Tag Archives: Bernie Mac

Ocean's Thirteen (2007, Steven Soderbergh)

A friend of mine thinks this entry is the series’s most successful, but–while it is a tad confrontational–I prefer the outright hostility to the average viewer the second one exhibits. Ocean’s Thirteen seems to be made more for the remaining audience. The people who got Twelve. The scenes in Mexico, in particular, are the sort of absurdist humor only Soderbergh can get away with. I actually had to pause the film to laugh while the wife wondered why we were stopping.

The film isn’t just missing Julia Roberts, it’s missing needing her. The job becomes so central to the film from five minutes in, the particulars of the characters aren’t important. Clooney and Pitt do have some great scenes together–the Oprah scene is a winner, as is the film’s half-way point emotional scene, with the two back where they ended the first film for a nice moment. Damon’s role is smaller as well.

Instead of filling the empty space–even with the ultra-produced heist summaries, there’s empty space–by bumping up the supporting members of the team, Thirteen just gives it all to Al Pacino. Pacino’s a hilarious bad guy, embracing a touch of silliness I don’t think he ever has before. Besides his scenes with Barkin (she’s great too), he only really has contact with Clooney and, for a moment each scene, it’s jarring. Danny Ocean shouldn’t be talking to Al Pacino that way… it’s Al Pacino.

Even with the stylization of the second film, which was semi-referential as well as strangely affecting, Thirteen is–stylistically–Soderbergh’s tour de force for the series. The color palatte, lots of reds, lots of blues, is lush and complicated. It might be, in addition to the sound mixing, the way Thirteen is most hostile to the viewer. Obviously, with a film mostly set indoors, Soderbergh has lots of fun with his sets.

The general opinion of the cast, as I recall, is Thirteen is the series’s final entry. I agree a break–and a significant one–is in order, but (and somehow more than the second one) this entry raises an intriguing question. If Soderbergh, Clooney, Pitt, Damon and team can make such a fun (and technically astounding) film with such a mediocre plot… what could they do with a good one?

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien; director of photography, Peter Andrews; edited by Stephen Mirrione; music by David Holmes; production designer, Philip Messina; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Warner Bros.

Starring George Clooney (Danny Ocean), Brad Pitt (Rusty Ryan), Matt Damon (Linus Caldwell), Andy Garcia (Terry Benedict), Don Cheadle (Basher Tarr), Bernie Mac (Frank Catton), Ellen Barkin (Abigail Sponder), Al Pacino (Willy Bank), Casey Affleck (Virgil Malloy), Scott Caan (Turk Malloy), Eddie Jemison (Livingston Dell), Shaobo Qin (Yen), Carl Reiner (Saul Bloom) and Elliott Gould (Reuben Tishkoff).


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Bad Santa (2003, Terry Zwigoff), the uncut version

Bad Santa confused me a little. I’m not sure why I expected it to be something other than a traditional Hollywood redemption story–maybe because of Terry Zwigoff, maybe because I didn’t know (or didn’t remember from trailers and buzz) it was about Santa robbing malls. After seeing Zwigoff’s Ghost World, I avoided Bad Santa because I figured it’d be bad too. It’s interesting Zwigoff’s a hipster director because it’s got one of the most manipulative scenes I’ve ever seen in Bad Santa (outside of, I suppose, an episode of “All My Children”). He has this really funny scene–I think it’s the one where Tony Cox and Bernie Mac are yelling at each other–then he goes right into a suicide attempt. So, you’re still laughing from the first scene when you’re watching the decidedly unfunny subsequent scene. Once I realized what was happening, I couldn’t believe it. I think I started laughing more, actually, because it was an incredibly silly thing to watch.

However, Billy Bob Thornton ended up pulling the scene around, which is where Bad Santa gets interesting… with the exception of Thornton, John Ritter and Bernie Mac, the acting in Bad Santa is awful. The kid–to whom Thornton becomes a surrogate father–is fine. He’s really good with Thornton (or Thornton’s really good with him), but Zwigoff also has a good way of directing those scenes. Anyway, besides him… the acting is atrocious. Lauren Graham’s useless, Tony Cox is occasionally okay, occasionally terrible and Lauren Tom provides frequent motivation for turning off the film. But Thornton’s amazing. Even though the script is a melodramatic albatross, Thornton pulls the lines off wonderfully. In many ways, it’s a shame his performance was wasted in this film.

