Ramblin' 'bout Amblin: The Lost World

After Jurassic Park's success, both Spielberg and an enormous number of fans put pressure on Michael Crichton to write a sequel. The author had already written plenty of books but he'd never taken a stab at a sequel before. It was a quick turnaround and right as the novel was published in 1995, production began on the film version. Having actually read the novel long before I saw The Lost World I went into this film with  high expectations. Crichton did a phenomenal job on his first ever sequel and unfortunately the expertise in story telling and building upon Jurassic Park didn't carry over to the film.

I don't have too many specific issues with The Lost World. The largest gripe I've got toward this film is the screenplay written by David Koepp. The reason Jurassic Park succeeds so well is because its working with just enough characterization to make its characters human and genuine without ever going overboard or losing focus on the film's true direction. Koepp has a shared writing credit with Crichton on the original film but worked alone on the sequel. Seeing such a success followed by a failure leads me to believe that the duo was able to strike up a really perfect working relationship. Crichton's novel has much more character depth and development but that's the language the medium speaks. Working with a screenwriter like Koepp forced Crichton to choose exactly what character traits were important enough to make it into the film, which descriptors would truly drive these characters home, etc. Koepp then made sure that the film kept a brisk pace and would play well onscreen. It's actually a great idea for a writing team especially since Crichton's novels are already written in such a cinematic fashion. Crichton's heart definitely wasn't in the idea of adapting the sequel novel for film based on the reason he wrote it in the first place. So the job fell solely on Koepp who approached the material in much the same way he did Jurassic Park. Except this time he didn't have a wall to bounce ideas off of and the film runs into problems that its predecessor was able to avoid. Koepp oversimplifies the characters so much that we really don't care about any of them. They end up playing genre roles rather than being actual people. Sure the film moves along briskly and has far more action than the first but because we don't care about the people that the action is happening to, all that falls on deaf ears.

Getting away from the film's writing, the other big issue is its heavy reliance on CGI. There's less of a marriage between practical FX and digital ones in this film and due to the higher level of dinosaurs in the film, any and all flaws become much more apparent. It hardly looks terrible but I truly feel that comparing the FX of Lost World to Jurassic Park is a bad idea. I think the first film did it better and even the four years of CGI development wasn't enough to allow this film to rely as heavily as it does on them.
I think my ultimate issue with The Lost World though resides in its spirit. This isn't an adventure film, it's an action film. The wonder that emerges from watching the Brachiosaur stand on it's hind legs to reach the highest branches of a tree or a baby Velociraptor pushing its way out of an egg has been almost completely done away with. The image above shows the closest sequence in film that has this kind of adventurous spirit. And after about forty seconds it turns into a CGI filled chase sequence that loses all the wonder it started out with. It' definitely the pressure that gets put on a sequel to outdo the original but unfortunately The Lost World ends up playing out like a film created solely to sell tickets.

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Ramblin' 'bout Amblin: Schindler's List

The list is an absolute good. The list is life.

Steven Spielberg did not want to direct this film. The filmmaker doubted his maturity level and saw the film as too important for him to leave his mark on. He tried to pass the project onto a number of other filmmakers including Roman Polanski who's mother was killed at Auschwitz, as well as Sydney Pollack and Martin Scorsese. Scorsese was actually attached to direct the film for some time before Spielberg's conscience got the better of him. Spielberg believed he'd "given away a chance to do something for my children and family about the Holocaust" and using Cape Fear as a bargaining chip, was able to re-establish his place at the film's helm. His final push to direct came from the rise of neo-Nazism after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the growing numbe of Holocaust deniers. Already having gotten more in touch with his faith while raising his children, Schindler's List may have actually come at the perfect time for Spielberg. He pushed Jurassic Park to the top of his priority list knowing he wouldn't be able to move to a new project for a long time once Schindler was completed.

Moving into production Spielberg left no stone unturned to make sure audiences felt the personal and political weight the story carried for him. He sought out a number ancestors of the Schindler Jews to play roles in the film. The script itself boasts 126 speaking roles and over the course of shooting over 30,000 extras were hired, many of which were Holocaust survivors themselves. The film's producers were tasked with finding as many of the people portrayed in the film as possible after Spielberg conceived the idea of the film's epilogue.

