FlixChatter Review: Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects

SideEffectsPoster

This supposedly Steven Soderbergh‘s last feature film wasn’t even on my radar, in fact I just saw the trailer the day of the screening a couple of weeks ago. I’m glad I didn’t know anything about this movie and I think the less you read or watch about it the better. In fact, when I went to the screening, the press associate said the studio won’t allow anyone to be admitted to the theater once the film has begun, saying that the opening scene is so key to the plot that showing up late would surely lessen the viewing experience for the viewer.

The opening scene takes place in what looks to be a luxury apartment in Manhattan, belonging to a well-to-do couple Emily (Rooney Mara) and Martin (Channing Tatum). Emily’s husband has just gotten out of jail where he spent a four-year term for insider trading. She should be overjoyed, right? But instead she’s afflicted with recurring bout of depression and suicidal behavior. The doctor who ends up treating her, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), proceeds to prescribe her an anti-depressant. But when a regular drug isn’t enough, he gives her a new one that just came out in the market called Ablixa, suggested by Emily’s former shrink, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The drug perks Emily up for a while — much to the delight of her husband – but then the drug’s supposed side effect ends up creating more problems than its worth.

At least that’s what Soderbergh wants you to think. When people first saw the trailer or even reading the premise involving a pharmaceutical corporation, they might immediately think of Contagion (which was also written by Scott Z. Burns). Other than the medical-related theme, it can’t be more dissimilar. Soderbergh is known for experimenting on his projects and this one is no different.

As the story progresses, we realize more and more that everyone and everything are not who/what they seem. The character focus alternates between Emily and Dr. Banks, who apparently has some issues on his own and a past incident that catches up with him. The narrative pretty much shifts from being a character study to a whodunnit Hitchcockian thriller laden with plot twists. I find the first act to be much more intriguing, but its um, potency kind of wears off in the second act, recovered slightly in the third though the lurid twist is a bit eye-roll inducing.

SideEffectsMovieStills

I think Side Effects is a deftly-constructed thriller, it’s packed with clever camera work, shrewd acting and appropriately moody atmosphere (thanks largely to Thomas Newman‘s ominous score). Yet somehow the film fails to engage me. Not to mention the lack of emotional connection with any of the characters, made worse by the decidedly morose and unsettling tone of the entire film. A few commenters in the Five for the Fifth post pointed out how some Soderbergh’s films are emotionally-cold, and this one is a perfect example. There is not a single character that I can truly empathize with, maybe Banks’ wife (played by the underrated Vinessa Shaw), who has to put up with her husband’s antics. By the end I feel that they get what they deserve, if only they happen much sooner.

We’ve got another killer heroine from Soderbergh. Instead of the bad-ass action hero in Haywire, this time we’ve got a slightly more rounded character — and more unhinged – but still equally detached. Performance-wise, I think Mara was given the most material to work with and she’s able to tackle the contrasting personalities her character requires. I’ve only seen her in The Social Network, which was brief but memorable. She’s definitely a gifted performer and her glacial aura is put to good use here. Her blank expression suggest there’s something lurking, enhancing the chilling effect. At the same time, her lack of warmth makes it impossible to root for her. Jude Law is pretty good here as he’s the co-lead of the film, a much more sympathetic character despite his flaws. I must say that Law doesn’t have quite have that star quality so when the narrative is focused on him, he doesn’t exactly lights up the screen. All I could say for Zeta-Jones is that perhaps she’s inspired by her husband’s choice of role in his next film when she signed up for this role.

Final Thoughts: Unpredictable? Perhaps. Absorbing? Not really.

Despite the roller-coaster ride that Soderbergh set up for the viewers, this film left me rather underwhelmed. I glanced at my watch a few times as I was watching it, which is never a good sign. I didn’t see some of the twists coming but yet when it happened, I wasn’t all that surprised either. The revelation itself seemed a little too neat that it doesn’t quite pack a punch. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a decent thriller, but it doesn’t leave a level of greatness I expect from Burns and Soderbergh pairing.

