[Movie Review] Ocean's Eleven

Ocean's ElevenStarring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 12
Released: 2001

We love throwing out the phrase “ensemble cast”. It gives you this great feeling of value for money if you go and see a movie with an ensemble cast. It normally means that you will see a picture with more than one or two significant, recognizable characters. Director, Steven Soderbergh, has used an ensemble cast before, namely in his Oscar winning movie, “Traffic”. In his remake of the 1960s Rat-pack crime movie “Oceans Eleven”, he brings an ensemble cast to the screen once again.

Danny Ocean (Clooney – “Solaris”, “Welcome to Collingwood”, “The Perfect Storm”) has been released from a New Jersey prison ready to abide by his parole terms and become a good citizen. For about fifteen minutes. He tracks down his old crime buddy Rusty Ryan (Pitt – “Troy”, “Spy Game”, “The Mexican”, “Snatch”) in California, and asks him to join him on the biggest heist ever – three casinos in Las Vegas. Not just any old casinos though – the MGM Grand, Bellagio and Mirage – all owned by the extremely slick Terry Benedict (Garcia – “Desperate Measures”, “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead”, “Accidental Hero”).

To pull such a job, Ryan and Ocean work out that they will need eleven guys in total. Amongst them are croupier Frank (Bernie Mac), experienced conman Saul (Carl Reiner), a Chinese acrobat (Shaobo Qin), computer guru brothers Virgil and Turk (Casey Affleck and Scott Caen) and sly pickpocket, Linus (Damon – “The Bourne Identity”, “Jersey Girl”, “Finding Forrester”, “Good Will Hunting”).#

Financially backed by the self-motivated Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould – “American History X”, “The Big Hit”), the entourage make their way to Las Vegas and begin the planning of the elaborate crime. And everything goes to plan until Rusty happens to see a beautiful lady called Tess (Roberts – “Erin Brockovich”, “Runaway Bride”, “Michael Collins”, “Notting Hill”) in the casino. Now he’s worried?

Yes, it is an ensemble cast. And I haven’t even mentioned the un-credited Don Cheadle.

Steven Soderbergh has taken on a moderately-received Frank Sinatra vehicle from 1960 and turned it in to one of the more enjoyable Hollywood romps in recent years. Criticism is hard to level at any part of the movie. From the excellent cast, albeit with a rather bland turn from Brad Pitt, to the witty script and dialogue, to the genuinely exciting plot progression, “Oceans Eleven” remains addictive viewing right to the end.

The casting is excellent. Clooney once again pulls out a great performance as the charismatic conman who manages to somehow keep control of his motley crew. Carl Reiner amuses, Cheadle is hilarious, Damon does his job well and Garcia is thankfully used sparingly but to good effect. There’s little depth to the characters save for the obvious, black and white presentation of Ocean and Benedict.

Ocean is the typical fraudster who lies, cheats and steals his way through life but in the main is a good guy who will look out for you. Benedict is sleazy, slimy and money-grabbing despite his misleading “sharp-dressed man” appearance. Who are you going to cheer for?

Soderbergh has calmed down on the irritating symbolism that raped his 2000 movie “Traffic”. He goes straightforward here save for the odd split screen. And it works brilliantly. The movie bristles along at break-neck speed so even the duller scenes don’t hang around for long and there’s no narrative slowing down the pace.

The plot is somewhat contrived and unlikely with some rather convenient situations unraveling to help the great plan unfold. You can’t imagine anyone being able to plan a robbery to the extent that Ocean has managed to. But even so, suspension of disbelief can be applied and all is well.

With a sequel on the way (“Oceans Twelve”…ahem), one might shuffle uncomfortably but if Soderbergh repeats the formula and introduces a character with a new dynamic, we could be in for another winner.

As it is “Oceans Eleven” is unmissable Hollywood fare.

4halfstar

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[Movie Review] Solaris

SolarisStarring: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Viola Davis, Jeremy Davies
Director: Steven Soderberg
Genre: Sci-Fi
Cert: 15
Released: 2002

Not all successful directors are that prolific. Steven Soderbergh is bucking that trend with a string of hits – “Erin Brockovich”, “Traffic”, “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Solaris”. It’s now a case of checking your watch sometime in June and noting that it’s about time for a Soderbergh hit.

“Solaris” is set some time in the future although it is not specifically explained when it is. Chris Kelvin (Clooney – “Oceans Eleven”, “Intolerable Cruelty”, “The Perfect Storm”, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) is a psychologist who, for reasons unknown to us at the start, is going through something of a tough time. He is sent to a space station that is orbiting the planet Solaris to help investigate why several people on board have committed suicide.