I realize that's a lot of trivia but I think it's incredibly important to know how personal this film was to Spielberg. Looking back on his career prior to Schindler's List it's hard to believe that he'd even be capable of a film that took on this type of subject matter. Even his most personal films up to this point had been lighthearted if not adventurous. Schindler's List is not only one of the most important American films ever made but also a clear turning point in Spielberg's career. A point where, save for a few films, many of his projects became much darker and more serious in nature. What's amazing though is despite the film's heavy nature it's still incredibly watchable. Spielberg has this incredible ability to make cinematic masterpieces from even the darkest material and never pulling punches. Schindler's List never lacks in its ability to wrench the heart and it does so often.

My favorite thing about this film is the way that Spielberg decided to shoot it. He partnered with Janusz Kaminski (the cinematographer Spielberg now works with exclusively) and told the film's story the way that history does: in black and white images. Like photos from books or a museum, Schindler's List presents a story told in timeless fashion. Using handheld, almost gonzo techniques, the film looks more like a documentary than a prestige picture and because of this doesn't have any kind of time stamp on it. Watching this film with no knowledge of the few famous faces within gives no sign of what year it was created and it makes the material presented all the more powerful. You can't pull out bad CGI from the 90's. You can't pull out that famous single that was all the rage when the producers were trying to figure out how to market the film. Schindler packs so much more of a wallop because of all these choices. I truly feel its one of his most "Spielbergian" films. By that I mean there's nothing diluting his creative process. There are no crane hots. There are no silly action scenes. This film is pure Spielberg and paired with the fact that it's undoubtedly his most personal film, Schindler's List is one of the most important films out there.

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"And So His Watch Is Ended" - Game of Thrones season 3 closes in high bloody fashion.

Scout Lets talk about filmmaking for a minute because I'm currently experiencing a state of destabilizing grief not dissimilar to Arya Stark's and I can't really even bring myself to consider the implications of the horrorshow we as an audience were just witness to. So instead let's talk about a consistency of craft, shall we? Way back in Season 1, I believe it was episode six but hey sometimes my memory fails me, Tyrion goes looking to a hostile crowd for someone willing to take his place in a trial by combat. Up steps Bronn, an unlikely ally, in what is to date still my favourite moment of the series. From the back of the hall comes Bronn's call "I'll stand for the dwarf."

And so commences one of the best edited and staged sword fights I've ever seen. What the director and sound editor did was take something we expect from a show with a vague medieval setting (two well-armored knights fighting with broad swords) and fills it with excitement and tension, but more importantly they make it seem real. These guys are big enough to throw these big fucking swords around but not without some difficulty and not without the people at home feeling nervous for everyone's life. The sound guys do astonishing work making us feel how heavy the swords are against every surface they touch and what it would really mean to get killed here. Victory feels hard won and the show gains gravity because we see how ugly and dangerous legends are when you're stuck in one. And we don't really know either man so the fight could go either way. You won't find anything comparable in Lord of the Rings or the bulk of 80s fantasy cinema like Krull or Ladyhawk (which I maintain must be an inspiration for the Game of Thrones crew, as evinced by a last minute aviary transformation in this last episode) because the heroes who die need to be in good enough shape to have a last word to a comrade or to have their bodies ferried down waterfalls. There is no such comfort here. If you die, you're goddamn dead because those swords don't make mistakes and neither do the show's artistic team.

The first time the show goes back on this idea was an occasion indeed. The Hound, the only guy on the show who I wager could give Bronn serious competition, finds himself in trial by combat with the shifty Beric Dondarion. Once again the direction and editing are topnotch. Shot in a cave, claustrophobic and dark except for a campfire and the fire that Beric douses his sword in. The hound's fear of fire had been established previously so with that clouding his senses the playing field is now as level as its going to be. Their sword fight is visceral stuff, having no room to maneuver and no way to see each other properly. Smart money's on the big guy because we know him and he's never lost yet, but his opponent is some kind of wizard. The camera maintains a perfect distance from the fight: close enough to be terrifying, far enough to be clear and legible. We know what's going on and that makes the hindrances all the worse and the outcome is now completely up in the air. And this is all in what feels like actual darkness thanks to the high speed film they use and the truly masterful job the Cinematographer does simulating real darkness with a few lamps (Here I'm reminded of Roland Emmerich's underrated Anonymous). And so when the fight ends and the vanquished is brought back to life via something close to magic it has the borrowed graveness of the fight we just sweated our way through. These two are too interesting to die so this is the only acceptable outcome. The writers playing fair and the filmmakers playing like pros.

