Monthly Archives: November 2009

Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)

You know, you’re half smart, Ocean.

— Willy Bank

Soderbergh and company wanted to conclude the Ocean’s saga with Ocean’s Thirteen. This installment is a return of form with the gang returning to their roots in Las Vegas. I am glad that everyone returned to the slick caper story like the first movie.

During their absences between capers, the gang is reunited when Reuben suffers a cardiac infarction when a deal with an egomaniacal property owner, Willy Bank (Al Pacino) goes south. When one of the Twelve is wronged, a price needs to be paid. Danny pays Willy a visit when he was at the construction of his place, The Bank Casino.

The Bank Casino is an extravagant showplace with no expense spared with its marble floors and golden silverware. Willy wants to win another “Five Diamond” necklace for the best hotel in terms of customer service and overall cleanliness. Willy’s right-hand woman, Abigail (Ellen Barkin) is his eyes and ears to see if anybody would do anything during their soft opening.

Danny and Rusty seek the advice of Roman to find a way to seek revenge on Willy before the official opening of The Bank Casino on July 3rd. After some brainstorming, the team decides to destroy Willy from the inside out. First, they have to get inside of the building by bribing the lead concierge, Debbie (Olga Sosnovska), rig all of the games so the gamblers win, create a seismic event and distract a “Five Diamond” critic (David Paymer).

If they pull off this feat, they could get away with over $500 million dollars and at the same time bankrupt Willy Bank in the process. As their plan goes along, they realized that they bit off more than they can chew. Begrudgingly, they seek the help of Terry Benedict to help them carry out the mission.

First, what was up with Al Pacino’s skin? He was fluorescent orange. He was tanoxeric. It distracted me. I’m glad that they recaptured some of the magic from the first movie. I have a problem with some of the lighting. The shadowy scenes muddled everything. Nothing popped out of the screen. Soderbergh ended the series of a good note.

Judgment: If you want to see a return to form, watch this movie.

Rating: ***1/2

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Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

Terry, I can’t predict the future. I pay professionals to do that, and even they get it wrong sometimes.

— Reuben

After the massive success of the first movie, Soderburgh and company came back together for Ocean’s Twelve. This setting and story are dramatically different from the glitz and glamour from the first incarnation. Instead of the bright lights of the Las Vegas, the Eleven are focused their attention on Europe. I think that this was a mistake, because it hurt the caper aspect of the story.

When the Eleven successful pilfered Terry Benedict out of his $150 million dollars at the ending of the first movie, (spoiler alert) the beginning show how the gang was doing during the three and a half since the heist. Most of them spent some or all of their $13 million dollars cut.

They get a rude awakening when Benedict tracks them all down wherever they were hiding. He offers them a chance to correct their mistakes by stealing his money. Benedict gives them two weeks to return the money with interest, which is roughly $200 million dollars, or he will kill them.

The gang has a pow-wow to discuss how they could get the money is that short amount of time. They decide to go to Amsterdam to meet up with Matsui (Robbie Coltrane), who gives them an assignment to steal the world’s oldest stock certificate from 1602 worth $2.5 million Euros.

When they do, they realize that a famous cat burglar named “The Night Fox” (Vincent Cassel) got the stock first. Not only that, but the team realizes that The Night Fox made the call to Benedict that ratted them out.

The Night Fox issues a challenge to the Ocean’s Eleven to steal a Coronation Faberge Egg from exhibit in Paris. They want to beat The Night Fox at their own game. Eleven becomes Twelve when they enlist the help of Roman (Eddie Izzard) to help pull off the switch-a-roo.

This movie as a whole is not well executed. The dialogue was not up to par. The scenes dragged on way too long. I was bored to tears. The movie looks grainy. The interaction with the members felt clunky and stagy. There wasn’t the synergy from the first outing. I was disappointed with this movie, especially the last thirty that fell off the tracks.

Judgment: This is one of the instances that the sequel is not better than the original.

Rating: **1/2

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

You guys are pros. The best. I’m sure you can make it out of the casino. Of course, lest we forget, once you’re out the front door, you’re still in the middle of the fucking desert!

— Reuben

Breaking away from his trademark quirky sensibility, Steven Soderbergh remade the 1960s Rat Pack classic heist film, Ocean’s Eleven. Instead of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammie Davis, Jr., the main leads are George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. Quite a departure. Soderbergh has some success with mainstream movies; I think that his subsequent Ocean’s trilogy exposed himself more to the mainstream consciousness.

