Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In Defense of Ocean's 12

Ocean's 12 is my favorite entry in the series. Now, it's not in my nature to be mysterious, but I can't talk about it and I can't talk about why.

Ok, that's not true but that's what I love so much about the second Ocean's movie. It's the most funny, the most self aware and reflexive film and the one that is closest to Soderbergh's sensibilities as a filmmaker. While the first film was under the stigma of being a remake and the third movie was for the sake of Warner's summer of 2007, the second movie is truly Soderbergh and the crew having fun, making a movie in Europe. Even though he was working from an original screenplay, Soderbergh's brand of wry humor is all over the movie. Hell, they say Ocean's 11 in the first eight minutes of the movie. From nonsensical ravings with a great Robbie Coltrane, to playing with movie star Bruce Willis as movie star Bruce Willis and a twist you won't believe until they try to pull it off, Ocean's 12 is Soderbergh at his most daring with a huge studio budget. From Connecticut to Rome, Topher Grace to Albert Finney, Ocean's 12 takes the original and turns it on its head.

And it's a better story to boot. Not only does the crew have to pay back Andy Garcia's ever-unflappable Terry Benedict, but they also have a challenging nemesis in billionaire playboy Francois Toulour as the Night Fox. Vincent Cassel plays the villian who wants nothing more than to prove that his skills are superior to Ocean's crew and he has fun with his linguistic, acting and athletic talents even though he ultimately falls short. Furthermore, Catherine Zeta-Jones has a much better role as the female interest than Julia Roberts had in the original as Rusty's femme fatale Interpol agent Isabel Lahiri. Chasing after Rusty for over ten years and fighting her feelings for him, the two of them have great chemistry together and form the emotional core of the story that actually pays off in the end. Not to say that her character overshadows Julia Robert's Tess who plays a large part in the caper that you're either rolling with or it with totally throw you off.

Speaking of playing a larger role in the caper, Matt Damon's really comes out to run with the big boys, taking a hand in planning the job and running the ship when everyone gets pinched. In between a Bourne movie and a Gilliam movie, Damon actually wanted to take a smaller part in the movie, but Soderbergh insisted that the Linus story was integral to the film and refused to write it down. And Damon delivers in spades with a character resolution that not only hits the mark, but pay offs in the third movie as well.

While it may have it's detractors, true films buff should recognize Ocean's 12 for what it really is. The best Soderbergh film in the Ocean's trilogy.

Plus, the movie introduces Eddie Izzard as the tech connect Roman Nagel.

Arrested Wednesdays #5

I haven't been able to get this clip out of my head all week.

Come oooon.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

LAMBcast #5 or The ClooneyCast

The latest edition of the LAMBcast is on the interwebs now and you can listen to it by clicking this link. This episode focused on the career of George Clooney, Oscar winner, actor/director/producer and the second Danny Ocean. Listen as Nick of R2D2 confuses him briefly with Nic Cage and makes the obligatory Ninja Assassin reference. Hear as Alex of Film Forager praises Clooney's work and bashes Quentin Tarantino's looks. Don't miss out on Tom's (of Plus Trailers) subtle reference to his age in correlation to Batman and Robin and Dylan's (of Blog Cabins) simple summation of the entire podcast as "When you think of George Clooney, think of nipples." And finally, roll your eyes and gag as I confuse Moonstruck with Moonlighting, somehow mangle the pronunciation of Invictus and lose only my second game of Last ACTOR Standing.

So, now I ask you readers and listeners, any feedback? Are you listening to the LAMBcast? Comments, thoughts? Any future topics you like for us to tackle? Can't get enough of the melodious sound of my voice? We're all interested to know.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Third Man

Finally! Another installment in our ongoing series as my friend Alex and I review our way through the Essential Art House Janus Box Set. This edition is of particular importance, because Criterion has lost the rights to The Third Man and the current run of discs will be their last. Get them before their gone!

The problem about writing about a film that is deemed a masterpiece is what does one say to add to its mastery of cinematic conventions. What can you say about the sometimes eerie, dark, and playful zither score by Anton Karas? What can you say about the perfect black and white photography by Robert Krasker? How about the small but powerful performance by Orson Welles which he was clearly born to play? Graham Greene's script? Carol Reed's direction? And Yada Yada Yada.... everything else.

I am not sure.