Judging from the reaction about his pending retirement, I know a lot of people are disappointed by that and wish the director would stay around. Well pardon me for being indifferent.

3 out of 5 reels

As Tyson has eloquently put in his A Call To Arms post, would you be so kind as to use one of the share buttons below to share my post? I’d sincerely appreciate it. Share… it’s what makes the blogs go around :D


Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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Playing for Keeps Review… (a.k.a. my Open Letter to Gerry Butler)

[sigh] I didn’t really want to write this letter. Not only because I had done it once before when The Bounty Hunter came out, but I was quite anticipating Playing For Keeps for a while. I was thrilled when I got and advanced screening invite on the same day as The Hobbit (yay!) right before I left for vacation.

I saw The Hobbit first which I loved, and a few hours later, I went to another cinema to see Playing For Keeps with my girlfriend Becky (aka PrairieGirl). I really wanted to LOVE this movie and I thought the premise had potential. I mean Butler was [seemingly] perfect as a former soccer star (with his Scottish brogue intact), starring as a former player of his beloved Celtics no less. I’ve seen him in a soccer movie before (the based-on-a-true-story Games of Our Lives and also those Soccer Aid Charity Match), so he’s very believable in that role.

Alas, I’d have to agree with the Rotten Tomatoes summary:

Witless, unfocused, and arguably misogynistic, Playing for Keeps is a dispiriting, lowest-common-denominator Hollywood rom-com.

PFK_RTscore

Actually, the weekend I checked the RT score, it was at a woeful 0% and you know what, I really can’t disagree with that. It’s truly one of the WORST movies I’ve ever come across and to add to the sting, GB didn’t just star in this movie, he also produced this stinker (yikes!!). In the trailer post, I had hoped that it would at least be a feel-good dramedy this Winter, alas, it barely even give us that! It’s even more discombobulating that actors like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid, and the affable Judy Greer agreed to do such an embarrassingly-thankless roles. Forget one-dimensional, yes there’s that, but mostly, their characters are just bizarre, disturbing and cringe-worthy!

I’d like to recall my letter to him I wrote in March of 2010, clearly he did NOT read it…

Please don’t waste your talent on sub-par scripts, especially those that require you to be a neanderthal/ chauvinistic/ boorish/ obnoxious (and in the case of The Ugly Truth and The Bounty Hunter, all of the above). I’m inclined to say ‘get off the rom-com’ trail, but to be fair, I quite enjoyed P.S. I Love You and your ‘Gerry’ character is both charming and sexy, a perfect combination of being manly and hopelessly-romantic at the same time. What I do want to say is, stay away from bad scripts! It doesn’t matter what genre, a bad script is a bad script, and it’s just not going to help your career.

Well, suffice to say I just can’t be a GB fan anymore. Consider this my goodbye letter Mr. Butler…

Dear Gerry,

I can’t believe it’s been nearly an entire decade since I saw you in The Phantom of the Opera. It still remains one of my favorite musicals and my favorite roles you’ve done to this day. It’s a testament of the quality of your role choices lately that when I was about to update my list of Favorite GB roles for your birthday, I was quite stumped. So I kept my original list which includes one of your finest performance to date, that is in Dear Frankie, as I didn’t really think your recent performances in the past two years wowed me enough to replace any of them on that list.

PFKposter

It’s quite astounding that the movie itself could actually be worse than this poster!

