Boy, I love the movies! Well, I used to. We broke up around 1998, but we're still friends, I guess. And it's actually good for both of us that I no longer obsess about the movies like I used to, although I doubt the movies have noticed. Now, let's talk about some movies I've seen in the last few months:
1. OCEAN'S TWELVE (2004)
When this sequel to the remake of Ocean's Eleven (2001) came out, I heard it was a disappointment. Sequels often are, but Steven Soderbergh directed it (as well as Ocean's Eleven and this summer's Ocean's Thirteen), so how bad could it be? Soderbergh, like Ang Lee, has a long track record of making good films in any genre he chooses. With 1998's Out of Sight, Soderbergh proved he could make smart, entertaining mainstream fare, and he continued in that vein with Erin Brockovich (2000) and Ocean's Eleven.
But with Ocean's Twelve, Soderbergh stumbles a bit and shows that sequels aren't his strong suit. Not yet anyway—here's hoping Ocean's Thirteen is better, and judging by the trailer, it seems to be paying close attention to the unofficial Movie Trilogy Rulebook, which states that you must follow up a not-as-successful second installment with a third installment that sticks closely to the elements that made the first movie successful. It looks like Ocean's Thirteen will be set in Las Vegas, like the original, with Ocean and his gang (which now includes Andy Garcia and Ellen Barkin) trying to rob Al Pacino's casino. (That rhymes. I guess that's why Al was cast.)
Twelve is set in Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and other European locations, and although Garcia is back as Terry Benedict, the bad guy from Eleven, he's the secondary bad guy this time. Unfortunately, the primary bad guy, Vincent Cassel's "Night Fox," isn't all that interesting, and his breakdancing routine near the end of the movie is cringe-worthy. Eleven did a great job fleshing out all the members of Ocean's gang as well as Benedict and his love triangle with Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Ocean's ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts). The balancing act doesn't work as well in Twelve, with Bernie Mac, Elliott Gould, and Carl Reiner's characters absent for long stretches of the movie. And although I didn't like the whole meta-tastic "Tess looks just like Julia Roberts" subplot (why didn't anyone notice this in Eleven?), it did lead to the funniest scene in the movie, in which Bruce Willis, playing himself, thinks Tess is Julia Roberts and Tess ends up on the phone with Julia. Sadly, the rest of the movie is pretty unmemorable and even confusing in some parts, and there's nothing along the lines of Eleven's serene little moment at the Bellagio fountains after the big heist.
2. BASIC INSTINCT 2 (2006)
I've been on a sequel kick recently. And it's not over yet. Like Ocean's Twelve, Basic Instinct 2 is considered to be worse than the original, but on a much larger scale. It's generally not wise to release a sequel 14 years after the original, especially if the original's director, writer, and male costar aren't returning for the sequel. Sharon Stone is back, but she's not even the main character in her own star vehicle. Like Basic 1, the sequel is structured around the horny guy who's obsessed with Stone's character, Catherine Tramell. And here's a big problem with Basic 2: Stone is no longer the hottest woman on the planet. It's a little embarrassing watching a woman in her late 40s who appears to have had some botched plastic surgery on her face and breasts talking dirty and trying to seduce every man she meets. (Stone apparently has a scene in Bobby in which she stares at herself in a mirror and realizes her age has caught up with her. Too bad that self-awareness is nowhere in sight in Basic Instinct 2.) I saw Stone interviewed on Primetime Glick in 2003 and she looked great. I don't know what happened between then and 2005, when this movie was shot, but Stone isn't given many close-ups in Basic 2, which is odd considering she's the star of the movie and the reason it got made in the first place. Maybe you just need a higher SPF, Sharon. Ask the hot fortysomethings on Desperate Housewives for some helpful hints.
3. STRANGER THAN FICTION (2006)
Meta-tastic redux! This one didn't intrigue me as much as I'd hoped, but then I remembered that I never fell in love with those Charlie Kaufman-penned films like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind like friends of mine did (however, I really liked Adaptation up until the third act, which is when the meta-tastic qualities started to overwhelm everything else). But to be fair, I was distracted quite a bit by the sound system in the theater where I saw Stranger Than Fiction—it sounded like a plane was about to take off during most of the movie, and that didn't help during the quieter scenes.
I was also bothered that the movie was filmed in Chicago yet no mention of Chicago was ever made. Look, if you're going to have some nameless big city in your movie, film the thing in Vancouver—they're used to it! Granted, people who don't live in Chicago or haven't been here won't notice much when they see the movie, and it's not like Stranger Than Fiction shows the Hancock Tower or Sears Tower or Wrigley Field at any point, but it struck me as odd. Maybe Columbia Pictures was offered a huge tax break if they filmed the movie in Chicago, but I doubt it.
On the flip side, two days after I saw Stranger Than Fiction I watched an episode of TBS's new sitcom My Boys. It's set in Chicago but clearly filmed on soundstages, yet the writers do a good job with the details, name-checking streets like Ashland Avenue and having a character wear a T-shirt with the logo of the Metro, a concert venue here. In Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell's character catches the Kronecker bus every morning. There's no street named Kronecker in Chicago.
4. BORAT (2006)
This movie starts to slow down at the point where the frat boys pick up Borat in their RV (gee, do you think that was staged at all?) and make their sexist and racist comments. But up till then it's as funny as everyone says it is. Sacha Baron Cohen is a funny man.
5. THE DEPARTED (2006)
Another great Martin Scorsese crime movie, with terrific performances all around, although I thought Matt Damon's accent sounded more authentic than Mark Wahlberg's, which is odd since Wahlberg actually grew up in south Boston, right? Didn't Damon grow up in Cambridge? I assume the accent isn't as strong in Cambridge. I like to assume lots of things. My only problem with The Departed is that the plot is moved forward in several instances via text messaging between characters. I hate technology.
6. DREAMGIRLS (2006)
Yeah, Jennifer Hudson has a great voice, but she's not a great actress yet, so people should stop saying, "She's going to win an Oscar!" Eddie Murphy's the one who deserves an Oscar nomination for this movie. It's good to see him this energetic again in a movie for adults, not three-year-olds.
These reviews are getting shorter and shorter. Can you tell I'm getting tired?