Movie Review: Ocean’s 8

This post comes out a fair bit of time after the movie release, but it’s taken me a while to put my thoughts together, and I saw it twice, so I feel like I have more insight into how I feel about the film. So you’re thinking, she has seen it twice – so does it mean it’s a good movie? Not necessarily… read on!

Ocean’s 8 follows on from the original Ocean’s films: 11, 12, and 13. In this movie, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister of the now-deceased Danny Ocean, is whom we see first, reminiscent of the first few scenes of Ocean’s 11. Debbie is released from jail after five years – for a crime we’ll learn more about through the course of this movie – and soon goes back to her con-woman ways. She re-unites with her friend Lou (Cate Blanchett) who’s busy running a club and diluting vodka, and pitches her a heist. A heist of a piece of jewellery by Cartier, currently in a highly guarded vault. The idea is to get movie star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) to wear the Cartier necklace for the upcoming Met Gala, and then steal the piece there. So begins the assembly of the team: fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham┬áCarter), jeweller Amita (Mindy Kaling), weed-smoking hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), hustler Constance (Awkwafina), and ex-associate and now-bored homemaker Tammy (Sarah Paulson). And so begins the story of how they do it…with a twist in the end. There’s also a sub-plot about revenge on Debbie’s ex Claude Becker (Richard Armitage) floating about.

If you have watched the Ocean’s movies before, you’ll know there’s a certain pattern that follows. Team assesses the situation, encounters a few roadblocks, solves ’em, heist in progress, twist, fun end. OK.

While there were quite a few fun performances, the standout for me was Anne Hathaway, who just stole the show as the petulant, extravagant and pouty film star. Bullock was a calm, calculated Ocean, while Blanchett’s punk rock biker girl personality was brilliant. Bonham Carter and Paulson got a decent amount of screen time (the accent was all over the place, I thought), but it was frustrating for me to not get enough of Rihanna, Kaling or Awkwafina. They didn’t get much to do or show more of their personalities beyond the plotline.

The plot. OK, I mentioned this earlier, but while it sticks to the tried-and-tested formula, which is FINE, what it doesn’t do is give me a sense of urgency, like the previous Ocean’s movie did. As soon as a problem cropped up, it was solved immediately. No stress. Nothing. I can think of a couple of points where I thought, hang on, surely this isn’t *this* easy.

The other niggle I had was related to the actual relationships portrayed on-screen. I didn’t feel like the team bonded, or showed that they did, and it didn’t give me the ‘buddy’ movie vibe that I thought I’d get.

However, the movie was still fun for most part. I don’t know that I should have watched it the second time because I definitely enjoyed it more the first time around. But, what it does show is that it doesn’t matter whether you have male front runners or female, a movie can still be a heck of a lot of fun, engaging, and can fill cinemas and draw multiple laughs. So here’s to more diversity on screen!

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Visiting the Wagah Border from Amritsar, India

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I was in Amritsar in January 2018 with my cousin, and while researching the many activities that we wanted to undertake, visiting the Wagah Border and witnessing the flag ceremony between India and Pakistan was something she definitely wanted to do, and I thought, ‘Well why not?’. While hunting around for the best way to get there, I found Jugaadus. When I first mentioned this name to my cousin, she broke out into peals of laughter. So, the word ‘jugaad‘ means, very roughly, doing something very cleverly, or just thinking out-of-the-box. And the person who does this jugaad, is a jugaadu. I think.

Anyway, we booked the tour through Jugaadus, which is a hostel, and this is just one of the many tours it organises for its guests as well as for the general public.

When we got to the hostel, we waited in the clean central living room and then six of us piled into a vehicle with the driver (Vicky) to head towards the border. Once we arrived as far as we are allowed to go with a vehicle (it takes about an hour to drive), we left the car at the parking area, and off we went on foot. That took about 20-30 minutes max – of course this depends on how fast you walk. Once we arrived at the gate, there’s a massive sign that proclaimed “INDIA”. OK, got it. Then it was time for the security checkpoints. My advice: do not carry your bag with you. They won’t let it through especially if it has things like portable battery packs and so on. I had my phone and wallet in my hand and that was it. There’s a separate line to get through for Indians and non-Indians – the latter will have to carry your passport to make it in. I hadn’t carried mine but as Vicky said to me, “your face is your passport”. Haha.

Inside, the division continued. I found – through my own experience and then watching people who followed – that once you walk in, guards will usher you to the dustier, crowded side of the arena if you’re Indian. If you’re not, you get sent to the “VIP” section. Or if you’re Indian and rich/important/kick up a fuss, we saw those get through to the ‘fancy’ section too.

Once you find a seat, be prepared to wait for a bit. Hopefully you’ll have company, like I did, because you can get bored.

Before the actual drill, people are invited to come down to the arena and take part in a few interactive sessions like passing the flag along, and there’s a bit of dancing to the tune of Bollywood numbers, a lot chosen carefully to incite a sense of patriotism amongst the crowd I imagine. On that note, there’s a man with a megaphone screaming out chants and trying to get everyone to join in, and it feels like a competition with the other side on who’s cheering the loudest.

