Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)

Ocean’s Thirteen. Released: June 8, 2007. Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Runtime: 2h 2 min.

In “Ocean’s Thirteen”, Ocean’s team returns to Vegas when a sleazy casino owner Willy Bank (Al Pacino) double-crosses Reuben (Elliot Gould). The crew plan to get a bit of revenge for by sabotaging Bank’s grand opening of his hotel and casino, called “The Bank.” You can already see the huge ego on this guy, which Pacino plays very believably.

Writers (Brian Koppelman and David Levien) tinker with the formula by having this be more like a sabotage film than a heist film. This had me confused at times because I wondered where the monetary gain was here, but their plot is more for the satisfaction of taking down a bad guy rather than getting a lot money this time. Though, it’s nice they’re back in Vegas because this is where they shine.

They do so in rigging the games in the casino for massive payouts, and the way they go about this is clever and entertaining. The way they solve problems like the Greco player tracker coming to the casino, which monitors all games on the floor to see if wins are legitimate, is well-done.

Don Cheadle Thirteen

Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Thirteen. (IMDb)

It’s also equally rewarding watching the Eleven try to screw Bank over as it was watching them steal from Benedict (Andy Garcia) in the first film. Even though the film isn’t as much a heist film this time, it still has the stylish set-up of how they’ll sabotage the casino and it’s still really entertaining, even if it’s not as great as the first outing.

The characters are still interesting, even though any significant female presence isn’t here this time. Both Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones don’t return because there wouldn’t have been any significant role written for them in the script.

Their absence in the film is explained by Rusty (Pitt) and Danny (Clooney) saying it’s not their fight. Because of this there’s only memorable female character, Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin), who is Bank’s right-hand woman. With the lack of females in this one, it’s no wonder they went for a female-led spin-off.

Score: 70/100

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Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

Ocean’s Twelve. Released: December 10, 2004. Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Runtime: 2h 5 min.

Spoiler warning: There’s a spoiler for “Ocean’s Eleven” in the opening paragraph. 

In “Ocean’s Twelve”, the old squad reunites to do one more heist when Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) comes back for what they stole from him in the first film. It’s three years later and he wants the money back with interest. Without much of a choice, the Eleven must do what they do best: steal things to pay off their debt.

A new character here is Catherine Zeta-Jones as a detective, Isabel, on the tail of the Eleven. She also gets nice character moments and doesn’t feel cliché, even though she’s a love interest of Rusty (Brad Pitt).

She’s one of the film’s antagonists, and there’s also the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel), a rival thief who fancies himself the world’s best thief, and challenges Danny’s (George Clooney) team to stealing an item. The character sounds name sounds more like a comic book villain, but he’s just a petty thief.

The individual heists in this film are still entertaining even though they lack the flair of its predecessor. There are a lot more problems raised in this film but there are also a lot of interesting solutions.

Ocean's Twelve

Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and George Clooney in Ocean’s Twelve. (IMDB)

The fact that the franchise exists in the real world with real celebrities gives comedic opportunity for writer George Nolfi. This includes an amusing cameo by Topher Grace, and it also makes things get really fun when Tess (Julia Roberts) gets dragged into the film’s scheme.

Most characters get their chances to shine again. Nolfi thinks of creative ways to get characters out of the picture for some time – like sending Yen (Shaobo Qin) somewhere else in a duffle bag, even though his character’s role is small enough as he just speaks Chinese.

Sometimes getting these characters out of the way for awhile is helpful because it’s hard to keep track of all of them. It’s also interesting to watch the Nolfi tinker with the formula more and see how it works outside of Vegas. It still works and offers entertainment, and it’s nice to see them stealing things again.

Score: 70/100

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Ocean’s Eleven. Released: December 7, 2001. Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Runtime: 1h 56 min.

With Ocean’s Eight releasing on Friday, I thought I’d review the trilogy, which starts with 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven” based on a 1960 Rat Pack film of the same name.

When Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is released from prison, he immediately gets a crew together to rob three Las Vegas casinos simultaneously.

Steven Soderbergh’s style is what helps make this film so much fun. The writing by Ted Griffin is also stellar and the way he introduces the members of the Ocean’s Eleven is so great and it tells you all you need to know about them.

This is best shown in the scene when we meet twin brothers Virgil (Casey Affleck) and Turk (Scott Caan) Malloy as they’re bored passing time and Turk runs over Virgil’s small remote-control monster truck while Turk races it in a giant monster truck. Their banter’s one of the consistently funny things in the franchise.

