Last year, I was able to move 4 films and one massive anthology television series from the Shelf of Shame to my Vault of Victory. It was a good initiative, but I think I can improve on the model for myself.
12 supposedly great films. One year. One film a month. It’s called SHELF OF SHAME XTREME, people.
EDIT (04/15): I swapped Wild Strawberries and Bicycle Thieves due to Criterion’s announcement that the former will see a blu-ray release in June.
Post-Viewing Update (January 28): I managed to squeeze in my first SoS title right at the end of the month. I watched David Lean’s snow-bound answer to 1962′s sandy LAWRENCE OF ARABIA on a fantastic blu-ray, with the sound turned all the way up. As expected, the film is a visual and aural marvel, although the romance between Yuri (Omar Sharif) and Lara (Julie Christie) didn’t quite hit for me. It’s hard not to compare the sweeping romance of ZHIVAGO to the big scale action of LAWRENCE, but they are wholly different movies. ZHIVAGO deserves its place as a classic, and it’s final moment is a masterwork in narrative pay-off. Interestingly enough, this film’s cultural impact was made clear in a conversation I had with my parents when I mentioned that I was watching it. As soon as I said the title, my dad started whistling Maurice Jarre’s iconic theme, and my mom revealed that it was the first movie she ever got to see in a movie theater. It’s wonderful to discover, for the first time, a cinematic gem that crosses generations.
Post-Viewing Update (February 28): That’s right, I squeezed another cinematic classic in at the very last minute out of obligation. You can ridicule me or you can admit to yourself that you’ve done the same thing before. My biggest embarrassment is that I put it off in favor of watching episodes of BREAKING BAD, which is a great TV show… and yet, the greatest TV show going still pales in comparison to great cinema. Yes, PATHS OF GLORY is unmistakably great cinema. Stanley Kubrick’s camera movement is suitably Wellesian, Kirk Douglas’ performance is perfectly heroic and iconic, and the screenplay stages things in such a grand and universal way that we often forget about the specificity of the situation at the core of the story. Aside from some of the most influential tracking shots of all time, the film shows off an incredibly efficient battle scene, using dolly and zoom lenses to connect wide group shots to character-focused close-ups in a way that must have influenced Zack Snyder’s speed ramped zooms in (the far inferior) 300. Of course, it takes more than fancy camera work to make a great film, and what soars here is the characterization. Two quick examples: PATHS OF GLORY features bookend scenes showcasing a pair of wonderfully written villain characters whose motivations are clear, understandable, and monstrous. Finally, the unexpected performance of Timothy Carey, who really functions as the heart of the film, was absolutely stirring and emotional without losing its context or leading the film into sentimentality. His desperation and hopelessness must have been a clear influence on the Coen Brothers and John Turturro for Bernie’s famous death march in MILLER’S CROSSING.
Post-Viewing Update (March 23): Wow. I’ll freely admit that it took me a good while to get into the groove of this, the most famous and well-regarded film of Yasujiro Ozu’s prolific career. For a Westerner like myself, the film grammar of non-Kurosawa Japanese cinema from this era is unnerving. Ozu moves his camera maybe once in TOKYO STORY, and his characters are often framed in similar planes, giving up depth to describe setting rather than character. He connects people to places, and then cuts freely within those places to denote movement or relationship dynamics. Of course, the timidity of his grammar is perfectly matched by the stone cold facades put upon by his protagonists; this is a post-WWII Japan in which desperate grasps at normalcy bury the emotions we so easily and sloppily express in our own modern culture. Ozu’s long-suffering parents, not wanting to disturb the lives of their busy and distracted adult children, take lethal pangs of loneliness and regret on their ever-smiling chins. This is truly a masterpiece of empathy and tragic warmth. Watch it and let it simmer.
Post-Viewing Update (April 29): Well, they can’t all be home runs, I suppose. BEN-HUR has been the biggest surprise of this year’s Shelf of Shame so far. I was really expecting to be enthralled by this highly regarded legend of epic Hollywood filmmaking, but in the end, I was merely impressed. When it comes to pacing, dialogue, plotting, and performance, there’s really nothing here that rises above “high” Biblical tales like THE ROBE or even “low” pepla like ROMULUS AND REMUS. Where BEN-HUR really soars, however, is in its staggering spectacle and incredible stunt-work, essentially isolated to the truly magnificent Chariot Race sequence. It doesn’t take much more than a brief glance at Wikipedia to see that the true star of the film is stuntman Yakima Canutt. Overall, I’m glad I finally caught up with BEN-HUR, but more than anything I’m shocked at how much THE SIMPSONS has shaped my perception of this film. Constantly waiting for the line uttered in this scene from “A Star is Burns”, I was eventually disappointed to never hear Charlton Heston utter to Jesus, as if to C. Montgomery Burns, “Truly… you are the King of Kings.”
