Tag Archives: Elliott Gould

Ocean’s Eight

I had a lot of fun with Ocean’s 8. I mean it’s no Ocean’s 11 but that’s a hard plateau to breach. If anything though, the heist this time around is a little more fun, a bit more showy and humorous too, and every one of the girls headlining the all star blow out of a cast has a ball and does great. Some viewers bitch that it uses the same peppy split screen techniques and apes the laid back score and charm of Soderbergh, but hello people, this is in the same franchise and it stands to reason that it would feel like the others. Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, brother to George Clooney’s now deceased Danny, which is a shame because I would have loved to see a partner up flick. She’s no less the troublemaker, and the film follows the same beats of her being paroled and immediately planning an elaborate heist with many moving parts, all carried out by a crew of carefully picked, charismatic scoundrels, starting with Cate Blanchett’s Lou, a streetwise small time crook with sass and style. Instead of three giant Vegas casinos, the plan this time is to lift a priceless diamond necklace (actually it clocks in somewhere around the 150 million range) from the hilariously faux prestigious Met Gala. The piece will be worn on the neck of persnickety, ditzy mega star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), which requires a pickpocket (Awkwafina), a hacker (Rihanna), a fence (Sarah Paulsen), a fashionista (Helena Bonham Carter), a forger (Mindy Kaling), a few well placed cameos and plenty of hair-brained schemes within schemes along the way. Director Gary Ross keeps the mood light, fast paced but never too silly, letting each actress have their priceless moments. Hathaway was my favourite as the clueless diva who is exasperated by anyone in her orbit, and Bonham Carter nails an adorable Irish accent and scene steals the whole way through. I’ve heard complaints about originality and that it’s just a retread with chicks, and the may be so but it’s such a winning, fun formula! Who wouldn’t want more? They could do one with a bunch of dogs taking on a heist next and if the charm was there I’d be on-board because as it is, this is the perfect recipe for intelligent escapism and I enjoyed this one a lot.

-Nate Hill

Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Twelve

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.

-Nate Hill

Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven

I’ve seen Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven so many times I couldn’t count on the hands I have, or all twenty two of those attached to the gaggle of slick, fast talking lounge rats who pull of the most laidback, easygoing casino heist in Vegas history. Most heist flicks have a breathless cadence and at least one high powered action sequence. Not this baby. It’s like the weekend R&R of robbery films, the classy brunch of crime stories. Hell, even Heat, as hypnotic and subdued as it was, had gunplay here and there. It’s in that refusal to get its hands dirty, the insistence on a relaxed, pleasant vibe that has made it the classic it is today. George Clooney and Brad Pitt are iconic now as ex jailbird Danny Ocean and fast food enthusiast Rusty, two seasoned pros who plan to take down tycoon Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia, looking and sounding more constipated than a police commissioner at a 420 rally) and his three giant casinos. To do this, they round up the most eclectic bunch of scoundrels this side of the wild bunch, including fussy, flamboyant businessmen Elliot Gould, slick card shark Bernie Mac (“might as well call it white jack!”), twitchy techie Eddie Jamison, dysfunctional petty thief Matt Damon, eternally squabbling wheelmen brothers Casey Affleck and Scott Caan, acrobatic guru Shaobo Qin, rowdy safecracker Don Cheadle (with a piss poor attempt at a cockney accent, I might add) and grizzled grifter Carl Reiner. Oh, and a sultry Julia Roberts as Danny’s ex wife, because no caper flick would be complete without the high stakes and charm of a woman involved. What a pack. The logistics and steps of their plan have a labyrinthine feel to them, especially the sheepish twist that seems just easy enough to work and just far-fetched enough to earn friendly chuckles. Soderbergh did his own cinematography for this, which explains why the vision here is so singular and unforgettable; he shoots Vegas like a subdued nocturnal dreamscape full of fountain soaked vistas, dazzling light displays and ornate casino floors, and directs his actors with all the lithe, cordial and cucumber cool personas of the born n’ bred Vegas characters you can spot whilst on vacation there. Ebert wrote of this, “Serious pianists sometimes pound out a little honky-tonk, just for fun.. this is a standard genre picture, and Soderbergh, who usually aims higher, does it as sort of a lark.” Oh, Roger. This is my main pet peeve with film criticism and analysis: the distinct differentiation between ‘genre fare’ and ‘high art’, a snooty attitude that devalues both forms and axes a rift into a medium that at the end of the day, is all storytelling. Some of Soderbergh’s best films (this, Out Of Sight and last year’s Logan Lucky) are exercises in storytelling without the burden of subtext or lofty behind the scenes ambition, and are somewhat the better for it. Rant over. In any case, this is style, charm, wit and lovable caper shenanigans done just about as best as they could, and remains one of my favourite films of this century so far.

