Richard speaks to “CTV News at Six” anchor Andria Case about the best movies and television to watch this weekend. This week we have a look at the documentary “I Am Bruce Lee” on Starz, the animated Netflix family movie “The Mitchells Vs. The Machines” and “The Girlfriend Experience” on Starz.
No one can accuse Steven Soderbergh of being predictable. His last movie, Che, was a four hour art film based on the book Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Before that was Ocean’s 13, a fluffy money-maker starring every a-lister in Hollywood. His new film, The Girlfriend Experience, is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it (it’s only 80 minutes) impressionistic look at the life of a call girl played by a porn star whose previous credits include Don’t Make Me Beg and Secretary’s Day 3 to mention two of the more dignified titles. Unlike Michael “Blow ‘em up real good” Bay or Brent “Chris Tucker is a genius” Ratner you never know quite what to expect from Soderbergh.
In some cases the results of his cinematic noodling are fascinating; Bubble was a little seen but riveting character study. Other times his auteur ways get the better of him. Full Frontal was an early and well intentioned stab at digital filmmaking but fell just short of success. The Girlfriend Experience falls somewhere between the two.
Leaving the conventions of his mainstream films behind Soderbergh presents a few days in the life of an up-and-coming escort named Chelsea (Sasha Grey), a business minded hooker who provides “the girlfriend experience.” She behaves like her client’s girlfriend, providing emotional (if artificial) intimacy in return for a fat paycheck. In her “real” life she is in a committed relationship with personal trainer Chris (Chris Santos) but their bond may be broken when she steps over a line and becomes attracted to one of her married clients.
On the level of a character study it’s an interesting look at the effect of selling not just your body, but also your emotions to the highest bidder. Chelsea lives in a superficial world—if she wasn’t attractive she wouldn’t be able to ply her trade—but unfortunately as a character she’s also deeply superficial and, dot over dot dot, not very interesting.
Grey, with her French manicure, thumb ring and the longest eyelashes this side of Bridget Bardot, wants to present the character as sophisticated but is more high school Lolita than New York high brow. Her performance is a notch above Debbie Does Dallas but Meryl Streep doesn’t need to worry about losing roles to her.
In the end The Girlfriend Experience, with its fractured timelines, wobbly camera moves and abrupt ending feels more like a tour through some of New York’s nicer hotel rooms, bars and restaurants than a genuine look at a real person.
Critically acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh says all his films “feel commercial” when he’s making them. His latest, The Girlfriend Experience, is now in limited release.
You’d be hard pressed to find a movie fan that hasn’t seen the Steven Soderbergh films Traffic, Erin Brockovich and at least one of the Ocean’s movies.
A little more eclectic, but still popular are The Limey and Out of Sight, two of the director’s box office near-misses. Mainstream films like those, though, comprise only a fraction of the director’s resume.
Since his breakout film Sex, Lies and Videotape in 1989, Soderbergh has directed 19 films (including The Girlfriend Experience, in theatres now), but only a handful — usually the ones starring George Clooney or Julia Roberts—could be called blockbusters. Many others have, however, languished.
Here’s a couple of the director’s deserving films that didn’t set the box office ablaze.
Soderbergh said that “all attempts at synopsizing (Schizopolis) have ended in failure and hospitalization.”
With health card in hand, here goes: Schizopolis is a surrealistic look at two people who can’t communicate. As the level of emotional detachment increases so does the weird stuff.
There’s an exterminator (David Jansen) who only speaks in non sequiturs and near the end Soderbergh’s character (he’s a triple threat here as actor, writer and director) only speaks in overdubbed Italian, Japanese and French.
Even the director acknowledges that this is an eccentric film, noting that the only people who ever ask him about it are “the ones with the crazy look in their eyes when I go to festivals.”
1993’s King of the Hill is more accessible but still made less than $1.5 million at the box office. Based on a 1972 memoir by A.E. Hotchner, it’s the story of a 12-year-old boy surviving and thriving on his own during the Great Depression.
One IMDB contributor called this “the best American film of the nineties,” while another wrote “Spielberg, eat your heart out, this is a real feel good movie.”
Rent it for its unsentimental storytelling and great performances, particularly from Adrien Brody who plays the main character’s surrogate big brother.
Other interesting Soderbergh movies still waiting to grab an audience are the Spalding Gray monologue film Gray’s Anatomy and the suspense story Kafka, but no matter how odd or how low budget these films are, don’t get the idea Soderbergh doubts their commercial appeal.
“When I’m making them,” he says, “they all feel commercial to me. It’s no joke. If I’m making a movie for a million bucks, I feel like this thing could blow up. It’s happened before.”