Produced in a retina-searing grayscale widescreen format, Godfrey Reggio’s very, very cold “Visitors” ought to be seen from as far away as possible, perhaps at the back of an orchestra hall where Philip Glass is conducting the score live, or, depending on your taste for this kind of eye-dandy eye-candy, from several blocks away, with many thick walls blocking the view of the latest philosophical staredown from the monk-turned-film-essayist of three decades who compiled “Koyaanisqatsi,” “Powaqqatsi” and “Naqoyqatsi.” In the press notes, Reggio describes one element of his project: “My novice master taught me when I was still a teenager,” Reggio says, “that if I wanted to see that which was most present, most ordinary in my life, around me all the time, that I must stare at it until it looked unusual. And that’s held with me through life.” An accumulation of seventy-four shots (seventy-two of them hidden trick shots) composed in 4K high-definition, “Visitors” begins with a close-up of a female lowland gorilla, Triska, staring toward something, in effect, toward us. Challenging the audience. The close-up of the human (or simian) face, c’est cinema. Read the rest of this entry »
“Beards, bluegrass,” I start, and my friend frowns, “tragic and perhaps doomed romance”—“Okay, now keep going,” she says—“plus a female protagonist who has her own tattoo parlor.” “I’m in!” she says.
A Dutch melodrama about modern romance, bluegrass, tattoos: that had been the description that left me less-than-curious about Felix van Groeningen’s “Broken Circle Breakdown” as it toured the film-festival circuit over the past year. But expectations are there to be trumped, and then exceeded, when a story is well told by a good filmmaker. (Indeed, the day after I saw “Broken Circle,” it was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar.) Based on a 2009 play, “The Broken Circle Breakdown featuring the Cover-Ups of Alabama,” Groeningen’s feature betrays a literary bent, in his rhyming of incidents, visual motifs and pregnant symbols that belie its stage origins. It’s continually surprising, and feels fresh in the way the film toys with expectations that come from familiar particulars. Read the rest of this entry »
Over the weekend, Steven Soderbergh offered the annual keynote address at the San Francisco International Film Festival, opining far and wide on the state of the film industry as he continues to proclaim his retirement from theatrically released features. But he made this proviso: no recording, no photographs, no iPhone videos, no Instagram, no online, no streaming. (Reportedly, SFIFF recorded it for some future release.) “If you’re not here today, you are missing out. This is a one-of-a-kind event, it will not be recorded. It will not be put online,” fest boss Ted Hope said. A few epigrammatic bits escaped via Twitter (and Sundance Festival worker Joseph Beyer), including “Is there a difference between cinema and movies? If I ran Team America, I’d say ‘Fuck yeah'”; “Cinema is something that is made, movies are seen”; “Cinema is a specificity of vision. It’s as unique as a fingerprint. If it’s done well, you know exactly who made it,” and “If I were running a studio, I’d get a Shane Carruth, a Barry Jenkins and an Amy Seimetz and ask ‘What do you wanna make?'” Amy Seimetz, who is the female lead in Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color,” and was in Jenkins’ fine “Medicine for Melancholy” is also the writer-director of “Sun Don’t Shine,” and even if Soderbergh Studios’ largess has not yet arrived, she’s a gifted filmmaker through and through, and lives up to the first two epigrammatic stretches as well. Read the rest of this entry »
Clever extrapolations can be made that almost any movie is a reflection of the means of its making.
Or, in the case of “Side Effects,” the moment of Steven Soderbergh, asserting that at the age of fifty, he’s done with feature-length “cinema,” and will move on to painting, longform, television and other yet-to-be-discovered venues for his intelligence and prodigious energy.
