Steven Soderbergh

Stormtrooper Hits Head

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review behind the candelabra

There seems to have been a decisive change in the mainstream biopic recently. Instead of attempting to chronicle a public figure’s emergence into renown from childhood to death, several biopics find their subject in a way that assumes the achievement of fame to be a given from the get-go. Movies like Capote, Invictus, Hitchcock, and Lincoln (not to mention the upcoming Saving Mr. Banks) choose to examine a particular episode in the life of a well-known person instead of justify its subject’s achievement of fame by depicting a summary trajectory of youth to adult achievement. Sure, J. Edgar and The Iron Lady stand out as conspicuous exceptions, as signs that the conventions of the biopic are still alive and well. But this newer approach to the biopic (Invictus excepted) seems to allow a great deal of opportunities that conventional biopics don’t (to the point where they’re arguably no longer biopics): the ability to understand the exceptional individual not through a portrait of their entire life, but through a detailed examination of a more narrative-friendly set of select events and circumstances drawn from a particular point in their life. Such is the same with Steven Soderbergh’s latest (and purportedly last) film, HBO’s Behind the Candelabra. By taking a more modest and focused route to the biopic, Candelabra is a close and fascinating examination of the bizarre phenomenon of fame itself.

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review behind the candelabra

Steven Soderbergh has for years been a director who continues to work entirely in spite of himself; he presses on, releasing a film a year (if not more) while constantly expressing frustration with the industry and claiming that his next will be his last. With his latest effort – a production from the increasingly prestigious HBO Films banner – it appears that the director might finally be sticking to his word, and if so, he goes out with quite the belter to his name. Doing huge justice to the oft-sneered at TV film delegation, Behind the Candelabra is a studious project shot through with the high production quality, dedicated craftsmanship and superior acting of a great theatrical feature, and went down a storm at this morning’s world premiere. Soderbergh trains his focus on the final decade of Liberace’s (Michael Douglas) life, from meeting his most prolific lover, Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) to his eventual death from AIDS. After a chance encounter backstage, the two embark on a whirlwind romance that sees each confide more in each other than they ever have another person. Of course, complications inevitably arise, but their bond is one that endures at different levels right to the singer’s final deathbed conversation with Scott.

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Soderbergh

Yesterday, indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg (who’s truly pulled himself up from his bootstraps) tweeted out, “Soderbergh’s own output over the last few years proves, to me at least, how open the system is and how possible it is to make great stuff.” That felt a little odd. Steven Soderbergh‘s latest bout of prolificness is genuinely impressive, but after struggling with the studio process and ultimately, for one example, taking his Liberace biopic to HBO, would Soderbergh himself agree with Swanberg’s optimistic sentiment? That’s difficult to say, especially given how Soderbergh rose to prominence, but he’s at least given us an idea about how he feels about the studio system as it currently stands in 2013. It isn’t pretty. It’s eloquent. His full State of Cinema Address from the San Francisco International Film Festival is a must-listen (see below), but here are the 10 things wrong with Hollywood extracted from his amazing, fist-pumpingly laudable speech.

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mcconaugheytampa

Given the sweaty, squealing reactions everyone witnessed during screenings of Steven Soderbergh’s male stripper movie, Magic Mike, it doesn’t take much of an expert in human behavior to realize that there are a huge group of flesh-obsessed folk out there who would more than welcome a second go-around with the taught and toned gang from Tampa. Really, a Magic Mike 2 is something of a foregone conclusion. But given Soderbergh’s constant claims that he’s now retired from directing movies, how would another Magic Mike come together? We’ve already heard the film’s star, Channing Tatum, hint at the fact that—seeing as Magic Mike was largely based on his real-life experiences as a male stripper—he’d like to use the sequel as an opportunity to step behind the camera and try out directing a movie for himself, and some new comments from Soderbergh reveal that this might be exactly the direction a sequel would take, and that development on the film might be further along than any of us anticipated.

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Candelabra

It’s here! Finally, with the release of its first trailer, we get to catch our first glimpse of Michael Douglas donning sequins and feathers to play famed, flamboyant musician Liberace in Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming biopic for HBO films, Behind the Candelabra, and—oh boy—it’s not a let down. Douglas looks like he had a great time with this one, and it should be a ton of fun watching him chew scenery for one of today’s greatest (non) working directors.

