Full Frontal

  • Catherine Keener as a, GASP!, Bull Busting Studio Shrew
  • Erin Brokovich With Road Kill on Her Head
  • Nikki Katt as Hitler


Directed by the Hippest Director in Hollywood!!!!

"You know Julia, turn out the lights and close your eyes, and I am Denzel Washington! "

Pure Drivel

In the mid-90's, Steve Martin was busy at work, not entirely with his Phil Severs impersonation, but as, get this, a writer! As it turns out, he's not that bad! Martin came up with his best screenplay since L.A. Story with Bowfinger—a movie that confirms the glorious spirituality of an arriving Fed Ex truck. For those of us with arrows through our heads, we retained a bit of hope: Since Mixed Nuts, it had been a decidedly mixed bag for Martin. In addition to Bowfinger, Martin penned a series of amusing diversions for The New Yorker, and even a book. If you've yet to pick up Shopgirl, it's a decent parcel of literature about a terminally depressed woman and her sexual insecurity; Martin's controlling image is that of a Prozac-dependent Gen-Xer wasting away at the gloves counter in the corner of a department store. And that's not all! Martin also blessed us with the bizarre, inspired Picasso and the Lapin Agile, in which Pablo discusses life and love with Albert Einstein while waiting on his girlfriend.

But one of my favorite artifacts from the Rabbit Ear Renaissance is an odd little nugget with the disarming title of Pure Drivel. As Martin tells us in the introduction, writing can be lonely work, and sometimes, just to unlock the brain, one needs to release the tension by just letting the insanity pour out-an authorial bleeding, if you will. In the chapter, "Writing Is Easy!" Martin tells us, "Writing is one of the most easy, pain-free, and happy ways to pass the time in all the arts!" Pure Drivel often ventures into the indecipherable, but occasionally finds that sort of genius only found pulled up from muck; as when representatives of Times New Roman font (a "bosomy, sexual font") announce a shortage of periods, Martin, with discipline surpassing the most ardent recycler, composes an entire page employing a single period. Or when Ricky convinces Lucy that he didn't cheat on her with a cabana girl because it was only oral sex (recorded, of course, on Fred's wiretap). I'm not going to say that Pure Drivel is genius, but in some of its better moments, the reader can definitely sense Martin's creative frustration exiting his body through his keyboard (like his meeting with Dolly, editor of American Drivel Review, to whom he explains that he hasn't written drivel, but the idea of drivel). Normally, such things, rightfully so, never see an editor's desk, but in the case of Pure Drivel, there are just enough inspired comedic orphans to warrant an inch or two on the comedy shelf at Barnes and Noble.

The worst of these kinds of "artistic releases" is Steven Soderbergh's Full Frontal, a suffocating piece of pretentious pseudo-art crap that he should have just kept hidden in his closet. Soderbergh, it seems, after a string of hits and Oscars, has come to the conclusion that what he does is somehow dishonest—you know, the whole storytelling gig. So to show us all that he's very sorry for Traffic and Ocean's Eleven and the rest, he's going to torture us by exposing how he manipulates us with those dreaded cinematic techniques such as, say, proper lighting. His strategy is a meta-movie within a movie, within yet another movie—the problem with this, of course, is that none of the movies are at all interesting. Remember the cleverness of the end Robert Altman's The Player, when we realize the movie we just watched hatched from the mind of The Player himself? This is the same sort of deal—kind of, I guess—except that the spiraling stories feel more like a decent into the maelstrom of indie film hell. I know Soderbergh must be close to hell because he pulls a Todd Solondz and censors his own face.

I regret to sort out these various plots, which, purportedly, are connected to each other. Here's a brief report of what happens: David Hyde Pierce is a writer who's lost his mojo, and his wife Catherine Keener—in a daring bit of casting as a ball-busting studio shrew—is leaving him. She's gets drunk and makes an ass out of herself at a party. Nicky Katt acts in a one-act play about repressed homosexuality. He stars as Adolph Hitler. David Duchovny is a big-shot producer who accidentally suffocates himself while trying to get off Michael Hutchence-style. And Blair Underwood and Julia Roberts talk about Hollywood in a film about Hollywood. I think. Some other stuff happens that I didn't care about; what kept me in my seat was predicting who would walk out of theater next—oh look, there goes the guy in the yellow shirt…uh oh, that old couple has had enough! Pretty soon it was just me. Oh, how I felt Soderbergh releasing all over the theater.

Soderbergh films part of the movie on grainy digital—you know, so it looks like sex, lies, and videotape. Somehow, he thinks this makes it look "real." But it doesn't—it looks grainy and out-of-focus. I'm still a fairly young guy, but the world I live in isn't grainy and out-of-focus; it's sharp and clear, like the scenes with Julia Roberts and Blair Underwood. The thing is, Soderbergh films this—the movie within the movie—with all the available cinematic faculties. I guess he means to show us that this is manipulative, and thus, lacking of "truth"—whatever that means. What I don't understand is that the way we see the world, through our eyes, contains natural filters and focusing mechanisms, so does that make what we see "false" because it's not grainy and out-of-focus? When light is captured on film, it has to be exposed in the same way the eye assembles stimuli and sends signals to the brain. Sure, lighting and cinematographic techniques manipulate how we perceive the image, but does the graininess of digital not also manipulate? In short, objectivism is dead, Soderbergh is full of shit, this movie fails because it has no coherent narrative (another devilish manipulation), and Full Frontal is little more than a Dogme 95 film with Julia Roberts looking like a baboon. In other words, as a throwaway metacognitive exercise in artistic release, Full Frontal is pure drivel, but no Pure Drivel.

The Pitch:
2 Schizopolis
Pure Drivel
½ Full Frontal
See It For:
"You say the part calls for a Ball Busting Studio Shrew?!.....I'LL TAKE IT!!!!.