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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Transformers (2007)

TranssformersReleased: July 2, 2007. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel. Runtime: 144 min. 

Michael Bay (who utilizes many low-to-the-ground looking up camera angles and a lot of slow-motion) takes on the Hasbro toys: the Transformers. They are an intelligent mechanical race from the planet Cybotron, where the main battle is between the Autobots, the good guys led by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), and the evil Decepticons, led by Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving). They come to Earth in search for a cube called the All Spark, which, if put in the hands of the Decepticons, could endanger the human race by perfecting human technology to do so. 

I think Michael Bay is the director for a film like this because it’s loud and often dumb, but it also has a nice sense of humour. Bay is able to add some depth to the action sequences with the dynamic camera angles. The film also has a lot of nice cars, so those and Megan Fox will please the guys. There’s not much for the women here besides Shia LaBeouf, who brings some good comic delivery to the feature. (There is also humour found elsewhere in the screenplay.) 

He plays an average guy character, Sam Witwicky, placed in a crazy, larger-than-life situation. He’s relatable in this way, and he believes in some sacrifice to achieve victory. The reason he gets embroiled in this is because he is a great great grandson of one of the first explorers to set foot in the Arctic Circle, and who discovered Megatron in the ground way back when. Also, his new car is an autobot called Bumble Bee – a Ford Camaro with the colour scheme of a Bumble Bee, and he easily has the most personality of the Autobots. He communicates with his car radio because of a vocal chord injury in battle. He also is very good at picking songs for various situations. There’s also some amusing fish-out-of-water humour when the Autobots are hanging around at Sam’s house. Ratchet (the medical autobot) and Jazz seem to be the most generic autobots in this feature. 

The battles between the Autobots and the Decepticons is pretty awesome. For anyone who don’t know cars so well, sometimes it’s difficult to see who the bad guys and the good guys are because of a sometimes too generic robot design for both sides. That fault seems to lie with both the Hasbro character designs, and the filmmaker’s choices to feature which action figures. Sure, it’s easy to see which ones are good and bad as to whoever loses the battle, and it’s easier to see when they’re in huge robot killer form – but most of the decepticons are black, and two of the protagonists are black (Ironhyde and Ratchet, and maybe Jazz too, I believe) so it’s hard to tell who’s who at some points. I think the story is a pretty effective and simplistic story, featuring some fine chemistry between stars Fox and LaBeouf. I also like Tyrese Gibson on an army team that doesn’t really feel like they actually belong to the story as something other than just an army until the third act. The decepticons that attack them in Qatar throughout the film feels random at times and interrupts the flow of the film; it worked as an opening action sequence after the opening background info sequence that is sometimes necessary for a new franchise. Also on the army squad (of about seven, as they’re survivors of an attack at the beginning of the film, where decepticons were trying to extract information) is Josh Duhamel, whose character is boring. 

These attacks do give the film some dynamic scenery and enable Bay to direct some nifty action sequences. At times the cinematography is dizzying, and the edits a bit too quick, but the special effects are consistently good, which seems like the most important aspect in a film like this. Because really and truly, these films are just visually pleasing and just a decent way to pass a few hours.

Score: 70/100

The Mist (2007)

The Mist

Stephen King’s The Mist

Release Date: November 21, 2007

Director: Frank Darabont

Stars: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden

Runtime: 125 min

A small town in Maine has just been struck by a large lightning storm, and many of the townspeople are going to the local grocery store to stock up. Among these people are Mr. David Drayton (Thomas Jane), a small-time celebrity, and his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble). A mysterious mist falls over the town and local man Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn) comes running in yelling “There’s something in the mist!” and that the mist took a local man. There is something lurking in the mist, but what is it? Extraterrestrial creatures? All the townsfolk know is that they’re incredibly dangerous, and if they make one wrong move, it could mean their life. The only key to survival is the occupants of the store coming together and fighting, but will human nature allow it?

The Mist is based on Stephen King’s novella of the same name, written for the screen and directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile). It’s a well-crafted creature feature that brings in brilliant elements of the power of human nature. This situation calls for the people of the store to come together to survive, and not launch at each other’s throats and get bad cases of cabin fever. This is a little hard with a crazy local loon, Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden).

Carmody is that crazy person you might see on a street corner saying “Oh Jesus loves ya! He will judge you on this day! Praise Jesus and what not!” You get the picture. I’m not saying that religion is bad, but this woman takes it to a whole new level interpreting the Bible too eerily, and apotheosizing with her imaginary crystal ball. She has read one too many religious books. Even when she may make you want to throw a can of peas at her, she’s an amazing and memorable character. Crazy, yes, but so necessary for the feature, and she is at times an equal threat to the people of the market than whatever’s in that mist. She’s at their throats in the day, and those things come at night. She is also superbly portrayed by Marcia Gay Harden.

