24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Steven Soderbergh

Home theater: Robert Pattinson makes ladies swoon in 'Bel Ami'

May 2, 2012 |  6:23 pm

Bel Ami

This week, 24 Frames introduces a feature new to the blog, highlighting some of the most interesting titles available on Video on Demand or on DVD and Blu-ray. Look for the column on Tuesdays.

'Bel Ami'
Available on VOD beginning May 4

Guy de Maupassant’s novel has been adapted for  the screen before (most memorably in 1947, with George Sanders and Angela Lansbury), but for their new version, directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod take advantage of some of the freedoms of modern moviemaking, making sure that De Maupassant’s tale of a social-climbing rake has plenty of sex and straight talk. Robert Pattinson plays the rake in question, who takes a job as a newspaper columnist in 1890s France and advances in his career thanks to his relationships with three aristocratic women (played by Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci). The film isn’t as artful and sophisticated as the similar “Dangerous Liaisons” -- and it’s better at light drawing-room machinations than heavier political and romantic drama -- but this new “Bel Ami” is remarkably assured as it depicts how a man with no discernible skills works his way up from whorehouses to elegant estates simply because he’s handsome. (The film opens in Los Angeles theaters June 8.)

'George Harrison: Living in the Material World'
Hip-O/Universal, $24.98; Blu-ray, $24.98/$99.99

What keeps Martin Scorsese’s “Living in the Material World” from being just another Beatles-championing documentary is that it focuses specifically on guitarist George Harrison’s warring impulses: He was a spiritual, caring person who tried to make other people feel loved, and he was a brutally honest, self-centered man who succumbed to his carnal desires and hoarded money. (Harrison did write “Taxman,” after all.) “Living in the Material World” is divided in two, with the first half dedicated to Harrison’s stint with the Beatles, and the second half covering his explorations into religion as a solo artist. But both halves are really the same story: about a man who strove to be humble, while also grumbling that he was under-appreciated. The documentary is available on DVD and Blu-ray, and in a deluxe set that includes a book of photographs and a CD containing early takes of 10 Harrison favorites.

Lionsgate, $29.95; Blu-ray, $39.99

Director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs return to the fast-paced, existential revenge-thriller mode of their 1999 film “The Limey” with “Haywire,” which stars real-life mixed martial arts specialist Gina Carano as a black-ops secret agent trying to track down and assassinate her handlers before they do the same to her. “Haywire” jumps back and forth in time and location and is packed with appearances by such actors as Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum and Ewan McGregor. But the story feels like an afterthought, and Soderbergh’s guerrilla filmmaking style at times makes “Haywire” resemble cheap, straight-to-video product. Still, Dobbs’ snappy dialogue and Soderbergh’s eye for the unusual go a long way. Some will appreciate that “Haywire” is a “pure” action flick: all kicks, little waste. The DVD and Blu-ray add two short featurettes. Available on VOD on May 1.

Starz/Anchor Bay, $29.98; Blu-ray, $39.99

Say this for Madonna: She doesn’t lack for ambition. For her second film as a director (after the very strange “Filth and Wisdom”), the multi-platinum pop singer and her co-screenwriter, Alek Keshishian, attempt to tell the story of King Edward VIII’s choice to abdicate the throne to pursue a love affair with American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Madonna and Keshishian employ a framing device that has a modern-day woman (Abbie Cornish) discovering that the reality of the renowned romance doesn’t match up with her fantasy version. But Madonna fails to convey her own fascination with Edward and Wallis, outside of some vague personal connection to the details of worldwide fame and pervasive dissatisfaction. Mostly, she seems to have made a movie that has a lot on its mind and no coherent way to express it. The DVD and Blu-ray come with a making-of featurette. Available on VOD on May 1


Dev Patel brings dash of youth to 'Marigold Hotel' [clip]

Mikhail Gorbachev says DVD can help cool U.S.-Russia relations

-- Noel Murray

Photo: Uma Thurman and Robert Pattinson in "Bel Ami." Credit: Magnolia Pictures.

Berlin Film Festival: Keanu Reeves tackles film vs. digital

February 17, 2012 |  5:30 pm

Capturing a fleeting moment in time before it disappears forever is one of the essential functions of a film camera. A new documentary, “Side by Side,” aims to grasp the transition from photochemical film to digital in an objective way, by talking to some of the most opinionated people in the business, from George Lucas to Lars von Trier to David Fincher.  The movie premiered Thursday at the Berlin International Film Festival in the Berlinale Special section.

“Side by Side” is directed by Chris Kenneally  (“Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating”), with Keanu Reeves playing a dual role as co-producer (with Justin Szlasa) and interviewer.   The two have woven a user-friendly but detailed look at the tools and techniques that are challenging tradition, working their way through filming, editing, color correction, digital effects, distribution, projection, and archiving.  