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Oscar Statue

You know how sometimes your favorite series will do a clip show, or how a popular radio broadcast might replay old segments that tie-in thematically in order to take a vacation? Well, I’m using the occasion of the Academy Awards to do pretty much the same thing. It’s sort of obvious that several of the directors featured in this column are also Oscar winners. It’s a veritable Hall of Fame. Doing an Oscar-themed entry is a little bizarre because several weeks feature a gold-owning alum anyway (so this isn’t a complete list of the Best Directors featured on 6 Filmmaking Tips), but it’s still worth packaging their advice as a kind of collective knowledge set held by people who have statues on their mantel. Which means, depressingly, an excerpt from our most popular entry won’t be featured here. Not to mention others like Kubrick, Cronenberg or PTA. Fortunately, there are some truly immense talents who have hoisted Oscar on high even if some towering talents never had that particular honor. So here are some filmmaking tips (for fans and filmmakers alike) from an incredibly elite club of Best Director winners.

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Spielberg Lucas Coppola

This weekend, Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects opened to better-than-okay reviews and less-than-okay box office. With Soderbergh’s prolific output, this release would be altogether unremarkable, yet another strong if not entirely memorable entry by a director who would likely release another film six months later. However, Side Effects is notable as a quiet swan song, the proposed last theatrical film by a director who has reportedly done all he’d like to do in filmmaking. But Soderbergh is simply the latest (and on the younger side) of a group of directors that have made unofficial pronouncements towards making an exit of sorts from the business in which they made their name. George Lucas is currently in the process of overseeing the path of Star Wars’ cinematic future at Disney before officially going into retirement. This is monumental. A filmmaker known for keeping very tight reigns on his creative property is now fully embracing the potential of other directors’ and corporations’ visions toward his subject matter for film. There’s a dynamic shift here that doesn’t end with Lucas or Soderbergh either.

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Scott Z. Burns

Side Effects marks the third collaboration between screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and director Steven Soderbergh. They previously tackled the mind of a bipolar pathological liar with The Informant and a horror-esque “what if?” movie with Contagion. For Side Effects, they’re not taking on pharmaceuticals, but a twisty thriller in the vein of Fatal Attraction and Body Heat. This is the type of movie that drops a new piece of information in almost every scene, causing you to rethink most of what you previously saw. Burns accomplished that with a split narrative starring characters who aren’t exactly the most noble. An ensemble movie with characters one can’t really root for is something of a rare commodity these days, and from the sounds of it, it’s something Burns would like to see (and write) more of. Here’s what screenwriter Scott Z. Burns had to say about constructing ensemble narratives, how Russian literature inspired Side Effects, and some of his frustrations with the studio storytelling norms:

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Side Effects

If Side Effects truly is Steven Soderbergh‘s final theatrical film, the director has ended his storied career on a somewhat surprising note – Side Effects surely combines all the character intrigue and well-crafted filmmaking technique we expect from Soderbergh, but its seemingly unoriginal plotline will likely fall flat with a number of viewers. And yet, that does read “seemingly,” because bundled up within Scott Z. Burns’ relatively straightforward thriller-influenced screenplay is one hell of an intriguing story, one that will linger with its dedicated viewers for far longer than its swiftly-moving 106 minute runtime. It’s not Magic Mike or Ocean’s Eleven or even Erin Brockovich, but Side Effects is a more than worthy film for anyone to end their career (well, maybe) on. Side Effects benefits most from fresh viewings and relatively uninformed audience members, ones not steeped in trailers and television spots (in fact, a couple of recent TV spots for the film have revealed far more than this critic would have liked), but the basic plot can be shared without concern over potential spoiling. Rooney Mara stars as Manhattanite Emily, a reserved young wife who is trying to delicately balance the pieces of her life in the wake of what should be a pleasant change – the recent release of her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), from a white collar prison after a four year stint for some messy professional mistakes. Emily has a history of anxiety, one that certainly wasn’t aided by Martin’s legal troubles, and things are […]

