Side Effects Review (Dustin SanVido)

Side Effects Poster

Side Effects (2013)

Starring Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum

Written by Scott Burns

Music by Tomas Newman

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh has been one of the most, if not the most prolific director of the last two decades. Although I’m not a particularly big fan of his work there is no debate as to the fact he is one of the most driven filmmakers in Hollywood. He’s successfully walked a fine line between appeasing general audiences with such mainstream fare as the Ocean’s trilogy, Magic Mike and Contagion while also pushing his independent artistic envelope with experimental works such as Bubble, Full Frontal and The Girlfriend Experience. Soderbergh recently stated his intention to retire from filmmaking after his latest works, his Liberace biopic for HBO “Behind the Candelabra” and the pharmaceutical thriller Side Effects.  With Side Effects being Soderbergh’s supposed swansong, he has crafted an engaging dramatic mystery that wears its Hitchcockian-inspired visuals and narrative proudly on its sleeve while also reminding the audience that few filmmakers today can make psychological thrillers as effective as he can.

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It’s difficult to talk about the narrative in Side Effects without spoiling the many twists and turns found within so I will attempt to be brief. The film begins as Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is awaiting the release of her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) from prison after serving a four year sentence for insider trading. Upon his release, Emily begins suffering from depression and begins treatment from Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a psychiatrist who introduces Emily to a series of prescription drugs to cope with her illness. As Emily’s world begins to unravel from within, Dr. Banks prescribes a new drug after consulting with Emily’s prior doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones) which leads to unexpected side effects that will change the lives of all involved.

Side Effects never reveals what film it’s trying to be until the last act. Is it a medical/crime drama, a moody character piece, or weighty message drama that screams Pharma-companies are bad? The answer is none of the above, which may lead some viewers to wrongly interpret Side Effects as a muddled who-dun-it that doesn’t really know what it wants to be. I believe this was Soderbergh’s intention as he didn’t want to make a simple mystery film, but one that lets the viewer experience the narrative as his protagonist does. Disguising the film thematically allowed him to surprise the audience with many shocking moments that seemingly come out of left field but ultimately link up to create a taut and effective mystery thriller.

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As with his previous works, Soderbergh gets every ounce of talent out of the actors involved, with Jude Law being the most effective. His Dr. Banks is a character that you would find in the kind of films Soderbergh is emulating. At first he is merely a supporting character who eventually discovers things are not entirely as they seem. Law is convincing and has no trouble changing gears between accentuating the performances of his co-stars to outright grabbing the focus of the film in the second act as his professional and personal life begin to crumble. Rooney Mara once again demonstrates why she was chosen to Americanize the character of Lizbeth Salendar in the remake of The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo. Her ability to transition seamlessly from emotion to emotion in the same scene is a rare talent that is used effectively in her dramatic moments with Tatum and Law. That being said, Tatum and Zeta-Jones are fine in their respective roles and make the most of what is called for, but since Side Effects is centrally focused on Emily and Dr. Banks, the secondary roles are by nature forgettable.

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Like his previous works, there is an intentional plainness to the look of Side Effects with the exception of a few visual cues that harken back to the old noir films of the 50’s and 60’s. This is ever present in the beginning as a slow moving pan through a condo instantly establishes atmospheric tension that remains for nearly the film’s entire running time. Unbeknownst to most casual viewers is the fact that Steven Soderbergh shoots and edits his own films under a pair of pseudonyms, which is of course why his features all have a distinct feel. Also, the minimalist approach taken by Thomas Newman’s score effectively maintains the visual rhythm without taking attention away from the narrative or performances.

Side Effects is an effective mystery that slowly pulls its viewer in and rewards their patience and should be a delight for Hitchcock fans and lovers of old crime/noir stories. It’s fair to say that Soderbergh has made superior films, but should not be a deterrent to seeing Side Effects. If anything, you may be watching a masterful filmmaker engage your cinematic intelligence for one last time.

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Magic Mike Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Magic Mike (2012)

Starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, and Olivia Munn

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Andy Richter, in an episode of the Conan O’Brien show, had a valid criticism on Magic Mike – where’s the gay content? One of the actors playing a male stripper, Matt Bomer, is gay, but 100 of the characters ogling him are women. But then again this is not a club within a main street in a large city with an equally large gay population that is most likely to be the target audiences of Club Xquisite. This is a smaller city – Tampa, Florida – and a healthy Google and yelp search would show where the movie’s leading actor and script consultant Channing Tatum, playing the titular Mike, did his stripping in what which looks like a ‘ladies night’ kind of venue. And men who I assume are straight have no problem going to the venue a day before or fifteen minutes before ladies night.

Then again we’re wired to assume that all (sexual) gaze is male and all money (for sexual purposes) is male. However, as we can see, hordes of tiara-wearing bachelorettes are willing to offer their hard earned dollar bills to these men. The movie subverts the gender expectations of who provides for whom not only in a sexual way but also in a fraternal way. Fellow Tampa resident Brooke (Cody Horn) lets her brother Adam (Alex Pettyfer, in a scarily accurate performance as a young bearded American slacker) sleep on her couch before he eventually becomes Mike’s protegee.