Kenneally and Reeves came up with the project while working together on “Henry's Crime.” Reeves starred in and produced the 2010 film; Kenneally supervised its post-production.  “We were having all the same conversations you see in the movie,” remembers  Kenneally.  “One day Keanu's just like, 'You know what? We should make a documentary about this.' ”

The two went on to interview a lengthy dream list of directors, cinematographers, editors, technicians, and even a couple of NYU film students, all of whom have heartfelt and often hilarious commentary to offer Reeves, who elicits a relaxed conversational tone from his subjects. 

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'Haywire': Soderbergh thriller a cracking good time, critics say

January 20, 2012 |  2:44 pm

Back in 2010, rumors swirled that director Steven Soderbergh would be retiring from filmmaking soon and focusing on painting. Since then, though, he's been as busy as ever, releasing the pandemic thriller "Contagion" in September and finding a new muse in the female mixed martial artist Gina Carano, who makes her theatrical debut in Soderbergh's first spy flick, "Haywire." The film, which opens today, has been appraised by many critics as well-crafted and entertaining, if not especially profound.

The Times' Betsy Sharkey declares that "Haywire" is "less a tightly plotted action film than an excuse to showcase Carano's substantial fighting skills." While the film doesn't represent the best work of either Soderbergh or screenwriter Lem Dobbs ("Dark City," Soderbergh's "The Limey"), Sharkey says it's neither's worst effort, and watching Carano kick butt "is thoroughly entertaining, highly amusing and frankly somewhat awe-inspiring." Also helping things along are Soderbergh's trademark dry humor ("dry, bone dry, 0% humidity dry") and "sheer technical wizardry."

Continue reading »

MMA star Gina Carano turns to acting with 'Haywire'

January 12, 2012 | 11:38 am


When athletes decide to try their hand at acting, the transition isn't always a smooth one -- for every Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, there's a Howie Long. It's a pattern Mixed Martial Arts fighter Gina Carano was well aware of when she took on the role of Mallory Kane in Steven Soderbergh's upcoming action picture, "Haywire."

"I definitely don't want to be one of those athletes who turns into a cheesy actress," said Carano, 29, during an interview in December. "I've seen that happen so much, and I didn't want that to happen."

In the film opening Jan. 20, Carano plays a private contractor double-crossed by those she works with. She received a boost early on during the filming from her costar Ewan McGregor, who gave her the ultimate compliment: He thought she underdid it. "That is way better than too much cheesiness."

McGregor wasn't the only one to come to Carano's aide. Michael Fassbender was an eager ally of the woman once called "the face of MMA," Carano said.

"Michael really took care of me. He made me feel very comfortable," she said. "He ran lines with me. Even when we have phone calls in the movie, it would be Michael at some pub on the other line. I just responded to him very well."

Although Soderbergh began the process of making "Haywire" after meeting with Carano in San Diego and assembled the movie around her character, Carano says Mallory Kane's is nothing like her own personality.

"He said, 'We are going to make the character off of somebody like you so that it's not that hard for you to get to know her and be like her.' But Mallory is nothing like me," said Carano with a laugh. "She's serious. She doesn't smile but once in the film. If the girl was flighty and funny and a little fun, maybe. But I would never handle situations like that. This is really acting for me."

Soderbergh was very confident in the abilities of his new star. "She's like a panther. She knows how to move. I felt like if her instincts about what to do with her eyes are any good at all, then we are going to be fine. And she had very good instincts about that."

Soderbergh, who previously worked with adult film star Sasha Grey, knew that creating a comfortable environment would be the key to his novice actress' success. Said the filmmaker, "I was pretty confident in our ability to create an environment that was pretty supportive and low-key and not to make her feel hurried or pressured to step into the first shot and turn into Meryl Streep." 


Gina Carano learns some new moves for 'Haywire'

Gina Carano's 'Haywire' sticks with the R-rating

With MMA-themed 'Haywire,' Soderbergh tries a new trick

— Nicole Sperling

Photo: Gina Carano, who stars in the action drama "Haywire," trains at the Burro Canyon Shooting range in San Gabriel Canyon. Credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times.

Gina Carano's 'Haywire' stuck with R rating

November 15, 2011 |  3:35 pm


EXCLUSIVE: "Haywire," the Steven Soderbergh spy thriller that marks the acting debut of mixed martial arts star Gina Carano, won't be available to a large majority of the teen market.

The ratings board at the Motion Picture Assn. of America has upheld its R rating for the film,  said a person close to the group who was not authorized to discuss the decision publicly.

"Haywire," which will be released Jan. 20 by Relativity Media, hopes to target a youthful audience. Mixed martial arts draws disproportionately from teens, twentysomethings and thirtysomethings; Saturday's Junior dos Santos-Cain Velasquez fight on Fox, for instance, won its time slot in the 18-34 demographic. The prospect that filmgoers under 17 won't be able to buy tickets to “Haywire” without an adult present is a blow to the movie and to Relativity, which had spearheaded the appeal.

A globetrotting action movie that derives as much from "Warrior" as the Jason Bourne films, "Haywire" shows Carano as a kind of female assassin, taking care of her enemies (and she has many) with her fists as well as her brains, with Michael Fassbender and Michael Douglas costarring. "Why is Angelina [Jolie] currently the only woman who's allowed to run around with a gun and beat people up?" Soderbergh recently told an AFI audience. "Someone 20 years ago put Steven Seagal in a movie. Why don't we step it up?"

