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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

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: ****

True Romance (1993)

 

Hi. How are you? My name’s Elliot, and I’m with the Cub Scouts of America. We’re… we’re selling uncut cocaine to get to the jamboree.

— Elliot

Quentin Tarantino penned the script for True Romance for director Tony Scott. I heard about this movie, because when I saw the IMDb page of Inglourious Basterds. He made one of the characters “Bear Jew” Donowitz the grandfather of one of the character in this movie. I thought I might check it out. I think this was Tarantino’s attempt to have a bloodily romantic movie, but it fails.

Taking place in Detroit, a comic book store worker, Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) goes to a Sonny Chiba “Street Fighter” triple feature. A beautiful young woman, Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette) intentionally bumps into him there. They take a liking to each other and meet each other for pie. He tries to get to know her more, but she is coy.

They quickly fall in love and have sex. Afterwards, Alabama confesses to him that she is a call girl that was hired by his boss to get him laid on his birthday. They promise to be with each other always and get married the next day. She tells him about her fucked up life and how needed to get her stuff back from her pimp

When shit is about to go down the spirit of Elvis (Val Kilmer) gives Clarence a quick pep talk in the bathroom. Clarence wants to retrieve Alabama’s stuff from her former pimp, a Rasta man named Drexl (Gary Oldman). Going over there, things go wrong when he kills Drexl and takes a suitcase. It turns out that suitcase is filled with a million dollars worth of cocaine from a drug lord, Blue Lou Boyle.

The duo doesn’t know this. When Clarence comes back to the apartment bloody and bruised, Alabama is turned on by doing anything for her. They go over to a trailer house to meet his father, Clifford (Dennis Hooper), who is a police officer. They haven’t seen each other in three years. He wanted to know if the cops are after the twosome. Clifford tells them that they are in the clear.

They take a road trip Clarence’s best friend in Hollywood, Dick Ritchie (Michael Rappaport), an actor with his stoner roommate, Floyd (Brad Pitt). After the duo leaves, Vincenzo Coccotti (Chirstopher Walken), the local counsel for Boyle, pays Clifford a visit. The thugs interrogate him when Clarence dropped his license at the crime scene. They want to get their score back.

The movie is supposed to be a modern version of Bonnie and Clyde, but the movie felt false. You know you hear Tarantino dialogue when the characters ramble on about movies and minute trivia. The movie as whole laid flat. There was no oomph. I didn’t care if the characters lived or died. It was disappointing.

Judgment: Words cannot describe how terrible this movie is.

Rating: **1/2

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

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Your body’s dying. Pay no attention, It happens to us all.

— Lestat

I haven’t seen Interview with the Vampire in years. It has been so long that I forgot that Neil Jordan directed the film that was based on the book by Anne Rice. She wrote the screenplay and was famously know for disliking Tom Cruise being cast as Lestat. I still enjoy watching it again.

Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt) is a 200-year-old vampire recounts his life story to an interviewer, Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater) in his sparse apartment in San Francisco. At first, Malloy doesn’t believe that he is one, but Louis’ ability to movie stealth speed convinces him.

Louis starts in beginning circa 1791 Louisiana when his wife and child die within a year each other. He doesn’t want to live until he meets Lestat de Lioncourt  (Tom Cruise), a vampire that could grant him his wish for death.

Louis decides that he wants to have the gift of immortality. Newly turned, Lestat teaches Louis about how to be a vampire. Lestat has an unquenchable thirst for blood, going through three victims a night. Louis has the hunger, the desire, the thirst for blood, but he doesn’t want to take a human’s life. Over time, Louis hates Lestat for giving him his undead life. He resents him.

Lestat turns his attentions to the slaves in the surrounding area that rises concern with their servant girl, Yvette (Thandie Newton). When Louis’ desire takes over and tries to bite her, the slaves along with himself burns the mansion him and Lestat share, down.

Louis is always tortured about being vampire. They become nomads, moving from the place to place, feeding the people of New Orleans. Everything comes to a head when Louis couldn’t kill a young woman that Lestat wants him to do.

On the streets, a young orphaned girl is dying of the plague, Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). Louis takes pity on her. She is taken in and fed Lestat’s blood when she turns. She becomes their surrogate daughter when the thirst takes over her.

She becomes Lestat’s protégé. She matched his thirst for the kill. Lestat want to rule over their lives. Over three decades pass and Claudia wonders why she cannot grow up. Both Claudia and Louis are tortured because they realize that they will never grow old, never die. They want to leave Lestat.

