Monthly Archives: March 2013

Review – Side Effects (15) [2013]

Side Effects - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Steven Soderbergh – Traffic, Contagion, Behind the Candelabra

Cast:

  • Rooney Mara – A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Social Network, Her
  • Channing Tatum – The Eagle,White House Down21 & 22 Jump Street
  • Jude Law – The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Contagion, Dom Hemingway
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones – Traffic, Playing For Keeps, Red II
  • Vinessa Shaw – The Hills Have Eyes, 3:10 to Yuma, Siren
  • James Martinez – Gravity, The Sessions, An Artist’s Emblem

Music Composer:

Before taking medication, one has an idea that for all the positives of the medicine there is likely to be negative implications. These are better known as side effects, and doctors should always make their patients aware of them for reasons of liability. Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh’s second medical thriller in the space of eighteen months, soundly illustrates some of medicines’ many snags as well as the trouble doctors could find themselves in if they don’t make their patients aware of them.

Martin (Channing Tatum) and Emily (Rooney Mara) looking like an aesthetically perfect couple, dressed smartly at a friend's party.

Martin (Channing Tatum) and Emily (Rooney Mara) looking like an aesthetically perfect couple, dressed smartly at a friend’s party.

Side Effects more or less begins with Martin (Channing Tatum) coming out of prison to be reunited with his wife, Emily (Rooney Mara). Emily, however, seemingly suffers from depression and other self-esteem issues, and appears unable to cope with life. So, after attempting suicide, she meets Dr. John Banks (Jude Law), who prescribes her a series of drugs to make her feel better, after consulting with Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Emily’s previous doctor.

The drugs work initially for Emily. But then the side effects kick in. And with consequences for Emily, Martin and Dr. Banks.

Side Effects is a slow-paced medical thriller that is mysterious and gripping for its apt 106 minute running time. Although the plot has several contrived moments, all of these are explained reasonably well, so the film does not feel like a patch-work for lazy script-writing. What’s more, the film has a generally unsettling ambience and leads to an unexpected conclusion that is most welcome.

Dr. John Banks (Jude Law) chewing his breakfast, wondering how his world has turned upside down due to Emily's reaction to the drugs he prescribed her.

Dr. John Banks (Jude Law) chewing his breakfast, wondering how his world has turned upside down due to Emily’s reaction to the drugs he prescribed her.

In part, the disquieting atmosphere of Side Effects is due to the strange, yet thought-provoking music that is virtually on tape-loop during the movie. The other reason is due to good dialogue and acting, not least from Rooney Mara in the lead role. Invariably, her character seems to be permanently on a medically-prescribed drug or suffering from a drug’s drawback; in particular, the latter, and Mara plays it all troublingly well.

Surprisingly, Jude Law, as the doctor in danger of losing his career, performs decently too. He might show little compassion toward his wife, Deirdre (Vinessa Shaw), and son, but Law is certainly considerably better here than he is in (the mind-numbing) The Holiday and in Contagion, wherein he adopts a laughable Australian accent. (As if anyone would believe that Jude Law were Australian!)

The beautilful and manipulative, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), unaware that someone is looking at her through the window.

The beautilful and manipulative, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), unaware that someone is looking at her through the window.

Channing Tatum, in his comfort-zone as the handsome and charming husband, gives a standard demonstration of his acting skills, while Catherine Zeta-Jones, as arguably the villain of the movie, is just as cunning and classily appealing as she was a decade ago in Intolerable Cruelty.

Thus, Side Effects is an enjoyable film that is likely to take viewers by surprise. Granted, it has plot conveniences, yet one is likely to forgive the movie for these as the storyline is intelligent and keeps audiences in suspense. Furthermore, one is likely to be more wary of the downside of certain medications after watching the film; and doctors, if they did not already, are likely to become paranoid about being sued by their patients for prescribing them medications with foreseeable and unforeseeable side effects.

PG’s Tips

Review – Stoker (18) [2013]

Stoker - title banner2

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Chan-Wook Park – Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance

Producers:

  • Ridley Scott – Body of Lies, Prometheus, Welcome to the Punch
  • (The late) Tony Scott – The Taking of Pelham 123, Unstoppable, Out of the Furnace

Cast:

  • Nicole Kidman – Eyes Wide Shut, Rabbit Hole, Before I Go To Sleep
  • Mia Wasikowska – Defiance, Alice In Wonderland, The Double
  • Matthew Goode – Match Point, Watchmen, Belle
  • Jacki Weaver – The Five-Year Engagement, Silver Linings Playbook, Haunt
  • Phyllis Somerville – Little Children, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Double
  • Lucas Till – X-Men: First Class, Battle: Los Angeles, X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Alden Ehrenreich – Twixt, Beautiful Creatures, Running Wild

Music Composer:

What is the purpose of film trailers and movie marketing campaigns? The answer might seem ostensibly obvious: to whet people’s appetites to buy cinema tickets and, eventually, to entice them to buy DVDs. While this understandably keeps the wheels of the Hollywood machine spinning, does this mean that trailers and marketing campaigns should give too much of a film’s plot away and/or misrepresent a movie in the interests of money? Indeed, some of Stoker’s problems stem from its trailer and its advertisements.

