Independent's Day (1998)

Is Steven Soderbergh getting the total package?

In the horribly formulaic 1986 Ivan Reitman comedy Legal Eagles, Robert Redford's character, a cocksure district attorney, nails Daryl Hannah early in the film but ends up falling for Debra Winger in a predictable romantic triumph of brains over bangs. Debra Winger's still pretty cute, though -- in essence, the total package.

Jules Asner, who hosts an interview show on the starfucking E! channel, is very, very cute. Actually, she's a five-foot-ten ex-model, which probably qualifies her as hot -- or en fuego. Judging from the "questions" she asks of her celebrity guests, she is not, however, very smart.

Asner's husband, director Steven Soderbergh, makes extremely intelligent films. His Sex, Lies & Videotape more or less put Redford's Sundance Film Festival on the map in 1989, so it's fitting that Soderbergh gets more screen time than other indie-cinema luminaries in this brisk documentary about the commercial explosion of the Park City fest and its tongue-in-cheek spawn (Slamdance, Slumdance, Scumpants, et al.).

What's most striking about Independent's Day is not its probing look at the dynamics of bringing independent films to large audiences, but rather how physically unappealing Steven Soderbergh is. With his peanut-shaped skull and rodentlike visage, Soderbergh resembles a homeless man's Michael Bolton, minus the mane. But in Hollywood, really ugly dudes with serious bona fides get really hot chicks like Jules Asner with impressive regularity.

Nowadays, thanks in large part to George Clooney, Soderbergh has the wallet to match his formidable brainpower. Which raises the question: Shouldn't Soderbergh have held out for the total package? Redford would likely say yes. But then, when the Sundance founder spits on his film festival by making terrible films like Legal Eagles, is his opinion really to be trusted? Jules Asner hopes not.

Each week the author treks to the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, where a staff member blindfolds him and escorts him to the movie shelves. After selecting a film at random, Seely checks it out and reviews it.

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