The Red Wedding reverses this dynamic. The writers have been playing the long con all season long, doling out clues and half truths when it suits them. They were building our expectations for something but using enough misdirection to keep the uninitiated off the scent of The Red Wedding. Lord Boulton dicking around with Jamie was an expert touch. That guy better get his legs cut off and be forced to crawl through the desert.

I'll skip the setup, which is heartbreaking, subtle and terrifying. What I want to focus on is the lighting. Once the doors close and the band plays 'Rains of Castamere', it suddenly dawns on the audience how dark it is in Walder Frey's hall. Robb and Talisa being romantic looks wrong, because they're lit by the same ugly orange that illuminated Tyrion's post-wedding outburst an episode earlier. The scene, like the trial by combat in the cave, takes place in a womblike space, lit by that sick, vaguely organic orange color, like bodily fluid where light can't hit it. And just as the hound regresses to childhood for a moment when confronted by fire, so to does the talk of what to name a child while in this dark cavernous hall make us in the audience get nervous. This is the wrong place for this talk. There are many strands of family issues running through this scene, but the betrayal of mothers and the perversion of motherhood is the most prevalent (Talisa's unborn child, Cat's eldest son, the mother of Walder Frey's children, the offscreen interruption of Edmure during conception, the mother of five, seven if we count technicalities, believing she's lost four of them). So fittingly the heroics the show has so far shied away from, are notably absent in the most crushing moment in the entire series, and this include Ned's death.

The lighting, the color of blood, the sound of arrows and blades cutting through flesh all seem true even if they're exaggerated for effect because they communicate hopelessness. Here again I'm reminded of films like Ladyhawk, Flesh + Blood, Lancelot Du Lac or even Braveheart, who try and sometimes succeed at showing the awful guessed-at truths of living in the Middle Ages. They have a desperation and a disgusting banality that serves them well. I mean most of Ladyhawk is silly nonsense but I'm talking mostly about the final confrontation, which has a ring of truth that's always stayed with me. It's the best moment in the film and transcends the Alan Parsons-scored lows of the rest of the film. Game of Thrones frequently nails that kind of high, in showing how bad things can be. The only film I can think of as precedent, that has this kind of guts is Lucio Fulci's wonky take on the genre, Conquest, which has an admirably bold end to its heroes journey.

The Palour of Talisa's skin after dying of her stab wounds (and by the death of her unborn child) the confused look on Robb's face and finally that last shot. Cat lets out an anguished cry we didn't think her capable of and then, more because she promised to than because she means it, cuts the throat of Walder Frey's wife, and then waits for the man in the corner to kill her. It's the ugliest moment I can remember on a show filled with them, but the ugliness is perfectly achieved. Cat's framed in that harsh orange, reminded of the lie of motherhood, her failure to protect her children, and when she falls out of frame the orange and darkness is all we see: an empty womb.

Fox Cinematography has always been one of GoT's strongest attributes but I have to fully agree with you on your comments. The entire Red Wedding sequence is a visual onslaught of blood effects, incredible sound and film editing. But somehow even as we're watching pure horror the feeling still remains in the back of our minds that everything is done for a reason. These shots were methodically preconceived. The lighting and gore effects were painstakingly checked and checked again to ensure their full power so that even amid this chaos the smoke catching torch light, the skin tones of the dead and dying, the blood's oil-like consistency, and even Cat's final plunge out of frame are all beautiful and masterfully executed.