-Nate Hill

Robert Altman’s Nashville


You wouldn’t think that a disorganized little ensemble piece revolving around a country music festival could go on to become a silver star classic in cinema, but this is Robert Altman’s Nashville we’re talking about, and it’s a stroke of sheer brilliance. Structured with the same haphazard screenplay blueprint (or lack thereof) of Richard Linklater’s Dazed & Confused (which I’m almost positive was hugely influenced by this), it’s a raucous little celebration of music and mayhem without a single lead character or central storyline. Every person is important to the kaleidoscope of a story, from Ronee Blakely’s troubled angel starlet to Jeff Goldblum’s early zany career tricycle riding cameo. It’s less of a narrative with forward surging momentum than it is a big old sequinned wheel of fortune you spent n at your leisure, each stop containing some story or vignette revolving around country music, be it sad, joyous, ironic or just plain peculiar. Henry Gibson, that oddball, plays an Emcee of sorts, Scott Glenn is the mysterious military private, the late Robert Doqui coaches a hapless wanna be songstress (Barbara Harris), Keith Carradine charms all the ladies as a suave guitar playing crooner stud, and the impossibly eclectic cast includes brilliant work from Lily Tomlin, Ned Beatty, Michael Murphy, Elliott Gould, Julie Christie, Keenan Wynn, Allen Garfield, Geraldine Chaplin, Karen Black and an adorable Shelley Duvall. There’s something thoroughly lifelike about a sprawling story like this, as were treated to moments, episodes and unplanned exchanges between people as opposed to a contained, streamlined narrative. Things happen, and before we’ve had a chance to process it, were whisked away to the next page of the book like roulette, and every story in the film is a gem, not too mention the music and sly political facets too. A classic, get the criterion release if you can.  

-Nate Hill

Ocean’s Thirteen: A Review by Nate Hill

image

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.

CALIFORNIA SPLIT – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

californiasplitgould

“I’ve had a couple of good wins, but they don’t compare to the losses. People only remember the wins.” – Robert Altman

In the 1970s, Elliott Gould and Robert Altman were an unbeatable team. They first worked together on M*A*S*H (1970), a savage satire of the military, then again on a radical, contemporary reworking of Raymond Chandler’s novel The Long Goodbye (1973), and finally completed the hat trick with California Split (1974), an ode to obsessive gamblers. For years, this film has been relegated to obscurity, showing up occasionally on television and tied up in legal issues over the music, which delayed its release on DVD.

A nice, self-reflexive moment kicks things off: gambler and card shark, Charlie Waters (Elliott Gould) is killing time before a poker match by watching an instructional video on the game. The voiceover narration intones, “It has been said that everyone in America understands poker or wants to. It is one of America’s most popular games and since you’ve shown an obvious interest in coming here we have prepared a short film to teach you the fundamentals.” This voiceover could easily be talking to the audience watching this film as Altman introduces us to this world and the characters that inhabit it.

While this video is playing, Altman’s camera sweeps across the game room, setting the scene and introducing the film’s other main character, Bill Denny (George Segal). The video is also functional, providing a crash course on a couple of actual poker hands and the house rules. The opening poker game does a good job of showing the dynamics of professional poker playing and is also very funny as Charlie fleeces an irate player who then punches Bill, thinking that they are in league with each other. In a nice bit of business, a dazed Bill has enough sense to pick up his poker chips while all hell is breaking loose. For this scene, the poker club was built in a dance hall. Altman set up a few gambling situations and filmed them happening. None of the actual poker players’ dialogue was scripted.

