Extras A starring
Damian Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Amy Ryan written
and directed by Lodge Kerrigan
by Walter Chaw
Lodge Kerrigan's astounding Keane
deals with not only madness and the loss of a child but also our
preconceptions of the cold universe and, shaving it precisely, our
expectations for the kinds of cold comfort we expect film to provide.
It's wrong to call it experimental, because the decision to shoot in
four-minute takes doesn't announce itself as a gimmick as much as it
settles comfortably into a groove alternating small explosions and
lulls laced with anticipation. A lot of movies pay lip-service to
carving space for their actors to find their way around difficult
characters and emotionally taxing scenes--Keane actually
it. It's about the belief that there are no certainties in life, and it
understands that trusting--and loving--in a world so swiftly lurching
is akin to a kind of insanity. When we meet William Keane (Damian
Lewis), as he's reeling around the Port Authority Bus Terminal looking
for his daughter, it takes us a few minutes to realize that his
daughter (if he's ever even had a daughter) has been missing for a year
and that his desperate attempts to find a witness to her abduction in
the river of passers-by is spiced by a little too much stale urgency.
Keane might be crazy. He also has good reason to be.
Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum screenplay
by Scott Z. Burns directed
by Steven Soderbergh
Angelo Muredda Whatever you may think of the distinctive yellow patina that creeps across his
Steven Soderbergh is something of a chameleon artist, prone to the
shape-shifting that's led some to mischaracterize commercial work like
the Ocean's series as mere Hollywood capital to
be cashed in on
ambitious curios like Bubble.
If anything, it's the Ocean's
movies that most bear his signature in their attention to complex
amok and their indulgence of postmodern genre pastiche, which recur in
as disparate as Haywire
Mike. Both tendencies are in full force in
psycho-thriller Side Effects,
ostensibly the last of Soderbergh's theatrical releases and in many ways the
most quintessentially Soderberghian despite its impersonal subject.
It's an unusual swan song but perhaps the ideal one for a director who's
revealed himself in his formalist rigor, the conspicuous act of
out his idiosyncrasies into preexisting generic containers--in this
case, half-a-dozen of them.
November 27, 2005|I
got off on the wrong foot with Lodge Kerrigan almost immediately (the
kind of thing I can usually avoid until at least ten or twelve minutes
into an interview). It was an unexpected turn of events because I'm a
fan and was dying to talk to him after getting poleaxed by his first
three films: Clean, Shaven, Claire Dolan, and now Keane.
It was my fault; I asked him if his films were a means by which to
address his prejudices when, upon consideration, his films actually
force me to address my own prejudices: prejudices about mental illness,
prostitution, and the general desperation of the disenfranchised. I
wouldn't call it a misunderstanding so much as a bad presumption on my
part--this belief that the things that made me uncomfortable and/or
crazy brought out the same feelings in Kerrigan. It's a presumption so
deeply ingrained in me that I never stopped to think that the things
I'm a prick about aren't the same things everyone else is a prick
about, making the interview almost as interesting a prod for
self-examination as are Kerrigan's films.
Walter Chaw I wish To the Wonder
released this year--Take Shelter, too. The one
because I love Terrence
Malick and I'm excited that he's working so much, the other because I fear
Shelter is the last time Michael Shannon will anchor a
being instantly Christopher Walken-ized. It's his The Dead
he's amazing in a movie that takes big risks and pays off in a
if he were to star in it now, I think it would be
for camp. I also wish I'd seen Margaret in time
for my 2011 list. Alas, local publicity has never been terribly
in my participation. Nevertheless, thanks mostly to Netflix
screeners, I saw a great many great films this year.
Love stories were the rule of the day for the year that was 2002. Sprung love stories, twisted love stories, emotionally devastating love stories flavoured by entropy and nihilism. The films that seem to fall out of that purview, About Schmidt and Morvern Callar, show themselves ultimately to be pictures moved by the deaths of a loved one or, as with Wendigo, studies of the dynamics of family from surface ideal to subversive schism. Romance is the prism through which identity and normalcy are redefined--a certain celluloid co-dependency that made 2002 (and 2001) the best years for film, and American film in particular, since the heyday of American cinema in the 1970s.
**½/**** Image A Sound A Extras D+ starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Matthew McConaughey screenplay by Reid Carolin directed by Steven Soderbergh
by Angelo MureddaMagic Mike opens with Saul Bass's red-and-black Warner Bros. logo, retired in 1984. That gesture is meant, I think, to pitch what follows as a throwback to smarter studio fare along the lines of Hal Ashby's Being There, but it also courts less flattering comparisons to the likes of the Police Academy movies. Steven Soderbergh's latest pop exercise falls somewhere between those two poles--a little too close for comfort to the Guttenberg side. Conceived as a loose riff on star Channing Tatum's time as a male stripper, it has a solid run as a cheerful smut delivery mechanism before hanging up its thong to become a rote ‘80s melodrama about good kids corrupted by bad drugs. If the howl of "Yes!" that greeted the first bared ass at my screening is any indication, that transformation won't hurt the bottom line (a figure these strippers always seem to have on their minds), though it does make Magic Mike another promising yet half-baked Soderbergh project instead of a good movie, sans asterisks.
