“THE ARTIST” (2011) Review

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“THE ARTIST” (2011) Review

I must have been one of the few people who had been unaware of “THE ARTIST”, when it first hit the American movie theaters in late 2011. To be honest, I was not paying much attention to the previous awards season. I could not find a movie that aroused my interest. When I discovered that the French-American film had overcome George Clooney’s “THE DESCENDANTS”, to become the Academy Awards front-runner . . . well, color me surprised. 

Michel Hazanavicius’ ode to Old Hollywood told the story of a successful silent film star named George Valentin, who seemed to be at the peak of his fame in 1927. At the premiere of his latest hit, he meets a young fan named Peppy Miller outside of the movie theater. She eventually catches the eyes of the press, when a photograph of the two appear in the newspapers, the following morning. It does not take long for Peppy’s career as a movie actress to rise. But when George’s studio boss, Al Zimmer, announces the end of Kinograph Studios’ silent movies production, the actor dismisses the news, claiming that sound is nothing but a fad. George decides to finance, produce and direct his own silent film. Both his new silent movie and Peppy’s new sound film open on the same day as the 1929 Stock Market Crash. While audiences flock to see Peppy’s new movie – making her a major Hollywood star – George’s film becomes a flop . . . and he finds himself financially ruined. Because his rejection of talkies remain steadfast, it is not long before George becomes a broke, Hollywood has been.

Within a few months, “THE ARTIST” managed to acquire near universal acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. Not only did the movie win five Academy Awards – including Best Picture, Best Director (Hazanavicius) and Best Actor for leading man Jean Dujardin; the movie also won seven BAFTA awards, six César awards, three Golden Globe awards and two awards at the Cannes Film Festival. I have not encountered a movie this universally acclaimed in years. And if I must say so, it did not deserve a single award.

That is correct. I consider “THE ARTIST” to be one of the most overrated movies I have seen in years. In fact, I find it even more overrated than last year’s Oscar winner, “THE KING’S SPEECH”. Perhaps I had exaggerated a bit. There were a few awards that I believe it deserved. I found Ludovic Bource’s score surprisingly impressive. I was also impressed by Mark Bridges’ award winning costume designs and Guillaume Schiffman’s nominated cinematography. And I cannot deny that I was more than impressed by Jean Dujardin’s performance as the ego-centric George Valentin. Did he deserve the Best Actor award? Personally, I would have given Gary Oldman’s performance in “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” the award. But I still believe that Dujardin gave an above-average performance. The movie also featured supporting performances and cameos from Hollywood veterans such as John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Penelope Ann Miller. I thought they all gave solid performances, especially Miller and Cromwell.

Despite my feelings about the costumes, photography, the score and Dujardin’s performance, I still believe that “THE ARTIST”is an overrated movie that did not deserve most of the accolades it received. For me, it was a charming little movie with gimmicks about Old Hollywood. I would equate it at the same level as Blake Edwards’ 1988 Hollywood mystery, “SUNSET”. Okay, perhaps I am being a little cruel. Even “THE ARTIST” is better than Edwards’ film. But I find myself unable to view it as a cinematic masterpiece. For me, it was simply an entertaining, yet mediocre film.

One of the problems I had with “THE ARTIST” was that Hazanavicius’ script never explained why Valentin refused to do a talking picture. Why? Unlike Charlie Chaplin, he was not originally described as a multi-tasked Hollywood talent. Valentin was never regarded as another Emil Jennings, whose Hollywood career ended due to a thick European accent. Granted, Dujardin’s French accent struck me as somewhat thick, but it was never pointed out. And if the Valentin character really had a thick accent, his Hollywood career would have never been revived as a song-and-dance man at the movie’s conclusion. Even Fred Astaire needed a decent voice. Nor was Valentin portrayed as a another John Gilbert, whose career was destroyed by a studio boss that hated his guts. Granted, Valentin managed to annoy Zimmer in his refusal to accept talkies. But Zimmer merely regarded Valentin with mild contempt, not hatred. In the end, Valentin’s refusal to do talkies was never really explored. And this strikes me as bad writing on Hazanavicius’ part.