Fed up with the unrealistic dialogue he and other actors were forced to say on a regular basis, struggling actor Joseph Walsh wrote a screenplay about his own gambling addiction in 1971. Steven Spielberg, fresh from directing the made-for-T.V. film Duel (1971), was originally supposed to direct. He and Walsh worked on the script every day for nine months. The director was fascinated by the characters and would react to Walsh’s script, offering suggestions. At the time, the screenplay was called Slide and the two men had a deal to make it at MGM with Walsh as producer and Steve McQueen in the starring role. The whole story was going to be set at Circus Circus in Las Vegas because the studio owned the casino.

A month before filming started, the studio experienced a shake-up at the executive level and with it came a new set of changes. MGM wanted the story to be a Mafia-related “sting” concept with Dean Martin as one of the two main characters. Walsh would no longer be the producer. He and Spielberg left MGM because he realized that they did not understand the point of the film: “I wanted the picture to be almost a celebration of the gambling, the joy of it, going along with it, and then, at the end, you could see where the trap comes in.” Spielberg and Walsh took the script to Universal Pictures where they had an agreement with executives Richard Zanuck and David Brown. However, Spielberg decided to work on another project called Lucky Lady (1975) leaving Walsh and his film stranded.

The writer’s agent, Guy McElwaine, contacted Altman’s agent, George Lito, and the director was given the script, read it and loved it. For years, he had wanted to do a gambling film with “the ambience of gambling, and then point out it had nothing to do with money.” He was drawn to Walsh’s script because he liked to gamble himself, his father was a gambler, and the director knew a lot of gamblers. David Begelman, the new studio chief of Columbia Pictures, was a former agent who knew Altman’s agent and greenlighted the screenplay to be made into a film. Walsh was a novice and unaware of Altman’s reputation for taking liberties with the scripts of for his films. However, Walsh was very protective of his script and argued with Altman numerous times over certain details. The only serious revisions to the script that the director made before filming were to background scenes. The writer had seen other Altman films and wasn’t always satisfied with how these scenes played out. He told the director that they could be changed but that he would rewrite them. Walsh wrote a full script for the background scenes, three to four page scenes for good actors to play.

George Segal was cast early on and Altman mentioned Gould but Walsh, even though he was childhood friends with the actor, held back. Altman and Walsh saw other actors, like Peter Falk and Robert De Niro, but kept coming back to Gould. Finally, the actor called Walsh and convinced him that he was right for the role. According to Walsh, on the set, Gould was full of confidence while Segal was insecure. The writer remembers that on the first day of shooting Gould “was there as that character…After seven days, George Segal came to me and said, ‘This guy’s [Gould] unbelievable. He’s an octopus. He is absolutely strangling me to death. I don’t even know what to do.’” Walsh told Segal that Gould had lived the life of his character and said, “Don’t try to act with him, don’t try to outdeal him…be off-base – just what you’re feeling – and it’s all working.”

Altman employed members of Synanon, the rehab organization of former convicts and addicts, as extras. The organization received a flat sum and delivered as many as needed each day. California Split marked the first time Altman experimented with the use of the eight-track sound system that allowed eight separate audio channels to be recorded and helped develop Altman’s trademark of overlapping dialogue. To this end, he gave the supporting actors and extras significant emphasis on the soundtrack. On the first day of shooting, the effort to keep eight separate channels clean and distinct made everyone very anxious. Haskell Wexler had originally been approached to shoot the film but Altman opted to go with relative newcomer Paul Lohmann who would go on to shoot Nashville (1975) and Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976).

