February 23, 2013

"Side Effects"

Crime thriller "Side Effects" is director Steven Soderbergh's umpty-umpth mid-budget film for the right side of the bell curve. Back in 2011, he made "Contagion," also from a script by Scott Z. Burns, and also with Jude Law as a shifty-looking health adviser. 

"Contagion" petered out about half-way through, as if Burns and Soderbergh had lost interest and turned to their next medical movie project together: "Side Effects," which gathers momentum as it goes on. 

The new film starts out as a seeming attack on the modern pharmaceutical industry, with Law as a psychiatrist who casually prescribes a new antidepressant ("Ablixa") for suicidal wife Rooney Mara, with seemingly disastrous consequences. The first half of "Side Effects" is intelligent, but not particularly engaging. The notion that a medicine can change your mood and behavior seems oddly defeating to the expert (but perhaps overly fast-working) filmmakers. 

But, then "Side Effects" turns into an old-fashioned murder-for-money mystery. Instead of just being zombies under the control of their pills, the characters actually have total Free Will, which turns out to be more interesting.

After many feints and twists, the bottom line message of both "Contagion" and "Side Effects" eventually works out to be "Trust Your Medical Establishment, They're Here to Help." I might be wrong about this, but I don't think movies have anywhere near as much populist paranoia as they did back in the 1970s. 

The 50-year-old Soderbergh claims to be retiring, which is sad because he's a clever, extremely productive moviemaker. But, having seen "Side Effects," I'd hardly be surprised if, to get through his huge work load, he's been taking a lot of pills. So he's likely the best judge of what his body and brain now need for his health.

Scott Z. Burns is not retiring. He's credited with helping out on the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with a terrific screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver that dismantles the liberal environmentalist pieties of Ronald Reagan's Bedtime for Bonzo, was dumped into August 2011, but still made a lot of money. This sequel has been given the blockbuster release date of May 23, 2014. 

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

"I don't think movies have anywhere near as much populist paranoia as they did back in the 1970s."

Back then there was an existing culture to be destroyed, and one tactical part of that destruction was to create distrust of "what is".

But "we are the masters now".

Anonymous said...

"The 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with a terrific screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver"

It is apeshit.

Anonymous said...

"The 50-year-old Soderbergh claims to be retiring, which is sad because he's a clever, extremely productive moviemaker."

Don't like him. He's a dilettante who dabbles in various styles with no core vision or conviction.

Anonymous said...

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is Resident Evil with apes.

Better Milla than gorilla.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfCdceLoSTE

agnostic said...

During the '60s, skepticism gradually grew about the mid-century faith in prescription drugs for ordinary mood fluctuations -- amphetamines to energize the sluggish, with barbiturates, then minor tranquilizers, to mellow out the anxious.

That culminated in the '70s with the Valium panic, and throughout the '80s and very early '90s, casual drug use among suburban housewives and executives fell off a cliff. Notwithstanding some cocaine use by the yuppies.

Since the early-mid 1990s, we're back into the mid-century zeitgeist of faith in prescription drugs to deal with normal life. Antidepressants as downers, and Adderall / Ritalin as uppers.

More historical detail for the curious:

http://akinokure.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-unwholesome-mid-century-wave-of.html

pat said...

I have some genetic defect which requires me to watch all Sci-Fi movies no matter how bad, but even so "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" was hard for me to take.

It's another piece of evidence that modern man is guilty about his mastery of nature. In real life that guilt takes the form of global warming hysteria - in the movies mankind is wiped out by yet another of our creations. When I see this sort of plot unfurling my reaction is - "Ho, humm? Naughty mankind must be punished again".

The next thing that bothered me was the use of digital monkeys. In the old days when the original of this series was made, there were men in monkey suits. I don't think they even had animatronics then, just make-up.

A problem with the original then was that men simply don't move like apes. We don't have the right skeletons for knuckle walking. If man is defined by things like intelligence, language and upright stature then those were men in the original movie not apes.

But now with digital effects we can craft an ape that looks and moves like an ape - but we don't. We have instead a creature that is not subject to gravity. Gorillas move like gibbons and chimps move like Spiderman. All humans grew up in a gravity field. We know how it effects us and our pets. When we see things that are supposed to be real animals, move like cartoon characters, verisimilitude flies out the window.

Finally the big climax comes when these smart chimps break out and escape to Muir Woods just north of San Francisco. This is suppose to scare us. Huh?

I have seven redwoods on my property. Trust me. They harbor no chimps. Chimpanzees are brachiators. They swing from branch to branch. But redwoods have very thin branches, very high up. They are the last habitat that a chimp would seek.

Finally there is the sheer implausibility of the whole Bay Area being threatened by a couple dozen apes. They might be a problem if they also had magic ray guns but otherwise - what's the big deal? A single rifle squad could kill all of them in an afternoon. Where's the menace?

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

Milli Gorilli?

Dan O. said...

With the Soderbergh touch, of slightly close and tilted camera angles and fresh-take on the thriller genre that only this versatile director could deliver, if this truly is his final film, he will be sorely missed. Good review Steve.

HerewardMW said...

