...slick, light, breezy affairs that are easy to take if they're not taken too seriously.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

On the commentary track for "Ocean's Thirteen," director Steven Soderbergh says this is it, he's finished. He had always intended to make the "Ocean's" movies a trilogy, and he did. Which is no doubt why Warner Bros. decided to issue the three movies in a box set (SD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray). If you like them, and they're certainly frothy and jaunty enough to like, it makes a good deal, especially in high def. Let's look at them one at a time.

"Ocean's Eleven":
Soderbergh patterned his 2001 film, "Ocean's Eleven," after the original 1960 film "Ocean's 11," which had been something of a lark for the old Rat Pack, a showcase for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and their pals to have fun, swap jokes, and act cool. By contrast, the new film emphasizes plot and character over sheer star power. In fact, one of the new stars, Don Cheadle, doesn't even take credit for his performance. The result may not be a great movie, but it feels like a slightly more satisfying cinematic experience than the old version did.

Like its forebear, this new issue from Soderbergh ("Erin Brockovich," "Traffic") and producer Jerry Weintraub ("Diner," "The Karate Kid," "The Avengers") is a lighthearted heist film. Also like the earlier model, the new one features an all-star cast, and its plot is divided into three parts and an epilogue. There's nothing very new or surprising about any of it, but like an old friend it's all quite welcome and comforting.

Part one is the gathering of the team, the "eleven" of the title. These capers always need a good corps of experts, and much of the movie's time always needs to be spent getting them together. The idea man and center of the action is Danny Ocean, the old Sinatra character, this time played to winning effect by George Clooney. The actor doesn't need to do much but ooze charm, and he does so with all the glamour of an old-time movie idol. His plan is to rob three of the most profitable casinos in Las Vegas: the Bellagio, the Mirage, and the MGM Grand. On a big night, like the night of a heavyweight championship fight, the common vault contains upwards of $150,000,000. Ocean's intent is to knock it over on the night of the Lewis-Klitschko bout, when we find it's holding exactly $163,156,759! But Ocean has another reason for wanting to rob these particular casinos: They're all owned by a tough cookie named Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who is currently romancing Ocean's ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts), and Ocean is still carrying a torch.

Next up, Ocean recruits an old friend, Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), to be his right-hand man. Pitt hasn't much to do in the film except look suspiciously on his buddy's interest in the Benedict-Tess relationship, but he seems to be having a good time in the role. Now, the guys need someone to bankroll the operation, so they go to Rubin Tishkoff (Elliott Gould), the money man. Gould himself is a throwback to the old days of Hollywood and plays his part with a wonderfully overstated relish. The remainder of the crew consists of Bernie Mac as Frank Cotton, the inside man; Casey Affleck and Scott Caan as Virgil and Turk Malloy, the "Mormon Twins," goofy, always bickering getaway drivers; Eddie Jemison as Livingston Dell, an electronics whiz; Don Cheadle in the aforementioned uncredited role of Basher, the munitions expert; Shaobo Qin as "The Amazing Yen," the "Grease Man," an acrobat capable of intricate body moves; Carl Reiner as Saul Bloom, a reluctant, retired con artist; and, finally, Matt Damon as Linus, a rookie, a new kid on the block, who is recruited because his father was a big-time confidence man.

The one sour grape in the bunch is Roberts, who doesn't seem to understand that she's not playing Lady Macbeth. Every time she's in a scene, it's like a wet blanket has been thrown over the proceedings, and the tongue-in-cheek mood darkens considerably. OK, hers is a thankless job, to be sure, the only female character in the cast and a disgruntled character at that. Still, when Angie Dickinson played the part forty years before, she was more attuned to the spirit of the fun.

Part two of the film sets up the heist, and part three recounts the robbery itself, a routinely clever operation that's more intricate than a "Mission Impossible" plot. The whole thing gets sillier as it goes along, but you'll probably be conned by it, anyhow. It's no Newman/Redford "Sting," mind you, but it's playful and amusing.

The production values are high; the look of the film is rich and flashy; the music is cool, laid-back, and jazz-inflected; the editing is smoothly executed; the pacing is quick; and the gimmicks are many, from split screens to fast motion. It's a production as deft as its players.

Film Rating: 7/10

"Ocean's Twelve":
We have to get one thing clear at the outset here: 2004's "Ocean's Twelve" is not as good a heist film as 2001's "Ocean's Eleven." But it was never meant to be.

Instead, "Ocean's Twelve" is meant to be more of a throwback to the old 1960 Sinatra/rat-pack film that inspired both newer films. "Ocean's Twelve" is lighter and sillier than "Eleven," full of good-hearted camaraderie, the kind of picture where it looks like the cast is having more fun than the audience. The plot is almost inconsequential, clearly subordinate to the characters and the good time they're having. None of which means "Ocean's Twelve" is a bad movie. Indeed, in its own way I found it at least as entertaining as "Ocean's Eleven." Just don't expect quite the same thing, even though the stars and director remain the same.

