'Ocean's Thirteen' | Sharon Stone | George Clooney | New Line Cinema | Rhino Records U.K.

'Ocean's Thirteen': Pacino + Clooney = Hot Stuff

Maybe because Al Pacino is just so good at everything he does, and makes it look so effortless, we should just sing his praises now. His turn as a villain in Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Thirteen," which was screened for the press this morning, is worth its weight in gold for elevating mere fun to actual pleasure.

Not to say the rest of the cast isn't fine. Everyone loves George Clooney and Brad Pitt in the "Oceans" series, and the good news is that "Thirteen" is several jumps better than the self-referential "Twelve."

The gang must have decided to chip in for a screenplay, since Brian Koppelman and David Levien have given them a solid one that involves all the cast members including Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, a hilarious Carl Reiner and the super sexy Ellen Barkin.

What's nice too is that Barkin and Pacino have their own chemistry, from 1989's "Sea of Love." Can it be so long ago? They click like it's yesterday in scene after scene.

My only quibble with "Thirteen" is that they didn't give this pair a love story a la Boris and Natasha. Still, though, they make the movie literally jump right up.

"Thirteen" continues the odyssey of Clooney and Pitt, and they do actually get in a few inside jokes about their lives. Pitt makes fun of Clooney's weight; George tells Brad to settle down and have some kids. Ha ha. Thankfully, that's all there is, since "Twelve" was only about the stars.

There's also a clever extended cameo from producer Jerry Weintraub, who should have been acting a long time ago. He's pretty damn convincing as a high roller in Pacino's casino.

The original "Ocean's Eleven" was made with the Rat Pack many decades ago. And in this episode, at least Frank Sinatra's name is invoked. Not only that: the guys end the movie with a Sinatra song. Nice touch.

But "Thirteen" is full of nice touches and grace notes just in case this is the last installment (it's not, but you never know). An expected reappearance by Victor Cassel, plus Andy Garcia, are two of the little gifts delivered in the middle of shuffled decks of cards and faked earthquakes in Las Vegas.

In the end, "Ocean's Thirteen" is about Soderbergh more than anyone else. He does his own cinematography, which is like having Wolfgang Puck cook a meal for you himself. Colors are drenched in blues and browns, the whole movie in fact is color coded like "Traffic," and the pace never lets up once. Everyone looks great in real life anyway, and Soderbergh makes sure they look that good here too.

Sharon Stone's Annual Shakedown

For better or worse, Sharon Stone performed her annual shakedown at the Cannes Film Festival American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) dinner Wednesday night.

Looking like several million bucks in a slinky gold Roberto Cavalli dress that clung to her like a second skin, Stone shimmered as she conducted a live auction of items that you and I cannot afford. In the end, the event raised about $3 million for AIDS research.

If she performed in her movies like she did at the fundraiser, she would win her Oscar for melodrama, dynamics and emotion. She sells kisses, promises anything and oozes just enough sensuality and primness of a nasty junior high school teacher to shame the many millionaires in the audience into coughing up hundred thousands of dollars. They should teach this in MBA courses.

Stone was joined by what was billed as "the entire cast of 'Ocean's Thirteen,'" which meant George Clooney, Ellen Barkin, Don Cheadle, Elliott Gould and Matt Damon plus producer Jerry Weintraub. Brad Pitt was mysteriously missing and so was Angelina Jolie, even though a spotting of her handler got some diners excited. The couple was presumably up at the Hotel du Cap with their young brood.

The "Ocean's" cast assisted Stone, designer Kenneth Cole and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein — who have really become the driving forces behind the fundraising part of the dinner — sell all sorts of very, very expensive trips, designer dresses and luggage to the audience.

Clooney sold a kiss for $350,000 (it also included some of those other items) to a very friendly, attractive brunette who joined him on stage and planted a smacker on his lips.

There were harder sells in the audience. Director/artist Julian Schnabel looked a little distraught when an offer of a plate painting by him, accompanied by an original Mario Testino photograph, was a hard sell.

Eventually, Schnabel found high bidders, but between the language difficulty and the fact that the amfAR audience is clueless about the value of his work — imagine Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns working an auction — didn't make the famous artist a happy camper.

There were plenty of other celebs at the amfAR dinner. It was an eclectic bunch that ranged from superstars like Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell to supermodel Naomi Campbell to Julian Lennon, Michelle Rodriguez, Kerry Washington, director Robert Rodriguez and Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, Bai Ling, Michelle Yeoh and so on.

If nothing else, the amfAR dinner, which is held toward the end of every Cannes Film Festival, is like an attendance call for everyone who has been in town for the previous eight days.

But even with the enthusiasm of the participants, some things about the amfAR dinner have gone stale. It may be lost on the amfAR organizers, but not on the guests who paid $5,000 a ticket.

Many were surprised that the night's entertainment was Australian pop star Kylie Minogue. Minogue was followed by "stripper" Dita von Teese, the ex-wife of Marilyn Manson, who put on a lukewarm burlesque show that didn't appeal much to McGowan, another Manson ex, who took the opportunity to exit the sweltering dinner tent.

"It's much better out here," the "Grindhouse" star said, showing off her cleverly designed backless, sideless gown. "I'm pretty well-ventilated, and I'm still hot."

Indeed, she was.

So, no, the amfAR event didn't have stars of past dinners like Elton John and Elizabeth Taylor, and many music stars who might have performed — like Bono — now have their own charities to look after.

But even if the amfAR dinner is in transition, it's still pretty impressive that they raised so much money and interest in such a short time.

Clooney Raises $9.2 Million for Darfur

George Clooney's efforts to raise money for Darfur refugees has paid off big time. The fundraiser he co-hosted in Antibes on Tuesday night with fellow "Ocean's Thirteen" cast mates and producer Jerry Weintraub raised $9.2 million.

"We're not stopping there," a thrilled Weintraub vowed. "This thing isn't over. I've already got another million coming in."

Happy Birthday, New Line Cinema

The New Line Cinema 40th anniversary party was also a launch for the "Dark Materials" trilogy soon to come from the studio. The first episode is called "The Golden Compass" and stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig; it is directed by Chris Weitz.

This week we saw a 10-minute footage teaser of "Compass" that portends great things if all goes according to plan. Guiding the whole shebang: New Line's Mark Ordesky, who made "Lord of the Rings" such a phenomenal international success.

Shake-Up at Rhino Records U.K.

Gone from Rhino Records U.K.: Nick Stewart.

This is the executive I told you about recently, who capriciously refused to promote Rhino/Warner product in England and fired a singer he was promoting in the middle of her release.

In his place: Dan Chalmers, a most welcome successor.