Merry Christmas, Warner Bros!! MORIARTY Sees OCEAN
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Driving home from Pasadena to the secret underground entrance to the Moriarty Labs, I have to go right past the front gate of Warner Bros., and at around 9:30 on Tuesday night, the lot was quiet, sealed up tight. For once, though, as I drove by, I saw the Warner shield, a logo that holds all sorts of emotional resonance for any lifelong movie fan, and for the first time in a long time, it seemed like it really shone. Like Harry, I’ve spent much of my time here at AICN over the last four years second-guessing Warner Bros or criticizing this decision or that one. THE IRON GIANT, BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER, SUPERMAN LIVES, SANDMAN, SCOOBY-DOO, WILD WILD WEST... these are all films where I’ve been harshly critical about either some part of the project or the marketing of the project or the project as a whole. The studio’s reliance on certain formulas is the stuff of legend, and it seems like a miracle when a THREE KINGS or a MATRIX slips through unscathed.
Tonight, though, I am convinced that sometimes that formula pays off. Sometimes you roll the dice and you get lucky, and what you get is more than you’d hoped for. Sometimes that formula gels and everything falls into place just right, and a script and a director and a cast all work at the top of their game, and you end up with something special on your hands, something that’s not just a piece of software to push through primary and ancillary markets. Sometimes, it’s a real treat to watch something. Sometimes, there is even art.
November and December are big months for Warner Bros. There are at least three major movies they’re releasing, and another AOL/Time Warner company, New Line, is finally rolling out the first film in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. The big November release, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCEROR’S STONE, is a giant question mark to me. I think all three trailers so far have been rock solid. I think the footage suggests a truly faithful adaptation. Steve Kloves as a screenwriter gives me hope. That supporting cast gives me hope. Chris Columbus... gives me pause. Like I said... question mark.
But the two major December releases are no longer question marks in my mind. Not after last week. Not after tonight. I saw a rough cut of OCEAN’S 11, the first film from Steven Soderbergh since his Oscar win last year, something I've been dying to see since I first reviewed the script, and I also saw about a half hour of footage from Frank Darabont’s new Capra-flavored Jim Carrey film, THE MAJESTIC. In both cases, I had strong reactions to what I saw, and I have a number of impressions I want to share. Keep in mind... neither film was finished, but with these two men in charge, I feel confident that the process can only tighten and polish what’s already there.
In both cases, these weren’t events I planned for. They came together at the last moment. Opportunities arose. Right place, right time sort of thing. I was supposed to see CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION tonight at the all-media screening. Instead, I wrestled my way through an hour and a half of hideous traffic to make my way out to Pasadena. I’ve been working on my Indian hypnosis word (very powerful stuff), and I can now mesmerize the entire NRG staff of a screening with three syllables and a bent finger (applied liberally). The screening was set for 7:30, but as is his style, Soderbergh closed the doors a half-hour early at 7:00 and started early. The place was full; why keep people waiting? I just barely had time to find a seat before the lights went down.
There is a confidence that Steven Soderbergh seems to take greater possession of with each new film, and part of that no doubt has to do with his decision to become his own director of photography. It’s like we’re getting these films pulled directly out of Soderbergh’s head now, and there’s something really powerful about the way he works. There’s very controlled, very precise work in the film, and there’s stuff that looks like it was shot almost as an afterthought, off the cuff, handheld. It’s finding the right moments for each of these tools at his disposal that marks Soderbergh as one of the most visually tasteful directors working right now. For me, it all started with OUT OF SIGHT. As much as I love SCHIZOPOLIS and KING OF THE HILL and SEX, LIES, & VIDEOTAPE and even THE UNDERNEATH and KAFKA, this new version of the filmmaker, Soderbergh 2.0 as it were, seemed to really come to life with OUT OF SIGHT. THE LIMEY remains a personal favorite, and the one-two punch of ERIN BROKOVICH and TRAFFIC proved that he is one of the most effective and inventive journeymen working, able to turn even what is essentially a sober polemic about the failure of drug policy in this country into a $100 million hit. That alone bought him the right to just have fun this time out, something that’s important when we see “important” filmmakers seemingly forget how to have fun, and OCEAN’S 11 is exactly what it promised to be: a slick, satisfying piece of adult entertainment, packed to overflowing with movie stars and “about” nothing besides pleasing you.