Now, let me just speak for a moment of my monumental disappointment with your recent dramedy Playing For Keeps. Well, I was expecting some drama and comedy but got neither! Let me start with your performance. I don’t know if you’re trying to be understated and cool, but it came across as lethargic to me. Yes I get it, your character is down-on-his-luck as George had squandered his good fortune as a soccer star and now he could barely able to pay rent as he dreamed on being a sportscaster. George had good intentions, wanting to reconnect with his  young son, and preferably rekindle his romance with his ex-wife. It’s all [potentially] heartwarming stuff, except that the relationship with his oh-so-adorable kid was hugely overshadowed by all that creepy soccer moms lusting over him. There’s nothing fun or amusing in any of George’s encounters with any of these women, and it didn’t help that George (nor you playing the role) seemed to have much fun doing the scenes either. Don’t even get me started with the predictable ending, which you could’ve surmised from the trailer. Now, there have been some movies that I still appreciate despite the predictability factor because the journey was worthwhile, but in this case of PFK, the journey was so excruciating that it was like being kicked whilst you’re down!

I must’ve gained an extra wrinkle on my face from cringing so much during the entire movie! There’s not even a moment of sincerity I could find, or even to relate to, the whole time I kept wondering just what the heck was Gabriel Muccino trying to do with this movie, what Robbie Fox was trying to say with this script, and most of all, how did this kind of movie ever got greenlit?? There’s no depth whatsoever in any of the characters, not even George himself on whom the whole story hinges on. Poorly-conceived plot is just putting it mildly, I think the only word that came to mind about PFK is ill-advised. It’s everything that’s wrong about Hollywood’s rom-coms… and sadly Gerry, you’ve been in more than your fair share in them. I mean heck, even Matthew McConaughey had been off the rom-com trails and has since garnered some kudos for his recent performances.

Going back to those favorite roles once again, three of the movies I listed (Dear Frankie, BBC’s The Jury and PS I Love You), and I should also mention your excellent performance Coriolanus, you had a supporting role in them. You didn’t carry the movie but yet your presence was a highlight. It made me think that perhaps you should take a well-deserved break and take a good long look at your career so far. It might be a good idea to seek out supporting roles (no I’m not talking about a stint in something so far-off like Movie 43), I’m talking about a small but important supporting roles in a quality project. It’d be nice if it’s with an acclaimed director, but so long as it’s got a strong script, that’s all that matters. Forget the pay check, I’m guessing you’ve made enough to last a couple of centuries. If you truly care about acting, don’t you want to be remembered for the craft of your work? Perhaps your entourage/groupies tell you that you’re a star and you must always play the lead. Well, as your [former] fan, let me tell you that it’s far more gratifying to see an actor in a good performance in a brief screen time than seeing him/her in an awful one scene after scene.

As I said in your Birthday post, I still think you’re a talented and capable actor. I just can’t fathom your role choices, especially now that you actually have the opportunity to seek out good ones with your own production company. Please don’t let the disappointment of the marketing of Machine Gun Preacher give you an excuse to forgo strong characters. Granted not everybody loved the film, but you did your best with the role and the story of Sam Childers was inspiring, so I’m glad you did that film and I was happy to recommend it. I could even enjoy a so-so movie like Chasing Mavericks because at least I could see the value of the story and I appreciate the dedication you did for the role, even to the point of almost dying in a surfing accident. Roles like George on the other hand, just left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Pardon my harsh letter but I feel that things need to be said for my own sake, as I don’t think you’d care to read it and your still-ardent fans probably would just brush me off. I do hope that your recent flops would be an eye-opener for you and hopefully you have the humility to take a look at what you have become. Everyone needs a ‘wake up call’ once in a while and perhaps you’ve been hitting the snooze button for far too long.

Best Wishes,

ruth m.


Well, it feels good to get it off my chest. Don’t cry for Gerry Butler, folks, I’m sure he’s still got a legion of fans ready to defend him :D

So that’s one crush I’m saying good bye to after all these years. Whilst we’re on the topic, which of your movie crush disappointed you this past year?

Trailer Spotlight: Playing For Keeps

All right, two sports-related Gerard Butler trailers released within a month! I wonder if it’s because of the Olympics?? First we’ve got a surfer movie, now soccer, not that I’m complaining :) Now, this one was supposed to be released last March as I included it in my most anticipated movies for the first quarter of 2012. Well, when I mentioned this one in the GB Special Post, at the time it was still called Playing The Field.

