Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Soderbergh is one of the rare filmmakers who can do just as much with $100 million as he can with $200,000. Because he directs, shoots, edits and camera operates the majority of his films, Soderbergh can selflessly be dubbed a true auteur. And with 12 flicks (and one TV show) under his belt in the 2000s alone, the dude is damn prolific, too. Basically, when I’m asked who my favorite current filmmaker is, Soderbergh is always one of the first names out of my mouth.
(Note: Soderbergh’s second film Kafka, made in 1991, is seemingly nonexistent. I’ve tried various outlets – Netflix, Amazon, used film stores – to no avail. Likewise his 1996 documentary, Gray’s Anatomy.)
sex, lies and videotape (1989)
The Underneath (1995)
Out of Sight (1998)
The Limey (1999)
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Full Frontal (2002)
Soderbergh’s first foray into indie mystery after achieving A-list status. Like his later tiny-budget films, you either like Full Frontal or you don’t. I’m not going to argue that it can be too Hollywood insider-y for the average viewer, but I didn’t see it as a complete failure. As an exercise in stripping movie powerhouses of their vanity, it definitely succeeds. But is the flimsy story enough to carry an entire film? You be the judge. B
Hands down the most underrated film of Soderbergh’s career. Despite being produced by James Cameron, the film was released to dismal box office returns and harsh reviews. I’ve always thought Solaris was a patient, brilliantly realized story with convincing acting and a powerful conclusion. But not many would agree with me. A
K Street (2003)
This short-lived HBO series (it only lasted one season) was a ballsy, fly-on-the-wall approach to the inside working’s of the D.C. government infrastructure. Fusing together real people with fictional characters, Soderbergh, along with co-creator George Clooney, delivered an improvised, captivating work of modern television. Sure it only appealed to a select sect of people, but I have I feeling it would’ve grown into a superb show if given more time. A-
Eros: "Equilibrium" segment (2004)
Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
The Good German (2006)
Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)
The Girlfriend Experience (2009)
The Informant! (2009)
If you're one of the millions of people who read Elizabeth Gilbert's insanely popular memoir, you know the gist.
Between an ugly divorce and a fleeting relationship with a younger man, Liz (Julia Roberts) has a quasi nervous breakdown when she comes to terms with the fact that she's sick of her dull, passionless NYC life. She whips up an idea to spend the year eating in Italy, praying in India and loving in Bali.
It's a novel, commendable choice for a middle-aged woman to just up and go go go. And on the page, Gilbert's whimsical (if not too winded) prose casts a sense of solidarity with the reader; we feel like we know her and her experiences. Not so much with the film.
Director Ryan Murphy knows how to shoot some groovy b-roll (as was evident in his first TV show Nip/Tuck). The way he shoots and cuts together the opening segments of Liz arriving to each city is exhilarating (namely the India segment, which is perfectly scored to M.I.A's "Boyz"). But once the actors actually sit and talk, all, more or less, goes to shit.
The film rests solely on the shoulders of Julia Roberts. If you like her, you'll like the movie, if you don't particularly care for her (ding ding) then you won't be pulled into the drama. Watching Roberts kneel on her bedroom floor and pray for the first time, I knew I should be feeling something. I knew it was a pivotal, emotional scene for the character and the film itself. But I didn't care. At all. Because she didn't make me care.
Most of the scenes play out like that. In my mind, the star of the Italian segment was the food, in India it was the cranky old Texan Liz grows to admire (played to perfection by Richard Jenkins), and the effortless Javier Bardem stole all the Bali scenes.
But, can shots of food and two male actors keep a film afloat? I'm not sure. Which bring me to the scene I mentioned earlier.
An hour and 15 minutes into this film, towards the end of the India segment, Roberts and Jenkins share a scene that is so well done, it damn near saves the entire film.
As the two sit, Jenkins slowly delivers a monolouge of perfect restraint and utter heartbreak. Director Murphy does a very wise thing here: he doesn't move the camera, not once. There is no cutaway shot of Roberts' swollen, crying face, no slow zoom-in to Jenkins' grimaced expression. It just stands still.
Before the film started, I never thought I'd predict that Eat Pray Love would be dubbed as an Academy Award contender. But Jenkins makes this the case. The actor has been stealing scenes for years in minor roles as the ghost dad in Six Feet Under, a love stricken boss in Burn After Reading, and most notably, as a isolated man in The Visitor. But in Eat Pray Love, and this scene in particular, he delivers his best, most controlled work to date. It's one of the very best scenes of the year. See the movie for Jenkins, he gets an A, the film as a whole, give it a D+.
