Tag Archive | "Steven Soderbergh"

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New Releases: April 26, 2013

Posted on 26 April 2013 by William Gatevackes

pain-and-gain-poster1. Pain & Gain (Paramount, 3,277 Theaters, 130 Minutes, Rated R): My first thought on how to approach writing the blurb for this film was how awkward a fit Michael Bay was for directing this film. After all, the ads portray it as a wacky crime comedy about a group of bungling bodybuilders who engage in an extortion plot as revenge against a particularly obnoxious client. That is almost a story that Elmore Leonard would write. It was a film that would be better suited being directed by a Barry Sonnenfeld or a Steven Soderbergh, not the master of the explosion.

Then, thanks to the Internet, I was able to read the articles that inspired the film. You can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 by clicking those links. If you have enough time, I’d recommend you do so. You’ll find a fascinating retelling of the true story that is being dramatized on the screen. What you won’t find is a wacky comedy. Yes, there is bungling. But there is also brutal, inhuman torture of the character Tony Shalhoub represents. There is also a second crime done by the same crew that ends in the murder of two people and their corpses being cut up and sunk in a culvert. The victims of the second crime are listed on IMDB in the cast listing, so that gruesome crime will be addressed in the film.

The true story the poster takes so much pride in stating it is adapted from doesn’t seem like the buoyant fun-filled romp that the trailers make it out to be.  That means one of several things. It could mean that Paramount is misrepresenting the film as a goofy comedy instead of a pitch-black comedy/drama the real story would be. This kind of bait and switch is always unctuous.

Or it could be that the Hollywood has taken liberties with the story so it is now a wacky crime caper. This is likely, because Dwayne Johnson’s character appears to be a composite of numerous other accomplices of the Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie characters.

Either way, this is an event where people died. People who were loved and respected by their friends and family were brutally murdered and the bodies underwent the ultimate disrespect after their demise. And while some of the incompetence about the muscle-headed plotters can lend itself to dark humor, you need a master of setting a tone to ensure the film stays respectful to the victims. And Michael Bay is anything but a master of setting the tone, unless it is coming from loud explosions.

the-big-wedding-movie-poster2. The Big Wedding (Lionsgate, 2,633 Theaters, 90 Minutes, Rated R): You know, you don’t often get casts like this one in your remake of a French farce. I mean, you have four Oscar winners, and Prince Caspian! How could you lose!

This is a remake of France’s 2006 film, Mon Frère Se Marie. The plot consists of a family whose adopted son is getting married. The son has been writing home to his biological mother, a devout Catholic, about the wonderful family he was raised in. Only problem is that the story is a lie. His parents are divorced, his siblings are crazy, and his life is anything but perfect. But his birth mother is coming to the ceremony so the man’s family has to pretend to live up to the idealized version he relayed to his mom.

Now, right off the bat, I can pick a bone about the premise. Not that I am one to judge, but I think a Catholic who got pregnant out of wedlock and gave her son up for adoption should be able to cut a divorced couple a little slack. And the semantics of the son’s lie is troubling for me. Why would he have to address his family life in any sort of detail? And if he did, couldn’t he find something positive about his family to relate? In other words, why did he lie when he could have just not admitted the whole truth?

Anyway, farces usually have plots that work best if you don’t think about them. And this all-star cast could make anything good. Might be a fun film if you just take it at face value and run with the concept.

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Marvin Hamlisch, 68

Posted on 07 August 2012 by William Gatevackes

If you saw a film or attended a Broadway play in the 1970s or 1980s, odds are you heard his music. He has created numerous songs that have become modern day standards. He is one of eleven people who have won the competitive “EGOT”–An Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony and he is only one of two people who added a Pulitzer Prize to that list (the other was Richard Rodgers).

His name was Marvin Hamlisch, and he passed away yesterday.

