Archive for Steven Soderbergh

The Sunday Intertitle: Race Day

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2020 by dcairns

Obvs Soderbergh’s LOGAN LUCKY should be triple-featured along with LOGAN and LUCKY, which came out close enough to it to be a bit confusing to this old man.

It’s quite nice — the plot is neat (though aspects of the prison break had me wondering how on earth anyone on the outside could know this was possible — yet two guys NOT in prison plan a successful break-out), the characters are fun. Smart script by Jules Asner for some reason credited as Rebecca Blunt. It has Seth McFarlane and I still don’t like anything that guy does, but as he’s playing a creep whose story function is to get punched, he wasn’t too damaging.Little Farrah McKenzie, playing Channing Tatum’s kid, is the star of the show, followed by Daniel Craig, essaying another Foghorn Leghorn voice. (Upon beholding him in KNIVES OUT, my sainted mother declared “You can cut his head off but I’ll keep the rest of him.”) Adam Driver continues to be able to do anything, seemingly.On this one I felt like Soderbergh’s cinematography (rich like OCEAN’S 11 even without the aid of neon) was better than his editing. There are lovely passages like a-lying-in-bed montage where each image bleeds through at different speeds on different sides of the frame — did he do lighting changes on set like in CITIZEN KANE or is it just the wonders of colour correction? But that’s a directorial choice. The actual ordering of images and cutting within sequences didn’t strike me as particularly deft, with scenes dying out on weak notes and a lack of clarity in their linkage. The two deleted scenes included on the DVD should have been in there, also (whereas I recommend the outtakes from OUT OF SIGHT for the sheer “WTF were they thinking?” quality of the bath essence dialogue).

But it’s fun. Almost made me forget this was Trump country and I should hate these people. Well, one shouldn’t hate. (The UK trailer for the film used alternate takes and different versions of gags which made for a snarkier, more Coens-like portrayal of the characters, presumably calculated to appeal more to smug Brits like me.) But, owing to events that overtook the filmmakers, politics does become the trumpeting elephant in the room. Like, if King of the Hill were airing today, it would be a much darker, more unlovely show.

Hammer Time

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2019 by dcairns

MICKEY SPILLANE

IS

MIKE HAMMER

Thus bellow the opening credits of THE GIRL HUNTERS, and they bellow the same thing again in reverse at the end in case we didn’t get it. So here’s an interesting phenomenon — years before Garth Marenghi, an author plays his own famous fictional creations (Hammett used a Spade, Spillane a Hammer… Gerry Anderson a Spanner). And the result is quasi-interesting.

Spillane, of course, isn’t an actor… but he IS Mike Hammer, so he has a kind of advantage over Ralph Meeker, Stacy Keach et al. Robert Aldrich and A.I. Bezzerides made a noir masterpiece out of KISS ME DEADLY by doubling down on the sadism but treating the character with acid disapproval. It’s not absolutely certain that Spillane wholly admires his character — he has Lloyd Nolan’s fed make a prophecy about the man’s lurking violence, which then comes true with a double-whammy of nastiness at the end. But whatever ambiguity is on offer is of the two-fisted variety and the movie would rather nail a man’s hand to the floor of a barn than linger too long on ethical questions. So it does.

Kind of hilarious the way everyone who helps the hulking Hammer is a chinless, bespectacled pencilneck, as if to emphasise the protag’s pudgy, slab-faced manliness.

There are as many bikinis for Shirley Eaton to wear as there are dweebs for Hammer to chat with. She plays her society lady role… I would not say incompetently… but it’s like the Rank Charm School version of early Monroe, all inappropriate sexiness. Ladylike flirtation and raised eyebrows. Kind of genre-appropriate, you could say, but Spillane’s version of the genre is moronic.

The movie was shot at Borehamwood, England, with what looks like a day’s location work in NYC, showing Hammer shambling from dive to dive before plunging back into the sound stage. It’s surprisingly seamless and the only really terrible Noo Yawk accent is in the first scene, which gives the game away.

His dialogue is occasionally crudely felicitous (“I’ve been shot before.” “Yeah, but you’ve never been killed before.”) His prose was the same: he couldn’t write, but he could write a line like “I took out my gun and blew the smile off his face.”

The characters spend a lot of time swapping backstory about entirely offscreen figures we have no reason to care about. Hammer snoops, meets up with Nolan to tell what he’s gleaned, then checks out Eaton’s latest swimsuit, then snoops, then meets Nolan again… There’s half an hour’s plot here padded out with exposition covering what we already know because we just saw it. For a thriller, it’s very slow, stodgy, simple and inert, a bit like its lead performance.

Still, the film is just about worth seeing. The ‘Scope camerawork is in the hands of operator Alan McCabe, singled out by Soderbergh as the best in the business. The compositions are consistently fine, and frequently GORGEOUS. Much better than this commie-baiting sadism, pulp cliche and thick-ear deserves.

The title is meaningless — a line of VO near the end refers to “the night of the girl hunters,” just to try and get it in there, but no girl hunting then occurs. Do we feel cheated or relieved?

And do I need to see RING OF FEAR now?

One Ferpect Shot

Posted in FILM with tags , , on October 19, 2018 by dcairns

I was describing the opening of ERIN BROCKOVICH to students, don’t ask me why, and then decided to look online to see if we could watch it, and discovered I’d remembered it all wrong.

The key thing is that Erin (Julia Roberts) goes for a job and doesn’t get it. I got that bit right. But I’d described it as being all one shot, in which we never see the prospective employer she’s auditioning to. In fact, look —

These are the basic shots, and the cleverest things are that

  1. They begin on a big closeup of JR without context, right in the middle of the conversation.
  2. The first shot of the boss is wider, but this works fine: I didn’t perceive it as a clunky mismatch
  3. When we go wider on JR, we go tighter on the boss, which also works fine.

The boss looks a bit like Soderbergh.

BUT — I do feel like my memory of the scene is better than the scene. Holding on Roberts in a single, unbroken close-up would get the film off to a bolder start and really boost the idea that this is a star vehicle built around the Roberts Charisma, which it is.

It would also fit nicely with the upcoming bit, which is really cool and more closely resembles my memory of it. Roberts finishes a cigarette outside, having failed to land the job  — the movie’s most cinematic ideas all involve ellipsis, and the ending will call-back to this transition by jumping over the actual trial scene that’s nominally the story’s climax.

Then she goes to her car and finds she’s got a parking ticket, then she breaks a nail opening the door, and the trailer VO man clears his throat preparatory to growling “Erin Brockovich is having a REALLY bad day,” — and we start to feel this movie is going to be really by-the-numbers, which in some ways it is. Then she gets in, drives off into the distance —

And SMASH!

A black car side-swipes Roberts’ car, sending it spinning.

The clever bit is that this DOES look like a single shot, but obviously Soderbergh wasn’t likely to have another car crash into Roberts’ vehicle while she’s in it. We have to go back and look at the moment where her car passes the camera quite close — very simple to stitch two shots together as the car is wiping frame, with a stunt driver in a big wig behind the wheel in the second shot. So that’s quite clever, isn’t it?