California Split
is one of Altman’s trademark character-driven films. It is less concerned with plot than behavior as we watch the friendship between Bill and Charlie develop over a mutual love of gambling. Charlie is a wisecracking joker and experienced gambler constantly looking for the next score. Initially, Bill isn’t as committed a gambler (he works at a magazine during the day) but he’s well on his way and hanging out with Charlie doesn’t help. As the film progresses and the two men hang out more, Bill starts to become more addicted to the gambling lifestyle. He blows off work early to meet Charlie at the track and sells his possessions for money. Bill and Charlie are gambling addicts who ride the high arcs and the low valleys, never passing up a bet. At a boxing match they put money on the outcome of the fight with a fellow spectator.

Those who know Elliott Gould and George Segal only from their contemporary sitcom appearances (Friends and Just Shoot Me, respectively), should see California Split if only to see these guys in their prime and working with a master filmmaker at the top of his game. Gould and Segal have never been better and play well of each other. There is good chemistry between them as Gould plays the more experienced gambler in contrast to Segal’s more naïve one.

justtalkingonthetelephoneCalifornia Split
is not afraid to show the ugly side of gambling. Bill sells his car and his possessions for a big poker game in Reno. Charlie exacts a rough, bloody revenge on the guy who mugged him at the beginning of the film. These are not always likeable guys and to Altman’s credit he doesn’t try to romanticize or judge them, leaving that up to the audience. Altman wanted to convey the empty feeling that winning from gambling gives these guys as he told Film Heritage magazine, “The mistaken feeling that winning…you can’t spend that money; you don’t go out and pay the milk bill with it unless you’re about to go to jail. It just means that you can play that much longer…In other words, it’s passes. It’s more tickets to the amusement park – that’s all it is.” California Split is arguably Altman’s loosest film in terms of plot and one of the richest in terms of character and observing their behavior.

THE LONG GOODBYE – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

longgoodbye

“I felt that the film was almost an essay, an education, to the audience, to say, ‘Stop looking at everything exactly the same way.’” – Robert Altman

When The Long Goodbye was released in 1973, United Artists promptly bungled its ad campaign. Robert Altman’s film radically reworked Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name and the studio had no idea how to market the offbeat movie. It polarized critics and promptly disappeared from theaters. People weren’t ready for its offbeat vibe and the way it satirized Los Angeles culture. However, it was Elliott Gould’s unusual take on private investigator Philip Marlowe that drew the lion’s share of people’s criticism. His loose, easy-going style flew in the face of the traditional interpretation made famous by Humphrey Bogart and was tantamount to heresy among cinephiles but in retrospect paved the way for a film like the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski (1998), which also confounded the mainstream with its own eccentric take on West Coast culture.

While trying in vain to feed his cat late one night, private investigator Philip Marlowe (Gould) receives a visit from his friend, Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton). Lennox asks Marlowe to drive him to Tijuana, Mexico. When he returns home, the police are waiting for him and claim that Lennox brutally murdered his wife. Marlowe does not believe that his good friend is a murderer and refuses to tell the police anything. After three days in jail, he’s released when the police inform him that Lennox committed suicide in Mexico. It’s an open and shut case but something doesn’t quite sit right with Marlowe. He is subsequently hired by the wealthy Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) to find her alcoholic husband, Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden), a famous author with an Ernest Hemingway complex. Marlowe learns that the Wades knew the Lennoxes and that there is more to Terry’s suicide and his wife’s murder than initially reported.

The Long Goodbye
is bookended by the strains of “Hooray for Hollywood” and the song quickly fades out as if to signal that this film will not be a classic noir take on Chandler. Marlowe wakes up after an undetermined period of time. How long has he been asleep? He mutters to himself while trying to feed his cat, a very fickle pet that will only eat a specific brand of food, and when he tries to fool the feline with another brand hidden in an old can, the cat bolts. So what is the purpose of the first ten minutes of the film dedicated to Marlowe feeding his cat? First off, it establishes that this is going to be a very different take on Chandler’s book and that Marlowe’s friend, Terry Lennox, is as fickle as his cat – he only hangs around Marlowe when he needs him but when he’s no longer of use, he splits. This opening scene came from a story a friend of Altman’s told him about his cat only eating one type of cat food.

