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The Girlfriend Experience Review


Very Good
Soderbergh is in experimental mode with this fractured relationship drama. It's packed with clever touches and sharp observations, but is too dry and repetitive to make us care about the characters.

Chelsea (Grey) is a high-priced call girl in New York, quietly going about her job while her boyfriend Chris (Santos) works as a trainer in an upscale gym.

Both are obsessed with growing their businesses, which causes problems in their otherwise warm, relaxed relationship. This quest for money is also omnipresent in their wealthy clients, and everyone is nervous about the economic slump and imminent 2008 US presidential election. And for Chelsea and Chris, things come to a head when Chelsea starts to fall for a client (Levien).

Continue reading: The Girlfriend Experience Review

The Informant! Review


Excellent
Telling an outrageous true story with humour and irony, Soderbergh crafts an engaging corporate comedy-drama that continually catches us (and the characters) off guard. It's great fun to watch, and has a strongly resonant kick.

Mark Whitacre (Damon) is a high-level executive at ADM, a mega-corporation that supplies corn-related chemicals used in food production. When he notifies his boss (Papa) that the Japanese are plotting to ruin the company, two FBI agents (Bakula and McHale) come to investigate. Then Mark informs them that ADM bosses are involved in a price-fixing scam, offering to work undercover to expose the crimes. Over the next few years, he records key meetings and provides extensive evidence. But something isn't quite right here.

Continue reading: The Informant! Review

The Girlfriend Experience Review


Excellent
As modern American directors go, few are as stylistically quicksilver and urgent as Steven Soderbergh. With the notable exception of his Ocean's trilogy, the director has never fully embraced any one particular style, though he continues to choose subject matter and film vernacular of the most ambitious order. Following his towering four-hour anti-biopic Che, Soderbergh returns now, little less than six months gone, with The Girlfriend Experience, a hyper-indie that casts the dilapidated economy and wavering faith in capitalism through the designer shades of a Manhattan escort.

As plot goes, there isn't very much to speak of. Chelsea (adult film raven Sasha Grey) visits a few johns, hangs out with her personal-trainer boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos), talks to a reporter, and does lunch with a fellow escort. Despite lack of a structure, Soderbergh and screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien do allow for a few salient situations, including a visit with escort critic The Erotic Connoisseur (played by erstwhile Premiere film critic Glenn Kenney) and a botched rendezvous with a client upstate. The focus, however, is on Chelsea herself.

Continue reading: The Girlfriend Experience Review

The Good German Review


Excellent
Those who will hate The Good German will do so not because of its time-appropriate look and technique (more on that in a moment), but because it wants to be a wartime drama stripped of romance -- those movie stars may be standing in the rain next to a plane with its engines running, but this isn't Casablanca. Paul Attanasio's bruiser of a script (based on Joseph Kanon's novel) has all the hallmarks of a classy WWII drama. World-weary reporter Jake Geismer (George Clooney) shows up in Berlin two months after the collapse of the Reich to cover the Potsdam Peace Conference, at which the three Allied powers will carve up Europe like so much pie. His driver, Cpl. Tully (Tobey Maguire, sublimely sleazy), is a big fixer in the thriving local black market, and just so happens to be shacking up with statuesque Berliner Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), an ex-girlfriend of Geismer's who's so far out of Tully's league he should need a passport to get within five hundred yards of her. But, it's Berlin 1945, and a German woman with a shady wartime past is going to sleep with who she has to in order to get out. Geismer can sense a story in all of Brandt's meaningful silences -- that, and the moment when Tully shows up dead in Potsdam with 100,000 marks in his pocket.Romance, murder, corruption, the looming mood of great historical events, The Good German has all the hallmarks of a well-meaning, by-the-books Hollywood period drama. But director Steven Soderbergh is after something else. There's that shockingly brutal sex scene between Tully and Brandt, a couple of nasty back-alley fights that leave nobody looking good, and an overall mood of tired cynicism that doesn't leave much room for heroics. This is Berlin, after all, the heart of evil, in ruins. Hitler has been dead a mere two months, and while the Americans are hunting down Nazis for war crimes, it's already obvious they will look the other way when it comes to rocket scientists. The grand crusade has already been corrupted, and the Americans and Russians are just squatting in the ruined city fighting over the spoils while their soldiers deal in whores and whiskey.More unsettling than the script's cynicism is how it's presented. Soderbergh -- who once worried that the disastrous response to Kafka meant he'd never have a chance to work in black and white again -- not only shot The Good German in black and white, but he did so in the style of the time period. The sound is echoey and occasional poor, the acting somewhat stiff in that studio film manner, while the film itself comes close to mimicking the very appearance of work from the time period. Soderbergh went so far as to dig up old 1940s Panavision camera lenses, and even utilized unused footage shot in a still-bombed-out 1948 Berlin by Billy Wilder for A Foreign Affair. It's a stunning creation, one of the most gorgeously-composed films of recent years, and accomplishing the seemingly impossible: showing that Blanchett actually looks more beautiful in monochrome.While the visual verisimilitude is a shocking contrast with the script's modernity (swear words, a lack of staginess), it quickly makes a great deal of sense as we realize this isn't meant to be a romantic drama, a la Casablanca, it's a noir thriller in the manner of The Third Man. While the script's game of "who's the patsy?" spins about, it also plays with some weightier topics, most importantly the guilt of everyday Germans who may not have had an active role in the war but didn't necessarily do anything to stop it. In 1945, could there be such things as a good German? As Brandt says at one point, "It's very easy to blame everything on the war."Thick with hypocrisy and corruption, the world of The Good German is more that of Graham Greene and a wearied Europe than that of the sun-dazed California dream factory who would continue to mine happy fake fantasies out of the war for decades later. For this it will be hated, though wrongly. Noirs this good don't come along every day, or even every year.Good evening, ladies and germs.

