Ocean’s 8 (2018) starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, & Anne Hathaway

NOTE: This post contains MILD SPOILERS for the film (now playing in theaters).

What seems like a fun, simple heist movie (female reboot of Ocean’s franchise), has layers (when you dig deeper). The dialogue and slow-ish directing style leaves much to be desired, BUT the actors pull off a LOT w/ the strength of their personalities, FAB fashion, confidence, and (off course) charisma. These women (mostly household names) are NOT afraid to poke fun at themselves. At one point, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) says: “A he gets noticed. A she is invisible. We want to be invisible.” Oooh, if that’s NOT a direct jab at major Hollywood film studios, I don’t know what is!

I haven’t seen Bullock (who plays recent parolee/younger sis of Danny) in a while; she’s had some hits (and quite a few misses) in her career. (Fun fact: He mom was an opera singer from Germany; she speaks some German at pivotal points in the film.) Cate Blanchett (Lou) is great, as usual; her platinum bob and menswear-inspired suits look V cool. I much prefer to see Blanchett in this type of strong/independent woman role, as opposed to Blue Jasmine (saw recently on Netflix w/ my mom). Her performance is compelling in that (rather lackluster) film, BUT I just like her kicking ass! There is an enigmatic nature to the relationship between Debbie and Lou.

Anne Hathaway (who steals the show) takes on the self-obsessed Hollywood star archetype. I think even Hathaway’s haters will have to take note of this performance! She is more of an earnest theater geek/English major, a far cry from Daphne Kluger, who swings from confident to insecure in the blink of an eye. Dahne’s designer for the Met Gala is Rose Weil (Helena Bonham-Carter), a broke Irishwoman near the end of her rope (until she meets Debbie and Lou). Bonham-Carter also makes fun of herself; take note the of the quirky touches (incl. hair, gloves, Victorian-inspired outfits). It’s great to see her (on the big screen) after MANY years. 

My friends and I were excited to see Mindy Kaling (now a mom- WOW); I wanted to know a BIT more re: her diamond-expert character, Amita. Awkwafina, a young Chinese-American actress from Queens, gets laughs for her deadpan performance of Constance (a skateboarding street hustler). Catch her later this Summer on Crazy Rich Asians. And who can forget Nine Ball, a young hacker played by Rihanna!? She just has the kind of screen presence that can’t be faked, even covered in baggy ponchos and working over a laptop. Sarah Paulson is the bored suburban mom, Tammy; she should’ve gotten more to do. 

Richard Armitage fans (like myself) will be V happy to see the Brit get more exposure; he plays Claude Becker (art dealer/con man). He recently tweeted that he got the role last-minute. Another Brit I’m also fan of (Damian Lewis- starring in Showtime’s Billions) had to drop out. Claude is Daphne’s date for the Gala; he has little interest in her (as a person), BUT seems to love being in proximity to celebs. (There are MANY celeb cameos in this film- FYI.) There are little moves and expressions to show Daphne that he cares, BUT this is all a performance. Richard does a great job in his (limited) role; he gets really great outfits, too. 

Sidenote: If you want to know more re: the Met Gala, check out the doc that the characters watch- The First Monday in May (Netflix). 

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Phantom Thread (2017) starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Kreips, & Lesley Manville

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the film.

Set in the glamour of 1950s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants, and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love. -Synopsis from Focus Features

Arguably the strongest part of the film, the score possesses Paul Thomas Anderson’s signature strange aura that is found in several of his other films. While most movies nowadays would use music to heighten drama, he rejects the common norm; valuing music to form an atmosphere.

The acting is very strong, as the film’s performances can feel slightly subdued and low-key before creeping up on the viewer to create a sharp but simple impact. The movie’s script is a delight, managing to pull of a genuine hat-trick by feeling both simple and complex at the same time. 

