One cool part about using the Nexus 7 to consume content, as it was intended to, is its easy access to super cheap video rentals almost every night. I took the opportunity to brush up on the Ocean’s 11 trilogy, which for the past decade had been Soderbergh’s “commercial” movies sandwiched between his quirky experiments like Bubble and The Good German. The Ocean’s films often received a brow-beating for their lavish use of their ensemble cast, including George Clooney and Brad Pitt as the ringleaders of the operation, as the cinematic equivalent of a celebrity circle-jerk, never minding that the original film featured Sinatra and the Rat Pack in virtually the same function. Thankfully, Soderbergh’s films were a bit more substantial than that.
Ocean’s 11 (2001)
I caught the film in college and I loved it immediately. Danny Ocean (Clooney) has just been freed from prison and he has a plan: hit up Las Vegas’ Bellagio vault, which serves two other casinos, for a cool $150 million. The task is impossible of course, but he has Rusty (Brad Pitt) as his right-hand man to assemble a team to draft and set their impressive plan in motion. A variety of tricks and bank robber lingo flies around as they overcome a variety of issues, including the fact that Danny’s ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts) is dating Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) who owns the properties the guys are trying to hit. That the crew is ultimately able to perform the feat with little resistance (and little cinematic tension) is offset by how slick the whole plan is. There are so many clever twists and hilarious jabs that it compensates for how over-written the film is at times. The film is amazing fun.
Ocean’s 12 (2004)
I’d honestly never seen this until a few nights ago, but I knew it was the weak point of the series. This is where the series gets arty as Soderbergh trades in many of his vibrant colors and motion titles for static, slender Helvetica title cards (something that would be his trademark). Through the help of the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel), Benedict confronts Ocean’s group from the original film in their new wealthy positions and demands they pay him back plus interest. From here, they fly to Amsterdam to steal a valuable stock certificate. But, the heist isn’t nearly as exciting and Amsterdam simply isn’t as vibrant a backdrop as the neon flashbang of Vegas. Still not terribly interesting is Catherine Zeta-Jones’ role as Europol investigator and Rusty’s former girlfriend who hounds them from stop to stop. Then there’s the copout of an ending that makes the entire second act a complete waste of time and Julia Roberts, as Tess Ocean, impersonating Julia Roberts. Definitely a low point for the series. If it weren’t for some narrative hooks in the next film, probably skippable altogether.
Ocean’s 13 (2007)
A diminished return to form, we return to Vegas after Al Pacino’s Willy Banks has done in the gang’s financier, Reuben (Elliott Gould). So in a spit of clever, flashy revenge, the gang takes on Bank in his recently completed casino, titled, uh, The Bank. But they’re not entirely up for the fortune, they just want to bring the casino down while the patrons walk out with the funds. To that end, they re-enlist Eddie Izzard’s Roman, who serves as a technical adviser, and one-time villain Terry Benedict to fund their tunnel-carving drill when their first one fails. The film doesn’t fall far from the tree, but it’s still worthy rent as-is. Highlight: Banks’ aid Sponder (Barkin) falls for Matt Damon in a prosthetic nose. Double entendres abound! Okay, here’s another: doofus Mormon brothers Turk (Scott Caan) and Virgil (Casey Affleck) loudly kicking out a hotel reviewer.