The Prism: ‘Ocean’s 8’, ‘Amadeus’

The Prism returns with a look at how confidence helps Debbie Ocean, and sinks Salieri.


Each week, 615 Film’s resident overthinker Cory Woodroof will attempt to reflect the week’s releases against each other, new or repertory, showing how they intersect and blend to bring forth ideas about themselves in part and as a whole. Maybe it’ll form a rainbow when we’re done – who’s to say; science has a mind of its own. Welcome back to The Prism.

The pangs of mediocrity ring through the haunted halls of Antonio Salieri’s memories like a toddler smacking a piano, playing nothing of note, but so, oh, so many notes.

The whiffs of mediocrity get whirled away in a slick heist of confidence in Oceans’ 8.

The tortured Italian could’ve learned a thing or two from Debbie Ocean and company – if you’re going to play in Texas, you’ve got to have a fiddle in the band.

The latest Ocean’s installment comes at the perfect time. Hollywood is finally playing catchup on female-driven franchise films, and as a sign of the progress being made, it’s wonderful to see women get to have their own familiar-yet-enjoyable-enough tentpole release, free from guzzball fanboy hatred.

Ocean’s 8 is a very mediocre movie that thinks it’s as good as anything that’s come before it. That, believe it or not, comes quite in handy when you’re playing a cover version of a much better song. But, Ocean’s 8 doesn’t care about how familiar it is, or how every step has been stepped in before, or how this heist just ain’t quite as thrilling as when her brother Danny and the boys jacked up Vegas.

Ocean’s 8 is as confident as any film released in 2018 – it makes it look easy, even though, uh, what they’re doing is, er, quite easy. Call it a poker face, call it a bluff. Whatever it is, it scrubs your mind of anything else but robbing diamonds and doing it in style for nearly two hours and gets out at the last minute making you feel like you’ve watched a real original.

Check your pockets, folks. Ocean’s 8 is the heist of the century.

Gary Ross, whose career spans from Seabiscuit to The Hunger Games to, no kidding, Pleasantville, is a perfectly fine director, and here, he does a perfectly fine job. One wonders if, ahem, a woman would’ve brought a bit more pizazz to the proceedings, but c’est la vie, it’s refried Ocean’s, the serving was always going to taste the same.

Ocean’s 8 is the movie where there’s no such thing as a spoiler. Here, Debbie Ocean gathers a team of quirky personalities (the first crime squad to ever pass the Bechdel Test!), plans a heist of a rare set of jewels on the neck of a snappy Hollywood starlet (Anne Hathaway, having an absolute ball deconstructing her personal image) and tries to make out of Dodge all the richer and wiser. Toast the glasses and walk out in style – this is an Ocean’s movie, same as the last movie. These films are Mad Libs, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

To call this film average would be to deny its uncanny ability to entertain. Whether it’s relative newcomer Awkwafina dropping gags in a Subway, or Daniel Pemberton laying down a sleek bit of music over a snappily-edited flashback, or comedy queen Sandra Bullock spending just enough time on a facial reaction to something that’s going on, this film is bedazzled in strengths. It’s not inherently strong, but it knows how to make you smile. What else can you ask of a movie where the inevitable outcome could be screamed at you as you walk in the theater, and have no direct affect on the experience?

This film doesn’t slouch, and it’s not afraid to ask the boss for a raise (or, well, pick it right out of his back pocket). Sometimes, these spinoff films can be a bit mawkish in trying to be something different. Ocean’s 8 feels no pressure to do anything differently, and by all means, does nothing differently. This is a movie where *Cate Blanchett* blends into the scenery. Cate Blanchett! What kind of mediocre-ass movie makes a two-time Oscar-winner lack in personality?

Ocean’s 8 does, darn it. And you’re going to love it anyway.

Rarely has something so mediocre come across so cool. Maybe it’s best if we handed our franchises over to the ladies.

Sometimes, it takes a woman.

In Amadeus, Salieri lacks the cool and composure to do anything but blame God for making him not as good at music as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Yes, Mozart, the womanizing, bug-eyed man-child who lets out a siren of a laugh when he gets nervous and quite literally farts all over Salieri’s labor of love in private. Mozart, the genius who can’t escape his father’s shadow and never met a bottle of booze he didn’t like. Mozart, the bane of his existence, who will always be better than Salieri, even if Salieri is, at the core, still quite good at what he does.

Amadeus, the late, great Miloš Forman’s symphonic epic on the dangers of covetousness, and when brilliance goes unchecked, is anything but mediocre. It’s a big, lout statement, a slam dunk that shatters the glass, a film so confident it lasts for nearly three hours and doesn’t even blink. If film is adrenaline, then Amadeus is three cans of Red Bull and a gigantic slice of extra-chocolate chocolate cake. You feel positively alive when you watch it, and mentally exhausted when it’s finally over.

Requiem for a sugar rush.

Forman tells the tale of Mozart and Salieri in the way it was likely told in back rooms over post-opera coffees between friends after the former’s passing. It’s a tall tale with unfounded basis in reality featuring two of that era of music’s more prominent names. Though, you don’t play Salieri when your baby needs to take a nap, and the local orchestra doesn’t host Salieri nights at the park. Mozart won the legacy game, whether it was played or not, so how riveting that we got this perhaps fully fictionalized, perhaps as true as true can be fable for the cavity that decays decent men when they don’t get their way.

F. Murray Abraham, who won the Oscar for this, tells his story in impeccable makeup to a slightly-bothered priest. You see, he feels like he killed Mozart. He certainly wanted to kill Mozart, making it his life’s mission to set the young musician in a labyrinth that has to be the musician’s equivalent of The Cask of Amontillado. Whether it actually works is up to you as you watch it. Abraham wrestles his silent, rotting admiration for Mozart with his desire to see him fail; Mozart (played with jumpy, sleazy wonder by Tom Hulce, nominated by the Academy for his turn) wrestles with his own petulance, daddy issues and the burden of being brilliant. He only registers Salieri as a friendly, apathetic contemporary, not as the harbinger of his doom. The mouse has no idea he’s being chased by the cat; the cat enraged he wasn’t created a mouse. Tom and Jerry are killing each other out of pure coincidence. It’d be kind of funny if it weren’t so pathetic and wasteful.

Though, that’s what covet does to us, isn’t it? It’s the pointless quest for “more” even when you already have. If Salieri couldn’t tell a G-flat from an apartment, and his heart had called him to a career in music, you can understand the frustration. But, the cruel irony comes when we actually hear Salieri’s work. It’s not bad! He’s still talked of as an influential musician for his time. Now, he’s not Mozart, and therein lies the conflict. Salieri didn’t want to be a great musician; he wanted to be the best musician. Absolute power, or the search for it, corrupts absolutely. The guy lacked the confidence in his own work, forcing it to be measured up to literal Mozart. No wonder he went off the deep end. Like the best cautionary tales, the red flags wave with zeal here.

By the end of this bombastic masterpiece, your heart racing every other minute when Forman shows off his impossible skill to match his actors with the awing spectacle of the music and the staging, you see Salieri hail himself patron saint of the mediocrities. His lack of self-worth when an all-time talent lived next door drove him mad. How funny: the simmer of not being “quite as good” as somebody else drives home one of the greatest movies of all time.

Y’know, Salieri ain’t Debbie Ocean. Confidence is key, right?

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