t have the sheer spectacle of Avengers: Infinity War, nor is it an out and out action film like Rampage or Fallen Kingdom but it is a very enjoyable two hours and a watch that exceeds the majority of the big name films that have come into our cinemas this year.
Rating: 3/5 Stars
It’s that time of the year when the big U.S networks decide which of their TV offerings will be renewed for further seasons and which will inevitably make their way to the graveyard. Undoubtedly, the biggest news story this year was Fox’s axing of the popular comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine and its eleventh hour rescue courtesy of NBC, but which shows were not so lucky? Here we count down the top 5 biggest casualties of this years renewal season.
Fox themselves have declared the loss of Lucifer to be a “ratings based decision” and with a reported 50% drop in viewers it’s hard to argue that the Tom Ellis-fronted drama was capable of either maintaining it’s current viewership or attracting new ones. In addition to this, it received very mixed reviews from critics and, despite critical reception increasing during its latest run-out, its position became increasingly under threat from some of Fox’s newest dramas and resulted in its cancellation. Fans of the show have not responded well to the news and have set up several petitions and social media campaigns to try and save the show from the axe; probably baited by the show-runner’s announcement that they deliberately left the season finale on a cliffhanger in order to deter Fox from cancellation – a tactic that definitely backfired.
Serving as a prequel for the popular film trilogy, Taken found it’s own run ended after only two seasons. Haemorrhaging viewers, Taken rates as NBC’s lowest rated drama and even a cast overhaul just before the broadcast of the second season couldn’t save the show from the axe. Starring Clive Standen as a younger version of Liam Neeson’s protagonist, the show always struggled to firmly establish itself from its source and wasn’t reviewed all that positively by critics even when revamped after a poorly received first season. Despite NBC being fairly conservative when it came to cancelling this year, it’s hard to argue with the network’s rationale on this one.
The first of an ABC 1-2-3, Quantico, at its launch, became the first American drama series to have a South Asian star as its lead. However this act of diversity was clearly not enough to save it despite fairly consistent critical approval and praise for the performance of the lead, Priyanka Chopra. As it often the case, it was a fall of viewers that lined up the nails across Quantico’s coffin and, enjoying a 70% drop since its first season, the writing was perhaps on the wall when a shorter episode count for its third season was commissioned last year. Nevertheless, the loss of Quantico will be felt both as a force for greater diversity on network TV and as a solid action-based drama.
After the success of the majority of the Netflix based Marvel shows (sorry Iron Fist), Marvel pulled out all of the stops for its newest comics-based offering. Originally pencilled in as part of Marvel’s Phase 3 film slate, Inhumans was slyly taken off the official schedule (possibly to make way for the far superior Spider-Man: Homecoming) and began to develop into in a TV show. Filmed with special IMAX cameras and assembling a solid cast, there was plenty of hype heading into its debut last September so one has to ask; where did it go wrong? The answer: it simply wasn’t good. Featuring frankly bizarre accents, a confusing plot-line and an emphasis on the mundane, it is perhaps no shock that ABC decided to produce no more of the troubled show and is perhaps further proof that for all of Marvel’s film successes, it still lags behind DC Comics when it comes to producing successful TV shows.
Arguably the biggest casualty of this year’s cancellations is Kiefer Sutherland’s Designated Survivor. Acting as his first appearance in a network TV show since 24, the show follows the aftermath of a terrorist attack that wipes out the entire American government and was well received during its first run. Whilst the second season suffered a bit in terms of plot and pacing (something exemplified by its continually dropping ratings), it was still a solid political drama and was personally the only entry on this list that I was surprised by its cancellation. Featuring a solid cast and a likeable turn by Sutherland, it is unfortunate that Designated Survivor finds itself in the TV graveyard come the end of its second, and now final, season.
A review of the first season of 13 Reasons Why
Starring: Dylan Minnette, Katherine Langford, Christian Navarro, Alisha Boe, Brandon Flynn, Justin Prentice, Miles Heizer, Ross Butler, Devin Druid, Amy Hargreaves, Derek Luke, Kate Walsh
Release Date: March 31, 2017, Season 2: May 18, 2018
With the release of the second season of arguably 2017’s most controversial show, I was convinced to give the first offering of 13 Reasons Why a go. Before we go any further, it’s probably a good idea to mention that this show deals with several extremely mature themes that may not be suitable for all viewers.
When I was first introduced to the context around the release of the first series, it was clear that this show is not afraid to tackle the controversial subjects of suicide, sexual abuse and bullying. The outcry resulting from certain groups and individuals was enough for Netflix to film a special advisory message prior to certain episodes (correctly in my opinion). The show itself is based upon the novel by Jay Asher and naturally is required to flesh out a number of the bit-part characters in order to fill 13 hours of television. This, on the whole, is done well enough for viewers to feel connected to the vast majority of these characters by the end of the first season’s run.
The premise of the series is relatively simple. Hannah Baker (played by newcomer Katherine Langford) has taken her own life after a series of devastating circumstances and, as a substitution for a note, has recorded 13 messages on 13 cassette tapes detailing the reasons that she ended her life. Each one of the tapes is based upon an individual and her aim is for each of the subjects to listen to the tapes and understand why she made her decision. The tapes eventually find their way to Clay (Dylan Minnette) and the show begins with him starting to listen to the tapes.
