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

The Monuments Men (2014)

the monuments menReleased: February 7, 2014. Directed by: George Clooney. Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray. Runtime: 118 min.

“The Monuments Men” follows a platoon of unlikely heroes at the end of the Second World War who are tasked with retrieving art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It’s a story about not letting culture die, because if all of this art is to be destroyed, that’s one less piece of history to state that the culture that made it existed.

I think this raises cool cultural ideas because history is an interesting thing, especially seeing and knowing how a culture evolves over time. I’m sure that’s what inspired the real life characters to be a part of this platoon. It’s an educational feature because I hadn’t realized that the Nazi’s stole so much art. The lengths these generically developed characters went through to try to get the art back makes for an okay film.

It’s billed as an action-drama but there’s a limited amount of action throughout, and only a few brief exchanges of artillery, which I find to be a defining trait for any war film. Since that is the case, any action fans out there who are looking for a good war movie with lots of action should seek entertainment elsewhere with the gritty “Lone Survivor.” That one at least has good characters, too. The drama’s okay when it’s happening, but there’s a lot of comedy so its sometimes goofy tone and sometimes serious tone is what makes this have a poor tonal balance.

Director George Clooney is just too eager to please with this one, because he adds so much funny banter it makes many scenes feel quite goofy. I’m one for comic relief in dramas, but the comedy takes too much precedence here for a film billed as a wartime drama, and there are even a few scenes that don’t complement the story, and could just be seen as mere opportunities for the actors to remind us that they can be funny every once in awhile. The scenes are funny, but it leaves me thinking “Well, it might have been funny, but how pointless was that?” There is also one scene that’s pointless, but not that funny, it just feels hollow. Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), who seems to be Viktor Stahl’s secretary. Stahl is one of the Nazis responsible for hiding the art, and when Claire spots him moving the art to another location via a train, she says “I see you Stahl!” He looks at her, hops on the train and starts shooting at her as it’s going along. Well, he’s not going to hit her at the distance they are from each other; so is he trying to be menacing, or is he just trying to lighten his gun for no apparent reason?

At least the humour hits when it isn’t too predictable, and they have to spice up a plot so simplistic somehow, if there’s not much action going on and if the characters aren’t the best overall. It’s difficult to remember what exactly their role is within the platoon, but they are introduced at the beginning of the film at their work – in one of those early-on recruiting sequences. Clooney is simply the leader of the platoon, the Lieutenant. Hugh Bonneville portrays a man named Donald Jeffries, who gets the most character development as a recovering alcoholic. Matt Damon portrays a painter who is best characterized as a man who cannot speak French to save his life, as the French person he speaks to tells him to speak in English after two sentences.

As previously mentioned, Cate Blanchett’s Claire is Stahl’s secretary, and also a valuable intelligence source. Bill Murray portrays an architect but really only gets depicted as a guy who likes to tease Bob Balaban, who looked like he was directing a stage play in his recruiting scene where George Clooney just sits behind him smiling. John Goodman portrays Walter Garfield, a sculptor who might as well just be the Funny Guy. Jean Dujardin plays a character I’d just refer to as The Guy Who Can Actually Speak French. The cast does their best because they all do get a few laughs in, and it’s quite an ensemble; but when their characters are generic like this, it’s hard not to think that a certain few (Clooney and Damon in particular) are surprisingly phoning in their performances.

To me, this feels like a film with a clear A to B plot. Only a few surprises, a few brief action scenes, but enough humour to keep viewers mildly entertained throughout. The tonal choice to be serious at times, and often too goofy, is fatal. I don’t know if Clooney intended to make this part caper part wartime drama feel as goofy with its humour as “National Treasure” (a fun movie) at times, but that’s the result. Compared to his [Clooney’s] other works as a director, this is disappointingly sub-par.

Score55/100

Elysium (2013)

ElysiumReleased: August 9, 2013. Directed by: Neill Blomkamp. Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley. Runtime: 109 min.

In the prologue, it is said that the earth has been ruined by pollution, and only the wealthiest of people could escape. The rich now call Elysium their home, a place where the air is healthy and to be healed of any disease – one just has to lay in a bed, much like a bed seen in most science fiction tales. Jodie Foster portrays the Secretary of Defense in that beautiful place up in the sky.