The movie earned a good deal of controversy when Hollywood icon Kim Novak accused composer Ludovic Bource of incorporating a portion of Bernard Herrmann’s score from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film “VERTIGO”. Since I have never seen“VERTIGO”, I cannot comment on Novak’s accusation. However, I have seen “A STAR IS BORN”“SUNSET BOULEVARD”, and“SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN”. I noticed that “THE ARTIST” incorporated a great deal of story ideas and scenes from these movies. Unfortunately, I believe that Hazanavicius did so in an unoriginal way. Even the happy-go-lucky “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN” had ten times the biting wit and a more in-depth, if slightly fictional looking into the transition to sound. Perhaps the reason I found the story hard to accept was because Hazanavicius decided to film the movie without sound. All I can say is . . . why? What was the point? I wanted a look at Old Hollywood during the late 1920s and early 1930s, not a gimmicky ode to the era.

“THE ARTIST” possessed other aspects that did not sit well with me. Hazanavicius cast his wife, French-Argentine actress Bérénice Bejo, to portray rising star Peppy Miller. Bejo received numerous nominations and a César Award for Best Actress for her performance. I cannot deny that she gave a first-rate performance. Unfortunately, she seemed like a 21st century anchorism, stuck in the early 20th century. Bejo simply looked out of place in period movie like “THE ARTIST”. Valentin’s Jack Russell terrier, Uggie, was so cute that I found myself in danger of a sugar overdose, just by simply watching. After viewing the scene in which Uggie saved Valentin from a burning house by summoning a police, I either wanted to throw up or put a bullet in that mutt. As much as I enjoyed Mark Bridges’ late 1920s costumes, I was not impressed by the costumes for the movie’s 1930s setting. Looking at Bridges’ costumes for the early sound era, I found it hard to believe that the film’s second half was set between 1930 and 1932/33. Many people enjoyed Dujardin and Bejo’s dance routine that marked the film’s conclusion. I cannot deny that I found their performance impressive. But it was also a jaw-dropping moment for me . . . and not in a good way. My mind kept reminding me that I should be applauding. Instead, I found myself silently chanting – “What the hell?”

Look, I am not claiming to dislike “THE ARTIST”. How could I? I thought it was an entertaining film about Old Hollywood. It seemed a lot of fun. But a fun movie does not automatically it make a great one. And despite the awards and accolades that it received, I cannot agree with the prevailing view that “THE ARTIST” was a great film. Not by a long shot.

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“THE IDES OF MARCH” (2011) Review

“THE IDES OF MARCH” (2011) Review

While watching George Clooney’s recent political thriller, “THE IDES OF MARCH”, it occurred to me that two-and-a-half years have passed since I last watched a movie about politicians . . . inside a movie theater. It also led me to wonder if Hollywood has become increasingly reluctant to make movies about politicians. It would be a shame if that were truth. Because I believe the studios need to release more movies about them. 

On the other hand, I am grateful to Clooney for directing, co-producing and co-writing “THE IDES OF MARCH”, an adaptation of co-writer Beau Willimon’s 2008 play called “FARRAGUT NORTH”. The movie is about Stephen Meyers, an idealistic junior campaign manager for Democratic presidential candidate, Governor Mike Morris of Pennsylvania, and his crash course on the brutal realities of politics on the campaign trail in Southern Ohio. His life and role in Governor Morris’ presidential campaign is threatened when Tom Duffy, the senior campaign manager of Governor Morris’ Democratic rival, Arkansas Senator Ted Pullman, offers him a job. Unfortunately for Meyers, his boss, Governor Morris’ senior campaign manager, Paul Zara learns about the job offer. Complicating Meyers’ situation is his romance with one of the campaign interns and daughter of the Democratic National Committee chairman, Molly Stearns, leads him to discover about her one night liaison with Governor Morris and her eventual pregnancy.

