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Steven Soderbergh
Blair Underwood, Julia Roberts, David Hyde Pierce, Catherine Keener, Mary McCormack, Enrico Colantoni
Writing Credits:
Coleman Hough

Everybody Needs A Release
Box Office:
Budget $2 million.
Opening weekend $739,834 on 208 screens.
Domestic gross $2.506 million.
Rated R for language and some sexual content.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Digital Stereo

Runtime: 101 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 2/11/2003

• Feature Commentary With Director And Screenwriter
• Deleted Scenes With Optional Screenwriter Commentary
• In-Character Interviews
• Director's Spy Cam
• The Rules
• Conversation With Steven Soderbergh
• Theatrical Trailer


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Full Frontal (2002)

Reviewed by David Williams (March 4, 2003)

Full Frontal is an experimental project from director Steven Soderbergh, the man behind some of my all-time favorite films - Out of Sight, The Limey, Traffic, and Ocean’s Eleven - and in his latest project, he’s assembled another group of fine talent – and told them to check their movie star attitudes at the door. One of the few people to compete against himself for an Oscar (Traffic beating out Erin Brokovich), Soderbergh has presented his actors with an improvisational and wide-open script that deals with somewhat of a self-pitying day in the life of Hollywierd.

In some of the DVD extras, Soderbergh admits that after Ocean’s Eleven, he wanted to go back and do a small, low-budget, independent film. He states that he sold the project to Harvey Weinstein at Miramax as an unrelated, but updated version of what he would have done with sex, lies, and videotape given the advantage of hindsight. However, outside of Erin Brokovich and Ocean’s Eleven, Soderbergh has never really tried to be mainstream and Full Frontal just reinforces the fact that he enjoys swimming against the current most of the time.

The non-linear film was shot was over the course of 18 days using mainly a Canon handheld digital camera and stars actors who have a close relationship with the director and who all agreed to some rather unusual demands – no make-up/hair stylist, no individual trailers for the stars, no wardrobe would be provided, cameras would be on constantly with or without their knowledge and the resulting footage may or may not be used in the film, nopersonal drivers, and so on. The script, from Coleman Hough, seems to have been a bit unusual as well as the actors were told that improvisation would be welcome – and more or less required. While these demands may seem a bit odd and only in place to create some sort of artsy-fartsy environment, at the end of the day, Full Frontal wasn’t necessarily meant to be profound or deeply philosophical – in fact, it’s quite funny at times and requires somewhat of an open mind to follow, as the story is presented as a movie within a movie within a movie.

The story tales place over a 24-hour period in Hollywood and follows a group of people who are in one way or the other connected to a producer named Gus (David Duchovny). The group has been invited to his 40th birthday party and we spend a day following these people before the bash. Francesca (Julia Roberts) plays an actress who is playing a entertainment reporter in a movie about the making of a movie. In the make-believe film that serves as an interracial love story, Rendezvous (being produced by the aforementioned Gus), she’s interviewing an emerging film star, played by a gentleman named Calvin (Blair Underwood).

We then meet Carl (David Hyde Pierce), an unsuccessful and recently fired journalist who just so happened to write the screenplay for Rendezvous and has no idea that his wife, Lee (Catherine Keener) is bumping uglies with the aforementioned Calvin. Lee works for a major corporation that is currently doing some major downsizing and in her position of HR director, she seems to enjoy emotionally abusing employees while interviewing them as potential candidates for being laid off. Lee is disturbed by the fact that her massage-therapist sister, Linda (Mary McCormack), is planning on hooking up with a guy she met over the Internet. The guy in question is Arty (Enrico Colantoni) – the co-screenwriter of Rendezvous who’s now working on a play entitled “The Sound and the Fuehrer”. The play stars a very volatile and moody Hitler (Nicky Katt in a hilarious role) as its lead. Soderbergh masterfully revels the connections slowly and manages to keep us guessing somewhat while the plot lines gradually develop. I’ve revealed enough of the story as it is, so I’ll leave it up to you to determine whether or not you’re interested in finding out why the relational connections are important and what volatile situation they might produce. But, according to the box, before the night is over, relationships are tested, hearts are broken, and passions are renewed.