Ms. Krieps goes toe-to-toe with Daniel Day-Lewis in their scenes. Her blushy cheeks and determined eye of observation bely an inner strength that isn’t necessarily obvious at first glance. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Director Paul Thomas (P.T.) Anderson got the initial idea for this film while he was sick in bed one day. His wife, actress Maya Rudolph, was tending to him and gave him a look that made him realize that she had NOT looked at him with such tenderness and love in a long time. P.T. Anderson wrote the script in collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis (DDL). The actor suggested the name of his character be Reynolds Woodcock as a joke, BUT Anderson found that hilarious and kept it. To prep for his role, DDL (renown as a method actor) watched footage of ’40s and ’50s fashion shows, studied famous designers, consulted with the curator of fashion and textiles (Victoria and Albert Museum), and apprenticed under Marc Happel (head of the costume department at the NYC Ballet). DDL also learned how to sew. He said that this would be his final film. 

When I was a boy, I started to hide things in the lining of the garments. Things only I knew were there. Secrets. -Reynolds explains to Alma on their first date

Fastidious fashion designer, Reynolds Woodcock (DDL) meets waitress Alma (Vicky Kreips- an actress who comes from Luxembourg) when he stops for breakfast at a little restaurant on the way to his country house. He orders a huge breakfast; it’s obvious that they’re interested in each other. After dinner at a fancy restaurant, Reynolds takes Alma to his house where he puts her on a pedestal (literally) and begins to measure her for a dress. She is surprised, yet intrigued. 

I cannot start my day with a confrontation. I simply have no time for confrontations. -Reynolds explains to Alma over breakfast 

The tea is going out. The interruption is staying right here with me. -Reynolds complains to Alma when she comes to his workroom to serve him tea.

In no time, Alma is living in Reynolds’ London house; she has her own room (next door to his). It turns out that Reynolds and his business partner/sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville- a British character actress), are a package deal. It’s NOT an ideal situation for Alma, though she gets used to this unique life. The domestic space is also a business, so there are people around most of the time (servants, seamstresses, etc.) Alma is fitted for fine dresses, serves as a model, and meets famous clients of the House of Woodcock. However, she grows dissatisfied w/ her (undefined) role in Reynolds’ life. He puts his work first and doesn’t apologize for it; she wants him to be nicer (instead of critical and demanding). Alma wants to get married; Reynolds thinks of himself as “a confirmed bachelor.” Eventually, he realizes Alma is different than his past girlfriends; he loves her and needs her around. 

Some have embraced this film warmly; after all, it deals w/ compromise in romantic relationships, the everyday trials of domestic life, and challenges of being involved w/ an artist. This film has problematic elements (esp. for modern/feminist viewers), though it’s well-made and finely acted. As some critics pointed out, Alma (who is in her 30s) doesn’t really have much power in the relationship; Reynolds (older/wealthier/influential) could throw her out on the street at any time. We don’t learn where Alma comes from (she has a vague/European accent), if she has any family, or what her life was like (before she met Reynolds). 

Does Alma take back some of the power in their relationship? Well, she decides to use the poison mushrooms to slow Reynolds down. He becomes sick temporarily, yet also emotionally vulnerable. She admits that she likes this side of him. The second time, Reynolds consents to being poisoned, eating the omelet she serves w/ great relish. Hmmm… NOT exactly the kind of ending you’d expect from the typical period drama/romance! 

 

North by Northwest (1959) starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, & Martin Landau

While filming Vertigo (1958), Alfred Hitchcock described some of the plot to its star/frequent collaborator James Stewart, who naturally assumed that Hitchcock meant to cast him in the Roger Thornhill role. This time, the director wanted Cary Grant, who he thought looked younger (though, at 55 y.o. was 4 yrs older than Stewart). By the time Hitchcock realized the misunderstanding, Stewart was so eager to play the lead that rejecting him would’ve caused a great deal of disappointment. Hitchcock decided to delay production until Stewart was already committed to Anatomy of a Murder before officially offering him the North by Northwest role. Stewart had to turn down the offer, allowing Hitchcock to cast Grant.

Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself “slightly” killed. -Roger describes himself

A Madison Ave ad man, Roger Thornhill (Grant), finds himself in the world of spies when he is mistaken for someone named George Kaplan. A British man, Philip Vandamm (James Mason), along w/ his henchman Leonard (Martin Landau) and others try to kill Roger. In a meeting room somewhere, a group of FBI agents (headed by The Professor), are discussing the dilemma of Mr. Kaplan- a decoy, not a real man. Roger investigates, though even his mother is skeptical, and eventually gets framed for murder. He manages to flee the police and runs on board the 20th Century Limited (a train) headed for Chicago. Roger meets a beautiful blond, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who decides to hide him in her sleeper berth. He wonders why she’s being so helpful. Vandamm and his men continue to pursue Roger. 

The moment I meet an attractive woman, I have to start pretending I have no  desire to make love to her. -Roger admits sheepishly

What makes you think you have to conceal it? -Eve asks, matter-of-factly

She might find the idea objectionable. -Roger explains

Then again, she might not. -Eve replies

Though this film is fast-moving and efficiently made, MGM wanted the film cut by 15 mins (to be under 2 hrs). Hitchcock’s contract gave him control over the final cut (which is the most power that can be given to a director). Eva Marie Saint said that Alfred Hitchcock was unhappy with costumes MGM had designed for her, so marched her to Bergdorf Goodman (a department store) and personally picked out clothes for her character. When Landau’s character first sees Grant’s, he comments: “He’s a well-tailored one.” All of Landau’s suits for the film were made by Grant’s personal tailor. The clothes are fabulous (esp. the black and red floral evening dress worn by Eve in Chicago). Grant even has a shirtless scene, proving that clothes don’t only make the man. 

[1] This film has something for everyone within it: a little comedy, a little romance, great snappy dialogue and action… 

[2] There is great acting and a great story. You should be engaged and intrigued, and always surprised and what will occur next. 

[3] Of course the famous crop dusting plane scene and the Mount Rushmore chase are terrific. The former is really more notable for the amount of time taken to build up to the action than the action itself, while the technical work on the latter still looks pretty good. 

[4] Roger Thornhill is one of the best roles Mr. Grant played, during his long career. His chemistry with Eva Marie Saint is perfect. 

[5] Cary Grant’s debonair manner is displayed to the full in this film, even though the peril that his character goes through would cause any normal dude to break into a maddening sweat. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Deadwood (Season 2): Episodes 1 & 2

Episodes 1 & 2: A Lie Agreed Upon, Parts I & II

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Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) faces off against Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant).

After a LONG time (almost a year), I’ve returned to Deadwood! FYI: It’s available on Amazon Prime. The big issue- Al (Ian McShane) knows re: Alma Garret (Molly Parker) and Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) hooking up on the regular (as the kids say), and insults him about it. Maybe in Al’s mind, a man of the law should NOT be in an illicit relationship? Or maybe he just wants a fight? Being the stubborn man that he is, Bullock can’t let that slide.

Theses two town titans get into a VERY nasty fight inside The Gem which eventually flows out onto the street. Instead of shooting Bullock, Al hits Bullock’s bestie/business partner, Sol Stark (John Hawkes), in the shoulder. Trixie (Paula Malcolmson) is horrified and rushes to Sol’s side, which I REALLY liked. YAY for potential romance (hey, w/ a show like this, you take the little scraps of positive emotions when you can)!

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After the big fight, Martha (Anna Gunn) sees to Bullock’s injuries.

We see (once again) that Al is NOT 100% evil; after he saw young William (Bullock’s nephew-turned-adopted-son), he didn’t kill Bullock. Al takes his badge and gun though. I was a BIT surprised to see how calm/collected William’s mom, Martha (Anna Gunn), was during the rowdy tussle. Hmmm… there MUST be more to her than meets the eye! Martha (widow of Seth’s older brother) and William look like they are straight out of central casting (cleanly dressed, well-behaved, and polite).

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HOW awkward was that scene where Alma (escorted by trusty Ellsworth) went to see re: Bullock’s injuries, and also check out Martha!? Ahhh yes, love makes fools of us all, even a financially-independent/beautiful/cultured widow! I just hope that Alma does NOT go back to  laudanum IF things get rough.  