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Soderbergh Schizopolis

In contrast to other well-respected filmmakers whose revisited obsessions traverse and develop across a litany of discrete works, Steven Soderbergh has most often been described as a expressive and ever-experimenting formalist, a master technician, a “process-rather-than-results person,” but never an auteur. But with Soderbergh’s immanent retirement on the horizon (his last theatrical film, Side Effects, will be released Friday, followed by his HBO Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra), there seems to be a sense of urgency in attempting to make sense of a talented filmmaker who’s worked within and without the studio system, through various genres, and with budgets ranging from giant to shoestring. While Soderbergh is rather open about his process, what compels him to tackle certain subjects, and how they’re tied together, may remain a mystery – if, in fact, there’s any logic informing his choices at all beyond stylistic exercise and an addiction to workahol. But when examining the five (or, arguably, six) films of his that have been released through The Criterion Collection, an interesting pattern emerges – perhaps not one that encompasses all his works, but one that certainly applies to several films outside the small percentage of the prolific filmmaker’s career represented here.

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soderbergh yes

Later this week, the alleged final theatrical release directed by Steven Soderbergh will open nationwide. Titled Side Effects, it’s a fine little thriller involving psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry. Maybe not the grandest finale for the filmmaker who gave us such big movies as the Oceans trilogy, Traffic, Che, Shizopolis and of course Sex, Lies and Videotape, but he didn’t enter the business with a bang either. Soderbergh’s first professional directing gig, at age 21, was helming a little-recognized concert film titled Yes: 9012Live, which presents a 1984 performance by the band Yes during their tour supporting the album 90125. (You can see a clip of them doing “Roundabout” from the film here.) Supplementary to that, he shot a short backstage documentary during the tour called Access All Areas. It’s a crude look at the reunited prog-rock group both aesthetically and content-wise. It’s quickly cut, offering only bits of moments rather than full-on scenes. And some of those little bits include band members mooning the camera, talking about needing to poop and putting their butts up to the microphone of Larry Blake, who would continue on as Soderbergh’s regular sound man for almost 30 years (through Magic Mike). And at the end of the film, everyone has false credits where Tony Kaye and Trevor Rabin are said to be known as “Jack Mehoff” and “Michael Hunt,” respectively. Who knew Yes was so childish?

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February Must Sees

This February isn’t such a hot month for movie-going. When it comes to genuine “must-sees,” there are only two movies on this list which earn that title, and they’re the expected picks. January could have been worse, but this February won’t do 2013 any favors, unless the fifth Die Hard movie ends up blowing everyone’s socks off, and since it’s from the director of Max Payne, how could it not? In short, this year isn’t off to a good start. We got spoiled with last December, as we usually do, so hopefully we see something genuinely great soon, unless you thought Mama overcame a lackluster script, that Movie 43 wasn’t the Antichrist sent from Satan himself, and if you even remember that movie with Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe. The Last Stand isn’t included, because no more than five people saw it. Hopefully a few of you go out to see these movies and have a fun time, though:

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Soderbergh

It’s difficult to remember the first time Steven Soderberg talked concretely about retirement, but it was probably back in 2011 when he claimed he’d do two more movies and then call it quits. This was after a harrowing (if not eye-opening) experience making Che in 2007 and before we got four more films from him. The latest, Side Effects, is in theaters February 8th, and he’s taken the occasion to speak openly with Vulture about making good on his threat to retire, the way that the finance system treats filmmakers and other savory topics. Without a doubt, it’s a must-read piece. His reasons for retirement stay virtually intact, but it’s his brilliant analogy of creative input from the financiers that’s most surprising/refreshing: “The worst development in filmmaking—particularly in the last five years—is how badly directors are treated. It’s become absolutely horrible the way the people with the money decide they can fart in the kitchen, to put it bluntly. It’s not just studios—it’s anyone who is ­financing a film. I guess I don’t understand the assumption that the director is presumptively wrong about what  the audience wants or needs when they are the first audience, in a way. And probably got into making movies ­because of being in that audience.” So, yes, go read more. There’s a ton to digest.

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Side Effects trailer

The last time we got a trailer for Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming thriller, Side Effects, it was a little too dream-like and abstract to really tell us what the movie was about. Rooney Mara was taking drugs of some sort, Channing Tatum tried to pull off wearing a fedora, Jude Law screamed a bunch, and apparently a murder got committed—but what order all of that happened in and who the good guys and the bad guys of the film were never quite got made clear.

