Thursday, February 07, 2008

Yo Eleven!

Vegas is a town of gambling, and if you're at a rockin' craps table, or even just passing through the casino when a hot roller is on the tables, it's inevitable that you'll hear "Yo Eleven" at least a few times. The Yo! is a one-roll wager that the next toss of the dice will result in an eleven. It pays high, at fourteen-for-one, but that's because it carries a huge house edge of, appropriately, 11%. Yo or, the redundant Yo-eleven, is also what the stickman calls when the eleven is rolled, and, even if no Yo bets are placed, an eleven still wins even money for players on the pass line for come out rolls. So if you happen to hit on a hot table, there's gonna be plenty of YOs being shouted, and plenty of chips flying.

Which is all to say that, in gambling, eleven is a good number. Long odds, but high payouts.

Talk about long odds, the original Ocean's Eleven script was written by a fellow named Jack Golden Russell who was a gas station attendant in Vegas. He managed to hand off the script to Frank Sinatra while he was filling up his tank. From there, the payouts skyrocketed. The quintessential Rat Pack movie, Ocean's Eleven gave Frank, Dean, and Sammy, along with Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, the perfect excuse to cat around Vegas while performing nightly shows and then having the Hollywood studio pay the tab for all the rest.

It's a solid heist premise, with much of the banter between Sintara's Danny Ocean and the rest of the gang being ad-libbed. Hot Angie Dickinson drifts in and out between the buddy banter, and even Shirley MacLaine gets to steal the spotlight for a moment with her deanish drunken quip. As for Deano, it could be considered a real drawback to the flick that he's the only one who sings, but lucky for us both his numbers are the same one, and it's his highly tolerable "Ain't That a Kick in the Head."

The Vegas captured in this film is now so long gone that this movie still reigns supreme as the hallmark of the Rat Pack halcyon days, and it has plenty of inside jokes. It was 1960 and in the final shot, as you see the would-be thieves walking down the strip at the end of the movie, the grand marquee of the Sands behind them lists Frank, Sammy, Dean, Joey and Peter as the entertainment. The slot machines all pay out in coin, and everyone looked dapper. It's not the best movie ever made, but it is a breezy and boozy throwback bit of fun with the biggest stars to ever shine in Vegas.

If you're a timid gambler, or a sober one, or even a smart one, once you place your Yo! bet, if it actually hits, you're probably going to shout and then take your money and go. Because it takes an awful lot of balls to turn around and place that winning cash back on that same longshot bet. So forty years later, the biggest star in Hollywood decides he's going to press his luck and parlay his stardom with a caper movie. He gathers together a new gang with box-office clout and they throw their chips on the table. And oh man, do they ever come up winners.

In 2000, the Bellagio was truly one of the most beautiful hotel-casinos in the world. Lovingly detailed and crafted by Steve Wynn for his wife as a remembrance of their honeymoon in Bellagio, Italy, it's an embarrassment of riches. With its flowers and fountains and creamy colors and gold lighting, it's a virtual paradise for taking already preternaturally beautiful people and making them look like timeless icons. And that's exactly what happens. Clooney, Pitt, Damon, Garcia and Roberts light up the screen and Vegas with their soft-peddled shenanigans.

The script gets an updated overhaul which truly improves it. Not just the techno-flash of the caper to match our new age, but the better structuring of interlocking romance-heist angle, along with characters who are better defined this go-round, too. They manage to keep the breezy tone, so breezy, in fact, that the plot holes just don't even seem to register until a second or third viewing. Mostly, this is because the original Ocean's was a good time for the cast. But this remake is a good time for the viewers. It's obvious they had a ball making it, and no one brings that across more than the villainous Andy Garcia. Oh yeah, he's the bad guy, but you can see it in his angry, arrogant swagger and calm-yet-festering looks -- he's also having the time of his life.

Of the male leads, Matt Damon is the only one already with an Oscar in his pocket, but he's third banana and yet he manages to create a believable innocent thief. Brad Pitt, never one of my favorites, fills the Deano gap and is also highly tolerable as he eats his way through the movie in loud shirts. Julia looks still-stunning in the Bellagio, wearing that beaded dress with all casual class. The only nitpick is that this is the type of movie that should've cemented her as an elegant vision, and yet, when she walks, she's not. She rolls and lolls, and although she's a skinny girl, she rather looks like a fucking cow, and she's forced to be the Debbie Downer instead of showcasing her showstopping smile.

But all that barely matters, because she is there, and under her character's cold exterior, she's still Julia. But even her beauty gets eclipsed by Clooney's. Before this movie, I thought he'd hit the zenith with his looks back in 1996 in From Dusk Till Dawn. (Seriously Clooney-philes, it's must-see.) But oh holy shit does he manage to sizzle in those tailored suits. And the tux? The DVD is worth it alone for that. I swear, when he and Garcia are onscreen together, it's almost as though handsomeness is about approach critical mass and make the screen (or something) explode. It's pornographic.

It's also one of the best glimpses of the then-remarkable Bellagio. Like movie stars, Vegas properties tend to have a lifespan, and Bellagio has now passed its prime. Steven Soderbergh has always been a director who's acutely attuned to colors in his films, and he knows how to use them to accentuate character and mood. Here, the blue of the lake is almost dreamlike, and the golden tones throughout can make you want to remark, "They just don't make pictures like that anymore."

But they do make them. They made one, and then they remade it. And just like parlaying a Yo bet, or stacking star on top of star, that second one came up an even bigger winner.


Alice said...

Hey Susan. Just wanted you to know I've really enjoyed the Vegas movie reviews. This one is really on the mark for both 1 and 2. The best shot of all is at the end with all the guys watching the beautiful fountain (my favorite "free" show there) choreographed to Clair de Lune. Also, I wanted you to know I bought The Cooler on Ebay based on your review!

SusanD said...

Thanks, Alice! I hope you love "The Cooler"! Please please let me know what you think of it!