When he gets there he finds two survivors, Snow (Davies – “Saving Private Ryan”, “Twister”) and Gordon (Davis – “Kate & Leopold”, “Traffic”, “Out of Sight”), both seeming unwilling to talk about what has happened on board.

But that night, he finds out why they are so freaked out. When in bed he is visited by his wife, Rheya (McElhone – “FeardotCom”, “Ronin”, “The Truman Show”), who had died on earth. When he tells Gordon she explains that everyone has experienced the same thing – a visit from someone in their past who has died and whom they miss. Solaris is reading minds and bringing the space stations inhabitants memories to life. Chris refuses to see it as a curse and embraces his wife’s return but Gordon tells him that Rheya is not human and that he must leave her behind when they return to earth.

It would be a mistake to focus too much on the plot and storyline of “Solaris”. Not that it’s weak but because the main strengths of the movie are in the performance of Clooney and the directorial class of Soderbergh.

Clooney has helped cultivate his image as a quality actor, not just through his role choices, but because he really can deliver on screen. In “Solaris” he plays the withdrawn and emotionally battered Chris Kelvin with total precision. We see his happier days during flashbacks and can easily plot the course of how he got from A to B. When his wife returns to his side on Solaris, he can finally make amends for his mistakes.

As a psychological tool, the practically empty space station is the ideal setting. Soderbergh uses long periods of silence to intensify the feeling of isolation, loss and grief and the perfectly placed flashbacks give us enough of the backbone of the story to understand just why Rheya’s return is so heart-wrenching for Chris. Clooney?s very screen presence is a great driver of those quieter moments on screen ? somewhat like Billy Bob Thornton?s turn in “The Man Who Wasn?t There”.

The mood is downbeat throughout. Even when the story focuses on Rheya and Chris and the setting switches to the outdoors, it’s always raining, tingeing their burgeoning love with an almost inevitable sadness.

The primary drive of the movie is Soderbergh?s study of the protagonist?s mental states. Snow is a consistently anxious individual. Gordon is intelligent and pragmatic but even her sound mind is shaken by events. Chris? emotions force him to discard his normally practical mindset and he behaves in a way he would discourage in his patients.

No, “Solaris” isn’t the be-all and end-all of psychological drama. But it is a strong and intriguing analysis of the mind, and how the heart can rule the head.

3halfstar

[Movie Review] O Brother, Where Art Thou?

O Brother, Where Art Thou?Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, John Goodman, Tim Blake Nelson, Charles Durning, Holly Hunter
Director: Joel Coen
Genre: Comedy
Cert: 15
Released: 2000

Sentenced to hard labour for a daring armoured car robbery, Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney), convinces fellow convicts Pete (Turturro) and Delmar (Nelson) to escape with him and find the loot that he hid after the robbery. Their progress to the treasure is slowed by a number of quirky characters in front of them, while behind them are a ferocious group of Mississippi lawmen whose sniffer dogs are able to follow the trail of Everett?s empty hair wax tins.

Desptie numerous setbacks, they make it to Everett?s town, and he gets a surprise when he finds that his wife (Hunter) has told his seven kids that he was killed by a train, and she is set to re-marry the next day. Everett needs to move fast to win his wife back, but can he rely on Pete and Delmar after they discover his ulterior motives for breaking out of jail?

Some people shrug their shoulders when they watch a Coens movie and wonder what all the fuss is about. But the brothers have the ability to do the little things well, and it is these little things which add up to deliver so many enjoyable filems. Take the inspired casting of Clooney. His delightfully accomplished delivery of hilarious lines (?you two are just dumber than a bag of hammers?, or when asked why he is in charge he replies ?I figured it should be the one with the capacity for abstract thought. But if that ain’t the consensus view, then hell, let’s put it to a vote?) means he is often the scene-stealer.

The simple-man acts of Turturro and Nelson might have normally been grating, but both come up trumps with quality turns. But as usual the whole cast shines. Michael Badalucco is starting to make a name for himself thanks to the Coens, and his outrageous over-stated bank robber character is memorable. Charles Durning is briliant as hateful political hopeful, Pappy O?Daniel, and it?s no surprise to see John Goodman sparkle in his brief turn as a bible salesman.

The pace is frenetic from start to finish, and any time there is a slow down to accommodate any reflective moments, it does so in the fun spirit of the movie. Sometimes you feel like you are watching a 2001 version of the Three Stooges, and that’s as high praise as I think you can get! Inventive as ever, casted perfectly, written and directed with style. The Coens really know how to entertain and get the best out of something that is wonderful anyway.

3halfstar