Re-channeling his Out of Sight persona, George Clooney plays the titular Danny Ocean that is recently paroled after four years. When he is released, he goes to old stomping grounds to reconnect with his former crewmembers, travel across the country to reconnect with the poker teacher to the stars, Rusty (Pitt).

Ocean’s plan is to steal “x” amount dollars from three casinos, the Bellagio, the Mirage and the MGM Grand all of them owned Las Vegas casino owner, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). He would need a large crew at least a dozen to pull off the multiple cons needed to pull off the heist.

Seeing that they need a way inside the way, Danny and Rusty pay a visit to a former casino owner that was wronged by Benedict and knows the ins and outs of the security system, Reuben (Elliott Gould). After he is in, the rest of the crew is assembled like Frank (Bernie Mac), two drivers the twins, Virgil and Turk (Casey Affleck, Scott Caan), electronic expert Livingston (Eddie Jemison), explosives Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle), a “grease man” Yen (Shaobo Qin), Saul (Carl Reiner) and last but not least, master of disguise, Linus (Damon).

They have pow-wow to lay out the foundation of this impossible feat. If they succeed, they stand to get 150 million dollars when the casinos are distracted from an upcoming fight between Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko that same day. In order to let the heist run slowly, they have to lay the groundwork like plant a device on the casino’s closed circuit camera, recreating the vault to practice, the daily routine of their mark.

While relaying the routine of Benedict, Linus thought it would be a good idea to enlist the help of Benedict’s main squeeze, Tess (Julia Roberts) who was also Danny’s ex-wife. Danny’s ulterior motive becomes clear that steals the money is not his only motivation. He wants to get Tess back.

The movie is slick and a little too polished. I had the same problem with this movie as I did with Spike Lee’s Inside Man. I don’t like it when a filmmaker talks down the audience. We don’t need to know every single detail that needed to be explained. When the heist was taking place, I didn’t believe that these people would be able to pull that off. The only person that I liked was Andy Garcia. He has a permanent stoic look on his face that works well with his dickish Terry Benedict.

Judgment: Have a good time with Ocean and the gang in this solid remake.

Rating: ****

Jet Li’s Fearless (2006)

Poison works very quickly. It has worked its way to my heart… Zhensheng, promise me you won’t seek revenge. Revenge will only bring us more bloodshed. Please, that’s not what I want. We must strive to become triumphant… Nong Jinsun, I only understand wushu. I practiced for many years to understand what Wushu is, what is wushu’s real purpose. The competition must continue. One cannot choose how one’s life begins. It takes courage to finish the final step.

— Huo Yuan Jia

Billed as Jet Li’s swan song to the epic martial arts movie, Fearless retells the true-life story of Huo Yuan Jia. He is known as being the best martial artist in China at the turn of the 20th century. I learned about this after I watched the movie. I thought that this was another martial arts movie, but it was a little different not by much.

As I said in the introduction, the film is about the life story of Huo Yuan Jia (Jet Li) primarily focusing on the last ten years of his life. All of this life, Yuan Jia wanted to be a great martial artist like his father. His father didn’t want his son to fight because of the asthma that he had since he was a boy.

Yuan Jia wanted to prove everyone wrong to be the number one fighter in the land. Not hearing his mother’s warnings, he becomes very cocky. He fights scores of warriors until Master Chin (Chen Zhi Hui) challenges him. They get into an epic fight where Chin is defeated. As an added consequence, a follower from Chin’s clan slaughters Yunjia’s family.

Devastated from the turn of events, he leaves his life behind to find the true meaning of the martial art. After years of exile, Yuan Jia comes back to his hometown to find the Jin Wu Sports Federation that has expanded to over fifty countries today.

I understand that Jet Li wanted to portray the greatest hero in Chinese culture. He wanted to end his martial arts movie life with this person. It’s like poetic justice, but it was stale in some parts of the movie. The action sequences are great, of course. You can plainly see the stunt doubles from some of the actors. Also, there is a sequence where a Japanese fighter is interacting with Yuan Jia where he is clearl dubbed. That is a capital offense in my book. Everything else is blah.

Judgment: If you want to see a half-ass attempt of a biopic, watch this movie.

Rating: ***

“The Last Station” Trailer

“The Last Station” is a movie that very few people know about. I mentioned this movie on my most anticipated list a couple of weeks back.

The movie is about Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) having a winter crisis when he becomes a veganterian and celibate when Cherktov (Paul Giamatti) convinces him to re-write with will to donates his books to the Russian govt then his family. Leo’s wife, Sofya (Helen Mirren) is determined to destroy Cherktov with a gulliable assitant Valentin (James McAvoy). Leo and Sofya ask him to keep a journal about his expierences with them. Things get complicated when Valentin falls in love with the free-spirited Martha.