The first thing we see is Danny Ocean, dressed in a prison jumpsuit, taking a seat to face his parole board. George Clooney is one of those actors that doesn’t have to project to seem cool. He is cool. We all know where he started and how many shows he had and how he finally broke through with ER and how none of his early starring roles really seemed complete and how BATMAN turned out and how he started getting aggressive with the roles he chose and the people he worked with and how he turned things around and how these days he seems to be a lucky charm, leapfrogging nimbly from one success to another. He seems to be banking the cool at this point, and he just dispenses it on a low simmer, never needing to turn it up, never needing to overpower us. He has grown into his looks, and right now, there’s no one who serves as a better center for this sort of boy’s club movie. “What do you think you might do if you are released?” an offscreen parole officer asks Ocean, and he responds by staring the camera down. In a matter of four or five edits, Danny is released from prison in the tux he was wearing when arrested, his wedding ring returned to him, and he’s in a casino in Atlantic City. He hooks up with his old friend Frank (Bernie Mac), an ex-felon himself who is now working the tables as a dealer named Ramon. Some people would have hired Mac to play it big and broad and over the top, but not Soderbergh. Instead, he lets Mac play it real, and he and Clooney have an easy familiarity. Right away, Danny is putting things into motion. He’s recruiting for a job. He asks Frank where he can find Rusty.
In my opinion, there’s only one guy who comes close to stealing this movie out from under Clooney, and it’s Brad Pitt. His introductory scene is one of my very favorites in the whole film. He’s “colddecking” a bunch of Young Hollywood actors, teaching them how to convincingly play poker for films. Soderbergh cast a whole group of real young actors to play themselves here, and what Topher Grace, Joshua Jackson, Holly Marie Combs, Barry Watson, and a few others do in their scenes with Pitt and Clooney is genuinely funny stuff, a sophisticated cousin to the type of thing Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Gus Van Sant get up to in JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK. I’m glad Soderbergh brought Topher Grace back. The kid just makes me laugh, and after how good he was in TRAFFIC, I was hoping someone would give him another part soon. This’ll hold me over until someone really figures out what to do with him.
There’s not much suspense as Rusty and Danny begin to put together their team. You know they’re going to end up with all eleven of the guys they go after, and you know they’re going to get Reuben (Elliott Gould) to bankroll the deal. This part of the film is just about meeting each of the oddballs Rusty and Danny go after. The Mormon Brothers (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan), a twitchy electronics expert (Eddie Jemison), a Chinese acrobat (Qin Shaobo), the nearly-late once-great Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), Basher Tarr, demolitions freak (Don Cheadle), and Linus (Matt Damon) end up joining Danny, Frank, Rusty, and Reuben in a plan to rob three casinos at once: The Belaggio, The Mirage, and the MGM Grand, all of which belong to Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia).
And why Benedict?
Because he was stupid enough to take Danny’s wife, Tess (Julia Roberts). This entire elaborate heist boils down to one guy putting the screws to another guy over a girl. And if we didn’t buy the sparks generated in the few brief moments Danny and Tess share in the film, we wouldn’t care about any of the rest of it. Fortunately, Roberts and Clooney are both about as preposterously engaging as two people can be, and Garcia manages to ooze an icy dislikability as Benedict without actually becoming a stock bad guy. There’s just something wrong about Benedict and his methodical life and his adoration of this mechanical temple of money he’s built. Tess can’t end up with him. As Saul says, “She’s too tall for him.”
