Hello and Happy Friday, everyone, and welcome to Weekend Movie Brawls!
Here, we take an in-depth look at films with similar themes or stories and we pit them against each other in a competition based on their merits. For example, it can be two animated films of the same type, two films which take place during a certain time period, two films with similar plots or an original film versus its remake.
The reason we make this a weekend thing is because when else might you have the time and energy to relax and see something you haven’t seen before?
On hot nights, in dark shadowy streets, bad things are done. Last week, we did car heists and examined the two “Gone in 60 Seconds” films. This week, we’re doing modern heist films which involve the art of the con…in a four-way battle for the top spot!
Let’s meet our competitors…
In this corner…
1) OCEAN’S ELEVEN (2001)
A remake of the 1960’s Rat Pack classic, Danny Ocean (played, this time, by George Clooney) engineers a plan to rob three Las Vegas casinos during a big fight night at the MGM Grand. His long-time friend, Rusty (Brad Pitt) is reluctant but isn’t entirely opposed and the two work together to assemble of diverse team of con-men, thieves, and hackers in order to pull it off — but things get complicated once Danny’s old flame, Tess (Julia Roberts) — and her new boyfriend, the owner of one of the casinos Ocean is planning to rob, come into play. Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
In corner #2…
2) CONFIDENCE (2003)
When Jake Vig (Edward Burns) and his crew con a man out of a briefcase full of cash, they figure out that the money actually belonged to a local crime lord named “The King” (Dustin Hoffman) and he’s none to happy about it. When one of Vig’s crew is murdered in cold blood by The King’s men, Vig figures it’s only a matter of time before he and his entire crew share the same fate, and he proposes the idea of working with The King to recover his money in order to get out of trouble…but things get interesting once his mark catches on to the scheme — and Vig’s long-time nemesis gets close to nabbing Jake after years of chasing him. Directed by James Foley.
In corner #3…
3) NOW YOU SEE ME (2013)
Four illusionists known as “The Four Horsemen” find themselves at odds with the F.B.I. and another illusionist as they they seemingly pull off bank heists during their shows — and fork the money they steal over to their audience. But, as the authorities close in, they find that bank heists are simply the tip of the iceberg and the crew’s biggest trick is yet to come. Directed by Louis Leterrier.
…and, in corner #4…
4) HEIST (2001)
After Joe Moore (Gene Hackman) ends up on camera during a somewhat botched heist, he decides to retire from a life of crime with his wife (Rebecca Pidgeon) and sail away to the Tropics. This doesn’t sit well with his fence, Mickey (Danny DeVito) who withholds Joe’s payment for the botched heist until he agrees to pull one last job: robbing a Swiss Airliner of its cargo of gold, which Joe reluctantly agrees to…but he has a few tricks up his sleeve. Directed by David Mamet.
The scoring in Weekend Movie Brawls is simple. There are five categories: music, casting, writing, production (which includes design, costumes, make-up, etc), and direction. Each of these will be awarded a letter grade, from A to F. As in school, each of these letter grades has a number associated to it. An “A” is worth 4 points, “B” is 3 points, “C” is 2 points, “D” is 1 point and “F” is worth nothing. The highest score wins.
The final scoring will not be revealed until the end of the contest.
In the event of a tie at the end of a brawl, the winner will be decided via a playoff round at a later date.
And, as always, THERE MIGHT BE SPOILERS, so if you haven’t seen these films, get out of here while you still can.
If you’re still game for this, read on!
Electronic Funk/Jazz Hip-Hop maestro David Holmes was the guy doing the music here and his score is gorgeous, fusing old school with the news school. Here, you’ll find instrumental jazz elements such as the xylophone, bass, bongos, and brushed symbols mixed in with downtempo funk and quick, playful beats and electronic keyboard effects. This is, at times, seamlessly interspersed with sneaky, classy cuts from Arthur Lyman, Percy Faith, and Quincy Jones. The result is a pseudo-retro blast which matches the hip, easy-going attitude of Ocean’s team, the swingin’ Vegas atmosphere. (SAMPLE: “Rodney Yates” by David Holmes from the film.)
Not to be outdone, Christophe Beck provides a similar experience — but ditches the retro jazzy aspects from Holmes, giving us a score which features a little more of a modern orchestral feel with a downtempo chill/house edge to it. The soundtrack seems a bit too hip and electronic at times but it’s still very good and fits the neo-noir aspects of the film beautifully. (SAMPLE: “All About the Money” by Christophe Beck)
NOW YOU SEE ME
Brian Tyler gets scoring duties here. I’ve been a huge fan of his work since “Bubba Ho-tep”. His work on “Now You See Me” is fun to listen to with strings front and center in the orchestra accompanied by big brass horns and big, heavy drums. It matches the grandiose setting and reputation of The Four Horsemen but also is a bit Bill Conti-esque. Not that that’s a bad thing. Conti is great but it comes across as over-produced at times, and the liberal use of drums take a good score and make it sound like Conti playing somebody’s music when Oscar hosts are walking to the podium. That, and there’s nothing memorable past the main theme. (SAMPLE: Brian Tyler’s main score for “Now You See Me”)
Theodore Shapiro scores “Heist” and the main theme reminds one a bit of what Holmes did with “Ocean’s Eleven” but it’s not that, exactly. It’s an action score, reminiscent of an old 70’s crime film. Shapiro’s score sounds mostly electronic rather than “live” but what’s here is really quite good. (SAMPLE: “Love of Gold” by Theodore Shapiro)
Holy shit, this thing is impeccably cast. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia, and Julia Roberts are the main stars and even the B-team shines with Carl Reiner, the late Bernie Mack, Elliot Gould, Scott Caan, Casey Affleck, and Eddie Jemison killing it in their roles. These aren’t Oscar-worthy performances, mind you, but the star power alone carries the sucker and nobody is bad in their role. Everyone’s fun here.