Hamlisch was a child prodigy, and entered the Julliard School  Pre-College Division at age six in 1951. Just over twelve years later, he got a job as Barbara Streisand’s rehearsal pianist during her involvement with the Broadway musical Funny Girl, starting a working relationship the pair would revisit a number of times in the future.

The first film Hamlisch provided music for was a 1968 Burt Lancaster vehicle, The Swimmer. From then, he would provide music for over 40 films, receiving 12 Oscar nominations, and winning three awards in 1974, one for The Sting (for Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and/or Adaptation) and two for The Way We Were (for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score and Best Music, Original Song for the title song, an honor he shared with Alan and Marylin Bergman). He worked on three films with Streisand (The Way We Were, Funny Girl, and The Mirror Has Two Faces) and numerous concert specials with the singer, which garnered him multiple Emmys. He also scored two early Woody Allen films, Take the Money and Run and Bananas. Other films of note Hamlisch worked on were The Spy Who Loved Me, Ordinary People, Sophie’s Choice, and Three Men and a Baby. The last film he worked on was 2009’s The Informant! for director Steven Soderbergh.

Hamlisch also composed the music for the Broadway musical A Chorus Line, for which he won his Tony and the Pulitzer Prize. At the time of his death, he was working with Jerry Lewis to bring the latter’s The Nutty Professor to Broadway.

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Posted on 23 January 2012 by William Gatevackes

Before I saw this film, I read Lisa Schwarzbaum’s review of the film in Entertainment Weekly. The first two paragraphs of that review caught my attention:

Barely 10 Minutes into Haywire, a young man who had previously been talking quietly with a young woman in a backcountry coffee shop radically switches methods of communication: He throws hot coffee at her, punches her in the face, flings her across the room, kicks her, and pulls a gun. The brutality is sickening, intensified by the shock of seeing a man whale on a woman with an ugliness that, in the grammar of movies, is traditionally reserved for men on men with the expectation of a fair fight. As it happens, the lady — a covert-ops specialist with the pulp-fiction name of Mallory Kane — can take care of herself. Played by mixed-martial-arts champion Gina Carano, Mallory punches, kicks, and stomps back, handily beating the bejayzus out of her adversary and former spy-world colleague (Channing Tatum). Finally, she breaks his arm, wrestles away his gun, and drives off toward her next fight.

This gender-flipped combat is meant to please the moviegoer. But I call foul: The agreement to laugh off the realistic-yet-bloodless beating of a woman as cartoon damage in order to enjoy a filmmaker’s skill at playing with the conventions of genre is bloody depressing. If people of any sex are going to hurt one another, the hurt ought to at least be for high political or moral stakes — just ask James Bond, Jason Bourne, or Lisbeth Salander. Yet there are no stakes at all in Haywire, where government types and shadowy private operators are interchangeable plot pawns, as are their goals. The movie’s only point is to showcase Carano, an attractive, impressive fighter who caught Steven Soderbergh’s eye while she was doing her Muay Thai/boxing/jujitsu thing on TV.

The reason why I reprinted this here is because I wanted you to read it for yourself. I went into the film with these words in my head because to be honest, they troubled me. After seeing the film, I think Schwarzbaum is wrong on a number of levels and not just in word usage (You wail on someone. You don’t “whale” on them). And I feel compelled to provide a counterpoint in my review of the film.

I’ll chalk Lisa’s justifiable reason for hurting someone up to a difference of opinion. Haywire is a revenge picture, and revenge has been a motivator for one person to do hurt to another person in drama dating back to the day of Shakespeare. Granted, this film is more of a thinking man’s Commando than a low-rent Hamlet (or Quantum of Solace for that matter), but I find the need to try and kill the person who is trying to kill you a perfectly acceptable excuse for cinematic violence. I don’t need the fight to also be about saving the world.

Where I think Schwarzbaum is most wrong is in the motivation she gives Soderbergh in making the film. I don’t think the director is playing with the genre’s conventions just for the sake of playing with them. I think he has a very salient point to make about gender roles in the world and in film, and he makes it both narratively and metatexually with this film. The violence plays a distinctive tole in this commentary.