I came across The Red Wedding three summers ago when I was plowing through the novels. The first season had aired so I had a number of familiar faces to help me understand who these people were and in a book series like GoT, with its all too real number of enormous family trees, that was essential. But more importantly it made me love these people. GoT is one of only a few shows that I truly can profess my love for its characters and thoroughly mean it. Yes, many of them are complete and total rat bastards but because they're existing in a wor'd so much more real than almost anything currently portrayed on tv or in film, I feel empathy for even the darkest hearts GoT's has to offer. Except Joffery. So when I came to the Red Wedding sequence I actually had a moral dilemma: Do I read faster, skim the gruesome details, and come out the other side with a paraphrased just the facts version of the horror that was about to ensue, or do I read slowly, absorbing every detail like I'll be assigned to solve the murder shortly after I'm done reading it? I think I wound up on the rapid page turning side of things but not for the reason I listed above. It was much closer to Shelley Duvall flipping page after page of Jack's writing in The Shining. She's desperately afraid of what she's seeing but she can't possibly stop. It'd be scarier to leave some pages unturned; to leave Jack's thoughts a mystery.
So I watched them kill and decapitate Rob. I watched Cat's throat get slit. I watched them murder Grey Wind and sew the wolf's head onto Rob's body in place of his own. The true horror of the novel is that the entire sequence retains a sickly jovial nature. It truly is as celebratory as a wedding. Once the death and destruction is dealt out they return to play. Sadistic play. And it's hard stuff to get through. I've had numerous conversations since Sunday night with fellow book readers about how even though we were so excited for the sequence to take place it was definitely something we found we weren't happy to revisit a second time. Because now characters who had existed only on the page were now right in front of us and whether we meant to or not we'd grown to love them. GoT's ultimate power is that it always remains as morally gray as life itself. And even though every being with a beating heart will do its utmost to hope, the universe finds a way to keep a balance. Even if that balance is the most devastating thing any of us could think of.

Reading the Red Wedding forced a visceral reaction from me. I physically threw my copy of the novel across the room. It hit the wall so hard, that one of my roommates came to check on me. And having seen the horror onscreen I feel guilty admitting that my initial reaction had nothing to do with Rob, Cat, Grey Wind, or any of the Stark's banner men. It was because of Arya. Since the very beginning she's been my favorite of all the great characters in the series. Many people (myself included) often say that Sansa has the shit end of the stick but I put it to you now that Arya's situation is no less dire. She's just got a more adaptable disposition. I blew through most of the sequence because I had to make sure Arya wouldn't see it. I needed her to be okay. Then she takes an axe to the back of the head. The ultimate low blow taken in the novels that I thank the maker was left out of the show, is the possible death of Arya Stark. The Hound hits her in the back of the head to save her in the show and it's a hopeful drop in the bucket during the massacre. But in the novel the scene is told from Arya's perspective and she doesn't see it coming. And then she disappears from the novel for about 300 pages. That's the reason I threw the book. I couldn't believe I'd just watched someone who'd been through so much attain no sense of closure or revenge. All of the adults who've died have done so in some way because of their own actions. I couldn't believe I'd finally encountered one of the very few innocent (I'd call her that) people in this universe because killed for no reason. So I must thank the show's writers for not trying to drive an extra nail into the Stark coffin. I don't think I would've been able to take it again. I sat on the edge of my seat the entire episode waiting for the scene to begin and when Roose Bolton has Catelyn pull back his coat to reveal the chain mail he'd worn in preparation I got goosebumps all over. Even knowing it was coming couldn't stop the reaction I had. My jaw was on the floor. I couldn't make a noise if I tried. And that's when you know you've adapted material the right way. When even the initiated can't help but shake with rage and sadness as they're forced to watch as they lose their loved ones all over again.

Scout Portent. The finale of Game of Thrones is all about portent. Not much happens because after the nation suffered collective heartache (and much worse in some cases) they couldn't do much more but stand back and stare with the rest of us. That doesn't mean the show was coasting, by any means. There are unforgettable scenes. What will probably stay with me is Tyrion and Tywin discussing their relationship as frankly as they know how to. "I wanted to take you out into the waves and drown you." Happy Father's Day! But there's also the truly tragic scene of Cersei admitting that when she looks at Joffrey she no longer sees the child she once loved, who once was her whole world, and she his. Realizing that we're now stuck with the Lannisters, for better or worse, moments like this go a long way toward making sure we understand all 360 degrees of their personalities. I can't be the only one who was immensely moved by Jamie finally walking into Cersei's bedroom. Like Jean-Pierre Denis and Wes Anderson before them, the writers of Game of Thrones have made me super ok with incest on screen. You gross bastards.