I was swept up with the allure of these vampires. The dialogue is still sharp. The costumes were fantastic. I have a few minor gripes with Antonio Bandera’s heavy accent as Armand. Sometimes I couldn’t understand what he was saying. You can tell that there was some wire work in this movie. It shows. There is also a portion of the film that I need explained. Spoiler section time.

Judgment: A great vampire story that makes you wonder why people are into Twilight.

Rating: ****1/2

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

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My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances. While everyone else was agin’, I was gettin’ younger… all alone.

— Benjamin Button

Nominated for thirteen Academy awards last year, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was not on my list of films to see at that time. It is currently #210 on Top 250 of All Time on IMDb. I told friends of mine that I refused to see the film, because of the obvious comparisons to the emotionally manipulative Forrest Gump. After watching the Criterion Edition of this movie, Gump was at least interesting to watch.

Eric Roth scripted both movies, the movie is told in flashback from the end of WWI when Benjamin (Brad Pitt) is born to the time before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. In 2005, a daughter, Caroline (Julia Ormond) is at the bedside on her dying mother, Daisy (Cate Blanchett), where the story of Benjamin is told through a journal that he kept throughout his life.

The movie recounts when he was born after WWI ended when his mother dies in childbirth. His father, Mr. Button (Jason Flemyng), abandons Benjamin on the doorstep of an old folk’s home. A young black couple, Queenie and Tizzy (Taraji P. Henson, Mahershalashashbaz Ali) find him and raises Benjamin as their own child.

As the movie drones on, it delves into how Benjamin and Daisy met, Benjamin traveling the world, the “soul mates” coming together and them realizing that they can’t be together in the end. It retells all of the history happening around Benjamin. He is just there to witness it. He doesn’t participate in it.

This film was clearly made for Oscars. It’s grandiose. It has the magical, fantastical elements with the central hook of Benjamin aging backward while everyone is aging forward. The makeup, the digital imaging, the costumes through the different periods of time, the swelling Alexandre Desplat score, the saturation of the screen. It’s all there. Somehow, it doesn’t work.

I understand that the point of the film is that the people that come in and out of your life shape who you are. “You never know what’s coming for you.” It was the motto of the movie like “Life is like a box chocolates” for Gump. It was a defective clone.

This movie meandered through subplots that bored me to tears. Do we need to see that guy getting struck by lightning? What’s up with the relationship between Benjamin and Elizabeth Abbot (Tilda Swinton)? Do we need that “what if” montage of Daisy in Paris?

There was always little hints about time with the countless clocks around, and especially the clock that goes backwards that was made by the blind man. The inexplicable appearances of hummingbirds where there shouldn’t be any.

Reading some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story that this movie was based on, I got the sense that the story would be a comedy of errors rather than a biopic about a fictional person.

The characters were not that interesting to root for anyone. They were bland. The simple guy, the ice queen, the deadbeat dad, the magical Negro. There is nothing of substance here.

Judgment: An Oscar baity movie that misses the heart of the central premise.

Rating: **1/2

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

inglourious_basterds_ver9You probably heard we ain’t in the prisoner-takin’ business; we in the killin’ Nazi business. And cousin, Business is a-boomin’.

— Lt. Aldo Raine

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Inglourious Basterds is an homage of spaghetti westerns, film noir and subversive movies about massacring a bunch of Nazis in the past couple of decades. It is currently #192 on the Top 250 of All Time on IMDb. It was a good movie, but I had some problems with it that I will discuss in the spoiler section.

Breaking from his formula of a broken narrative, letting the audience put the pieces back together. This is a tale a group of people that want to destroy the Third Reich, thus ending WWII.

It starts when Shosanna Dreyfus’s (Mélanie Laurent) family is massacred by Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and his crew of SS soldiers. She escapes extermination through the French countryside. She assumes a different identity as Emmanuelle Mimieux, an owner of a French cinema house.

One night, she is visited by an SS soldiers named Frederich Zoller (Daniel Brühl) that is taken with her. She tries to reject his advances. She finds out that he has become a German hero by killing over 250 Allied soldiers. He has a propaganda film made about him called Nations Pride.

Frederich wants to have the premiere of the movie to be at her cinema house. Shosanna has some ulterior motives about the premiere night with her boyfriend, Marcel (Jacky Ido).

Simultaneously, the “Inglorious Basterds” headed by Lt. Aldo “The Apache” Raine (Brad Pitt) with eight other Jew vigilantes like Sgt. Donnie Donowitz (Eli Roth), Pfc. Smithson Utivich (BJ Novak), Cpl. Wilhelm Wicki (Gedeon Burkhard), Pfc. Omar Ulmer (Omar Doom) and last but not least, Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) have struck fear to the Third Reich with killing their forces and scalping them.