Post-Viewing Update (May 18): I’m no stranger to Billy Wilder’s work. I spent a few months in college watching as much of the Austro-American’s films as possible, and it’s hard to be a film nerd long without stumbling across his legendary collaboration with screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond. I’m very happy to say that SOME LIKE IT HOT easily joins the ranks of the great Wilders, right up there with SUNSET BOULEVARD, ACE IN THE HOLE, and the masterful and overlooked ONE, TWO, THREE. I wasn’t expecting the film to be such an effective gangster movie, which was a pleasant surprise, but that isn’t to say the comedy somehow pales in comparison. Tony Curtis is a revelation here, and Jack Lemmon does not disappoint. In reading more about the film, I was surprised to find out about the problems caused by Marilyn Monroe, considering the great work of hers that ends up on screen. I’ve always been suspicious of AFI’s number one ranking of this film on its 100 Years… 100 Laughs list, but as fellow Nerds Graham Flanagan and Matt Scalici assured me, SOME LIKE IT HOT is a legitimate all-timer.
WILD STRAWBERRIES (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
BICYCLE THIEVES (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)
WILD STRAWBERRIES (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
I will check back in monthly to make sure I’m on track! Until then, keep it XTREEEEEEEME.
Matt and Francesca Scalici return with another episode of Cinematrimony. This time, Matt and Francesca discuss Baz Lurhmann’s 3D hip-hop music video-style adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and give their thoughts on the cast, how the story holds up and whether Luhrmann’s signature style helps or hurts the story come alive on the screen. Matt and Francesca discuss this and more in this episode of Cinematrimony.
We asked the FilmNerds contributors to pitch us their idea for a successful (critically and/or commercially) remake that Hollywood hasn’t thought of yet, complete with cast and crew suggestions. Here’s what they came up with:
by Ben Flanagan
“Westworld” is Michael Crichton’s own adaptation of his science fiction-thriller starring Yul Brynner as an android in a futuristic Western-themed amusement park, and Richard Benjamin and James Brolin as guests of the park.
Basically, as Ben Stark aptly pointed out, you’re talking “Jurassic Park” with evil robot cowboys instead of dinosaurs.
“Sci-fi western” doesn’t exactly guarantee box office boffo. See “Cowboys & Aliens.” But when the filmmakers and studio actually come to grips on tone and identity prior to crafting any marketing strategy, it can be done.
Released in 1973, Crichton’s “Westworld” had plenty going for it, namely Yul Brenner as the head cowboy out to get the park guests. Given the bald Brenner doesn’t look like most humans anyway, his was perfect casting that would prove tough to duplicate or improve upon. Throughout my childhood (hell, even now), my dad would so often quote Brenner’s “Get that boy a bib” line either at the dinner table or when he’d simply want to emasculate someone.
I’ve got no beef with James Brolin, but he teams with what might be the biggest pansy in supposed movie hero history in Richard Benjamin and his wretched mustache. Seriously, you want to kick Benjamin’s ass as soon as you see him wearing a turtleneck on a plane in the early going and especially when he puts on his schlocky 70s cowboy getup.
As you can see, despicable.
Benjamin’s design should warrant a remake alone, but the concept does the rest. It’s just too good not to let go. Maybe Crichton took care of it by writing “Jurassic Park” and paving the way for Steven Spielberg’s timeless blockbuster adaptation. But without “Westworld,” nobody holds on to their butts.
But should we just give up on the sci-fi western as a marketable hybrid genre? I see too much potential, personally. What do we have to show for it so far? The original “Westworld,” “Back to the Future Part III,” “Wild Wild West” and “Cowboys & Aliens.” So we’re basically 1.5 for four. Just pack the movie with the right personnel. I was on board with “Cowboys & Aliens” before they replaced Robert Downey Jr. with Daniel Craig. Talk about a night and day difference in tone.