Anyway, we’ve now got a brand new trailer and updated synopsis [per Yahoo Movies]:

A charming, down-on-his luck former soccer star returns home to put his life back together. Looking for a way to rebuild his relationship with his son, he gets roped into coaching the boy’s soccer team. But his attempts to finally become an “adult” are met with hilarious challenges from the attractive “soccer moms” who pursue him at every turn.

Well, I like this trailer a bit better than Chasing Mavericks’. Well for one, Gerry gets to keep his Scottish brogue, wahoo! Plus, I kind of like seeing him with kids. I mean the last time he played dad to a little boy was in the wonderful indie Dear Frankie, and he’s definitely a natural with them. Then there’s the supporting cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid and Judy Greer, though I wish Uma and Judy get at least a line in the trailer?? Initially I thought Biel only had a small role, but it seems that she’s got second billing here.

Ah well, I’m going to file this one under ‘promising’ even though the trailer itself is rather meh, and that song is annoyingly schmaltzy. This curiously Mondrian-styled poster doesn’t exactly scream artsy either. But hey, I like the idea of Gerry + soccer, and it’s helmed by a pretty credible director, Gabriele Muccino, the Italian director who helped Will Smith got his second Oscar nomination in The Pursuit of Happyness. Interestingly, that one also features a single dad and his young son.

In any case, I’m glad they switched this from a baseball-themed movie to soccer when Butler was cast [per LA Times blog], and the fact that he was involved in a lot of soccer charity match, including this year’s star-studded Soccer Aid, he’s perfect for this role! It’s poised to be a feel-good dramedy this Winter, but here’s hoping it offers us something more than that.

Updated 11/29: Playing For Keeps Featurette on GB’s character George


Playing For Keeps
is released December 7.


Thoughts on this trailer, folks?

Gerard Butler Special: What’s next for my favorite Scot

Taking cues from my fellow Indonesian blogger Novia who’s done a great job keeping us updated on what her #1 crush Cillian Murphy is up to, I decided to keep you abreast on what’s going on with MY #1 crush ;) I will be doing another follow-up posts that list the projects for the other four actors that round up my top five crush list (that I listed on Novia’s 5-men to drool on post) :D

Seems like the last few months he’s been constantly rumored to be cast in all kinds of movies. I counted seven projects listed under pre-productions in his IMDb page.

  • Manhunt (pre-production)
  • Olympus Has Fallen (pre-production)
  • Crossface (pre-production)
  • Thunder Run (pre-production)
  • Motor City (pre-production)
  • Brilliant (pre-production)
  • Hunter Killer (pre-production)

None of them seems to have any real confirmation, that is until last week there’s news about Olympus Has Fallen, a.k.a. the other Die Hard in the White house movie that Millennium Films are developing (more on that later). The only other possible project out of that list that seems legit is Albert Hughes’ Motor City. I was really psyched about that one when Gary Oldman was involved [even GB himself was very excited about the possibility of working with his acting hero] but now Oldman has exited the project, bummer! I do hope they’ve got another excellent actor in Oldman’s place.

Before I get to his upcoming projects, here’s the rundown of the films he’s wrapped and will be out later this year:

Chasing Mavericks

I just read on this site that the title has now been changed from Of Men and Mavericks (though it’s not reflected yet on the poster below), I prefer the former but I suppose the simpler title is easier to remember.

Director: Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential)

Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Abigail Spencer, Scott Eastwood, Jonny Weston

Butler made the news back in December during filming and almost lost his life! He was getting ready to film action scenes when he was thrown off his surfboard and pummeled by breakers at least 12 feet high, then held underwater for two consecutive waves before being hit on the head by four or five more when he managed to swim to the surface. (per Daily Mail). He described the surfing incident during this Graham Norton interview and said he was under for almost a minute!

