Tag Archives: Matt Damon

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

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Kevin Smith’s Dogma

No one has ever skewered the Catholic Church quite like Kevin Smith did with Dogma, a wholly original, densely verbose, punishingly funny stage play of monologues, satirical jabs, cynical skits and cheeky lampoons that showcase the kind of idiosyncratic, acid tipped penmanship that only The Smith can bring us. It’s my favourite of his films, mainly because of how original the humour is, based in reality but blasted off into a stylized fantasy realm that gives a galaxy of perky acting talent room to pontificate and sink their teeth into immense passages of rich dialogue that are any actor’s dream. Also, it’s just such a unique, surreal experience in terms of casting and characterization; where else can you see beloved thespian Alan Rickman get his sillies out as the sarcastic Metatron, an asexual being who serves as the voice of god and the spiritual tour guide to adorable protagonist Linda Fiorentino (whatever happened to her?), who’s the chosen one in a holy not so holy crusade of angels, demons and religious figures all given the Royal Smith twist. There’s Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as Loki and Bartleby, two hedonistic fallen angels who squabble at each other and rebel against heavenly management, causing quite the cosmic ruckus. Salma Hayek does a transfixing go-go dance to rival her slinky number in From Dusk Till Dawn as The Muse, a shapeshifter who helps them battle an excremental (that’s a demon made of poo, before you ask). It goes on with sterling work from everyone including Chris Rock, Jason Lee, Bud Cort, George Carlin, Janeane Garofalo, Gwyneth Paltrow and those two adorable slackers Jay & Silent Bob, who wouldn’t miss a Smith outing for the world. Oh, anyone who casts the already angelic Alanis Morisette as God should be given a hefty raise. It’s a tough film to summarize or even capture the spirit of with a written passage, as it defies description, shirks standards and makes no apologies. Anyone from the Clergy who took any offence clearly missed the point though, this is satire and lighthearted at that, with only a dash of the kind of jaded ill will a film like this could have had. This is Smith’s world, and the characters who populate it are larger than life yet still feel real, never boring and always have something to say, be it thoughtful rumination or effervescent silliness.

-Nate Hill

Deadpool 2

Deadpool 2 does what any great sequel should do: blasts the first one out of the water. Well, kind of. In terms of quality and fun, it’s *as* brilliant as the first and manages to capture that scrappy, irreverent charisma once again. Where it excels over the first is what’s built onto that blueprint and improved upon, namely a way better villain than that Jason Statham knockoff they had the first time around. Although not as developed as he could be, Josh Brolin’s Cable is a formidable, aesthetically slick presence that calls to mind Arnie’s T-101 subtly, while giving the actor room to bounce and banter with Wade Wilson. As for the Merc? He’s funnier, sadder and more larger than life in this one, his rampantly raunchy sense of humour made even more so by intense personal tragedy. One of the key assets of this story is an ironic romantic heart amidst the glib antics, and that wisely gets played up here; Wade is a badly hurt guy in more ways than just physical, and as Cable dryly points out, he uses humour to mask inner pain (reminds me of me). That’s the core of what makes him so relatable and engaging, and by now Reynolds is so good at playing this role he should get a fifty picture deal. The plot here is admittedly thin, but in such a ramshackle narrative packed with supporting characters and gags both visual and otherwise, that’s understandable. The best running joke involves Wade & Co. recruiting a short lived mutant team that includes Bill ‘Pennywise’ Skarsgard, Terry Crews and a cameo so quick and hilarious I won’t spoil the fun, but keep your eyes peeled for The Vanisher’s split second closeup. They don’t last long though and not since MacGruber have I witnessed wanton, hysterical negligence and ineptitude in friendly fire casualties. Deadpool stands out because it broke the mold of nearly all superhero films to come before; its R rating allows it t have the kind of unbridled fun that the genre should have sparked from day one. The first film pioneered a very specific brand of mischief and debauchery.. this one takes the concept and runs with it and the results are pure summer movie bliss.

-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

Alexander Payne’s Downsizing

I was very pleasantly surprised by Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, an intelligent, methodically high concept social sci-fi satire that takes the Honey I Shrunk The Kids template and plays it for thoughtful, heartfelt laughs while thinking big, thematically speaking. Matt Damon turns on the dim witted charm as a regular joe who decides to undergo ‘downsizing,’ a radical procedure patented by the Norwegians in which a human is shaved, sedated and shrunk down to the size of a tennis ball. Why, you ask? It’s scientist’s answer to the growing issue with humans ruining our planet, and they figure having an itty bitty carbon footprint instead of a big ol’ one will do this rock some good. This is but one of a group of very ambitious ideas that Payne explores, and whilst he doesn’t quite have time to thoroughly wring our every theme and thesis, it’s nice to see such thought and care put into a concept that could have easily gone the brainless Dwayne Johnson route. Damon settles down in a mini hydra dome called Leisureland, where the inflation rate is minuscule and things cost a fraction of what they did topside. He’s got two hilarious neighbours in snarky Serbian playboy Dusan (Christoph Waltz alllmosttt has the accent down) and his fellow hedonist, salty Konrad (really nice to see veteran Udo Kier back in the Hollywood game in more than just ironic cameos). These two are his introduction to the way this procedure has affected everything in the world from commerce to social relations, but it’s not until he meets feisty Vietnamese maid N’goc (Hong Chau) that he realizes the same problems which have always afflicted humanity have followed them down to their pint sizes, and even become worse. Chau is so good she pretty much walks off with the film, her blunt nature and hilarious accent contrasted by a bruised heart beneath. There’s some.. oddly placed plot points in the third act and I could have done with a bit less of the preachy climate change chatter, but for the most part this one stimulates and goes for laughs, milking the ‘shrunk’ concept in ways Hollywood never before. Watch for peripheral work from Kristin Wiig, Rolf Lassgard, Jason Sudeikis, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Don Lake, Margo Martindale, Mary Kay Place and Joaquim De Almeida. Neat stuff.