The Long Goodbye
is much more than a murder mystery. Taking Chandler’s novel set in the 1940s and updating it to the 1970s, Altman is also interested in satirizing the superficiality of L.A. culture. Marlowe is surrounded by an odd cast of denizens that populate the city: his neighbors are a group of women who spend their time getting high and doing yoga with very little clothes on, the security guard for the Wade’s gated community does impersonations of famous actors like Barbara Stanwyk and Jimmy Stewart, and Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) is a nasty gangster who is proud of his Jewish heritage. Throughout it all, Marlowe repeats his own personal mantra of sorts, “It’s okay with me,” which personifies his easy-going nature.

The heart of the film is Elliot Gould. His Marlowe is a laid-back guy in a rumpled suit that wanders through the film muttering jokes to himself and chain smoking constantly. Gould’s character is man out of time, a throwback to another era, which provides a sharp contrast to the trendy, health-obsessed ’70s culture that surrounds him. Altman nicknamed Gould’s character Rip Van Marlowe, as if he had been wandering around L.A. in the early ‘70s but “trying to invoke the morals of a previous era.” The actor delivers a wonderful assortment of smart-ass comments to anyone who gives him trouble but also knows when to play it straight during key dramatic moments. He’s also not afraid to improvise in a given scene like when the police interrogate him and he smears the fingerprinting ink under his eyes like a football player and then applies it to the rest of his face a la Al Jolson, riffing off the police officer that is giving him a hard time. Gould delivers a multi-layered performance that ranks right up there with his other classic Altman films, M.A.S.H. (1970) and California Split (1974). There was clearly a creative synergy between the two men that resulted in both of their best work to date.

Producers Jerry Bick and Elliott Kastner commissioned a screenplay from Leigh Brackett, who had written the script for the Humphrey Bogart version of The Big Sleep (1946). The producers offered the script to both Howard Hawks and Peter Bogdanovich. Both directors passed on it but Bogdanovich recommended Altman, whom he admired. Bick and Kastner sent Brackett’s script to Altman while he was shooting Images (1972) in Ireland. Brian Hutton was supposed to direct but was offered another film and Altman took over. Initially, he didn’t want to do it until he was told that Gould would be cast as Marlowe.

In adapting the book, Brackett had problems with its plot which she felt was “riddled with clichés” and was faced with the choice of doing it as a period piece or updating it. Altman and Brackett spent a lot of time talking over the plot. He wanted Marlowe to be a loser. Her first draft was too long and she shortened it but the ending was inconclusive. She had Marlowe shooting Terry Lennox because it was the way Hutton wanted it. Altman liked the ending because it was so out of character for Marlowe. He agreed to direct but only if the ending was not changed.

Altman conceived of the film as a satire and it was his decision to cast Sterling Hayden and Nina Van Pallandt. The director only knew Van Pallandt from The Johnny Carson Show and from the Clifford Irving scandal. He felt that she resembled a character from Chandler’s novel and the studio allowed him to do a screen test. He also made all kinds of changes to the script, like Wade’s suicide and Marty Augustine smashing the Coke bottle into his girlfriend’s face. Altman did not read Chandler’s book and instead gave copies of Raymond Chandler Speaking to the cast and crew and advised them to study the author’s literary essays. Altman originally wanted Dan Blocker for the role of Roger Wade but he died just before shooting began and the director was persuaded to meet with Sterling Hayden.

When Bogdanovich was briefly attached to the project, he wanted Robert Mitchum or Lee Marvin to portray Marlowe. United Artists president David Picker may have picked Gould to play Marlowe as a ploy to get Altman to direct the film. Bogdanovich did not see Gould in the role because he was “too new” and left the project. Brian Hutton also wanted Gould to play the private detective. At the time, the actor was box office poison in Hollywood after his rumored troubles on the set of A Glimpse of Tiger where he argued with co-star Kim Darby, exchanged blows with director Anthony Harvey, and abused drugs as well as being unreliable and absent. Warner Bros. stopped the production early on and Gould claimed that he was blamed for its failure. The studio collected on an insurance policy that attested the actor was crazy. For The Long Goodbye, United Artists gave Gould the requisite physical before approving his contract and demanded a psychological exam to determine that the actor was mentally stable. Gould read the first draft of Brackett’s script described it as a “pastiche” and very convoluted. Altman called Gould to discuss the film and the actor told him that he always wanted to play Marlowe. Altman asked Gould to read the novel as well as Chandler on Chandler. Gould discovered that he was exactly the same age, height, and weight as Marlowe.

