I hate to be that guy that always champions universally reviled films as actually being pretty good, but I have to be honest in my reviews and I really don’t see the big issue with 1998’s The Avengers, but keep in mind I’ve never seen a single episode of the original 60’s tv series. This was some seriously fun, albeit chaotic and unfocused 90’s big budget retro espionage silliness that might not be the most amazing thing, but definitely entertained me for what it has to offer. In this iteration the roles of dapper super spies Emma Peel and John Steed go to Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes, who both look damn sexy in the costumes and have cutesy chemistry with each other that was endearing, they’re an interesting mix and they haven’t done a film together since but I enjoyed the flavour that their pairing projected. They work for an appropriately arch government agency called ‘The Agency,’ run by two veteran cranks given the code names ‘Mother’ and ‘Father.’ The sheepish gimmick of casting Jim Broadbent as Mother and Fiona Shaw as Father is a an amusing if thinly conceived running joke that serves as a cheeky litmus test for the film’s overall saucy sense of humour. Our two heroes must do battle with Sean Connery’s Sir August De Wynter, a de facto Bond villain and all around nut-job who wants to hold the entire world ransom by controlling the weather with a giant machine he’s designed. Cue rampant meteorological destruction in London, elaborate set pieces, glib line delivery and all the big budget production design you can shake a jewel encrusted cane at. Speaking of that, I don’t care what you think of the film itself, there’s just no denying the positively stunning set design, costuming and overall visual flair… this is one seriously good looking movie, starting with its cast. Fiennes rocks that pinstripe suit to the fucking nines, while Thurman has maybe never been sexier in her skinny leather catsuit. Connery has this Burt Reynolds thing going on with his hair which oddly suits him, and speaking of suits he goes through one impressive range of wardrobe bedazzlement here, showing up in everything from full highland regalia complete with a kilt to a Snow White n’ silver custom job to a full on teddy bear costume when he arbitrarily decides to hold a teddy bear board meeting with his nefarious cronies all done up like plush toys. He gets priceless dialogue too, including precious barbs like “rain or shine, all is mine” and seems to be having a right hammy blast with the character. Shaw and Broadbent are old pros and have fun chewing scenery with droll, proverbially plummy cutlery and the cast includes the likes of the lovely Carmen Ejogo, Eileen Atkins as a charming old granny who wastes baddies with a WWII era sub-machine gun, John Wood, Patrick McNee as an accidental invisible man, Keeley Hawes and Eddie Izzard in a Paul McCartney wig who gets one solitary line of dialogue, but I suppose if you’re only gonna give that dude one line it might as well be the film’s single PG-13 F bomb. Ok so this isn’t the greatest movie ever made but it’s most definitely not as bad as the reputation would have you believe, I think the mob mentality snowballed a tad there. Sure it’s inane as all hell, there’s visible editing issues and it doesn’t flow as well as other films of its ilk but hell, if you look up eye candy in the cinematic dictionary you’ll find the drop dead dime-piece of a poster gleaming back at you. Production design, costumes and big sexy action set pieces certainly don’t save a film or shunt it into annals of pedigree but they can certainly make one well worth watching, and on that front I wasn’t disappointed, not even a bit. Sift through the bad press and make your own decisions on film, you’ll be surprised what you find yourself enjoying.