A “Westworld” remake is not a novel concept, of course. Arnold Schwarzenegger spent years trying to develop one, and it came close in 2007 when director Tarsem Singh jumped on board with “Terminator 3″ screenwriters Michael Ferris and John Brancato attached. Thank God we seem to have avoided that.
So where do we go from where? We talked about tone. Do we send it up? How self-aware is it? Do we cast a lead like Downey who can quip with the best of them, or do we get pretty serious? And who replaces Yul Brenner as the Gunslinger?
Cast: Ideally, I’d go Willem Dafoe as the Gunslinger because he’s one guy who can suitably straddle the line of kitsch, the surreal and outright danger. Plus, Dafoe has a bit of an android quality. Of course, you don’t want to market a movie with Dafoe’s face all over it, that is, if you want to make any money. And this is a marketable concept, at least. But as we saw with the first “Spider-man” film, Dafoe can work as a blockbuster villain. But did it matter who you cast as the Green Goblin then. I’d argue not really. After all, Alfred Molina was the sequel’s villain.
Part of the success in casting Brenner as the Gunslinger was due to Brenner’s status as a movie star at that point, as if the robot was meant to look like a familiar movie star you’d see in a western. But nobody really fits that mold now given the western is an almost-dead genre. I might opt for either Kurt Russell (so great as Wyatt Earp in “Tombstone”) or even Kevin Costner, a shot at reviving the Oscar-winner’s acting career and give a nod to solid western performances in “Open Range” and “Wyatt Earp.” Maybe, if he’s up for it, Tommy Lee Jones? The guy has a penchant for southern/western twang, and made one of the better modern westerns in recent memoery with “The Three Burals of Melquiades Estrada.” And why not a larger than life “modern” performer like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson?
Casting the Richard Benjamin and Josh Brolin roles might prove even tougher because you’re basically shooting into the dark. Do you cast someone less “tough” like Benjamin to give a guy who wouldn’t normally rise to the occasion under the circumstances a shot at being the hero? If so, who? I’m tempted to go with Joel McHale (“Community”), a guy with small screen success but big screen talent. If McHale, you’re going the comedy route, though he could pass the physical test. Easy call would be to say just throw Ryan Reynolds in there and let’s be happy with our $50-60 million gross and good-enough response, though I think Reynolds could do it, too. My gut also says give a guy like Bryan Cranston a big-screen opportunity like this, though I’d be just as happy with him as the Gunslinger.
The director: Man, if only Jon Favreau hadn’t made “Cowboys & Aliens.” Otherwise, he might be my guy. Edgar Wright is another ideal choice who could successfully marry these tones as he already has in his first three films, though I still maintain you wouldn’t want to go too silly with this, given the concept is pretty horrifying once real bullets start flying. So if I’m making a final call here, I think I want Brad Bird, someone who has given us some of the modern action in years both animated (“The Incredibles”) and live-action (“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”), and this would let one of Pixar’s MVPs dabble in a more menacing undercurrent.
by Ben Stark
Look at your local cineplex marquee and imagine squashing together two films: JURASSIC PARK and MUD. PETE’S DRAGON, a 1977 musical from Walt Disney Pictures, was a perfectly servicable and pleasant movie about a young orphan who must keep his giant pet dragon a secret from his new adopted family, as well as some stock villain characters. I enjoyed the movie as a kid, especially the wonderfully animated Elliot the Dragon, whose indecipherable and endearing mumbles were voiced by Charlie Callas.
Despite the inclusion of a great character in Elliot, the movie doesn’t age well. It’s far too long, too melodramatic, not funny at all, and just kind of obnoxious. If you look closely at the idea, however, it could work as a fascinating study on early male adolescence. Yes, this material was well covered in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, but I think a live action remake of PETE’S DRAGON, with some great practical creature effects, a solid script, and strong young actors could be a welcome change of pace for Walt Disney Pictures’ feature filmmaking division, which struggles with transparent attempts at getting boys’ attention with movies about pirates, cowboys, and video games.