Charlie (Matthew Goode) watching look like a stalker as his niece, India (Mia Wasikowska), walks to school.

Charlie (Matthew Goode) watching look like a stalker as his niece, India (Mia Wasikowska), walks to school.

Stoker begins with the death of Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney). Not long after his funeral, Richard’s daughter, India (Mia Wasikowska), learns that her father had a creepy brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode), and that he will be moving into the house. He has been invited to stay by India’s unstable mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). But no sooner does Charlie arrive, people start to disappear, and this has a troubling effect upon India.

One may think that the above discloses too much of the Stoker’s gripping, but strange and purposeless plot. Yet, the above gives away less than the trailer. If anything, like with those for 2012 and The Hobbit I: An Unexpected Journey, Stoker’s trailer portrays the movie’s storyline more succinctly in just under two and a half minutes than the actual film does in 98 minutes. Thus, far from attracting people to see Stoker, the trailer ensures that viewers don’t need to pay to see the movie. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the trailer?

Charlie looking disturbingly interested in his niece as he helps her play the piano.

Charlie looking disturbingly interested in his niece as he helps her play the piano.

Worse, Stoker has been promoted as an ‘erotic thriller.’ However, this is misdirection, at best, and misrepresentation, at worst. This is because there’s (sadly) not nearly enough eroticism in the film to justify its selling-point (and this is not just in comparison to steamy erotic thrillers like Eyes Wide Shut and Basic Instinct II). This means that (the promoters have cynically done their job and that) Stoker can only disappoint people who were misled about the nature of the film.

That is not to say that audiences won’t enjoy Stoker’s (few) merits. The music is eerie and unsettling, mirroring Matthew Goode’s unnerving (if narrowly more than one-dimensional) performance. Nicole Kidman is very good, if under-employed, as the unbalanced and irresponsible mother, stuffed with triteness. And Mia Wasikowska plays quite well, too, in a bizarre and paradoxical role as the coming-of-age daughter, without giving viewers any reason to empathise with her character. The rest of the cast, including Jacki Weaver, as aunty Gwendolyn; Phyllis Somerville, as the cook; Lucas Till, as one of the school bullies; and Alden Ehrenreich, as India’s friend, among others, add so little to the plot that they might as well not have bothered agreeing to be part of the project.

India brushing her mother's hair. Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) almost does not know where she is after waking up in the middle of the night drunk, as usual.

India brushing her mother’s hair. Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) almost does not know where she is after waking up in the middle of the night drunk, as usual.

If the oddness of the storyline and performances do not keep audiences on their toes, Stoker’s setting has the ability to keep them guessing as to what era the film is meant to be set in. By deduction, one can work out that the film is meant to be based in 2012. While there might be flat-screen televisions in some of the rooms of the Stoker household, the house itself looks like it is from either (or a mixture of) the 1950s or the early 1990s. Moreover, India might employ a modern hairstyle, but the clothes she wears hint at a 1950s theme, if not earlier. One could argue that this helps to give the movie a more bizarre ambience, which, to a limited extent, it does. Yet, there is a fine balance between doing this and getting it wrong, and in the case of Stoker, it looks as if director Chan-Wook Park could not make up his mind as to what epoch he wanted to set the film in.

Over-all, Stoker is a peculiar blend of weirdness and captivation that had the potential to be so much better. The acting is average and there are numerous flaws and predictabilities in the storyline. Nevertheless, more than anything, the film’s problems are due to its trailer and the advertising campaign that accompanied the movie. Considering how interesting Stoker’s trailer looks, and that the film was billed as an ‘erotic thriller,’ one goes away from the movie feeling let down and that Park missed a great opportunity to make something different and potentially special.

