Friday, May 05, 2006

New Guest Oeuvre: Steven Soderbergh (see sidebar)

Ocean's Thirteen. Why? Why?


JavierAG said...

I don't have anything interesting (or non-interesting) to say about this one, but maybe you could elaborate on the "Solaris" grade?

tim r said...

I will soon!

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Tim, I couldn't agree with you more about SOLARIS. Criminally underrated, rapturously photographed, and I want to see it again because I'm still not sure what that ending meant. It's been a long time, but I might give a little more love to THE UNDERNEATH. I remember thinking that it was a solid, respectable genre picture with a little bit of Soderbergh's flourish.

Ali said...

Eek! I am so happy to see the Solaris grade, which is also what I've give it. I believe it was around #3 on my top ten for that year. It haunted me for months after I saw it, especially the Cliff Martinez score and Viola Davis's short-but-astounding performance. She deserved Best Supporting Actress that year but... I digress. So happy to see love for it.

Ali said...

Oh, and I could not agree more about the pointlessness of Ocean's Thirteen. Wasn't the second one a financial ($125m B.O. vs. $110m budget) and critical disappointment? Is anyone really dying for another sequel to this?

Nick Davis said...

I just re-watched Erin Brockovich the other day, and it just gets better and better. I'd put it at A–, too. I don't know if I'd give Solaris a flat-out A, but I do love it; same with sex, lies.

I am most excited about agreeing with you on Out of Sight and The Limey, which both seem to invite overrating and underrating in equal measure.

Absolutely NO to Ocean's Thirteen. Twelve was so very off-putting, though Soderbergh's Eleven is still my favorite movie that he's made. And Tim, you've got to see King of the Hill: a real gem, which I feel sure you'd go for, at least a little, but maybe even a lot.

Goran said...

There was a time when I used to get excited about a Steven Soderbergh picture (especially straight after Out of Sight and Ocean's Eleven)- it feels long ago now.

I saw few movies in 2004 worse than Ocean's Twelve, and none more smug. I also have ugly memories of Full Frontal.

I'm yet to catch Tarkovsky's Solaris (I know, I know..) and I don't want to see Soderbergh's take on it beforehand.

Goran said...

Also, I forgot to ask - considering that A for George Clooney's Solaris, Tim what's your take on Tarkovsky's version?

tim r said...

I'm actually not much of a fan. It was the first Tarkovsky film I ever saw, at the age of about 19 when it sounded like the coolest thing ever (Russians! Philosophising! In space!) but the experience of seeing it in possibly London's least comfortable cinema (ICA screen 2, aka The Broom Cupboard, where I coincidentally caught The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant yesterday) was punishing to say the least. I found the movie so murky and off-putting that I resisted Tarkovksy for years afterwards, until being partially brought round by Ivan's Childhood and pretty much blown away by Andrei Rublev. No doubt I'll go back to Solaris one day, but my memory of it is a sore blur, still.

Anyway, having read the Stanlislaw Lem book, what I love about Soderbergh's version is how it crystallises its conceits right back down to what matters. The movie's gleaming and compact on the outside, fraught and wrenching and conceptually very rigorous on the inside. It's the only Clooney perfomance I especially rate this side of Out of Sight, and I agree with ali on all counts: the score is I think my single favourite of the last five years, and Viola Davis got a personal Best Supporting Actress nod for being so impressively wary and believable in such a small part. McElhone is also sensational in it, I think. It's a special movie for me, and I love the fact that something so anomalously highbrow got made on this kind of budget. Soderbergh and Clooney came and talked at our National Film Theatre and dealt with questions about its commercial failure: SS told us how he rang up Warners the second the numbers came in and said "OK! OK! I'll do Ocean's Twelve!". So we have Solaris to blame for that, or, as I prefer to think of it, Ocean's Twelve to thank for Solaris. Thanks, Ocean's Twelve! Now go away.

Briefly, I found The Underneath a bit of a snooze, and it's the kind of arty doodling within a genre that I'd rather watch Mike Figgis do. Full Frontal is aggravating in many ways, but there are odd things I quite admire about it -- Nicky Katt as Hitler, for instance -- and I'm fairly happy for Soderbergh to keep plugging away with these low-budget experimenta even when they don't quite work out as planned. I''ll certainly keep a lookout for King of the Hill too, now.

Ocean's Eleven I adored on the first viewing, but it's soured slightly whenever I've gone back to it. I've never liked Brad Pitt more, I've never liked Julia Roberts less, and Clooney gets on my nerves at least half the time in it. Still huge fun, though, with a truly gorgeous ending.

Loving these comments debates, by the way, guys. Think of the blog itself as just a shop window!


my As are for Erin Brockovich (so so good --despite being so many things I don't normally go for. And I love that it feels so off the cuff when surely it couldn't have been (given the so so good part) and sex, lies, and videotape which I still love.

Some things about sex... seem too obvious now and even the performances I can see too much "performing" but i remember so clearly the first time i watched it and how refreshing it was at the time so it's a movie i do deeply dig.

I'm not as gung ho for Out of Sight as most are (though it's certainly Jlo's best performance by a country mile) or Solaris but I totally agree on how great Viola Davis is in it. She was just rocking it for about a year there and then some stage work and now back to the deep background which sucks. I can't believe she's not cast in everything.

Goran said...

Sorry to change the subject back to Tarkovsky (I just really don't wanna think about Ocean's Twelve or Thirteen) - I recently caught Ivan's Childhood and Andrei Rublev for the second time.