When it came to the scenes between Marlowe and Wade, Altman had Gould and Hayden ad-lib most of the dialogue. Hayden, with his long, scraggily beard and scattershot delivery of his dialogue, is great as the eccentric writer who constantly refers to Marlowe as “Marlboro” (“the Duke of Bullshit,” he adds at one point), in reference to his ever-present cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. Hayden delivers a wonderfully unpredictable performance full of bluster and eccentric line readings. According to Altman, Hayden improvised a lot of his dialogue and was drunk and stoned on marijuana most of the time. In the scene where Marlowe tries to save Wade from drowning himself in the Pacific Ocean, Gould almost drowned when he went out too far. He was only able to do three takes. The director decided that the camera should never stop moving and put the camera on a dolly. However, the camera movements would counter the actions of the characters so that the audience would feel like a voyeur. To compensate for the harsh light of southern California, Altman gave the film a soft, pastel look reminiscent of old postcards from the 1940s.

Mark Rydell is something else as Marty Augustine. In the first scene we see him in he threatens Marlowe, then talks sweetly to his girlfriend, and then goes back to menacing Marlowe. At times, Augustine is downright charming and then he suddenly and shockingly smashes a Coke bottle across his girlfriend’s face just to make a point. With the shocking violence of this scene, Altman said, “It was supposed to get the attention of the audience and remind them that, in spite of Marlowe, there is a real world out there, and it is a violent world.” Augustine is clearly a psychopath and Rydell nails the character’s shifting moods with unsettling intensity. The Coke bottle scene is like a cold splash of water to the face and it causes not only the audience to sit up and notice but Marlowe as well, who, up to this point, has mostly been in his own little world. Now, Marlowe has a real, vested interest in what happened to his friend Lennox because he owed Augustine a lot of money and is now threatening Marlowe’s life.

The Long Goodbye
was previewed at the Tarrytown Conference Center in New York. The gala was hosted by Judith Crist, then the film critic for New York magazine. Altman flew in for the Q&A session. The film was not well-received by the audience except for Nina Van Pallandt’s performance, which got good notices. The mood at the Q&A was “vaguely hostile” and afterwards Altman was reportedly “depressed.” The Long Goodbye did not fare well in its limited release in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Miami. As a result, the New York City opening was canceled at the last minute after several advance screenings had already been held for the press. The Long Goodbye received mixed reaction from critics and performed poorly at the box office because of the unconventional story, plot, and character changes from the novel.

The film was abruptly withdrawn from release by United Artists with rumors that it would be re-edited. Altman went to Picker and told him, “No wonder the fucking picture is failing. It’s giving the wrong impression. You make it look like a thriller and it’s not, it’s a satire.” The studio analyzed the reviews for six months and concluded that the advertising campaign was too narrow. They created a new release strategy for The Long Goodbye with a novel ad campaign that featured a poster illustrated by legendary Mad magazine artist Jack Davis. Altman explained that he “had to prepare audiences for a movie that satirizes Hollywood and the entire Chandler genre.” United Artists spent $40,000, and the New York City première was profitably and critically successful. The Long Goodbye ended up on The New York Times’ year-end Ten Best list. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond won the National Society of Film Critics’ award for best cinematography in 1973. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done and the film still failed to perform well elsewhere.