The rest of the cast is pretty good. She is the real notable performer, both Thomas Jane, Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn are good in their roles, but the only other besides Harden worth mentioning is the great Toby Jones, who brings a lot of backbone to an assistant store manager, Ollie. At first glance you might think Ollie is a coward, but give him a gun and put him in this situation, the result is comparable to that of Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs. Though, Hoffman was only fighting against psychopaths, these guys are up against an extreme fundamentalist and monsters of all kinds.
The Mist is a good creature feature that is both taut and clever, slowly paced during the day, but fast-paced when whatever’s out there comes out to play. The characters are top-notch and you can really care for most of them, and the bravery of a select few is extremely admirable. The novella is a little better (as expected) because the reader uses their imagination for what may lie in the mist, and it is much scarier. Though, the creature effects are impressive. One reason it is worse than the novella is the ending that will divide audiences and critics alike.

Darabont takes a much darker route with his ending than King did with his own. Yes, it’s an admirable risk. Yes, it’s what makes the film stand out a little more. But, it just throws it off and messes up the general film. It makes the long film based on a 134-page novella unrewarding. It makes me hesitate to recommend this whole-heartedly, as if one ending could ruin an entire experience, it is this one. It is arguably the most talked about aspect of the feature, but it is no means the best. I still love Darabont with a lot of my might as he directed and wrote for the screen my favourite film, The Green Mile, and he did the same for the amazing The Shawshank Redemption. Darabont took a risk with this new, dark ending, and it did not pay off nearly as well as – say – Stanley Kubrick’s re-imagining of King’s The Shining. That might not be fair to compare the two, but it’s the best analogy that comes to mind.

The ending will divide audiences, some will hate it and some will like it for Darabont’s backbone to be different. I, myself, am unfortunately on the side of hating the ending that did greatly affect my general idea of the mostly solid creature feature. It’s a good film, yes, but it is a big part of what stops it from being great for me. It is also the reason why I hesitate to whole-heartedly recommend this. So, because of that I say: Watch it if you want, but if you like to read, just stick with King’s original 134-page novella.

68/100

Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995) & Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

Die hard with a vengeanceDie Hard with a Vengeance

Release Date: May 19, 1995

Director: John McTiernan

Stars: Bruce Willis, Jeremy Irons, Samuel L. Jackson

Runtime: 131 min

Tagline: Think fast. Look alive. Die hard.

The plot: John McClane and a store owner must play a bomber’s deadly game as they race around New York while trying to stop him.

This is actually a better sequel than the first, but not by that much. This has the ability to be equally intense and still quite funny. McLane has a new sidekick, Samuel L. Jackson who plays a racist shop owner. They make a really good team. I also appreciate the film going back to its “original” roots by bringing in a mastermind like Hans Gruber, his brother Simon (portrayed by Jeremy Irons). I enjoyed all the surprises that were thrown out there, and the one-liners are still stellar.

93/100

Live Free or Die HardLive Free or Die Hard

Release Date: June 27, 2007

Director: Len Wiseman

Stars: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant

Runtime: 128 min

The plot: John McClane takes on an Internet-based terrorist organization who is systematically shutting down the United States.

Currently, this is the weakest of the series (I haven’t seen the fifth), but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. At all. It’s really good and the idea of shutting down the United States is cool.

There’s fun oozing out of this, and there are epic action scenes, even though one might have to accept a lack of realism at times.

Strangely, Justin Long’s character can be a serious and extremely anxious, but you’d expect a comedian to be a bit more hilarious. Not a lot stands out about him in this. I have nothing but love for the guy in most his roles, but this one… It isn’t special. It isn’t the greatest idea on the studio’s behalf to cast a comedian as a character who’s hardly that funny or memorable. In fact, to date, he’s the most forgettable of the sidekicks that McLane has had. Though, Olyphant plays a solid villain.

It’s a pretty stellar movie that’s really fun and flows well, but an R-rating may have made this a little better.

84/100

Re-released Review: Michael Clayton (2007)

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Michael Clayton

Release Date: October 12, 2007

Director: Tony Gilroy

Stars: George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson

Runtime: 119 min

Tagline: The truth can be adjusted.

 The truth is, this was one disappointing film for me, showcased by great talents.

Michael Clayton is a “fixer” for a big law firm in New York, and he has to face the biggest job of his career when a case involving a big chemical company called U/North comes to the surface.

Or something like that, I found myself having a difficult time following because I was frankly not intrigued by the whole thing. The plot seems interesting enough, but I was really disappointed by the film, I was expecting a lot more because of its critical acclaim and generally good audience reception.

I thought the pacing was poor and I found myself getting confused, and I couldn’t get into the story, I felt the general execution of the film was poor.

Clayton is probably one of my least favourite characters Clooney has portrayed because I didn’t feel fascinated by him generally, and I couldn’t connect with him on a high level or really any level for that matter; sure he has his morals straight, but I simply did not care for the guy.

The only part that I found myself being entertained by was Wilkinson’s narrative at the beginning and the last fifteen or twenty minutes of the film; all because it was pretty exciting, I was following what was going on and the film was going to be over soon. And more good notes, it does deliver some thrilling moments (not many as I thought it would, I guess you can’t expect multiple from a law-based thriller), the plot is seemingly intriguing but I had a hard time following, and it really is quite original, so I respect it for that.