On paper, “THE IDES OF MARCH” looks and reads like a lurid melodrama with political overtones. But I believe the movie revealed to be a lot more. This is just a theory, but I believe that “THE IDES OF MARCH” served as a warning for those who tend to look toward politicians as saviors or leaders who can solve the problems of society. At the beginning of “THE IDES OF MARCH”, Stephen Meyers is a sharp and canny political campaigner. He has seen enough of the world to be somewhat jaded. But he is still young enough at age thirty to believe that one man can change his world for the better. And in his mind, that man is Michael Morris. But his own ambitions for a career as a political adviser and the revelation of Morris’ brief affair with Molly Stearns forces Meyers to grow up . . . in a most painful way. Considering the methods that he used in an effort to save his career, one might view Stearns’ loss of idealism with a negative eye. Or one might now. Personally, I believe that loss turned out to be a mixture of good and bad for Stearns.

“THE IDES OF MARCH” received a good deal of positive reviews from many of the media’s critics. Did the movie deserve the positive word-of-mouth? I believe so. I really enjoyed the story. And I believe that Clooney, Willimon and the third co-writer, Grant Heslov, did an excellent job of conveying Stephen Meyers’ final loss of innocence with plenty of melodrama (oh, that word!), tight pacing, political wheeling-dealing and plot twists. What is interesting about this movie is that all of the characters involved in the story are Democrats. There is no Republican or hard line conservative in sight. And I have to hand it to Clooney, Willimon and Heslov for being willing to show that in their own way, Democratic politicians and political wheeler-dealers could be just as dirty and manipulative as their Republican counterparts. Personally, I believe that this is a good lesson to learn that when it comes to the world of politics – and the media, for that matter – you cannot trust anyone, regardless of political suasion.

Clooney managed to gather a fine collection of actors and actresses for his movie. I do have one minor quibble about this . . . and it involves actress Jennifer Ehle, who portrayed Governor Morris’ wife, Cindy Morris. I had no problem with her performance. But aside from a brief scene with Clooney in which the two discussed his future in the White House, she seemed wasted in this film. I almost found myself thinking the same about Jeffrey Wright, who portrayed a North Carolina senator, whose support both Democratic candidates sought. He only had brief scenes in the movie. But he made the most of it portraying Senator Thompson as an egotistical power seeker with great relish. Max Minghella gave a decent performance as Meyers’ assistant who harbored ambitions to achieve the latter’s position. Marisa Tomei gave a witty performance as a snarky New York Times reporter, whose attitude toward Meyers changes drastically by the end of the movie. The year 2011 seemed to be a busy year for Evan Rachel Wood. She returned in her third role this year to portray the young intern Molly Stearns. Wood did an excellent job in portraying the vulnerable and scared young woman behind the sexy temptress. Her description of Morris’ seduction of Molly at an Iowa hotel left my skin crawling.

Both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti gave powerhouse performances as the two rival senior campaign managers, Paul Zara and Tom Duffy. Watching these two manipulate and trip up Meyers was like watching two warhorses showing the world how to give colorful performances. George Clooney’s portrayal of Governor Mike Morris was a lot more restrained than Hoffman and Giamatti, but equally memorable as Democratic candidate, Michael Morris. Superficially, Clooney invested a great deal of subtle charm and idealism into the character. But I liked the way he slowly revealed the ambition and corruption behind the Mr. Smith persona. If anything, Clooney’s Governor Morris reminded me of the numerous so-called ideally liberal politicians, who are revealed to be not only corrupt, but disappointing.

Despite the powerhouse appearances of veterans like Clooney, Giamatti, Hoffman, Wright and Tomei, the real star of“THE IDES OF MARCH” turned out to be Ryan Gosling. The ironic thing is that his portrayal of political campaign manager Stephen Meyers made Clooney’s restrained performance look absolutely subtle. Yet, along with Clooney’s direction, Gosling more or less managed to carry the movie. I am not saying this because Gosling is the star of the movie. In his quiet way, he managed to carry a film featured with more colorful performances from an older cast. More importantly, Gosling did an excellent job in quietly conveying Stephen Meyers from a savy, yet idealistic junior campaign manager to a harder and wiser politico who is willing to embrace corruption in order to save his career. I thought he gave a very impressive performance.