The Long Goodbye
has endured and become one of Altman’s signature films. It also has some famous fans, chief among them the Coen brothers who cite it as their favorite of Altman’s and an influence on The Big Lebowski. Aside from being a cheeky satire on Hollywood almost as much as The Player (1992) was, a later Altman film that brought him back into the mainstream, it is a film about loyalty. By the end of the film, Marlowe has learned a valuable lesson – there are some friends you don’t stick your neck out for. He is loyal to a fault and realizes that Lennox wasn’t the friend that he thought he was. As the Altman quote states at the beginning of this article, Marlowe is forced to stop looking at everything exactly the same way, just as we are, and see his friend for who he truly is.

OCEAN’S THIRTEEN – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

Ocean_s_Thirteen_2007_BRRip2

Despite its impressive box office returns, Ocean’s Twelve (2004) was considered something of a disappointment by its director Steven Soderbergh who felt that the plot was too complicated. While not quite as fun as Ocean’s Eleven (2001), it was a fine film in its own right – one that had a more satisfying emotional pay-off and doesn’t deserve the lousy reputation that it seems to have. Ocean’s Thirteen (2007) was seen as a return to the fun, breezy vibe of the first film by bringing it back to Las Vegas with style. The result was a very satisfying conclusion to the Ocean’s films.

As the revenge picture cliché goes, this time it’s personal. When Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) is muscled out of a business deal by slick businessman Willy Bank (Al Pacino), resulting in a heart attack, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his crew reunite for one last job: to ruin the opening night of Bank’s casino, The Bank, by making sure he loses a huge amount of money, which involves rigging all the games and slot machines. Bank wants the Five Diamond Award – the top accolade for hotels and will do anything to get it. Danny and the boys use this as a way to get at Bank. To this end, they devise an elaborate plan with the help of their arch-nemesis Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) who bankrolls the operation. They also bring in Roman Nagel (Eddie Izzard) from Ocean’s Twelve to crack a state-of-the-art artificial intelligence security system.

Soderbergh kicks things off rather stylishly as we get a beautiful shot of Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) walking across a runaway tarmac to an awaiting plane at dusk with the sky an impossibly deep dark blue that, accompanied by David Holmes’ groovy score, is absolutely breathtaking. Once again, the director shoots the hell out of the film by employing all sorts of zoom ins and outs, pans and split-screens that, along with a saturated color scheme, keeps things visually interesting.

This time out, Matt Damon gets a juicy subplot where he goes undercover as Lenny Pepperidge, the assistant to a Mr. Weng (Shaobo Qin as The Amazing Yen, also undercover), a very high roller, in order to get close to Bank’s lovely assistant, Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin). Part of his disguise involves wearing a ridiculous fake long nose – a sly fuck you to Harvey Weinstein who wouldn’t let Damon wear said nose for his character in Terry Gilliam’s The Brother’s Grimm (2005) because he felt it would obscure the actor’s good looks and hurt the film’s box office potential. Well, it didn’t hurt Ocean’s Thirteen box office as the film went on to gross a very respectable $311 million worldwide.

It is also a lot of fun to see Ellen Barkin reunited with her Sea of Love (1989) co-star Al Pacino. She appears to be having a good time playing a confident businesswoman succumbing to Damon’s “seductive” charms. It is also fun to see Pacino go off autopilot for a change and sink his teeth into a juicy bad guy role. Who else could Soderbergh get to pose as a credible threat to the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt but someone of the legendary star caliber like Pacino? He plays Bank like the offspring of his take on Ricky Roma from Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) and Gordon Gekko from Wall Street (1987) – a smooth-talking unscrupulous bastard. In another nice bit of casting, the inventor of the artificial intelligence security system is played by none other than Julian Sands, an actor whose big break through came in A Room with A View (1985), but whose career settled into mostly direct-to-home video fare so it was a pleasant surprise to see him appear in a big mainstream film like Ocean’s Thirteen.