A tricky, sardonic thriller shot after the fashion of Adrian Lyne’s sexual-remorse thrillers like “Fatal Attraction” and “Unfaithful,” “Side Effects” is a revival of a script by Scott Z. Burns (“Contagion,” “The Informant!”) that Soderbergh took up after a “Man From U. N. C. L. E.” revival collapsed. A psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), is assigned a patient who’s apparently tried to harm herself, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) after the release of her husband (Channing Tatum) from prison after four years on insider-trading charges. A succession of drugs (all with real names) doesn’t help, until a new (fictional) one seems to: Ablixa. But the thrills (and an ample aptitude for suspension of disbelief) come from questions of culpability and being wronged, rather than the pharma folderol. Read the rest of this entry »
Keanu Reeves, about to make his directorial debut with a China-set action movie, makes an engaging interlocutor in “Side By Side,” Chris Kenneally’s clear, brisk conversation of a documentary about the repercussions of the abrupt accomplishment of the handover from 35mm film as what we’ve known as “movies” for over a century to multiple permutations of digital production, distribution and exhibition. (Distributor Tribeca Film also has at least thirty short outtakes from the on-screen interviews at their YouTube channel; one with Lars von Trier in his office is below. It’s a genial mix, and a list of names alone suggests the quality of the exchanges: Steven Soderbergh, James Cameron, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Richard Linklater, Christopher Nolan, Wally Pfister, David Fincher, Greta Gerwig, Robert Rodriguez, cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond, Michael Chapman, Vittorio Storaro, Michael Ballhaus and Anthony Dod Mantle, editorial eminence Walter Murch, Danny Boyle, Dick Pope and “Lawrence of Arabia” editor Anne V. Coates, and, wouldn’t you know, George Lucas. Postures, postulations and occasional apercus follow. Read the rest of this entry »
It took under a second to want to love Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike,” and a fragment of a second that’s missing at the very very very very last shot of the movie seals it with a kiss. Opening with the 1970s Warner Bros. studio rollout—a wide screen filled with red with a white-on-black studio logo in its center—and the words, “Let’s fucking get it on tonight,” “Mike” immediately jabs: here, here’s a spirited try at what I can do with the mood of the 1970s Hollywood Renaissance. Lessons in place and pace offered by Altman and Ashby are immediately in evidence; there’s a loving embrace of “Saturday Night Fever”; as well as the passage of time being charted by Kubrick-like intertitles. Read the rest of this entry »
The kick-ass experience: “Haywire” is kinetic neo-pulp that lands halfway between the solar plexus and the lizard part of the mind. The latest by prolific director-cinematographer-editor Steven Soderbergh, working a third time with screenwriter Lem Dobbs, after “Kafka” and “The Limey,” is self-conscious filmmaking, using genre trappings and a multi-double-triple-cross espionage plot to explore Soderbergh’s most consistent latterday theme—where government meets money and money wins—as well as the potential of a distaff Jean Claude Van Damme taking down a succession of handsome male adversaries (with notably crummy haircuts), largely through physicality alone. (The movie’s original, double-entendre title was “Knockout.”) Read the rest of this entry »
And so the world ends, not with a bang but with a touch. However it’s seen—a bookend to the nihilist ending of summer hit “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a planetary “Poseidon Adventure” with an all-star cast helping us tell a vast number of roles apart, or a process piece, an “All the President’s Men” of pandemic preparedness—”Contagion,” Steven Soderbergh’s twenty-third film since 1989, is a corker of dread. Read the rest of this entry »
All Michael Bay’s “Transformers” in 3D is missing is a 40. (Take a 40, please.) Robustly cynical, “Transformers: Dark Of The Moon,” credited to screenwriter Ehren Kruger (“Scream 3,” “The Ring Two,” “Transformers 2”), serves up generous lashings of counterfactual pulp, including an Autobot-Decepticons-NASA-JFK-Nixon conspiracy with a soupcon of Chernobyl for spice. It’s like a Bizarro World Warren Report reduced to postage-stamp size. (The briefly seen JFK stand-in resembles someone who took second place in a Donald Trump look-alike contest.) “TDOTM” premiered at the Moscow Film Festival, and some of the most jazzed-up (yet largely incomprehensible) passages resemble the winningly cheesy special effects of local mogul Timur Bekmambetov’s “Night Watch” and “Day Watch,” but with less rude charm. Hope for keenly choreographed mayhem quickly fades. If not on the level of Michael Kidd and Vincente Minnelli’s work on “The Band Wagon,” say at least a few bars of “Collateral Damage,” the musical? When you’re working with Decepticons, a sentient race of mechanical beings that preceded film executives, you can hope to be the biggest and the best, but at best, you could only ever be ne plus Ultraman. (Or “Cars 3,” with eager-school-leaver Shia LaBeouf in the role of “Mater.”) Read the rest of this entry »
In “And Everything Is Going Fine,” monologist Spalding Gray narrates his life from beyond the grave in Steven Soderbergh’s inspired collage. Soderbergh had collaborated with Gray on the monologue film “Gray’s Anatomy” (1996), about the writer’s failing vision, as well as directing one of the most convincingly grim portraits of a despairingly doomed writer in “King of the Hill” (1993). Gray died in 2004, a likely suicide off a ferry after an earlier accident had damaged his lucid, limber memory. Soderbergh’s knack for fluid, inventive editing serves him well in this refined narrative, drawn from a reported ninety hours of original footage. Gray said he was dyslexic, and had said he remembered the previous telling when he performed more than he would recall a set text or consult his familiar notebooks or a tall clear glass of water. In its accomplished form, “And Everything…” replicates that organic palimpsest that existed only in the unique formations of one man’s brain. And not to forget, what a funny guy. What an observant man. What an estimable artist. Soderbergh didn’t carve a monument: he finished a sentence. Or, rather, allows Gray to finish his many sentences: he’s the sole narrator, his solitary subject, in this final version of all his tale-telling and truth-digging. The ending “lamentation” is discovered, found, observed, and perfect—the hearing of a kindred spirit. (89m. HDCAM video.) (Ray Pride)
“And Everything Is Going Fine” opens Friday at Siskel.