The arena filled up eventually, and then the soldiers came out. The military drill was dance-like with exaggerated movements, stomping and so on, with both the Indian and Pakistani soldiers on either side of the now-open gate mirroring movements. There’s a quick handshake at the crescendo, before the gates slam shut.

I had, in the run-up to researching this visit, read a few accounts where authors had slightly unpleasant experiences but I, luckily, didn’t encounter any.

Would I recommend it? Sure, only in that I don’t know of many borders that have such elaborate shows, and it’s one of those things you should check out if you can.

To book the Wagah Border tour with Jugaadus, click here.

Movie Review: Mamma Mia 2 – Here We Go Again

Ten years after the first movie came out, we have the sequel to Mamma Mia. But does it work? Will it get the movie-goers up and dancing?

The premise is simple: Donna Sheridan (Meryl Streep) passed away a year before the events of this movie (we are not told what happened) where her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is reopening the hotel as Villa Bella Donna and making her mother’s dreams come true. But there are challenges: her beau Sky (Dominic Cooper) has been offered a job in New York and he is thinking about taking it and not coming back to the island, and her two fathers out of three (Bill Andersen/Stellan Skarsgard and Harry Bright/Colin Firth) can’t make it for the re-opening. And her on-island father Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan) is grieving for Donna. While we follow Sophie’s journey and her struggles, we are also taken back in time to when Donna was growing up, and how she met the three potential fathers. Does everything work out in the end?

Well, yes. This *is* a feel-good movie after all!

Let’s start with the returning cast. Amanda Seyfried is really good in this one – I really think I preferred her in this movie compared to the original, and I absolutely and unequivocally loved the duet between her and Sky after their phone call where it seemed as though the relationship was at at end. Not only were both their performances heart-breaking (in a good way, I was totally in the moment), but the way it was shot was beautiful.

Sky (Cooper) isn’t in the movie much, much like the first instalment. But I did have a niggle with his contrived plot point: I mean, okay, he came back mid-way but why did he? Fine, every single decision doesn’t have to be explained, but I was genuinely confused with his ‘I couldn’t stay away’ reason, but hey-ho I’m just nitpicking now.

Both of Donna’s friends, played by Christine Baranski and Julie Walters in the current day, were as brilliant as always. And it was amazing to see that their younger selves, played by Alexa Davies and Jessica Keenan Wynn, were so perfectly cast, I couldn’t believe it. Both forms of these characters were so in sync, I was well impressed.

And the same goes for young Donna. Played by Lily James (I first discovered her in Downton Abbey), I was blown away by her voice and her performance throughout the movie. Cannot wait to see more of James in the future.

Now, on to the dads. Pierce Brosnan still isn’t necessarily the best singer of the lot (sorry Remington Steele, I still adore you) but he puts on a better performance than 10 years ago. How much he misses Donna can be seen through his nuanced acting, and I felt like I could feel his pain as he looks over her photographs. Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard were hilarious, and Firth’s comic timing is still perfection. Quick note about the younger actors who played them: I hadn’t actually noticed them in anything before, but they were great! And such good singers too!

So, Cher is in the movie. When she starts singing, it’s like, OK this is what we were waiting for. She obviously, absolutely nailed every song she performed. I almost wish we had had more of her powerful voice in the movie. Andy Garcia is also in the movie, as the older, still smouldering, hotel manager, and his role in an enjoyable song later in the movie led to so many laughs and cheers in the theatre. I wish so much I could have heard him sing more, though.

Mild spoiler alert, so maybe gloss over this para if you can? There is a touching scene at the end of the movie which left me tearing up. The whole mother-daughter connection (what, you thought it was all about ABBA?!) was strong in the first movie, and is strong here too – especially where we are seeing the parallels between what Sophie is going through and what Donna was dealing with so many years ago. But it all comes to a satisfying, bone-tingling and eye-tearing end when Sophie and Donna share a duet, in a ‘she’s looking down at you from the heavens’ way that worked, that actually didn’t make you think, ‘well this is cheesy’ but made you sing along and cry because that’s how wonderful it was.

OK YOU CAN READ FROM HERE ON, SPOILER AVOIDERS!

The plot isn’t exactly strong and obviously some points seem built just so a song could be sung, but it’s so much fun nonetheless. Since so many of ABBA’s hit songs were used in the first movie, there are some that are repeated (like Mamma Mia, Waterloo, I Have A Dream and so on) but done well enough that it doesn’t matter. Look, I watched this movie right after Mission: Impossible – Fallout which stressed me out so much for nearly three hours, this one calmed me right back down and I left feeling chirpy.

Do you enjoy ABBA, love singing, and want to see a feel-good movie that may make you cry and laugh? OK, here’s your chance.

And stay for the last song where all the characters get to sing and dance together, it’s so worth it.