In this third installment however the boys aren’t in the game for the business. No this time it’s personal. When one of their own the irascible Reuben (Elliott Gould) suffers a heart attack after being double-crossed by malevolent hotel mogul Willie Bank (Al Pacino) Danny (George Clooney) Rusty (Brad Pitt) Linus (Matt Damon) and the rest of the gang decide to hit Bank where it hurts. They orchestrate it so not only will they ruin the hotelier financially by turning the tables on the precept that the house always wins but also hurt Bank’s pride by giving his big new Las Vegas hotel a bad rating. The Ocean crew even manages to rope in their old nemesis Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) on the scam since Benedict can’t stand Bank or the monstrosity he has built on the Strip. The plan is a bit convoluted and seemingly damn near impossible but the moral of the story is this: Mess with an Ocean you get pummeled by the waves. What has always made the Ocean's installments work is the freewheeling spirit and good-ol'-boy camaraderie from its eye-candy cast. Even though they are a bit more somber this time around--you know worried about Reuben and all--the actors are still clearly enjoying themselves. Clooney and Pitt continue to be the suave ringleaders finishing each other’s sentences and commiserating over the problems they are having with their respective spouses/girlfriends--which in turn explains why Tess (Julia Roberts) and Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones) aren’t in the movie. Basically this “isn’t their fight ” and they aren’t needed. Actually it’s Damon’s Linus who gets a love interest--sort of. The usually green Linus gets a chance to prove his mettle by donning a disguise (a big fake nose to be exact) and wooing Bank’s second-in-command the tough-as-nails Abigail Sponder as part of the plan. She’s played winningly by Ellen Barkin who fits right into this gentleman’s club. All the others are also in top form proving they could keep making these movies and we’d never get tired of watching them play. At this point in the Ocean's franchise director Steven Soderbergh’s work is pretty much done for him which is a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. The good part (and I’ve said this before) is Soderbergh definitely has one of the keenest eyes in the business and with Ocean's Thirteen he makes you feel like you’re coming home after spending the last movie floundering abroad. The guys are more at ease and the surroundings are comfortably familiar while the massive complicated suspend-your-disbelief undertaking crackles and zings as it's being put into motion. Soderbergh also uses the split-screen technique to great effect. The bad thing is we’ve seen it all before. Ocean's Thirteen doesn’t really offer anything particularly new as far as what we’ve come to expect and there are a few times Soderbergh seems to be phoning it in. But honestly is there anything wrong with that? Not really. Not with this great cast that is aging and gelling like fine wine bringing Sin City to its knees.
Like Madagascar the story starts at the New York Zoo. Samson (Kiefer Sutherland) the lion is once again the star of the show but unlike Madagascar’s Alex Samson claims he came from the wild. He regales the other odd assortment of zoo denizens--including a talkative giraffe (Janeane Garofalo) a lisping anaconda (Richard Kind) a snarky Koala (Eddie Izzard) and a take-charge squirrel (Jim Belushi)--with tales of danger and excitement abroad. Of course Samson can’t tell the real truth that he was actually born in captivity and is making it all up because everyone including his rebellious teenage son Ryan (Greg Cipes) would think less of him. But when Ryan runs away thinking he can’t live up to his dad’s reputation and is mistakenly shipped off to the wild Samson has keep up the charade as the gang embarks on a dangerous mission to rescue him. The lion does come clean at some point in case you were wondering. Another vocal roster of big names another dollar. This time around we’ve got Sutherland Garofalo Belushi all doing the animal thing. There’s also William Shatner as a villainous wildebeest headed for the loony bin after deciding he’s tired of being the prey and turns predator. He’s even got his herd of wildebeest dancing a Busby Berkeley number around a volcano á la Lion King. Sigh. Luckily there is one saving grace--sort of: Izzard as the wisecracking Koala bear Nigel who gets mistaken for a god by the wildebeest and milks it for all its worth which isn’t a whole lot. Still if anyone has seen the British comedian’s hilarious HBO special Eddie Izzard: Dressed to Kill you can just imagine him strutting around as a Koala dressed in women’s clothing and doing his shtick. The Mouse House once again proves it doesn’t have an inventive bone in its body--or even the gumption to realize that had something with potential. Apparently the pitch from writers Mark Gibson and Philip Halprin had been mulling around Disney for about nine years before it got made giving the likes of Nemo and Madagascar a head start (I’d be peeved if I were those writers). But even if The Wild did come first it still wouldn’t be able to measure up mostly because the story is insipid. Wildebeest turning into predators? What’s THAT all about? The CGI-animation is spot on of course but we are definitely taking all of that for granted these days. No now what we want is a good compelling story. If not that then at least we should have a couple of really funny characters--like commando penguins or a fish with short-term memory--to help things move along. The Wild doesn’t have either so while children may be left mildly entertained for an hour and a half parents will be left twiddling their thumbs waiting for it to be over.