I am VERY excited about this one because of Hanson’s involvement and the fact that Gerry is learning how to surf for this film. Mavericks tells the true story of a courageous young surfer who trains with an old school master of the sport to reach heights that few men ever dare. Frosty, (Butler) a quiet, reclusive surfing guru, struggles to balance his addiction for the rush of riding waves with the responsibilities of raising a family (per letitcast.com).

Check out the gorgeous and majestic-looking poster [thanks to my pal Terrence], man look at that wave!

Release Date: October 26, 2012

Playing the Field

Director: Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness)

Cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, Jessica Biel, Dennis Quaid, Judy Greer

I have talked about that movie here as well as posted some on-set photos. The premise seems tailor-made for Gerry. He plays a former professional soccer player with a wild past who tries to redeem himself by coaching his son’s soccer team, only to find himself tempted by the kids’ restless and gorgeous moms. Two of those moms are Zeta-Jones and Thurman, I think Biel is playing his ex-wife. Not a bad female cast at all, well, apart from Biel that is.

I sincerely hope they have a different poster than this one, but what I REALLY want to see is a trailer!

Release Date: December 7, 2012

Now, here’s one he’ll be filming soon that I’m quite excited about:

Olympus Has Fallen

Director: Antoine Fuqua (Training Day)

Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott

THR reported that this movie — which was marketed at Cannes as White House Taken —that Butler plays a Secret Service agent who has fallen from grace — until the White House is attacked and taken over by a team of North Koreans armed with extraordinary technology. Everything the Pentagon throws at the problem fails and it falls on Butler’s character, who knows the famous building like nobody else, to save the president and the country. Heh, I don’t like either one of the title, but hopefully this is just temporary and they’ll come up with something better. This is that other ‘Die Hard in the White House’ movie that’s probably going to be out of the same time next year. Kind of like the battle of the Snow Whites this year.

Eckhart reportedly will play the U.S. President and Bassett has signed on to play the role of the head of the Secret Service. Now just yesterday, news came in that Dylan McDermott will also play one of the secret service agents, presumably under Bassett’s command? Well, well, well, how many hunks could one movie have? ;) I initially wasn’t keen on this one but I’m quite excited about this project now. I mean I LOVE the cast, just Butler and Bassett alone is enough to sell the movie, and now we’ve got Eckhart on top of the bargain. Plus Fuqua’s gritty style should make this intriguing and he’s certainly has a way with actors.

Additional cast info:

A few hours after I posted this, THR reported that Oscar winner Melissa Leo is in negotiation to portray ‘a tough secretary of Defense who cracks when tortured,’ and Rick Yune is confirmed to play the villain of the movie, ‘a North Korean posing as a South Korean ministerial aide who is described as a sociopath monster.’ Cole Hauser (as one of the FBI agents) and Radha Mitchell (as Butler’s wife) have also joined the cast. Ashley Judd has also been cast as the First Lady and Robert Forster as a US general.

Filming has started in Shreveport, Louisiana and one lucky fan posted this photo on the right with Butler who’s now clean-shaven and sporting a new cropped hair [swoon] :D

Click to view a larger version

Btw, the other White House action flick is helmed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) and starring the beefcake Channing Tatum as the secret agent who’ll save the day. Makes it a pretty easy choice which one I’ll go see, ahah.

Release Date: June 13, 2013

Thunder Run

Director: Simon West

Cast: Sam Worthington and Matthew McConaughey

According to THR, this movie has received funding at Cannes. Reportedly, the script is adapted by Robert Port and Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down) from Thunder Run — The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad by Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent David Zucchino. Principal photography is to start this Summer.

Butler told EMPIRE what the movie is about: “It’s about the initial attack on Baghdad, as US troops went in with a column of tanks called the Thunder Run — and it’s going to be done like Avatar,” Butler says. “My face and body will be recorded with little cameras and everything else will be CGI, painted in in the background. I’ve never read a script with more action, more explosions, more violence. If you didn’t do it like this, it would cost $300 million. I saw a three-minute test-piece and it blew my balls off.”

