Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: ‘sex, lies, and videotape’

[originally published in 7 Days, on August 9, 1989]

Andie MacDowell as Ann (never better), James Spader as Graham

Steven Soderbergh wrote the screenplay for sex, lies, and videotape during an eight-day drive from Baton Rouge to Los Angeles, and the movie he made from it retains the hurtling urgency of its genesis. This is true despite the fact that it’s not a fast-moving film by any means. Its principal mode of action is conversation—people talking about sex, candor, responsibility, fidelity, contentment—and there’s no attempt to jazz things up with camera stunting. A little more limpidness in the cinematography, a little more attention to the piquant charms of place, and we might take it for an hommage to Eric Rohmer. Yet sex, lies, and videotape is an American original, beating a supple, nervy tattoo on the funny bone of contemporary values.

Small wonder that its 26-year-old director took home the Palme d’Ôr for best film at the latest Cannes festival. The movie is a chamber piece for four players, though almost never are more than two of them together at a given time. John (Peter Gallagher) is a Baton Rouge yuppie, eternal frat man, and junior partner in a law firm at age 30. His wife, Ann (Andie MacDowell), having given up thoughts of a career, spends her drifty days agonizing over global dilemmas (e.g., where to put the world’s mounting supply of garbage) and parrying her analyst’s efforts to determine why she and John don’t touch anymore. She has a younger sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), a barmaid and compulsive free spirit whose lifelong rivalry with Ann has led her into an affair with John—a liaison of which Ann remains unaware.

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Film Reviews

‘Magic Mike’ Bares a Soul

Summer steamrollers like The Avengers sometimes feel like cinematic beat-downs. Good or bad, the mechanics of these big brawls can be numbingly repetitious. Their vulnerable manflesh stuffed into kid costumes and muscle suits, superheroes battle one another bloodlessly, bumping and grinding in the service of saving the eternally imperiled world. Borrrrr-ing! For an antidote and a really good time, go see Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh’s funny, exhilarating, down-and-dirty celebration of a different breed of costumed superstud — and a much earthier brand of bumping and grinding.

Channing Tatum and the boys

Soderbergh’s footloose movie about Tampa hunks who strip for a living is no Nashville, but this director shares Robert Altman’s eagle eye for the idiosyncrasies of folks who populate a showbiz subculture, as well as his ability to riff on rhythms of half-heard, possibly improvised conversation among guys who share a trade, however infra dig. Drawn from Channing Tatum’s own stint as a stripper back in the day, the script — by first-timer Reid Carolin, the actor’s producing partner — doesn’t aim for big narrative fireworks. The story flows the way life does when you mostly live at night: working up a head of steam onstage, stoned, sleeping around with strangers, your days slipping by in a hangover haze.

The movie’s mornings-after and afternoon delights are drenched in bruised, golden-dirty Florida sunshine. That exquisitely decaying light can wear its denizens down, but it’s also energizing, a real turn-on. Magic Mike catches that alternating beat in hot bursts of physicality and dreamy, drug-fueled languors. A slow-simmering love affair between Tatum and quirky charmer Jody Horn warms up during walks in the sun. As disengaged as a pleasant, vagrant breeze, Soderbergh’s camera drifts around their conversations: casual, intermittent, sometimes inaudible, punctuated by laughter. Nothing’s nailed down in Tampa’s fluid light; Soderbergh’s taking moving pictures of the flux and flow of human experience. (The director shot and edited, under his usual aliases.)

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Posted in: Directors, Interviews

Interview: Steven Soderbergh and “Che”

Steven Soderbergh’s Che is both two features and one work, a 4 ½-hour production that carves out what Soderbergh, producer/star Benicio Del Toro and screenwriter Peter Buchman see as the two defining periods in the life of Ernesto Che Guevara: the Cuban Revolution and the Bolivian expedition. Except for a brief scene where Guevara meets Fidel Castro in Mexico City and newsreel-like segments chronicling Guevara’s 1964 visit to New York and address to the United Nations. There’s practically nothing of his personal life, no effort to put his campaigns in political or social context, and no attempt to address his controversial actions (including the execution of political prisoners) as part of Castro’s government in the aftermath of the Cuban victory.

It’s not that Soderbergh and screenwriter Peter Buchman assume that spectators will arrive with knowledge of that history. You can glean some of that from the dialogues, from Guevara’s idealistic drive, and from the New York sequences and his unblinking enforcement the revolutionary code on deserters and criminals in the jungle. Che is neither hagiography nor deconstruction and its certainly not an exploration of the man behind the myth. It’s about how Dr. Ernesto Guevara transformed himself into revolutionary leader Che, an idealist with a gun, a teacher with a mission, a single-minded warrior for social justice who never betrays his feelings to his followers. And it’s a classic rise and fall, each part a different film – the underdog campaign and triumph in Cuba in Part One, the effort to repeat it in Bolivia, where it failed, in Part Two – that are reflections of one another, two parts of a whole. The rise and the fall. The success and the failure. The inspiration and the disillusionment. In Soderbergh’s own words: “Let’s put it this way: when people ask me how many films I’ve made, I treat it as one film.”

Benecio Del Toro as Che Guevara
Benicio Del Toro as Che Guevara

The film premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival as a single presentation and opened in a limited roadshow run, with both films presented back to back (with an intermission) as a single program, in New York and Los Angeles in December. Its success encouraged IFC to expand the roadshow release to ten more cities, including Seattle, on January 16. I interviewed Soderbergh by phone on Friday, January 9, a week before its Seattle premiere.

Benicio Del Toro had been trying to get this film made for some time before you got involved. What was it about the project that made you want to jump on board and do it?

Well, really him [Del Toro], because there was nothing other than his desire and [producer] Laura Bickford’s desire to see it made, but that was it. They were working off of John Lee’s book, but John Lee’s book covered his whole life and they didn’t really have a take on it yet. So I honestly said yes without really knowing what I was saying yes to.

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