It is once again important to note that the majority of the tapes are not easy to watch/listen to and Langford gives an excellent performance throughout the series. At a first glance, it may appear that some of the reasons are petty or trivial but something the show does well at is portraying the gradual wearing down of Hannah’s personality as the series continue. Things get a little complicated towards the end as some have claimed that the show makes out that suicide was the only option for Hannah’s character and I kind of understand where they are coming from. Whilst the actual scene where she takes her own life is extremely graphic and possibly one of the hardest scenes I have ever had to watch onscreen, the show does fail to provide alternatives. Without delving into spoilers, the school’s councillor is pretty useless and there is no reference to any external group that specialises in suicide prevention.
The show walks a very fine line at times but is held together by phenomenal performances from its cast. Hannah is portrayed breathtakingly by Langford and the character of Clay is equally as well rounded. Hannah’s mother (Kate Walsh) is another starring turn as are the characters of Alex (Miles Heizer) and Jessica (Alicia Boe) whose personally tragedies really hold together the present-day portion of the show. The highest praise I can give the cast (and the writers) is that vast majority of the characters feel like well-rounded individuals with obvious weaknesses but are clearly not systemically evil. The possible exceptions to this are jock Bryce (Justin Prentice) who, through no fault of the actor, doesn’t really get that much to do in the opening half of the season and therefore comes across as a rather one-dimensional ‘evil’ character and school editor Ryan (Tommy Dorfman) whose character trait appears to be limited to sarcastic and is probably the character most will forget at the end of the season.
Unlike a number of Netflix’s original shows, there isn’t a mid-season slump in quality. This is, in part, due to the quality of the cast and also due to the proxy three-episode arc that occupies the second half of the season. This immediately elevates the show above other dramas who go on for much longer than 13 episodes but have half the character development. On first viewing, this appeared to be a one-and-done series so I am intrigued as to how Netflix will pad out the second and will be tuning in on May 18th to hopefully bring this tragic story to an end.
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Note. As mentioned numerous times above, this may not be a suitable show for certain people to watch and discretion should definitely be advised.
Beginning way back in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was (and can be argued, still is) unparalled amongst large-budget franchises. Some would argue that Star Wars has been more commercially and culturally successful, others would stake a claim that Peter Jackson’s orignally Lord of the Rings trilogy has the award pedigree behind it; however neither of these box-office behemoths has had quite the staying power that Marvel currently enjoys.
When Nick Fury crept out from the shadows during a post-credits scene found in the very first instalment in the MCU, it was hard to fathom just how important a statement his appearance would be in defining modern cinema. Eighteen films later, Avengers: Infinity War brings together much of what makes each individual Marvel offering an enjoyment to sit through although(given the sheer scale and ambition of the film) obviously it is not flawless.
Smartly, the Avengers are separated quickly into sub-teams almost immediately – indeed Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man shares screen-time with only one other of the original line-up. The founding father of the MCU is thrown into a team with Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and fellow magician Wong (Benedict Wong) and quickly launched into space. Similarly, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is thrust into an unlikely partnership with the Guardians of the Galaxy whilst the remaining Earth-based heroes all conglomerate around Captain America (Steve Evans). It is these three that the three sub-plots of the movie revolve around and, for the most part, they are able to drive the narrative forward without proceedings appearing convoluted.
I use the word ‘subplot’ as undoubtably the main plot of the film is based around Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his quest for the six Infinity Stones. Brolin is the clear MVP of procedings and comes across as an almost sympathatic character at times; despite his horrifying end-goal. Conversly, somewhat disappointing is the film’s handling of his ‘children’, in particular the ever-creepy Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor). It’s a shame he was offed rather early as he no doubt would have made for an entertaining recurring villain if given the screen time deserved. This is a minor gripe however and for a film that features no less than 41 named characters, it is impressive that he is afforded the time on-screen that he is. The same cannot be said of the three other lieutenants of Thanos whose names I don’t think were mentioned once during the film’s duration.
It is as a result of the over-saturation of the film that some previously key characters are left a little short changed. This, in particular, applies to franchise stalwart Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and somewhat surprisingly Captain America himself. One imagines that if Disney had predicted the overwhelmingly positive reaction of Black Panther, the nation and people of Wakanda would have received far more screen-time than they did. Although serving as the Earth-based setting for the final act, Black Panther’s home country acts as little more of a way of shoehorning even more characters into a film that perhaps didn’t require their presence.
One of the film’s major surprises (no, not that one – I’ll get to that) is the prominence of the Guardians of the Galaxy. It isn’t hyperbole to suggest that Drax (Dave Bautista) steals almost every scene that he’s in and their initial interactions with Thor are largely built around the trademark comedy we now come to accept. Despite her previously established connections to the Mad Titan, Gamora’s story really is the surprise of the movie and leads to a particularly heartbreaking sequence that feels like nothing the MCU has ever tried before.
Of course, most of the talk about the film is centred on its ending and, without going into too much detail, whilst it is a massive shock to the audience; further reflection casts doubt upon whether or not it will stick (spoiler alert: it won’t). Nevertheless, it is an extremely poignant end to a film that is almost a comedy at times and allows several cast members to showcase their acting chops. The standout is obviously Tom Holland and the way he performs in the scene reminds the audience that despite all of his bravado and handy pop-culture references, Spider-Man is in fact still a teenager; indeed, his performance sparked a lot of emotion in the screening I found myself in and certainly ranks as one of the rawest moments in the MCU and in superhero films as a genre.
Whilst the film does misuse a proportion of its cast, it is clear that this is the most ambitious cross-over event in cinema history and the fact that it arrives with a coherent plot and doesn’t resort to overuse of CGI (not looking at any Justice League-based films in particular) is nothing short of a miracle. This film will undoubtedly break records across the globe and is one of the major spectacles to arrive this summer.
Rating: 4/5 Stars