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Maddie (Alice Krieg)

There’s a new madam in town- Maddie (Alice Krieg); she comes from back East w/ a few new girls (prostitutes). Krieg (who hails from South Africa) is BEST known as the Borg Queen in the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe. Her flawless pale skin, intense eyes, and mysterious face seem like an odd fit for Deadwood, BUT I can’t wait to see what her character will get up to in the future!   

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Cy bitterly celebrates Joanie’s new place w/ his girls at the Bella Union.

Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe) is VERY shocked/angered when he learns that Joanie (Kim Dickey) is going into business w/ Maddie at the new whorehouse (Chez Ami). Joanie has been w/ Cy since she was 14 y.o. and I think that he REALLY loves her (in his way, of course). I was a BIT concerned for Joanie when she confronted Cy though!  

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Joanie (Kim Dickey) inspects Chez Amis.

Bullock gets his badge and gun back. Surprise- Al returns the items w/o a fight!  Bullock also makes his choice re: his personal life. He won’t run away w/ Alma, BUT will live in the new house he had built for his family. They need a man’s protection, after all. But what kind of marraige will this be (they have a bundle bed)?

Lucy Gallant (1955) starring Jane Wyman & Charlton Heston

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A poster for the film

[1] The scenes of the hotels being so full and nothing for people to buy in the boom towns is very accurate. The development of the great department store is really telling the story of famed Texas department stores such as Neiman-Marcus…

[2] I love the story of the strong, driven, successful woman. She so reminds me of the woman I always aspired to be. It was such a perfect match between Jane Wyman and Charlton Heston. They really complimented each other.

[3]…and the ups and downs of the relationship could fit today’s challenges for a woman who wants to have it all. But what I’ll admit right now is how I loved the clothes!!!

[4] Thelma Ritter was a little doll in here. I’m so used to her in her usual matronly-maidish clothes — but seeing her in those Edith Head creations at the end was wonderful.

 -Various IMDB comments

If you liked Giant (1956), then give this film a look. The story centers on Lucy Gallant (Jane Wyman), a fashionable upper-class woman who leaves NYC for a Texas boom town in the ’30s. Upon getting off the train, she meets Casey Cole (Charlton Heston), a local cowboy. He carries her over the mud, since her heels are NOT quite suited for this environment.

Casey takes a liking to Lucy, even taking her to the boarding house where he sometimes stays while in town; it’s owned by an older friend, Molly (Thelma Ritter- a character actress who’s great in everything), and her husband, Gus. Molly is pleasantly surprised to see Casey w/ such a classy woman. (It’s cool to see Thelma Ritter in some glam clothes later in the film; she usually plays housekeepers.) After settling her in, Casey heads off to his OWN ranch.

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Casey Cole (Charlton Heston)

To get started in business, Lucy sells her wedding trousseau to local women (wives and daughters of men who’ve recently discovered oil). We learn that her father died amid a financial scandal, then her fiancé left her at the altar. Casey is impressed by Lucy’s plans and ambitions, BUT also skeptical (after all, she has NEVER worked before). Lucy is (obviously) attracted to Casey, BUT she keeps him at arm’s length, since her main focus is starting a clothing store.

One day, Lucy and Casey have a picnic on his ranch. He’s thinking re: selling his family’s land to a large oil company, then settling down (w/ a wife and kids, of course). Well, Lucy gets the hint, BUT she says that she MUST return to take care of the store. The store gets started on a good footing, thanks to unique inventory, loyal customers, and her long hours of hard work.   

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Lucy Gallant (Jane Wyman) at a fashion show

This is one of those classic films that is still VERY relevant today! Can women “have it all” (career, family, social life, etc)? Why are MANY men intimidated by successful women, esp. those who earn more than themselves? There is good chemistry between Wyman and Heston; their characters are BOTH quite confidant, tough, and stubborn-minded. Will they EVER get together!?