3 Featurette - A Conversation with Steven Soderbergh, The Rules, Director's Spy Cam
6 Interviews - In-Character Interviews
Miramax/Buena Vista .
R4 . COLOR . 97 mins .
MA15+ . PAL
Full Frontal is said to be a film for the real movie nuts, while they watch a film within a film about films. Do you get that? Well it just gets more confusing from hereon in. What seems to be an interesting and unique concept just really falls over itself trying to be so artistically hip that the only people who really know what the point is are the select few who made the film.
So what is this concept then? Well, the opening titles state that we’re about to watch a film called Rendezvous, so this is the film within a film bit. This then follows the lives of a select few people, all big-name stars in a low budget film. Steven Soderbergh and Coleman Hough sent out a list of instructions to the wanted cast during the casting process which would be in effect during the filming. These rules are all discussed in one of the extra features, but for those who want to know now, just keep reading.
All sets are practical locations.
You will drive yourself to the set. If you are unable to drive yourself, a driver will pick you up, but you will probably become the subject of ridicule. Either way, you must arrive alone.
There will be no craft service, so you should arrive on set "having had". Meals will vary in quality.
You will pick, provide and maintain your own wardrobe.
You will create and maintain your own hair and makeup.
There will be no trailers. The company will attempt to provide holding areas near a given location, but don't count on it. If you need to be alone a lot, you're pretty much screwed.
Improvisation will be encouraged.
You will be interviewed about your character. This material may end up in the film.
You will be interviewed about the other characters. This material may end up in the finished film.
You will have fun whether you want to or not.
If any of these guidelines are problematic for you, stop reading now and send this screenplay back where it came from.
She's faking it - as if you can sleep on a plane!
Now if you are to make such an oddball film, then you need to make a really extroverted point. Well actually, you need to make any sort of a point, period. This film just waffles around this group of people with story after story, jumping around Hollywood with no real direction or purpose. Now the annoying thing is the jumping between reality and the movie is very confusing, and just makes you sit there and wonder what you missed. But the thing is, you didn’t miss anything.
Blair Underwood and Julia Roberts are paired up for the movie-within-a-movie concept where we see journalist Catherine (Roberts) pegged out for an interview with actor Nicholas (Underwood), where an interesting love plot is discovered. But then suddenly we are thrown out of this movie-plot and see Francesca (Catherine out of character) carry on in real life. Then we see a trio of characters all intertwined with some sexy, sly twist.
Carl (Pierce) and his wife Lee (Keener) are a married couple, but Lee wants out even though Carl doesn’t know yet. Carl, the failed magazine journalist/screenwriter loses a job, but still writes a play starring himself and his wife, as well as making some hash-filled brownies. But things here become terribly fuzzy and unclear, with the line between reality and acting just quickly fading away. Then comes Lee’s sister Linda (McCormack) who is a masseuse by trade and is also known as Ann. She’s looking forward to her trip to Tuscon to meet her Internet “encounter” date, but has a day of work and a party still to attend. But this day she had to massage Bill (Duchovny), an easily aroused rich guest of the hotel, where things don’t exactly go to plan.
So everyone is going to a party – Gus’s 40th birthday, Bill’s real personality. But things don’t go terribly well for Bill, no Gus, and then Soderbergh drives us towards a conclusion, however twisted and confusing the road is. Cameo’s line the production including David Fincher, Brad Pitt and Terrance Stamp, where Soderbergh exhibits his real dry humour, as well as a visually interesting method of showing the “making” of the film. After watching the film twice it still just sits really open, and has some interesting and innovative moments but on the whole just lacks that certain something that really makes anything stand out. Nevertheless, all of the cast give extraordinary performances, from Julia Roberts (who still gets the chance to let out her laugh), Mary McCormack (who just lights up the screen in her performance), David Duchovny (in a sexily different role) as well as powerful performances from David Hyde Pierce and Catherine Keener. So even if the film is a mish-mash, the talent is superb, and made this film a no-brainer to review.
The video is presented in an anamorphically-enhanced widescreen aspect of 1.85:1 and is one of the more comprehensive transfers to review due to its variety of sources and aspects. We have a glimpse of the 2.35:1 aspect, including some creatively different sprocket holes on screen, which just looks fantastic and are something quite different to see. This film is Soderbergh’s first digitally-shot piece, with a large portion of the lengthy sequences being captured on commercial digital camcorders, with the remainder of footage (for particular scenes) captured on professional 35mm stock. We’ll start with the 35mm footage as it is easier and quicker to discuss. These scenes look fantastic. They are literally free from grain and film artefacts too, with no niggly posterisation or compression-related artefacts. This is a fantastic example of how to master 35mm film.
