Full Frontal

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Full Frontal

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Full Frontal

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The term "movie movie" may accurately describe a film about film, but it doesn't quite fit Full Frontal. "Movie5" might work better. To choose a single point of entry to this rabbit-hole of a film directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by playwright Coleman Hough: Blair Underwood plays an actor starring in a film-within-the-film called Rendezvous. In Rendezvous, he conducts an interview about acting with a reporter played by Julia Roberts, who plays an actress in the film, but not the film within the film. At one point, Underwood and Roberts visit the set of his Rendezvous character's current project, a buddy-cop movie co-starring Brad Pitt. At another, Underwood delivers a monologue about the current lot of black actors, touching on, among other topics, the chaste relationships enjoyed by Denzel Washington in films like The Pelican Brief. And so on, as a handful of characters simultaneously spend a day preparing for an exclusive party in celebration of producer David Duchovny's 40th birthday, and chipping at the walls between one film and another, and between film and the rest of us. Almost everyone in Full Frontal plays at least a double role, even those who have little to do with Rendezvous. For example, Catherine Keener's massage-therapist sister (Mary McCormack) gives her clients a false name, one different than the false name she uses to chat with local playwright Enrico Colantoni on the Internet. The film has a split personality, as well: Its Rendezvous segments are beautifully shot on film, while the rest of it was seemingly shot with the nastiest digital-video equipment available. Soderbergh uses DV's limitations to good effect, flooding the screen with single colors and finding in its limited resolution a fine visual correlative for all the blurry lives and obscured identities, the perfect form of videotape to suggest an abundance of sex and lies. Within the past five years, Soderbergh has made six films, with a seventh due in a few months. Appropriately, Full Frontal is the sort of movie made by someone addicted to making movies, a head-spinning circular journey through reflections and representations that almost invites the creation of an obsessive web site to pick it apart. (It takes pretzel logic to explain either of Terence Stamp's two cameos, for example.) Making the kind of insider Hollywood film that only Hollywood outsiders could make, Soderbergh and Hough never mistake easy jokes and shorthand references for cleverness. Shooting mostly guerrilla style, an eager-and-able cast loads Full Frontal with digressions and off-the-cuff oddness. In the Dogme 95-style rules Soderbergh laid out before making the film, he promised improvisational opportunities for those who would forgo such niceties as trailers and catering, but the fact that Full Frontal comes together so well removes any doubt that anyone other than a master filmmaker is pulling the strings. In the process, the human element occasionally gets lost (or, more accurately, picked up and abandoned as needed). But that only matters once the initial rush of the past-daring meta-meta-film wears off—if, in this kind of pocket universe, it matters at all.

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