A live action PETE’S DRAGON could have the tone of a Jeff Nichols movie (TAKE SHELTER, MUD) with the effects prowress of Guillermo del Toro (HELLBOY, PAN’S LABYRINTH). In fact, there’s a perfect director/producer team right there. Imagine a serious-minded, light look at the way puberty can both embarrass and empower young males. Elliot the dragon could be a winged, chameloeon-like Velociraptor, representing the destructive and constructive duality of Pete’s masculinity. This stuff writes itself, folks. I think TREE OF LIFE’S Hunter McCracken might be the perfect age for Pete.
Here it is on a silver platter, Disney: Guillermo del Toro presents Jeff Nichols’ remake of PETE’S DRAGON, starring Hunter McCracken.
Cat on A Hot Tin Roof
by Craig Hamilton
Director: Mike Nichols
He’s done Broadway (Spamalot, Death of a Salesman) and film (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate). There’s no better director adapting stage to screen.
Production Designer / Art Director: Anne Seibel
Find a stylistic compromise between the golden, warm look of Midnight in Paris and the colorful brightness of Marie Antoinette.
Costume Designer: Jacqueline Durran
Picture the vintage menswear of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with the elegant evening wear from Atonement.
Cinematographer: Hoyte Van Hoytema
Imagine the sweeping camera movement from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with a greater intimacy and not nearly the amount of shakiness as The Fighter. Here, the camera would simply act as the audience’s access to the drama going on in this house.
Thomas Hardy as Brick (Paul Newman)
Hardy is the spitting imagine of Paul Newman. Depressed by the death of his friend, the former athlete is now an alcoholic and utterly unattracted to his beautiful wife. He cares nothing of taking over the family business from his father, Big Daddy.
Alison Brie as Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor)
Brie can do both comedy and drama. Though there are no jokes here, Maggie repeatedly and rather light-heartedly brushes off rejections from Brick and avoids the subject of the tension between them with forced and empty conversation. Though Maggie seems carefree, her smiles are forced.
Jeff Bridges as Big Daddy (Burl Ives)
Jeff Bridges is perfect for this. Big Daddy is a big man who demands respect and always gets it. He’s also dying of cancer. The whole family, except for Brick, constantly trip over themselves trying to impress him, but Big Daddy couldn’t care less. He has built a successful business by himself and wants to hand it over to Brick when he dies instead of his other son, Gooper.
Sissy Spacek as Big Momma (Judith Anderson)
Big Momma won’t stop running her mouth as long as serious issues, like Big Daddy’s illness and handing over the business, aren’t discussed. She avoids reality and Big Daddy’s verbal abuse, by jabbering on and on. Ignoring these problems, keeping the peace and maintaining that thick skin are a way of life for Big Momma.
John C. Reilly as Gooper (Jack Carson)
Reilly is the man for a character that spends most of his screen time getting cut-off, scoffed at and brushed aside (See Carnage). Gooper is Brick’s less charming, less handsome and less athletic brother. Though not nearly as horrible as his wife, Gooper is quite successful and has spent his entire life doing exactly as Big Daddy says in the hopes that he will take over the family business when Big Daddy dies.
Amy Adams as Mae (Madeleine Sherwood)
Mae is the horrible, vindictive, annoying, manipulative and selfish sister-in-law who will stop at nothing to make sure that her husband, Gooper, takes over for Big Daddy. She treats Big Daddy’s inevitable death like it was the only thing standing between her and being queen of the family. We know Amy can be annoying with a southern accent because she did it in Junebug.
by Graham Flanagan
A few years ago, I read a biography of legendary Hollywood mogul Darryl F. Zanuck: the legendary Hollywood mogul famous for founding the 20th Century Fox movie studio. Before Fox, though, Zanuck experienced an incredibly profitable and productive run as the head of Warner Brothers. One of his biggest hits was the musical 42nd Street, released in 1933 to great acclaim and box office success.
While I wouldn’t say that movie musicals are currently ‘en vogue,’ it’s safe to say that, with the recent success of Les Miserables, an appetite for musicals definitely still exists. And like Les Miserables, 42nd Street is a well-known existing property. Although the movie was a big hit in its day42nd Street, gained further notoriety in the early 80s when it was developed into a long-running Broadway show.
What makes 42nd Street appealing to me as a candidate for a remake is what I perceive to be its potential appeal for both men and women. Why is that?
In a word: Sex. This story is completely fueled by backstage romps happening among the entire production crew and cast of the fictional production Pretty Lady, around which the story is based. This would be a terrific opportunity to cast the hottest young faces that would titillate audiences of both sexes.
