+ "Bubble": Time will tell if "Bubble"’s day-and-date theater/TV/DVD release is as paradigm-rumbling as some of the breathless news coverage would have us believe, but Steven Soderbergh‘s latest effort, shot on HD on the cheap with all non-professional actors, is generating interesting (if mixed), reviews on its own. It’s "[e]asier to admire than love," says Manohla Dargis, a note several other critics sound: Matt Zoller Seitz at the New York Press calls it [l]ike a lot of Soderbergh’s recent work…a loose-limbed but fairly theoretical filmmaking experiment; as such, it’s more interesting to talk about than to sit through." Seitz, as much as he likes the idea of non-professional actors, is frustrated by the performances in the film and thinks it would have been better off with pros. Ella Taylor at LA Weekly finds the acting the bright spot in an otherwise lifeless production: "the fresh, unprocessed talent of [Debbie] Doebereiner â€” a Southern Ohio KFC manager â€” lends the movie a raw power it doesnâ€™t quite deserve."
Taylor also thinks "Bubble"’s guilelessness "skates dangerously close to condescension" â€” a sentiment we recalls others bringing up when the film aired at the New York Film Festival last year. Andrew O’Hehir at Salon, who gives it the harshest review, calls the whole thing needlessly grim and voyeuristic:
In one sense, it accomplishes its goals efficiently by making you feel, in less than 80 minutes, as if you’ve gotten permanently trapped in the dead-end, trailer-park lives of its working-class characters. I’ve never been so grateful to get out of a theater, turn my cellphone back on and plug myself into a $4 Starbucks latte.
Roger Ebert (ah, Roger) gives the film four stars and declares it "a masterpiece," but underneath what’s become fairly common praise from Mr. Grades on a Curve are some appealing observations about the characters and the people playing them:
The movie feels so real a hush falls upon the audience, and we are made aware of how much artifice there is conventional acting. You wouldn’t want to spend the rest of your life watching movies like this, because artifice has its uses, but in this film, with these actors, something mysterious happens.
But the final word on the film seems to be that Soderbergh has always approached his subjects from outside their respective bubbles, looking in, and that emotional distance is still very much present in this attempt to return to some pared-down form of filmmaking. Dargis: "Mr. Soderbergh is not a naturally warm director, and while that doesn’t usually hurt his work, here his native chilliness makes it seem as if he were doing lab work rather than taking the measure of his fellow man." And Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice: "Soderbergh’s movie ambitiously focuses on movie-rare Americans…but never wonders what makes them tick."
Our review of the film from the New York Film Festival is here.
+ "A Cock and Bull Story": Michael Winterbottom attempts, as is much pointed-out, to film the unfilmable source material (Laurence Sterne’s "Tristram Shandy"), and everyone’s fairly pleased with the result so far. Stephanie Zacharek at Salon says "it may be the most honest kind of adaptation imaginable" â€” in spirit, of course, as Winterbottom devotes most of the film to being about a film adaptation of the novel (these wheels-within-wheels also conveniently allow the director to cast Jeremy Northam as a stand-in for himself (he should be so lucky)). But the film rests on Steve Coogan, playing a nightmarishly vain and insecure version of himself. J. Hoberman at the Voice, who’s otherwise lukewarm on the film, finds that:
For all the on-set antics, appropriated Fellini music, and throwaway gags, the movie is most successful when Coogan is pulling faces for the mirror, aimlessly trading Pacino imitations with his sidekick [Rob] Brydon, or riffing on the color of the latter’s teeth.
And A. O. Scott at the New York Times, who likes the film very much, salutes Winterbottom for both permanently saving "Tristram Shandy" from any overly serious straightforward adaptations, as well as managing the following:
He has also paid loving, knowing tribute to the crazy enterprise of film-making, a torment to those mad enough to pursue it and a delight, at least in this case, for those of us lucky enough to sit and watch.
Our review of the film, also from those fond New York Film Festival days, is here.