Watching The Third Man for the second time, I realized how funny this dark post WWII film noir really is. The opening narration done by Trevor Howard sets the tone for the film as Howard tells us in his dry British tone that “Vienna doesn't really look any worse than a lot of other European cities. Bombed about a bit” as the images of a completely destroyed Vienna are presented. A bit of a understatement if you ask me. The exchanges between Calloway (Trevor Howard) and Martins (Joseph Cotton) are pure screwball dialogue as they both bicker back and forth like old school friends. Take this exchange:

Calloway: I told you to go away, Martins. This isn't Santa Fe. I'm not a sheriff and you aren't a cowboy. You've been blundering around with the worst bunch of racketeers in Vienna, your precious Harry's friends, and now you're wanted for murder.

Martins: Put down drunk and disorderly too.

Calloway: I have.

Or this one:

Martins: Listen, Callahan!

Calloway: Calloway. I'm English, not Irish

Both Martins and Calloway share a quick and witty connection that lacks from Martins and Harry Lime friendship, foreshadowing Martins decision to end Lime's life at the end of the film. Friendship is a theme that the film throws our way as if to ask us what a friend truly is? Lime only looks out for only himself leaving both Anna and Martins to fend for themselves. Anna still cares for Lime even after he ditches her for his fake death leaving Martins to suffer his doomed loneliness. Martins and Calloway only begin to help each other when Martins makes up his mind to catch Lime. It is Calloway and Sergeant Paine that share the closest thing to a friendship the film has to offer. So what does Graham Greene do to this relationship? Ends it. This post war world has nothing to offer..... friendship is dead.

But still... what could one say about The Third Man.

While smoking a cigarette outside, waiting for class to start, a fellow film student comes my way and we begin to speak about certain films we've just seen recently. This young man had just seen The Third Man and was somewhat dissatisfied by what he saw. Knowing very well that not everyone might like a film that is deemed so highly as The Third Man is, I asked him why he didn't like the film. His response was “I don't know..... it seemed like the director didn't have a tripod during the majority of the shoot. The whole film was lopsided. Not professional of him to do that.” Ladies and Gentlemen... these are our future filmmakers.

Like my counterpart, I too hold The Third Man to be a classic film and suffer the dilemma of what my voice can add to the discussion of the film. Not much, I am sure, but if you listen to the LAMBcast, (and you should) then you might know that I am thought of as the "classic film fan" and The Third Man is as great a film as any to introduce movie buffs to more classic movies. Starring Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles and Trevor Howard, directed by Carol Reed, produced by David O. Selznick and written by Graham Greene, the principal players have amongst them made such films as Fallen Idol, Touch of Evil, Gone With The Wind, Brief Encounter and Rebecca.

Following writer Holly Martins to post-war Vienna as he investigates the death of his friend Harry Lime, the movie is almost noir in its outlook. Deception is around every cobblestone corner, Holly cannot trust anyone and trying to do the right thing just makes matters worse for himself. He dodges British, French and Russian cops, falls in love with Harry's girlfriend, bombs spectacularly at a literature lecture and drinks far too much. Cotten is perfect in the role, but sadly is overshadowed by Orson Welles before the movie even begins. In those days, studios did not think to keep Welles supporting role a surprise like Spacey in Se7en, so from the jump, audiences are waiting for Welles, who doesn't disappoint.

But for me, the film is all Cotten. The studio had wanted Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant in the roles of Cotten and Welles, but the characters are much better suited to these actors and Cotten shows how talented he was, but taking away the movie while he has the chance. You can get so wrapped up in his story that you forget you're waiting for Orson. And that is a testament to how well the film holds up. Sophisticated audiences of today will still be captivated by the great story, terrific performances and tight direction. They will probably even be more appreciative of the un-Hollywood ending of the film that audiences originally were. In keeping with writing A-Z and spoiler free, I won't reveal it, but leave you with this final shot.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What Am I Supposed To Do With You, Will Ferrell?

Well? Tell me, Will, what am I going to do with you? You are immensely talented and I loved almost everything you did on Saturday Night Live. From Robert Goulet to James Lipton, Janet Reno and of course, Harry Caray, your impressions made you stand out from the rest of the cast and shot you to stardom. You made the move into feature films with funny supporting roles until you stole Old School away from everyone else. When you finally got a chance to write and star in your first leading role, it was Anchorman and it was great. It's probably my own fault that I expected so much from you after that, instead of the horrible sports comedies and the terrible movies made from old TV series. Hell, you were even a letdown in a Woody Allen movie IN the Woody Allen role and those are my favorite types of films from him. I figured you for another Adam Sandler and thought that we had seen your flash of Punch Drunk Love genius come and go.