Will “THE IDES OF MARCH” be able to earn an accolades during the movie awards season? It is too early to tell, but I hope so. Thanks to George Clooney’s direction, the script and a talented cast led by Ryan Gosling, I was very impressed by it.

“THE AMERICAN” (2010) Review

“THE AMERICAN” (2010) Review

With the disappointing summer movie season of 2010 finally over, moviegoers received one of its first releases for the fall season. The movie in question happened to be a tight little thriller about an American assassin working on a job in Italy called”THE AMERICAN”.

Directed by Anton Corbijn and starring George Clooney, ”THE AMERICAN” is a film adaptation of ”A Very Private Gentleman”, Martin Booth’s 1990 novel about an assassin named Jack, who is hired to construct a rifle for another assassin in a small town in Italy called Castel del Monte. During his stay there, Jack befriends a friendly, yet observant priest named Father Benedetto; and falls for a young prostitute named Clara. He also tries to prevent himself from becoming the target of another assassin.

I had mixed feelings about going to see this movie. After watching it, my feelings about it remained mixed. One, I managed to predict the end of this movie before I even saw it. And I have never read Booth’s novel. The ending seemed even more apparent, considering the movie’s style and story. Two, the pacing struck me as being unnecessarily slow in some scenes. Now, I am not demanding that Corbijn should have paced ”THE AMERICAN” with the same timing as any of the recent Jason Bourne movies. After all, it is basically a character study of an assassin who has come to realize that he has been in the killing game too long. But there were moments when the camera lingered too lovingly upon some of Jack’s more mundane tasks that I would not have minded avoiding. One last complaint I have about ”THE AMERICAN” is that Rowan Joffe’s screenplay never made it clear who was behind the attempts to kill Jack in Sweden and the assassin who stalked him in Castel del Monte. Mind you, I had a pretty good idea on the person’s identity. Unfortunately, the script never really made it clear.

But there were aspects of ”THE AMERICAN” that I enjoyed. I found George Clooney’s portrayal of the world weary assassin well done. In fact, I could honestly say that he did an excellent job in portraying Jack’s mixture of professional wariness, emotional bankruptcy and hopes of a romantic future with the prostitute, Clara. The role of Jack might prove to be one of his better ones. Both Paolo Bonacelli and Violante Placido, who portrayed Father Benedetto and Clara respectively, gave Clooney excellent support. So did actress Thekla Reuten, who portrayed Mathilde, the assassin that commissioned Jack to construct a rifle for her. However, there were times when she conveyed the femme fatale persona just a bit too thick.

Joffe’s screenplay almost seemed to strike a balance between an in-depth character study and a small, taunt thriller. I say almost, due to the movie’s occasional slow pacing and a vague subplot regarding a threat to Jack’s life. But director Corbijn did effectively utilize some tense scenes included in Joffe’s script. The two best scenes featured Jack’s final encounter with the assassin hired to stalk him around Castel del Monte and the explosive finale that featured a slight, yet surprising twist.

”THE AMERICAN has its share of faults. Nor would I consider to be one of the year’s best movies. But I must admit that George Clooney’s performance as the world-weary assassin, Jack, might be one of his better roles. And director Anton Corbijn managed to strike a nice balance between an in-depth character study and a tense-filled action thriller. I could honestly say that ”THE AMERICAN” might be one of 2010’s more “interesting” films.

“THE MEN WHO STARED AT GOATS” (2009) Review

Below is my review of “THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS”, a new comedy-drama directed by Grant Heslov that stars George Clooney and Ewan McGregor:

”THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS” (2009) Review

Grant Heslov directed this comedic adaptation of Jon Ronson’s book about the U.S. Army’s exploration of New Age concepts and the potential military applications of the paranormal. The movie starred George Clooney as one of the participants in this program and Ewan McGregor, who portrayed a journalist who stumbles across the story, while reporting on businesses with military contracts in Iraq. One of the surprising aspects of this movie is that its story is based upon fact. According to author Jon Ronson, there was actually a similar unit actually existed within the U.S. Army. The names were changed . . . and probably some of the facts, but the Army did explore New Age concepts and military applications of the paranormal.