But all this, touching as it is (and The Hound essentially taking over as one in a long line of short-lived father figures for Arya is nothing if not Insanely touching), is calm before one hell of a bloody storm. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that no one is safe, so, while it's comforting to watch a few loose ends tie themselves up, we know that ultimately even though we have to wait a year before the story starts again, in Westeros, it'll only have been a day. And in a day, anything can happen and nothing is safe.

Fox Game of Thrones has this great method of using their finale to cool down. Even though they've become formulaic in having "the shit" go down in episode nine of all three seasons it becomes almost essential (The Red Wedding being the best example of why) that we have an hour with these characters where we can be as close to sure they won't die as possible. It's an incredibly ballsy move on the writer's part to utilize a finale for something other than grandiose dramatic gestures. They treat finales in very much the same way that they treat premieres. They need to let viewers know exactly where everyone stands so that they can spend the next tortured ten months ruminating on exactly what that position will lead to. Especially working with the storyline presented in the current novel being adapted. It's an 1100 page story with enough ups and downs for several season's worth of climactic episodes. One of my favorite parts of the third season was how restrained the writers were about not letting themselves get overexcited with their finale. Instead they utilize patience to set up all the pieces again after so viciously knocking them down.

"Too much of a good thing is..."

And so Steven Soderbergh bids farewell to cinema, not with "Goodbye" but with "Too much of a good thing is...wonderful." Why Behind the Candelabra makes for such a frustrating exeunt from the medium of film (or TV movies. Whatever) is that I feel like Soderbergh had just started making a full circle back to the kind of film he stopped making when he started shooting and editing his own work in the late 90s. Which, for me (and Keith Uhlich), is a good thing. If I have a complaint about late Soderbergh (specifically the futurist mode he's been in since The Girlfriend Experience) it's that he abandoned little moments. His films have lately been all meat. This didn't used to be the case, but when at first he drew out his narratives to be sprawling and inclusive (Traffic's divergent narrative threads, Che's grand historical scale), he had to justify each moment. Every second had to tell the story, rather than telling its own story. Not exactly a fault, because you never wonder why you're seeing anything. Look at Haywire. Lem Dobbs essentially gave Soderbergh a blueprint for inclusion to get from one beating or chase to the next. But the problem for me is that this doesn't give me much to bite into or care about. I liked the beatdowns, (I really liked them, actually) but at no point does Dobbs' script or Soderbergh's direction encourage me to know or care about who this woman is unless it has to do with her eventually killing the guys who set her up. And there's an awful lot of dialogue (and crucially, not character development) that needs to be spat out to get us there and it's all by people we don't know. It works in something like John Frankenheimer's Ronin because the action sequences take up huge chunks of the running time and make us forget to care who's who. It won't matter anyway because there's a Macguffin to forecast the eventual gap where there ought to be a satisfactory conclusion. Sodebergh, by contrast, just gives us a final beating, which, while certainly in keeping with the spirit of the piece, can only be as satisfying as the talking we've seen up until this point. We don't know her, so we don't really know what she stands to lose. Not enough, for my liking. Even Contagion, which is hands down my favourite of his late work, and in my opinion something of a minor masterpiece, lacks full emotional bite because we don't know everyone quite as well as we ought to. The bad stuff starts going down before they get a chance to show off who they are divorced of context. 

A perfect Soderbergh little moment - 2/3 of the way through Out of Sight, Jennifer Lopez's federal marshall goes to question a known associate of a suspect. After finishing up her talk, the woman's boyfriend appears to shake Lopez down. After a suggestive threat, spoken spectacularly low and menacing, Lopez beats the man with a portable baton and leaves, tossing a one-liner over her shoulder as she goes. The man could have been trying to get her off the scent of the suspect she's chasing, or he could just be an abusive jerk. Doesn't really matter. The point is the moment works, has nothing to do with the story, and everything to do with letting us into Lopez's world and the world of the film. It's also one of the few times that the atmosphere of a scene isn't palpable. Whether it's a grimy boxing gym, a Florida prison or Albert Brooks' palatial manor, we always have a really clear sense of where we are and what it's like for the characters. That the house where the altercation takes place is defined more by the characters and a vague feeling of unease is a welcome break from the production scheme and it invites us to pay attention to just the behavior of the two characters. 

