Tim Grierson on the Brilliant Career of Steven Soderbergh


Posted by on

When people list their favorite filmmakers, their choices are obviously based partly on liking those directors’ movies but, beyond that, I would guess it’s also because they identify with the themes and attitudes expressed in those films. To be entirely stereotypical, most fans of Quentin Tarantino probably don’t behave or dress much like fans of Woody Allen — or of Jon Favreau, Michael Haneke, Kelly Reichardt, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Like picking a favorite Beatle or declaring oneself Team Edward or Team Jacob, we’re telling the world less about the people we’re choosing between and more about who we are and what we value.

I haven’t liked all of Steven Soderbergh’s films, but his career — the way he conducts himself artistically and professionally — is something I greatly admire. More than his movies, I really just love him. So, as you could imagine, I’m very sad that he’s serious about retiring from filmmaking. He’s releasing the thriller “Side Effects” on Friday, and then his Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra” will come to HBO. And then that’s it.

Soderbergh arrived on the scene in 1989 with “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” which famously wowed Sundance in January of that year and then won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in May. He was all of 26 and was quickly embraced as the Next Big Thing. In a Rolling Stone profile from that time, he came across as something of a hot shot: the outsider who had moved to Los Angeles, found little success, returned home to Baton Rogue defeated, decided to give Hollywood one more chance, and wrote the “Sex, Lies” script in a week while driving back West. Now the conquering hero, he called “Top Gun” producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer “slime” and “just barely passing for humans” in the Rolling Stone piece. He made disparaging comments about another up-and-coming director, Phil Joanou, who had segued into soft commercial movies like “Three O’Clock High.” (“Soderbergh has given instructions that he be shot on sight if he ever makes a movie about high school,” wrote profiler Terri Minsky.)

But you also got the sense that Soderbergh’s criticisms of others were a way to keep himself grounded amidst all the hoopla surrounding “Sex, Lies.” “I’m still a schmuck like everybody else,” he said. “I have problems, just like anyone. There are people who get to make movies who are fucking assholes, who are terrible people. Okay, I know I’m not a terrible person. It’s just that this attention — it’s potentially harmful, and it has so little to do with sitting in a room and trying to write, trying to make something good and make something work. It has nothing to do with that.”

“Sex, Lies” made almost $25m — an impressive total for a low-budget indie — and Soderbergh seemed well on his way. But after all the hype, he struggled. His follow-up film, “Kafka,” was a commercial and critical disappointment. The period drama “King of the Hill” was lovingly told but made no money. (It did, however, open the door for young stars Adrien Brody and Katherine Heigl.) And his thriller “The Underneath” was a misfire that had brains but sank like a stone at the box office. At 32, Soderbergh seemed to be in danger of being forgotten, just like all the other Next Big Things he had lamented in that Rolling Stone article who had come before him.

Then, Soderbergh did something incredibly nervy. Rather than committing to a sure career-revitalizing project, he made “Schizopolis,” a bizarre, surreal little comedy (starring him) that satirized suburban malaise, office politics and its own irrelevance. It felt like a stunt — the sort of thing you do when you decide that you’re ready to burn every bridge and alienate everybody who ever liked you. And for that reason, it’s fascinating, although at the time it seemed like this clearly smart and talented filmmaker was walking away from Hollywood for good.

Of course, that didn’t happen — he was merely gearing up for his second act. In the summer of 1998, he returned with “Out of Sight,” which helped put him back on the map but also launched George Clooney. We forget this now, but this thriller (adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel) was equally important for both men: If Soderbergh was trying to reverse his trajectory, Clooney was trying to prove that his post-“E.R.” film career was viable. (He’d been in the very mediocre “The Peacemaker” and the truly awful “Batman and Robin.”) I have to confess that, at the time, I didn’t get “Out of Sight.” After my first viewing, I thought it was too clever for its own good — certainly stylish and confident, but lacking much soul. Seeing it again a few weeks later, I embarrassingly realized I’d missed the boat. Coolly elegant and expertly paced, it was far smarter than I’d realized. I vowed never to underestimate Soderbergh again. (And I kept an eye on him and Clooney, who went on to form a production company together, Section Eight, which oversaw great films like “Far From Heaven,” “Insomnia,” “Syriana” and “Michael Clayton.”)

Blessed with a second chance, Soderbergh didn’t disappoint. He went from low-budget noir thrillers (“The Limey”) to superb, heartfelt mainstream entertainments (“Erin Brockovich”) to possibly his best film of all, “Traffic,” a perfect distillation of his intelligent, emotionally subdued style for a wholly devastating look at a group of characters who are in one way or another trapped in the web of drug addiction. Watching him win the Best Director Oscar for “Traffic” in early 2001, it was impossible not to think that this was the same man who, just four years prior, had put out “Schizopolis,” when everything seemed so bleak.