But, you remembered that one of the best things from your SNL stint was your George W. Bush impression. Granted, it wasn't the most accurate impression, but nobody made a current president look as buffoonish since Chevy Chase was falling down as President Ford in the 70's. And, I was so proud of you when you appeared on SNL during the elections to drive him the 'a vote for McCain is a a vote for Bush' message and I thank you for being part of that huge role that the show played in the campaign season. But, you pushed yourself even further creatively by writing and staging your one man Broadway show, You're Welcome America; A Final Night with George W. Bush. It is truly a slice of satirical genius with occasional slides into your brand of silliness like shouting, male nudity and spontaneously breaking into dance. However, in between the costume changes and audience participation bits, you got some really good comedy working like mocking Bush's pseudo-Texas lineage and breaking down the administration's build up to war in between the purely hilarious jokes about training a special unit of monkeys for fighting evil and making children laugh or revealing to everyone where Bush really was when he went AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard. You even managed to bring some real levity to it all with some honest truths about the realities of the Iraq war. It is a remarkable showcase for your talents and your intelligence as a performer. So, if you never get around to Old School Dos or making another outrageous character like Ron Burgundy, just know that you have endeared yourself to my heart, for at least another few years.

Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Arrested Wednesdays #4

Ever wonder why this beautiful, hilarious, critically acclaimed and beloved sitcom I blog about or ramble on incessantly about in real life was ever cancelled in the first place?

David Cross has a theory.

Friday, November 6, 2009

This Actually Isn't Really It

The penultimate title of the Michael Jackson concert film, This Is It, maybe have noble intentions, but it's pretty misleading at best. Certainly while the back-up dancers, vocal singers and musicians are giving it their all 100% of the time, Michael understandably conserves his energy, walking through routines and skipping thorough lyrics. Yes, he does chide a singer for challenging him during a duet, but it is both brief and gentle. The reports of his task mastering in this film have been greatly exaggerated.

Which leads directly into one of the main faults of the film and from what I have read, most reviews of it. I wrote in a post at the time of his death about my feelings of great affection towards the man, but I know that those were not shared by everyone. There might not have been a more polarizing celebrity than Jackson, but it seems even in death, his fans have shown him great reverence and have flocked to see this film. I am surprised at how many respected critics seemed to enjoy the film and praise it merits, but I must admit, through my rose colored lenses which watched Michael dance in awe, waiting for a moonwalk that never happened and knowing every song he was going to sing before he sang it, the movie was not without its faults.

Yes, Michael is meticulous in the vision of his show. And his vision is truly grand. The movie only hints at what would have been an amazing show for those lucky enough to see it. Unfortunately, I feel that now we are the unlucky ones who get to see the skeleton of the show (no pun intended) instead of the spectacle that Michael had planned for everyone. Still, the movie is impressive enough with huge set pieces, special footage shot for new takes on "Smooth Criminal", "Thriller" and "They Don't Care About Us". And admittedly, when the Jackson 5 backdrop came down, I sucked in my breath and got all excited, but slowly exhaled when Michael again walked through the steps and ho-hummed thorough the songs. So, while I remain a huge Michael Jackson fan, I was glad I only paid five dollars to see the movie about a rehearsal of a concert that never happened.

Furthermore, I heard that Sony had planned a limited run in order to shorten the DVD release window and make it possible for a Christmas release. I for one, am a big fan of this strategy and had hoped it would payoff for Sony, thus enabling the damned teenagers behind to see the movie in a few months in their own home where they can talk through the entire film to their heart's content.

Stupid kids.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Arrested Wednesdays #3

One of the ongoing storylines over all three seasons of Arrested Development, (now available for $12.99 at your local Target, just in time for the holidays) once the tender heart of young George Michael Bluth. Played wonderfully, by a then unknown Michael Cera, George Michael began the series with an unrequited crush on his cousin Maeby, played by Alia Shawkat.

At first, the infatuation seems one sided, as George Michael silently pines away for her and finds himself attempting to repress his feelings for her, knowing that their relationship is an impossible one. He even attempts to distract himself with a girlfriend Ann, but when Maeby becomes increasingly jealous and critical of her, it's as clear as the Ann on plain's face that the two cousins share a special bond. When Maeby gives into her feelings, she quickly retreats from George Michael, leaving him in a stifling fit of self doubt and confusion.

If there is one commonality that everyone can find with this wealthy family, it is the struggle and heartache of George Michael. As the years go bye, I find myself constantly drawn back to the character as his devotion and passion for the woman he cannot have but cannot stop loving drives him forward in the narrative. In many ways, as he grows on the show, the relationship does not, but George Michael soldiers on, determined to remain true to himself, his feelings and the most important thing.

No, not breakfast. Family.

By the way, check out the Movie/TV Quote of the Day on