Side Effects (2013)

Side Effects (2013)

Who doesn’t love looking over the side effects of a medication? Well, if you’re American, you get told the side effects during your television adverts. This is still something I find hilariously shocking each and every time I’m over in your beautiful country. Who’d ever take a medication that “may cause loss of memory, sickness, diarrhoea,  impotence or death”. Seriously? You’d still take that?! Over here in the UK we find all that out via a little slip of paper that’s in the drug’s box. If you’re a hypochondriac you then give yourself all of the ill effects! Well, except the “death” risk. Not many people can fake death. Except David Blaine. So what about Side Effects, the latest film from Steven Soderbergh? Is its sole side effect euphoria, or is it one of those that’s going to incurably blind you… and give you diarrhoea?

Contagion and Side Effects... effectively sister films!

Contagion and Side Effects… effectively sister films!

Now, those that know The Phage personally (beyond my alias) will know how intimately I know the film Contagion. I use it as a reference point a lot in my professional life. And to those that don’t know me in that capacity? Well, I’m The Phage… and you know what that means if you’ve read our “Introduction” section on the left over there. A Phage has a natural affinity for any film about viruses, plagues and biology. So when a new film comes over the horizon in much the same mould as Contagion, The Phage pays attention. Especially when the posters look near identical and it’s from Steven Soderbergh again.

Briefly, Side Effects follows the story of Emily (Rooney Mara), whose husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has recently been released from prison. But Emily’s life isn’t all cheer and happiness… she’s quite depressed, manically so, in fact. After a failed suicide attempt, Dr. Jonathon Blake (Jude Law) – a psychiatrist – enters into her life to try and help her out and return her happiness. His innocent attempts to help her leads him to prescribing her a new drug called Ablixa, on the advice of her previous psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones). But that leads to all manner of crazy occurrences… but is everything that happens down to the drug, or something entirely more sinister?

Side Effects (2013)

Side Effects is an out-and-out thriller. And a damn good one at that. If you read my review of Broken City, you’ll note that the biggest flaw we saw was how “analogue” the plot was; you could see where the film was heading within the first 20 minutes. You certainly can’t say the same of Side Effects. What you have here is an extremely effective thriller with an exquisitely outrageous twist in its tail. You won’t see it coming – I can guarantee that. Maybe though that’s also the flaw in the film because it seems so outlandish! Not in the same way that Indiana Jones: Kingdom of The Crystal Skull was ruined by aliens, but it’s still a little “out of nowhere”.

One of the things I quite enjoyed about Contagion was that massive ensemble cast that was put together. Whilst Side Effects doesn’t quite replicate the large cast, it still features some superb displays of acting. Firstly, we’ve got to talk about the return of Jude Law, who was actually in Contagion. Thankfully, he’s abandoned his quasi-Australian accent here in favour of his natural British accent. Law puts in a great turn here as the plagued psychiatrist Dr. Blake. Similarly, you’ve got to again recognise Rooney Mara for another brilliant role portrayal. She really drew my attention in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and this really showcases her talents yet again. Please, give her more roles. And can I just mention how beautiful she looks here? Oh, I already did? Good. However, I must say I was less convinced by Catherine Zeta-Jones; mainly because of those glasses she wears throughout. They just don’t suit her. I also can’t imagine her as a psychiatrist if I’m honest. Her performance just came across quite stale and added little to the film.

Side Effects (2013)

But her minor misgivings can be overlooked owing to the fantastic overarching plot here. As I said earlier, I dabble in this general field outside of my film life, so I found the content enthralling; just as I did with Contagion. But I’d say that Side Effects is done far better than its spiritual predecessor, as its a lot more coherently put together with far fewer interweaving narratives. Not every film needs a Crash style overcross and I’m glad that Side Effects recognises that. Overall, it’s more straight forward than Soderbergh‘s last effort, but that makes for a far more honed and effective machine that deserves to be viewed.

Side Effects is 2013’s first example of a solid thriller that’ll keep you enraptured from beginning to end. It boasts a cast that (largely) lives up to your expectations and a plot that keeps you guessing where it’ll turn to next. It’s only real drawback is that the end feels somewhat “cheap” and from out of nowhere. The film tries to show you that it’s been hinting at this all along, but ultimately, it wasn’t hinting at this at all. Regardless, Side Effects demands to be seen if you’re a fan of the genre.