Armed with an Academy Award, he has hardly slowed down. If anything, he’s only gotten more interesting as a filmmaker. Since then, he hasn’t made one dull movie — he’s made less-than-great ones (“Full Frontal,” “The Good German”) — but he’s never lacked for intriguing ideas. Soderbergh grew up playing baseball — he was once a promising pitcher — and there’s something about that sport’s celebration of the day-in/day-out grind that seems to have stayed with the filmmaker. He just goes out and does the work, treating each project with as much care and thoughtfulness as he can. As he mentioned in a recent New York interview, “Any movie I’ve made has been because of the challenge it offered me as a director, because it provides a new canvas. Even the big-budget stuff like the ‘Ocean’s’ films.” In fact, it was his idea to do sequels to “Ocean’s Eleven” — not the studio’s. “They didn’t care. We kind of had to talk them into it. Those movies provided a really unique set of opportunities visually. They’re not easy for me to make. The first ‘Ocean’s’ was, directorially, a lot harder than ‘Traffic.’ Not even close. But they allowed me to play in a way the other movies don’t. It’s the closest to a comic book as I’ll ever get — I viewed them as like Roy Lichtenstein panels, which was really fun. And I’m very happy with them visually. When you look at what passes for a tent pole now, the ‘Ocean’s’ movies are pretty gentle in terms of their spirit, and I like that about them.”

I do, too. All three of the “Ocean’s” films have a bounce and freedom that you don’t see from big-budget studio movies. Soderbergh is sometimes criticized for his “cold” movies, but how, then, do you explain what fun the “Ocean’s” films are? To this day, Soderbergh comes across as a dry, cerebral fellow in interviews — the braininess of his youth remains — but it’s only helped give his films an undeniably hip patina. Whether it’s “The Informant!” or “The Girlfriend Experience” or “Contagion” or “Che,” his movies give off a sense that they’re trying to rethink their genres, trying to find new ways to express familiar sentiments. And as to this nonsense that his movies are overly chilly or withdrawn, who else could have turned “Magic Mike” into both a really fun time and also a poignant look at a young man (Channing Tatum) finally shedding his Peter Pan complex and growing up?

As Soderbergh’s gotten closer to 50, the age he said he wanted to give up filmmaking for painting and other pursuits, he’s been jumping from movie to movie, worried less about grand statements than crossing genres off his bucket list. What a blast “Haywire” was. What elegant paranoia dripped from “Contagion.” (And if you haven’t seen “And Everything Is Going Fine,” his 2010 documentary tribute to celebrated monologist Spalding Gray, a longtime friend of Soderbergh’s, it’s deeply moving.) This is not a man who should be retiring — he seems at the peak of his powers, making one distinctive film and then moving on to the next. He’s my kind of filmmaker. He just works. He does the best he can at that moment, and then he throws all his energy into the next one. Leave the legacy talk for others to sort out.

If “Side Effects” is his final feature, it’s a fitting sendoff. It’s smart, it’s shrewd, and it goes its own way. I liked it, but in my review I noted my reservations, which included, I now see, a criticism that it’s “ultimately too clever for its own good.” I’ve been here before with Soderbergh. I was wrong then — at this stage of his fine, fine career, I’m not entirely positive I’m not wrong now. But what I do know for sure: I’ll miss his movies. And I’ll miss him making them.

You can follow Tim Grierson on Twitter.

Gigi Does It Ice Skating

Gigi's Ready, Are You?

5 Ways to Get Ready for Tonight’s Gigi Does It

Catch Gigi Does It Mondays at 10:30P on IFC.

Posted by on

Garfield might hate Mondays, but now that Gigi Does It is in its new time slot Mondays at 10:30P ET/PT, it’s your new favorite day of the week. Here are five ways you can get ready for tonight’s all-new episode.

1. Watch David Krumholtz Become Gigi

video player loading . . .

Wondering how David Krumholtz transforms into Gigi? Check out a video time lapse to see the incredible work that goes on behind-the-scenes of Gigi Does It.

2. Get in Touch With Your Inner Kristy Yamatushy

video player loading . . .

This week Gigi and Ricky hit the ice. Will they fall flat or soar like Olympic great Kristy Yamtushy?

3. See the Video That’s Too Hot for Facebook

video player loading . . .

