Soderbergh Oeuvre

The last two weekends have made me realize how much I love and enjoy the work of director Steven Soderbergh.

Last weekend, much to my surprise, I saw Magic Mike (the infamous “Channing Tatum stripper movie!” that most people probably call it) and found myself enjoying it very much because it had the marks of a typical Soderbergh film: time jumping, realistic dialogue and performances, non closure and great unknown actors.  I was the only male in the theatre, and while the marketing of the film makes it look like it’s just a full on nude fest of good looking actors (it’s really not), I think the film is similar to Saturday Night Fever of a man trying to find a way out and do better for himself.

Contagion (Soderbergh’s previous film from last Fall) was what I watched last night – completely freaked me out.  It contains what I would call my “dream cast” (Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow (throw in Cate Blanchett and you have a Talented Mr. Ripley reunion!)Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet (obsessed with) and Marion Cotillard) and a plot so fit in the realm of reality (a virus epidemic breaks out across the globe) that it’s damn creepy to watch.  A great viewing experience –  loved every minute.

What I love about Steven Soderbergh’s films is that he still works on a roots level when it comes to filmmaking.  On most of his films, he works as the camera man and I find his technique brings forth excellent performances from his actors, and he has a fresh take on plot devices that spice up and show dimension that, on face value, might seem boring, done before or just plain dumb.

So, this got me thinking about other Soderbergh flicks that I love.  (I haven’t seen Sex, Lies and Videotape so that’s one I definitely must see, as it’s considered the first film that launched the independent film movement.)

Out Of Sight: This is probably one of the first Soderbergh films I have seen.  Based on an Elmore Leonard novel, this film is an absolute gem of a caper film.  The films stars some regulars from the Soderbergh oeuvre (Don Cheadle) and features George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez.  I should really watch it again.  The chemistry between Clooney and Lopez is palpable.  This can show any critic that J.Lo. can indeed act if given a meaty, great part.

Erin Brockovich: I find this film gets slagged by people a lot, but I personally think it’s a great one.  I saw this film in 2000 on a flight to Calgary – and I was riveted the entire time.  Once again, a real testament to his directing as Julia Roberts’s performance is the most real that she has ever done (and I remember thinking when I had finished watching, I said to myself that she was going to win the Best Actress Oscar – and she did!).  Albert Finney (Daddy Warbucks!) is also fantastic in this film.  The film takes its time developing characters and storyline that once we get to the big verdict, Soderbergh still surprises and downplays – and goes for a more emotional impact (God bless you, Marg Helgenberger!).

The Limey: This film just assaults your senses and completely takes over you.  About a man seeking vengeance for the death of his daughter, Terence Stamp is awesome in this film – and clearly his character is very shady and in theory an evil person.  But as a viewer, you root for him because you want him to get his revenge.  This film, for some reason, makes me think of another great film, Sexy Beast.

Traffic: I find this film bears a resemblance to Contagion in that there is an overarching theme (drug abuse, drug trafficking) and a cast of many from different global locations with isolated and intersecting storylines.  I can still see a pregnant Catherine Zeta-Jones screaming in her cell phone while driving “Shoot him in the head! Shoot him in the head!”.  This was an adaptation of a British TV series (which I vaguely remember my sister watching on PBS a long time ago).  It’s a trailblazing film.  Really landmark stuff.

Ocean’s Eleven : Forget Ocean’s Twelve (which, quite frankly, aside from the fantastic score essentially was an opportunity for the cast to reunite and jack off, in my opinion) and Thirteen (which tried to go back to the basics of Eleven moderately successfully), the first film (based on the Rat Pack film) is an absolute joy to watch unfold. It’s a fun puzzle that just entertains and challenges.  Pure bliss.

Full Frontal : I think this was the director’s attempt to go back to the era of Sex, Lies and Videotape but for the 2000’s.  It’s a really strange, odd affair (Welcome back to the fold, Julia Roberts! Hello, Brad Pitt!) but really compelling to watch.  It’s a bit of an odd viewing experience but worthwhile I think.

From what I’ve read at the moment, Steven Soderbergh is currently working on an HBO film on the life of Liberace and his lover – played by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, respectively.  Now THAT I will definitely want to see.

Advertisements

Music is my religion

As I was walking to Starbucks for a quick white iced mocha on this scorching day (YESSS!), the idea for this blog post came to me.  I wanted to write about why music has played (and continues to play) such a large component to my daily life.  I’m not just talking about the background soundtrack to the day-to-day.  I’m talking about in my DNA – how music can sometimes be the all-encompassing, go-to thing that has fueled my life and continues to be the nutrition that I need to bring me to my best.

This is something that has been interesting to talk about with my wife.  She has not grown up with music in the way that I have, so she does struggle to sometimes understand why music and specific artists can take on a larger than life approach for me.  She doesn’t entirely get it.  When I try to look at it from her perspective, she’s right – it does seem odd and off-putting.  But some things can’t be explained in words or thoughts.