The movie followed McGregor’s character, a journalist with the Ann Arbor Daily Telegram named Bob Wilton who stumbles onto the story of a lifetime when he meets a Special Forces operator named Lyn Cassady (Clooney) after flying to Kuwait out of anger, due to a recent divorce with his wife. During a trip across the Iraqi countryside, Cassady revealed his participation in an Army unit that trained to develop a range of par psychological skills by using New Age concepts. The unit ended up being named the New Earth Army. While the pair endured a journey that included encounters with a gang of Iraqi criminals, their fellow kidnap victim (Waleed Zuaiter), the head of a private security firm named Todd Nixon (Robert Patrick) and two rival groups of American contractors who engage in a gunfight against each other in Ramadi.

During Wilton and Cassady’s journey, the latter revealed the story behind the creation of the New Earth Army and its founder, a Vietnam War veteran named Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) who travelled across America in the 1970s for six years to explore a range of New Age movements (including the Human potential movement) after getting shot during the Vietnam War. Django used these experiences to create the New Earth Army. Django’s recruits ended up being nicknamed ”Jedi Warriors”. By the 1980s, two of Django’s best recruits were Lyn Cassady and Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), who developed a lifelong rivalry because of their opposing views of how to implement the First Earth philosophy. Lyn wanted to emphasize the positive side of the teachings, whereas Larry was more interested in the dark side of the philosophy. Wilton and Cassady’s journey ended when they located a military base in the middle of the desert. They discovered that Larry Hooper has become the founder and head of PSIC, a private research firm engaged in psychological and psychic experiments on a herd of goats and some captured locals. A dismayed Cassady also learned that a now decrepit Django has become an employee of PSIC.

I must admit that I was not in a big hurry to see ”THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS”. In fact, I never had any intention of seeing it in the first place. The only reason I went to see the movie in the first place was that I was desperate for something to watch. The movie season for the past two months has seemed pretty deplorable to me. Aside from ”THE INFORMANT’, I have not been able to stumble across a movie that I would find appealing. And what about ”THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS”? Did I find it appealing? Honestly? It is not the best movie I have seen this year. But I must admit that thanks to Grant Heslov’s direction and Peter Straughan’s screenplay, I found the movie rather humorous in an off-kilter manner. Some of the most humorous scenes featured:

*Wilton and Cassady’s flight from a group of Iraqi criminals

*The ”Battle of Ramadi” between two American private security armies

*Bill Django’s six year exploration of New Age movements

*The results of Wilton and Django’s spiking of the Army base food with LSD.

At first, the movie’s approach to New Age religion and movements seemed inconsistent. The first half of the film did not seem to treat it as a joke. However, once Wilton and Cassady reached the base housing the PSIC, Straughan’s script treated the subject with a lot more respect. It took me a while to realize that the story was told from Bob Wilton’s point-of-view. It only seemed natural that he would first view the New Earth Army and New Age beliefs as a joke. But after time spent with Cassady and later Django at the PSIC base, Wilton naturally developed a newfound respect for both topics. The movie also provided a slightly pointed attack upon the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Normally, I would have cringed at such protesting in a comedy. Fortunately, Heslov used humor – and very sharp humor at that – to mock American presence in the Middle Eastern country.

I think that Lyn Cassady might turn out to be one of my favorite roles portrayed by George Clooney. One, he gave a hilarious performance. And two, he also did a marvelous job in infusing Cassady’s role with a mixture of super-military machismo and wide-eyed innocence. And despite his questionable American accent, I was very impressed by Ewan McGregor’s poignant performance as the lovelorn Michigan journalist (his wife left him for his editor), who travels to Iraq to prove his bravery to his former wife . . . only to discover something more unique. Another joyous addition to the cast turned out to be Jeff Bridges, who gave a wonderfully off-kilter performance as Cassady’s mentor and founder of the New Earth Army, Bill Django. And Larry Hooper, the one man allegedly responsible for bringing down Django’s New Earth Army, turned out to be another one of Kevin Spacey’s delicious villainous roles.