Gigi has a filthy mouth that is NSFW and Not Safe for Facebook. Check out the video Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want you to see.

4. Read Gigi’s Book “Call Your Grandmother”

Call Your Grandmother

Gigi became an author recently when she self-published her heartwarming children’s book about the perils of forgetting to call your dear grandma. Read the story that could give Go the F**k to Sleep a run for its money on the bestseller charts.

5. Put on Something that Highlights Your Kishkes

video player loading . . .

You’ll want to slip into something comfortable when you watch Gigi. Just ask poor Ricky.

Fred on Seth

Fred's TV Recap

Watch Fred Armisen Give an ‘Extremely Accurate’ TV Recap

Portlandia returns January 21st, 2016 at 10P ET/PT on IFC.

Posted by on

Did you know that Portlandia and Documentary Now! co-star Fred Armisen is so addicted to television that he can recap any show you throw at him? It’s an astounding feat, one that Seth Meyers had to share with the world in a recent episode of Late Night With Seth Meyers.

Fred is tasked to review last week’s episode of Haven which, due to popular misconception, is not actually a SyFy program loosely based on a Stephen King novel that focuses on Canadian townspeople with supernatural afflictions. Rather, as Fred explains, it’s “sort of a Friday Night Lights type of show,” centered around a small-town football team called The Havens. But because the town is so small, not only can they barely afford a football, they don’t have another team to play against. It’s a character study, really.

For more Fred, be sure to check back here for news on the sixth season of Portlandia, which premieres January 21st at 10P ET/PT on IFC.

Maron S3

We Good?

Maron Is Returning to IFC for Season 4

Maron will return Spring 2016.

Posted by on

Jumpstart the coffee maker and herd the cats because Marc Maron is coming back to IFC. Today the network announced it has renewed the critically acclaimed, universally loved original comedy Maron for a fourth season.

“I got the character of me into a bit of trouble last season. I hope I can get him back on track. The real me is doing fine,” said Marc Maron of his fictional counterpart. At the end of last season, Marc (the TV version, not the real one) fell off the wagon and in season four everyone’s favorite neurotic podcaster/comedian struggles to regain his sobriety, while trying to keep his sense of humor and looking for a deeper meaning to his life.


Luckily, Marc’s family and friends have his back, including Judd Hirsch as Marc’s unstable father, Sally Kellerman as his meddling mother and, of course, pals Andy Kindler and Dave Anthony. Guest stars for Season 4 include Patton Oswalt, Andy Dick, Adam Goldberg and many more.

“Marc is easily one of the most audacious comedians around today, and his pervasive sense of angst and unease is something we can all relate to and can’t stop watching,” said Jennifer Caserta, IFC’s president. “His take on society, and himself, is completely unfiltered and authentic and manifests into great comedic storytelling. We’re thrilled to renew Maron for a fourth season and look forward to more comic mayhem.”

Production on Maron‘s 4th season begins in January 2016 for a spring premiere. In the meantime, viewers can catch up on the first three seasons of Maron on iTunes. Seasons one and two are also available on Netflix and season three will be joining them in the streaming world on December 28th.

Jon Benjamin

Jon's Erotic Tales

Jon Benjamin Developing ‘Erotic’ Anthology Series for IFC

Jon Benjamin is getting racy for IFC.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Derek Storm/Everett Collection

Get ready to get hot and heavy with Jon Benjamin.

IFC has teamed up with Benjamin and Leo Allen (Jon Benjamin Has a Van, Review) to develop Jon Benjamin’s 100 Erotic Nights, a show filled with personal, passionate tales perfect for awkwardly watching with your family. “I always wanted to make a show that my kid could watch and I’m thrilled that IFC has given me this opportunity,” said Jon Benjamin.

The scripted comedy anthology series (currently in the pilot presentation stage) finds the man behind Sterling Archer and Bob Belcher starring in and narrating a series of lurid tales of secret passion, burning desire and ruthless betrayal sure to raise a few eyebrows. As the tales unfold, Benjamin’s narrator is overcome with confessions of love, lust, romance and sex, from the local waitress to a church nun, to a lover who’s revealed to be a robot.

“IFC is excited to dive into deadpan erotic humor, a new and untapped genre of scripted comedy for us,” said Christine Lubrano, IFC’s SVP of original programming. “As a send up of Red Shoe Diaries, these steamy and seductive tales represent a hilarious departure from familiar erotica. As our narrator and guide, Jon Benjamin’s irreverent and revealing journey will leave viewers gasping for more.”

Be sure to check back here for more updates about Jon Benjamin’s sure to be salacious series.

Powered by ZergNet