A little trivia: McConaughey has worked w/ Butler before in Reign of Fire, yep with our favorite Batman Christian Bale, no less. Butler played Bale’s BFF in a dragon-infested dystopian Britain.

I don’t know about this one, I’m going to wait and see as the subject matter doesn’t appeal to me. I’m far more psyched about How To Train Your Dragon 2, GB’s first ever sequel project and I’m glad it’s something I’ll definitely enjoy!

The role that got away

I’ve got to talk about that casting news on Highlander that’s been swirling around lately. Well, a couple of weeks ago, it’s apparently confirmed that Ryan Reynolds is going to reprise the role of the immortal Scottish warrior Connor MacLeod. So it seems that role authenticity has gone by the wayside again. As you know, the original MacLeod in the 1986 movie was played by a French guy Christopher Lambert with Sean Connery playing a Spaniard (good grief!), and now we’ve got a Canadian native in the role. So maybe this time Ramirez might be played by… Brian Cox? Or might as well just get Billy Connolly there, hot off the success of Pixar’s Brave [shrug]

Well, it’s no surprise WHO my pick would be for MacLeod…

Despite being perhaps a bit too old for the role, I think Butler would’ve ROCKED it. A real Scotsman who has done a plethora of heroic roles in the past. He can swing a mean sword better than anyone and he wouldn’t have to fake a Scottish accent. I was having some Twitter discussion with my Glaswegian friend Mark of MarkedMovies and his pick for the role is Robert Carlyle.

If not Butler, I personally would rather see an unknown who’s the right age and ethnicity than Reynolds any day. Ah well, I’ve said my rant so I guess I’ll just try to let this go.

Roles I’d LOVE to see him do

Well of course I’d love to see him do a British romantic thriller like Hearts Want that I pitched a couple of years ago. I think a role that requires him to be a ‘tough guy with a heart’ suits him well and I’d love to see him opposite a sultry actress like Eva Green. Seems like all of the movies Butler’s signed on are all action-packed, I do hope he’d have some dramatic roles he’ll be signing on in the future as he’s got the chops for them. I’ve said so many times since I’ve seen what he’s capable of in the BBC miniseries The Jury, and most recently his soulful performance in Machine Gun Preacher. You can read my full review here and if you think I’m biased, then check out my pal Mark’s take on it here.

I’m still holding on to hope that he’ll do the Robert Burns biopic that I mentioned several times, here and here. I know Butler was interested to do it at one point so hopefully it’s still on his radar. There were reports that he had met with the potential director Vadim Jean and it’s to be written by Alan Sharp (Rob Roy – check out my friend Michael’s in-depth review of the film). Even the Scottish Government was supposedly going to provide financial backing for the film. Not sure what happened since, but by golly, if he can’t do MacLeod, here’s another role where he can actually play a Scotsman!!

Plus Scotland’s favorite son is supposedly quite the ladies man, so a role tailor-made for Butler, right? ;)

Producing Gigs

Butler and his long-time manager Alan Siegel formed a production company Evil Twins back in 2008. Apparently his company was being sued by another production company called Evil Twins Prods [per THR], so I believe now they go by Alan Siegel Entertainment.

In any case, Butler’s been wearing the producer’s hat for a while, in fact he’s producing three of his upcoming films I’ve mentioned above: Of Men and Mavericks, Playing the Field and Olympus Has Fallen.

Well, I read in LA Times that he’s now going to produce Septembers of Shiraz, which centers on a young Jewish girl in Iran whose life is thrown into disarray shortly after the 1979 revolution, when her wealthy jeweler father is brutally jailed. The story is based on Dalia Sofer’s debut novel.

The NY Times  review says, “Sofer writes beautifully… she tells her characters’ stories with deceptive simplicity. Every member of the Amin family attains a moving, and memorable, depth and reality.

I’ll keep an eye on this project, seems like an intriguing story that has a lot of dramatic potential.


Well, those are what Butler’s been up to. Which of his projects are you interested in?