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“Ocean’s Thirteen”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “Ocean’s Thirteen” Warner Bros., 2007]

The number one and essentially only question asked of this writer upon the mention that he’d seen the new “Ocean’s Thirteen” is “Is it better than ‘Ocean’s Twelve’?” Not “How is it?” or “How does it compare to the first one?” Just “Is it better than ‘Ocean’s Twelve’?” occasionally followed by “‘Ocean’s Twelve’ stunk.”

Where does the animosity for “Ocean’s Twelve” come from? Critics largely dismissed the 2004 sequel to the vastly more popular 2001 film “Ocean’s Eleven” (itself a remake to the most famous movie from Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack), and audiences didn’t respond as enthusiastically as they had to the original (with a corresponding dip in box office receipts). Even the guys who made the freaking movie have spoken out against it, describing this year’s “Ocean’s” as “the one we should have made last time.”

Is “Ocean’s Twelve” as good as “Ocean’s Eleven?” Of course not. Did you really expect it to be? If so, that’s your fault, not director Steven Soderbergh’s. Watch the movie again, as I did last week, and reconsider it as an exceedingly stylish, beautifully paced, and sometimes shockingly romantic caper movie. While conceding that the plot is a tad on the convoluted side and that the ultimate explanation seems anti-climactic, look again. There’s an added layer to that ending, one that’s never explicitly stated but hanging just below the surface. And, like the first “Ocean’s,” it’s just a whole mess of fun.

Same goes for this latest installment, which once again reteams George Clooney’s dashing Danny Ocean with his ten roguish rogues, including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac and the rest. The only no-shows from the previous crew are Julia Roberts (Danny’s long-suffering wife Tess) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (Pitt’s love interest from “Twelve”). Their absence is explained away quickly with a few lines of dialogue and they’re supplanted by Al Pacino as evil casino owner Willy Bank and Ellen Barkin as his right-hand woman. Frankly, they’re not terribly missed.

Bank double-crosses Elliott Gould’s Reuben, which sends the rest of the Eleven off on an elaborate revenge plot called a “reverse big store.” Without revealing much (because the core of the pleasure in any “Ocean’s” is the way in which Soderbergh reveals his plot twists), they must jury rig every game in Bank’s brand new casino simultaneously so that it makes all of its customers rich and bankrupts him. Easier said than done — or rather it would be if not for the air of insouciance Soderbergh and company leaven into each of these pictures, whereby the most impossible tasks are made to look utterly effortless by Ocean’s impossibly well-styled posse. Things here are easily said and easily done.

A couple of the items in this reverse big store don’t really sell and Soderbergh cheats a bit when he employs a nearly identical twist from “Twelve” in a nearly identical way here (it involves Damon’s character). And it’s hard to argue that “Ocean’s Thirteen” isn’t more clever than smart. But that doesn’t really get in the way of the entertainment value, which is still high.

Even though “Thirteen” is, of course, a large money-making operation &151; one that Warner Brothers hopes will clear more money than even the most lucrative Danny Ocean heist — it doesn’t feel nearly as desperately cash-grabby as a lot of the other sequels in this crowded summer marketplace. No sense of sequel fatigue — where the characters appear more motivated by the actor’s contractual obligations than by story concerns — has crept into any of the performances and Soderbergh continues to use the series as an outlet for his playful side, which tends to make these movies a lot more engrossing than the “important” pictures he makes in between them.

Which is a long prelude to explaining that while “Ocean’s Thirteen” is better than “Ocean’s Twelve,” that’s not necessarily damning with faint praise. This “Thirteen” is better than “Twelve” sentiment is coming from an unabashed fan of “Twelve.” But does the fact that I enjoyed “Twelve” where others didn’t therefore mean that those who didn’t won’t like “Thirteen”? Perhaps that’s best left to the audience to decide for themselves.

“Ocean’s Thirteen” opens wide June 8th (official site).

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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