Yes, Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake is superior in every way, but the original Ocean’s 11 does have a fun party atmosphere that comes with five members of the Rat Pack (Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joey Bishop) doing their thing in a New Year’s Eve setting. Danny Ocean (Sinatra) and Jimmy Foster (Lawford) hire a gang of WWII 82nd Airborne veterans to rob five different Las Vegas casinos — the Sahara, the Riviera, the Desert Inn, the Sands and the Flamingo — on a single night. Thanks to the team being made up of mostly vets, the heist is pulled off with the precision of a military operation — that is, until their electrician (Richard Conte) drops dead of a heart attack in the middle of the Strip, and a former gangster (Cesar Romero) gets involved in recovering all of the casino bosses’ money. Ultimately an argument against cremation if there ever was one, Ocean’s 11 isn’t half as cool and clever as it thinks it is — then again, maybe it is, and we’re just not cool and clever enough to realize it.
There isn’t a more miserable day in Los Angeles than Christmas Eve in writer-director Timothy Linh Bui’s multi-character portrait of chance, tragedy and divine intervention, a film that has managed to escape complete obscurity thanks to being both Jessica Biel’s nude debut (a movie stripper that actually gets naked? The hell you say!) and the final film appearance of the late, great Patrick Swayze (who plays the sleazy owner of the club where Biel does her thing). Biel’s son is in a coma (?!) and there’s a mortician (Eddie Redmayne) who’s in love with her; meanwhile, her dad (Ray Liotta), an ex-gangster, is contemplating revenge against his colleagues, much to the chagrin of his former boss (Kris Kristofferson). Oh, there’s also a suicidal ex-priest (Forest Whitaker) who develops an unexpected bond with a tranny hooker (Alejandro Romero), too. Yeah, it’s kind of a lower-budget Crash (and Crash isn’t exactly the great film it fooled everyone into thinking it was), but Powder Blue has a sincerity that film doesn’t‚ and the sight of a topless Jessica Biel has a certain way of making your day.
Remember back when Ben Affleck was pretty much doing every half-assed movie offered to him to the point where his very presence became synonymous with both “tedium” and “overexposure” and he had to disappear for a while before re-emerging as a (rather good) film director? Reindeer Games is one of those movies. Actually, you can’t blame ol’ Ben for wanting to do this one — he got to work with director John Frankenheimer (this ended up being his final film), the twists and turns in Ehren Kruger’s ridiculous script probably at least read well on paper and he got to romp around naked with Charlize Theron in a rousing session of just-got-out-of-prison sex. All plusses in pre-production, though unfortunately this heist-gone-wrong thriller ended up being just too absurd to even qualify as a guilty pleasure, with Affleck as an ex-con getting roped into a holiday casino heist by psycho Gary Sinise and his idiot criminal pals. With so much talent both behind and in front of the camera, it’s truly a marvel (or is it a Christmas miracle?) that this thing ended up being so stupid and incompetent.
One of the supposedly worst movies ever made became one of the most popular after it appeared on a now much-beloved episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is about as stupid as a movie can get, but it also has a big stupid heart, making it difficult to dismiss it as simply a piece of bah-humbug — whether you’ve got Crow, Tom Servo and the rest of the gang making pithy comments in the bottom right corner or not. Martians kidnap Santa Claus and bring him to Mars to set up shop, but to reveal the why, the how and the what happens next of this startling sci-fi scenario would be like telling you what you got for Christmas before you opened your presents — you don’t want all of the surprises spoiled, do you (especially the harrowing polar bear attack)? This is truly something special; you’ll know if you’re up for it depending on how you react to the film’s opening shot: a pan from a television broadcasting “KID-TV” to a couple of seemingly lobotomized green-faced Martian kids watching in stoic silence. A remake has been rumored since 2000, with Jim Carrey supposedly attached to the role of Dropo, the King Martian’s assistant who ends up being the Martian Santa‚ actually, we wouldn’t mind seeing that.
Yeah, we’re talking about the Santa Claus: The Movie you’re thinking of, the one from the ’80s, and before you start making fun of it, just hold your horses (or, rather, your reindeer, buster). Yes, it’s hokey as all get-out, but you have to admit that David Huddleston (who would later portray the other Jeff Lebowski in The Big Lebowski) might be the best movie Santa ever; not only does he look the part, but he’s got the twinkle in his eye, the love in his heart and the cheer in his soul. Also, John Lithgow rules as a greedy toy company executive who conjures up a scheme to commercialize the holiday even more with a March-set “Christmas II,” and Dudley Moore as an elf is‚ well, Dudley Moore as an elf. The part of the story set in contemporary times, which involves a homeless kid who salivates and licks his lips whilst gazing into the window of a McDonald’s (ah, ’tis the season for product placement), is strictly hit-and-miss, though the film’s first act, which deals with how Santa Claus came to be and how everything involved with his mythos actually works is charming, imaginative and refreshingly earnest. There are much worse trips to the North Pole that you could take than this one.