There are two types of filmgoer in this world: those who like heist films and those who don’t. Those who do understand the pleasures of laying everything out and watching as it all goes right and wrong in equal measure. Those who don’t should skip down now to where I start talking about THE MAJESTIC, because you are never going to understand. I consider a film like this to be like a great meal or a refreshing drink. When it’s just right, it can make you feel like all is right with the world. I suppose it’s like that for any genre. If you’re a fan, then nothing pleases you more than an example of that genre that is undeniable in its entertainment value, impossible to resist. There’s a great sense of fun underneath every interaction this incredible cast has, a sense that everyone’s come to play. Casey Affleck and Scott Caan are consistently funny in their time onscreen. Damon does nice quiet work, delivering in each moment he must. Bernie Mac really comes through in one particular scene, as does Don Cheadle. Elliott Gould is a sight gag that keeps paying off. Carl Reiner is a simple joy. Even Qin Shaobo and Eddie Jemison deliver, holding their own in each moment they are onscreen. There’s one key step in this heist that is scientifically implausible, if not impossible, but I don’t really need a film like this to serve as a “how-to” guide for future felons. I just want to believe that the odds are against these guys, but the angels are on their side.
Clocking in under two hours, the film is a shark: it never stops moving, and when it makes its big moves, there’s no stopping it. Fast, fast, fast, the film is over before it begins, and if I have any complaint, it’s that I wanted more. I could have handled a three hour romp with this crew. I can’t wait to hear what David Holmes has in store for the film. I’m not sure if what we heard tonight was all temp-track (there was some OUT OF SIGHT I recognized) or if some of it was original. I know the editing by Stephen Mirrione is only going to get tighter, more precise, but I think this is pretty close to finished at this point. There’s titles on this thing already. As it stands, there’s nothing I would suggest changing. From the iconic intro of each character to that one choice shot of all of Las Vegas, dark, to the final volcanic close-up of Andy Garcia, this thing swings.
I’d like to commend them on one choice in particular. There is not a single Rat Pack song or reference made in this film, nothing that ties this back to the days of Frank and Dino and Sammy. This is a separate entity, a success on its own merits. Clooney’s a Rat Pack fan by all accounts, and I imagine the temptation to pay homage would be pretty strong. It’s smart to avoid those comparisons, though. The original OCEAN’S 11 isn’t a great movie, but there’s an aura of decadence that wafts off the screen. You know the director called “CUT!” and they took ten steps on the casino floor and started placing bets for real. You know there were showgirls and late nights and rivers of alcohol and bleary eyes and delayed mornings on that set, and that’s part of the appeal. On this one, everything is in its right place, everyone is in the right role, and for once, the House loses. It’s audiences who are going to come out aces high when they unwrap this embarrassingly appealing Christmas present. I can’t wait to see it again.
I also can’t wait to see a finished assembled cut of Frank Darabont’s THE MAJESTIC, a film I’ve been excited about since I first read Michael Sloane’s wonderful script. I’ve written about that script and about visiting the set for the shoot of SAND PIRATES OF THE SAHARA, the film within a film that opens the movie. Until last week, though, I hadn’t seen anything involving Jim Carrey, and the curiosity was killing me. You’d be surprised how handy that Indian hypnosis word comes in some days. I happened to be over on The Lot in Hollywood when I smelled a distinctive tobacco blend wafting gently from an open window. Only one man I know smokes Sherman’s, and I ducked into an editing room where I found Frank Darabont and Jim Page (who also edited the excellent SALTON SEA, a film Darabont produced) huddled over an Avid, hard at work on the first cut of the new film. I clouded their minds so neither would see me, and settled in on a comfortable leather couch to watch their progress.
Based on the three major sequences I saw, I am willing to go out on a limb in a public forum. Jim Carrey is going to change your mind. Whatever you think of him right now, Jim is going to change your mind. Frank has done something truly bold with Carrey: he got him to stand still. He somehow got Jim to set aside all that manic energy that we’ve come to know as part of his personality, and the result is a redefinition in what you’re looking at. Instead of marvelling at how he appears to be made of some malleable space age rubber that stretches and bends and contorts in the most outrageous ways like in most of his comedies, and instead of being this barely controlled bundle of nerves like in THE TRUMAN SHOW or MAN ON THE MOON, we’re left with just a normal guy in a situation that isn’t outside the realm of what could happen to any of us. Jim is finally stepping up and making a serious bid at a Jimmy Stewart type of Everyman appeal, and when he’s quiet, when he’s still, it all becomes about his eyes. There, in those eyes, is where you still see the fire, and by changing our focus, we suddenly realize that Jim Carrey isn’t just a clown or a freak or a wild man. He’s a Goddamn Movie Star.