I enjoy Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Twelve for a number of reasons, chief among them how decidedly different it is from Eleven. It’s like they not only chose to set it in Europe, but also to stylistically change the glib, cavalier Vegas aesthetic for an oddball, impenetrable Euro vibe that’s a lot weirder and more dense this time, and as such we have fun in a new fashion than the first. There’s also not just the laser focus of one singular, do or die heist but rather a string of robberies, betrayals and loose subplots flung around like diamonds, as well as a few cameos buried like Faberge Easter eggs. Good old Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) has tracked down Danny Ocean (George Clooney), Tess (Julia Roberts), Rusty (Brad Pitt) and their merry band of thieves across the pond to Europe, and he wants his money back from their epic Bellagio/Mirage/MGM Grand heist. This sets in motion an impossibility intricate, knowingly convoluted series of mad dash heists and classy encounters with the finest arch burglars Europe has to offer, including legendary thief the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel) and hilarious fence Eddie Izzard in full fussy mode. Everyone from Danny’s original team returns, from the scene stealing, cigar devouring Elliott Gould to the bickering brothers Casey Affleck and Scott Caan. Hell, even Topher Grace as himself is back, and that gigantic Vegas tough guy that fake brawled with Clooney the first time turns up for a spell. There’s fresh faces abound too, including sultry Catherine Zeta Jones as a cunning Interpol agent who’s on to their trail, no thanks to Pitt who happens to be dating her. Oh, and how about the surprise cameo which I won’t spoil except to say it’s tied into another pseudo cameo that’s so ingenious it can’t be explained, you just gotta see it. To be honest, the whole heist plot is one fabulously befuddled bag of nonsense, tomfoolery and monkeyshines, made no clearer with flashbacks, gimmicks, ulterior motives and cinematic trickery until we’re left wondering what in the fuck exactly happened. More so in Twelve though it’s about the journey, and not the destination, whereas Eleven made it clear that sights were set on completing that heist with dedicated tunnel vision. Here one is reminded of a bunch of Italians sitting around having coffee and chatting amongst themselves while they’re late for a meeting; they’ll get there eventually, but right now all that matters is how good the conversation and camaraderie is. Speaking of sitting around and talking, my favourite scene of the film is with Danny, Rusty, Matt Damon’s Linus and Robbie ‘Hagrid’ Coltrane, who plays an underworld contact. They’re sat in a Paris cafe talking, and they use nothing but a nonsense gibberish vernacular that seems to make sense to them all but Damon, but probably doesn’t to any of them, but the key is that they all remain cool, bluff each other out and have fun. That sums up the film in one aspect, a breezy blast of silliness that shouldn’t be examined too hard, but rather enjoyed at a hazy distance with a glass of fine wine. Good fun all round.
Romance And Cigarettes is the strangest musical you’ve never heard of. Strange as in awkward, because most of the songs are just too overdone and absurd to work, but I’ll concede that that very quality makes them unforgettable, if for not quite the same reasons the filmmakers intended. Going for a sort of pseudo Jersey Boys look, they set their cluster of stories in working class New York City, focusing on a number of hot blooded Italian American scamps and the mischief they get up to, all set to a raucous medley of musical numbers, some pleasant and others pretty darn tone deaf. James Gandolfini plays Nick Murder, a rowdy blue collar construction worker who finds himself between a rock and a hard place when his long suffering wife Kitty (an even rowdier Susan Sarandon) finds out about his secret mistress Tula (kinky Kate Winslet). This seems to be the last straw for Kitty as far as their marriage goes, and it all erupts into a series of volcanic confrontations and spats as only New Yorkers can spectacularly stage. In Kitty’s corner are her three handful daughter’s (Aida Turturro, Mary Louise Parker and adorable Mandy Moore) and her helpful Cousin Bo (Christopher Walken). Nick turns to a co worker Angelo (Steve Buscemi), is scolded by his stern mother (Elaine Stritch) and receives advice from an ex military tough guy (Bobby Cannavle). The film sides with both parties for one long and often chaotic look at marriage, infedelity and extremely short tempers, peppered with songs that, like I said before, are hit and miss. Walken has the best bit (doesn’t he always?) when he gets to a rip roaring riff on Tom Jones’s ‘Delilah’ that jazzes up the film quite a bit. Not destined to go down in history as one of the best musicals ever made, but worth it for the spoofy fun had by the impressive cast.