Uh, not that type of massage...
The digital footage, on the other hand, is just terrible to watch, and intentionally so, but still so bad that it’s irritating. Firstly, we have a huge, heavy thick wash of grain covering the image, strange given it is a digital recording. The next is the lack of clarity and detail. Focus lapses occur frequently due to the equipment used to shoot the film, and the clarity of the image is heavily compromised by the consumer-level products. Posterisation occurs frequently and horrendously, with large and ugly examples taking over the screen. Aliasing is another biggie, with some disgusting examples finding their way onto the screen. So now back to the detail, but this time the shadow detail. Shadows are thick and murky, with the image severely lacking edge definition. Blacks come up deep and messy, rather than solid, and just destroy the realism of the colours. Whites are bright, with some back-lighting eating into the details of other images through flaring – a shooting issue, not a transfer issue, but still something to comment on nonetheless. So if you’re after a good example of a digital video transfer, check out Series 7 and be blown away, rather than this artefact-prone transfer.
The English subtitles that have been included are brief, but clear to read, with some phrases totally reworded to shorten their duration.
Pippy Longstocking 25 years later...
The Dolby Digital 5.1 English track is the prime listening option, and is great to listen to but isn’t a great example of the format. Due to the production values of the film, the audio fidelity is very limited, and this is easily heard in the audio track. Surround channels are severely limited to the odd echo effect, and that’s really it. Dialogue is in synch for the entire film, but a slight crackle in the audio can be heard at times, belying the low production values of the film. It would be great to say a little more, but the simplicity of the audio track is said with these few words.
Miramax’s 16:9 menus are simple and clean, with a 35mm film background. Aesthetically the menus are beautiful, with easy and clear navigability. From the extra features page we get access to a heap of informative extra features – some more intriguing than the film itself.
Steven Soderbergh and Coleman Hough’s audio commentary is fantastic in explaining their intentions for the film. This is at times more interesting than the film itself, and a commentary that successfully compliments the film.
"I spit on your film!"
The 16 deleted scenes, which can feature an optional commentary, are a fantastic addition, but were thankfully removed due to pacing. These scenes run for 8:15 in total, or they can also be watched individually. These are Eating Disorder (0:55), Writing Partner (1:02), Masseuse Dream (1:27), Sweet Breath (0:43), Hip-Hop Hitler (1:50), The Letter Doesn't Make Sense (0:57), Dancing With Hitler (0:39), Francesca Gets to Know Sam (0:43), Linda Driving (0:27), Parked Car Scene (0:59), Lee Arrives at Hotel (1:01), Name Dropping (0:18), Batting Average (1:50), Stoned Dog and the Porno Shop (2:47), What's Up, Dog? (1:04) and What Are We Shooting? (0:32). These scenes are presented in a letterboxed format with suitable stereo audio, which is sufficient for what they are.
Six In-Character Interviews have been thrown in which are an interesting inclusion, and something that is really different to watch. These too are presented in a full-frame aspect with stereo audio. The six interviews are Arty/Ed (6:44), Calvin/Nicholas (10:26), Carl (10:17), Francesca/Catherine (9:46), Lee (10:52) and Linda (10:34).
The Director’s Spy Cam runs for 3:10 and features some crappy black and white footage that was shot on set. There's nothing really insightful, nothing informative - just really bad quality.
The Rules featurette runs for 7:28 and explains Steven Soderbergh’s and Coleman Hough’s rules that were distributed with the screenplay. These were discussed above if you’ve already forgotten, so just scroll up a bit for a refresher. So this brief featurette describes what the cast went through for this feature, and why it is the way it is.
The 7:11 Conversation with Steven Soderbergh is like a summary of the commentary, with the director discussing why the film was made and the intentions for the production. So if you’re shy on time, give this a watch instead.
Finally the 1:30 Theatrical Trailer, presented in a 1.33:1 aspect, gives a black comic look to the film, and even makes it look coherent. Hmm, one can only hope...
Full Frontal tries to grab hold of the audience, but just falls a little bit short. The transfer successfully captures the intended tone of the production values, but is nothing impressive. The extra features package is something worthwhile to watch, with some great informative insight. It’s just a pity the film doesn’t hit a bit higher too. It’s like watching your own home movies, but spiked with a bit of sex, drugs and videotapes.