The main protagonist of the film is Max (Matt Damon). He dreams of going to Elysium, a promise he also made to his childhood sweetheart. That is not Max’s sole motivation to go to Elysium however – after a misshap at work, he becomes desperate and must go to Elysium in order to save his life, and humanity.

Neill Blomkamp jumped on the fame radar with 2009’s Oscar-nominated (unseen by me) “District 9.” He returns with a great science fiction actioner that has a great care for his characters at play. Matt Damon portrays a desperate and likable protagonist. Jodie Foster is a memorable villain, and her motivations are real, as she would do anything to protect her children from members of Earth. She isn’t as memorable, though, as a ruthless, Aussie mercenary known simply as Kruger. (And no, he does not wear a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ Christmas sweater, like Freddy Krueger.) Sharlto Copley (“The A Team,” “District 9”) portrays the character well.

This film brings up interesting concepts of the health care system. If you have enough money to live on Elysium, you can essentially live forever, as long as you can get to the healing bed in time. I also thought of, while in this world people can be forced to do things at work, in this world we have rights and we could choose not to do certain things we aren’t comfortable with. Blomkamp’s vision of this earth set in 2154 is fascinating. It also makes this a solid commentary on class struggle. He envisions an Los Angeles that looks like a Third World country; decaying buildings, polluted streets, extreme unemployment rates. It would be interesting to see how Blomkamp sees what an already Third World country would like in 2154. I assume he leaves that up to our imaginations purposefully.

There’s something that lacks in the screenplay, but I can’t exactly put my finger on it. Actually, it might be because it is only 109 minutes, but it feels as if it’s about to pass two hours by the time it finishes. This is a well-done sci-fi about saving humanity. Blomkamp doesn’t shy away from gore, which makes the action pretty freaking awesome. It’s imaginative, violent, action-packed, and it’s one of the most beautifully shot films of 2013.

Score: 80/100

Promised Land (2012)

Promised LandPromised Land

Release Date: January 4, 2013

Director: Gus Van Sant

Stars: Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski

Runtime: 106 min

Tagline: What’s your price?

Corporate salesman Steve Butler (Damon) arrives in a rural town with his sales partner, Sue Thomason (McDormand). With the town having been hit hard by the economic decline of recent years, the two outsiders see the local citizens as likely to accept their company’s offer, for drilling rights to their properties, as much-needed relief. What seems like an easy job for the duo becomes complicated by the objection of a respected schoolteacher (Holbrook) with support from a grassroots campaign led by a man (Krasinski) who counters Steve both personally and professionally.

This environmental drama reunites Good Will Hunting star Matt Damon and director Gus Van Sant. While it has the same good acting and fine direction, it doesn’t quite have the best characters or writing. Thus proving Ben Affleck’s writing was one heck of a contribution to Good Will Hunting‘s screenplay.

The characters in this feature are simple and generic. Damon’s character of Steve Butler is decent, but his beliefs seem distorted throughout the feature. He goes through a roller coaster of emotions where he tells the people one thing, but he thinks something else. However, that character change is necessary for the screenplay because his soul is supposed to be changed and touched by the people themselves. Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) is a fairly uninteresting character merely established as a mother on a business trip who just really wants to be back with her son. Krasinski’s Dustin Noble is playing the nice guy routine, trying to convince the people of the town that Global will ruin the local economy instead of helping it.

Global is a natural gas company that uses a process called fracking to go underground and retrieve the valuable resources. This film raises awareness of this dangerous process. This is also an analysis of how big companies don’t care for the environment or the people themselves, they only care for making money. But this town has something to say about that. The only other 2012 film that has a louder message of the environment is Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. But really, that is tailored for children, and many aren’t clever enough to realize when an idea is being hammered down their throats. However, this is an adult drama and the majority of adults know when an idea is loud or preachy.

The only things that set this film apart is the rather loud message and the change of heart Steve has. Though, it really doesn’t stop it from being generic and often bland. Some redundant plot points that do not do anything for the story whatsoever are less interesting than a man snoring loudly. It is also a very by-the-book feature that goes through the motions. Sure, it’s a decent watch, but it’s nothing more. The cast is stellar (also including Scoot McNairy, Hal Holbrook and Rosemarie DeWitt) but none of the talented actors are given thoroughly interesting characters.

