In honor of Director Steven Soderbergh’s latest movie “Haywire”, I am looking at his ten greatest cinematic achievements.
I posted the first half of the list the other day – please check it out if you haven’t already. Lots of great stuff to watch.
So, go see “Haywire” this weekend and curl up with one of these Soderbergh classics as well!
5 – Out Of Sight. 1998. Here is the deceptively simple log line: A career bank robber breaks out of jail and shares a moment of mutual attraction with a US Marshall he has kidnapped.
Now add that career bank robber Jack Foley is George Clooney. Add that US Marshall Karen Sisco is Jennifer Lopez. Add Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Steve Zahn, Michael Keaton and a half dozen other great Actors and you have a true masterpiece. It is. Watch it and we can argue if you think you need to – but you won’t.
This is not a comedy, but it has great comic moments. It is not an action movie – but has some great action. It is not a thriller, but is a thrilling film to watch. It is, pure and simple, a great piece of entertainment that defies a category, and is all the better because of that.
The terrific website IMDB has this trivia about the casting: Sandra Bullock almost got the part of Karen Sisco but Steven Soderbergh was against it. He said: “I spent some time with Clooney and Bullock, and they actually did have a great chemistry. But it was for the wrong movie. I’m sure they could do a movie together. But not an Elmore Leonard movie.”
Once you see the chemistry between Clooney and Lopez – of course including the iconic “locked together in the truck” scene – you will agree.
This is a tough, tight movie…with great characters such as Maurice “Snoopy” Miller, played by Don Cheadle, who doesn’t appreciate Clooney butting in on his extortion of Richard Ripley, played to perfection by Albert Brooks:
[eavesdropping on Maurice trying to shakedown Ripley]
Jack Foley: If you’re smart, Ripley, you’ll tell this guy to fuck off.
Richard Ripley: Really?
[Maurice gives him a threatening stare]
Richard Ripley: Well, I – I – I don’t know.
Jack Foley: First of all, if he kills you, then he’s gonna get nothin’.
Maurice “Snoopy” Miller: Well, uh, the man don’t just have to die, Foley. I mean, he could accidentally hurt himself falling down on something real hard, you know. Like a shiv, or my dick.
Richard Ripley: [whispers to Foley] I’ll pay. I’ll pay it. Don’t worry.
Jack Foley: If he falls on anything, Snoop, then they’re transfer his ass outta here faster than you can throw a fight, and you’re still gonna get nothin’.
Maurice “Snoopy” Miller: You know, last time I checked, man, this shit over here ain’t got nothin’ to do with you, Foley. Why don’t you go outside man? Smoke a cigarette or some shit?
Jack Foley: I don’t smoke.
There are so many scenes that are so good: a clueless Michael Keaton as the lunkhead boyfriend to Jennifer Lopez…JLo telling guys to get lost as they try to pick her up in a bar….and the magical moment when George Clooney arrives to do just that…just watch the directing and editing choices in this sequence…one of the best movies ever made, pure and simple.
4 – Schizopolis! 1996. Soderbergh showed his experimental side for the first time in this surreal film.
Here is the IMDB description: “Fletcher Munson is a lethargic, passive worker for a Scientology-like self-help corporation called Eventualism. After the death of a colleague, he is promoted to the job of writing speeches for T. Azimuth Schwitters, the founder and head of the group. He uses this as an excuse to be emotionally and romantically distant from his wife, who, he discovers, is having an affair with his doppelganger, a dentist named Dr. Jeffrey Korchek. As Munson fumbles with the speech and Korchek becomes obsessed with a new patient, a psychotic exterminator named Elmo Oxygen goes around the town seducing lonely wives and taking photographs of his genitals.”
Steven Soderbergh started this project with no script. Lines were written before every scene and he also allowed some improvisation.
The character being laid to rest at the funeral is named Lester Richards. This is a nod from Soderbergh to Richard Lester, one of the main influences on the film. Lester had made his name with the Oscar-nominated short subject “The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film” (1960) that he made with British Goon Show veterans Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. He also directed The Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night” and Help!”
Amazon calls Schizopolis “both a kind of home movie and a salute to the hip, pop-up sketch comedy of 1960s-early 1970s television–Laugh-In, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus”
So, as you can tell, this is an experimental film. There is a terrific Criterion Collection edition that includes Soderbergh commentary…a great way to get inside the head of the film maker.
If you want to see Directors stretching the boundaries of film, this is the one for you.
3 – The bio-pics: Erin Brockovich / Che! – 2000 / 2008
Here you go, two epics about revolutionaries….one was among his most popular movies ever, the other a two-part masterpiece that was tragically little-seen upon release.
Julia Roberts won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of Erin Brockovich, a foul-mouthed, tough as nails woman who stands up for her convictions and takes on an industry that destroys anyone in their path. Erin Brockovich was an unemployed single mother who becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city’s water supply.
Julia Roberts was terrific spewing out Brockovich’s words:
Theresa Dallavale: Okay, look, I think we got off on the wrong foot here…
Erin Brockovich: That’s all you got, lady. Two wrong feet in fucking ugly shoes.
She also was hilariously sharp in dealing with top notch Attorneys for the power company.
Ms. Sanchez: [at the meeting with the PG & E lawyers] Let’s be honest here. $20 million dollars is more money than these people have ever dreamed of.