But let’s go back to the sexual notions. After Brooke shows moral support for Adam at his new job, she almost leaves until she gets glued to Mike performing to a Ginuwine song, dancing until his oversized thick hoodie and equally oversized sweatpants come off to reveal a svelte body. Horn pulls a great performance in this scene, her stoicism lets us, her audience, project layers of emotion and gender assumptions onto her. She’s disgusted, thinks this is beneath her, is eventually turned on yet almost doesn’t allow herself that same voyeurism that other women in the room are experiencing.

Magic Mike celebrates Tatum’s body as well as providing a critique that most moviegoers only see Tatum – and other men maligned as troglodytes – as a body. Most of the routines involve him as the titular Mike slinking towards the young women in Xquisite. One of the said routines is the Ginuwine routine, dancing to a song that’s as universally deemed as sexy as he is. His hoodie and sweatpants can’t hide what’s underneath. It’s the way he carries himself, Tatum fleshing out a virtuoso performance as himself.

But this quality of letting people know what he looks like naked even if he’s fully clothed might not be such a good thing. A scene in the movie’s second half opens with the camera looking over Mike’s uber-muscular shoulder, dressed in an expensive suit that looks like it got shrunk in its temporary stay at the dry cleaners. He takes out a big stack of American bills and gets ready for a meeting with someone who might be able to give him a loan for his furniture business. What ensues, despite the meeting’s early promise, is a less sadistic but equally heartbreaking version the Aileen Wuornos’ job interview scene in Monster. He can’t have a loan because his credit rating is too low, if not nonexistent, because he prefers to do his transactions through cash. I felt like admonishing him across the screen, but then again he might not have gone to a college where credit companies peddle themselves to the students, or that his job stops him from being approved to get credit.

Mike can get his iPhone and his house through cash but not a loan to expand his business, and he has to choose between staying with the comfortable life that he has now or forging a more legitimate path, as difficult as it is. This movie, despite its flaws, capably portrays the hurdles within a well-deconstructed and criticized notion of the American dream as well as showing us what Joe Manganiello’s penis looks like inside a pump.

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ChickFlicking – The Vow Review (Nadia Sandhu)

The Vow (2011)

Starring Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill, and Jessica Lange

Directed by Michael Sucsy

New on DVD/Blu-ray is The Vow, which grossed $125 million at the box office earlier this year- almost double the take of The Lucky One.

The central romantic conflict of this film is grounded in real events, so no need for contrivance here.  The marriage of real-life couple Kim and Krickitt Carpenter survived her brain trauma and memory loss after a horrific car accident, and fictional couple Leo (Channing Tatum) and Paige (Rachel McAdams) are no different.

The Vow is also cleverly written. The dialogue is witty and sincere, the melodrama is minimal and the love story is genuine.  The main characters are well fleshed out, and we can’t help but root for the couple and hope for a romance driven deus ex machina to save the day and return Paige’s memory at the film’s climax.

McAdams, as Paige, is at her radiant best and while the jury is out on Tatum’s acting talent, his broad-shouldered- aw-shucks- ma’am appeal and limited range really work to his advantage here.  Tatum sells Leo’s steadfast faith in their marriage and the simple, straight forward devotion that guides his reactions to Paige, the accident and the amnesia.  You really feel for the guy, and the chemistry between the leads is so convincing  that I found myself actively rooting for them.  Scott Speedman distractions be damned.

Other critics criticized The Vow for being light and frothy, but the film is an endearing testament that sometimes, even in real life,  true love does conquer all. And that makes The Vow a top-notch chick flick in my books.

Emotional Investment 4     Authenticity 5     Chemistry 3.5     Contrivance 0

Haywire Review

Steven Soderbergh’s latest film Haywire is clearly a vehicle for MMA star Gina Carano’s entrance into the world of action films. As far as action stars go, Carano seems to fit the bill. She’s quick, strong, charismatic, and attractive. She can also roundhouse a bad guy in the face with tremendous ferocity, or if the fight goes to the ground, she has a handful of submission moves to make her opponent look like an oversized rag-doll. Add to this an all-star cast featuring the likes of Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, and Antonio Banderas, and you would think that Haywire would be a certain success. Unfortunately this is not the case, as Haywire stumbles out of the gates and never even approaches an entertaining action movie, let alone a coherent narrative.

Carano’s debut into the world of features films can be viewed as a success if isolated from the rest of Haywire. Her acting and dialogue delivery may need some work, but her coquettish facial expressions mixed with her volcanic fighting ability make her an interesting action star, not simply a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out. In addition to Carano’s onscreen presence, the fight scenes are often fairly good, especially one with Fassbender in which Carano’s strikes appear to be absolutely bone-crunching. However, these positives are too few and far between given that the script appears to have been written by a dozen monkeys randomly banging away at a keyboard.

I may be exaggerating regarding the script, but only slightly. Haywire should have been a no-brainer. A film that audiences could walk into and lose themselves in the action for ninety minutes. Unfortunately, Haywire thinks it’s an intelligent action movie, but it is anything but. Constant location changes (Dublin, Barcelona, USA) and relentless references to off screen characters (Rodrigo, Kenneth, Paul), imply that quantity is equivalent to an intelligent plot, but the complexity turns out to be simply boring and confusing. At no point does Haywire even come close to a coherent narrative. I don’t even feel like getting into the incredibly ineffective Jazz soundtrack or the snail like pace created by Soderbergh. For me, if a film doesn’t even attempt to have an interesting story, then I am not interested in the other details, they are simply incidental.

 

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