The film follows Carano’s Mallory Kane, an ex-marine who works for a private company run by Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) that does dark ops for the Government. She is the best operative he has, but Kenneth is a bad businessman. She is about to leave when Kenneth convinces her to take one last, easy job. That job turns out to be a frame job and a hit on Mallory. Mallory easily escapes with her life, and goes on a quest to find the people who set her up and exact vengeance.

Far be it for me, a man, to call this film a means to support the feminist ideal, but I do see that in the film. Mallory is constantly underestimated in the film, either in her intelligence, her strength, or tenacity, by most of the men around her. And throughout the whole film, she proves again and again how much smarter, tougher and deadier she is than they are. No man in the film is her equal. Whatever they can do, she can do better.

Schwarzbaum is right about the violence. There is a quite a bit of it, and whenever Carano is punched in the face or slammed against a wall, it is jarring and upsetting (and despite what Schwarzbaum states, bloody too. There is one scene where Mallory must cover up her bruises and cuts with make-up in order to make her escape into the general public). But for just about every bit of violence inflicted upon Carano, the same has been inflicted on a Tom Cruise, a Viggo Mortensen, a Daniel Craig, and people don’t even bat an eyelash. If any of those men were the lead in this film, Schwarzbaum would have started her review in an entirely different fashion. And she probably wouldn’t have given the film a B- either.

But Carano’s character is one who works in a viceral, violent world, where people kill each other not with rifles on rooftops yards away, but up close and in person. To treat these scenes with kid gloves because Carano is a woman might not only be in its own way sexist but also a cinematic cop out. Soderbergh is trying to get his audiences to analyze the way the view violence on screen.

Other than that, how was the film? Soderbergh has shot the film beautifully. The film is full of his trademark style and flair. But don’t expect a full-out action film, the tone is more reminiscent of his Out of Sight. There are times when the action slows and the film drags.

The acting is good through out, including Carano. Her role is in the mode of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger”s early action work. She doesn’t have to do any major soliliquies of heart-rending emotion, but she acts serviceable in what she is given.

The writing shows wit at times but the plot asks more questions than it answers. This is not unusual for a action revenge thriller that is designed to showcase an action star’s ability to beat people up, but if you go in expecting more, you might be disappointed.

If Soderbergh’s mission was to examine gender roles using the action film as a focus, then the film is a success. As a good film, well, your mileage may vary. I enjoyed the film even with its flaws. And, thanks to Lisa Schwarzbaum, I got to examine the film more closely than I would have originally.



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New Releases: January 20

Posted on 20 January 2012 by William Gatevackes

1. Underworld Awakening (Sony/Screen Gems, 3,078 Theaters, 88 Minutes, Rated R): I don’t know if it’s a good sign or a bad sign that Kate Beckinsale is back in this franchise. Well, it’s good in the sense that I always like her in the role, bad in the sense that it’s a bit of a step back for her, isn’t it?

Anyhoo, Beckinsale returns as Selene, the vampire warrior, who is awaken to find that both the Vampires and the Lycans (werewolves) are threat with annihilation by humans. As Selene fights for both races’ survival, she comes across a half-vampire/half-lycan child who just might be her daughter.

The film looks like just what you’d expect from the franchise: Beckinsale in skin-tight leather, kicking ass. It won’t be Shakepeare, but if your taste run toward the goth action film, it should be entertaining.

2. Red Tails (Fox, 2,512 Theaters, 120 Minutes, Rated PG-13): The ads might say this film is “from George Lucas,” but he didn’t write or direct it. His only credit is as executive producer. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t contribute.

Lucas started developing the project, based on the real-life Tuskegee Airmen, back in the late 1980s. It was intended to open in the early 1990s, but fears amongst the Hollywood studios about financing a big budget film with a predominantly black cast made the road the the screen an arduous one, even for a producer of Lucas’ stature.