Of course, no cast or director of any worth would want to duplicate a previous success in every detail, so, it's good to see Stephen Soderbergh and the actors tackle a little something different this time out. The movie won't entirely please the dedicated caper-flick fan, but it's still got its surprises along the way.

If you remember, when we left Danny Ocean and his crew of international thieves, they had just lifted $160,000,000+ from a Vegas casino vault. As we take up the story two-and-a-half years later, the casino owner, Terry Benedict, has gotten wind of who stole his money and he wants it back, with interest. Although Ocean and his buddies have all gone their separate ways by now, Benedict tracks them down, and there's nothing for the gang to do but get back together and pull off another job or two to raise the cash.

It's a wonder Soderbergh was able to reassemble the same cast, considering the sheer number of high-profile stars involved. There's Clooney, of course, plus Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, Eddie Jamison, and Shaobo Qin as the gang members. Whereas in the first movie their individual jobs were clearly identified, now they just show up. Apparently, the filmmakers are relying on our having seen the first picture to know what each person's speciality is. In addition, Andy Garcia returns as the ticked-off casino owner; and Catherine Zeta-Jones is a police detective specializing in international theft; Vincent Cassell plays Baron Francois Toulour, a rival thief who calls himself "the Night Fox"; Robbie Coltrane is a big-time crook who sets up deals; and Jeroen Krabbe is a rich mark. Then, if that weren't enough, there are several surprise guest stars who pop up in cameo roles.

If you don't catch all of what's going on in "Ocean's Twelve," don't feel bad; you're not supposed to. Soderbergh's penchant for time shifts, flashbacks and flash-forwards, semidocumentary style, and ostensibly extemporaneous acting only serve to further muddle what is already a complicated and totally preposterous plot. At one point, the gang actually raise a whole building off its foundations just to get a clear shot with a crossbow through a window. And that isn't easy when the building is several stories tall and sitting on an Amsterdam canal. I've watched this movie three times now and still don't understand everything that happens in it. I figure if I watch it again, I'll have maybe 95% of it worked out, which is probably more than the screenwriter and director could explain. The fact is, we're not expected to figure it all out. Part of the movie's fun is its absurdity.

No, nothing is simple in this film, including a bet the Night Fox makes with Ocean's gang that he can steal a fabulous Faberge egg before they can. If he wins, Ocean has to admit that the Fox is the better thief; if the Fox loses, he promises to pay back all the money Ocean and company owe to Benedict. As I said, none of it makes much sense, but it's not where the journey ends that counts but the joys of the trip itself. And this trip is a trip.

In "Ocean's Twelve" the director pokes fun at all the stars involved, even Clooney getting his share of ribs. "Do I look fifty to you?" he asks Cheadle. "Yeah," answers Cheadle. "Well, only from the neck up." Roberts and Damon needle their own movie personas, Roberts as an imitation of herself, literally, and Damon as a naive, woebegone beginner. In fact, Damon has one of the funniest scenes in the film when he's trying to converse with gangster Coltrane on a big heist deal and can't understand a word of the underworld lingo.

"Ocean's Twelve" is easygoing (think of Sinatra's old album "Nice 'N' Easy") and mostly congenial, but it may be too devoid of story or character development to satisfy every audience member. In that event, I recommend the viewer simply enjoy the sights of Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, Paris, Amsterdam, Lake Como, Rome, Monaco, and elsewhere. The movie has as much to delight the eye as it does to tickle the funny bone.

As I say, I found "Ocean's Twelve" at least as amusing as its predecessor, but I recognize that this is probably a minority opinion. The first movie seemed awfully pat to me, too much like a typical heist flick, with all its usual, logical intricacies. "Ocean's Twelve," on the other hand, is more like a family outing; that is, it's an adventure with people we know and like, people we're familiar with and can depend on. The fun comes in the casts' seemingly improvised repartee and self parody. It's all fluff, to be sure, but it's fun, harmless, and completely engaging fluff.

Film Rating: 7/10

"Ocean's Thirteen":
When the second film didn't quite live up to box-office expectations, Soderbergh decided in the third film, 2007's "Ocean's Thirteen," to tighten the plot line and add the best antagonist yet. The result for me was a mediocre picture. The fact is, I think the whole cast was just a little tired of it all by now. Nevertheless, it's not a bad movie, just a remarkably weightless one that remains appealing mainly to see so many stars in one place.