In a nutshell: Promised Land is a decent, but far from good, experience that isn’t more than that. It’s an environmental drama that tries to explore unique concepts like fracking and greedy large companies, but it needs Ben Affleck on as a writer. The end product comes across as usually bland, predictable and very generic. It goes through the motions of this type of drama until the very end.

55/100

Celebrity Birthdays: October 8 – 14

Chevy Chase (October 8)

Happy 69th birthday to Chevy Chase who is probably best known for his role in National Lampoon’s Vacation films as Clark Griswold. He’s also well known for his improvisational role of Ty Webb in 1980’s Caddyshack. Nowadays he appears on the NBC comedy TV Series Community, as the racist, clueless, offensive, rich and often hilarious Pierce Hawthorne. What’s your favourite Chevy Chase movie or TV role, and favourite movie featuring him? My favourite roles portrayed by Chase are Ty Webb in Caddyshack, and his role as Pierce Hawthorne, on Community,  is a close second. My favourite films featuring Chase are 1) Caddyshack as Ty Webb and; 2) Hot Tub Time Machine as the hysterical Repairman and;  3) Snow Day as Tom Brandston, the weatherman.Though, I’ve only seen four of his films. The fourth is Zoom, but frankly, who truly enjoys that one? I’d count one of the Vacation films, but I can’t remember which one I’d seen…

Matt Damon (October 8)

Happy 42nd birthday to Matt Damon, star of The Bourne trilogy, Good Will Hunting, and The Departed. I won’t go into what my favourite Damon flicks are because I haven’t seen a lot of his work to judge. But what I have seen him in, I can say that he evidently has great talent.

Sigourney Weaver (October 8)

Happy 63rd birthday to Mrs. Sigourney Weaver. Weaver is sort of just an extraordinary Queen of Science Fiction/Horror. She is the star of the Alien series as Ellen Ripley. Unfortunately, I have not seen those films at all yet. She has also been in Ghostbusters and Avatar. I’ve only seen three of her films that she has a primary role in, and they are ranked: 1) Holes as Warden Walker; 2) Avatar as Grace and; 3) Ghostbusters as Dana Barrett.

David Morse (October 11)

Happy 59th birthday to David Morse, who is best known for The Green Mile, Contact, The Hurt Locker and The Rock. He’s a great and diverse actor that can be creepy in films like Disturbia and touching in films like The Green Mile. I really love the work that I have seen him in. He has been nominated for two Primetime Emmys for his work in the TV miniseries John Adams and House. My favourite films featuring him are: 1) The Green Mile, as Brutus ‘Brutal’ Howell; 2) Disturbia as the creepy Mr. Turner and; 3) The Hurt Locker as Colonel Reed (who got about two minutes of screen time).

Hugh Jackman (October 12)

Happy 44th birthday to Hugh Jackman, an Australian born actor who is best known for his role in The Prestige and as Logan/Wolverine in the X-Men series. My favourite role is him in The Prestige. That’s really the only stuff I’ve seen him in.

Sacha Baron Cohen (October 13)

Happy 41st birthday to Sacha Baron Cohen, who is the creator of great characters such as Borat, Ali G, most recently Aladeen from The Dictator, and then there was Bruno. He is often very hysterical, and has even gotten an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay for Borat. My favourite Cohen character is definitely, without any question, Borat. He’s freaking hysterical. My favourite films featuring Cohen are: 1) Borat, where he played the titular character and; 2) Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, where he played Jean Girard and; 3) Madagascar where he voices the hilarious Madagascar lemur, King Julien.

Other Birthdays: Oct. 10, Aimee Teegarden (23). Oct. 11, Michelle Trachtenberg (27). Oct. 11, Joan Cusack (50). Oct. 12, Josh Hutcherson (20). Oct. 14, Roger Moore (85). Oct. 14, Mia Wasikowska (23).

So, what do you guys think of one of my newest features? And who is your favourite actor/actress on this talented list?

My reviews of films they have starred in: 

Sigourney Weaver: Holes (2003)

David Morse: Disturbia  (2007)

Joan Cusack: The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Josh Hutcherson: The Hunger Games (2012)