But the film is finally hitting screens. Lucas hired an African-American director (Anthony Hemmingway) and African-American writers (John Ridley, who wrote one of my most favorite comics of the last decade in The American Way, and Aaron McGruder of The Boondocks fame). I don’t see why all audiences wouldn’t be interested in heroes fight evil, no matter what color the heroes are. I hope audiences prove that to be true this weekend.

3. Haywire (Relativity, 2,439 Theaters, 93 Minutes, Rated R): It’s not easy for any athlete to make the jump to film stardom. For every Dwayne Johnson or Jim Brown, there are twice as many Kurt Thomases and Brian Bosworths.  Gina Carrano faces an even more difficlt challenge, being a female MMA fighter trying to break into the world of action films, a world not all that receptive to women with loads of acting experience.

But few athletes could ask for a better introduction to the world of movies than Carrano got. She is paired with an A-list, Oscar winning director in Steven Soderbergh, who surrounded her with a great cast that features Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, and Bill Paxton. Add to that a revenge plot that almost always works (a black ops agent is framed and betrayed and seeks revenge) and you have a pretty solid film.

The trailer was awesome, the kind that made me wish the film started right then. I don’t know if it will open well, especially considering there is another action film with a female protagonist opening the same day, but it’s not for lack of trying.

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Has Soderbergh Walked From THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.?

Posted on 18 November 2011 by Rich Drees

Warner Brothers has not been having much luck lately with their big screen adaption of the 1960s spy series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The last several months have seen them go through a number of potential actors  for the lead role either outright passing on the project or walking away from negotiations. And now it seems that the project’s director Steven Soderbergh has dropped out of the project as well.

The Playlist is reporting that Soderbergh’s departure comes in the wake of a meeting he held with studio executives last night where the two parties once again clashed over the issues of casting and budget. Apparently the studio was only willing to front $60 million for the production, a number that Soderbergh considered too low for a globe-trotting, 1960s era-set action film. With a production start date of March looming, Soderbergh had decided that there wasn’t enough time to iron out their differences and still prep for the shoot.

The director and the studio had been going back and forth on the film’s casting for months. At first, Soderbergh’s frequent on-screen collaborator George Clooney was attached to star, but withdrew in August. Playlist reports that the director then suggested Michael Fassbender and “The Killing” star Joel Kinnaman as two possible replacements. The studio passed, but then put them into other projects, which did not sit well with Soderbergh. A number of other actors were discussed but none were ever approached with firm offers. Playlist states that the reports that Bradley Cooper was in discussions last month with the studio was actually a story put out by the actor’s agents in order to get the studio to make an offer.

As of this morning, the studio has not made any statement on the matter, though I would expect they would before the end of the day.

With the ball now back in Warner Brorthers’ court, what happens now?

Well, that probably depends on Warners’s flexibility over the March start date. If they are willing to push that back in order to accommodate whomever they hire to take over the film, then that’s fine. However, if they are committed to starting filming in the spring in order to meet an intractable release date, things could be in trouble before they’ve even started. Remember that Universal’s The Wolfman and Twentieth Century Fox’s X-Men 3 both had directors brought in at the last minute to take over troubled projects and look how well both of them turned.

Of course, Warners was ready to move the film’s start date if Matt Damon had signed onto the film, as it conflicted with the shooting of the actor’s directorial debut. However, Soderbergh was committed to film his Liberace biopic Behind The Candelabra to the newly proposed dates.

My guess is that the studio will scrap all the work done by Soderbergh and his screenwriting collaborator on this project Scott Z. Burns and look for someone to start the whole development process over again. However, if they do that, whomever takes on the project will already have one strike against them. Before Soderbergh signed on to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. the project had already racked up somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million in development costs from the previous attempts that the studio made at getting it in front of the cameras. that amount is now undoubtedly much higher and that only increases the pressure on the next person to step up to try and make the movie.

