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

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3Iron Man 3

Release Date: May 3, 2013

Director: Shane Black

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle

Runtime: 130 min

When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.

Iron Man 3 is the strongest of the trilogy. It might disappoint the fan-boys and girls, but for casual movie-goers just wanting a taste of the super hero niche genre; it’s rather satisfying. The first of the trilogy was good, but the second was a disappointment. Most fan-boys (and fan-girls) could just forget about Iron Man 2, and see this merely as a follow-up to universally beloved (for the most part) The Avengers. The fans will at least be satisfied with the movie’s great little Easter eggs.

Shane Black, genre newcomer, breathes some fresh air into the trilogy. He takes the directing duties over from Jon Favreau (but he still plays the lovable Happy Hogan). It’s really one of those situations where when a new guy comes in, it ends up benefiting mostly everyone. His humour and wit is present in the movie, and he finds a great cast to match the lines. They fit like a glove. Or almost like an iron suit. Many might appreciate the flairs of humour, but others, most notably fan-boys and fan-girls, won’t enjoy the inconsistencies of the movie’s overall mood.

Sometimes it’s dark and gloomy when characters are in mortal danger, especially when Stark’s Malibu home falls into the water. It’s doom and gloom one minute, somewhat hysterical and silly dialogue the next. Both Black and RDJ can hardly help themselves. The plot flows well, but the mood is unpredictable. One minute, the egotistical Stark is having an anxiety attack (because of the events in New York City, that occur in The Avengers), and the next, he’s exuberantly confident again and cracking joke after joke. However, it does remind us that Stark – genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, mostly invincible in his iron suit – can still be vulnerable and is quite human.

This instalment is better than the second. It’s smarter with its humour, and that could be thanks to Black. The action sequences are great and fast-paced, and it’s a real adrenaline rush that will go best with some poppin’ corn and a Pepsi. It’s still a great ensemble cast, where RDJ is great as ever, as is Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle. Ben Kingsley is outstanding (like he is in every role he takes on) and Guy Pearce rocks his role. Great twists and turns of the movie are really enjoyable, and usually unpredictable. The enemies posing a potential threat to the well-being of Stark are much better than Rourke and Rockwell of the second.

The Mandarin is handled with effective care, even if the way they portray him is disappointing to avid comic book readers. If you want a movie that stays faithful to the source material, you won’t find it here. The portrayal of the character is good, as he is a worthy opposition for Stark, but, even for someone who only reads Archie comics, the character could feel like a wasted opportunity with the direction they choose. It is a shame that the Marvel universe might not get its chance at an Supporting Actor Oscar this year. The Mandarin isn’t nearly as great as The Joker of The Dark Knight, but it’d be nice if Kingsley at least nabs that Oscar nomination. The Mandarin is the terrorist mastermind of the Marvel universe. Did I say terrorist? I meant ‘teacher’. (If he were a teacher with actual credentials, he’d be fired in a hurry!) James Badge Dale is also one of the movie’s biggest surprises, besides the twists, in a role best fit for Robert Patrick, and it is great to see the actor in a big summer movie like this.

The mood of this movie feels inconsistent throughout, and the direction the producers choose for the Mandarin could be disappointing to many; but this is better than the second, and it’s my favourite of the trilogy. The casting is great, and Black is a good fit. The action sequences are compelling, and there’s a reason that Iron Man is arguably the most popular of the Avengers squad (Hulk could be, if a decent Hulk movie could be made).

80/100

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron Man 2Iron Man 2

Release Date: May 7, 2010

Director: Jon Favreau

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle

Runtime: 124 min

After a great introduction to the Tony Stark/Iron Man character, the first sequel doesn’t impress and it’s overwhelmingly average. The movie doesn’t soar as high as Iron Man can really go. It isn’t a bad addition to Marvel’s collection of movies, it’s just not as great as it could be.

Stark is dying because his arc reactor is spilling poison into his body at this point. The world knows he’s Iron Man. He’s practically the only super hero in the world to ever reveal his identity. I guess that’s what one person gets when they’re 20% (filled with) poison, and 80% ego. That “you can take the man out of the suit, but you can’t take the suit out of the man” character conflict phases Stark. He’s also, of course, facing some ole comic book villains.

Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is much too reserved, and the fantastic actor goes really underused and he hardly has a chance to shine. Mickey Rourke is good as Ivan Vanko. The electric whips he uses are mighty cool. The movie’s finale is great, but everything leading up to the satisfying end; is usually good, rarely boring, fairly silly, and a lot underwhelming.

69/100

Flight (2012) Review

Flight

Release Date: November 2, 2012

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Stars: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle

Runtime: 138 min

Finally, Robert Zemeckis has returned, after twelve years, to directing real people (at least he didn’t generally disappear from the directing game like James Cameron did for twelve freaking years). Zemeckis’ last live-action film was 2000’s Cast Away, and since 2004, he has been experimenting with his unique knack of animated features. In 2004, he brought us the decent enough The Polar Express; in 2007, he brought us the Action/Animation feature Beowulf; and in 2009, he brought us the pretty over-the-top-and-not-in-a-good-way, Disney’s A Christmas Carol. Now, he’s back with a big old ka-boom to direct this beauty.

Whip Whitaker is ready to fly a plane after a night of partying. Once he takes that puppy in the air, it soon gets attacked by turbulence, and soon enough, the hydraulics take a turn for the worse. He lands it safely on the ground, and saves a lot of lives because of this. For a short time, he is seen as an unarguable hero, but once an investigation gets put in order, it reveals that Whitaker is a struggling alcoholic. Whitaker makes friendships along the way, and must simultaneously face both ridicule, and must fight off his inner demon of alcoholism and come to terms with the beast that lives inside of him.

Flight doesn’t feel as long as it actually is. By the time the film is over, you may not have any idea that two hours and twenty minutes have gone by. And when you do realize it, you won’t mind. Flight is totally compelling and often gripping. There is not one bad scene in this feature. The world of addiction is well and profoundly investigated with Whitaker, especially because he cannot admit to himself, or others, that he has a pretty serious problem. He also feels that if he wasn’t drunk during the time of flying, everyone on the plane may have survived. That opening 20-minute sequence of the plane rushing through a sea of turbulence, and flying upside down, is both exciting and just a wicked does of an adrenaline rush. Imagine any other plane crash sequence in other films, and imagine it hyped up on cocaine and codeine (but without overdosing). Do you have that picture in your head? Yeah, it’s pretty crazy, exciting and tense all at the same time. Even after seeing it a second time, you’ll still feel as tense as you did the first time around. The suspense for that scene is beautifully created, and you can just feel it on each character’s faces.

Flight sometimes can feel like an AA meeting, but only in a few scenes, especially when they are at an AA meeting of sorts. Though, those scenes aren’t even bad. The fact that Whitaker wants to push everyone away who just wants to help him, can get a little frustrating for the viewer. Still, we all can feel the turmoil that Whitaker is facing in this state in his life, and over a vast majority of his life. Denzel Washington yet again brings a great character to life with ease, and portrays him beautifully, and makes us want to root for him wholeheartedly.

There is a sort of dramatic, emotional, darkly hilarious at times, and philosophical blended atmosphere that one can really get absorbed in. We, the viewers, may not know the true hardships of addiction and may not understand Whitaker’s drinking, but we must comprehend that it seems like a very difficult disease to defeat. One person who tries to help Whitaker overcome his addiction is Nicole, a heroin addict who is trying to get sober. The relationship between the two grows is nice but can get a little strained because they both are addicts, but she has come to terms with her addiction and wants to overcome it, while Whitaker is having a tougher time. Some other relationships formed in the film are nice too, but almost all don’t feel great (like with his union rep, Charlie Anderson or his lawyer, Hugh Lang) because Whitaker really feels like a person who doesn’t play well with others, even though he’s a very sympathetic man. One person he does play well with is Harling Mays (John Goodman), his cousin and sometimes drug dealer. Harling is not present in the film for an extremely long time, but when he is, he really steals the show with his comic relief, and no one else could play this role as well as John Goodman accomplishes. He is just the best, and only, man for the job.

The sound is great and the performances are great. Everything about this drama is just solid, because it is so profound and is very enjoyable. There is a load of emotional content here, and one heck of a suspenseful scene at the beginning of the feature. For those who find the concept of addiction fascinating, will enjoy this even more. Everyone does a superb job on this project, and if Denzel Washington doesn’t get nominated for the Oscar for Best Leading Actor, I’ll get drunk, fly a plane, and crash it.

88/100