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Christopher Nolan at Sundance

The Sundance Film Festival is one of the largest independent fests in the country, but it probably has the best reputation for launching filmmaking careers and being the only thing in January that will be remembered around Oscar time 13 months later. It’s debatable just how “indie” it is — especially with studio shingles routinely picking up audience favorites for distribution — but it’s difficult to deny the raw directorial power that’s moved through Park City over the years. Names like Christopher Nolan, Kevin Smith, The Coen Brothers and Steven Soderbergh can count themselves amongst the Sundance ranks, but there are many, many more. In that (independent) spirit, here’s a double-size list of tips (for fans and filmmakers alike) from 12 directors who made a name at Sundance.

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Side Effects Poster

I’m not entirely sure what’s going on in this trailer for Side Effects from Steven Soderbergh, but it’s intense. From the synopsis, I know that Rooney Mara plays a woman taking prescription pills to deal with the release of her husband (Channing Tatum) from prison, but in the trailer? Maybe she got seduced by her shrink (Jude Law)? Or maybe she’s claiming something worse? Maybe they made meth together in a travel trailer? In a way, it’s kind of cool to see a bunch of puzzle pieces but no picture on the front of the box. From the vague description and this jumbled trailer, the movie’s plot is still in the fog, but the tone and performances are given a great spotlight in which to shine.

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Side Effects Poster

Whether or not Side Effects is director Steven Soderbergh‘s final film still remains to be seen, but even that added (potential) intrigue seems unnecessary so far, because the Channing Tatum, Jude Law, and Rooney Mara-starring film looks satisfyingly confounding all on its own. Mara stars as a young wife (to Tatum, lucky duck) who turns to a doc played by Law to help ease her anxiety. He prescribes her a new drug. And it has, you guessed it, side effects. The film’s first poster is a sleekly designed affair, and we’re willing to bet it holds more than a few secrets to Side Effects. Like just what does “a doctor’s most important prescription is trust” mean? Side Effects opens on February 8, 2013. [The Huffington Post]

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Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh is one of the most prolific filmmakers of our era. Though his early retirement is immanent, he’s released more films – and a greater variety of films – in his twenty-three years of directing than some filmmakers helm in a lifetime. Since bursting on the American independent film scene in 1989 with sex, lies, and videotape, Soderbergh has made studio blockbusters and micro-budget experiments, strange remakes and films that blur the line between narrative and documentary, not to mention semi-biopics of public figures as diverse as Spalding Gray, Che Guevara, Erin Brockovich, and Channing Tatum. He’s been a leader in exploring the possibilities of new digital filmmaking technologies, and it seems there isn’t a genre or scale of filmmaking that he hasn’t yet touched. He’s even made a film that you’ll never see. Last week, the trailer for Side Effects, Soderbergh’s last theatrical film and his penultimate film project (the final, final one being the made-for-HBO Liberace biopic Beyond the Candelabra), made its debut on the web. So with the supposed final days of an impressive career by a prolific filmmaker upon us, here’s a bit of free film school from a guy that considers both George Clooney and Sasha Grey his muses.

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Side Effects trailer

Rumors of Steven Soderbergh‘s retirement have been greatly exaggerated (seriously, guys, that’s just not happening), but the director’s supposed “next-to-last” film, Side Effects, has perhaps been the victim of not enough exaggeration and chatter. The Rooney Mara-starring film also features Soderbergh returning players Channing Tatum and Jude Law (and even comes with a screenplay by Contagion‘s Scott Z. Burns), but it’s flown quite spectacularly under the radar. The only thing resembling an official synopsis for the film, as reflected over at the film’s IMDb page, promises that Side Effects centers on “a woman [who] turns to prescription medication as a way of handling her anxiety concerning her husband’s upcoming release from prison.” And yet, this first trailer feels more in the spirit of some sort of infidelity thriller, like Unfaithful or Closer, though those prescription drugs are definitely present. So just how much of all the dark drama we glimpse in this first trailer is real…and how much of it is in Mara’s seemingly drug-addled brain? We can’t wait to find out. Swallow down the first trailer for Side Effects after the break. It will go down quite nicely, we promise.

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