"Ocean's Thirteen" is the third and possibly final installment in the highly successful franchise directed by the brilliant Steven Soderbergh, who uses the money of these mega-hits to finance other projects, he recently executive produced "A Scanner Darkly", "Syriana" and the recent experimental Dylan biopic "I'm Not There". And while these films don't meet such intellectually stimulating and socially important points, all three of them are simply a whole lot of fun, especially if you love Vegas. What I love about this series is the huge amount of big name actors involved also, this particular one even adds Al Pacino, which is a perfect match with the rest of the star studded cast.
The film begins with Willy Banks (Al Pacino), a highly successful owner of many hotels and casinos doing a grave injustice to Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) by viciously cutting him out of a deal in such a severe way as to cause him to have a heart attack. Since he is one of the founding members of the notorious heist group known as the Eleven, it certainly goes without saying that revenge is in order.
The big name cast (which has just gotten more pronounced since the first film when some were simply rising stars) is all back again, this time to do a favor for a very sick friend. Danny Ocean (George Clooney), Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), Frank Catton (Bernie Mac) and Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle) have decided to attempt the ultimate form of payback, and the scheme is even more unbelievable and audacious than the last films because this time they aren't just in it for the money, this time it's personal.
At first, it seems that Banks and all of his hotels, especially the new one, the one that was supposed to be partly owned by Tishkoff, are completely untouchable. He is obsessed with achieving a "Five Diamond" rating for his current palace, an honor he has gotten at most of his other high profile hotel/casinos. Danny Ocean does his research into this slimy villain. Banks' new casino also has an ultra high tech security system that is impossible to penetrate with anything less than an earthquake to turn it temporarily off, so as you can see the challenges are more difficult than ever before.
Somehow, though, Ocean and Ryan and the others develop the most elaborate and impossible sounding hustles of all time because they want to make Willy Banks feel what it is like to lose everything. They'll just need to produce an earthquake under the casino, after infiltrating the place with a new game completely developed with a subversive new technology that gives them total control of the dice with the flick of a Zippo lighter, and seduce his personal assistant with the help of Matt Damon and a super powerful pheromone, while also insuring the distinguished "Five Diamond" reviewer has the most unpleasant experience ever while staying at the luxurious new hotel. Sound farfetched and complex? It is. Fun, you bet. The trick is having friends in high places, and low places also, I really loved watching the team manipulate the waiters and bellhops and hosts, they were more than thrilled to help the team pull the ultimate prank on this unlikeable villain, and it was a real treat watching everyone have such a great time screwing over "The Man" in every imaginable way. Not to mention the return of Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) from the last film, this time returning to help these anti heroes when they need him for financial backing.
I love everything about this whole series, I think they are a blast, and they certainly don't take themselves seriously at all. The Vegas locations and the excessively rich (financially, not character developmentally) cast of people throughout the film add a lot to the story and it really gives you a lot of eye candy to look at. It is really a film series that always pays off at the end, watching this over the top series of events that are meticulously set into motion finally culminate into unlikely chaos is always a hoot. This film really delivers the goods and is actually well written and just basically a blast, pure escapism.
Now I am as shocked as anybody to deliver the not so good news of the transfer, because I fully expected such a money making franchise to really deliver in terms of video, yet from the moment I put it in I simply couldn't get over how terrible the film looked on my system. In fact, the colors (especially the reds and oranges) bled into each other, and the dark levels were so dull that I actually flipped the disc over thinking I had put in the DVD side. But no. The truth is, this is probably one of the most disappointing HD-DVDs I have ever witnessed. This 1080p high definition picture is framed at 2.40:1, but it puzzles me to say the least. I tried to give the director the benefit of the doubt, knowing his experimental nature with digital video and such, but I see no excuse why you wouldn't want to make this film look like a million dollars, instead it is riddled with every video flaw known, including color oversaturation, and when the film is dark, it is sometimes impossible to tell what is going on and we don't have different shades of black and grey we have just one. Lots of edge enhancement. We all know I am certainly no critic of an artist using film grain either, and this is one of the grainiest films I've seen recently. If this is what the director wanted then I simply don't understand, and I haven't done any research on the subject, all I know is this HD-DVD doesn't really look that much better than a standard definition disc, and it puzzles me as to why. They have all that money and talent and not to mention exotic and very intricate backgrounds, wouldn't you want it presented in the best way possible? Is this some sort of artistic rebellion? I don't know, but I was expecting much more and I am sadly disappointed, I wonder if the other films look this poor.
And the sound is really no better, I expected a wide sound field, but I literally had to check my system out because I could swear this was a stereo soundtrack, I actually had to put in another film to test my surround speakers out. Very strange. We have the film and its jazzy score presented in Dolby Digital Plus. But at least I could hear all of the dialogue clearly, still, this artistic decision they used to create the sound field baffles me.
The special features, though, certainly don't disappoint. We have two really cool documentaries on board that aren't really related to the film except in theme, but that's what I really like anyway, I'm so bored with self congratulating fluff pieces after all.
"Las Vegas: An Opulent Illusion" is standard definition but anamorphic and looks great. It runs about 23 minutes and is narrated by Alec Baldwin and is very fascinating. It goes inside the casinos and explains all of the tricks of the trade all the way down to the lighting and the food presentation. If you already love Vegas, you will find it all that more intriguing by the end of this very informative documentary.
A high definition exclusive, "Masters Of The Heist" which is standard definition and runs about 45 minutes. It takes you into the world of 4 real life heists, once again, a priceless feature in my opinion. It features Penn Gillette (of Penn and Teller) and a score of others and is in 16x9 widescreen (anamorphic). These are the kind of bonus features I really enjoy.
Another high definition exclusive is the commentary by Soderbergh and screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien, which is very engaging, informative and intelligent. Interesting exclusive, I think.
We also have five minutes of additional scenes presented in high definition and a two minute short called "Jerry Weintraub Walk And Talk" which is a very interesting tour of the actual casino set, very cool.
So, we have a very good film with an interesting and entertaining group of special features, but I simply can't get over how the film looked and sounded. What bothers me more is Soderbergh obviously intentionally made it this way. I think it could have looked and sounded better, but I really enjoyed the film.