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Full Frontal

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: R (For Language and Some Sexual Content)

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Starring: David Duchovny, Nicky Katt, Catherine Keener, Mary McCormack, David Hyde Pierece, Julia Roberts, Blair Underwood

Written by: Coleman Hough

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Director Steven Soderbergh and Writer Coleman Hough, Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Writer Coleman Hough, In-Character Interviews, Director's Spy Cam, The Rules, Conversation with Steven Soderbergh, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (30 Scenes)

Released: February 11th, 2003

 

 

After a string of big budget and critical hits such as "Ocean's Eleven" and "Traffic," wunderkind director Steven Soderbergh - who has the wonderful ability to tap so strongly into different kind of filmgoers with a wide variety projects - wanted to get back to his independent roots. Soderbergh conceived the ideals - though didn't write - in what he goes a semi/vague (something to that extent) sequel to the movie which put him on the map, "Sex, Lies & Videotape." The result is "Full Frontal," a somewhat interesting character study of sorts that follows a group of very different people who's lives intertwine. While the film has nothing in common as far as story and characters with Soderberg's breakthrough indie hit, it's an interesting experiment that does have its moments. Sadly though, it does fall short of Soderbergh's usual work.

"Full Frontal" is essentially a film-within-a-film. It kind of plays out like a documentary most of the time, but not exactly. It's about people living in Los Angeles and a day in their own lives, so to speak. There's a married couple where the wife isn't happy while her sister hopes that she found the perfect guy over the Internet and needs to see him. Of course, she needs money and this involves a tempting offer after she is hired to give a massage all while the guy from the Internet isn't who he says he is (of course, that's what makes the Internet so great and controversial). All of these people are connected somehow or another and it all involves how they all get to a birthday party. Interesting, right?

It's hard for me to pinpoint what I didn't exactly like about "Full Frontal." Who knows what Miramax was thinking by giving this film a several hundred theater release when it opened during the summer of 2002, because despite the big name talent, there's not really much that mainstream audiences are going to enjoy. I liked the idea of Soderbergh going back to what shaped him, but while all his major budget films just added to his reputation and made him a director with box office draw, it seems that most of his smaller work (there are a few exceptions) has not been noticed by audiences and has been bashed by critics. 2001 was very good to Soderbergh, but 2002 was not given the critical and commercial failure of "Full Frontal" and his remake of "Solaris" which Fox had no idea to market as it ended up polarizing critics and audiences.

The film was made for around 2 million dollars and was shot in less than 3 weeks. Soderbergh didn't want his talent getting any star treatment, so he did things on the fly and made the whole shooting experience mysterious as the stars didn't get paid much and had to do their own little things (the DVD features some of these "rules" but more on that in the supplements). This is a nice idea and probably was based around an idea to add credibility to the actors to some extent, so it's just too bad the film really doesn't add more credibility to their otherwise strong careers.

The performances are good, but they don't stand out or anything since everyone seems to support everyone else in their own direct and indirect ways. The performances are definitely a strong part to the movie. I found Blair Underwood to be calm and charming, while Julia Roberts is weirdly subdued. I really enjoyed David Hyde Pierce's performance as he struggles with some depressing things in the film, while Catherine Keener does a nice job considering all the quirky and bipolar nutsiness she gets caught up in. Mary McCormack probably gives the best performance as she has conflicts with the ideals of trust, while I had no idea what to exactly make of David Duchovny. Still, Nicky Katt does put on a good show here.

I've said it before and now I'll say it again: I'm a sucker for movies that intertwine characters. But as a whole, I wasn't sure what "Full Frontal" was going for. There are times when the film is downright amusing and funny, but some of the humor is non-sensical and stupid and then somehow it jumps to serious moments. Sometimes it mixes the stupid and the serious, which pretty much confused me. I found it pretty hard to get into the movie, yet it slowly grew on me and as it went on I got into it slightly more. But just when I started to really like something, the movie changed perspectives and lost me.

Coleman Hough, who wrote the script, has a lot of good ideas for this movie. It's just that in where she takes things and how she develops all of it left me in some kind of tizzy. The characters are interesting and do have their own quirks to them, but it's just that she doesn't develop them in a proper manner. And while this story takes place in a short time span, I was just hoping things would be added on to them to make them in a more full form (no pun intended). It seems by making certain things happen to them during the film is supposed to make these characters so great, but it feels lopsided more than anything. The story itself makes some great points about relationships, love, happiness and honesty, but the story itself is so overdone and so uneven is that those messages seem to get lost in the mix. There should have been more links to all the elements of the script.

Though maybe Soderbergh is to blame for this crazy mess. The Blair Underwood and Julia Roberts scenes look very nice since those were shot in true 35mm film, but everything else is on digital video (which seems to be catching on in the world of indie cinema). Filmed scenes = good. Digital video scenes = bad. The video stuff looks like plain crap. I'm sorry, but it does. The annoying zooms, the awkward angles and the terrible lighting. To make matters worse is the editing. The jumps between sheets are not seamless and at times feel like outtakes, almost as if you're watching a rough cut of a student making a short film using iMovie. Yes, digital video is cheap and the indie way now and blablabla... but the sloppy, uninvolving shots tend to get in the way of things.