I’ve always been both fascinated and puzzled by Mystery Men. It’s essentially a titanic budget spent on a bunch of inane tomfoolery that makes sense neither as satire, straight up comedy, serious superhero fare or anything in between. And yet, it’s so much fun, coming out a complete winner despite any odds it dodges on the way. I bring it up because Suicide Squad is coming soon, and for whatever reason every trailer and bit of marketing for it so far reminds me of this one. Couldn’t even really say why, just something about the vibe and aesthetic of both films that seems distantly related. Could just be me being strange, which is the word in question for this one. It’s bizarre beyond belief, stylized to a point where Dr. Seuss would get dizzy and full of abstract, off the wall humour that requires you to coast along in the same delirium as the characters before you really get it. It takes place in Champion City, a cluttered metropolis that makes Gotham look like dullest suburbia. It’s a place populated by heinous, eccentric super villains, one legitimate superhero and a bunch of misfits who fancy themselves costumed crimefighters. When theatrical arch menace Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Wright proved to me that he could top Barbosa, no easy feat in my books) is booted from prison, he launches into his old ways, ransacking the city and bringing hero Captain Fantastic (Greg Kinnear), to his knees. It’s now up to a hilarious group of lovable buffoons to bring him and his minions down. You better sit down before I describe these guys, cuz they’re too good to be true. Ben Stiller is Mr. Furious, a dude who believes he can get so angry he has super strength… except..not. William H. Macy plays The Shoveler, who pretty much shovels. Janeane Garofalo is The Bowler, who carries a ball with the essence of her superhero dad trapped inside. Kel Mitchell is the Invisible Boy, who is only invisible when nobody is looking. My favourite by far is The Blue Raja (a scene stealing Hank Azaria), a turban wearing, plummy British accent spouting dude whose weapons of choice are forks, which he flings about the place like ninja stars. I could go on and on about every little quirk and stroke of genius, but I’d rather let you discover it all yourself, and immerse yourself in the giddy treasure chest that is this film. I must make mention of Tom Waits as a scientist who designs elaborate and “non lethal” weapons. Man, this movie rocks. Additional flair is provided by Lena Olin, Ned Bellamy, Claire Forlani, Paul Reubens, Wes Studi (whose character cuts guns in half with his mind and blurts out endless paradoxical platitudes) and Eddie Izzard. There’s a few hidden moments of emotion that take you off guard like easter eggs amongst the lunacy, for all you folks who want a side of seriousness with your buffoon burger. This isn’t everyone’s thing, but check ‘er out anyways, just to make sure. It’s one of my favourites.
As silly, gaudy and drawn out the Ocean’s franchise had gotten by its third outing, I still somewhat enjoyed Ocean’s Thirteen, an overblown attempt to keep the magic alive that most of the time trips over its own bells and whistles. That being said, the gang is all there, and that alone is good for some laughs. This time around, Eliott Gould’s cranky charmer Reuben has been ousted from his Vegas property by Willie Bank (Al Pacino) a ruthless and ludicrously rich casino tycoon with big plans for the future. Reuben is left in a dazed depression, and the gang all drifts back together to try and rob the hell out of Pacino, using methods and cons so over the top they almost seem like a parody of the former films. Pacino is a bit more clownish than Andy Garcia’s grim Terry Benedict was in the first film, which adds to the cavalier absence of any sense of real danger. In fact, Benedict is now chummy with the gang himself, which is a cute turn of events but kind of seems to silly. Ellen Barkin adds a lot of class as Pacino’s head honcho, fitting into the Ocean world nicely. The gang I’d all back and more eccentric than ever, with Matt Damon scoring comedic points in one of the funniest prosthetic jobs I’ve ever seen. Newcomers to the show include Julian Sands, Oprah Winfrey and a reliably hapless David Paymer. It’s not that this one takes the formula too far, it’s just that we’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt and there was really not much need for it. I won’t say no though, because the blue print of what made the first so fun is still there, it’s just been jazzed up and adorned with a few too many gilded sequins and fancy jib jab. Still enjoyable.