The movie is supposedly opening on Dec. 4. I did not see a TV spot for it. It might go wide in January.

Jarhead (2005)

Every war is different, every war is the same.

— Anthony ‘Swoff’ Swofford

During my subscription of Details magazine circa 2003, I passed by a blurb for Anthony Swofford briefly discussing his memoir about his time in the Persian Gulf War called Jarhead. Sam Mendes directed the big screen adaptation of his story. I loved that the story is not a war movie, but a movie about young soldier’s journey.

Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a Marine recruit that is trying to find himself. He thought that the military was the best decision, but he regrets it. He is introduced to his platoon, Gulf Company. His initial reception does not turn out why the way that he thought. They tried to initiate him with a mock branding of the USMC.

Pretending that he has a stomach virus, he meets Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jaime Foxx) in the crapper. Seeing that Swofford is not as dumb as he thinks he is, Sykes wants Swofford to train as a scout sniper. Swofford jumps at the opportunity. He is teamed up with Troy (Peter Sarsgaard).

As the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, Second Platoon is deployed to the battle zone. The Marines think that they would be there a maximum of two weeks, but things changed. As part of Operation Desert Shield, their orders from their battalion leader Lt. Col. Kazinski (Chris Cooper) are to guard the oil fields that are a constant target of the Iraqi militants.

The platoon has to learn is about to the harsh conditions of the desert, how to survive the insurmountable boredom of non-combat conditions. As the days turn into months, Swofford’s mind begins to unravel as he learns that his girlfriend is cheating and he is not seeing any action.

Everybody knows how much of a “Gyllenhaalic” I am. I remember taking my ex-boyfriend to see this movie in the theaters. I was engrossed in the movie and I looked over to see that he was sleeping. That’s why he became an ex-boyfriend.

Sam Mendes has a way to make a monochromic setting into a thing of beauty. You see sand blackened with soot and ash from fireballs or burning oil wells in the distance. It’s like the screen is inverted.

Judgment: If you are the kind of person that doesn’t like gory war movie, you would enjoy

Rating: ****

Inside Man (2006)

My name is Dalton Russell. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully and I never repeat myself. I’ve told you my name: that’s the Who. The Where could most readily be described as a prison cell. But there’s a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being in prison…

— Dalton Russell

Considered Spike Lee’s most critically and commercially successful movie of his career, Inside Man is not your average bank heist movie. I own this movie on DVD for a while, but I never cracked it open and watched it. I have given it to former co-workers to watch, but I never did because it came out of a subscription I had with Columbia House a couple of years ago. Watching it now, I don’t know why I waited this long.

At first, you think that this would be a typical bank robbery, but it’s not. A masterful criminal, Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and his crew holds up a Manhattan Trust Bank disguising themselves as painters armed with AK-47s and smoke bombs.

Det. Fraizer, (Denzel Washington), a hostage negotiator that is in some hot water over a drug dealer, check cashing and $100 thousand missing dollars is assigned to the case with his partner, Det. Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor). They rendezvous with Capt. Darius (Willem Dafoe) to let the duo know about what is going on.

The robbers usher to the hostages to the bank vault level to confiscate their keys, cell phones and clothes. The hostages are asked to change into the identical painter coveralls the robbers have on. These are not your ordinary robbers.

With all the news coverage about the robbery spreads to the news, the chairman of the bank, Mr. Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) calls a “fixer” Madeline White (Jodie Foster) to protect special items in his safety deposit box.

They all come together to try to diffuse the situation. There are more layers to the movie when Dalton strings Frazier along like a puppet. He always stays one step ahead of him. It’s a cat and mouse game.

Nothing is what it seems to be when the purpose of the robbers is not about money, but it’s about a person getting their due justice. It’s a morality play that is reminiscent of the legend of Robin Hood.

The performances were solid across the board. The dialogue is quick and biting. The action keeps you on your toes with twists and turns.

The only gripe I have about the film is that the film wrapped up to nice and neat with any loose ends are solved. Nothing is left to the imagination of the audience to think about when the end credits begin.

Judgment: A solid psychological thriller that keeps you on your toes.

Rating: ****

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey.

— The Criminologist

The cult classic musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been entrenched in American culture since it bombed at the box office in 1975. I always wanted to go to the midnight showings of this movie, but I didn’t want to feel like a noob going there. I am familiar with the music seeing that I have the soundtrack to the 2001 Broadway revival. I get a kick out of going back into a time warp to visit Dr. Frank-N-Furter and his cretins of the night.