British officer Lt. Archie Hicox (Micheak Fassbender) has to the team up with the basterds along with double agent, German actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) to infiltrate the premiere and destroy the highest ranking officers of the Third Reich including Hitler.

This movie is made for cinema freaks. The primarily deals with people that love movies, the climax takes place in a theater. There were some obvious winks to audience.

It was more subdued than his other films. The performances were good across the board with a special mention to Christoph Waltz and Mélanie Laurent. I thought they were terrific in the film.

There were some problems with the pacing of the film. The dialogue dragged on for a long time. A few trims could have tighten up the suspense.

Judgment: It’s not a masterpiece, but a good film all around.

Rating: ****1/2

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Snatch (2000)

Where is the stone?
— Franky Four Fingers

Personally, I have a lukewarm reception to some Guy Ritchie’s movies. I have seen some snippets of Snatch since it was released in 2000. This movie is currently #186 on the IMDB Top 250 of all time. Some people think that this movie is overrated. I don’t think so. It was a solid movie.

This is an ensemble piece about a bunch of bumbling crooks trying to get their hands on an 86-carat flawlessly cut diamond.

It starts with a struggling boxing promoter and also the narrator of the film, Turkish (Jason Statham) and his partner, Tommy (Stephen Graham) trying to repay a debt to a ruthless bookie, Brick Top (Alan Ford). They try to buy a caravan from an incomprehensible gypsy boxer, Mickey O’Neil (Brad Pitt).

Another plot outline is when a gambler, Franky Four Fingers (Benicio del Toro) steals the diamond after a jewel heist to possibly gamble it away. He is employed by Boris the Blade (Rade Šerbedžija).

Boris also hires Sol (Lennie James), Vinnie (Robbie Gee) with Tyrone (Ade) as the getaway driver to steal the diamond from Franky.

A New York businessman, Avi (Dennis Farina) hears the news that the diamond was stolen flies to London to confront his cousin, Doug the Head (Mike Reid). Eventually, Avi hires some muscle with Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones) and Rosebud (Sam Douglas).

There are a lot of twists and turns, backstabbing, and some genuine hilarious moments. A solid feature from Guy Ritchie.

There were some wink-wink moments in the movie when in one scene when Bullet Tooth Tony is roughing up a guy in a car, the radio is turned on to Madonna’s “Lucky Star.” How ironic.

Judgment: If you want to see a solid heist movie, then this movie is more your speed.

Rating: ****1/2

Fight Club (1997)


Over the Christmas holiday, I wanted to ease off on the movie watching. Just relax over the holidays. Now, that I’m back I am plowing ahead full force.

On Christmas, I was looking at Fight Club. It was shown on G4 on their “Movies That Don’t Suck” showcase.

I did not see this film when it was released in theaters in 1999. I was so broke that I couldn’t a ticket. I caught this film when it was on cable a couple of months when it was on rotation. I saw different parts of the movie, but somehow I didn’t see the ending of the film. When I finally saw the ending, it was a sucker punch to the jaw.

I was looking at the movie to see what were the clue that lead to the end of the movie. I totally missed them. Now that I know, it has become a better movie, because of it.

If you don’t know the premise, I’ll summarize. It’s a story about The Narrator (Ed Norton), a mild-mannered salesman meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) to start an underground fight club.

That’s it. It’s a very simple plot line that is executed very well. There are some great dialogue.

My ratings: ***1/2 stars.

Burn After Reading (2008)


After I was cheering and screaming at the television when I heard the Golden Globe nominations, I wanted to try to see the a good portion of the movies that are nominated before the ceremony on January 11th. This movie, Burn After Reading, was nominated for Best Actress, Frances McDormand and Best Picture Comedy/Musical.

I saw the film and I was disappointed with it. After the masterpiece, No Country for Old Men, I was expecting alot more from the Coen Brothers. You have Oscars falling out of their asses with Clooney, Swinton, Pitt, McDormand, Jenkins, and Malkovich. I was bored.

I did not care about these characters. The situations were ridiculous. I was underwhelmed. The Coens are not good with straight comedy. Anybody heard of The Ladykillers? Intolerable Cruelty ?

I thought that this movie would be like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski. It’s not. Not by a longshot.

Avoid this movie. It will not win the Golden Globe.

My rating: * star.

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