Reviews of sex, lies and videotape
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There’s something significant to me about movies that are shot, at least in part, in natural light. In the studio you can recreate any time, any place, any period. But there’s something about watching shadows fall between blades of real sunlight, knowing that that light that you’re seeing, at that exact moment, whether take one or one hundred, will never be the same again. In this case it lends sex, lies and videotape a sense of time, more specifically the sense of time having passed, which is critical to appreciating this movie. We arrive at the beginning of the end. The river that has thus far carried these characters languidly along has arrived at the branching tributaries of event and action. They will now live by the rules of cause and effect. This provocative yet technically straightforward film dwells meaningfully on responsibility, behavior and pathologies. Oh right…and sex. As for the latter there appears to be two types of people: those who have sex and those who talk about sex. Yet what is most arousing is the point just between the two. sex, lies and videotape takes that moment and suspends it, drawing its dramatic eroticism out over the course of its entire runtime. Meanwhile, the film’s four principle characters cross paths in some predictable and a few not so predictable ways. The not-exactly-mutual familial menage a trois of Ann (Andie MacDowel), her husband John (Peter Gallagher and his eyebrows) and Ann’s sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), is disrupted by the arrival of Graham (James Spader) and his cult of awkward honesty. As with most superficially good things it turns on him and the rest of them as a web of deceit and lies comes undone in a most satisfyingly banal fashion. No guns, no blackmail, no Oscar baiting speeches about social values. Thank god. Along the way Andie McDowell sighs and bashfully smiles her way through an unnerving transition from a timid, self-hating and psychologically abused housewife to a seething indicter of conspiracy. She finally comes to rest at sexually satisfied and spiritually sound partner (and amateur meteorologist?). Everyone learns a good lesson about the oiled rope of control, prudishness and the relativity of normal. Not to mention intra- and interpersonal responsibility. Soderberg’s debut, a thoroughly modern family drama, is thoughtful, well executed and lean. It has aged splendidly (though James Spader could use a haircut) and its politically neutral message about desire and satisfaction continues to resonate. If we cannot be whole until we realize what we want and we won’t be satisfied until we get it then there’s bound to be trouble.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
Not enough videotape. This film’s reputation essentially lies in its aid to the breakthrough of American “independent cinema”, which had been happening since John Cassavetes 30 years before and did not need the backing of Miramax, thus I will largely ignore it. As a stand alone piece, the film succeeds at its aims and does some good old fashioned subversion. Its use of incongruity between image and sound to create tension and subtract the prominence of time is particularly intriguing. Solid.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
Here we have the film that put frequent indie/mainstream crossover, powerhouse director Steven Soderbergh on the cinematic map. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect having never seen it and hearing all the hype surrounding it. For some reason I thought there was an NC-17 controversy swirling around its release before finally being given an R rating and was a bit intrigued what could possibly have caused it. To my surprise there was no nudity whatsoever and besides the frequent swearing was much tamer than anticipated. What this film ended up being was an intelligent, witty character piece, driven completely by its dialogue. It isn’t as much the actions of the characters on screen than how they express themselves verbally to each other, and how they look upon themselves. sex, lies, and videotape is a story about people finding out who they really are and seeing how their actions can effect the direction their lives will go.
In order for the dialogue to really drive this story, the acting needed to be perfect, and for the most part it is. At first, Andie MacDowell’s Anne seemed to be horribly acted, expressions with over-amplified and she just didn’t seem natural. As the film continued on though, one discovers that that is the person Anne is. She is self-conscious and always weighing her words before she speaks. I believe she is aware of her own naiveté and therefore seems less intelligent than she is. By the end of the film MacDowell’s was one of my favorite performances in it. Peter Gallagher does sleazy to perfection (he is the bottom two forms of humanity of course), and Laura San Giacomo is wonderful as Cynthia, the acting-out sister of Anne whom everyone deemed perfect as a child. The implosive behavior she exudes is fantastic as she tries to ruin the lives of those that love her, not realizing what the consequences are for her. Also, there is a nice cameo from Steven Brill (writer of the Mighty Ducks trilogy and collaborator with Adam Sandler) as a drunken barfly adding some real effective comic relief. The real break-through, however, is James Spader. He plays Graham with so much innocence and aloofness that you are not quite sure how to take his “hobby” when it is first described. His performance counteracts all the filthy deeds being done by those around him as he tries his best to right wrongs from his past. When the tables are turned and he must finally confront himself, we are treated with the best acting in the movie. The ambush both on the video by MacDowell and by Gallagher during the playing of said video juxtapose perfectly the emotions everyone in this movie feels.
When Graham says that he never could take advice from someone he didn’t know intimately, he meant someone he didn’t have sex with. Through the course of the film, Soderbergh seems to take us on a journey showing that being intimate can occur on levels besides the physical. Graham’s use of video interviews about people’s sex lives allow those people to hear for themselves what they have been doing with their lives. It allows them to really know the atrocities they may have committed and the adulterous ways that may be ruining the lives of those they love. We never do find out what was so horrible in Graham’s youth to make him spend nine years rehabilitating it, (we can guess from the fact he was best friends with Gallagher’s character), but the man he became, the man he wanted to be, was one who cared about the world. He wasn’t a selfish pervert making these tapes for personal use; he made them just as much for those he taped as himself. Graham saw the look in Cynthia’s face when she came to his apartment and knew she was harboring something deep down inside her, beneath the sexuality she hid it with. By letting her express her pain through sex, he allowed her to open up to herself and listen to her conscience. So, maybe Graham is right, maybe he is not giving them advice on an intimate emotional level, but instead they are getting it from the person they are most intimate with in their lives—themselves.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.