Side Effects (R)

10 Stars

The word you’re looking for is ‘Captivation.’

It’s the concept everyone forgets when trying to articulate their reaction to a film.

But it’s the sole unifying factor for the viewing masses. It may be the single collective pursuit, the only aspect of movie-going everyone can agree upon.

We all seek captivation.

And Steven Soderbergh delivers it on a pallet-jack.

Side Effects is #3 on my ‘Best Films of 2013’ list.

It doesn’t get any better than this all-star cast. Rooney Mara and Catherine Zeta-Jones are two of my favorite actresses, and they both pull off stellar performances.

I know it’s been said before, but CZJ ages like wine.

And Rooney Mara, sheesh, that little firecracker can act.

Need it even be mentioned Channing Tatum and Jude Law were great as always?

The plot is not only timely, intricate and moving, it’s exhilarating. The characters are compelling, and the central conflicts are rather complex. It’s tough to say who makes the right or wrong decisions, and the ending pays off all the mystery and suspense in a satisfying manner.

It’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. And also raises questions about the evils of psychology, especially when intertwined with the business world.

This is a fantastic movie, and didn’t get its due last award season.

See this film! But if you haven’t, watch out, I’m going to spoil some things below.

I watched G.I. Joe: Retaliation a day before Side Effects, and this turned out to be a good thing. I was definitely not expecting the twist about a third the way thru.

To be honest, I think I was sadder to see him go the second time. Give me CT in a big starring role one of these days.

But speaking of sadness: I must be honest. When I’m watching a movie with a buddy and it gets the waterworks running, I can do a pretty good job of containing the outbreak.

Twice I was gotten by Miss Mara. When Roon-Dawg almost steps on the train tracks, and when she can’t contain herself at the party because her depression is so severe – I draw some sharp breaths.

Those two moments were so moving, and then to have her character do a complete turn around by the end; that’s some masterful filmmaking.

And how about that ending, huh?

What it should not do is detract from Mara’s portrayal of someone who is clinically depressed. She delivers a moving performance that deserves particular respect because our perception of her character undergoes several transformations.

All in all, the spectacular ending ties off what already was a spectacular movie, with a shiny new ribbon.

Can’t wait to see what Soderbergh takes on next!

Silver Linings Playbook (R)

4 Stars

Everybody apparently loves this movie.

I do not.

It’s alright. Not okay, not good, not even close to great.

SLP is alright.

And I find this extremely disappointing. The plot holes, the oddly dull characters, and the plodding narrative add up to a unsatisfying movie.

It gets nominated for Best Picture, I read about how touching and spectacular it is. Yet it’s neither smart, nor enjoyable enough to be a nominee.

First of all, Bradley Cooper is terrific, and J-Law is even better…but that is where the goodness ends.

De Niro’s acting isn’t bad, but it’s by no means exceptional.

It’s a Dromantic Quirkedy (dramatic and romantic quirky comedy); not a recipe for success for this writer’s tastes.

There are quite a few moments that are written to be cringe-worthy: dark comedic scenes that ask a lot of the viewer in exchange for a half-hearted chuckle. That being said, on to a more in depth look at the film.

Now if you haven’t seen SLP, beware the spoilers, and long-winded complaints below. But if you also haven’t seen American Hustle, I’d suggest you watch that instead.

Here’s my big thing: The reference to Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is inaccurate. B. Cooper’s character talks about how he likes the part in which the characters are dancing but doesn’t like the ending.

There is zero dancing between Henry and Catherine in A Farewell to Arms. I know because I read the novel immediately after seeing the film.

Perhaps Cooper’s incorrect use of the word dancing or his false reading of the story is intentional. In fact, it better be intentional.

If we are to accept the reality we’re being shown on screen, Bradley Cooper’s character misinterprets the book, or he’s lying about reading it. Either way, this seems wildly incongruent with the rest of the film.

If it’s not that, we can only assume it’s a mistake in the screenplay, yes?

It upsets me that a movie gets nominated for Best Motion Picture with such a glaring error in the writing.

A lot of strange stuff is going on when Jennifer Lawrence’s character is introduced to Cooper’s family near the end of the film. She helps herself to a beer from the fridge, when she’s never been to his house, nor met his family. This scene seems crazed, hazy and diluted, like we’re interpreting some sort of illusion through the veil of BC’s consciousness.

During that same scene, his father’s best friend invests in a nonsensical parley with De Niro. Why would he force such a thing on an old friend? Seems astonishingly cruel. Why would the bookie just go on her word about the scoring system for the dance competition? They haven’t been introduced, yet he’s already disrespecting and adding pressure on the romantic interest of his best friend’s son? (BC was never any concern to the bookie in the first place!)

Do these people have nothing more important in their lives than to invest all of their time and energy into this semi-serious attempt to place in a professional dance competition?

Why would the ex-wife show up? If anybody in this movie were in their right mind, they’d recognize the lingering potential for problems between BC and his ex-wife. This would not be the appropriate time for him to approach her.

Another major issue is with the psychiatrist. Even if I saw my psychiatrist at a football game, I wouldn’t go bother him for more than a hello and a handshake. And I would expect the same from him.

There would be no tailgating and hanging out for the game. And he would most certainly not walk into my living room (where he is familiar with nobody) without a shirt on, and sit down on the couch. My best friends who walk into the house without knocking wouldn’t dream of sitting shirtless on the sofa. (Even if they were in the highly unlikely situation to walk in the house without one on.) This is one of the dumbest fucking scenes I have ever seen in a movie that’s supposed to be taken seriously.

Best Picture? Really?

Also, the shrink would never play the song to purposely upset Cooper. In retrospect, it’s rather cruel (and dangerous apparently, to the other people in the waiting room.) A psychiatrist doesn’t play mind games with their patient. And getting such a strong reaction, I truly doubt Bradley’s actions would be taken lightly.

I don’t appreciate the letter; it’s a misleading central plot element. It’s dissatisfying to build mystery around what’s going to be inside the envelope, when the answer is nothing. J-Law wrote it, as we expect all along.

There is some strange stuff going on with Chris Tucker’s character. The mother doesn’t acknowledge his presence in a way. She never looks at him, or engages him in a conversational manner. This recurs with Tucker’s character throughout the movie. He is never really acknowledged by another individual, except J-Law. Even then, their interaction is odd. It’s incredibly misleading. I thought Tucker was potentially an extension of BC’s personality, a figment of his character’s imagination.

But this doesn’t jive with certain portions of the plot. So all I’m left with is a confusing mess.

Finally, the ending is painfully nonsensical. The last judge is portrayed as tough beforehand. You expect a harsh rating from him. Yet, he’s the one who equalizes the score to just barely win it. If he is passionate about his job as a critical judge, he’d be consistent. He would not have much patience for such a terribly executed final move.

David O. Russell, I know you devour all of my reviews, so I’m sorry for crapping on your film.

But American Hustle is much better.