The usual suspects are in on the action: We've got Clooney as the leader of the crew, Danny Ocean. Then we've got Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, Eddie Jemison, Shaobo Qin, Andy Garcia, Eddie Izzard, Vincent Cassel, and producer Jerry Weintraub. But in this installment the filmmakers have added even more big-timers to the cast roster: Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, Julian Sands, and Oprah Winfrey among them.

The movie starts with one of the old crew up to his regular mischief, robbing a bank by burrowing through a next-door building. But there is more important business at hand: Reuben (Gould) has had a heart attack. It seems that Reuben invested all of his considerable fortune in a Las Vegas casino, partnering with a big-shot billionaire snake named Willie Bank (Pacino). They intended to call the casino the Midas, with each man a joint owner, but Bank double-crossed him, leaving him with nothing. Bank even changed the name of the place to the Bank Casino, and it was enough to put poor Reuben into a coma.

One thing you know from watching these buddy movies is that you don't do dirty to one of the gang. These friends stick together, work together, and get even together. So Ocean and his pals set out to ruin Bank by bankrupting his new casino and stealing his most prized possession, a case full of diamonds awarded to him for opening some of the biggest, most-fabulous hotels on the planet.

And that's it. In the movie's favor, Clooney is as suave as ever. I'm guessing the guy was born in a tuxedo. Here's one of his best exchanges: Willie Bank threatens him, saying, "This town might have changed, but not me. I know people highly invested in my survival, and they are people who really know how to hurt in ways you can't even imagine." Danny casually responds, "Well, I know all the guys that you'd hire to come after me, and they like me better than you." The movie has several other good, humorous lines like this one, but if it had even more, it would have been funnier.

Matt Damon as the nerdy Linus Caldwell gets a juicy bit late in the picture, and Andy Garcia as Ocean's mark in the previous picture comes back to join the team. Remember, Garcia plays a rival casino owner who has as much to gain by Bank's downfall as anybody. However, the other returning stars don't get much space. Poor Brad Pitt hardly shows his face, and when he does, it's often in disguise, and Julia Roberts isn't even in it.

Making up for it are Pacino and Barkin. Pacino does the full Pacino, a wonderful villain of a character, his Bank all ego, pomp, arrogance, and bluster. Bank tells us he owns more of Nevada than anybody in history, and he won't let us forget it. For all we know, he owns the Corleone estate on Lake Tahoe. What's more, he tells us he never, ever, loses. Which makes him all the better to bring down. And Barkin, as his right-hand man, er, woman, Abagail Sponder, is ruthlessly cold and efficient; plus at fifty-three she's still dead sexy.

Nevertheless, in tightening up the plot to a single hit on a single mark, the movie rather diminishes everything else. Gone is most of the humorous interplay found in the previous films, replaced by loads of high-tech gadgetry, absurd split-second timing, and ludicrously precise coincidences. I mean, by the time Ocean and his crew are bringing in the tunnel-drilling equipment used to connect England and France under the English Channel, with nobody noticing, you begin to wonder if maybe the filmmakers haven't strayed just a little off course.

Consequently, "Ocean's Thirteen" is all about the scam, its new focus leaving very little room for twists or turns or character relationships. I missed the old silliness.

Film rating: 6/10

The HD picture quality varies in the three movies because director Soderbergh decided on different color palettes for each one. Warner Bros. present each movie in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, and each uses a VC-1 codec for the transfer. The first movie, "Ocean's Eleven," is the best-looking of the three. The image is very crisp most of the time, very clean, very clear, free from excessive grain or digital oddities, but a touch soft on occasion. There are still a few touches of the director's choice of curiously muted tones, murky night club interiors, and bizarre, flashy casino rooms to contend with, but it comes off pretty well, nonetheless. The colors fit the tone and mood of the story's settings, and the transfer does them justice.

The second movie, "Ocean's Twelve," continues in HD to veer wildly all over the map. Some of the images are clear and sharp, while others are vague and fuzzy; some of the color is bright and deep, while other hues are muted and glassy. Although black levels are strong, skin tones and scene colorations vary. Much of the time, faces are too dark and orangish, while grain comes and goes, and object detail, although well delineated in high-def, is lost in shadow. I'm sure Soderbergh intended all of this, but it becomes a little distracting anyhow.

The third movie, "Ocean's Thirteen," is the hardest to rate because Soderbergh seems to have gone more out of his way than ever to make it look as unnatural as possible. Or, conversely, the director went out of his way to make the movie look as much as possible like a garish 1960s' flick, with bright, oversaturated colors. When my reviewer friend Eddie Feng watched it in HD, he said it looked like the director "had photographed it through urine." Perhaps an exaggeration, but another reviewer friend, seeing the movie for the first time, told me he thought his television might have gone haywire. But no. The HD DVD transfer is probably as good as the engineers could make it and probably replicates the appearance of the original film print pretty well. Still, I found Soderbergh's look for this film more distracting than ever, even annoying. Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly a good transfer of what I found troublesome source material.