George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson (and Michael O’Keefe and Sydney Pollack) and the main three actors were really the only aspect that motivated me to pursue the film to the end credits.

Clooney delivers a good performance, as does Wilkinson and Swinton does deliver a solid performance as well but her Oscar was so undeserved.

Oh look, she’s talking to herself in the mirror; she’s projecting her voice well; she’s so baffled and she can fall to her knees dramatically, she should get an Oscar for that!  Amy Ryan in ‘Gone Baby Gone’ deserved it so much more than her. I like Swinton as an actress (well the only other films I’ve seen her in are some of the ‘Narnia’ films and ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin,’) and good for her for winning it, but I just preferred Ryan’s performance.

For a thriller, it’s really slow and frankly boring. For a Best Picture Oscar nominee, it only rarely ever sparked my interest or gave me any sort of pleasure.

I honestly could only recommend this to Clooney fans, or if you really want to check it out, I was finding myself a little sleepy throughout, it’s probably my least favourite Clooney flick I’ve seen. I only wish I could have enjoyed it more.

If you want a good law film that’s about taking down a large chemical company, just watch Erin Brockovich, I found myself enjoying that a lot more than this one, and it had more charisma, even if I’m suggesting more of a drama with comedic elements than a thriller.

                                               50/100

                   

Bridge to Terabithia (2007) Review

Bridge to Terabithia

Release Date: February 16, 2007

Director: Gabor Csupo

Stars: Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Zooey Deschanel

Runtime: 96 min

Tagline: Discover a place that will never leave you, and a friendship that will change you forever.

Jess Aarons (Hutcherson) is a boy who feels out of place, but has a  great artsy talent. He has been training for to become the fastest runner in school, only to be beaten by Leslie Burke (Robb), the new girl in school. Soon, they find common interests and become friends. They create an imaginative kingdom of Terabithia out in the woods, that they escape to every day after school. This newfound friendship teaches him lessons that will stay with him for life.

Bridge to Terabithia is a poignant examination of a great friendship and great imagination. It is fairly slowly paced and can be boring, but it has a few great scenes.

The film is greatly thematic, including ones of imagination, denial,  acceptance and remorse. Apparently the book written by Katherine Paterson, which this was adapted from, was aimed more at a teen to young adult audience, while this is much more for children. It really is a film that can be enjoyed by kids with wicked imaginations.

Some scenes are boring and the plot is just a little silly. The visuals aren’t anything special, when they could have been great. That makes some of this feel like a real wasted opportunity. The beginning and middle act weren’t great, but the third act was emotionally poignant and pretty impressive.

It’s wickedly overacted, but it’s necessary for a film like this. Each actor’s performance is pretty great, because each one does an impressive job in making the viewer feel exactly how the character is. In this way, we can easily immerse ourselves into that often poignant atmosphere and sometimes really relate to some of the characters.

The character of Leslie Burke is nice, because she is just so imaginative and naturally real. She is someone who isn’t afraid to be herself. I also like the character of Jess and Leslie’s parents; and I liked the character of May Belle, Jess’ little sister, because she just really wanted to be included. I didn’t care for a lot of the others, though.

Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Zooey Deschanel, Robert Patrick, Bailee Madison and Lauren Clinton.

The plot can get a little ridiculous and boring, but it’s great for kids with imaginations. It is also impressive that it’s so poignant for children’s cinema. It just felt like a wasted opportunity because I didn’t like the visuals or anything.

64/100

30 Days of Night – A decent vampire horror flick. (Short review)

30 Days of Night

Release Date: October 19, 2007

Director: David Slade

Stars: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston

Runtime: 113 min

Tagline: They’re coming!

The vampire horror genre has seen greats, like Dracula, Fright Night, the Swedish Let the Right One in (and its American remake Let Me In), and the teen romance adaptation Twilight (just kidding about that one), to name a few. This isn’t exactly one of them, but it’s still pretty good.

For a small Alaskan town, it is the time of the year where a big fraction of its population goes on vacation because they don’t want to endure the thirty days of darkness. When a mysterious stranger wanders into town and stars to vandalize the small town, he brings along a warning of some sort of a larger danger is coming. That danger is a gang of bloodthirsty vampires.

It has enough scares to make it enjoyable enough for a horror lover, but I don’t think it brought anything special to cinema or the horror genre, well except a vampire language.  It’s good enough for a watch, but for those who really don’t like vampire flicks, don’t need to necessarily check it out.

I didn’t really care for the ending, but it was pretty well-paced, and good enough horror entertainment to get you through the south of two-hour runtime.

It stars Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston as the vampire gang leader, Ben Foster (he really stole the scenes he was in), Mark Boone Junior and Mark Rendall.

The plot was a little average, it’s decent enough but it isn’t a must-see or anything for non-horror fans.

63/100