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Is Channing Tatum Next In Line For MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.?

Posted on 15 November 2011 by Rich Drees

Is Channing Tatum being looked at to play the lead in director Steven Soderbergh’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? Deadline seems to think so and is reporting that while the actor hasn’t been made a formal offer of the role yet, he is being considered by Warner Brothers for the title role in the big screen revival of the 1960s television spy series.

Soderbergh has been having a hard time trying to fill the role. Originally, it had been offered to Soderbergh’s sometime collaborator George Clooney, who initially accepted but then backed out. Johnny Depp and Matt Damon both passed on the project before Bradley Cooper was approached. Cooper walked away from negotiations for the part last week.

Personally, I’m not sure that Tatum is a great choice for the role. Any actor filling the role of suave spy Napoleon Solo, essayed by Robert Vaughn in the original series, needs to have a certain amount of charm, charisma and screen presence and I just don’t think that we’ve seen any of that in his work so far. I’m hoping that this doesn’t come to pass and Soderbergh continues to search for just the right actor for the part. How about Jon Hamm?

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Bradley Cooper Passes On MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

Posted on 10 November 2011 by Rich Drees

The search continues for the Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Bradley Cooper, who was reported to have been in negotiations to play the lead in Warner Brothers big screen adaption of the classic 60s television spy series, has passed on taking part in the Steven Soderbergh-directed film.

This puts the studio back on the search to find someone to play Napoleon Solo, the role made famous by Robert Vaughn in the `60s.

Cooper joins George Clooney, Johnny Depp and Matt Damon in having passed on the project.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. ran for four seasons on NBC from 1964 to 1968 during the height of the Cold War and starred Robert Vaughn and David McCullum as two agents for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement weekly battling the evil machinations of the terrorist organization THRUSH. Cashing in on the popularity of the James Bond films, the show was popular enough to launch a series of tie-ins novels and comic books, a spin-off TV series, The Girl From UNCLE, and saw a TV reunion movie in 1983.

The script for the new film was written by screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and reportedly keeps the show’s original 1960s setting.

Warners was originally looking to get the film into production next spring, and they still could, if they find someone to lead the cast.

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Will Bradley Cooper Be THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.?

Posted on 21 October 2011 by Rich Drees

Warner Brothers has extended an offer to Bradley Cooper to play Napoleon Solo in director Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Variety is reporting that the actor is currently mulling over taking the role in the big screen adaption of the 1960s television series  following George Clooney’s departure in August. Reportedly Johnny Depp and Matt Damon had both passed on the project.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. ran for four seasons on NBC from 1964 to 1968 during the height of the Cold War and starred Robert Vaughn and David McCullum as two agents for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement weekly battling the evil machinations of the terrorist organization THRUSH. Cashing in on the popularity of the James Bond films, the show was popular enough to launch a series of tie-ins novels and comic books, a spin-off TV series, The Girl From UNCLE, and saw a TV reunion movie in 1983.

The script for the new film was written by screenwriter Scott Z. Burns  and reportedly keeps the show’s original 1960s setting.

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Steven Soderbergh Heading Up Big Screen MAN FROM UNCLE

Posted on 17 November 2010 by Rich Drees

Open Channel D.

Steven Soderbergh is taking the reins of Warner Brothers long in development big screen adaptation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. The director is currently in talks to helm the adaptation of the hit 1960s spy  adventure television series. Also in negotiations for the project is Scott Z. Burns, who wrote both The Informant and the upcoming medical thriller Contagion for Soderbergh.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. ran from 1964 to 1968 during the height of the Cold War and starred Robert Vaughn and David McCullum as two agents for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement weekly battling the evil machinations of the terrorist organization THRUSH.

Warners has had a big screen adaptation of the show in development for several years, most recently with screenwriter Max Borenstein and director David Dobkin attached.

Warners hopes that Soderbergh will have the film in front of cameras by the end of next year.

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