The montage-like explanation of how they’re going to execute the heist is also entertaining. The team of characters and the cast is great and everyone plays their roles well. Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) is Ocean’s sidekick and helps recruit the team. His banter with Ocean is strong. Julia Roberts is also great as Danny’s ex-wife, Tess.

Rounding out the eleven include sleight of hand guy Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), insider blackjack dealer Frank (Bernie Mac), tech guy Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison), grease man Yen (Shaobo Qin), master of disguise Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) and explosives guy Basher (Don Cheadle).

There’s also Reuben (Elliot Gould) who bankrolls the heist because of a vendetta against casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the man they plan to steal from. They plan to steal $150 million on a busy casino night from his vault.

Ocean's Eleven

Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Eddie Jemison, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, Shaobo Qin, Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Eleven. (IMDb)

We find out how they want to get in but Reuben points out it’s really an impossible heist because the hardest part is getting out. “Once you’re out the front door you’re still in the middle of the fucking desert,” he says. Gould’s a delight, here, especially when he does his recap of the most successful casino robberies (still colossal failures). He’s funny, and in these cutscenes is a spot where Soderbergh’s style and cinematography shine through.

During the leadup and during the heist, the writing’s really smart because we as the audience aren’t always in on the plan and it’s fun to see how they do what they do. It makes it more entertaining.

What works best for the film besides its editing, score and great direction is that all of the actors have a flawless chemistry. There’s amusing banter between all of them. It helps that their characters are well-written, too, and there’s a believable hostility between Ocean and ex-wife Tess.

It’s hard not to be entertained by this. I mean, I watched this over two years ago and I was still on the edge of my seat and thoroughly entertained because I only vaguely remembered what the twists and turns were. However, that just might be an ode to my bad memory.

Score: 88/100

When the Bough Breaks (2016)

Released: September 9, 2016. Directed by: Jon Cassar. Starring: Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Jaz Sinclair. Runtime: 1h 47 min. 

When the Bough Breaks, Screen Gems’ third September thriller with stalker, manages to be almost memorable because it’s so awful and such a poorly executed Fatal Attraction knockoff.

John and Laura Taylor (Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall) have realized they can’t have a baby after Laura’s had three miscarriages, so they decide to hire a surrogate mother. They find the seemingly perfect candidate in Anna Walsh (Jaz Sinclair). After moving into their guest house, she eventually becomes obsessed with John and interferes with his personal and professional life.

She asks inappropriate questions but of course, John doesn’t say anything. This whole situation could be avoided if he would just tell Laura that Anna’s being a creep and trying to seduce him. It becomes a stranger situation because she has their baby in utero and it threatens to become a hostage situation – legally, it’s her baby – so that’s a way it offers a fresh turn on the Fatal Attraction plot. Unfortunately, that’s where any originality begins and ends.

You’ve seen every twist and turn before and it unfolds in an unsurprising way. The writing’s basic from first-time writer Jack Olsen. Morris Chestnut’s John is an ambitious lawyer who loves his wife and doesn’t want to cheat. Hall’s Laura is a traveling chef or something, and she really wants to start a family. The two stars try their best in one-dimensional roles, and they deserve better.

Jaz Sinclair is the nutty Anna and she’s given the most to work with as the over-the-top stalker. She’s whiny and bratty, and Sinclair plays the bratty side believably but it’s unintentionally hilarious when tries to be totally crazy.

Jaz Sinclair, Morris Chestnut

Jaz Sinclair and Morris Chestnut in When the Bough Breaks. (Source)

She’s silliest and most over-the-top hilarious when she screams and flails her hands in a fit in her car, which makes her looks like a pre-teen brat throwing a temper tantrum. The tantrum could be a clip from the MTV show My Super Sweet 16 because the birthday girl didn’t get the car they wanted.

The performance is not good. When she’s told to be innocent, she just smiles excessively and is annoyingly cutesy. At one point she watches John and Laura kissing, and it’s creepy and robotic –  it’s like she doesn’t quite know what they’re doing. It’s awkward.

In all fairness, the character’s just awful. There is a gem of a scene under the dreck where Anna sings “Rock-a-bye-Baby” in the bathtub. She attempts to be menacing (it doesn’t work), as she cuts her leg with a razor blade. Its presence is so random that it enters unintentional hilarity, and the scene only seems to serve to establish where the film gets its name. It really is unfortunate director Jon Cassar just didn’t make this a stalker comedy.