As I type this, I look to my left and I see my entire CD collection staring at me.  There’s a lot here, ranging from different genres and artists.  Now I don’t look at these as just furniture – I see my life in these CDs; I see the evolution of the person I am today.  I have sold and whittled down this collection over the years, but I will never get rid of the entire thing.  I may not write as much anymore, but if one takes a look at my collection, they can learn more about me just like that.

I grew up with all kinds of music in my life.  My older siblings ran the gamut of music through their own evolutions.  Some days you had KISS and Styx playing, the other you had Anne Murray and Elvis.  One day MJ and the Bee Gees and ABBA were on, and another you’d have Jim Reeves, Springsteen and Motown on another.  Music permeated my mind.

I didn’t talk a lot about my feelings as a kid.  I think it was better for me to keep quiet about things that made me sad or mad, rather than try to upset people or start a conflict about something.  I think that’s where music took me by the hand so that it could speak for when I could not.  I think that’s the main pinpointed reason why music touches and affects me in such a way – because for the longest time it was the voice to my thoughts when I couldn’t express it myself.

The first real tape I ever bought with my own money was INXS’s “Kick” album.  That was the first kind of music that spoke to me and lit a fire in me about something.  The tape collection grew and grew until the digital age entered the picture.  First CDs I ever bought: Madonna’s “Erotica”, Janet Jackson’s “janet.” and U2’s “Zooropa”.  I still remember that, all these twenty years ago.

I think I was about 16 or so when I started to realize how words to music could really be a means of expression.  If I were to think back, I believe that Sarah McLachlan’s “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” truly was the first album that made me want to dissect lyrics and understand what she was singing about – and then the breakdown of connecting to my own experiences and finding a link between the two.  It was Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” that really cinched the deal regarding music and lyrics working together.  That album felt as though (on certain songs) that she was singing about my own life, and my own experiences.  And on the songs that I didn’t connect with at all at that time, I would later on reconnect with as I got older and lived a little bit more.  It was a huge lightning bolt moment for me as a music fan.  That was the album that made me unplug and realize the power of words.  I started writing poems because of it, and that led to more writing in different forms.  I am indebted to that album for many many reasons.

Music can still make me cry as well.  It can still be that voice of unfettered reality that can pierce my heart.  I find that when I get emotional about a specific song, I am at my most honest.  Yet another wall or layer of myself comes down so that I can appreciate the person that I am, unjudged. I remember hearing Tori Amos’s song “Silent All These Years” for the first time, and weeping.  I didn’t know this person, and I for sure did not go through the harrowing experiences that she did growing up  – and yet there I was releasing some repressed piece of myself.  It goes back to connecting deeply to the emotion – that song might be about a lot of things, but something in me understood what she was singing about.  The song still makes me cry.

And music can make me dance.  Me loves a good song that just brings about reckless joy.  I think having a kid makes you want to be as honest a person as you can be, so I find myself dancing a lot more than I did when I was a teenager whenever a song comes on that I like. Layers can come down when you cry, but man they can really get down when you dance as well.

What it boils down to is music is an emotional experience and it depends on whether you are the vessel to channel those emotions on a more cerebral way.  Or in a more “deeper heart” kind of way too.

I am such a person.  It’s just who I am.  No point in avoiding it.  For it to be a background soundtrack just doesn’t cut it for me.

Polytechnique

When I had heard that Denis Villeneuve was making a film around the Montreal Massacre of December 6th, 1989, my heart dropped.  I knew that he was a brilliant director, so I wasn’t upset where that was concerned cause I knew that the film would be tasteful, beautiful and respectful in his hands.  What I was actually afraid of was watching a film around this subject matter – I didn’t want to.

Reviews were coming out, and they were all positive.  It swept the Genies considerably and friends were telling me that it was strong film.

And yet I was still scared.  I remember that day every year when it comes around, and I get that same, childlike wonder of confusion: how it could have happened, the images of those women in the newspaper, such rage and anger…

After thinking about it for a while, I decided that I was mentally ready to see the film.  I borrowed it from my sister, and this weekend I saw it.

Here is what I took from it:

  • Along with Away From Her, I think Polytechnique is one of the greater Canadian films of recent times.
  • Not only is it beautifully shot and the pacing is pitch perfect – but it haunts you as a viewer.

The choice to shoot the film in black and white is a master stroke.  For me it added the separation I needed as a viewer because the subject matter is so close to my psyche.  And yet at the same time, watching the scenes unfold in black and white adds an element of the past, of history, of a different time that fuels the film so very much.

I kept thinking about how this took place during a time when there wasn’t the Internet – seeing that opening scene of all of the students crowding around numerous photocopiers with their notes – that doesn’t really exist anymore, does it?

The film was shot in English and in French, which is also a really interesting decision on the filmmaker’s part as well.  He did this because he wanted the film to be accepted with both audiences.  So, while it is odd to hear these Quebecois actors speaking in English I totally respect the reasoning behind it.

Finally, what was also a really great take on this horror is seeing a “male” perspective on this.  This story, without a doubt, is about women, and the line that was drawn by what had happened.  What I found really great was seeing the reaction of the central male character in this film and how he is processing this information and dealing with this – and it made me realize that this too is a story about men, something that I had never really expected when I was going into this film.