GRAY'S ANATOMY **½/**** Image A- Sound B Extras B directed by Steven Soderbergh
A PERSONAL HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN THEATER ***½/**** directed by Skip Blumberg
AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE ****/**** Image N/A Sound B Extras A directed by Steven Soderbergh
SEX AND DEATH TO THE AGE 14 ***/**** directed by Dan Weissman and Brad Ricker
by Walter Chaw The first ten minutes of Steven Soderbergh's Gray's Anatomy are
obnoxious, and though there are few artists as interesting to me or as influential in my own life as Spalding Gray, the last 109 don't exactly blow my
skirt up, either. Let me back up. I tripped over Swimming to Cambodia in
English class, Freshman year, then procured my own copy at Boulder's invaluable
The Video Station so that I could go back to it and, sure, impress Liberal Arts
girls with it on a double-bill with Stop Making Sense. You might say
that Gray and David Byrne were my wing-men for a couple of years there; it's
fitting that my VHS copies of both those pieces are now and forever in the
possession of ex-girlfriends and love interests. I wonder if I would ask for the tapes back were I to run into them again. I know that one of them, after I
was married, tried to return Swimming to Cambodia, and I asked her to
please keep it. If you don't know what Swimming to Cambodia is, it's
Spalding Gray's unbelievably great performance-"monolog" about his time on set,
on location, shooting Roland Joffe's The Killing Fields. I've never
heard Joffe speak, but I have Gray's impersonation of Joffe--calling out to a
tripping-balls Gray, floating in shark-infested surf in the South China Sea--lodged in my brain. I pull it out once in a while at a party, just as a
sonar ping to see if anyone could possibly identify the echo of the echo.
CHE ***½/**** starring Benicio Del Toro, Demián Bichir, Santiago Cabrera, Vladimir Cruz screenplay by Peter Buchman, based on the memoir Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War by Ernesto "Che" Guevara directed by Steven Soderbergh
MILK *½/**** starring Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna screenplay by Dustin Lance Black directed by Gus Van Sant
by Walter Chaw Steven Soderbergh's Che is the curative to the Hollywood biopic formula that insists on reducing interesting/important historical figures to their workshop elements. It sees Ernesto "Che" Guevara as a charismatic figure but no T-shirt deity, as a guerrilla fighter with blood on his hands but also a revolutionary almost holy in his single-minded conviction that things weren't fair in the world and that one man--or one small group of heavily-armed men--could affect change that mattered. It's not a political film in the sense that it takes sides, rendering it a political film by the fact of it having no agenda except to make it difficult to condemn or celebrate first the events leading up to the success of the Cuban Revolution, then the failure of the Bolivian Revolution (which ended in Che's death). Soderbergh goes from close and medium shots in the first half--known as Che Part One in its marathon "roadshow" incarnation and as The Argentine in parts of the country where it and Che Part Two (a.k.a. The Guerrilla) are being treated as unique films--to an increasing distance for the second, a subtle, evocative move away from Che's idealism.
THE PAINTED VEIL ***/**** Image B- Sound A- starring Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Diana Rigg screenplay by Ron Nyswaner, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham directed by John Curran
THE GOOD SHEPHERD **/**** starring Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro, Alec Baldwin screenplay by Eric Roth directed by Robert De Niro
THE GOOD GERMAN *½/**** Image A Sound A- starring George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire, Jack Thompson screenplay by Paul Attanasio, based on the novel by Joseph Kanon directed by Steven Soderbergh
by Walter ChawOne of seemingly dozens of pretentious, self-produced vanity pieces from the Edward Norton grist mill, The Painted Veil, John Curran's adaptation of Somerset Maugham's story of colonial malaise, is a pleasant surprise. Naomi Watts and Toby Jones are fabulous (and Norton is steady); it's not terribly paternalistically racist despite being another Western film in which white people exert their magical influence in foreign lands; and even though it's all about prestige and hedonism, it manages now and again to actually be about prestige and hedonism. But like the simultaneously-opening Soderbergh noirThe Good German, it's mostly interesting in the meta. What keeps this updating of the old Greta Garbo weeper from being literally better is the lack of immediacy in its tale of emotionally distant scientists and their flapper wives, adrift in the boiler pot of 1920s Shanghai. Not timeless in its remove but instead ineffably dated by it, it's an Old Hollywood production in both epic scale and lack of subtext, making the picture a lovely trifle not unlike other well-done bits of instantly-forgotten prestige (see: Philip Noyce's The Quiet American).