Zwigoff’s poor choice of music hurts a lot of the scenes in the second half–there’s one sequence where the music appears to be too loud or something, it’s disconcerting, but a more appropriate volume wouldn’t have made it a better choice–and the film’s definitely at odds with itself. The mix of absurd and real doesn’t work out–mostly the script, but also the direction (and the editing is schizophrenic).

But Thornton’s performance is a marvel and it makes the film. It’s just too bad the film doesn’t make anything for itself.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Terry Zwigoff; written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa; director of photography, Jamie Anderson; edited by Robert Hoffmann; music by David Kitay; production designer, Sharon Seymour; produced by Sarah Aubrey, John Cameron and Bob Weinstein; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Billy Bob Thornton (Willie), Tony Cox (Marcus), Brett Kelly (The Kid), Lauren Graham (Sue), Lauren Tom (Lois), Bernie Mac (Gin), John Ritter (Bob Chipeska) and Ajay Naidu (Hindustani Troublemaker).


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Ocean’s Twelve (2004, Steven Soderbergh)

The amusement factor. Does that term even make any sense? Ocean’s Twelve is, in case anyone watching it was confused (which I find hard to believe, but of the principals, only George Clooney makes exclusively smart movies so Brad Pitt and Matt Damon fans are suspect), about enjoying itself. It throws itself a party no less. If a person doesn’t like having a good time, they aren’t going to like Ocean’s Twelve (and I’ve heard from plenty of people who don’t), because it’s all about having a good time. Nothing else. There’s other stuff in it–Steven Soderbergh treats the whole thing as an in-joke. From the editing, the music, the photography, there’s a lot of reference to European films (well, French and Italian, no one references many British films) of the 1950s and 1960s. And Ocean’s Twelve is very in-jokey. Almost everyone beyond the principals (and then, even some of them) come straight from other Soderbergh films. While the first film was a real movie–with a real narrative–this one eschews all that nonsense to give the viewer two entertaining hours.

What’s most exciting about a Soderbergh film is seeing what he’s learned since last time. For instance, Ocean’s Twelve is directly informed by his work on Full Frontal. The stuff Soderbergh does in this film–this Hollywood blockbuster–is unbelievable. Trying to imagine a theater-full of people watching this film might have given me more pleasure than it should have. Half the technical aspects of it are Soderbergh mocking the movie-going audience. He’s not slowly introducing people to new ideas or giving them an opportunity to discover foreign-language films they might not have seen. He’s making fun, but he’s also having fun and, as a result, many of the performances in Ocean’s Twelve are among its cast’s best. I’m thinking primarily of Catherine Zeta-Jones, who always takes herself (as a superstar-in-the-making) so seriously to middling effect; she’s fantastic in this film. She and Brad Pitt ought to do about six more movies together. Pitt, in his comedic mode, is so obviously good I wasn’t even going to mention him. Pitt should only do comedies. Matt Damon, however, has a lot to do in Twelve–definitely more than George Clooney, who disappears for a large portion of the film–and Damon’s good. I barely remember him from the first one and while the rest of the cast play outlandish enough characters they establish themselves immediately, Damon actually has to do some work… and he does an excellent job.

I quickly queued Ocean’s Twelve after a friend said he couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it, in that hushed, “You haven’t seen Paths of Glory?” tone, but then he went on to explain it was just such a wonderful experience to watch the film. I didn’t just feel bad when it was over, I felt bad when I was twenty-two minutes in and I realized I only had another hundred minutes to go. It’s a delight.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by George Nolfi; director of photography, Peter Andrews; edited by Stephen Mirrione; music by David Holmes; production designer, Philip Messina; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Warner Bros.

Starring George Clooney (Danny Ocean), Brad Pitt (Rusty Ryan), Matt Damon (Linus Caldwell), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Isabel Lahiri), Andy Garcia (Terry Benedict), Don Cheadle (Basher Tarr), Bernie Mac (Frank Catton), Julia Roberts (Tess Ocean), Casey Affleck (Virgil Malloy), Scott Caan (Turk Malloy), Vincent Cassel (François Toulour), Eddie Jemison (Livingston Dell), Carl Reiner (Saul Bloom), Shaobo Qin (Yen) and Elliott Gould (Reuben Tishkoff).


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