Reading Amazon reviews of MAGIC MIKE reinforces my view that it might be one of the most incredible acts of cinematic subversion of our time. Soderbergh tricked a bunch of horny Midwestern housewives into watching a super dark treatise on modern American culture by cloaking it in the trojan horse of a “sexy Channing Tatum movie” (and made a bucket of money while doing it).
FURY ROAD getting a bunch of bro’s to watch a dystopian, feminist revenge flick and SPRING BREAKERS tricking tween Disney fans into seeing a fucked up Harmony Korine neon fever dream are the other other recent examples that come to mind.
Erin Brockovich. Roberts is great, but it’s hamstrung by its repetition. Manages to make paperwork interesting for a couple hours, though.
Side Effects. I made this a Soderbergh-takes-on-controlled-substances double-feature with Traffic. Hitchcockian psycho-thriller here. It gets too clever in the final act, but I like that you see new facets of these characters all the way up to the end. I think his understated style helps manage those swings. Soderbergh can be pretty overt with his themes, especially with some side characters that are basically there for social commentary. The leads are strong, though. I totally forgot about the intro and did the jaw-drop forehead-slap thing with the kitchen scene. Good soundtrack tends to linger and push things along, like in Contagion.
And now to catch up on rankings for all the Soderbergh movies I’ve seen:
- Out of Sight
- Magic Mike
- The Girlfriend Experience
- The Informant!
- Ocean’s Eleven
- Side Effects
- Ocean’s Twelve
- Ocean’s Thirteen
Seriously, what a great director. I don’t think you can credibly use the word “mediocre” or even “average” about any of those movies until you get down to number 10 or 11 maybe.
Traffic. It took a good hour before I realized I’d seen it before. It took a good two seconds before I remembered that I have a huge man-crush on Benicio del Toro. He’s so good. Don Cheadle, too. The movie as a whole is pretty straightforward, docudrama-ish style, not played up for emotions like Babel or other multi-storyline, “highbrow globalist tearjerkers”. A few interesting things… the cool blue tint for U.S. interiors vs. the overexposed yellows in Mexico; the tension between identity and professional image; and the anecdote about Khrushchev and the two letters:
You know, when they forced Khrushchev out, he sat down and wrote two letters to his successor. He said, “When you get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of, open the first letter, and you’ll be safe. When you get yourself into another situation you can’t get out of, open the second letter”. Well, soon enough, this guy found himself into a tight place, so he opened the first letter. Which said, “Blame everything on me”. So he blames the old man, it worked like a charm. He got himself into a second situation he couldn’t get out of, he opened the second letter. It said, “Sit down, and write two letters”.
From 2009 to 2012 Soderbergh directed seven films, three of which may be called his unofficial trilogy of “body films”: The Girlfriend Experience (2009), Haywire (2011), and Magic Mike (2012). While star-studded, arguably even stunt, casting has always been important to his work—from Jennifer Lopez in Out Of Sight (1998) to the comically high-caliber cast of the Oceans franchise (2001, 2004, 2007)—in these three films, the bodies of the stars were integral to what each film explored. Moreover, each stars’ bodies represented a Hollywood outsider crossing over into the mainstream.
Soderbergh! Out of all his movies I’ve seen, the body trilogy and Out of Sight hold the top four spots.
Magic Mike. Soderbergh! Best movie ever about the economy and strippers. I’d rank this one behind only Haywire and Out of Sight. You’ve got Tatum’s stripper-slash-roofer-slash-artisan muddling through, but it’s hard to change course when he’s great at something he doesn’t love that’s still addicting in its own way. You’ve got Pettyfer’s teenage socially-tone-deaf bro drifter who’s having a great time being showered with money and attention–at long last! You’ve got McConaughey’s (too?) serious entrepreneur-impresario-emperor. There’s the promise of Miami as the great mythical somewhere else where things are different, some future day. Just a few more nights and then…? Contrast these three with Horn, who takes a more cautious, realist, rooted approach to every day’s compromise. She’s awake in daylight, she works and reads and goes out to dinner and enjoys a glass of wine at home. Hard and boring is okay. Pairs well with Spring Breakers.
The film tricks you into thinking it’s one thing and then repeatedly reveals itself as another. With enough viewings and distance, you begin to see that the film is entirely about the act of its own creation.
I loved this long interview.
On the few occasions where I’ve talked to film students, one of the things I stress, in addition to learning your craft, is how you behave as a person. For the most part, our lives are about telling stories. So I ask them, “What are the stories you want people to tell about you?” Because at a certain point, your ability to get a job could turn on the stories people tell about you.
I was watching one of those iconoclast shows on the Sundance Channel. Jamie Oliver said Paul Smith had told him something he hadn’t understood until very recently: “I’d rather be No. 2 forever than No. 1 for a while.” Just make stuff and don’t agonize over it. Stop worrying about being No. 1. I see a lot of people getting paralyzed by the response to their work, the imagined result. It’s like playing a Jedi mind trick on yourself, and Smith is right. That’s the way I’ve always approached films, the way I approach everything. Just make ’em.
He’s become one of my favorite directors.
The Girlfriend Experience. Gotta admit, I loved this one. It’s a people film, not a plot film. Specific people, not symbols. How they manage their own fictions. I read a lot of negative reviews after watching, and it seems that many folks were 1) hoping/expecting this movie to be about something else or 2) didn’t like the way it was about what it was about. Watch it and draw your own conclusions. Definitely thought-provoking for me.
Time for updated Steven Soderbergh rankings:
The Informant!. Soderbergh walks a fine line here with genre and mood. Can’t say I love it, but it’s got a great pace and the way the layers of lies and revelations and confusions and contortions pile up is a lot of fun. Excellent soundtrack, and Matt Damon totally proves himself.
My latest Soderbergh film rankings:
Solaris (2002). I really liked the Tarkovsky version of the novel, and Soderbergh’s is very good, too. It’s more trim and spare. What I really loved was the sound throughout. Footsteps, rustle of clothing, breath. And that soundtrack! Cliff Martinez to the rescue again (see: Drive; Contagion). So perfect. That said, the script is a little painful here and there. What are you gonna do? At least the ideas about memory, empathy, regret, etc. are evergreen.
There’s not a single dud in any of the Soderbergh films I’ve seen lately. Looking forward to more. My current rankings:
Soderbergh is not parodying or denigrating his chosen genre framework, though; […] one is left with little doubt that he could pull off a more straightforwardly commercial film if it wasn’t for the probability that doing so would bore him to tears.