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Non-Review Review: Solaris

Can you tell me what’s happening here?

I could tell you what’s happening, but I don’t know if it would really tell you what’s happening.

– Chris Kelvin and Snow

Soderbergh’s Solaris is bold, challenging, brilliant, chaotic, unstructured, clever, obtuse, dense, frustrating, unsatisfying and fascinating. Frequently at the same time. The director’s adaptation of Andrei Tarkovsky’s incredibly dense science-fiction feature might not necessarily be for everybody, but there’s enough substance here for eager audience members to chew on. A film subscribing to the idea that less is more, it seems to take more joy in posing questions than in answering them. This will obviously frustrate those viewers who dislike that sort of ambiguity.

Well suited to this drama...

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Haywire Geography: Soderbergh’s Dublin…

It’s rare to see Ireland in a big American film. Of course, I mean the real Ireland, as opposed the “begosh and begorrah” nonsense that we’re treated to in crap like Leap Year, where we’re all a bunch of hicks with silly accents and farmer’s caps. While Ireland has made itself an attractive filming location for films like Braveheart or television shows like The Tudors, I am more referring to movies sit in and around our country in the present day. So not only was it a joy to see Steven Soderbergh set his espionage thriller Haywire in the city where I live and work, it was even better to see it so perfectly released and efficiently captured.

Going back the Hueston...

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Non-Review Review: Haywire

Steven Soderbergh is an interesting film maker. Even when his films don’t really come together as well as one might hope, you can’t help but admire some of his bold ambition. Contagion was probably one of the boldest major releases of last year, and it was always fascinating even when it was just short of brilliance. Haywire falls into a similar trap, with some nice ideas, some great scenes, but nothing that really melds into a particularly compelling film. Indeed, Soderbergh’s spy thriller is messy, undoubted as the director intended – but it doesn’t seem like a highly-energised kinetic mess so much as poorly-plotted and muddled mess. The result is a film that is occasionally invigorating, but also quite infuriating.

On top of it...

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The Virtue of Ambitious Failure…

When I was compiling my “top twelve” list for 2011, there were a lot of films contending for a place on that list. I felt bad about having to leave off stuff like We Need to Talk About Kevin and Preludio and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. However, I didn’t find myself trying to justify the inclusion of Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, despite the fact that I found the film completely and utterly compelling. I’ll be the first to concede that Soderbergh’s disease epic had some fairly considerable flaws, too many for me to legitimately rank it “one of the best of the year”, and yet I think it’s one of those movies I couldn’t stop thinking about. What it is it about an ambitious failure that makes it so much more fascinating than a modest success?

Figuring out the formula...

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Non-Review Review: Ocean’s Thirteen

I have a soft spot for Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Thirteen. Yes, it’s big and vacuous and ultimately empty, with a bunch of celebrities sitting around and enjoying each other’s company, but it’s also fun and diverting, composed by a director with a wonderful eye. I’d argue that it’s almost as solid as Ocean’s Eleven, and a damn sight stronger than Ocean’s Twelve.

In con men circles, that would be called "the Selleck"...

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Non-Review Review: Contagion

It’s somewhat ironic that the biggest fault with Contagion is that it’s not nearly clinical enough. Soderbergh’s exploration of the impact of a mass pandemic actually works best when the director pulls back to give us a high-level overview of a society collapsing, the individual lives reduced – appropriately enough – to microscopic cells in a larger organism in what might be its death throes. It’s these sequences and shots that are brilliantly effective, demonstrating the systemic and group dynamics that enable and facilitate the spread of a deadly bird flu variant, while the more intimate moments feel awkward and shoehorned in, never afforded enough space to develop character or plot lines. Still, if you pull back and look at the big picture, Soderbergh’s latest effort is an engaging ambitious disaster movie.

One sick picture...

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Tell Them I’m Coming: The Power of a Tagline…

I have a confession to make. I have never seen The Limey. It may seem like I’m overreacting with that shameful confession, being only one of millions of film fans who have somehow stumbled through life without ever seeing that particular relatively unimportant Steven Soderbergh film, but let me put this in context. A good few years ago, I was browsing the video store and I stumbled across the relatively bland cover to the film, which smacks of an old-school exploitation vibe. On it, a very old (yet nevertheless bad ass) Terence Stamp is taking a moment out of what seems to be some very important business to have a quick sly cigarette (very much a politically correct faux pas these days). Anyway, it wasn’t that image which struck me of itself. It was the tagline. “Tell them I’m coming,” Stamp’s voice seemed to read the promo aloud to me. And, strangely, despite the fact I left the videostore without it, that tagline has stayed with me.

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Non-Review Review: The Informant!

The Informant! has some tricky subject matter to cover. Its subject, Mark Whitacre, remains a controversial figure in the history of corporate law enforcement up to (and probably well beyond) the present day. It’s a complex history, one which involves the most high-profile FBI investigation into price-fixing at major American companies, but which involves a very complicated central figure. I’m hesitant to go into too much detail as – although I’m not sure you can “spoil” a true story – I don’t want to ruin the experience of watching the film for anyone, but it’s a very fascinating example of corporate whistleblowing.

You'll be on the edge of your seat...

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Non-Review Review: Ocean’s Eleven

Everybody likes to take it easy sometimes. Just because we generally work hard on offering some sort of deep insight on the way that people (or the world) work doesn’t mean that – every once in a while – you want to just kick back and take things easy. And so it is with Ocean’s Eleven, which is considered (along with its two sequels) among the lighter work in Steven Soderbergh’s ambitious filmography. If you ever wondered what the man responsible for ambitious (if not always effective) movies like Che and Traffic does to relax, I can’t help but imagine it might look a little bit like this. Ocean’s Eleven is a triumph of style over substance. There’s not a lot going on underneath the shiny surface (hell, for all I know it’s dead under there), but the exterior just oozes effortless cool.

A drop in the Ocean...

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