The first time I watched them, I kinda liked them but they were the only two Tarkovsky films I could tolerate out of the 5 that I saw. I'd decided Tarkovsky was a complete wanker and I got angry every time I saw him listed as one of the greats.

Somebody should have warned me not to watch his films when I was 17. Not that I'm that much older now, but I watched Ivan and Andrei for the second time a couple weeks ago, and I'm now ready to acccept Tarkovsky's place into the canon. And I'm thinking maybe I should give all his films a second chance.
Part of what used to bother me (the Christian worldview) doesn't actually bother me that much anymore, because the films do readily lend themselves to alternative readings.

Tim, since this was gonna be a four-line message where I ask you what you think of Tarkovsky in general and which of his films are your favourites, can we have his oeuvre guesting here some time soon?

In the meantime, on the topic of Soderbergh > Traffic! I forgot to bitch about Traffic. That's a problematic one in my world. I still believe that's one of the worst highbrow message screenplays of the decade (I would've said it's the worst Oscar-winning screenplay, but then there was Crash). I do feel that the direction and the editing made the picture that much more digestible. But I still can't forgive the many scenes like Erika Christensen at the clinic where the nurse is like "Oh my God you're on drugs, what are your grades like at school?"
- Erika: "I'm third in class."
- Nurse: "What does that mean?"
- Erika: "...I get all A's..."
- Nurse: a silent, aggressively pensive look that says "Hm, makes you think..."
Does this kind of not-so-subtle approach to an already hysterical topic really warrant a B+?

(Also, why is there a '-' instead of a '+' next to that A for My Man Godfrey?)

Kamikaze Camel said...

sex, lies, and videotape (1989) A
Out of Sight (1998) B
The Limey (1999) B
Erin Brockovich (2000) A—
Traffic (2000) B+
Ocean's Eleven (2001) A-
Solaris (2002) B-
Ocean's Twelve (2004) D+

VERY similar grades on all the ones I have seen. The biggest discepency is Solaris.

And, yes, Oceans 12 was horrible. When you're making a movie like that you DON'T put all your crazy film making techniques and dumbheaded smart allicky crap. I did like the Julia Roberts playing Julia Roberts thing though, to be honest.

tim r said...

Goran, those are still the only two Tarkovsky movies I've come close to getting the hang of, and I have relatively recently and even semi-excitedly attempted to grapple with Nostalghia, Stalker, and Mirror for paid-review purposes. Cue dismay. None of them did much for me at all beyond the gob-smacking gorgeousness of individual tableaux (the Caspar David Friedrich monasteries in Nostalghia, the hut ablaze in the rain in Mirror, etc).

On balance, I've got to admit that his reputation still bewilders the hell out of me. Anyone who pretends not to be slightly daunted or confounded by the densely layered autobiographical enigmas of Mirror is either bullshitting or, just as possible, simply much smarter than I am: I think only A.T. himself was in a position to understand that movie fully, and, for all the film's theoretically bewitching sensory poetry, I've rarely felt so thoroughly at arm's length from a work of art. I've tended to find more to think about in ten-page Philip K Dick short stories than throughout all three brain-numbing hours of Stalker, which didn't even look good, and which I really have to insist is wildly and pretentiously overregarded. In short, Tarkovsky makes me feel stupid, which I don't much enjoy, and I don't think he'd enjoy being my guest up in here either. It's just never quite going to work out between us, is my suspicion: most of the grades would be a big jumble of question marks and minuses anyway, except an A for Rublev and and probably an A– or B+ for Ivan. I do think they're both quite something.

My Man Godfrey? Loony, usually in a good way, though not always. The relationships are a tiny bit sketchy and under-developed for my liking: they're funny, but they don't really go anywhere, and the ending is really kind of bonkers. You can also blame a terrible DVD transfer for that minus: it was really hard to enjoy the movie to the full when I could barely see or hear it.

Powell doesn't quite make the most of his role, I reckon, and I wanted a few more truly witty and urbane quips in his dialogue, but it's narrowly my favourite Lombard performance of the ones I've seen -- she's even crazier here than Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby -- and Jean Dixon as the maid is just wonderful.

As for Traffic, I think it's a very uneven script, actually, and it's easy to pull individual scenes and threads apart as you've amply proved. As a patchwork, though, I like it, and I think the movie has far too much going for it over and above Gaghan's schematic writing to be less than B or B+ worthy. What derails Crash for me, if that's the comparison we want to make, is that Haggis can't pull all the threads together and give his movie much of a coherent shape or texture; Soderbergh can and does, despite some admittedly overprocessed visuals. But Brockovich was still his stronger 2000 Oscar contender, better directed too, and a more satisfying watch in every way.

Kamikaze Camel said...

I've rewatched Erin about 8 times since I saw it originally back in 2000. I've never rewatched Traffic once. I still like it and remember liking it (hence the B+ i gave it) but Erin was and still is where it's at.

tim r said...

This went:

sex, lies, and videotape (1989) A
Kafka (1991) B—
King of the Hill (1993) —
The Underneath (1995) C
Gray's Anatomy (1996) —
Schizopolis (1996) B—
Out of Sight (1998) B+
The Limey (1999) B
Erin Brockovich (2000) A—
Traffic (2000) B+
Ocean's Eleven (2001) B+
Full Frontal (2002) C+
Solaris (2002) A
Ocean's Twelve (2004) D+
Bubble (2005) —

RC said...

i loved traffic...

why can't he repeat such success again?

--RC of