1970's

Howard Beale: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more!"

2010's

Howard Beale: "I was mad as hell, but I took a pill for that. I'm fine now. On to the weather."

Anonymous said...

I love this blog. Where else can I find these pithy, spot-on cultural observations near the beginning of a thread. To wit:

Back then there was an existing culture to be destroyed, and one tactical part of that destruction was to create distrust of "what is".

Indeed. And those 70's paranoid thrillers always featured some anonymously evil* WASP pulling the strings. Nothing is what it seems. Your nice white neighbor could secretly be Dr. Evil, responsible for all the misery and confusion in the world.

Don't like him. He's a dilettante who dabbles in various styles with no core vision or conviction.

Yes, I agree. But at the same time:

With the Soderbergh touch, of slightly close and tilted camera angles and fresh-take on the thriller genre that only this versatile director could deliver...

He does have some filmic virtuosity that works well for thrillers. I thought "Out of Sight" was very well-done, maybe hos most solid movie (though I admit I haven't seen them all).

*Credit for this phrase goes to the makers of "Wet Hot American Summer", i.e. the hilarious would-be competition between our lovable ragtag bunch and the "anonymously evil campers" from across the way.

Anonymous said...

The 1970s had a reason for paranoia. Both JFK and RFK had been shot, for who knew what reasons. Also MLK assassination, and Watergate.

Also, there are a few modern paranoid movies out there, even if half of them feature Mel Gibson. Conspiracy Theory, Edge of Darkness, The Matrix, The Adjustment Bureau.

Anonymous said...

"A problem with the original then was that men simply don't move like apes. We don't have the right skeletons for knuckle walking. If man is defined by things like intelligence, language and upright stature then those were men in the original movie not apes."

I didn't see that as a problem at all but a fascinating and creative use of limitations. The apes had clearly evolved to a state of humanoidness. Also, chimps, orangs, and gorillas had become more or less the same size. Apes had become like human.

In contrast, humans cowered and moved like apes.

The problem with the original PLANET is the lips don't really move when apes talk, but it's a quibble. The personalities of the apes are rich and expressive: Zera, her hubby, and orangutan theocrat.
Rarely do we see that kind of individual-personalization today. Instead, we have archetypes as characters. Though apes in PLANET stand for certain outlooks/personalities, each has his or her own individuality as character.

I thought RISE OF APES was all cheap thrills and monkeying around with cruddy CGI. It might please conservatives as a kind of dystopian vision of liberal fantasy gone wrong, but it was just lousy filmmaking.

David Denby loved it though.
He looks like an ape.

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2011/09/05/110905crci_cinema_denby?currentPage=all

as said...

That was what "Shutter Island" was like as well.

rob said...

The best thing about the original PotA movies was that they were, if not tragedies, very pessimistic. The first three or four had very unhappy endings.

gossip girl said...

I'd hardly be surprised if, to get through his huge work load, he's been taking a lot of pills

In movie/book/sports criticism's respective niches of amateur psychoanalysis & nosy cant you've got the market totally cornered, Sailer.

Andrew Ryan said...

Contagion was incredibly realistic, ans this is coming from a professional microbiologist. However, the inclusion of white riots and home invasions was galling. The 1918 flu epidemic was far worse than the outbreak depicted in Contagion, with no such attendant behavior.

Anonymous said...

Indeed. And those 70's paranoid thrillers always featured some anonymously evil* WASP pulling the strings. Nothing is what it seems. Your nice white neighbor could secretly be Dr. Evil, responsible for all the misery and confusion in the world.

The paranoia is not confined to the 1970s. It has continued to this day as part of the ongoing war against the diverse white American peoples. See Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America" for a more contemporary examples of this anti-American propaganda.

Truth said...

" the inclusion of white riots and home invasions was galling. The 1918 flu epidemic was far worse than the outbreak depicted in Contagion, with no such attendant behavior."

White riots happen in Canada every time one of their teams wins the Stanley Cup, and whites perform home invasions in London every day.

sideways said...

Albertosaurus: chimps are not brachiators. Of adult great apes, only orangutans do that

Also, that movie really was terrible.

Anonymous said...

sideways said...
Albertosaurus: chimps are not brachiators. Of adult great apes, only orangutans do that

No adult great apes brachiate, not even orangutans (they thoughtfully clamber instead). That is the origin of orangutan intelligence: how to move their great bulk in the jugngle canopy without breaking branches and falling 300 feet to their doom.

Hunsdon said...

Truth said: White riots happen in Canada every time one of their teams wins the Stanley Cup, and whites perform home invasions in London every day.

Hunsdon: Come now, my friend. Let us not mock lesser breeds without the law. You know, Canucks, and Brits.

Mr. Anon said...

"Truth said...

White riots happen in Canada every time one of their teams wins the Stanley Cup, and whites perform home invasions in London every day."

Yeah, and how many people get killed in "white riots", vs. an even modest ghetto beat-down, let alone a full-on black riot like in LA in 1992?

The idiot "Truth" reads that there are home invasions in London, and then assumes that it's white people who doing the home invading. London isn't even a majority white city anymore. "Truth", however, remains an idiot.