Friday, February 22, 2013

The Current Cinema 16

Side Effects

Ahh, the comforts of Steven Soderbergh. One knows exactly what they're getting nowadays with his films (and sadly rumored to be his last).... efficient, intelligent and well manicured. This one begins like "Contagion", explicitly charting the effects of a disease (this time depression) with frightening accuracy as Rooney Mara struggles to lead a normal life after ex-convict husband (Channing Tatum) returns home. Then, about two-thirds of the way through, "Side Effects" shifts into murder-thriller mode as if it were a mid nineties direct-to-video Sharon Stone film. And I mean that in the highest regard. Jude Law, as Rooney's embattled psychiatrist, is very good as the Hitchockian everyman caught up in a wed of deceit. Still, the real greatness of "Side Effects" is its chilling representation of modern society's dependence on prescription medication to stun the reverberations of everyday life. And of course it looks magnificent, with Soderbergh's usual palate of greens, browns and golds dressing each scene. There's also one scene between Mara and Law in a quiet office building that punctuates the humming noise of a window air conditioning unit unlike any other I've seen. As a technical exercise (and basically like all of his recent films but especially "The Girlfriend Experience") "Side Effects" is peerless, even when it swerves into cheap potboiler territory.


Taylor Hackford's contemporization of Donald E. Westlake's 2000 novel "Flashfire" feels like a rushed attempt to capitalize on the sudden intrigue of the Westlake universe. It's needlessly profane and features very dull performances by both Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez. I know there are Statham fans out there, but not only does he repeat his monotonous tough guy posturing here, but there's zero chemistry between he and Lopez. He just doesn't feel like a Parker and the film never quite recovers.

A Good Day To Die Hard

Hoping for a guilty pleasure, the fifth installment of the Die Hard trilogy (which should have ended at three) delivers a malignant punch to the gut as Bruce Willis has morphed into a superhuman where no car accident causes a single cut or bruise and the bad guys shoot about as good as an 80's John Woo movie. Transferring the action to Russia where a group of bad guys do battle with two McLanes (Willis' son Jack, played to numbing monotony by Jai Courtney), "A Good Day To Die Hard" alternates between terribly choreographed CGI shoot outs and DOA puns ("I'm on vacation!"). What made the first couple of "Die Hard" films so enthralling- besides their genre pushing realistic violence and claustrophobic environments- was the outright punishment taken by Bruce Willis. "A Good Day To Die Hard" propagates the video game mentality of inconsequential car chases and shoot outs wrapped up in a boring story of old nukes. This is a real disappointment, even with low expectations.

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