James Corden

Ocean’s Eight

19/06/18

I like Ocean’s Eight. I like its exuberance, its stellar cast, its slick plotting and its silliness. It looks great: as polished and meticulously groomed as the A-listers at the Met Gala, where the eponymous Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister of the franchise’s previous lead, masterminds an audacious jewellery robbery.

What’s not to like? Well, it’s just another heist movie, albeit a well-told one – a slice of polished nonsense, not particularly memorable. And it’s VERY American in its glorification of the maverick, a veritable celebration of outlaws and their crimes. Can you imagine a British film on a similar subject where everything runs so smoothly, where the thieves are as sympathetically presented, where no one bungles anything? Ocean and her team are almost super-human. All that talent – it’s a shame it’s wasted stealing sparkly stones. But still.

It’s great to see this fine group of actors given the chance to have some fun, playing roles that are strong, cool, funny and exciting. They don’t have to be seductive or damaged or any of the other limited options usually available to mainstream-movie women over thirty. (Of the eight, only Awkwafina is still – just in her twenties: Anne Hathaway, Rihanna and Mindy Kaling are all in their thirties; Cate Blanchett and Sarah Paulson in their forties, and – almost unbelievably – Sandra Bullock and Helena Bonham-Carter are over fifty now. How did that happen?) They all look like they’re having fun, especially Blanchett, razzing around on her motorbike, exuding charisma.

The plot’s a pretty simple one, even if the plan within is fiendishly complex. Debbie Ocean has been in prison for the past five years, and has spent her time conceiving every detail of this heist. She wants to pull off this crime, not just for the riches it will afford her, but for the kicks, and to live up to her family name. If she can exact revenge upon her ex at the same time, well, why wouldn’t she? So she looks up her old ally, Lou (Blanchett), currently engaged in watering down vodka at a nightclub she owns, and lays out her idea. They assemble a team and away they go.

It’s a shame there’s not much jeopardy: once the group has been established, the film is pretty much a series of daring steps, each one successful, building towards the climactic moment when the diamonds are snatched. The boldness is impressive, but there’s not much to feel other than admiration for their cunning; it’s pretty much a one-note film.

James Corden’s appearance in the final act is fun: he’s a much vilified man, but I’m never really sure why. He’s always been a good actor, and he’s very funny here, with some laugh-out-loud lines that help to puncture the smugness that’s in danger of creeping in.

All in all, this is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours; sadly though, that’s all it is.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

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Peter Rabbit

03/04/18

It’s raining. Again. We’ve both taken an extended Easter break from work, but we don’t fancy going ahead with our planned walk around Roslin Glen. Not in this weather. Neither do we fancy staying in though; we’re on holiday, after all.

– Cinema?

– Nah, we’ve seen everything, haven’t we?

– Not quite everything…

– Ah.

And so we find ourselves in Cineworld, in front of Peter Rabbit. Our expectations are low. And they’re met.

It’s hard to know where to start. Except to say that it’s a crying shame this is so… unpleasant. It’s beautifully animated; it’s lively; it’s got some great slapstick routines. It’s got an impressive cast (we’re not part of the anti-Corden brigade; he was ace in One Man, Two Guvnors, not to mention The History Boys, Teachers, Gavin and Stacey, and so on). It’s genuinely funny at times. But, despite quite obviously trying to jump on the same bandwagon, it’s lacking the warm heart that makes Paddington succeed.

There’s so much nastiness here. Even if you removed the much-publicised ‘use-a-person’s-life-threatening-allergies-to-attack-them’ stuff, there’d still be plenty to dislike. Man dies of heart attack: a cause for celebration. Man suffers huge electric shocks: ha ha, how we laugh. There’s no one to root for. Not Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson), the man child/disgruntled Harrod’s sales assistant, who inherits his uncle’s Windermere cottage and embarks on a mission to rid his vegetable patch of rabbits. Not Bea (Rose Byrne), the drippy incarnation of Beatrix Potter, who thinks rabbits should have free access to crops. And, sadly, not Peter either, nor any of his chums: they’re all cocky and banter-driven, cruel and bullying.