So it looks like the only side effects of Side Effects are a slight chance of confusion that will pass with time. Nothing too serious! It’s not like those god awful US infomertials (I love that crazy word… something else we don’t have in the UK… like Vanilla Coke, which I miss). There’s nothing to be particularly scared of with this medication. Just swallow it down and enjoy the ride!

Phage Factor:

4 Star

Magic Mike (2012)

An entertaining, but predictable magic trick…

If you asked me to list some movies that revolve around the age-old profession of stripping, it’d be no problem whatsoever. Of course, you have Showgirls and Striptease from the mid-90’s, whose VHS cassettes were the equivalent of gold dust to every teenage boy of the day; back when a) VHS was the standard, and b) this was the ultimate in semi-accessible titillation… hell, these movies pre-dated 56Kb modems for most! If you preferred a more male-centric clothes-shedding tale then there’s the British classic The Full Monty where a motley crew of unemployed guys from the UK city of Sheffield star in their own strip show. It also made Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff the sexiest song of 1997 and made Post Office queues that little bit more exciting; albeit briefly.

So now we come to Hollywood’s late rebuttal to the UK’s men’s strip show film. I wasn’t aware that a rebuttal was needed, but here it is nevertheless. Magic Mike follows the tale of the eponymous Mike (Channing Tatum) – an “entrepreneur” who dabbles in tiling roofs, building unique furniture… oh, and getting down to a thong as “Magic Mike” for the gathered throngs of women baying for flesh on Thursdays through Sundays. Though Tatum is a key player in the film, it really revolves around Adam (Alex Pettyfer; I Am Number Four, In Time) who’s introduced to the business through Mike. What follows is an enjoyable, occasionally lighthearted, if not lightweight tale of the underbelly of the stripping business.

“What did you say about my shirtless tie outfit?”

The strongest asset of this film is without doubt Tatum himself, who was once upon a time a part-time stripper. Whilst he gets to use some of his dance moves from his days in Step Up, he really showcases his abilities as an actor. In particular, his one-on-one scenes with Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn) are particularly poignant; coming across as effortless and genuinely authentic – the mark of a true actor. The other “top billed” name on the posters, Matthew McConaughey, fares just as well playing Dallas: the club’s owner / MC / dancer, and primary antagonist of the film. What’s so remarkable is that Dallas is instantly dislikeable; you know from the outset that he isn’t a nice guy. Indeed, I found McConaughey‘s character in Killer Joe (reviewed here) – a guy who forces someone to perform oral sex on a KFC drumstick – to be more likeable than Dallas. It’s great to see these two actors again expanding their repertoire and avoiding the clichéd roles they’ve become synonymous with in recent years, as I’ve discussed previously.

Where the film loses its way is the fact that some of the plots seem too railroaded and scripted – you can see the eventual incidents coming from a mile off. You could predict the third act of the film before the fourth thong-clad rear is on-screen. A few decoys are deployed where you expect the plot to go down a certain alley; but overall this isn’t an example of effective smoke and mirrors. A golden era M. Night Shyamalan film this is not. And for those curious about the nudity in the film, yes you’ll see a lot of bethonged rump and guys will have that feeling that they did watching 300: “damn, I need to work out!”. McConnaughey in particular, who’s now cruised past 40, looks in remarkable shape.

Who else is going to be sporting this fetching yellow crop top at the gym this summer? Just me? Damn…

Overall, Steven Soderbergh‘s (Ocean’s Eleven, Contagion, Haywire) film has its heart in the right place, but falters due to a predictable storyline. It also irritatingly leaves a number of plot threads deliberately open for the already talked about sequel. Personally, I feel that Magic Mike needs a sequel about as much as Contagion (a phage’s favourite film – the virus is the star!) does. But then again, this is Steven Soderbergh, a man who is a more than capable director, but he’s also the man that brought you the uncalled for Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen. However, it’s great to see Channing Tatum flourishing into a well-rounded actor who’s deviating from GI Joe-esque roles. The future is very bright for this guy, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.

Magic Mike proves to be more of a daytime TV magician than a David Blaine, Penn & Teller or Criss Angel: his tricks are a bit too transparent. The film’s respectable and earns its place, but it’s not playing with the big boys out in Vegas thanks to that plot. But maybe I just prefer a bit of Donna Summers’ Hot Stuff in my strip scenes, as opposed to the latest Skrillex wub-wub-athon… Now where’s my VHS player…?

Phage Factor:

3 Star