For the remake, however, I would shift the main focus to the character of the director Julian Marsh; a once-celebrated Broadway prodigy who has fallen on hard times due to the depression and takes the gig against the wishes of his physician who fears he might suffer another nervous breakdown.
I love the idea of a man teetering on mental collapse who is forced to endure the anxiety-inducing pressure-filled environment of an expensive stage production with all of its distractions, temptations and annoyances. As for casting the Julian Marsh role, Andrew Garfield or Joseph Gordon Levitt definitely come to mind.
When it comes to casting the cavalcade of female roles, go crazy. I would definitely make an offer to shorty-of-the-moment Katherine Webb to take on a featured, yet small, role. And I’d also pair her with her roommate Natalie Pack.
That brings me to the most obvious reason I’d want to remake 42nd Street. It gives the filmmakers a chance to pay homage to choreographer Busby Berkeley’s epic musical numbers.
The Deer Hunter
by Matt Scalici
Few films are more associated with the era of the Vietnam War than Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter but there’s a lot about this movie that feels remarkably relevant today. It’s certainly a film about the psychological cost of war, something many young Americans are affected by today, but it’s also about a group of young people faced with a hopeless future at a point in their lives when we are almost designed to be at our most hopeful as human beings.
That tragic collision of the promise of youth and the hopelessness of war and economic depression was originally set in Pittsburgh but I feel like it could also work really well in the rural Southeast and directed by a guy who once showed a mastery of capturing the tragic beauty of dying Southern towns, David Gordon Green. While Green has spent the most recent phase of his career collecting paychecks for cranking out dumb, charmless comedies, I’d love to see him attempt to conquer both the melodramatic intensity of the infamous Russian roulette scene and the slowly developing heartbreak of the poolroom singalong.
As with all of the remakes mentioned above, casting is key. The group of men in the film experience intense camaraderie with one another, making certain other scenes even more gut-wrenching to watch. I’d look at some of the young up-and-coming names that have shown themselves to be at least capable of that charismatic likability as well as the intensity required for the tougher scenes.
Bradley Cooper was channeling a bit of Robert DeNiro in his recent Oscar-nominated turn as DeNiro’s son in Silver Linings Playbook, so he’d be a logical choice to step into DeNiro’s role here.
Christopher Walken’s Oscar-winning turn as the troubled Nick provides probably the biggest shoes to fill in the film and since we’re going with fantasy casting here, I can’t think of anyone better equipped to handle the BIG moments in film acting today than Leonardo DiCaprio. Cimino originally cast a relatively unknown in the role of Nick while putting DeNiro in the starring role but I think today’s audiences would be expecting greatness from the role of Nick considering Walken’s Oscar-winning performance.
The John Savage role would seem to be a good fit for another brooding young male lead like Ryan Gosling while John Cazale’s role of Stosh would be an interesting fit for a similarly nervous and neurotic Jesse Eisenberg.
As for the Meryl Streep female lead role, Michelle Williams is an easy pick for the Streep of her generation and she’s got the tragic romantic female lead bit down to a science at this point.
This remake would be easy Oscar bait near the end of the year but the screenplay would need to find a way to fit the post-Vietnam malaise and existential despair to today’s climate, which while certainly depressed in its own way probably is a bit less melodramatic than the late 1970s.
Take a look at my summer movie preview video below, where I look ahead to my 10 most anticipated releases this year including “Man of Steel,” “The Bling Ring” and today’s “Iron Man 3.” Check it out! Read the full post here.
Matt and Francesca Scalici return with another episode of Cinematrimony. This time, Matt and Francesca discuss the 3D re-release of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. How does the film hold up 20 years later? Which moments stand out on the big screen? Does the 3D add anything to the experience? Matt and Francesca discuss this and more in this episode of Cinematrimony.
Matt and Francesca Scalici return with another episode of Cinematrimony. This time, Matt and Francesca discuss Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful. Does this special-effects laden prequel re-capture the magic of Oz or is it another soulless cash grab by Disney a la Alice in Wonderland? Listen as Matt and Francesca discuss this and more on this episode of Cinematrimony.