Performances are strong all the way around, as Underwood and Roberts are able to differentiate and separate two very specific performances - meaning they act differently while they’re starring in Rendezvous versus just being “themselves” in “real life”. Catherine Keener turns in a masterful performance – again – and Pierce does an excellent job of portraying a rather pathetic and very persnickety journalist/screenwriter. Also, as part of this amazing ensemble, look closely for cameos by Brad Pitt and David Fincher as they show up to do a send up of Seven, as well as a hilarious appearance by Terrance Stamp who’s seen re-enacting a snippet of a scene from the marvelous Soderbergh flick he starred in, The Limey.

At times, the story can be quite erratic and things seem to be going in a few too many directions. The project can admittedly feel like an overly long exercise more so than a film. Even so, it was an enjoyable change of pace from my regular diet of Hollywood films and I’ll count myself in the minority of people who think that Full Frontal was a worthwhile endeavor. Beneath it all, the film is a somewhat unconventional story about seemingly dissimilar characters who are connected in somewhat unusual ways. (Makes sense, right?!?)

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio C+ / Bonus B-

Full Frontal is an interesting film and it plays as two films wrapped up in to one. Therefore, the image quality and differences between the two is fairly distinct. The film goes from looking pretty “normal”, to looking intentionally dirty, gritty, and grainy. Miramax presents the film in an anamorphically enhanced transfer in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

The quarter of the film that’s supposed to look like a major motion picture (Rendezvous) looks just like that – a major studio project – and everything in this section was detailed, sharp, nicely colored and contrasted. Quite simply, all around very strong in its presentation. The remainder of the film is intentionally slapdash and careless and contains many moments that are blurry, washed-out, smeared, and very grainy. The two sections are polar opposites of each other and you won’t have any problems discerning what’s what while watching the film.

Issues with the print were minor and it was hard to find fault with the portions of the film that were supposed to look good. The intentionally bad portions were meant to be that way, so I don’t feel I should fault Miramax for maintaining Soderbergh’s intention. However, I did notice some edge enhancement on occasion, as well as a bit of shimmer and a few flakes and flecks scattered about. All in all though, Miramax has done a great job.

As you may have discerned from the way the film was made, with the majority of it being shot on a handheld digital camera, there’s not much use for Miramax’s provided Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. And while it’s nice that Miramax has provided the 5.1 track, there’s not much activity going on in the film other than dialogue and therefore, the potential for the track is never fully realized.

The mix does nothing more than offer up dialogue to the viewer and in that respect, it’s quite successful. Everything is crisp, clean, and easily understood and hangs around in the front channels throughout Full Frontal. However, the audio picks up a little during the portions of the “film within a film”, although it’s nothing to write home about. At the end of the day, the audio transfer for the film gets the job done and not much more. However, considering the type of project this is, it’s definitely what was intended.

Miramax has also included a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track, as well as subtitles in English.

Miramax has provided some decent extras for Full Frontal, with some being fairly interesting. However, things start off rather generically, as the first supplement we run across is the film’s Theatrical Trailer presented in fullscreen and Dolby Surround 2.0.

Next up is a Feature Commentary with Director Steven Soderbergh and Screenwriter Coleman Hough. As many of you know, Soderbergh has been doing DVD commentaries for years and always does a marvelous job of providing interesting and engaging commentaries for his films. The commentary for Full Frontal is no different and while the track isn’t as engaging as some of the other commentaries I’ve heard from him, it’s still quite insightful, as he and Hough work well together in covering many aspects in relation to making the film. We learn a lot about the 18 day shoot, what it was like working with the actors on the film, production issues involved with the fluid schedule and location shoots, and so on. Hough pipes up from time to time, but isn’t quite as insightful as others that Soderbergh has shared his commentary time with. Ultimately, this was a very good commentary, but a few notches short of being great. Even so, fans of Soderbergh and of Full Frontal will enjoy it immensely.