If ”THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS” ever turn out to be a hit film, I would be very surprise. There is a good chance that many moviegoers might find the film’s use of topics such as the Army’s exploration of New Age movements and the paranormal to mock American military presence in Iraq a bit hard to take. And there is the possibility that filmgoers might find Straughan’s script used constant flashbacks to tell the story of the New Earth Army during Cassady and Wilton’s journey throughout Iraq rather confusing. Personally, I rather liked the movie. I doubt that it will ever be a big favorite of mine, but I still found it entertaining and interesting.

“LEATHERHEADS” (2008) Review

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”LEATHERHEADS” (2008) Review

As a rule, I usually do not like sports movies. I can think of at least six or seven that are personal favorites of mine. After seeing the recent football comedy, ”LEATHERHEADS”, I can honestly say that the number has risen to eight.

George Clooney, who also directed the film, Clooney plays Dodge Connolly, captain of the struggling football team, the Duluth Bulldogs. Dodge is determined to save both his team and professional football in general when the players lose their sponsor and the league is on the brink of collapse. He convinces a college football star, Carter “the Bullet” Rutherford (John Krasinski), to join the Bulldogs, in order to capitalize on Carter’s fame as a war hero. In addition to his legendary tales of heroism in World War I, Carter has dashing good looks and unparalleled speed and skill on the field. As a result of his presence, both the Bulldogs and football in general prosper. Rene Zellweger provided romantic interest as reporter Lexie Littleton, who becomes the object of the affections of both Carter and Dodge. Unbeknown to Carter, Lexie has been assigned to find proof that Carter’s stories of military heroism are bogus. Meanwhile, Dodge’s attempts to legitimize professional football start to backfire, as rules are formalized, taking away much of the improvisational antics that made the game fun for many of its players.

I had expected to mildly enjoy ”LEATHERHEADS” or at least enjoy the 1920s setting. Instead, I found myself really enjoying the story of Dodge Connolly’s comic attempts to legitimize professional football, and his romantic rivalry with Carter Rutherford for Lexie Littleton’s heart. The comic timing featured in the script written by George Clooney, Steven Soderbergh, Duncan Brantley, Rick Reilly and Stephen Schiff is wonderful. The performances – especially the three leads – were fabulous. Clooney, Zellweger and Krasinski proved that they all possessed the skills and timing for comedic acting. And they were supported by a top notch cast that included Stephen Root, Jonathan Pryce, and Peter Gerety. And I must say that I loved the way Clooney and his production staff captured the mid 1920s America, right down to the chaotic world of football – professional and college.

However, ”LEATHERHEADS” is not perfect. The Chicago sequence leading up to the big game between the Duluth and Chicago nearly dragged the film. And I found the ending vague and lacking any real closure over Dodge, Lexie and Carter’s future. And that perfect capture of the 1920s? Well, it was not completely perfect. I have to blame Renee Zellweger’s hairstyle for this. It was fine when she had her hair pinned. But she spent at least two-thirds of the film wearing her hair in a shoulder-length bob. Is it any wonder I had originally believed this film was set in the early-to-mid 1930s?

It is a shame that ”LEATHERHEADS” did not prove to be a hit. It really is an enjoyable film. But I guess that it is the type of film that would appeal to older moviegoers who are at least in their 30s and 40s. It simply lacked the appeal for younger viewers that ”21” possessed. And to be honest, I am not a big fan of the latter film, even if it was not that bad. Oh well. If you do not want to go see ”LEATHERHEADS” in the theaters, at least give it a chance now that it has been released on DVD.