Eat Pray Love? Forget that. How about Gym, Tan, Laundry?
Admirers of the first two Step Up's should have a fun time here, watching inner city kids battle over dancers for a monetary prize which will fix everyone's problems.
Fans probably aren't concerned with the acting, which is a... step up above that of a porn star's. Or the fact that when the actors face the camera mid-dance, the 3D makes their limbs look like Stretch Armstrong's.
Nothing is believable, everything is forgettable. Just another summer at the movies. D
Schumacher has always had in interest in examining nice people doing not so nice things, such as in Twelve where the lead character, White Mike (awful name) is a sober drug dealer trying to hustle a living after his mother's death.
White Mike, as played by Gossip Girl pretty boy Chance Crawford, walks around New York City in his designer pajamas, dealing weed to trustfund babies on spring break, none of which speak like they actually attend Harvard or Yale, as is evident by their inability to form a coherent sentence, ending every thought with the words "you know" and/or "like."
Crawford plays White Mike, or Schumacher directs him, as a guy full of moral fiber. He's so much better than the people he deals to; he has like, you know, morals.
Whatever. White Mike's thugged-out hookup (50 Cent, really stretching here) wants Mike to start dealing Twelve, a new sort of smack that comes on like cocaine but fades into an ecstasy high. But Mike wants no part of it. He's, like, you know, too good for that... stuff.
The film barely strings together a slew of characters, none of which you'll care about. And when the movie (finally) ends, you won't even care that it was due to a cliched, laughably predictable blowout.
You probably didn't get a chance to see this in theatres; it didn't last too long. And trust me, don't seek it out on DVD. Because, like, you know, it... sucks. D-
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
You gotta give it to a guy like Todd Solondz. The dude’s movies get weirder and more perverse with each passing festival circuit. He aims to shock, appall and, most importantly, make you think. It would be easy to write Solondz off as a smut hack. Don’t. Look closer.
Solondz’s first feature, Welcome to the Dollhouse, was an indie sensation. It dealt with teenage angst in a way American audiences hadn’t seen. Happiness, an epic character study about love, loss, pedophilia, sexual harassment and more, is indeed great, even if its content is grimacing. But since Happiness, Solondz has taken his extremes to new levels.
Storytelling is less remembered for its multi-narrative format than for Solondz’s infamous antics surrounding it. (He mocked the MPAA by plastering a huge red square over the bodies of two actors during a particularly rowdy sex scene.) In the little-seen Palindromes, the main character, a 12-year-old girl, is played by eight different actors of various genders and races. If anything, you remember how these films shocked you, and not how they were uniquely conceived.
Now we get Life During Wartime, a quasi-sequel to Happiness with a complete re-cast of characters. Michael K. Williams (unforgettable as Omar in The Wire) replaces Philip Seymour Hoffman was a prank-calling pervert. Ciaran Hinds steps in the shoes of Dylan Baker as a seriously disturbed pedophilic monster. Lara Flynn Boyle is now Ally Sheedy, and so on. The reshaping of the cast isn’t important, it’s just a gimmick. What Solondz wants you to realize, I think, is that no matter who says or does it, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s been said, or done.
Taking its title from a Taking Heads song, Life During Wartime is presented far more abstractly than Happiness. At its root, it’s still about a family of three sisters and their struggles with sex and life and love. And while little is explained, one of the film’s biggest downfalls is that you need to have seen the first film to fully be able to keep up; not a fair conclusion for a movie that came out 12 years ago.
If there are highlights it’s in Ciaran Hinds and Paul Reubens (yes, Mr. Herman). Fresh out of prison, Hinds’ first few scenes are wisely wordless as he slowly makes his way to the Florida coast in search of his family. We’re not entirely sure what he is planning to do, but with Hinds locked in a steady look of utter conviction, it’s impossible to not want to follow him.
Reubens, taking over Jon Lovitz’s role, pops up in a few scenes as the tortured ghost of Shirley Henderson’s ex boyfriend. Watch Reubens’ eyes as they swell red with anger and self-regret. I haven’t seen Pee Wee in a while (Blow, maybe?) but damn if he doesn’t steal the show.
If you’re a Solondz fan, you’ve probably already bought a ticket for Life During Wartime. If you’re a newbie to Solondz’s warped view of American culture, then save this one for later. Either way: be warned. Solondz’s dialogue is written specifically to cut directly to the bone. Something he has seemingly perfected, but always to your liking. B-