When he sits in the HUAC Chamber and faces down Hal Holbrook and Bob Balaban, or when he works side by side with Harry Trimble, the man he believes is his father (Martin Landau) and this amazing girl Adele (Laurie Holden) and finds himself at the center of a community that is coming back to life, or when he sits broken in a bar, shattered by the accusation that he’s a Commie, a stuffed monkey his only company, he is alive in a way we’ve never seen from him onscreen before. There’s a musical centerpiece to the film that crackles with life, like two dozen Norman Rockwell paintings strung together as a sort of flip book. The ghost of Capra hangs over the film, but the comparison only points up how classically structured the film is, how simply and effectively the moral choices of the main character have been drawn. If the whole film moves with the same energy as the stuff I saw, then Darabont’s thrown a decisive response down to critics who complained about the length and pace of THE GREEN MILE, his last film. Even on an Avid, the work by director of photography David Tattersall is eye-popping. This guys’ getting very good at what he does, and if Frank uses Thomas Newman to score the film again, that’s another coat of paint we can count on, another element that should fall into place in just the right way.
Is it fair to judge a film based on only 30 minutes of footage? Well, the world press flipped out for 20 minutes of FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING at Cannes, and that’s a longer movie, so statistically speaking, I’ve seen more of THE MAJESTIC. But I learned my lesson when I was such a strong vocal advocate for TOMB RAIDER. I slammed that film harder than it deserved, I think, but that’s because I was so surprised by the disparity between brief segements of the film and the picture as a whole. In the case of THE MAJESTIC, I’m not trying to size up the whole thing... just what I saw. What I saw was one of the most famous performers in the world taking a step forward that looks to be profound for him. What I saw was entertaining, sharp, and made me hungry to see the rest of the picture. I planted a post-hypnotic suggestion for Frank to show me the movie immediately, but he’s a wily one. For some reason, he and Page just kept working, and I was forced to abandon my efforts for that particular afternoon. Now that I’ve got a taste for it, though, expect me to be ruthless in my efforts. Until then...
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Aug. 15, 2001, 2:25 a.m. CST
by jacks bored hack
These two films are at the top of my 'TO SEE' list. This is gonna be one hell of a December. Excellent reviews!
Aug. 15, 2001, 2:28 a.m. CST
I hope these will cure my Hollywood-induced ulcer.
Aug. 15, 2001, 2:32 a.m. CST
moriaty, i want to be you. 11 sounds like a movie fans wet dream. i hope i can contain myself
Aug. 15, 2001, 3:03 a.m. CST
Thank God for good films, that's all I'd like to say at this juncture.
Aug. 15, 2001, 3:26 a.m. CST
i can't wait to see it, love the sense of urgency in soderbergh films, specially the last two. Why didn't they get him to direct pearl harbor?
Aug. 15, 2001, 3:58 a.m. CST
by Ken Luxury-yacht
...cool is back. Personally I really like the original O11, but hey what can I say. On a stag trip to Vegas I made everyone dress up in black suits and white shirts with thin black ties for the Saturday night out!!! (And Elvis suits for Sunday... but that's another story!!!) So, I am absolutely buzzing for the new film. George and Brad are cool mofo's, so unless something terrible happens, we are in for a treat. (Shame we have to wait all year for something good though!)
Aug. 15, 2001, 3:58 a.m. CST
Aug. 15, 2001, 4:01 a.m. CST
OH YEAHHHHH! I can't wait to see Jimmy surprise everyone! Anyone seen that Dramatic "Lifetime" movie with Mr. Carrey in it? That's a shocker too.
Aug. 15, 2001, 4:14 a.m. CST
Oceans 11, The Majestic, Gangs Of New York and LOTR!
Aug. 15, 2001, 5:09 a.m. CST
He was terrible in that piece of shit MOTM.
Aug. 15, 2001, 5:17 a.m. CST
Those two critical pieces by Moriarty on THE MAJESTIC and OCEAN'S 11 were incisive, heartfelt and wonderfully written. At last, AOL/TIME WARNER is beginning to churn out some good films. These two one can look forward now.