Another amusing subplot involves Virgil Malloy (Casey Affleck, sporting a ridiculous-looking mustache) organizing a revolution/strike among the workers at a dice-making factory in Mexico. He goes from complaining about a lack of air conditioning to tossing Molotov cocktails on the strike lines. At one point, he and his fellow co-workers drown their sorrows at a local bar and Virgil asks them, “Have all of you forgotten Zapata?” He goes on to offer inspirational words that fire them up. How this whole subplot plays out is quite funny. In another nice twist, Terry Benedict is helping Danny out albeit with all kinds of conditions. After all, he resents Bank’s lack of taste and the competition he represents. There can only be on top dog in Vegas and Benedict clearly feels that he is the one. Andy Garcia looks like he relished the opportunity to be in on the joke instead of being the target as he was in the last two films.

While working on Ocean’s Twelve, Steven Soderbergh began thinking about Ocean’s Thirteen. He thought about how fun it would be to set it back in Las Vegas. The motivation to make the film was a desire to work with everyone again but all eleven cast members had to want to do it. Producer Jerry Weintraub contacted them 18 months before hand and told them filming would take place during the summer of 2006 and to clear their schedules. He was able to find a way to juggle all these movie stars’ busy lives and add Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin into the mix.

For the film’s story, Soderbergh felt that Danny and his crew weren’t driven entirely by money and that they would reunite for friendship and revenge. The director came up with the notion of Reuben being betrayed and his friends helping him out. Weintraub hired Brian Koppelman and David Levien to write the screenplay. They had written the script for Rounders (1998) and created the gambling television cable show Tilt, and so they were familiar with the world of con men and gamblers. Soderbergh and Weintraub were both big admirers of Rounders and the director met with the screenwriters in New York City over lunch. They talked about great con movies, the nature of heists, and how the characters had evolved since Ocean’s Eleven. Within minutes, Soderbergh knew they were who he wanted to write the script and were working on it within minutes: “There was not a long list of people that we thought could step into this specific universe and pick up the language and the sense of humor.”

Koppelman and Levien had spent years exploring Vegas culture and the gambling lifestyle. They had every book they could find about con artists and thieves. Early on, Soderbergh told them that he wanted the film’s focus to be on the friendship between Danny and his crew. They understood that getting revenge on Willy Bank was what drove the entire story of Ocean’s Thirteen. They also wanted to “’flip’ the casino so that the patrons would win every time, which would spell disaster for Bank.” Soderbergh also told them that the bad guy should be a casino owner and they imagined Al Pacino and wrote Bank with him in mind. George Clooney also offered some ideas, mostly things to do with the revenge scheme that reunited the crew.

Some exterior scenes were shot in Las Vegas, but the casino interiors were mostly shot on one of the largest soundstages on the Warner Bros. lot in Los Angeles because it would have taken too long to film in actual casinos as they had done with Ocean’s Eleven. Soderbergh said, “In order to get the shots that I wanted, I needed to completely control the environment.” He instructed production designer Philip Messina to build a hotel and casino that would reflect Bank and his huge ego. Messina decided to go with a quasi-Asian theme and make it visually overwhelming. He purposely broke the rules in Vegas by designing a multi-level gaming floor because the production didn’t have a lot of horizontal space to work with.

Like Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Thirteen pays tribute to the classic era of Vegas as Danny and co. restore Reuben’s honor. He’s an old school player who still believes in following a code and prides himself in being part of a select group of insiders that got to shake Frank Sinatra’s hand back in the day. Like Benedict, Bank represents the current corporate mentality of making money over the personal touch that the Mob-run casinos used to provide. If the first two films were about Danny and Rusty’s respective relationships with the loves of their lives, then Ocean’s Thirteen is about their friendship with Reuben. He mentored them when they were just starting out and taught them about respecting history as well as those who came before them. Like with the previous films, going after the bad guy is a matter of personal honor and hitting them where it hurts – in Bank’s case it’s his monster ego. Ocean’s Thirteen ends much like Ocean’s Eleven did thus bringing the trilogy full circle and with a truly satisfying conclusion as the bad guy gets what’s coming to him and Reuben’s honor is restored. Likewise, the film did very well at the box office and garnered fairly positive reviews going out on a well-deserved high note. It serves as an example of a star-studded big budget Hollywood film that entertains without insulting your intelligence.