Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Here are some reviews of a few new release DVDs if you please (or even if you don't): 

(Dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2009)

As most film buffs know there are 2 Steven Soderberghs - not literally, of course, just hear me out. One makes well crafted commercial movies like ERIN BROCKOVICH, the OCEANS series, and the recent well received THE INFORMANT!, while the other makes on-the-fly experimental works such as SCHIZOPOLIS and FULL FRONTAL (not exactly sure where CHE or SOLARIS fits in this). THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE is definitely in the second category; it was shot on digital video with a miniscule budget in less than 3 weeks and it shows. 

This is not to say it doesn't look good - it has a slick lush look and it's sharply edited, but the material is fairly weak and the acting is sorely lacking. It concerns a high price Manhattan call girl (Sasha Grey) who offers a special service: "the girlfriend experience" of the title. That is she'll stay with a client for a longer time than usual, converse, and go out on an actual date to dinner/the theater/whatever in addition to intercourse. Grey's performance is bland and un-involving so it was hard to care about her and her just as bland boyfriend (Chris Santos) suffering on the side. 

It was filmed in 2008 shortly before the stock market crash so there is a lot of talk from Grey's corporate clients about the economy. None of it adds up to anything though. A journalist (Mark Jacobson) asks Grey: "Do you ever get bored ever, just talking to rich people?" She replies: "It can get tedious." It sure does in this movie. THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE is pretty but pointless and even at its 77 minute running time it feels extremely padded out. Woody Allen once joked about the idea of sex without love being an empty experience: "As empty experiences go though, it's one of the best!" was his punch line. Sadly "empty experience" at its worst sums up this tossed off throwaway film. 

TYSON (Dir. James Toback, 2008)

"Mike Tyson In His Own Words" could be an accurate alternate title for this film. Though there is news footage and archival interviews, this is primarily Tyson telling his story in a series of sit down interviews. Toback splices together a mosaic out of split screen and moving images with his subject overlapping on his own recollections. 

From his struggling beginnings in Brooklyn to becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world on to a sexual assault conviction resulting in 3 years behind bars, we get an unnerving sense of a confused but determined kid best evidenced in his account of his prison term: "I know that I'm going insane and I'm crazy for being here, but it's the only sanity that I know. It's the insanity that's the sanity that I know. I know that sounds so contradicting but it's the life I know." Tyson admitted contradiction is one of many so Toback's abstract methods of capturing his ongoing conflict make more sense as the movie goes on. 

Although I'm not a boxing fan, Tyson is a powerful figure that's impossible to ignore and this breakdown of his battered background held my interest from start to finish. A 16 minute featurette on the DVD ("A Day With James Toback") is also worthwhile for it gives insight into Toback's motivation and drive to present Tyson's tale as he maneuvers through press junkets on the way to a premiere screening.To one interviewer he says this about Tyson: "I believe everything he says, that at least he believes everything he says." This belief is intensely felt in every absorbing frame. 

More later...

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