Aug. 15, 2001, 6:15 a.m. CST
Well, I geuss these two films just made may Winter Must-See list. It was probably just a matter of time too. If not now, probably when the trailers came out!
Aug. 15, 2001, 6:16 a.m. CST
by Smilin'Jack Ruby
Groovy reportage. Been wondering about both pics, of course, and really, really want to see "Ocean's Eleven" now after reading that boffo script. Still wondering about "The Majestic," but we'll see. I think you would've dug "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion," but come on, you can see that in a week and a half.
Aug. 15, 2001, 6:31 a.m. CST
Once again, thanks to Mori's reviews, hope springs eternal that I'll actually see something worthwhile from Hollywood this Fall & Winter. Ocean's Eleven sounds fantastic! I may even be able to tollerate another performance by Julia Roberts, which is a rarity. Thanks for the look at these promising projects.
Aug. 15, 2001, 6:52 a.m. CST
Commuting into work can be a drag, but after reading my boy Moriarity gleam about these 2 highly anticipated projects, my entire day has an entirely new gloss on it, I'm happy and excited. I knew Oceans was gonna be cool, but to hear about the scene where Pitt teaches That 70s Show kid Grace, and Pacey (among others) how to play poker is just so damn cool. Plus, the line about Carrey in The Majestic "Hes a god-damn movie star" just gave me the chills. From my estimation, this fall looks like it could rival the fall of 99 when Malchovich, 3 Kings, Fight Club, American Beauty, Magnolia etc were all playing simultaniously. God bless film, it makes my life worth living. Thinking about this fall is gonna make my day in front of a computer worth while.
Aug. 15, 2001, 8:56 a.m. CST
by BEARison Ford
i love jim carrey and i think he's a very entertaining actor/performer, but i'm constantly feeling that whenever he puts out a dramatic movie he's only looking towards getting an Oscar... is that the only reason he's doing this? i think he's already established himself well enough, he doesnt need that shit.
Aug. 15, 2001, 9:43 a.m. CST
Oh, God, I totally forgot about that -- thanks for mentioning it. It completely hilarious and a very canny way of both making fun of AND drawing in that demographic. Soderbergh is just a master. And I want to reiterate: Brad Pitt is friggin' great in this film. I mean, he practically steals every scene he's in (and he's up against some real heavyweights at times). If anything, he's the updated embodiment of all the coolness from the original (well, Clooney has a little of it, too). Beautiful review, Moriarty, as usual.
Aug. 15, 2001, 10:32 a.m. CST
by Tequila Wyrm
Shit, give him his own fucking catagory if that's what it'll take: "Best Film Starring Jim Carrey Doing His damnedest To Win An Oscar."
Aug. 15, 2001, 11:22 a.m. CST
Aug. 15, 2001, 11:23 a.m. CST
Seeing that first picture of brad pitt and g clooney made me think that it would be great casting. Pitt's better than John Travolta anyway.
Aug. 15, 2001, 12:43 p.m. CST
The review sounds fantastic. This is a film I have been dying to see for years, especially because I loved the laid back cool of the original. Remember all those movie critics, the original wasn't a film it was an event; a Rat Pack event. Anyway the film did have a nice cross-cutting technique using the floating balloons to hide the cuts between the clubs just before the New Year is rung in and the heist sequence begins. Check it out its pretty neat. Most importantly, does anyone know where I can read a copy of the final script. Smilin' Jack Ruby mentioned he had read it and it would make by pitifully dull existence worthwhile if I could read it. Cheers.
Aug. 15, 2001, 1:10 p.m. CST
by J Nasty
I've heard he has a cameo. Don't forget to visit the unofficial oceans site http://www.geocities.com/massive3215
Aug. 15, 2001, 1:11 p.m. CST
by MOVIE WRITER
Sex Lies n tape was great stuff. Now all this guy does is make crap that requires a cheadle role and either George Phony or Julia Bigtooth. This crap has to stop.