It's not that "Full Frontal" is a horrendous movie because it's not. It has its moments and there are things to like about it. It's just that it all seems forced, rushed and executed in a lazy manner, which is surprising given how wonderful of a director Steven Soderbergh is. Personally, I don't think the film will grow into anything on the home video market and those who do check it out will probably be turned off by it. It seems that "Full Frontal" was one of those ideas that sounded better on paper than the final result. Yet if you love Soderbergh, experimentation cinema and any of these actors, chances are you'll watch this movie because you're curious. Just don't get your hopes up.

 

The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and this is one transfer that does vary for good reason. There's the filmed portions as I mentioned and then there's the digital video portions (a majority of the movie). The filmed portions look pretty good with nice fleshtones, solid detail and good color saturation. But given that the video portions look like plain shit and make up for most of the movie, then we have a problem. Like one would expected, the video portions are transferred from the actual film print, defeating the whole intimate look and stlye of digital video. The transfers of Chuck & Buck and Tadpole suffer the same exact problem. Can't anyone do this the right way?

But it's more than that. The digital video shots are incredibly grainy, have colors that are quite off-key and everything is just faded or washed out. It's not so pleasant to watch, maybe even nauseating as you combine in the shaky camerawork. On top of all this, the transfer has some edge enhancment, dirt pieces, blemishes and other little instances. The film was sorta made this way... but yeah, it all could have been a bit better.

 

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is decent. This isn't a surround-heavy movie, but when surrounds are used (like the hum of the airplane) then they are pretty good. The film is basically dialogue based. The dialogue does sound clear and not distorted, and yes, you can hear what is going on. There's not much to interfere with all the talking. Subwoofer use doesn't amount too much and fidelity is pretty good. The dynamics are there, but given in what goes in the movie, things are constrained. Still, this track fits the movie nicely and no one should have any complaints, especially since there's not much to say about it. Also included is a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track, English subtitles and English closed captions.

 

Kudos are in order for Disney who are giving "Full Frontal" a pretty packed release despite the film being ripped to shreds by the critics and being a big flop at the box office (even if it was made for cheap). There is an Audio Commentary with Director Steven Soderbergh and Writer Coleman Hough. Despite what you think about the movie, there's no denying that Soderbergh does a good commentary (he always seems to enjoy being accompanied by the writer). He's pretty enthusiastic here and gives some pretty insightful views on the movie and what he wanted to accomplish, and why he shot some things the way he did. There are some nice production stories and information on little details, and despite the stuff Hough says here and there other than complimentary comments, Soderbergh does dominate the commentary. This track is arguably better than the film, and gave me just a little bit more respect for the film and more understanding. Even if you're not so enthralled by the film, this is another quality track from Soderbergh and gives you a feel of how the film was made and a solid understanding of it.

Then we have Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Writer Coleman Hough. There are sixteen scenes here, and unfortunately are in non-anamorphic widescreen and two channel sound. The scenes are completed though and do look quite good, even if they do have the whole video-to-film thing going for it like the DVD transfer itself. Some of these scenes are longer than others and are a bit fluffy, as some of them don't add much new to the characters and over hit the point while others hammer in a few more details. Here, Hough gives her input on the scenes. She usually doesn't say much or even offers some details on why they were cut, but her comments most of the time help us to get to know more of the characters and what she was going for.

There are six In-Character Interviews: "Arty/Ed," "Calvin/Nicholas," "Carl," "Francesca/Catherine," "Lee" and "Linda." Presented in full screen, these are pretty entertaining and give the characters some room to explain themselves more as far as who they are and what they are looking for. I would have loved if more bits of this stuff was put in the final film, because it's quite effective and more layers are just added on to these characters, stuff that's not exactly covered within the context of the actual movie. Some people might enjoy these and others might not, but in total, you get around a solid hour of interviews. Cool stuff if you ask me.

Director's Spy Cam lasts about three minutes and is just hidden camera footage of the actors prepping and the crew doing stuff. It's amusing for the most part and gives some feel of being on the actual set. The Rules has some on-the-set footage, interviews with Soderberg, Underwood, Pierce, Roberts, McCormack, Keener and Katt. Here Soderbergh and the actors explain the special rules of the actors driving themselves, having their own lunches, etc. and the effects and what it did to the actors (I found that interesting). There's also some talk about the character interviews and working with Soderbergh. It's a bit promotional, but certainly it's a nice seven-and-a-half minutes to watch if you ask me.

Conversation with Steven Soderbergh is a seven minute full frame interview with the director as he talks about the process of brainstorming the idea of the movie and how things mapped out. There are no clips here from the movie or any on the set footage. It's just Soderbergh talking for the whole time. It's actually quite interesting and sorta overlaps what he says on the commentary. He talks about his vision for the movie, debates shooting on film and digital video and gives a whole bunch of insights on the themes, the actors, characters and what he wanted to get out of making a cheap film. It's nice to hear that Soderbergh did get what he wanted out of making this movie and it came out just as he wanted. Simpy put, Soderbergh is basically a one-man film school. Just listen to him for any moment and you'll be sure to get something out of it.

Also included in full frame and two channel sound is the original Theatrical Trailer.

 

It sounds like I really hated "Full Frontal" but it isn't that bad... yet I don't think there is a "right" audience for this movie and is sure to leave many perplexed. The film does good, but it's just one of those films with stronger potential than actual execution. The transfer really doesn't reflect the movie, the sound mix is decent but the extras don't disappoint and help compensate for the package. The list price will be a turn-off to some, but if you're intrigued by the film then it's worth a rental.