The cast is different but no less great. Edward Burns is the lead while Paul Giamatti and Brian Van Holt play Burns’ teammates. Frankie G and Rachel Weisz are the two add-ons and when they play together, you believe them. The mere look they have (wearing business suits throughout much of the film) just adds a sense of professional style and each actor has personality. The villains in the film are also beautifully cast in the great Dustin Hoffman and his bodyguard played by Tim Lister and, damn, there’s Robert Forster and Morris Chestnut playing the marks while character actors Luis Guzman and Donal Logue play two cops on the take…who work with a bent FBI agent in Andy Garcia. Once again, NOT Oscar performances, but performances fitting of the film.
NOW YOU SEE ME
The cast includes Jessie Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco as the “Four Horsemen”…and they’re decent in their roles. Eisenberg and Fisher shine more than Harrelson and Franco do mainly because Harrelson and Franco seem so laid back next to the two of them. Mark Ruffalo plays “Cop Role #17” which is comprised of getting frustrated at every turn by the Horsemen while Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine appear in thankless roles as two people who end up on the wrong end of the Horsemen’s wrath. Still, everyone here is good. They just suffer from a questionable script.
60 percent of the main cast of “Get Shorty” is here. You can’t go wrong with Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito as the two big stars. Both are veterans and both play off each other extremely well. Delroy Lindo and the late Ricky Jay play Hackman’s partners in crime here and they’re also outstanding. The cast is rounded out by Sam Rockwell and Rebecca Pidgeon, the latter of which is aggravatingly icy at times in terms of her performance. This isn’t a new thing. I’ll just get this out of the way: she’s the wife of the film’s director and has made appearances in a bunch of his movies. She’s beautiful in the film and reminds me a bit of Marie Windsor in Kubrick’s “The Killing”…but, boy, she’s robotic and recites her lines with almost no emotion. In any case, she still works here and the film’s acting is superb.
This may be the only weak spot of the picture. Ted Griffin would pen the script and it has some fun moments and witty dialogue and I DO love that the con is on for over half the picture as Clooney and his team have to infiltrate Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) and his casinos so that they can rob them. The main issue I have is how ludicrous it all is when you step back and think about it: at one point, the boys realize that a main chute they need to traverse is guarded by laser tripwires which will alert security to intruders. The crew already has magical equipment that re-directs calls from Benedict’s men to 911 directly to Ocean’s hackers…but they can’t find a way to cut the power without the use of an EMP?! Which they have to steal from a high-tech lab?! A lab which should be heavily fortified and guarded by the military being that THERE’S AN EMP DEVICE INSIDE?! If you’re not familiar with this, it’s basically a machine with generates an Electromagnetic Pulse which is supposed to knock out all electrical power for good until the entire grid can by physically repaired by electricians and engineers. Except the machine’s effects only work for about ten seconds before everything in Vegas is restored and all the cars that would be stuck in traffic are suddenly working and moving again. It’s just silly stuff. As is the sub-plot with Ocean getting his ass kicked by a street thug hired by Benedict…who also happens to work for Ocean and who has to cover for Ocean when he goes on the heist anyhow after being ex-communicado by Rusty (Brad Pitt). Luckily, the witty attitude and the heist are fun to watch but the plot holes are ridiculous.
Doug Jung wrote “Confidence” and I have no idea why he doesn’t get more work. He would go on to write “Star Trek Beyond” and “The Cloverfield Paradox” and…nevermind. I just answered my own question. This, in my opinion, was his opus. A film full of likable characters who always have the answer to everything and know what to do about it all. Jung’s script is told from Jake’s perspective as he tells the tale of the events which led up to his being held at gunpoint by his mark’s bodyguard. There are so many great lines in the film as he reveals his thoughts about life and the art of the con. He tells you everything you need to know in the first five minutes of the film, revealing that a confidence game is “like a play where everyone knows their part…except for the mark.” It becomes clear, quite quickly, that Jake knows EXACTLY what he’s doing at all times and that even though it comes down to “dumb fucking luck” at times, he leaves nothing to chance, telling the audience that, in Chess, a good player sees “20 moves deep” to the point where they’ve already beaten their opponent before the game has started and that pulling a con is the same: you have to see that deep. This is beautifully juxtaposed with Vig putting in a good performance in front of The King’s muscle in “Lupus” (I kid you not, that’s his name in the film) and while he deals directly with his mark on the phone. Every single time you think something’s gone horribly wrong, things end up all right. It’s a satisfying script.