Aug. 15, 2001, 3:57 p.m. CST
It's the only way the Oscar audience will ever get to see Ash.
Aug. 15, 2001, 5:58 p.m. CST
Wow, is this a record? 22 posts before some wag has to complain about something. Refreshing.
Aug. 15, 2001, 8:36 p.m. CST
If both of these movies are as good as they sound, I'll be there opening day. After this summer of crap (I saw Osmosis Jones on Sunday, Somebody! Please, stop the Farelly Brothers before they make another film!), I have been forced to make my own movie, "Potter's Field", with luck we start filming in November.
Aug. 16, 2001, 4:46 a.m. CST
That was just a pleasure to read.I even care that Jim carey has a new film coming out.Make sure your the one who first reviews ALI and L O T R.I feel Harry (as great as he is)is just a tad over excitable.
Aug. 16, 2001, 3:10 p.m. CST
Around the time that Carrey did the Truman Show, evrybody started aping on how he's trying to get some respect by taking on more serious roles (Truman Show, Simon Birch, Man on the Moon). I say it's all BS. The guy can do any damn movie he wants. I think he just picks the projects that sound like fun, with the people he wants to work with. Milos Forman, the Farrellys, Ron Howard and Rick Baker, and Frank Darabont in his last 4 films. 'Nuff said.
Aug. 16, 2001, 3:26 p.m. CST
Love his films or hate them (and I've done both), he's consistantly one of the most interesting filmakers working in Hollywood. Mori's right about one thing: watching an accomplished journeyman like SS at work is a joy to behold, even when he's not out to change the world. The one thing I never hear about hear about SS though, is his ever increasing command of the craft of editing. To quote: "Clocking in under two hours, the film is a shark: it never stops moving, and when it makes its big moves, there
Aug. 16, 2001, 5:14 p.m. CST
I really hope people actually go to see him, I personally loved his turns in Truman Show and Man on the Moon. Also, Darbot so far has made 2 AMAZING movies, so good hopes for this flick. Hell, it even has Bruce Campbell in it! But, I hope that Carrey doesn't forget that he's a funny motherfucker, and should keep that up. But, yeah, that whinning for an Oscar is EALLY annoying Jimbo. And that whole "Andy Kaufman's spirt possed my soul durring Man on the Moon". What's up with that? Oh well, uhm, yeah, main point: Carrey rules. (PS - Oceans 11 looks neato.)
Aug. 17, 2001, 2:03 a.m. CST
nobody casts a movie better than him (and yes, as much as i hate to admit it, that includes julia roberts and zeta-jones in their respective flicks). but check out the depth in the supporting roles. it's always interesting looking people, of genuine character, that are just so right for the part, that have their stories written in their faces. i know "how" he shoots and edits is cool, but it's what he shoots that i really dig on.
Aug. 17, 2001, 6:33 a.m. CST
OK, I have to see these movies now. Jim Carrey's new one had me shaking, I'm now making that the movie I have to see this winter.
Aug. 17, 2001, 8:58 a.m. CST
I was also invited to this screening. I arrived an hour early. I also drove through an hour and a half of traffic (and had to rearrange my work schedule to leave early), but without the benefit of hypnosis tapes. I RSVPd the previous weekend. I gave them my age/ethnicity/phone number when I RSVPd. Now, I don't know how they run these things, but are you telling me it was FULL half an hour early?? Before they closed their doors they asked me and my girlfriend our ages (late 20s/early 30s), and then turned us away, only letting in teen agers. If my age was a problem, they should have told me when I RSVPd. Or they shouldn't have let us stand in line for half an hour. And if they really did overbook the thing, well, that's just unacceptable. An RSVP is supposed to be a good-faith reservation--you get one, and they're assuring you that you have a seat. When they hit the limit, they should have stopped taking the reservations--I mean, isn't that the whole point of the RSVP? There must've been 50-100 people in line behind me. I can understand overshooting by a little bit for last-minute cancellations, but this was friggin ridiculous. Is this standard procedure? I had to make personal sacrifices and it completely screwed up my week to fight just to get to this thing and then be rudely dismissed. If anyone has any insight into this stuff, please respond.
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