Nostalgia floods back when the first thing you see is those flame red lips singing the opening number about this tale of an uptight couple; Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon) getting stranded one fateful night in a rainstorm. The Criminologist (Charles Gray) that recalls the events of that night narrates the tale.

They arrive at the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) with his band of misfits, abused manservant Riff-Raff (Richard O’Brien), maid Magenta (Patricia Quinn) and groupie Columbia (Little Nell). Brad wants to use the telephone to get the car fixed, but the Doctor has other plans for the twosome.

He wants them to witness the birth of his perfect companion, Rocky Horror (Peter Hinwood). As the night progress, the Transylvanians’ influence corrupts the good couple.

Everybody knows that the acting is not good bordering on soap opera melodrama. The music is spastic like the cast sucked helium before recording the soundtrack. Is it bad or is it so bad that it’s good?

Judgment: There is something enjoyable about this trainwreck of a movie.

Rating: ***1/2

Cry-Baby (1990)

I may be a drape, but I love your granddaughter. And if that’s a crime, I’ll stand convicted, ma’am.

— Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker

I believe that Cry-Baby is my first experience watching a John Waters movie from beginning to end. Known for his subversive movies, I was hesitant watching this film. I didn’t know how what to expect. I was surprised that this movie was more of a musical that anything else. It doesn’t that this is a good movie.

Taking place in Baltimore 1954, Wade Walter aka Cry Baby (Johnny Depp) and Allison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane) meet each other while getting a vaccination at the gym. They like each other but it like John Waters’ version of “Romeo and Juliet”. Cry-Baby is a Drape, one of the juvenile delinquents of the town. However, Alison is a Square through and through with her boyfriend Baldwin (Stephen Mailer) and grandmother (Polly Bergen) try to reel her inner drape back.

The two factions clash as Cry-Baby wants to participate in the RSVP talent contest at Mrs. Vernon-Williams’ charm school. Cry-Baby crashes the contest to whisk Alison away on his brand new motorcycle from his grandmother, Ramona Rickettes (Susan Tyrrell), grandmother and uncle Belvedere (Iggy Pop) to his favorite drape hang out, Turkey Point.

Alison meets the rest of Cry-Baby crew that doesn’t tale a liking to the outsider. There is Cry-Baby’s badass pregnant sister Pepper (Ricki Lake), the vixen Wanda (Traci Lords) and the couple Milton (Darren E. Burrows) and Hatchet-Face (Kim McGuire). There is a Drape wannabe Lenora (Kim Webb) has a crush on Cry-Baby, she is the romantic rival.

At the Drapes’ own talent show, Jukebox Jamboree showed Alison what Cry-Baby can do with his voice, hips and electric guitar-playing. Alison is torn between her duties of being with her Square boyfriend, Baldwin or have a wild ride with Cry-Baby.

The movie was short. It felt rushed. It was shallow. Pop in and out. That’s it. I wasn’t invested in the character long enough to care about them. The musical sequences were very entertaining. That’s all.

Judgment: I heard that there is a Broadway musical of this movie, I’d rather see that.

Rating: **1/2

Michael Jackson’s This Is It (2009)

 

When I heard that they were making a movie of rehearsal footage from the This Is It, I thought that it was too soon. I am a Michael Jackson fans since “Thriller”. I know the dance moves off most of his videos. When Michael said that he would have his last hurrah in England, I was bummed out. He dies and all of this unnecessary attention descending upon him. I thought this was a cash grab. This film is a reminder of how Michael Jackson affected our lives.

The movie starts with the back up dancers giving their impressions about the tour that never materialized. They grow up with Michael and want to be near him in any capacity. They would have had the time of their lives.

The director Kenny Ortega talks about the mechanics of the concert from the announcement of the concert at the 2006 World Music Awards, auditioning the dancers to the spectacular visuals. Michael appears onstage to run through the concert from beginning to end. Michael wanted to put on the best show that he could for the multiple fans that were to see him final concert.

The footage was supposed to be a behind the scenes featurette on the DVD release of the movie. Michael is not singing full out to save his voice or dancing on cue with the dancers to conserve his energy. It wasn’t intended to be released on the big screen.

It demonstrates some reinventions of classic songs with The Way You Make Me Feel or Thriller. Some sequences were supposed to be in 3D. You wonder how that would be as an audience member. You wonder what could have been.

Judgment: The movie is a nice tribute to the King of Pop.

Rating: ***1/2

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