Erin Brockovich: Oh see, now that pisses me off. First of all, since the demur we have more than 400 plaintiffs and… let’s be honest, we all know there are more out there. They may not be the most sophisticated people but they do know how to divide and $20 million isn’t *shit* when you split it between them. Second of all, these people don’t dream about being rich. They dream about being able to watch their kids swim in a pool without worrying that they’ll have to have a hysterectomy at the age of *twenty*. Like Rosa Diaz, a client of ours. Or have their spine deteriorate, like Stan Blume, *another* client of ours. So before you come back here with another lame ass offer, I want you to think real hard about what your spine is worth, Mr. Walker. Or what you might expect someone to pay you for your uterus, Ms. Sanchez. Then you take out your calculator and you multiply that number by a hundred. Anything less than that is a waste of our time.
[Ms. Sanchez picks up a glass of water]
Erin Brockovich: By the way, we had that water brought in specially for you folks. Came from a well in Hinkley.
Ms. Sanchez: [Puts down the glass, without drinking] I think this meeting is over.
Ed Masry: Damn right it is.
“Erin Brockovich” is worth putting in for another look at a terrifically well-done movie.
At the other end of the biography spectrum was Soderbergh’s little-seen two-part biography of revolutionary Che Guevara.
“Che!” was lauded for its documentary approach – Soderbergh’s Che spends over four hours chronicling different phases in the revolutionary career of Che Guevara (Benicio Del Toro). In Che: Part One, the successful Cuban campaign is covered, interspersed with glimpses of Guevara’s camera-ready visit to New York in the Castro Revolution’s aftermath. This section can’t help but approximate the outline of a battle epic, despite Soderbergh’s anti-romantic approach, and ends up being a stirring account of guerrilla action. Che: Part Two jumps ahead to Che’s grueling later experiences in Bolivia, where he traveled to aid the homegrown insurgents but found much less fertile ground than in Cuba. Here Guevara is–figuratively and visually–lost in the jungle, as Soderbergh reduces the characters and story to a series of factual sequences laid end-to-end.
[upon hearing that Batista has fled Cuba]
Ernesto “Che” Guevara: Nobody is going home on leave. We have only won the war. The revolution has just begun.
A terrific look at a legendary figure.
2 – The Informant! 2009. Another bio pic, this time starring Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre, an Executive who craved attention, and ended up getting it from the FBI, to hilarious and disasterous results.
Whitacre worked for lysine developing company ADM for many years and has even found his way into upper management. But nothing has prepared him for the job he is about to undertake – being a spy for the FBI. Unwillingly pressured into working as an informant against the illegal price-fixing activities of his company, Whitacre gradually adopts the idea that he’s a true secret agent. But as his incessant lies keep piling up, his world begins crashing down around him.
As the movie’s prologue says:
“While this motion picture is based on real events, certain incidents and characters are composites, and dialog has been dramatized. So there!”
Matt Damon is terrific as this Executive who gets in way over his head as he works with the FBI…Here is some of the voice over we hear throughout the movie, an insight into Whitacre’s skewered world view:
“When polar bears hunt, they crouch down by a hole in the ice and wait for a seal to pop up. They keep one paw over their nose so that they blend in, because they’ve got those black noses. They’d blend in perfectly if not for the nose. So the question is, how do they know their noses are black? From looking at other polar bears? Do they see their reflections in the water and think, “I’d be invisible if not for that.” That seems like a lot of thinking for a bear.”
1 – The Limey. 1999. A brilliant revenge thriller steeped in mood and regret…here is the logline: An extremely volatile and dangerous Englishman goes to Los Angeles to find the man he considers responsible for his daughter’s death.
Terence Stamp is a revelation as Wilson, a father who is estranged from his daughter, only to have to travel to LA to find out why she disappeared. Wilson is a career criminal, but a small-time one…here he explains the philosophy behind his actions:
Wilson: “How you doin’ then? All right, are you? Now look, squire, you’re the guv’nor here, I can see that. I’m in your manor now. So there’s no need to get your knickers in a twist. Whatever this bollocks is that’s going down between you and that slag Valentine, it’s got nothing to do with me. I couldn’t care less. Alright, mate? Let me explain. When I was in prison – second time – uh, no, telling a lie, third stretch, yeah, third, third – there was this screw what really had it in for me, and that geezer was top of my list. Two years after I got sprung, I sees him in Arnold Park. He’s sittin’ on a bench feedin’ bloody pigeons. There was no-one about, I could’ve gone up behind him and snapped his fuckin’ neck, *wallop!* But I left it. I could’ve knobbled him, but I didn’t. ‘Cause what I thought I wanted wasn’t what I wanted. What I thought I was thinkin’ about was something else. I didn’t give a toss. It didn’t matter, see? This berk on the bench wasn’t worth my time. It meant sod-all in the end, ’cause you gotta make a choice: when to do something, and when to let it go. When it matters, and when it don’t. Bide your time. That’s what prison teaches you, if nothing else. Bide your time, and everything becomes clear, and you can act accordingly.”
Soderbergh uses a couple of film clips from the 1967 film “Poor Cow” as flashbacks of Wilson (Terence Stamp) with his baby daughter and wife.
This is a little-known masterpiece, with terrific acting by Terence Stamp, Luiz Guzman, Lesley Ann Warren and Peter Fonda.
This has tough-as-nails actions sequences, great acting, and a perfect film noir mood. A great great movie, get it and see!