Silly plot doesn’t take the shine from latest in Ocean’s series

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Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett spearhead star-studded cast.

Ocean’s EightThe Ocean this time is Debbie, sister of Danny Ocean. Just paroled, Debbie, played by Sandra Bullock, starts assembling a crew for a modest little heist: The Met Gala in Manhattan.

Cate Blanchett plays some kind of shady bar manager, Mindy Kaling is a jeweler, Sarah Paulson is a fence turned suburban mom, Rihanna is a hacker, the rapper known as Awkwafina plays a hustler and pickpocket, and Helena Bonham Carter plays a dotty Irish fashion designer. An eighth member, neurotic movie star Anne Hathaway, is unwittingly drafted into the crew.

Near the beginning, Debbie tells her pal that she’s run through the caper again and again in her head while she was in the joint, working out the bugs, and that she’s confident it’s foolproof. What director Gary Ross, who wrote the script with Olivia Milch, then unfolds for us is quite possibly the silliest, least-likely-to-go-smoothly criminal plot I’ve ever seen depicted in a movie. The circumstances required to come together serendipitously would seem optimistic not only in the earlier films in the Ocean series, but in a Gilbert and Sullivan musical.

This may have been intentionally part of the joke by Ross and Milch; in any case it doesn’t hurt the film. Ocean’s Eight is about about eight beautiful, commanding actresses striding around swanky settings in dazzling outfits, and getting the better of skunky men. It’s lavishly yet slickly made, and devoid of any significant emotional or intellectual content. I found it thoroughly undemanding and enjoyable.

None of the stars are remotely asked to stretch themselves, and that works to the movie’s benefit, too–everybody’s low-key and relaxed, and their interplay is droll without any straining. All eight shine for at least a scene or two, but unsurprisingly the standout is the bedraggled but game Helena Bonham Carter: Her theft of the movie is by far the most efficient heist we get to see.

 

Still in theaters:

Book ClubThe title bibliophile’s club consists of four affluent L.A. women: widow Diane Keaton, whose kids want her to move to Arizona; rich, perennially single hotel tycoon Jane Fonda; federal judge Candice Bergen, long-divorced and unable to move on; and married but romantically frustrated chef Mary Steenburgen. One month the assigned book (chosen by Fonda) is Fifty Shades of Grey, and it gets all four of them stirred up. Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Don Johnson, Richard Dreyfuss, Ed Begley Jr. and Wallace Shawn are the various men who enter, or re-enter, the lives of the ladies.

The script of this emeritus chick flick, by director Bill Holderman and Erin Simms, is pretty terrible, with banter and little heartfelt speeches linked together by some embarrassing physical shtick. But this, in itself, is a testament to the skill and charisma of these four magnificent women. Like Ocean’s Eight, this movie is redeemed by a bunch of really good actresses–their committed delivery gives even the feeble college-playwrighting-class monologues here a degree of gravitas.

Probably nothing in the film is more mortifying than the idea that these powerful, worldly women would be so shocked and scandalized by the feeble Fifty Shades books. At one point, while reading, Keaton is heard to mutter “Give me a break.” There’s a solid literary judgement.

 

RBGIn Book Club, Candice Bergen’s federal judge has a bobblehead of Ruth Bader Ginsberg on her desk. The suggestion is that even the Supreme Court Justice’s peers might regard her as a heroine.

This documentary explains why Justice Ginsburg’s current status as a cultural icon, on t-shirts and mugs and Saturday Night Live, isn’t and shouldn’t be just a fad. Those who, like me, were unfamiliar with her career as a lawyer will learn that even if she hadn’t been named to the Court, she would still have a place in its history, having argued before it repeatedly, and mostly successfully, for gender equality when it was still an exclusive boy’s club.

Directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, RBG is, as cinema, little more than a news special, though a deft, absorbing and graphically clever one. We’re given a tour of her life, from her Brooklyn childhood to her college years all the way through to her improbable but seemingly heartfelt close friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia. The talking heads here range from Orrin Hatch to Bill Clinton, though some of the most intriguing interviews are the subjects of Ginsburg’s cases, the real-world human faces for which she fought her abstract appellate battles.

Most of intriguing of all, however, is RBG herself, reserved and unpretentious, unmistakably partisan and passionate yet collegial. At a time when high-profile civility seems rare in American discourse, she comes across as a humbling example to us all.

Ocean’s Eight and Book Club are rated PG-13 and RBG is rated PG. They play at Harkins Tempe Marketplace, Chandler Fashion Center and other multiplexes Valleywide.

 

 

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