Based on H.G. Wells' classic 1898 novel this War is set in a contemporary world where the threat of terrorism looms around every corner. But not even the brains at Homeland Security can prepare the human race for this kind of an attack. After a series of mysterious and powerful lightning storms strike all over the world giant three-legged war machines long buried beneath the earth rise up and start incinerating everything--and everyone--in sight. Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) a divorced New Jersey dockworker horrifyingly witnesses the first strike in this catastrophic alien invasion. He is suddenly faced with protecting his estranged children--teenager Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning)--after they are left with him for the weekend. Traveling across the ravaged countryside Ray takes them on a journey to reunite them with their mother and gets caught up in a desperate tide of refugees fleeing from a seemingly inexorable and merciless enemy. But are they really unstoppable? Ha! We'll see who has the last laugh you nasty old susceptible aliens.
As I watched Tom Cruise run and hide from the invading aliens I didn't once think about Scientology antidepressant drugs or Katie Holmes. Not once. That's because no matter what kind of personal issues Cruise has going on at the moment he is a consummate actor drawing you into his on-screen world without missing a beat. As deadbeat dad Ray Cruise aptly exhibits an apathy to his prodigy only to then turn into a courageous American hero fighting to protect the ones he loves without one clichéd speech or false moment. Quite a feat. Of course he also has a lot of support from his co-stars especially Dakota Fanning as his daughter in keeping things genuine. While either playing terrified with fervent screams or deadly still from shock the young actress' tearstained face gives the whole horrific experience a very human quality. Man imagine what's she's going to do once she's an adult. Chatwin (The Chumscrubber) also does a fine job as the rebellious teen whose growing need to join the fight has his dad torn up inside. Tim Robbins makes a memorable appearance as a refugee on the verge of madness holed up in a bombed-out basement and ready to single-handedly take the aliens down. And finally as a nice touch we hear Morgan Freeman's deep resonate voice open and close the film with very poignant passages from H.G. Wells' literary masterpiece.
Spielberg's back--and what a relief! A War of the Worlds update is just what he needed to rejuvenate himself especially after his latest slate of tepid movies (i.e. The Terminal A.I.). I mean it has been a long time since we've seen the passionate Spielberg--the special-effects driven director who challenges himself to make the most visually stunning movies ever (Jurassic Park Raiders of the Lost Ark) or the finely tuned director who can create the most incredibly intimate movies against a historical backdrop (Saving Private Ryan Schindler's List). And nothing on this earth inspires Spielberg more than aliens especially now that he has grown older and wiser since his kindler gentler E.T. days. Keeping to Wells' original source material and paying homage to both Orson Welles' infamous 1938 radio play (both are set in New Jersey) and the original 1953 film (a marvel of special effects for its time) War is an absolute seat-gripping wonder to behold. From the beginning of the Tripod war machines' reigning terror disintegrating poor souls with their heat rays or snatching them up in the air with their tentacle extensions (to use for a very gruesome task indeed) it's shockingly realistic. The only small drawback is showing the actual aliens especially in this sophisticated day and age of Alien and Independence Day. It just isn't necessary and adds very little to the already mounting tension. But it's a small quibble. This War will give you nightmares for weeks.