Now look at Magic Mike, where everyone's in a perpetual state of "over it." It's accurate and thoroughly watchable, but there's very little opportunity for us to learn much about the characters or grow with them. We're a step ahead of them because we know what the narrative calls for. It's still a darker, realer and better film than most US films released in 2012. But it's missing shades of grey, and I don't just mean in the cinematography. The leaping from one 'important' scene to another is narratively efficient, but leaves me just the slightest bit cold. And rendered exclusively in Soderbergh's trademark tobacco brown, it all feels like just one color of the spectrum of experience. As soon as every piece is in place, we can guess how it will turn out, so it's up to our auteur to make sure that the puzzle will look unique when put together. It always does, but they used to be more intricate. Side Effects' greatest pleasure is in seeing just what the central mystery turns out to be and discovering it right along with our duped protagonist. Once it's been solved, the film ends, having done no more or less than a great job taking us from Point A to Point B, placing the low high and the high low, and depicting modern life in the few seconds between plot points. I can't help feeling like ten years ago, I would have gotten a better sense of what Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jude Law stood to lose, and sympathized with them more than I did. I do get a sense of where his characters will be, based on how we begin to see their evolution in the final act of the movie. In fact he's gotten very good at broadcasting final acts he doesn't deliver. Magic Mike ends just before a cathartic love scene, Side Effects before prosperity or insanity can fully take over, Haywire just before the final kill, Contagion before normality fully returns. Things move too speedily for the narrative to want to keep up, so the endings come before they've truly ended, allowing a fully formed idea of the future to be the true conclusion, as Soderbergh doesn't want to, or won't bore us with what we already know. 

So when I heard that his last movie was going to be based on the true story of someone who is dead, my brain couldn't quite get around to imagining what on earth that would look like. Che, after all, was what all about being objective and marked the turning point toward futurism. Here he had to spell a few things out in a way he hasn't done in a while. Even if we understood what Scott Thorson and Liberace's relationship would turn into, with the details of its ups and downs the only real surprise, we couldn't exactly skip to the important part. It's all important or none of it is, by non-fiction standards. So what in the world was he going to do faced with ten years of detail he couldn't jog through to the ending? Well, it turns out that the saving grace here was that he had to make it for HBO rather than a theatrical release (cannes competition slot notwithstanding, though let's not forget that component just yet). TV is a medium that must be still. And this is a very specific kind of stillness. Often for budgetary reasons, only a few set-ups can be used to make shooting and editing a quicker and cheaper process, but also because a TV audience won't sit still if the camera's going to jerk around like Spielberg's D-Day footage, or totally lose subjects as he sometimes does with shallow focus and lighting. There are very few instances of the camera doing anything like this during Behind The Candelabra, and the most showy example is to communicate a paranoid, drugged-up breakdown, which an audience will appreciate and forgive if not expect. There's one shot of shallow focus where the actors have to walk into frame, and another where he can only see the dark outlines of actors in a well-lit room. Other than that, the camera has to be still, and thanks to the HBO broadcast, it will also take on the sheen of a TV show, which I can't help but feel like he expected, because it helps his cinematography mesh with the production design. 

Soderbergh, or Peter Andrews, as he calls himself behind the camera, usually shoots with cutting edge digital in very expressive lighting, meant to look both natural and unnatural, essentially showing the future of life in apartments by catching his actors in baths of primary and secondary colors, or in darkness against bright backgrounds. If it's not how they appear, it's how they are taken, by whoever would really be in the room. He's performing sleight of hand, in a way, by making us lose track of the subject of a shot. This has the effect of making his compositions look like they're rendered in still-wet water colors, and that if you touch them, they'll smear. With Candelabra, the particular stillness of television post-production, making them up-to-snuff for a home viewing audience watching on the small screen, and the film's interest in the era being a kind of prison, means that the paint is no longer wet. Instead, what Soderbergh achieves is a kind of stuffing, embalming and mounting of Liberace's 70s and 80s. Scott Thorson and Liberace themselves go through this with their surgical alterations, becoming trapped in their own glittery, kitschy homes, stuck in outfits tailored too tight and unable to recognize themselves. They're no longer people, they're dead foxes for the world to draw conclusions about. How did they live? Why couldn't Liberace find the right girl? The glamorous lifestyle is a ruse, like the open eyes of a stuffed animal. If the show they get to see is fame, money, drugs and sex, then the price of admission is silence, misery, aging and uncertainty. 