**/**** Image A- Sound B+ starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Catherine Zeta-Jones screenplay by George Nolfi directed by Steven Soderbergh
by Walter Chaw It's all so very beautiful that it's easy to be seduced by it. The people, of course, are gorgeous. The locations in Amsterdam and Lake Como, Italy are gorgeous. The soundtrack? Gorgeous. Cinematography, direction: gorgeous, gorgeous. None too pretty, though, is that sniffy feeling of crashing a party where you stick out like a sore thumb--where everybody knows everybody else and you keep asking the wrong questions. In that, at least, Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Twelve is more faithful to the Rat Packer Ocean's Eleven than his own remake of the same--this picture's prequel--was. Ocean's Twelve amounts to a martini-and-lounge party at which everybody's having a really great time as you watch from your chair in the corner, daydreaming of looking like Julia Roberts, talking like brandy in a warm snifter, having more fame than The Beatles, and being richer than God.
****/**** starring George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, Viola Davis screenplay by Steven Soderbergh, based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem directed by Steven Soderbergh
by Walter Chaw Steven Soderbergh's best film since sex, lies, and videotape (and the film most like it in theme and execution), Solaris is a moving, hypnotic adaptation of the classic Stanislaw Lem novel, which was first made into a film in 1972 by Andrei Tarkovsky. Co-produced by James Cameron's company Lightstorm, Solaris fits loosely into Ridley Scott's Alien future with its monolithic "Company" and the need for a specialist to infiltrate a corrupted interstellar outpost--a future Cameron plumbed in 1986 with his modern genre classic Aliens. But Solaris is less a science-fiction film than it is an existentialist melodrama that, by winnowing itself down to the fierce romanticism at the heart of Lem's novel (and Tarkovsky's trance-like adaptation), locates the core issues of identity and love that plague the dark hours.
*/**** starring Blair Underwood, Julia Roberts, David Hyde Pierce, Catherine Keener screenplay by Coleman Hough directed by Steven Soderbergh
by Walter Chaw An experiment in perceptual distortion that questions the nature of viewership and the law of observation that states, in part, that the nature of the process of observation necessitates a change in the essential quality of the observed, Steven Soderbergh's Full Frontal is a hyper-pretentious film-within-a-film-within-a-film conceit so gimmicky it hardly matters that by the end gimmickry is its point. The picture begins with the opening of a fictional film called "Rendezvous" starring Calvin (Blair Underwood) and Francesca (Julia Roberts), written by Carl (David Hyde Pierce) and produced by Gus (David Duchovny), and as this "fake" film proceeds in perfectly acceptable 35mm, it is interrupted by long stretches of extremely grainy digital-video footage that purports to represent "reality."
**½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt screenplay by Ted Griffin directed by Steven Soderbergh
by Walter ChawImpeccably-costumed and impossibly-handsome action figures are arranged in cool poses throughout Ocean's Eleven, Steven Soderbergh's updating of the same-named Rat Pack caper. A throwback to the star-driven cinema of the Fifties and a reflection of our own fanatical interest in cults of personality, the film features transparent performances (with the exception of Don Cheadle, each performer in Ocean's Eleven is playing his- or herself), and the same kind of sadistic voyeurism that impels us to simultaneously deify and find fault with our favourite actors keeps our peepers glued to the screen as George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Elliot Gould, and Carl Reiner revolve around one another in a loose heist intrigue intended to relieve Andy Garcia of both his millions and his girlfriend.
**½/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C- starring Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law screenplay by Scott Z. Burns directed by Steven Soderbergh
by Walter Chaw Less smug (if only be a few degrees) than Steven Soderbergh's other starfucker balls, Contagion surprises with its consistent serious-mindedness, even as it finally disappoints by contenting itself to be a cautionary tale rather than, in a year of world-busters, an end-of-times tale. Even Fail Safe and the inch of dust settled on it has Hank Fonda levelling NYC--all Contagion does is kill Gwyneth Paltrow ugly, which, in the grand scheme of things, is only what every sentient human being in the United States has contemplated already. (I confess I amused myself during the scene in which Paltrow's afflicted adulteress has her brain scooped out of her head by muttering "Goop, indeed." Sue me.) Still, it earns pith points for making Paltrow, typecast as a woman of privilege and longueurs, the Typhoid Mary of the new millennium, and more points still for being resolutely unafraid to characterize all of Asia as a giant petri dish ready to make a mass grave out of the rest of the world. Essentially, Contagion, as it goes about what it's about with absolute professionalism and class, earns its keep by being right, more or less, about everything it bothers to talk about.