Side Effects

June 8, 2013

Warning: This film is very plot and twist-heavy, so SPOILERS are present.

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In his supposedly penultimate film (I take his ‘retirement’ with a grain of salt), Steven Soderbergh once again genre-jumps feet-first into a Hitchockian “Wrong Man” thriller that draws heavily on the tradition of psychiatric suspicion.  Working again with a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, Soderbergh’s observant, seemingly dispassionate (some say cold) approach is probably not best suited to the genre staples he’s working for, but it does offer a rich critical broadside against corrupted institutions and the people (knowing or unknowingly) complicit in them.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Magic Mike

August 3, 2012

Steven Soderbergh’s inherently objective style of filmmaking has served him well in recent years, even as the coldness can occasionally subdue emotional engagement.  He is generally interested with processes, which he can portray in subtle and effective ways without ever crossing into boring, obsessive territory.  When it works, and the human element is palatable, the deepening in understanding can elevate scenes are whole films into something far better than you would imagine by just reading a synopsis.  Magic Mike reads as fairly typical backstage genre fare on the page, and the basic elements of the narrative don’t deviate much from what is to be expected.  It’s in the execution – in the marrying of visuals and editing, in the performances, in the writing, and especially in the approach to the practicalities and the world within which this story is taking place – that Magic Mike is elevated into not only one of the best films of the year so far, but perhaps Soderbergh’s most assured work in a decade.  Read the rest of this entry »

Contagion

September 15, 2011

The central problem with any epidemic-based disaster movie is that labwork just isn’t that exciting.  Disaster movies revel in the initial destruction.  It’s the queasy thrill of seeing our everyday lives, our civilizations and societies, turned upside down in a spectacular fashion that draws us to them.  The almost built-in problem is peaking too early:  you’ve got to find a way to make everything post-cataclysm consistently interesting.  In 2012 they end up with ridiculous arks.  In Independence Day we get jet/spacecraft dogfights.  In The Poseidon Adventure, we follow the ragtag survivors through the bowels of the ship.  Watching someone crawl through torn metal just isn’t as exciting as watching a rogue wave flip a cruise liner.  Still, there are goals there.  In the case of an epidemic, the goal is to find a cure, which unfortunately involves labwork – or at least it should.  Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak used the absurd-but-very-achievable goal of finding the original carrier – a little monkey – and that would solve all the problems.  Even then, if you remember, that wasn’t enough.  Injecting people wasn’t a sufficient climax, so there had to be a ridiculous helicopter standoff.  Steven Soderberg’s Contagion has no interest in any of that.  It is billed as a thriller, but really it just wants to posit a scenario.  Read the rest of this entry »