Rat Packs

 

Ocean’s Thirteen
Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney’s latest remake of Frank Sinatra’s rat-pack Vegas caper, the essence of curdled ring-a-ding-ding, is the surest bet in showbiz. It’s a spectacle predicated on a smug gaggle of megastars in boss threads having fun by pretending to steal the house’s money while actually taking yours.

The party opens with Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) summoned to meet Danny Ocean (Clooney) on a private plane to Vegas. It’s an emergency mission of mercy. The gang’s guru-cum-mascot, Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould), is in the hospital recovering from a coronary precipitated by the double-dealing treachery of his erstwhile partner, another Vegas operator with a colorful moniker, Willie Bank (Al Pacino).

The scene uniting onetime maniacs Gould and Pacino is not without its autumnal poignancy — California Split on a Dog Day Afternoon. Not so, the Ocean’s Thirteen premise. The plan is to avenge Reuben by driving Willie’s new superduper deluxe hotel, the Bank, into bankruptcy on opening night with rigged slots, dice, cards and roulette wheels.

The gang — including Matt Damon; Don Cheadle; Bernie Mac; Casey Affleck; Shaobo Qin; and, as the senior shtick artist, Carl Reiner — is closer at heart to the Justice League of America than to Sinatra’s larcenous band of brothers. Likewise, Clooney’s Ocean is less the military leader Sinatra pretended to be than he is the movie’s genial host. Pitt, who has only a handful of lines, mainly stands around with his arms folded. Ocean has evidently re-divorced or otherwise contractually forgotten the character played in the previous movies by Julia Roberts, so Ellen Barkin is the lone woman onscreen. She exists largely as the butt of Damon’s seduction.

Ostensibly, a movie like Ocean’s Thirteen enables Soderbergh and Clooney to make a personal project. As such, it’s not without a splash of ironic self-awareness. “You don’t run the same gag twice — you run the next gag,” a straight-faced Ocean explains to his cohorts. The real question: How many times can Soderbergh and Clooney pull off this same stunt? Good night and good luck.

Jindabyne

Jindabyne, the Aboriginal word for valley, is also the name of a town in southeastern Australia that, flooded by a dam, lies at the bottom of a man-made lake. Like more than a few Australian movies, this one is haunted by the primal crime committed against the Aborigines and is something of a ghost story. Like Ray Lawrence’s previous films, it’s also very much a literary adaptation, an actor-driven thriller that elaborates on “So Much Water So Close to Home,” perhaps the best-known story by the late, laconic Raymond Carver. The premise is casually outrageous. Four family guys on a ritual fishing trip discover the body of a young woman floating downstream. It’s 11 miles back to the road and it’s the weekend, so they tether the woman’s corpse to a tree and continue to fish, drink and bullshit, with disastrous results for at least one man’s marriage. Scarcely anonymous, the victim is a young Aborigine woman, and her murderer could be a serial killer. The unhappy central couple, Claire (Laura Linney) and Stewart (Gabriel Byrne), share a complicated relationship. Playing emotionally isolated characters, Linney and Byrne make for an impressively dour couple, and Jindabyne is a sober, sluggishly crafted movie in which the bitterness never stops.

 

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