Tag Archives: Matt Damon

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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The Departed (2006, Martin Scorsese)

It’s hilarious, of course, Scorsese finally won an Oscar for the film least like his work. The Departed is the really serious movie Mel Gibson and Richard Donner never got around to making in the late 1990s… but Scorsese–I don’t know if Scorsese adds something to the mix or if he just knew how to package the product. I imagine he finally won because The Departed showed he was firmly committed, finally, to being commercial. But there’s something subversive in Departed‘s commercial sensibilities. Scorsese and his technical crew (cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and editor Thelma Schoonmaker) loose on a Hollywood picture (the connections to, say, The Devil’s Own are more plentiful than not). Schoonmaker’s editing in the film is her most innovative work because it’s new–the way the story’s being told is new… from Ballhaus’s lighting, Schoomaker’s editing, and Scorsese’s digital happy (but it’s shot on film) shots. The IMDb trivia section talks about CG composites for the film and maybe they’re an indicator… Yes, The Departed is another Scorsese mob movie (but one without storytelling sprawl), but it’s a CG-friendly, Irish Scorsese mob movie.

My friend told me, after he saw the film, it was a comedy. I never quite understood him, until maybe ten minutes in. The Departed takes all the great humor from Goodfellas (and all the stuff from Casino but makes it work) and expands on it. You’re supposed to leave, if not laughing, at least amused. It’s a Martin Scorsese blockbuster, meant to engage you and worry you (Scorsese creates a palpable, pulsating sense of dread) and excite you and then spit you out. Scorsese does such a perfect job with the technical aspects and the legitimacy of the film’s story (not having a Nicholas Pileggi non-fiction to fall back on), it doesn’t matter the film’s got a certain apathy to itself.

The apathy comes through clearest in the case of Leonardo DiCaprio. While Matt Damon gets to run wild–sort of Good Will Hunting gone bad–and have as much fun as everyone else (the film’s filled with wild, wonderful performances), DiCaprio’s the serious one here. His character spends the entire film miserable and the viewer spends the entire film waiting for him to get even a moment of relief. It’s a solid performance from DiCaprio, but pales compared to his supporting cast. DiCaprio’s story, the one the film doesn’t tell, is the traditional Scorsese story (though, still a little more commercial than usual). But somehow the mix of humor and dread make it all disappear–The Departed is about what happens and Scorsese understands (though I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a film with that intent of his before–not even Cape Fear–though I’ve missed the other DiCaprio collaborations) how to use the advance from the viewer to the film’s advantage.

Given how odd a Scorsese movie it is, I’ve ignored Jack Nicholson this long. It’s not going to be particularly exciting, unfortunately… For about thirty years, Nicholson has had a standard crazy performance… in The Departed, he finally manages to turn it in to a character. Maybe all it needed all along was a Scorsese mob movie (Nicholson’s character, Irish heritage aside, resembles a smarter Scorsese Joe Pesci character). Seeing Nicholson finally get those roles to pay off is great.

The rest of the actors–Ray Winstone, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin–are all great. Vera Farmiga is quite good too, though most of her role is spent reacting to the male leads… she’s practically tacked on to the film for a female presence. It’s no surprise her role is the one without the looseness (she and DiCaprio’s scenes together, though contrived, provide a nice, non-plot-driven break… if only because, after a bunch of red herrings, the scenes don’t really affect the film’s events).

The Departed is easily Scorsese’s worst great film… the lack of artistic ambition is stunning, but Scorsese gets it too and he works with it, makes it not matter.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by William Monahan, based on a screenplay by Mak Siu-Fai and Felix Chong; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Brad Pitt, Brad Grey and Graham King; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Billy Costigan), Matt Damon (Colin Sullivan), Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello), Mark Wahlberg (Dignam), Martin Sheen (Queenan), Ray Winstone (Mr. French), Vera Farmiga (Madolyn), Alec Baldwin (Ellerby) and Anthony Anderson (Brown).


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The Bourne Ultimatum (2007, Paul Greengrass)

The only good thing about The Bourne Ultimatum, besides Joan Allen, who can apparently survive (and fluorish in) anything, is how rabidly anti-Republican the film’s details get. The film’s CIA bad guys in this one are using the “war on terror“ to assassinate US citizens. I haven’t read an outcry about it, so I imagine it isn’t my being more adept at recognizing the parallels (or propagandizing), but rather the stupidity of American filmgoers.

But besides that aspect, Ultimatum is a heinous piece of work. For the first half, while nothing happens except a travel video, I kept thinking about Paul Greengrass’s attempt at cinéma vérité, specifically–if it’s supposed to be ultra-real, why is there a musical score blaring the entire time. I mean, it must have occurred to someone, right? I can’t imagine sales of The Bourne Ultimatum score are profitable enough to excuse an enormous conceptual mistake.

It soon becomes clear Ultimatum is following all the set pieces of the second movie (I can’t remember the title right now), only with different details. There’s even the part where the girlfriend’s going to die, only with minor deviations. Then Bourne gets to New York and there’s a neat tie-in to the end of the second movie and then it’s over after a chase scene. It’s not just absent any character development, it’s absent any palpable content.

Watching the film, having seen Matt Damon most recently acting well in Ocean’s Twelve and even better in Syriana, I realized this Bourne performance–absent any humanity–is really a Marky Mark impression. But not Marky Mark in actual films, rather Marky Mark in previews to his films. Or it’s Damon’s audition tape for Terminator 4. After the first half hour or hour or three days, however long the film goes before they get to New York, I kept waiting for Damon to act. And I’m still waiting.

Like I said, Allen is good. I agreed to see the film because David Strathairn’s probably never been bad. And now I can’t make that statement anymore. It’s not his fault; he’s just playing a Republican, so he too is absent any humanity. I felt really bad for him, it’s a considerable slight against his body of work. Albert Finney’s pretty lame too, but his quality resurgence is recent; there have to be some real stinkers in there over the course of his career. Allen and Strathairn really deserve a good movie (a good John Sayles movie maybe). Julia Stiles shows up for a bit and she’s okay. The character revelations about her and Damon are probably illegal but who cares. Scott Glenn has a small role and he’s awful. Greengrass appears not to care whether or not his actors act well. But if he’s missing the thing about there not being a musical score in real life, worrying about acting is a bit too much to ask.

The action scenes are generally terrible. There’s a car chase identical to the one in the second movie, there are some fight scenes (again, probably identical, I wasn’t paying attention–they’re trying to endure). The script’s not simply unimaginative, it’s particularly terrible. It’s obvious and predictable, with terrible dialogue and ludicrous character developments and reactions.

I didn’t expect it to be so boring, but then I didn’t expect it to be a rehash of the second movie either.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Greengrass; written by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi, based on a story by Gilroy and the novel by Robert Ludlum; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Christopher Rouse; music by John Powell; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley and Paul L. Sandberg; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Matt Damon (Jason Bourne), Julia Stiles (Nicky Parsons), David Strathairn (Noah Vosen), Scott Glenn (Ezra Kramer), Paddy Considine (Simon Ross), Edgar Ramirez (Paz), Albert Finney (Dr. Albert Hirsch) and Joan Allen (Pamela Landy).


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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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