By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 0 Comments
The Academy Award-winning director says Behind the Candelabra is his last film. But he’s only 50.
Steven Soderbergh swears he’s getting out of the business. After he completes his Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra—which features a scene of Michael Douglas as Liberace making out with Matt Damon as his lover—the director, who just turned 50, has vowed to retire from movie-making, and focus on directing plays and painting. It’s hard to imagine. There isn’t a major filmmaker in America more prolific, or provocative, than Soderbergh. In the past two years alone, he’s made four movies, a diverse suite that includes a disaster flick (Contagion), an action picture (Haywire), and a $7-million story of a male stripper that grossed $167 million (Magic Mike). His latest film, Side Effects, is a thriller that poses as a cautionary tale about pharmaceutical drugs, then derails expectations with such diabolical mischief you can almost smell the ﬁlmmaker’s impatience with convention.
Soderbergh is Hollywood’s most successful misfit. For all his success as both a director and producer, he still hasn’t found a comfort zone. In an interview in New York magazine, he expresses mounting frustration with “the tyranny of narrative . . . or at least narrative as we’re currently defining it.” He says, “I’m convinced there’s new grammar out there somewhere.” He also complains that “the audience for the kinds of movies I grew up liking has migrated to television.” In fact, after no Hollywood studio would risk $5 million on distributing his Liberace movie (which he describes as “pretty gay”), he took it to HBO, the promised land for filmmakers aching to break out of the Hollywood straitjacket.
In Side Effects, Soderbergh casts Rooney Mara, that Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as a girl with a lethal prescription in a thriller so perversely deceptive it should come with a list of side effects all its own. The movie’s time-release narrative is a jagged little pill of retro noir, coated with a smooth, contemporary glaze of pharma politics. Emily (Mara) and Martin (Channing Tatum), a New York couple who once owned a yacht and a mansion, are struggling to rebuild their lives after Martin comes home from a four-year prison term for insider trading. A suicide attempt leaves Emily in the care of a shrink (Jude Law), who puts her on a new anti-anxiety drug called Ablixa. As her former psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones) enters the picture, lies are unravelled and we’re pulled down a very different rabbit hole from the one we signed up for.
At the heart of each characer is a haze of moral ambiguity—something Hollywood abhors and Soderbergh adores. He seems to delight in aiming curveballs at his audience. But then this is a director who made his name by breaking the rules. He was just 26 when he won the Palme D’Or in Cannes with the first of his 26 features, Sex, Lies and Videotape, a brazen feat of minimalist style that helped launch a new wave of American indie cinema. He’s since won an Oscar for Traffic, which he accepted with barely a flicker of emotion. He turned George Clooney into a movie star, by stubbornly casting him until the notion stuck. And he has mastered the art-commerce shuffle, switching between studio blockbusters, like the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, and experiments on film’s wild frontier—such as casting porn star Sasha Grey as a high-priced hooker in the Godard-like verité of The Girfriend Experience (2009).
In the spirit of Godard, Soderbergh toggles between stylistic subversion and political expression. His “issue” movies range from whistleblower dramas (Erin Brockovich, The Informant!) to his Communist opus, Che. But all his films are inflected with dissent. And in a movie culture that thrives on lush sentiment, Soderbergh frames stories with a clinical, dispassionate eye—literally, given that he serves as his own cinematographer.
Along the way, he has built a cohort of loyal actors, notably Douglas and Damon, who agreed to take the plunge as gay lovers in the Liberace film. “It was great to see Michael and Matt jump off the cliff together. They just went for it,” says the director, apparently content to finesse his career with another end game of truth or dare.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
The humanitarian award isn’t the problem. It’s that he’s never got an Oscar for his films.
“Protests are coming into the Academy,” wrote Nikki Finke at deadlinehollywooddaily.com, and she wasn’t talking about the selection of Hugh Jackman to host the Oscars; the protests are over the selection of Jerry Lewis, comedian, octogenarian and French cult figure, to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Lewis has recently been in the news for calling someone “an illiterate fag” in the middle of his annual telethon for muscular dystrophy, and a number of people in Hollywood are wondering what kind of message it sends to give him a prize for people “whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.” But the thing that should be really controversial is that Lewis still hasn’t gotten a special Oscar for his film work. Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, author of such books as Placing Movies and Essential Cinema, says that “American denial of the American love of Jerry Lewis is pathological,” and he might be right. Never mind the telethons or the tasteless jokes: the important thing about Jerry Lewis is that he’s one of America’s biggest movie stars.
The standard joke about Lewis is that he’s mostly popular in France (based on the fact that French film critics love him). But Rosenbaum notes that Lewis’s popularity in America was “far greater than any French love of Lewis then or later”; in his partnership with Dean Martin and then alone, he was one of America’s top box-office stars for two decades, with two hit movies almost every year. He directed or produced many of his own films, becoming a one-man comedy factory that Judd Apatow would envy, while creating gags that, as Pauline Kael wrote in a review of The Nutty Professor, could “hold their own with the silent classics.” In the near-silent The Bellboy or the lavishly designed farce The Ladies Man, he was as beloved for his facial expressions and pratfalls as his idol, Stan Laurel. His best physical routines, like the scene in Frank Tashlin’s Who’s Minding the Store? where he types on an invisible typewriter, are still popular attractions on YouTube.