One to Grow On

Ocean's 13 is not a lucky number

Movie Guru

by Brad Case

One thing is for certain: There will be no Ocean's 14 . And that's not only because star George Clooney and director Stephen Soderbergh say so. While watching the chocked-to-the-nines mini-epic unfold, this becomes blatantly obvious. Screenwriters Brian Koppelmann and David Levien struggle mightily to squeeze something fresh out of a formula that was really tapped out after the first installment: 2002's Ocean's 11 . But unlike many sequels that have been generated past their expiration date, Ocean's 13 is ultimately palatable.

What works about the film is due in no small part to the dynamite chemistry of Clooney and co-star Brad Pitt, who can now rightfully claim rival to Robert Redford and Paul Newman in the buddy-picture hall of fame. This dynamic duo heads the encore cast, all back once again to engage in more mischief.  

The set-up, patently forced this go-round, has Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould) being swindled out of his share of a hot new casino on the Vegas strip by villain du jour Willie Bank (Al Pacino, chewing the scenery as only he can). This is more than Reuben's fragile heart can take, and he winds up comatose. In a chivalrous display of honor amongst thieves, Danny Ocean (Clooney) and the boys come to the rescueâ"not for personal grandeur, but rather, for sweet revenge. So it's game on.  

There is no usual round-up-the-troops scene, as all these guys seem to pal around together now like fraternity brothers. With Ocean and Rusty (Pitt) as the masterminds, each is tasked to employ his own unique brand of hi-jinks to construct the grand scheme. Though the principles have only numerically increased by one (British comic Eddie Izzard is added as Roman Nagel), the amount of scenarios, subplots and peripherally relevant characters has grown exponentially. As a matter of fact, there is so much going on throughout, there is little time to process how silly and unfeasible practically every aspect of the swindle is. But no matterâ"Soderbergh once again executes his story with style and pizzazz and at such a breakneck pace that we don't really care.

It's the sense that everyone is having such a gas that keeps alive what was so engaging about the Rat Pack's initial foray in the 1960 original. The charm and charisma of the actors (Frank, Dino, and Sammy, et al.) transformed what was a sloppy little caper film into a cult classic. The same has been the case in the first two installments of the redux, and it's no different here. All the players have grown comfortable in their roles, with some really distinguishing themselves. Linus (Matt Damon) is given a lot more to do, and as a result, the actor is allowed ample opportunity to sharpen his comic chops. Turk (Scott Caan) and Virgil Maloy (Casey Affleck) provide some of the film's most inspired bits, and play off each other almost as naturally as Pitt and Clooney. Bernie Mac is always funny, even if underused. Even Shaobo Qin, who never speaks a word of English, has his moments.  

Blatantly missing from the gang, however, is any central female presence, as Tess (Julia Roberts) and Isabel (Catherine Zeta Jones), integral parts of the team in Ocean's 11 and 12 , are nowhere to be found. This becomes more puzzling when even the previous film's baddie Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) makes a brilliant cameo. In their place, Ellen Barkin, (who hasn't done a star turn in over a decade) fills the void as Pacino's confident right-hand Abigail Sponder. It's a thankless role, but Barkin delivers on the little she is given, and if nothing else, serves as a model for aging gracefully in Hollywood.

And Father Time also weighs in as a player. Clooney was quoted in a recent article as not wanting to do Danny Ocean with a walker. And though the principals are far from over the hill, they do seem to be getting a bit long in the tooth in these roles. They still look good, dress sharp, engage in witty banter, but it doesn't feel quite as effortless as it once did.

During the film's epilogue, Ocean bids farewell to Rusty by saying, â“Why don't you settle down and have a few kidsâ.â” This could be interpreted as a friendly jab at Pitt and Angelina Jolie's adoption follies, or it could be a way of saying, â“We need to move on, chief.â” You be the judge.

Ultimately it's not the players that have sealed the series' fate. Dramatically speaking, this well has run dry. In craps, it's impossible to roll higher than 12. That should have been a clue. The gang gives it their best shot, but it's time to cash in their chips.

Movie Guru Rating:

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Not-So-Grumpy Old Men

Some subjects are nearly impossible to touch without leaving the viewer queasy. One of those topics is the relationship between an attractive young woman and a senior citizen. Venus (2006) is safe even for the weak stomached. It's a tasteful examination of a life coming to an end, as well as a close look at an abnormal relationship.

Leading man Maurice is late into his 70s, he's a semi-famous actor, and he's undergoing prostate surgery that will make him impotent. Maurice's longtime friend, Ian, is looking for someone to take care of him and cook his meals, and so he calls on his 20-something niece, Jessie, to come stay with him, in hopes that she will fulfill all his needs. Jessie is brash, rude, and most revolting to Ian, incapable of cooking anything more than macaroni and cheese.

Though Ian detests her, Maurice and Jessie quickly form a kind of bond, one formulated with mutual respect as well a degree of attraction, though there's certainly more attraction coming from Maurice than there is from Jessie.

What makes Jessie and Maurice's relationship so poignant and so refreshing is Jessie's backbone and tenacity. Maurice is much older, suave, and well known in the acting business, but Jessie never entirely falls for his charms. The Roman goddess Venus was known as the goddess of sexual healing, and Maurice's Venus heals him in ways even he doesn't expect.

The cast is what makes this film as touching and complex as it is. Leslie Phillips is brilliant as Ian. Peter O'Toole, a veteran actor of dozens of films and plays, brings the character of Maurice both gravity and gaiety in this role that requires so much of both. Relative screen newcomer Jodie Whittaker is also excellent, beautifully conveying toughness, along with a touch of vulnerability, that lets Maurice into a place no men have been able to reach. Their friendship is a perfectly symbiotic relationship, as unlikely and repulsive as it may first seem.   

â" Lisa Slade

 

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