Bubble Review


Bad
Ordinarily, Steven Soderbergh is on par with today's brightest directors. But in his most recent, the low-budget indie Bubble, he's got nothing on his mind but an automaton-like impulse to film and cut images until he's arrived at what feels vaguely like an ending. There is no indication, neither in Coleman Hough's hollow script nor in Soderbergh's minimalist aesthetic, of any thematic inquiry into human nature, behavior, or the interrelationships that generally give stories their essence.

In a non-descript American wasteland, dotted with tract housing and factories, we find the warm, plump-featured Martha (Debbie Doebereiner). When she isn't taking care of her doddering father (Omar Cowan), she's tinkering away at the local doll factory. Her factory co-worker, Kyle (Dustin James Ashley), a dopey, listless teenager, is her only semblance of a friend. But, from the looks of it, Kyle would much rather be smoking a fatty in his bedroom than chitchatting with the quaint and middle-aged Martha.

Continue reading: Bubble Review

Eros Review


Weak
A triptych of short films, all on the subject of eroticism, sounds tantalizing, so it's too bad none of the shorts contained in Eros actually hits its mark. This despite the fact they were separately made by three of the most renowned directors of the past 40 years: Wong Kar Wai, Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni. What they manage in their individual shorts in Eros are but minor variations on themes and aesthetics already well explored in their own full-length films.

Wong Kar Wai's bluntly titled "The Hand" and set in his recurring milieu of early '60s Hong Kong, follows Zhang (Chang Chen), a humble tailor's apprentice, over his years-long infatuation with a beautiful socialite-turned-prostitute, Miss Hua (Gong Li). Kar Wai's treatment is aesthetically fussy, in keeping with his well-known style, but dramatically bland. There simply isn't much at stake here as the timorous Zhang must be content with the, ahem, hand jobs (see title) he receives all too rarely from the object of his infatuation. Now, hand job scenes (even in non-porno cinema) can be extremely erotic because of what they offer and what they only tease at (for a convincer, see the relevant scene in Michael Heneke's otherwise awful The Piano Teacher. Wow!). In any case, the segment's manually operated pseudo-erotica provide the only spike in an otherwise indolent story that never substantially conveys its central concern: Zhang's steady sexual awakening and his unshakeable devotion to an unavailable woman. Still, Kar Wai's fabulously crafted sound and imagery are both par for the course for this director and his world-class cinematographer, Christopher Doyle.

Continue reading: Eros Review

Criminal Review


OK
Argentinian filmmaker Fabian Bielinsky enjoyed a surprise hit in 2002 with his crackling con artist scheme Nine Queens. The intricate thriller about an established crook and his inexperienced protégé moved at such a rapid clip that it left your head swimming with twists until all the facts finally crashed into the table.

Criminal, first-time director Gregory Jacobs' generically-titled attempt at an American remake, performs the cinematic equivalent of the doggie paddle. It takes Bielinsky's well-paced con and changes just enough so that the story no longer makes any sense.

Continue reading: Criminal Review

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Gregory Jacobs Movies

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The Informant! Movie Review

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The Good German Movie Review

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Those who will hate The Good German will do so not because of its time-appropriate...

Bubble Movie Review

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