Reel Dad: Ocean’s 8 offers a jaunty, low-key summer escape

(Arts and Leisure welcomes back Jonathan Schumann this week. The son of Reel Dad Mark Schumann, Jonathan started writing about film for Arts and Leisure in 1999 as part of the original “Take Two” duo with his dad. Jonathan now works in market research in New York City. And he still loves movies.)

The original Ocean’s 11, a scotch-soaked Rat Pack relic from the 1960s, seems an unlikely candidate to spur such a legacy. Steven Soderbergh — then an indie cool kid — revived the concept in the early 2000s and, while the original was a fun confection, the sequels proved that heist films can just as easily be leaden and tedious.

So, it’s with mixed expectations that I greet Ocean’s 8, a female-focused sequel of sorts to the Soderbergh films. Likely inspired by the recent all-female Ghostbusters reboot, this take puts Sandra Bullock in the central schemer role. She’s the sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean which, in addition to brief cameos from Elliot Gould and Shaobo Qin, provides the only tangible linkage to the Soderbergh films. Bullock’s Debbie is just out of prison for an art scheme gone awry where an old flame sold her out to the cops. She’s bitter and she’s got a plan for a new heist that will both bring wealth and satisfy her hunger for revenge.

Rather than ripping off casinos, and one wonders if the target here was specifically tailored for the female-heavy crew, Debbie plans to steal a legendary Cartier diamond necklace from the annual celeb and fashion-heavy Met Gala. The film wastes no time in assembling the team. Cate Blanchett is Bullock’s old friend and wingwoman, Mindy Kaling is a master jeweler, Rihanna (clearly not an actress) is a hacker, Awkwafina is a sleight of hand artist, Sarah Paulson is a former thief turned Connecticut housewife who will work from the inside, and Helena Bonham Carter is a financially strapped fashion designer. The eighth is Anne Hathaway as their unwilling mark.

The film has a jaunty, low-key, funny tone that makes it a perfect distraction in a season of superheroes and man-eating dinosaurs. I do wish, in the spirit of female empowerment, that Bullock’s motivation was more out of financial self-interest, and less in the need to get revenge on the man who did her wrong. So, even though it falls short of crafting a perfect feminist message, it’s still a lot of fun.

The entire cast, the aforementioned Rihanna notwithstanding, is great, and the team behind-the-camera deserves kudos for assembling such a diverse team. The real coup, though, is Anne Hathaway as the grating, self-absorbed celebutante at the center of the heist. It’s a hyperbolic take on Hathaway’s own maligned persona, and her performance shows that she’s finally in on the joke. It’s official, we all have to stop hating on Anne Hathaway. Helena Bonham Carter is also a hoot as a down-on-her-luck fashion designer. As always, everything she wears feels like it’s from her own personal costume closet.

Streaming Pick: Inside Man

The criminal machinations in Ocean’s 8 are pretty simple and left me hungry for something a bit more clever and intricate. This Spike Lee joint from 2006 is well-made and full of surprises. Denzel Washington ably carries the film, which also features are strong supporting turn from Jodie Foster.

Ocean’s 8, running 1 hour and 50 minutes, is rated PG-13 for “language, drug use, and some suggestive content.” It is showing in area theaters. 

Ferris Bueller Designs a Perfect Escape

By Mark Schumann

The Reel Dad

If Ocean’s 8 teaches anything, it’s that everyone, now and then, needs to design a perfect escape. Because, now and then, we may all want to escape from it all.

We may want to return to those carefree days when, as students in high school, we could simply “fake” an illness — or convince our parents how severe we were feeling — and give ourselves a much needed day off. How could we know, at this young age, how much we would crave the chance to one carefree day as we face the pressures of day-to-day life.

Any of us, in high school, would have loved a friend like Ferris Bueller, the guy who dares to do and say everything we can only imagine. Always optimistic, certainly likeable, he brings a positive attitude to every situation, and encourages those he cares for to view the world with a similar sense of the carefree. Who knows what someone such as Ferris would end up doing with his life. Perhaps, because he gets all the adventure out of his system, he would ultimately become the most conventional of grown ups.

So it should surprise no one that, on a day near the end of his senior year in high school, Ferris simply decides to play hooky. But he can’t simply do nothing with his free day and he would never be satisfied with an ordinary day off. So he invites his closest friends on a roller coaster ride that smacks convention in the face.

John Hughes, in another ideal capture of the teenage mindset, is savvy enough to make Ferris far from perfect. As likable as he is, some of his antics are inappropriate; as caring as he is, some of his expectations of those around him are unrealistic. So Ferris is less a role model per se than he is an image of abandon and fun. And that creates great fun in a movie that remains fresh if for no other reason than the adorable audacity of its central character.

Hughes is smart enough to invite us to experience adventures with Ferris without judging the spirit behind his actions. He lets us believe that we can all be a Ferris within the confines of our own lives. Hughes’ exaggerated approach to the character — perfectly performed by Matthew Broderick — can actually help us exaggerate within our own boundaries. And, once we savor this film, we may never look at a parade (while we expect a high school kid to command a sing-a-long from a float) or a red sports the same way. Our memories of Ferris will encourage us to always consider the possibilities and remember that today only happens once, even in the movies.

Of course, sharing a movie should be as fun as Ferris makes his special day. Every time we sit to enjoy a film we should refuse to let stress enter our reality. That’s what we learn from this most original character. And while he proves himself to be someone who cares, especially for his friends, he refuses to let his soft side get in the way of the thrill of fun adventure.

With Ferris, anything is possible.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, from 1986, runs 1 hour and 43 minutes. The film, rated PG-13, is available online, on demand, and on DVD.