-Nate Hill

Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok

Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok has got to be the most fun I’ve ever had watching a Marvel film. Trust Hollywood to make a sterling decision once in a blue moon, and hiring a deftly comic, renegade underdog subversive improv genius like Waititi to take the wheel is a smart, bold move. Now before I sing it’s praises to Valhalla, they don’t quite let him (he’s the Kiwi wunderkind behind the newly minted classics Hunt For The Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows) go completely bonkers, which he clearly wants to do, and although he’s kind of bogged down by a generic villain and a recycled point of conflict in plot, a lot of the time he’s allowed to stage a zany, uncharacteristically weird (for the MCU, anyways) pseudo space opera that is a blast and a half. Thor finds himself, after a brief encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange, carted off to a giant garbage planet surrounded by space portals (one of which is referred to with a straight face as ‘The Devil’s Anus’, which sent me into a fit) and lorded over by a certifiably loony Jeff Goldblum as the Grand Master, a demented despot who holds intergalactic gladiator matches for his own entertainment. There Thor is forced to fight his old buddy the Hulk, and somehow find a way to escape Goldblum’s nefarious yet hilarious clutches. He’s got just south of reliable allies in his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an exiled Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) with an attitude problem, as well as rock-armoured warrior Korg, voiced hilariously by Waititi himself as the film’s most engaging character. Meanwhile back in Asgard, trouble brews when the equally dangerous and sexy Hela (Cate Blanchett, with enough authoritative, husky smoulder to make me weak at the knees) tries to steal Odin’s throne for herself, with the help of defector Skurge (Karl Urban, who gets a mic drop of an action set piece later on). Here’s the thing about Hela: Blanchett is in top form, a commanding, dark presence… but the role is as blandly written as a number of other MCU villains, and one wonders how they’ve managed to flunk out at creating engaging antagonists a few times over now. She’s stuck in a subplot that we’ve all seen before, one that’s stale and at odds with the fresh, humorous and wonderful storyline between Thor and Banner. Their side of things is like buddy comedy crossed with screwball fare and works charming wonders, especially when they’re blundering about in Goldblum’s cluttered trash metropolis, it’s just inspired stuff. Throw in a great 80’s inspired electro pop score and a cool VHS retro vibe (I’m all about the old school) and you’ve got one of the best MCU movies to date, and most importantly one that *tries something new*, which the genre needs more of, even if it doesn’t ultimately fully commit, this is still a gem we have on our hands.

-Nate Hill

Edward Zwick’s Courage Under Fire


The darker side of the military is a touchy subject for Hollywood, as it’s supposed to be an outfit that sets a glowing standard of honour and nobility for everyone. But, like any other business or organization, it has a flip side too, and in Edward Zwick’s Courage Under Fire we see just what can go wrong in the ranks when no one is looking. Denzel Washington plays a traumatized gulf war vet who is tasked with assessing whether a heroic, deceased helicopter pilot (Meg Ryan) is worthy of the medal of honour, which would be awarded to the first female officer in history. Only problem is, testimonies from her fellow comrades in arms simply don’t add up. Two in particular, played by a gaunt Matt Damon and an excellent Lou Diamond Phillips, certainly know more than they let on and appear to harbour some deep guilt riddled scandal. With some help from a stern superior general (Michael Moriarty) and a journalist source (Scott Glenn) Washington must navigate this minefield of misdeeds and deception, and the story takes him to some fairly visceral, intense places. It’s just shy of melodrama when the secrets do come out, the third act a horrifying exposé, everyone’s expectations and image of the platoon unravelling. The rest of the soldiers are played by a hectic bunch including Bronson Pinchot, Zelijko Ivanek, Sean Astin, Sean Patrick Thomas and Bruce McGill. Ryan fares well in a role that’s essentially just a plot device, as we already know the eventual outcome of her arc, but she adds mystery and resilience to the scenes she does get. It’s like a political horror story, this one, showing the absolute worst outcome of a situation like this, and the lengths some scared individuals will go to smother any mention of it. Zwick handles the broad strokes well, and we end up with quite a stalwart, fiercely made war piece. 

-Nate Hill