Film series continues with Rat Pack’s ‘Ocean’s 11′

Posted July 08, 2010, at 11:51 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:50 p.m.

“Ocean’s 11,” directed by Lewis Milestone, written by Harry Brown and Charles Lederer, 127 minutes, not rated. Tonight only, free, Pickering Square in Bangor, sundown. Lawn chairs advised.

The 1960 version of Lewis Milestone’s “Ocean’s 11” bests Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 version for a singular reason — you believe what’s going down. The characters aren’t caricatures. The “cool” they bring to the screen isn’t canned. It’s real.

While the same problem with the first half of the remake also is an issue here — too many characters to take in at once, too many characters clogging the momentum — that is not true for the second half of the movie, in which everything comes together seamlessly and ends with a satisfying twist.

The trivia behind this movie is almost as good as the movie itself. While the Rat Pack — Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop — were busy performing their act in Las Vegas at The Sands at night, they shot the movie during the day and into the early morning. Hardly an easy shoot, but these guys liked to work almost as much as they liked to play.

Also interesting here is Las Vegas itself, where the film eventually takes place. Fifty years have completely changed that city, and there is a kind of fascination in seeing how Vegas, from which I’m returning as you read this, has gone from a strip of relatively modest but lively joints to an area of massive hotels and casinos, all gleaming — at least at the south and midend of the Strip — with high-end shopping and five-star restaurants. The Vegas that now exists is nowhere in this movie, which deepens the film’s interest, if only from a historical perspective.

Not that creating anything historic is what they had in mind when they made the movie. This film was about having a good time, which occasionally comes at the expense of the story, particularly in its jumbled first half, when the brisk rhythm enjoyed in the movie’s last half isn’t achieved.

The film is about Danny Ocean (Sinatra), who has the idea to hit five Vegas casinos — The Sahara, The Riviera, The Desert Inn, The Sands and The Flamingo — and rob them of millions.

He’ll do so with his buddies from the World War II 82nd Airborne, which include Jimmy Foster (Lawford), Sam Harmon (Martin), John Howard (Davis), Mushy O’Connors (Bishop), Tony Bergdorf (Richard Conte), Roger Corneal (Henry Silva), Peter Rheimer (Norman Fell), Curly Steffans (Richard Benedict), Clem Harvey (Louis Jackson) and Vince Massler (Buddy Lester). Ingeniously, they’ll do the job on New Year’s Eve, just as everyone is loaded up on spirits and singing “Auld Lang Syne,” which will allow for distraction — and opportunity.

Revealing exactly how they plan to take down Vegas would spoil the fun. What should be noted is that Angie Dickinson is on board as Ocean’s wife, Beatrice, and she’s given just a trace more screen time than Julia Roberts was in the remake — which isn’t much. Still, she adds tension to the movie because when it comes to her marriage with Ocean, the waters aren’t exactly sparkling.

In a terrific supporting role is Cesar Romero as Duke Santos, a creep on the make who plans to put a ring on the finger of Jimmy’s mother, the wealthy socialite, Mrs. Restes (Ilka Chase). Romero proves pivotal to complicating the plot, while Chase herself adds considerably to the film’s comedic charm. She’s as free with her money as she is with providing the movie a level of sophistication it wouldn’t have had without her in it, as well as several big laughs.

Grade: B

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

“A Single Man”

Directed by Tom Ford, written by Ford and David Scearce, 99 minutes, rated R.

Tom Ford’s Academy Award-nominated “A Single Man” might take place in 1962, but it’s timely as hell, particularly in the ongoing debate of equal rights for gay men and women, which have yet to be achieved.

The film stars Colin Firth as George, a gay, middle-aged man who loses his long-time partner, Jim (Matthew Goode), after a horrific car accident. A professor of humanities, George suddenly finds himself caught in an inhumane world. Since nothing legally binds him to Jim, he is banned from Jim’s funeral when Jim’s family states that they don’t want him there. When he learns about Jim’s death, it’s only via a brief telephone call.

Humane? Hardly — especially since he and Jim were together for 16 years. What that kind of cruelty does to a person — and how the loss of a significant other can profoundly affect a person, whether straight or gay — is what “A Single Man” is about.

In the wake of Jim’s death, George is rootless, caught in a haze of mourning. The passing days don’t fulfill that old cliché that time heals all wounds — for George, that’s something of a joke. His loneliness and heartbreak thrums onscreen. Grief is etched into his face, which Firth, in one of his finest performances, captures with haunting ease. Essentially, he’s been asked to play a dead man walking, with suicide viewed as potentially the only way out of the pain and the injustice he feels.

And yet through all this, another young man at George’s university tries to edge into George’s life. At another point, a James Dean knockoff also closes in. But George is grieving, and while there is part of him that is curious about this attention, another part of him is repelled by it. His love for Jim is deep. It’s not replaceable. For a reprieve from the ache he feels, he turns to Charley (Julianne Moore), a beautiful drunk who likes her gin almost as much as she likes her eyeliner. There’s love between them, but it’s a different kind of love for Charley than it is for George.

Ford and David Scearce wrote the script, and the film’s presence on the scene punctuates the ongoing issues surrounding the move toward equality for gay couples. The movie doesn’t define the debate so much as it adds to it. Who’s to say whom we are to love? Why does the minority lack the equality of the majority? Are George’s emotions second-rate? He was with Jim for 16 years. Does that mean nothing?

As a director, Ford is very good at holding back and letting his excellent cast members do their jobs. Occasionally, he lapses into such tricks as sucking the color from the film in an effort to capture George’s increasingly colorless world, but that gimmick doesn’t work against the movie. The leads are too strong, the writing is too solid, and the ethics at hand are too dire to ignore to let a few lapses in judgment get in the way of George’s unfortunately realistic story.

Grade: B+

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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