PG’s Tips

Review – Mama (15) [2013]

Mama - title banner

Star Rating 2.5/5

Director:

  • Andrés Muschietti

Executive Producer:

Cast:

  • Jessica Chastain – The Debt, Take Shelter, Coriolanus, The Help, Zero Dark ThirtyInterstellar
  • Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – Headhunters, Game of Thrones, Oblivion
  • Megan Charpentier – Jennifer’s Body, Red Riding Hood, Resident Evil: Retribution, Never Ever
  • Isabelle Nélisse
  • Jane Moffat – Alphas, Come Dance With Me, An Enemy
  • Javier Botet – Rec I-III, As Luck Would Have It, Al Final Todos Mueren
  • Daniel Kash – The Dresden Files, Alphas, Split Decision

Music Composer:

  • Fernandez Velázquez – The Orphanage, Devil, The ImpossibleA Monster Calls

The Woman in Black and The Possession are testament not only to the tiredness, comical and abysmal nature of the horror genre, they also signal that ghost stories and films about possessive/evil spirits have been done so many times that they seem to no longer be capable of scaring audiences. Despite being a notch up from most other recent horror movies, Mama does little to alter this view.

Annabel (Jessica Chastain) and Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) talking with Dr. Dreyfuss. Lucas is determined to foster his late-brother's daughters, despite their problems.

Annabel (Jessica Chastain) and Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) talking with Dr. Dreyfuss. Lucas is determined to foster his late-brother’s daughters, despite their problems.

  Mama begins with the mysterious death of Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in a cabin in the woods, leaving his two very young daughters, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle Nélisse), to seemingly fend for themselves. But were they alone?

  Five years later, the two girls are found, looking like wild barbarians, and are sent to live with their uncle, Lucas (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and his rock-chick girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain). But something else has come with Victoria and Lily; something they call ‘Mama.’

As far as horror films go, the plot for Mama is actually not bad for the first 60 of the movie’s 100 minute running time. The film may not be particularly frightening, despite a few jumpy moments, but at least it can make one’s heart-rate speed up a bit at times (which is almost novel for horror films these days).

But, disappointingly, Mama loses its way at the hour mark. Subsequently, it descends into the normal clichés and follies that are symptomatic of the genre: parts of the plot get thrown by the wayside; plot threads don’t add up; and the parts of the storyline that do work become so contrived that they might as well not work. Worse, long before the end, even the things that made the film tense and jittery lose that ability.

Annabel concerned by what devilry has come with Victoria and Lily, and is now in the house.

Annabel concerned by what devilry has come with Victoria and Lily, and is now in the house.

The key reason for why Mama can sustain viewer’s interest for as long as it does is due to the acting and the dialogue. For once, both are acceptable by anyone’s standard (and not just in comparison to the acting and dialogue in abominations like Jennifer’s Body and The Wolfman). Unsurprisingly, Jessica Chastain holds her all as the lead character, albeit in a far more casual manner than in Zero Dark Thirty, and makes conversations about evil spirits seem mundane and normal, which is not as easy as one would think (as The Woman in Black and The Possession attest). The two young girls also perform unexpectedly decently. Lily’s behaviour is particularly weird and unsettling, yet Isabelle Nélisse makes it look nothing out of the ordinary due to her character’s peculiar circumstances.

Indeed, the only actor who is somewhat disappointing is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and for no fault of his own. Lacking the smugness of Jaime ‘the Kingslayer’ Lannister from Game of Thrones, Coster-Waldau does alright with what he is given. But his role is quite minimal and modest, meaning that his talents are largely wasted in Mama. The rest of the cast, including Jane Moffat, as Jean, Lucas’ sister, and Daniel Kash, as the suspicious Dr. Dreyfuss, have even less to do than Coster-Waldau, rendering their value to the film close to irrelevant.

However, the person with arguably the most irrelevant impact upon Mama is Guillermo Del Toro. Was he solely made executive producer to enable debutant director Andrés Muschietti to ride on the coat-tails of his 2006 Oscar-nominated Pan’s Labyrinth? Well, that and to dupe people (like me) into the cinema most probably.

There is little doubt that Mama is not a par with Pan’s Labyrinth, but it has its own music and that should be commended. The music lacks the power, depth and variety of the scores in The Lion King, The Dark Knight Rises and Lincoln, and it might be limited in range too, but at least it does not recycle the standard stringy music (followed by a sudden crescendo) that is sadly all too common in horror movies.

Annabel with Lily and Victoria, as they realise, with horror, that 'Mama' has come to pay them a visit.

Annabel with Lily and Victoria, as they realise, with horror, that ‘Mama’ has come to pay them a visit.

  The same can roughly be said for the special effects in Mama as well. They’re not bad and, initially, whatever ‘Mama’ is can make one feel like something is crawling underneath one’s skin (which is a good thing!). But this wears out soon enough, making the effects little more than an unpleasant, immaterial sight.

  Overall, Mama is not a terrible horror film and is certainly better in every respect than The Woman in Black and The Possession. Mama shoots itself in the foot after an hour, so to speak, but at any rate, it has some suspense with passable acting and dialogue, and curious music. Nevertheless, even with all of the above and a new director, Mama underlines the exhaustion and lack of innovation in the paranormal-inclined horror genre, which has been going on for too long.

PG’s Tips