Matt and Francesca Scalici return with another episode of Cinematrimony. This time, Matt and Francesca discuss Stephen Soderbergh’s dark and surprising thriller Side Effects. Does Soderbergh still have gas in the tank as he winds down his filmmaking career? Does the surprising plot twist ruin the entire movie for notorious twist-hater Matt? Listen as Matt and Francesca discuss this and more on this episode of Cinematrimony.
Stephen Soderbergh’s SIDE EFFECTS feels nothing like the work of a director tired and ready to retire. On the contrary, this superb psychological thriller exudes the passion of a young, hungry filmmaker just beginning to hit his stride.
The last decade has been interesting for Soderbergh who, by 2001, had achieved unprecedented success as a director who could simultaneously appeal to both mainstream audiences (OCEAN’S ELEVEN) and Oscar-voters (TRAFFIC). Outside of the two OCEAN’S sequels, Soderbergh subsequently failed to repeat the box office success that validated his reputation as a reliable studio-commodity.
In the past two years, however, Soderbergh released three films suggesting the southern-bred director has rediscovered his connection with the movie-goers.
First came CONTAGION, a star-filled medical disaster-movie that succeeded at the global box office. Then there was HAYWIRE, an action-thriller that didn’t fare as well, but showed that Soderbergh was happy to play within a fan-friendly (i.e. commercial) genre. And then, of course, we got MAGIC MIKE; the box-office behemoth that became a sensation with both critics and audiences.
His latest, SIDE EFFECTS, masterfully combines Soderbergh’s skills both as a crowd-pleaser and a master-storyteller/technician.
He again collaborates with screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (CONTAGION, THE INFORMANT!) who has woven a sex-infused tale of intrigue, madness and deception that will undoubtedly satisfy every type of moviegoer; from hardened cinephiles to casual Times Square date-nighters.
The movie offers so many unexpected plot twists that it’s impossible to delve too deeply into the story without revealing potential spoilers. Thankfully, its marketing materials have successfully kept the movie’s secrets in-tact.
The story’s foundation is built on a young Manhattan couple (Rooney Mara & Channing Tatum) reunited when the husband returns from a white-collar prison stint after an insider-trading conviction. Mara’s Emily begins to show signs of extreme depression and, after a car-accident, she sees a psychiatrist (Jude Law), who prescribes her a popular anti-depressant called Ablixa.
Soderbergh credits adult-oriented 80s thrillers like FATAL ATTRACTION and JAGGED EDGE as direct influences for SIDE EFFECTS. Like those films, SIDE EFFECTS intended for mass-market consumption; but unlike those sexy melodramas, Soderbergh doesn’t jump the shark in terms of outlandish violence or behavior. He maintains sense of reserve and control of a master filmmaker able to create undeniable tension without giving in to the temptation to reveal his entire hand.
That’s not to say SIDE EFFECTS is too cerebral. After all, it was produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura (THE LAST STAND)! In fact, for all those fans of CONTAGION who famously refer to that film as a “horror movie,” Soderbergh shows his real skills as a master of terror in SIDE EFFECTS, especially in one truly shocking set piece.
If ever there was any doubt about Rooney Mara, she totally extinguishes it here. Had this film been released before December 31, I guarantee you she would be battling with Jessica Chastain, Emmanuelle Riva, et al later this month. While she certainly carries GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, she gives that performance in full costume. Here she is completely stripped down (in one case, literally), without the crutches offered by eccentric accents, haircuts and piercings.
I wanted to highlight one specific scene that I consider to be her “Oscar clip,” when Jude Law’s character injects her with a sedative. Soderbergh frames Mara close-up, looking directly into the camera as her character shuffles in and out of consciousness; her eyes slowly close, only to sporadically widen without notice… it’s terrifying.
Jude Law also deserves major recognition; of which he didn’t get enough for his work in ANNA KARENINA, which deserved a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Hopefully he will continue to work with the best filmmakers in the business, as he is definitely one of Hollywood’s most underrated-yet-reliable, seasoned journeymen.
Along with SIDE EFFECTS, Soderbergh already has one more movie in the can: May’s Liberace biopic BEHIND THE CANDELABRA. After that, he says he plans on officially entering retirement. For me, along with countless actors and studio executives, this is sad news. With SIDE EFFECTS, he only intensifies the momentum he has experienced since the run of Hollywood-friendly fare that began with CONTAGION.
Let’s all hope that his retirement is more of an extended hiatus.