It’s baffling this is billed as a horror film, because there’s nothing scary about it and the writing and Cassar aren’t able to conjure up any kind-of suspense. Its PG-13 rating also makes it incredibly tame. Nudity is avoided when John watches a video of Anna on his computer and before she can disrobe, he hastily shuts his laptop in the nick of time. No nudity, no gore, no scares: No entertainment.

Score: 25/100

Phoenix Forgotten (2017)

Released: April 21, 2017. Directed by: Justin Barber. Starring: Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez. Runtime: 1h27 min. 

Phoenix Forgotten is like one of those films that come out of nowhere, but this is because of a quiet marketing campaign. It tries to replicate the success of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, and it’s disappointingly mediocre (especially with the involvement of Ridley Scott’s production company Scott Free Productions).

Integrated at the centre of the story is the Phoenix Lights, a triangular light formation that was seen from Phoenix, Arizona in March 1997. It’s never been explained, and is the most famous so-called UFO sighting in the world.

The fictional story comes with three teens – Josh Bishop (Luke Spencer Roberts), Ashley Foster (Chelsea Lopez), and Mark Abrams (Justin Matthews) – who disappeared without a trace investigating the Phoenix Lights. 20 years later in 2017, Josh Bishop’s sister Sophie (Florence Hartigan), 26, is investigating the disappearance. She discusses it with her own parents and Ashley’s parents as she makes a documentary.

It’s interesting learning about the Phoenix Lights. It’s famous, but I never heard about it, so it’s intriguing. I thought it was just making a generic UFO sighting and developing mythology; instead, it interestingly blends some truth with a lot of fiction, and the unexplained phenomena has some intrigue. That’s what makes some of the first hour interesting.

The story doesn’t flow well as it skips between Sophie making a documentary in 2017 about the disappearance, and back to Josh and Ashley making a documentary about the Phoenix Lights in 1997 (Josh was an aspiring director, so he filmed everything). It thereby mixes some docu-drama with found footage.

Sophie mostly just talks to her parents and other experts who give lots of speculation. They say forgettable stuff, and there are so many boring interview subjects that I found myself forgetting who was who. It’s interesting how Sophie’s parents were affected after Josh has been missing for 20 years with no closure. It’s heartbreaking, but besides them, the emotional connection is non-existent; as the characters are one-dimensional.

Phoenix ForgottenJosh is single-minded and becomes obsessed when he gets an idea in his head. I liked seeing in his room that he was sci-fi enthusiast with X-Files and Alien posters all over his room. Ashley’s more interesting, since she’s open-minded and interviews well as an aspiring journalist. One interview features local astronomers talking about how they think the lights were flares.

Mark just feels like he’s kind-of there, since he has a car. He’s a friend but he’s almost has no dimension. The little-known actors aren’t memorable, but they do serviceable jobs. Chelsea Lopez as Ashley brings some charm.

The cinematography is stronger in Sophie’s documentary, but her film is way less interesting. Her documentary feels distinctly incomplete even when she has a chance to make an ending, and the film doesn’t execute.

It’s also silly that she waits 20 years to investigate the disappearance, and like the documentary, this feels like it’s made a few years too late, especially after the release of The Phoenix Incident in 2015 (a docu-drama about the real-life disappearances). It’s especially late since Adam Wingard released Blair Witch last year, and this is essentially a carbon copy of The Blair Witch Project mixed with a some of The X-Files.

The film’s a puzzle as they try to explain what happened to these 17-year-olds. The mystery’s never been solved because they stopped filming at one point. It’s the one video that promises something happening, as most of the videos are uneventful. Sometimes they investigate the Lights, but other times they just go for a hike hoping something will happen.

The videos are amateurishly shot and Josh annoyingly can never keep the camera on the action, and it’s hard to see what’s going on. The camera’s consistently shaky, but the visual effects are cool when we see it long enough. The filmmakers make it look like the videos were filmed in 1997. It has a VHS quality, and it adds realism.

The horror relies on psychological aspects of paranoia, lots of bright lights and loud noises instead of jump scares, which makes it refreshing. In that way, it does something different from most found-footage films, and part of the reason why I’m giving it a passing score.

