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

Adrift (2018)

Adrift. Released: June 1, 2018. Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, the Ocean. Runtime: 1h 36 min.

“Adrift” is a lost-at-sea survival drama based on a true story, a welcome change of pace of summer survival movies after survival against sharks the past two summers (“The Shallows” and “47 Meters Down” respectively).

Characters still fight for survival, but a shark isn’t an obstacle. Instead, Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley, also producing) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) deal with the aftermath of being caught in a Category 4 hurricane.

We’re put into the story right when Tami wakes up after the hurricane. The screenplay takes us between survival drama and romance as we’re told their story through flashbacks. The jumps back in time sometimes span multiple scenes, and as the film advances there are shorter scenes as the timeline catches up to the present, where Tami and Richard are “adrift” in the Pacific Ocean.

The transitions are creative. There’s a scene where Tami sails Richard’s sailboat, the Mayaluga, for the first time and she shouts in excitement. It’s a moment of euphoria that switches to distress as it slams forward in time as Tami shouts for Richard, unable to find him. The story structure helps for pacing. Though, it takes a while for the hurricane scene to actually happen –it’s great when it comes, especially because of the immersive sound design.

The constant switch between the two genres helps it feel diverse, as too many consecutive scenes of the survival portion and it starts to feel flat. The scenes of romance between the two adventurous characters is also nice because Woodley and Claflin have a nice chemistry. There a lot of sweet flashback scenes, and there are also pretty moments on the boat before all hell breaks loose.

We don’t get to know a lot about Tami before she sets sail other than she and Richard like sailing, she’s traveling the world and is a free spirit who doesn’t want to go home. Shailene Woodley’s consistently good and that’s no different here. She plays romantic very well and makes those scenes feel sincere. After the hurricane hits, we learn the character’s resourceful and it’s great watching Woodley get into the psyche of survival. She plays the moments of strength, as well as heartbreaking moments of vulnerability, really well.

Adrift featured

Sam Claflin and Shailene Woodley in Adrift. (IMDB)

Sam Claflin is good, too, but he has so much more to do during the romantic part of the film and doesn’t do much during the survival because of his injuries. His performance will frequently be an afterthought to Woodley.

There are a few surprises in the story, which is nice, and while it sometimes feels derivative of other survival movies, it’s very much fueled by the strong connection between the characters. It’s a faithfully adapted screenplay written by twin screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kendall (part of the writing team on Pixar’s “Moana”), who wrote it with Woodley in mind to star. Writer David Branson Smith (“Ingrid Goes West”) also joined as a writer later.

The film’s directed by Baltasar Kormákur, returning to the survival genre after 2015’s “Everest,” and it’s a good return to the genre. He gets great performances from his primary cast, and there aren’t many other principal cast members to direct. The only ones important to the story include an older couple, Peter (Jeffrey Thomas) and Christine (Elizabeth Hawthorne). They give Tami and Richard $10,000 to sail their yacht back to California, and are the reason why the couple cross paths with the hurricane.

Partly due to the lack of supporting cast, Kormákur easily makes the Ocean feel like the film’s third star. This is also assisted by the amazing cinematography by Oscar winner Robert Richardson (“Hugo,” “The Aviator”, “JFK”) who captures the scope of the direness of the characters’ situation. He makes every scene look beautiful, and that more than makes up for where the film lacks in non-stop tension.

Score: 75/100

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

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

 

Released: May 5, 2017. Directed by: James Gunn. Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista. Runtime: 2h 16 min.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 manages to be as fun and original as its predecessor.

It feels fresh as it sets itself apart even in its opening action sequence as a space beast tries to take batteries the Guardians are protecting.

These batteries are a power source for the Sovereign, a race that’s hired the Guardians to kill the beast and in exchange they’ll release a thief to them: Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan).

We get a different perspective as Quill, Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) fight the behemoth in the background and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) does a dance to “Mr. Blue Sky” in the foreground. It’s creative as we watch his antics and it’s like a great opening act before the main event.

After they complete the job, Rocket steals the batteries and naturally, they want them back. The leader of the golden conceited douchebags, Ayesha (a statuesque Elizabeth Debicki) pursues the Guardians. Our heroes are helped from the situation by Ego (Kurt Russell), who ends up being Quill’s father and we learn about Peter’s familial lineage.

We learn the source of Peter’s charm and slight arrogance from Ego. He’s portrayed well by Russell, and the character takes superiority and egotism to the max – his name is literally Ego. Pratt plays Quill so well and has the charm for the role and gets some really good laughs. It’s intriguing learning about his background and their relationship is one of the many interesting dynamics and a focus of the film, and Pratt and Russell carry it well.

The narrative is fast-paced but it’s more complex than the first film’s simplistic story. It gets unfocused on the road to the end, but it finds its way back on track. It’s still a really entertaining story, and the same zany sense of humour and creativity in writing shine through. The characters themselves drive the action-packed space opera.

The dynamics between characters work well, especially as we learn more about the sister rivalry between Gamora and Nebula. Saldana and Karen Gillan play their respective characters well and are both kickass, and Nebula is a stronger character this go around. Gamora doesn’t have a whole lot to do in this sequel – at least compared to the first film.

Guardians

The Guardians of the Galaxy. (Source)

Rocket gets slightly serious as we understand him more, and his chemistry with Yondu (Michael Rooker) is good. Yondu has a bigger role and he’s a pleasant surprise as he becomes integral to the story. It’s delightful learning about his backstory, and he’s a memorable part of many scenes.