Last week. the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Film Comment Selects hosted a sneak preview of the new Steven Soderbergh film SIDE EFFECTS at the Walter Reade Theater in New York. Read my review of the movie HERE.
After the screening, the bulk of the creative players behind the movie took the stage for a Q&A session moderated by film critic Amy Taubin. Participants in the approximately 1-hour session included Soderbergh himself, along with screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and actors Rooney Mara, Jude Law and Vinessa Shaw.
The Walter Reade Theater was completely packed with industry-insiders, journalists, fellow film nerds who waited in a standby line and, as we eventually found out, one apparent “friend” of the production.
A truly hilarious highlight of the Q&A occurred when Taubin called on an audience member who raised his hand to ask a question, which it turns out he didn’t actually have.
“So, uh, that was my boat that you were filming on,” the well-dressed man said. “I don’t know if you guys remember me.”
Soderbergh and Burns, as well as many of the aforementioned film nerds in the audience who surely had actual movie-related inquiries, groaned a collective sigh of uneasiness as the gentleman continued his “question.”
“As the manager of an insurance company, just seeing the intricacies you’re dealing with… was amazing.”
Burns responded: “Didn’t we re-shoot that day?”
Soderbergh then quipped: “Yeah, we got another boat,” which elicited an eruption of laughter from the audience.
However, the most polarizing figure from the Q&A turned out to be moderator Amy Taubin, the gifted film critic from Film Comment and the Village Voice.
When Taubin suggested that Law’s character wasn’t “empathetic,” it seemed to polarize both Law and Mara. While Law remained engaged and willing to answer questions in great detail, most of Mara’s responses were rather short, suggesting that some tension had developed on stage.
To Taubin’s credit, one of her questions regarding the some of the director’s aesthetic choices resulted in a speech from Soderbergh that resulted in a moment of absolute cinematic electricity for all film nerds in attendance.
When describing how important he thinks it is for directors to be methodical and economical in their approaches to shooting and editing, Soderbergh passionately went into full-on director’s commentary mode when describing one specific scene in SIDE EFFECTS.
Listen to the audio here:
“You should have a reason for every shot,” Soderbergh said. “You should have a reason for every cut, and if you don’t, then… I don’t know if you’ve broken a contract with the audience, but you’ve broken a contract with me.
“What I loved about (SIDE EFFECTS) was it was an incredible opportunity to just take it all down to the marrow and have scenes in which I could sit there as a director and go ‘how few shots do I need, ultimately to make this scene work?’ More often than not, it was two.
“That doesn’t mean that it has to be boring. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be stylish. It just means that, as a director, you’re supposed to sort of sit there and have the 30,000-foot view of the whole movie and be able to calibrate how the shots and the cutting patterns are going to effect the audience.”
At this moment, Soderbergh had the entire audience hanging on his every word; then, Vinessa Shaw spoke up and verbalized the same question that was surely on the minds of most of the attendees.
“And why are you quitting directing,” Shaw asked. “Based on everything you just said?”
Applause cascaded throughout the theater.
Soderbergh has achieved so much success both artistically and commercially in his 20-plus year career. So, as inconvenient as it may sound to his legion of fans, if he wants to retire, then that is his right.
But that night at the Walter Reade Theater, Vinessa Shaw spoke for the film-loving masses in expressing her disbelief that a man who obviously has so much passion for this craft would be willing to simply walk away.
It’s highly doubtful that Steven Soderbergh will never make another movie. Try finding anybody in Vegas willing to bet on that. But, it might be a while, at least longer than we’re used to, given Soderbergh’s prolific output in the last few years.
Some time-off will no doubt benefit the filmmaker; for whenever he decides to return, like an athlete who uses the off-season to rest and replenish, he’s undoubtedly going to burst out of the gate with commanding intensity, ready to begin the next chapter of his storied career.
Matt and Francesca Scalici return with another episode of Cinematrimony. This time, Matt and Francesca discuss David O. Russell’s latest Best Picture nominated film Silver Linings Playbook. Do Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have believable romantic chemistry? How does this film stack up against Russell’s last Oscar-nominated effort The Fighter? Does Robert DeNiro actually give a performance in which he appears to be a human being that experiences emotions again? Listen as Matt and Francesca discuss this and more on this episode of Cinematrimony.