And, honestly, it all gets a bit dull. I think it’d make a decent short; there’e enough comedy to make a riotous twenty-minute piece. But the plot is too thin and the characters too one-dimensional to sustain a feature film.

But, hey. The kids around us are laughing, clearly enjoying themselves. I know we’re the wrong demographic, and – if this works for its intended audience – who am I to complain? It’s just, y’know, Paddington. We know it can be done.

2.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Into The Woods

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12/1/15

As I have documented elsewhere on this site, musicals are not really my cup of char. But there are a few I love (Little Shop of Horrors, Matilda, Cabaret…) , and these make me retain the hope that occasionally, others may appeal. Unfortunately I will not be adding Into The Woods to the short list on the positive side of the slate. It’s not that this Stephen Sondheim mash-up of six of the world’s most popular fairytales was bad, exactly; bits of it were wonderful. But on the whole, it fails to ignite. And not just because of Johnny Depp’s godawful pedophile wolf.

But let’s start with the positive. Meryl Streep is fabulous. Of course she is; when is she not? She clearly relishes her role as The Witch and plays it with enough vim and gusto to make her scenes, at least, compelling. And James Corden’s good too. I know he’s not always popular with the critics, but I think he has real talent; in this, he manages to be both endearing and ridiculous, and his singing isn’t too bad either.

The overall look of the film is remarkable. The lush, forbidding beauty of the forest is a perfect representation of FairyTale land and Frances De La Tour’s vengeful giant is a visual delight. And yet… there’s too much here to lament, not least the sheer brutal length of the film, a punishing 125 minutes that felt at least forty minutes too long – there were audible sighs of dismay around us as the audience realised that the ‘happy ending’ was by no means the end of the film. Not by a long shot.

And it’s this, I think, that sums up my main problem with it. Sondheim’s aim is to subvert the traditional fairy tale, to show that ‘happily ever after’ doesn’t really exist, that charming princes cheat and stray, that people can be selfish and unkind. It aims to expose the the fairy tales’ dark heart – but in truth, it’s just not dark enough; this is a Disney adaptation, after all, so even in the midst of its subversion, the fridge magnet epithets abound`: you’re never truly alone, even good people make mistakes, blah blah blah. It doesn’t have the guts to really look at what the stories say; there’s not the faintest traces of Angela Carter here.

Oh yeah. And I didn’t like the songs.

2.6 stars

Susan Singfield

One Chance

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24/12/14

Biopics are a notoriously difficult medium in which to score a cinematic hit, especially when the subject of said biopic is not particularly famous. Paul Potts’ singular claim to fame is that he was the winner of the very first series of Britain’s Got Talent. Since then, he’s remained pretty much out of the public eye, though by all accounts, he’s doing quite well for himself.

This film follows Paul (James Corden) through his episodes of childhood bullying, his inability to please his steelworker father (Colm Meany), his more sympathetic relationship with his mother (a criminally underused Julie Walters) his days as a salesman at Carphone Warehouse and his on-off romance with Julz (the ever-delightful Alexandra Roach.) Matters come to a head when, on a self-financed opera-course in Venice, despite showing considerable promise, his nerves eventually get the better of him when asked to perform for his hero, Pavarotti. There are also a couple on incidents of incredible bad luck which seem solely designed to put him off pursuing opera-singing as a career. Corden does a good job of making us care about Potts (indeed, it’s hard to understand why such large numbers of the general public reserve levels of contempt for this actor that would seem more suited to a fascist dictator.) While One Chance is hardly world-shattering stuff, it’s nonetheless an enjoyable slice of entertainment that actually managed to make me listen to the words of Simon Cowell without breaking out in hives.

The film died at the box office and it’s easy to see why – after all, who was it aimed at? Too trivial for opera-lovers, too serious for fans of BGT, too obscure for those who enjoy a good biopic. But nonetheless, this makes for decent family viewing on DVD.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

3.9 stars

Philip Caveney