The tension is palpable because of chilling sound design. It feels more like freaky, sci-fi scares than anything and when I’m talking about horror, it’s only existent in the film’s final 15-20 minutes when we get the last piece of the puzzle. It’s a good finale.

The first hour has 15 minutes of interesting material, but it’s boring and not scary. Since only a fraction of this is thrilling, it doesn’t work as a feature film. It would be better as a 30-minute segment in an anthology franchise like V/H/S because there’s not enough material here, and Josh’s sister making a documentary in the present day often feels like filler. Director Justin Barber fleshes it out to about 80 minutes and it doesn’t feel like a well-rounded feature. The last piece of the puzzle is the only good part. Otherwise, Phoenix Forgotten is already fading from my memory.

Score: 50/100

Unforgettable (2017)

 

Released: April 21, 2017. Directed by: Denise Di Novi. Starring: Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults. Runtime: 1h 40 min.

Unforgettable is a formulaic stalker story that is a forgettable affair. If they didn’t want critics taking jabs, they wouldn’t name it something so inviting!

Rosario Dawson is Julia Banks, an online editor who never does any work. She moves to a SoCal town with boyfriend David Connover (Geoff Stults) and his adorable daughter Lily (Isabella Kai Rice). The happy couple are also planning to get married. However, when there’s a daughter, there’s often a crazy ex-wife: The insanely jealous Tessa Connover (Katherine Heigl). She annoyingly can’t move on from David after two years of being separated, and she’ll stop at nothing to try to ruin their relationship.

The most frustrating thing about Unforgettable is its writing. It opens in the middle of its story as we see Julia being interrogated and then it jumps back to six months earlier (the timeline feels like two weeks at most, by the way). It’s an awful choice because they give us so much information, they even tell us someone’s dead, and it takes away element of surprise.

The thrills are weak regardless because it’s a predictable story, but I can’t remember a film that spoiled its own secrets so early. Between its interesting thoughts, this goes through the motions of every erotic thriller and goes out with a silly ending. This is Christina Hodson’s sophomore screenplay after the god-awful Shut In and it’s a bit better, but not by much. Though, these characters are more interesting.

Julia’s past with an abusive ex has been done before, but her insecurities are honest. She needed to get a restraining order for her last relationship (conveniently, it’s expiring for some unknown reason) and now she’s a victim trying to move on. She’s usually empowered, and Rosario Dawson is impressive because she doesn’t phone in a performance. She’s a lone bright spot.

Tessa is a total control freak and the film offers motivations for her insanities, but she’s simply a psycho Barbie, as Julia’s wise-cracking bestie (Whitney Cummings) aptly puts it. Tessa’s also the poster girl for helicopter parents. She’s shaping Lily into a mini Barbie through horseback riding and French lessons. These are some of the funniest moments, as Julia lets the little Barbie off a horse much to Tessa’s objections, and the French lessons are basically characters singing “Alouette, gentille Alouette.” There’s a lot of hair brushing as Tessa tries to get her daughter’s tangles out, and only villains brush hair that menacingly and that often.

Unforgettable horsey

Katherine Heigl, Rosario Dawson and Isabella Kai Rice in one of the thriller’s funniest scenes. (Source)

There are countless icy stares in Katherine Heigl’s performance. She’s one-note crazy and cold, but convincingly plays the controlling part. The character’s supposed to go crazy after she finds out they’re getting married, but it’s not convincing because Tessa looks bonkers the first time we see her. She plays uptight and crazy in the same range. This is at least until the end when she enters over-the-top campiness, but at least it looks like Heigl’s having fun.

There are a lot of silly scenes. At one point Tessa cries and watches a video of her wedding with David. She’s so perfect, even her tears fall in flawless lines. It’s funny, and Unforgettable toes a “so bad it’s good” line in these moments, but it never fully embraces it.

I don’t usually pay attention to prop design, but I must bring this up: At one point, Julia and David have a conversation in their living room. Meanwhile, there are about 25 crystal salt and pepper shakers on the coffee table. It leaves so many questions: Why is it there? Are they seasoning a feast? Who needs that much salt and pepper?

The closest I came to an answer: It’s there to spice up David’s personality. He’s so bland that it’s hard to see why these girls are fighting over him. It’s also baffling that even though this tries to empower women and is directed and written by women, it’s all about them fighting over a guy.

