Friday, February 8, 2013

Film Friday: A Soderbergh Trifecta

Soderbergh himself, in a recent photo from early 2013.
Opening Scene
Steven Soderbergh has directed numerous films with such varying tones it is amazing. Some directors find a genre, niche, what-have-you, and stick with it their entire career. Soderbergh, however, just makes whatever movie he damn well feels like--be it an Ocean's 11 remake, a flick about a high-end prostitute ("The Girlfriend Experience,") or one of the three films I'm going to discuss.

Soderbergh has said he is quitting/retiring/done with movies. He might do television, perhaps work on a play, but he's finished with the movies, and his newest release today, "Side Effects," may very well be the last movie we ever see from him (I hope it isn't). I haven't seen, "Side Effects," but I have seen other films that Soderbergh has directed, and I'm going to discuss the three that I feel are worth talking about. The movies are, "The Informant!" "Contagion," and yes, "Magic Mike."

Fun Watching Films
One thing I want to mention first, Damon is great in the two movies of these three he appears in. Both, "The Informant!" and, "Contagion," have Matt Damon involved, (although he gets more screen-time in, "The Informant!") and both of the movies have his characters in over their heads. Whether Damon is trying to eek out a deal with the government about his company's price-fixing or dealing with the death of his wife and son things sure aren't easy for him. Of course, in Contagion the big baddie is the virus and society's eagerness to panic, whereas in, "The Informant," by the time we reach the end it seems the most shady of everyone was in fact Damon's character.
Don't let the charming face fool you, this guy is weaselly.
While, "The Informant!" was a great movie it didn't seem to get as much press as the other two movies, which is why I can sort of link, "Contagion," and "Magic Mike," together. You see, the existence of these films themselves sparked our imagination, sometimes more than even the movies did. "Contagion," had everyone talking about how scary it is to imagine a virus like the one on the silver-screen. Picture something suddenly forming and coming close to destroying society, it is scary. "Magic Mike," had people talking because, well, women liked the idea of seeing a movie about a bunch of half-naked men, especially if one of them is Channing Tatum. Soderbergh subverts expectations with both movies in a way, however.
"Contagion, "the movie that had everyone washing their hands.
In "Contagion," some of the, "best," characters either die or have their story-line end with enough unanswered questions even their survival is in doubt--the more morally grey characters or out-and-out sleazeballs such as Jude Law's character manage to get out relatively unscathed--that's quite a change in the idea of the hero always winning the day. "Magic Mike," surprises you because underneath its glossy exterior of male strippers is an interesting story about human beings who are horribly flawed but trying their best to make life something that can be withstood. Seriously, pretty much none of the characters in, "Magic Mike," are particularly endearing, but they are fascinating nonetheless (Matthew Mcconaughey reminds us in this flick that if he's given a good role he actually can act the Hell out of it). Also, for a movie about male strippers, "Magic Mike," has a ton of female nudity--its almost as if Soderbergh realized some straight men would get dragged along to the movie who didn't care about his masterful storytelling in all his films, so he threw them a bone in the form of Olvia Munn's breasts .

Soderbergh went from a movie about how touching anything could be deadly to a film about half-naked men grinding on women. There's something interesting to that.
"Contagion," and "Magic Mike," both have the concept of time passing as an important aspect of the films too. In, "Contagion," we see how the virus spreads from Day 1 of its existence in a human to the bitter end of when a vaccine is finally created. "Magic Mike," shows us what life is like over a period of some months for our characters, with all the ups-and-downs of living that a month can entail. However, while, "Magic Mike," is more of study of just Tampa and its inhabitants, "Contagion," is a global experience of seeing how the world exists and falls into disarray. "The Informant!" involves the flow of time too, as we see Damon go from 30 or so years ago to near-present day.

Another thing linking these three movies is how Soderbergh always manages to get a stellar performance out of his actors. "The Informant!" has a ton of known and lesser-known comedians among its cast, but in a clever occurrence Soderbergh does not have them all necessarily being funny so much as he does just have them be normal people. Seeing Joel McHale not cracking jokes is a bit weird, but it illustrates that these folk have range beyond telling jokes. "Contagion," is just stock-full of amazing performances, from Matthew Damon to Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard to Brian Cranston, Laurence Fishburn to Jude Law, and Kate Winslet to Chin Han. "Magic Mike," also succeeds with its characters be it the aforementioned Mcconaughey being a huge jerk, Alex Pettyfer as the headstrong stripping-newbie, or Channing Tatum as the man who knows he's getting too old for stripping but has limited options--and seriously, getting Channing Tatum to do a good job acting is pretty hard; the man may look amazing but his acting tends to be a bit under-cooked.
Joel McHale is in a comedy movie, yet has a serious role. Interesting, no?
Soderbergh also is great with how he gets the, "look," in his movies. "Contagion," often seems to have a sharp, sickly color, and "Magic Mike," has a strange haze-y look much of the time except for the scenes that take place within the strip club itself, where the picture gets bright and clear, as if Soderbergh is saying everything inside the club is hyper-real and memorable while outside life for the characters is just more-so a blur. "The Informant!" has a variety of hues but mainly I didn't notice anything in particular about the lighting or shades that stood out. Yes, Soderbergh gets so much right in his movies. From the way it looks, to the acting, interesting stories, and whatever else he does to make all his films as enjoyable as they are.

Closing Credits
Steven Soderbergh has done a lot of work, and much of it has been great. This little exercise in discussing three of his films has been fun and shows that despite the immense differences in each flick he creates there tends to be things that unify them in some sense or the other. Soderbergh saying he is basically done with film makes me sad, but also has me wondering what fascinating things he could be cooking up next in whatever career he chooses to pursue. I'm eager to see what happens, aren't you?

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