NOW YOU SEE ME
If you thought “Ocean’s Eleven” was ludicrous, “Now You See Me” will drive you insane. Three writers are credited here and only one of them seems to have any clout. The plot (four street magicians/illusionists are brought together by an unknown benefactor for reasons that aren’t entirely clear until they achieve their one big heist) is intriguing but the execution is not very good and smacks of too many cooks in the kitchen. The opening is promising, introducing us to each of the magicians and their magic skills but everything beyond that seems so silly. They’re a popular act — but they pull jobs in full view of the public and willingly attract suspicion at every turn? The authorities can’t ever find these guys? Woody Harrelson can literally control the minds of ANYONE and make them do ANYTHING to the point of subduing people with his skills? It’s a lot of fun and the movie is slick but it’s also uneven and gets just a touch serious at times.
David Mamet wrote his own movie. The dude is a Pulitzer Prize winning author who won it for “Glengarry Glen Ross”, one of the most fantastic achievements in the entire stage world. The film was even better. His film, “House of Games” is an absolute noir-masterpiece, evoking Hitchcock and the films of Cary Grant. “Heist” is a GOOD script, not great. The dialogue and the way it’s written are very much Mamet-esque. The main complaint I have is how stilted some of it is and how puzzling it goes out of its way to be, to the point where it gets ridiculous and writes itself into a corner. Fran’s character arc is one of these and you’ll be wondering, like I did, why she would even go out of her way to physically seduce a guy at the odd request of her husband AND end up with him. Still, this is a good script and nowhere near as convoluted as “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Now You See Me”.
This is a big, handsome production with Steve Soderbergh at the helm. Beautiful, honest photography like he had in “Out of Sight” and “Traffic”. The music is beautiful here with lots of class and style and a great cast. Everyone seems to have a lot of fun and the movie is a blast despite a weak script.
This is neo-noir at its finest. James Foley casts his characters in shadow and color as he did when he directed David Mamet’s aforementioned “Glengarry Glen Ross”. Foley entices his audience with pure style and shots of his attractive cast as they walk the city streets like they own them. You feel like you want to be a part of this team and the script is extremely sharp.
NOW YOU SEE ME
It’s a big magic show which builds to its final act. The problem is that it can’t decide whether it’s a heist film or an action film. It’s also puzzling that, while their casting is much welcomed, why Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are almost absolutely wasted in the film. Plus, the ultimate reveal is one you might actually see coming. It’s not a bad film. It’s well-shot and the acting is decent but the flaws will easily outweigh the good points of the film if you stop and think about things.
It feels like classic Hollywood. There’s maybe an explosion or two but the film is all acting and storytelling. Even the opening utilizes a black-and-white version of the Warner Brothers logo and features the old matching score to go with it. It’s a simple production and that’s all it needs to be.
Steven Soderbergh is the director on the picture and ever since he re-invented himself with 1998’s “Out of Sight”, crime films have been where he excels. His direction is so good, you won’t even mind the weak script. His photography is artsy with liberal use of rich color pallets and surrounding audio. He knows how to set a scene and he does well keeping everything focused with a cast that would be far too big for any other director to handle.
It drives me absolutely fucking NUTS that this is the same man who directed two of the last three “Fifty Shades” film. He directed “Confidence” and the superb “Glengarry Glen Ross”, then goes and does the terrible “Perfect Stranger”, then recovers with TV work — then goes and does “Fifty Shades” and — I can’t. Nope. At least he had this and GGR. This is one of his two masterpieces. Foley directs a modern noir picture with a great cast and slick plotting from his screenwriter and he comes up with the second-best film of his career.
NOW YOU SEE ME
Louis Leterrier did the severely underrated “The Incredible Hulk” with Ed Norton before this. Then he went on to do “The Brothers Grimsby” after it. Thankfully, he’s on his way again with the new “The Dark Crystal” series. Here, he directs a fairly slick film with a very streamlined, high-tech look. It’s a beautiful movie to look at with clean photography and sense of mystery…if only he wasn’t working with such a shitty script.
Mamet does crime film noir. It’s great. What else can I say? His blocking of actors and use of sound is gorgeous as he opts to keep his Heist bits silent. Even his gun battles, much like Michael Mann, are realistic. This might be his last best film.
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James Foley’s “Confidence” pulls a bit of an upset this week by besting a fantastic writer/director in David Mamet and a heavyweight in Steven Soderbergh. “Heist” was hot on its heels and was almost on par if it hadn’t tried to turn so many corners that didn’t end up making much sense. Despite all this, it was a horse race throughout the contest with “Confidence” hitting the big buckets when it needed to.
NEXT WEEK: It’s hotter than hell. Over 100 degrees where I live…and we’re gonna get hotter next week. It’s Ladies Night here at the Brawl…and we’re pitting The Full Monty against Magic Mike…be sure to bring your singles and come back to us!