Any actor can play the role because he’s just the one-note, clueless husband and he’s just there to be fought over as the female leads duke it out. Geoff Stults gets the call, and I’ve only seen him in She’s Out of My League when he played an ex trying to win back an old girlfriend. That one has Jay Baruchel who’s dating his old love, but they’re fighting over Alice Eve. At least that’s believable.

Veteran producer Denise Di Novi (Edward Scisccorhands) makes her directorial debut and handles thrills with little style. She makes one scene feel pointless as Julia wants sex in a bathroom with David. Meanwhile, Tessa pleasures herself during a Facebook chat. The editing makes it unsexy and one of the most cringe-worthy scenes. If you can find any meaning in it, it’s that sex is a means of control. There’s zero passion in this scene, or this erotic thriller. David looks absolutely perplexed after it transpires. He gets the satisfaction, but with Unforgettable, we’re the ones who get screwed.

Score: 38/100

Power Rangers (2017)

Released: March 24, 2017. Directed by: Dean Israelite. Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G. Runtime: 2h 4 min. 

Nostalgia is a big appeal of this Power Rangers reboot, and as a 90s kid, the Rangers were definitely a part of my childhood. A problem of the original TV series, or at least the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie, is that it feels like it runs out of budget before the big finale.

This fixes it because the final battle with the Rangers’ Zords against Goldar is great, visual eye candy. The cinematography also captures the settings well and the film looks great.

It’s fun mecha action and it’s great that there’s enough budget for a solid finale, even if it feels derivative of The Avengers and Transformers, but it’s still fun. And that’s one thing about this reboot: It’s fun.

The new Rangers crew meet in detention and their introduction feels like The Breakfast Club. At least Saban’s Rangers have super powers – and John Hughes’ crew only power was teenage angst.

Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) is the team leader looking for redemption after losing a football scholarship, and now has a chance to lead the Rangers. Montgomery (in his first blockbuster) has enough presence to be a believable leader, even as a bland character.

Billy Cranston, the Blue Ranger (RJ Cyler), is a lovable tech wiz of the group and he works as comic relief and being one of the most interesting characters. Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin in his English-language debut) is the Black Ranger and he’s the most forgettable Ranger.

Naomi Scott as Kimberly Hart (the Pink Ranger) is impressive, convincingly playing a bitchy side while trying to be a better person. We catch her in a transition from Queen Bee to social pariah with the popular kids.

Trini Kwan (Becky G) is the Pink Ranger and is one of those characters who has trouble fitting in – which makes her relatable. Bryan Cranston is a compelling Zordon who unites the crew and offers guidance.

The Angel Grove crew gain super strength after finding the Power Coins entrapped in crystal. The Coins are there after a prehistoric fight between Zordon and the treacherous Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). To protect the Zeo Crystal (which can destroy planets) against Rita, Zordon had to order a meteor strike which sent Rita to the bottom of the sea.

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Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Dacre Montgomery, Ludi Lin and Becky G. in Power Rangers. (Source)

This is basically The Breakfast Club with mecha action. The crew even have a heart-to-heart around a campfire. Their comradery’s realistic, and it’s nice watching their bond grow after being strangers. The casting of little known stars is smart. I only recognized RJ Cyler for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Becky G for that annoying song “Shower” about singing in the shower.

Tonally, the film’s wobbly. The movie writes a love letter to the campiness of the original TV series, but it’s hard to see what mood the writers and director Dean Israelite are going for.

It tries to be a dark and mature origins story (like Chronicle, and there’s also a bit of that film’s visual style). It also has enough angst to make John Hughes blush. The film also takes itself too seriously and Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) feels so out-of-place because of it. She has the most personality but she’s so campy that it doesn’t work when she tries to make threats and be serious. There are times when her character is so silly that I couldn’t contain my giggles.

Banks finds a finesse of chewing the scenery so much that there’s a sense that she’s in on the joke of being campy and she embraces it. It’s great in that sense and Banks seems to be having the most fun out of anyone.

The film’s a good origins story, but it’s easy to get antsy on the road to the film’s finale because the crew don’t put on their Ranger suits until the last 30 minutes. It’s part of their development because the armour is this weird alien thing that needs to decide that they’re worthy to wear them. It’s super different from their usual spandex armour. It forces them to unite but it makes their training less compelling since they’re in civilian clothes.

The 22-year-old critical me has a few criticisms with this reboot but the 10-year-old me loves it. It’s fun and it writes a love letter to the original series’ campiness, while creating believable characters that are a good new team.

Score: 75/100