Deleted Scenes (16:56) follow and it includes multiple selections for us to view which include “Eating Disorder”, “Writing Partner”, “Dreaming Masseuse”, “Sweet Breath”, “Hip-Hop Hitler”, “The Letter Doesn’t Make Sense”, “Dancing With Hitler”, “Francesca Gets To Know Sam”, “Linda Driving”, “Parked Car Scene”, “Lee Arrives at Hotel”, “Name Dropping”, “Batting Average”, “Stoned Dog and the Porno Shop”, “What’s Up, Dog?”, and “What Are We Shooting?”. We also have the option of watching the scenes with or without commentary from screenwriter Coleman Hough and Miramax has also provided a handy –PLAY ALL- feature for the scenes as well. Throughout the scenes, there are some nice moments to be found, but there’s nothing earth shattering here that would have added a whole lot to the film as a whole. Hough’s commentary is helpful and quite good at giving some history behind the particular scenes, as well as some generic insight into where it all fits. Good stuff here and good information provided from Hough as well.

Next up are the very interesting In-Character Interviews and again, we have multiple sub-selections to choose from: “Arty/Ed” (6:46), “Calvin/Nicholas” (10:23), “Carl” (10:15), “Francesca/Catherine” (9:44), “Lee” (10:50), and “Linda” (10:32). The footage is very grainy, amateurish, and off-the-cuff and offers some decent insight into the method acting that was required in order to participate in this project. The cast members were interviewed and were required to answer questions and/or give monologues while in character. There’s some pretty decent stuff included here and it’s worth the time investment involved in checking it out.

The Director’s Spy Cam (3:09) is nothing more than crappy footage from Soderbergh’s “spy cam”, with accompanying audio. Those being filmed had no idea they were on camera, but there’s really nothing groundbreaking or remotely interesting included here.

The Rules (7:27) are next and Soderbergh introduces the project to us somewhat and tells us that the free-form nature of the film was going to require actors to go with the flow and leave their attitudes at the door. The cast members were interviewed in this supplement as well and offered up their thoughts on “the rules” and what it was like working on this very inventive and unusual project. Here are the rules if you’re interested:

If you are an actor considering a role in this film, please note the following:

1. All sets are practical locations.
2. You will drive yourself to the set. If you are unable to drive yourself to the set, a driver will pick you up, but you will probably become the subject of ridicule. Either way, you must arrive alone.
3.There will be no craft service, so you should arrive on set “having had”. Meals will vary in quality.
4. You will pick, provide and maintain your own wardrobe.
5. You will create and maintain your own hair and makeup.
6. There will be no trailers. The company will attempt to provide holding areas near a given location, but don't count on it.
7. Improvisation will be encouraged.
8. You will be interviewed about your character. This material may end up in the finished film.
9. You will be interviewed about other characters. This material may end up in the finished film.
10. 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.

Last up is A Conversation with Steven Soderbergh (7:09). Soderbergh claims that he felt after making something as large and as gaudily entertaining as Ocean’s Eleven, he needed some balance and he found that with the Full Frontal project. He also covers how he pitched the project to Miramax, how the story came about and evolved over time, how the cast came together (with some interesting tidbits on David Duchovny and David Hyde Pierce), and how he went about shooting the footage with the hand-held consumer camera he used. There’s some really nice stuff here and this interview is well worth a look.

Not a ton of extras, but what’s here supplements the film well. Fans of Full Frontal will really enjoy what Miramax has decided on include on the DVD that accompanies the film.

This is a major departure from Soderbergh’s other, more fan-friendly projects and a lot of folks will find themselves turned off by this seemingly vain experimental project for Soderbergh and the actors involved. However, defying standard Hollywood customs and practices isn’t always a bad thing and I really enjoyed a lot about Full Frontal. The film was roundly ignored at the box office and probably didn’t have folks lining up to pick it up on street date either. Even so, I’d recommend a rental for those of you slightly intrigued by the film and for those who saw it and enjoyed it in theaters, by all means, pick up a copy, it’s got some great extras to supplement this intriguing and slightly off-the-wall film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.625 Stars Number of Votes: 8
2 3:
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