Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ocean's Eleven


Bridget Over Troubled Waters, my new kabuki musical adaptation of The Last Seduction continues to rehearse in my wonderful home studio cum rehearsal hall in the basement of Chateau Maine. I am working very, very closely with my two talented co-stars, Corey Feldman and Corey Haim as their training in the art of musical comedy dance seems to be somewhat lacking. Mr. Feldman has some rather intricate lifts with me in our pas de deux in the second act dream ballet and he keeps dropping me on the parquet. I'm having a bit more luck with Mr. Haim; we've been working on our first act seduction number, I'm Hung Like a Horse, and it's got a cool jazz fusion feeling going for it under the pentatonic riffs. I'm just having some disagreement with our director, Tim Burton, on the shape of the number. I think it should be my song while he's keeping the focus on Corey.

Our choreographer, Wakefield Poole, has been hard at work on the revised dream ballet, the deconstruction of American capitalism through the metaphor of eating disorders, Crouching Twinkie, Hidden Ding Dong. I play the Princess Ho Ho, a symbolic figure who helps the lonely Bridget relate to the large insurance company for which she works. The oriental designs for the piece are spectacular and Madame Rose, my publicist, is working on a tie in with the Nippon Sushi fast food chain - little figurines in all the Hapi Meals and Vicki Lester souvenir drinking cups.

A week of rehearsal has left me practically exhausted, but both Coreys seem to be flying with energy. I reluctantly bade them good bye the other night to head off to the Cineplex for a film along with me dear friend, Nurse Lynn. Our choice for the evening was the new Steven Soderbergh caper film, Ocean's 11, a remake of the Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack heist flick of the early 60s. Ocean's 11 stars much of new Hollywood in an ensemble piece involving a seemingly impossible crime.

George Clooney stars as Danny Ocean, a con-man/grifter/hold-up specialist who conceives of a daring robbery. Together with his partner, Dusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), he plots to steal a cool 160 million from the vault of the Bellagio casino in Vegas. Danny and Dusty approach the sleazy Ruben Tischkoff (Elliot Gould), who has good reason to despise the Bellagio's owner, Harry Benedict (Andy Garcia)to bankroll their scheme and soon they're recruiting a team of crack criminals, each with their own specialty, in order to penetrate the heavy security of a Vegas casino and get out with the loot. The number of folks Danny ends up needing is eleven, hence the film's title, and others along for the ride include Carl Reiner, Matt Damon, Scott Caan, Casey Affleck, Don Cheadle and Bernie Mac. To counterbalance the testosterone quotient, there's a romantic triangle subplot involving Danny's ex-wife (Julia Roberts), who's currently shacked up with the predatory Benedict.

Caper films were very big in the late 60s and early 70s and tended to come in several flavors, dramatic (11 Harrowhouse), dramatic with comic overtones (Topkapi), and comic (Who's Minding the Mint?). They usually had large, ensemble casts who had to work together to successfully pull off the perfect score, whether that was a jewel theft or a robbery or a kidnapping. The genre fell out of steam by the late 70s as ensemble disaster films rose to prominence and it's been neglected of late, or updated with disappointing results (Rat Race). Soderbergh is one of modern Hollywood's great talents and he has no trouble taking the clichés of this type of film and twisting them to meet modern sensibilities. He recognizes, first and foremost, that for this type of film to be successful, it must be good fun and he keeps the tone light and the pace moving, even though the film is overly long and could have been pruned by about fifteen minutes without any overt damage.

He is aided in his endeavors by charming performances by some of his cast. George Clooney continues to build on his magnetic charm, displayed so well before by Soderbergh in Out of Sight. His Danny Ocean is suave, resourceful and very much out of the mold of Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief. He's simply a pleasure to watch as he rallies his troops and has a clever answer to all the obstacles the script throws his direction. Brad Pitt, as his partner in crime, has less to do and approaches his part in a laid back manner. He knows he's not in the spotlight in this film so he's just having some fun. His scenes where he attempts to teach Topher Grace and Joshua Jackson to play cards are a riot - and he later gets to don one of the worst wigs in the history of film and obviously revels in every minute of it. In smaller parts, Carl Reiner, Scott Caan and Casey Affleck in particular score as team members with memorable moments and lines.

The big loser in the piece is Julia Roberts. She's really too much of a movie star to be the kind of team player this ensemble piece needs. Soderbergh restrains that dazzling smile and trademark mannerisms and the result is a woman who's too hard and plastic to tempt either Garcia or Clooney. Her scenes are the worst in the film and the major miscalculation on the director's part. Andy Garcia, as the villain, snarls and pounces and brings little texture to his underwritten role.

The heist sequences are beautifully staged and no one will have any difficulty following the, at times complex, plot. Part of the fun of these films lies in seeing how our heroes will surmount each impossible situation and the film doesn't stint on these moments. We get plenty of dangling from elevators, SWAT team shoot outs, electronic wizardry and the implosion of a full scale hotel for good measure.

The film is good fun, but not likely to make you think to heavily and, several days later, I'm already forgetting most of the details. It's definitely a popcorn movie for a day when you just want to escape for a little while.

Tuxedoed George Clooney. Hard faced Julia Roberts. Shirtless Elliot Gould. Battling Scott Caan and Casey Affleck. Collapsing Carl Reiner. Light fingered Matt Damon. Soulless Andy Garcia. Improbably accented Don Cheadle. Radio controlled truck crushing. Multiple laser beams. Chinese acrobatic tricks. Fight crowd stampede. Exploding van.

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