All that's fair enough; the performances are all genius, I enthusiastically believe Matt Damon as a 17 year old, I love Michael Douglas turning his back on the alpha male shtick he's famous for, Rob Lowe deserves an Oscar, the events depicted are so insane you have to believe them and it certainly makes for one hell of a ride, but I was beginning to wonder why in the world Soderbergh chose to do it. You can't broadcast with this story. Liberace's long dead, after all, AIDS the only secret he couldn't keep and Thorson's breaking the silence is the reason there's a story to tell. So after six films of cool detachment, could that be all there is to his final long-form offering? I thought so, until the last scene. At this point I could offer those with spoilerphobia the chance to look away and skip to a few lines, but there's really nothing I can spoil - it's all public record at this point. It's just how he decides to present the ending that provides the surprise. Thorson sits alone at Liberace's funeral and rather than hearing a eulogy, he hears an intro to the entertainer's final show, and then watches his lover fly in with wings to play one last encore. Suddenly you see what Thorson saw in Liberace, beyond the showmanship: someone with a gift directing entirely at him. He might have been a father, brother, lover, best friend, whatever, but what mattered was that Liberace made the world appear in front of him on a silver platter and he took all of that and gave it to Scott Thorson. The hands that made the name Liberace famous, moved just for him. And the tragedy, or perhaps the most fortunate part, was that he could never tell anyone what they meant to each other. He had to keep Liberace's legacy safe, like a fly in amber, and in doing so he would be the same thing. He'd never get to hear him play again, nor experience someone shifting an empire to make room for him. All that was private, just for him. And really because he'd spent so much time lying to himself and the world about his life and experiences, Liberace probably didn't enjoy those moments half as much as Thorson, who was, at the very least, much more aware of their situation and able to enjoy it as it happened. So the only person who could truly understand the great pianist's legacy sits, enjoying one last number while the world keeps on thinking what it wants to. 

And that's the only time a Soderbergh film threatened to make me cry (King of the Hill came close), which, considering my skeptical attitude going in, is something special indeed. His deciding to take a break from feature films is now not only the sadness it would have been, but doubly so because Soderbergh's pulled another futurist trick by showing us the direction his films might have taken in this last moment. Real closure is back. A little moment of reflection is back. The compositions and spot-on costuming, art direction and production design, suggests a kind of appropriation of classicism, if not a full return to it. From winning the palme d'Or for his first film, which is all about laying emotion bare using technology, to finally, through the most cheesy, obvious artifice, arriving at an emotional climax to his career and debuting his made-for-TV effort at the Cannes film festival, where it stood no chance of taking home the top prize; that's maybe not a happy ending, but I bet Soderbergh sees what a satisfactory, near-perfect cycle it's been. I'd have bet good money that his next feature would have marked a return to the his old method of filmmaking, pre-Out of Sight, mixed with his new understanding of storytelling and image making. The last few years would have been one more specific period in a career filled with them, and Candelabra would have been the turning point. From classical (sex, lies and videotape through to Gray's Anatomy) to post-modernist (Schizopolis to Full Frontal) to post-strucuralist (Solaris to The Good German) to structuralist (Ocean's 13 and Che) and finally this last mode, about to give way to something else. We may never get that next period, but I hope to christ Soderbergh understands how badly his fans want it, and want him to keep evolving. Because whatever my concerns about the relative strength of his work, there are few other major American filmmakers I love to discuss, analyze and think about as much as Steven Soderbergh. So perhaps, this isn't farewell. Maybe, it's just too much of a good thing. Thanks for everything, Steven.