The Limey
Lem Dobbs and Steven Soderbergh, 1999

Out of Sight
Scott Frank, Elmore Leonard, and Steven Soderbergh, 1998
#1, 1998 Skandies

Around the time these movies came out, a guy named Brandon Van Every showed up on the Usenet groups devoted to interactive fiction and scoffed that IF writers shouldn't waste their time writing such small, primitive programs when "There's a whole genre of games like Grim Fandango emerging, master it and make money." Wait, you might object, Grim Fandango had dozens of people working on it full-time for months and months — I'm just a lone hobbyist! Van Every had the solution: "work 1/2 your time as a high-paid consultant, 1/2 your time on your game. Use the consulting fees to fund your game." The interesting thing is that while Van Every was roundly mocked for this blithe response, it's pretty much how Steven Soderbergh has conducted his career. He alternates between high-paying mainstream fare and arthouse curiosities, using the proceeds from the former to fund the latter. Unfortunately, the arthouse films tend to be unbearable and the multiplex flicks tend to be reprehensible.

On the arthouse side, I had previously seen Kafka and The Good German and found them both really unwatchable. Nevertheless, I decided to try The Limey. Here's what Wikipedia says about it: "The film frequently features dialogue and background sound from previous or future scenes juxtaposed with a current scene. Dialogue from one conversation, for instance, may find itself dispersed throughout the film, articulated for the first time long after its chronological moment has passed, as a sort of narrative flashback superimposed over later conversation, to complete a character's thought or punctuate a character's emphasis. Background sound may be disjointed in the film and shifted to enhance another scene by suggesting continuation, similarity, or dissimilarity." Yeah. There'll be a conversation and every sentence will take place in a different locale. Or there'll be a conversation and the characters' lips won't be moving because we're hearing dialogue from hours later while watching the characters silently glare at each other in the present. After forty minutes I couldn't take any more.

On the multiplex side, I had previously seen Ocean's Eleven and found it entertaining but kind of vile. George Clooney plays the leader of a gang of thieves. We're supposed to find him a lovable rogue, but in fact he spends the bulk of the movie stalking a woman; she tells him to leave her alone, but he keeps after her and keeps after her. It's beyond the pale of acceptable conduct and there was no way I could cheer on his successes after that. Out of Sight is more of the same. George Clooney once again plays a thief, and once again we're supposed to find him a lovable rogue. But the movie kicks off with him robbing a bank, and the look on that teller's face — she's sick with fear — turned me irrevocably against his character. You don't do that to people. Same with his sidekick, the Ving Rhames character, who accosts a woman in a parking lot and steals her car. Do that, and any outcome short of imprisonment is unacceptable. But no — he gets away with millions in loot, and the Clooney character gets laid by J-Lo (who goes on to introduce him to a prison escape artist), and Steve Zahn's character (who we've just seen commit murder) gets a free pass as well, and we're supposed to give this a big thumbs-up because they're the good bad guys, so much more sympathetic than Don Cheadle's gang. Sorry, no. It really looks as though Soderbergh considers what these characters have done, which to a great extent boils down to the harassment and terrorization of women, nothing more than puckish mischief. Fuck that.

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