Dave Bautista is hilarious as Drax, though his growth as a character is stalled – most of his backstory was handled in the first movie, so we don’t go much further into his development and he’s mostly a source of humour here. He ribs on new character Mantis (Pom Klementieff) a lot, and they’re fun together. She’s a good addition and the make-up is great considering she’s lovely outside the character. Drax points out multiple times Mantis is only beautiful on the inside.

Baby Groot is also great. He’s adorable and a joy whenever he’s on-screen. They’re able to create such a different character with the baby version since he’s aggressive instead of his calm, adult version of himself. This Groot is always up for a fight. Vin Diesel does the inflexions of “I am Groot” so well that it’s believable when Rocket translates for us.

I love that the characters are fractured in some way emotionally with their pasts, and it’s nice that they get through it together. The group’s closeness and how they create their own family makes the film surprisingly moving. The family dynamic enriches the chemistry, and it’s just so endearing because they’re all so different.

I just love the relationships director James Gunn and the cast bring to life. Gunn is such a good fit for the franchise and his comedy flows through the story well. This has so much heart and all the characters have a chance to shine, and it all leads up to a visually dazzling finale.

Plus, the soundtrack is great. I hadn’t heard a lot of the songs before the film – my favourite has to be Looking Glass’ “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” – but I’ve been listening to the soundtrack basically on repeat since seeing this. You probably will, too.

Score: 80/100

The Circle (2017)

The Circle poster

The Circle. Released: April 28, 2017. Directed by: James Ponsoldt. Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega. Runtime: 1h 50 min. 

The Circle is a familiar and generic corporate thriller about the dark side of technology, but it’s disappointing because it doesn’t go into enough depth.

Mae (Emma Watson) gets a dream job as part of the customer experience team at a tech company called the Circle which creates one single online identity for users. The work environment looks a lot like Google, which seems obsolete in this near future (we never get a specific year). The campus itself is in the shape of a circle – obviously to remind workers they’re working at the Circle, not the Pentagon. Eventually Mae uncovers a nefarious agenda, but she takes awhile to get to that.

The Circle’s world is working towards transparency, where you can’t have moments alone or private conversations. Everything you do is public and there are cameras everywhere. It’s like everyone’s a celebrity and there are paparazzi at every turn. The lack of privacy is also like the Edward Snowden conspiracy of the government watching, but taken to an extreme and it becomes far-fetched.

It’s a generic sci-fi thriller with an intriguing high-concept. The writing never creates compelling dialogue and its attempts at suspense are predictable. Its themes of the importance of privacy it tries to depict don’t feel significant enough, and the film generally places concept above any substance or in-depth character development.

The Circle itself is led by charismatic CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), who’s like Steve Jobs if he were a social media obsessed cult leader. The Circle feels like a cult, especially when people think it’s weird Mae hasn’t connected her social media accounts to the Circle after her first week.

It’s a weird scene as Renata (Ellen Wong) and Matt (Amir Talai) tell her that she’s an enigma because people across campus don’t know her. They question why she wasn’t here on the weekend doing activities, and when she says she went kayaking they’re surprised because that’s not on her social media. Matt says, “I love kayaking. We could have gone together.” It’s awkward, drawn-out scenes like these that show everyone’s super weird.

Mae’s initially a breath of fresh air because she likes privacy and she’s a cute little guppy (what newbies are called at the Circle), but she soon gets eaten by the weird piranhas. Like the rest of them – she drank the damn Kool-Aid.

The Circle has a high-tech allure, but it’s not convincing when Mae willingly gives up her privacy because of a dumb reason.  Emma Watson’s great as Mae, but if it any other actress were playing her, she wouldn’t get much sympathy or have the same kind-of magnetism. She commands a crowd in public speaking and brings a natural charisma. Mae isn’t well-developed, and at times it feels like the only thing we know about her is that she likes kayaking when things get too hard.

The Circle movie

Emma Watson in The Circle. (Source

The only time I cared about anything happening is because I feel like it affected Emma Watson. She’s a great actress, even when she plays a poorly developed character whose motivations are hard to understand.  It’s surprising the film manages to create such a good cast, but doesn’t rise to the occasion in any other aspect.

Tom Hanks is fine as Bailey, even though he’s a generic CEO wanting to change the world. He gets less screen time than one might expect. Patton Oswalt is more generic as the company’s Chief Officer of Operations, Tom Stenton.

John Boyega gets a disappointing amount of screen time as his character, but he’s fine when he’s there. Bill Paxton plays Mae’s father with MS in his last theatrical film. His character is a reason Mae is more developed than most, since she wants to help him get better. Karen Gillan’s a good surprise as Annie, too, and she gets to her use her natural Scottish accent here.

I must talk about Mercer. His sub-plot about making deer antler chandeliers and Mae’s parents trying to play matchmaker for him and Mae is silly. His character could be written out entirely and wouldn’t be missed. He’s played by Ellar Coltrane, the kid who grew up in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. He plays an everyday worker man who likes privacy, and Coltrane looks incredibly uncomfortable on-screen. He’s so bad and awkward, and it reminds me of how uncomfortable Kristen Stewart looks in the Twilight films.

Director James Ponsoldt doesn’t bring any charm from The Spectacular Now. He and Dave Eggers co-write a screenplay based on Eggers’ own novel that’s a mess. The Circle’s plot wanders around aimlessly and doesn’t find a coherent storyline. It’s like Ponsoldt and Eggers played Hide ‘n Seek with a good story, couldn’t find one, and gave up.

Score: 40/100