On the positive side, the HD transfer for "Thirteen" reproduces solid black levels and color depth. On the negative side, the opening shots are dark and grainy, with faces looking reddish orange; then a moment later we get a daylight shot, and things are just as odd, the darkness and grain remaining. The fact is, as I say, Soderbergh chose to use a gaudy color palette to remind us of the glitz and neon of Las Vegas, and he also appears to favor a high degree print grain. So that's what we get: Lots of dark, bright, oversaturated, neon-highlighted hues, mostly the reds, yellows, and oranges of the 60s, and more than little grain. Since this one's a Combo disc, on the standard-definition side the delineation is somewhat soft; on the HD DVD side, there is no question the 1080 resolution improves things. Although the HD subdues the grain somewhat, it has little effect lessening the flashy colors, which apparently is exactly what the director wanted. Overall, whether you're looking at the SD or HD version, the picture quality is not exactly what you would call realistic or true-to-life. Then again, neither is the movie, so I suppose that's the point.

As far as the audio goes, the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 on the three discs may not sound much different to the average listener than regular Dolby Digital 5.1. The DD+ improves midrange clarity, of course, which is where it counts in films that are almost pure dialogue, but it still doesn't do much with the rear channels because there isn't much surround there to begin with. From time to time, one notices the sound of a car pulling off into the distance, the ambient noise of a gambling hall, the reverberation of background music, or the occasional pyrotechnic effect. Well, the various explosions come off well.

The three discs contain very similar bonus items. All of them come with ample scene selections (but no chapter inserts); theatrical trailers; English, French, Spanish, and Japanese spoken languages (except on "Ocean's Thirteen," which omits Japanese); English, French, Spanish, and Japanese subtitles (except on "Ocean's Thirteen," which includes English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Korean); and English captions for the hearing impaired. Their additional bonus items are in standard definition. Naturally, they also contain pop-up menus, bookmarks, a guide to elapsed time, a zoom-and-pan feature, and Elite Red HD cases.

The specific extras on "Ocean's Eleven" include, first, an audio commentary with stars Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, and Brad Pitt and, second, another audio commentary with director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Ted Griffin. Third, there's a fifteen-minute, documentary from HBO called "The Making of Ocean's Eleven," which is self-explanatory, and, fourth, there's a ten-minute documentary called "The Look of the Con," which explores the movie's costumes and makeup. Lastly, there are two brief teaser trailers and one longer widescreen trailer.

There were hardly any bonus materials on WB's standard-definition version of "Ocean's Twelve," but here on HD DVD we get a few more things. First up is an audio commentary by director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter George Nolfi. Second, we have eighteen additional scenes in anamorphic widescreen totalling over twenty-eight minutes. Third, there's a thirteen-minute, making-of featurette, "HBO First Look: Twelve Is the New Eleven." And, finally, there's a widescreen, non-anamorphic theatrical trailer.

"Ocean's Thirteen" is an HD DVD and DVD Combo disc, and there are two bonuses exclusive to the high-definition side. The first is an audio commentary by director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien. Their give-and-take is reminiscent of the "Ocean's" movies themselves--casual, witty, self-deprecating, amusing, and entertaining. Incidentally, as I mentioned in the beginning, Soderbergh says that this movie is it; he always meant the "Ocean's" films as a trilogy, beginning and ending in Las Vegas, and he won't do another one. Fair enough. The second exclusive is a forty-four-minute documentary, "Masters of the Heist: Recalling Real-Life Sophisticated Heists." It chronicles four real-life thefts, with Penn and Teller among others explaining who did them and how they did them.

In addition, there are several other items you will find on both sides of the "Ocean's Thirteen" disc. The first is a twenty-two-minute featurette, "Vegas: An Opulent Illusion," which purports to be a history and overview of the city and its unique attractions but comes off more like a promotional from the Las Vegas Tourist Bureau. The second extra is a two-and-a-half-minute featurette, "Jerry Weintraub Walk and Talk," in which the movie's producer takes us on a brief tour of the movie's sets. The third major extra is a series of five additional (deleted or extended) scenes, lasting about four-and-a-half minutes.

Parting Thoughts:
The "Ocean's" movies are slick, light, breezy affairs that are easy to take if they're not taken too seriously. Clooney pretty much carries all three movies, and he proves he's the closest thing we've got right now to a Clark Gable or Cary Grant. All in all, these shows may only be middling caper flicks, but they're a step beyond what passes for entertainment in most other movies these days. In high-def, they're better than ever.


Film Value