“OCEAN’S THIRTEEN” (2007) Review

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“OCEAN’S THIRTEEN” (2007) Review

After the rather disappointing 2004’s ”Ocean’s Twelve”, I really did not expect to even like this third entry into what became a trilogy. I more than liked ”Ocean’s Thirteen”. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only was it better than the second film, I found it just as enjoyable as the first – namely 2001’s ”Ocean’s Eleven”

Directed by Oscar winner, Steven Soderbergh, the movie starts out in a series of flashbacks in which Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould), one of Danny Ocean’s associates from the first two films, makes the mistake of building a hotel with one of Las Vegas’ most hated businessmen, Willy Bank (Al Pacino). He gets cut out of the deal and ends up in the hospital after a heart attack. In an attempt to help his old friend Reuben, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) approaches Bank and asks him to restore Reuben’s share of the hotel. In their exchange, Ocean appeals to the code of honor that applies to those people who have shaken Sinatra’s hand – both Reuben and Bank have done so. Bank glibly denies Ocean’s request saying of Reuben, “He’s made the right choice: roll over and die. Let him be.” Ocean and his crew decide to bring down Banks by rigging his new hotel and casino – The Bank – to lose $500 million dollars on the night of its Grand Opening, six months later. When they run out of money, they enlist the help of former nemesis – casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who wants to settle a score against Bank for creating hotel/casinos that have been taking the spotlight from his casinos.

I could go into detail about the movie’s plot, but I rather not. It happens to be a complicated plot. Don’t get me wrong. Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s (”Rounders”) plot is not convoluted. Aside from one or two plot points, I perfectly understood what was going on. But I feel that it is too complicated for me to spell it out in details. Instead, I will simply point out the moments that I truly enjoyed:

-I found the gang’s initial plot to kill Willy Bank and dispose of his body in retaliation for Reuben’s condition rather funny and a great moment of ensemble acting from the cast:

-Another moment I enjoyed was when Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) caught Danny watching an episode of Oprah.

-I loved Linus Caldwell’s (Matt Damon) impersonation of a ”mouthpiece” for an Asian real-estate mogul (Yen in disguise); especially when he is called upon to seduce Bank’s assistant, Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin), using artificial pheromones, which act as an aphrodisiac to maximize her attraction to him. Apparently, Linus needed her to get him inside Willy Bank’s Diamond Room.

-There is a great sequence of scenes featuring a hotel reviewer who is treated as “the V.U.P.” (the always great character actor David Paymer) or “Very Unimportant Person”, when Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) is mistaken as the reviewer. The V.U.P.’s discovery of bed bugs in his room is part-hilarious, part-creepy.

-Don Cheadle as the group’s mechanical genius Basher Tarr gets to shine in a scene in which he impersonates a motorcycle stuntman in order to distract Bank, while Virgil and Turk Malloy (Casey Afflect and Scott Caan)

-Another great moment is when the plot to financially ruin Bank comes together with many of the hotel’s patrons winning large sums of money at most of the gaming tables in the casino. Actually, this entire sequence was done within a montage.

-But my favorite sequences feature featured Virgil Malloy’s (Casey Affleck) efforts to load the casino’s specially designed dice at a factory in Mexico. Virgil is sent there to infiltrate the factory. Instead, he loses sight of his mission when he sees the working conditions at the factory. Instead of fixing the dice, he decides to fix the problem and lead his co-workers in a revolt.

As usual, the cast is great. I especially enjoyed Al Pacino’s performance as the backstabbing casino owner, Willy Bank. He managed to be flamboyant, without going over-the-top. I also enjoyed seeing Ellen Barkin in a memorable role, after all of these years. But I must admit that I especially enjoyed Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, David Paymer, Don Cheadle and Elliot Gould in this film. And Steven Soderbergh did a great job in maintaining the movie’s pace, drawing out memorable performances and especially capturing the flash and glitter of early 21st century Las Vegas. In fact, I think that ”Ocean’s Thirteen” is just as good as the first movie, ”Ocean’s Eleven” . . . and thankfully, a great improvement over the confusing ”Ocean’s Twelve”.

9/10 stars