The MPAA does not offer details on appeals, although “Haywire” does feature a number of scenes of intense physical violence.  (The initial ruling was given because of “some violence.”) Intriguingly, the movie  is relatively light on the weaponry and other accouterments of some violence-heavy movies that merit only a PG-13, such as “Sucker Punch."

It's unlikely the studio could remove the most violent “Haywire” fight scenes, which are woven into the fabric of the film.

A Relativity spokesman did not immediately comment on the decision.

The MPAA sees a number of appeals each year, occasionally overturning its earlier decisions. Last year it famously decided to knock "Blue Valentine" from an NC-17 to an R after being lobbied by Harvey Weinstein, the film's distributor.


With 'Haywire,' Soderbergh tries a new trick

--Steven Zeitchik


 Photo: Gina Carano in "Haywire." Credit: Relativity Media

With MMA-themed 'Haywire,' Soderbergh tries a new trick

November 7, 2011 |  6:30 am


"Haywire," Steven Soderbergh's new film starring Gina Carano, comes out Jan. 20
Over the last decade, Steven Soderbergh has made big studio thrillers ("Contagion," the "Ocean's" movies) and small quirkfests ("Bubble," "The Girlfriend Experience").

Can he do them both at the same time?

That's the question surrounding "Haywire," a Jan. 20 release that world-premiered at a sneak AFI screening on Sunday night with directors and stars in attendance. An action thriller about a globetrotting female assassin--but with arty elements--the Relativity Media film contains each of the Soderbergh strains.

The studio quotient is satisfied by the locations (Dublin, Barcelona, Washington), the stars (Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and Channing Tatum) and the general Bourne-ishness and "Salt"-iness of the premise, in which ... well, it's complicated, but basically said assassin hopscotches to distant locales and fends off, with a pugilistic flourish, the enemies lurking in the shadows.

But "Haywire' is also a film with the offbeat sensibility of Soderbergh's smaller work, a sensibility evident right from the opening scene in an upstate New York diner. Even more tellingly, like "Bubble" and "Girlfriend" (the latter of course sought to reconstruct adult-film star Sasha Grey as a mainstream actress) "Haywire" is fashioned around a first-timer -- the mixed-martial arts star Gina Carano, whom Soderbergh spotted while watching some televised fights and decided to build a movie around.

As Soderbergh put it at a post-screening question-and-answer session" "She's a natural beauty, and she beats people to a pulp in a cage. Why wouldn't you want to build a movie around her?"

The result is a spy thriller that has elements of "Warrior," not to mention Spike TV. Carano's heroine flips off walls and locks enemies in jujitsu leg vises. (The athlete herself seemed a little cowed by it all on Sunday night: "All of this is surreal," she told the audience after the screening. "I'm a little overwhelmed.")

Whether the MMA aspects and the larger thriller conceit will make audiences want to run out to this movie as much as they did "Contagion" ($74 million domestic) or even "The Informant!" ($33 million) remains to be seen. And those movies are the templates: For all their novelty, "Bubble" and "Girlfriend" were exceedingly niche films, critical curios but not mainstream plays.

Soderbergh has more commercial designs here, as he suggested when he offered his explanation for making "Haywire" in the first place.

"Why is Angelina currently the only woman who's allowed to run around with a gun and beat people up?" he said, suggesting the kind of star and category of film he had in mind. "Someone 20 years ago put Steven Seagal in a movie," he continued. "Why don't we step it up?"


AFI Fest's secret screening is Soderbergh's "Haywire"

Is "Contagion" following "The Town's" awards playbook?

Matt Damon: Steven Soderbergh really does plan to retire from directing

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Gina Carano in "Haywire." Credit: Relativity Media

AFI Fest's 'secret screening' is Soderbergh's 'Haywire'

November 6, 2011 |  2:00 pm

Haywire will screen at AFI Fest on Sunday evening
Steven Soderbergh's "Haywire" will premiere Sunday night in the "secret screening" slot at this year's AFI Fest, festival organizers announced hours before the film's debut.

The thriller stars mixed martial arts star Gina Carano as a covert operative being hunted by assassins. The movie — also featuring Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor — is Soderbergh's 25th film and is set for release by Relativity Media in January. A question-and-answer session with the filmmaker and some cast members will follow the 9:30 p.m. screening at Grauman’s Chinese theater.

Last year, eventual best-picture nominee "The Fighter" played in AFI Fest's secret spot. The festival, which kicked off in Hollywood on Thursday, is offering free tickets to tonight's 9:30 p.m. screening on a first-come, first-served basis at the AT&T Box Office in the Hollywood & Highland Center until 6 p.m. Sunday.


Channing Tatum's magic will be felt in June

On Location: Soderbergh brings 'Magic Mike' to L.A.

Channing Tatum, Steve Carell costar and … Oscar contender?

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Gina Carano, left, and Channing Tatum star in "Haywire." Credit: Relativity Media


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