Seen at the Movies: Ocean's Eleven

. This new Steven Soderbergh heist flick is already getting a lot of praise as the star-studded movie-movie of the year, but saying it's better than the 1960 Rat Pack original is faint praise indeed. The setup is similar: dapper ex-con Danny Ocean gathers together a group of cute crooks to rob a Las Vegas casino vault. This time, Frank and Dean and Sammy and Peter and so on are more or less replaced by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, and a few lesser lights. Julia Roberts (in for Angie Dickinson) is it for the distaff side, while Carl Reiner and Elliott Gould limn the old pros. Andy Garcia plays the owner of the three casinos—the Bellagio, the Mirage, and the MGM Grand—that supposedly share one vast underground vault.


Security control room set for Ocean's Eleven

Soderbergh directs the inconsequential proceedings with considerable skill, but the cast is uneven (Clooney, Pitt, Mac, Reiner, and Gould deliver the charismatic goods; Damon, Roberts, Cheadle, and Garcia fall short) and the concluding stretch is lame. The movie does look great: as with Traffic, Soderbergh takes over the camera under the pseudonym Peter Andrews, and gives the surface a real shimmer. Since the film is basically a commercial for the Bellagio, the hotel management allowed the production to rope off a portion of the casino, and even build partial sets. Production designer Phil Messina contrasts the Bellagio's plush warm tones with the steely, functional "back of the house"—chiefly, the vault and security areas. Some of these sets are enhanced by the effects work of Tom Smith at Cinesite.


A greenscreen sequence in the Ocean's Eleven vault.

Andy Garcia in the post-heist vault

Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland puts the stars through a number of wardrobe changes: Clooney, for example, has 26. The guys wear lots of slick suits, especially Garcia, who has a dark, buttoned-up Asian thing going on. His opposite number is Gould, whose character is very old Vegas and Liberace-style queeny. For his first, poolside scene, Kurland dresses Gould in matching print trunks and shirt, which is open to reveal a furry broad chest and heavy dangling jewelry. Roberts' character enters wearing a wow-'em red dress; then, unfortunately, she ruins the effect by shambling across the room in inimitable Julia style.

Stockard Channing could give Roberts a few lessons in deportment. The actress gives a strong performance in another new movie, Patrick Stettner's The Business of Strangers. She stars with Julia Stiles in this tale of power jockeying between a middle-aged, slightly desperate corporate executive and her insolent, twentysomething assistant. The movie isn't great—it's like an extended one-act with a discomfiting air of misogyny. But the setting, an airport hotel in some anonymous American city (and composited by production designer Dina Goldman from five locations) becomes a powerful metaphor of rootlessness and isolation. The Business of Strangers is photographed by Teodoro Maniaci, and the costumes are designed by Kasia Walicka Maimone and Dawn Weisberg.

John Calhoun

Heard on the Street : There are modest signs of recovery in the theatre as we head into 2002. In any event, a number of designers are landing some interesting jobs. Scenic designer Beowulf Borritt is a familiar name to subscribers at the Pearl Theatre, among other Off Off Broadway venues. Now he's landed a prestige commercial project, designing scenery and costumes for The Last Five Years, a new musical by Jason Robert Brown, starring Norbert Leo Butz (Thou Shalt Not) and Sherie Rene Scott (Aida). Borritt did the musical's previous production, at Chicago's Northlight Theatre. His colleagues include lighting designer Chris Binder and sound designer Duncan Edwards. It opens at the Minetta Lane on March 3....Set designer John Arnone must have been disappointed when his latest musical, Dracula, was postponed until the fall. However, he's busy with two new Broadway plays: First up is the new Edward Albee work, The Goat, which also opens March 3, and stars Mercedes Ruehl and Bill Pullman. One month later, Arnone opens Fortune's Fool, by Turgenev, starring Alan Bates and Frank Langella. On the latter project, his colleagues include Jane Greenwood (costumes), Brian Nason (lighting), and Brian Ronan (sound)...By the time Fortune's Fool arrives, Greenwood will be done with Antony and Cleopatra, which opens January 25 at the Guthrie Theatre. The production features scenery by Ming Cho Lee, lighting by Stephen Strawbridge, and sound by Scott W. Edwards. Robert Cuccioli and Laila Robbins star...Greenwood also recently designed the musical Lone Star Love, or The Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas (you get the picture), which is now rumored for Broadway in the spring...

Heard From Across the Pond: Lighting designer Hugh Vanstone is slated to design the lights and sets for a new production of Godspell, for a tour ready to open in Liverpool, England, in February, and a West End engagement later in 2002. Vanstone will also be designing lighting for Bombay Dreams, with sets by Mark Thompson, currently represented on Broadway by Mamma Mia! This "Bollywood" musical opens in June 2002 at the Apollo Victoria, replacing the long-running Starlight Express. Andy Voller is slated to do the moving lights programming...Staying on dry land long enough to design the current London hit revival of My Fair Lady, veteran LD David Hersey will anchor his sailboat once again to light Trevor Nunn's revival of South Pacific at the Royal National Theatre, as their revival of Oklahoma! is headed to Broadway...And while it's hard to imagine, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the film, will now become a musical by the same name, opening in 2002 at the London Palladium, with sets by Anthony Ward, lighting by Mark Henderson, sound by Andrew Bruce of Autograph, and moving light programming by Stuart Porter...

...and From Across the Northern Border: The renowned Canadian architectural firm of Zeidler Roberts Partnership has changed its name to Zeidler Grinnell Partnership, recognizing the contributions that partner Ian Grinnell has made in his 21 years with the firm. Current entertainment-based projects include the Canada Sports Hall of Fame and the Niagra Falls Casino/Gateway Project. Additional information about the firm can be found at their website, www.zgpa.net.