Catherine Zeta Jones
The Review: If you look in the dictionary for the definition of the word eclectic, you’ll see that it was updated a couple of years ago to read simply “Steven Soderbergh’s career.” Not content to be like namesake Spielberg and to successfully straddle the multiplex and more thoughtful fare, it’s as if Soderbergh deliberately sets out to distance himself from as many elements of his previous work as possible. Even his Ocean’s sequels varied wildly in tone, style and content, with Thirteen almost feeling the odd man out for being a little reminiscent of the original. When you use a phrase like “Soderbergh’s career” it has a certain finality to it and if the rumours are to be believed then Side Effects is the last time we’ll see a new film from Steven, at least for a fair while, so that Side Effects proves to be a surprisingly efficient and taut thriller and a fitting valediction for one of the last two decade’s most distinctive cinematic voices.
That his films are so recognisable may be down to the sheer level of work he puts into their production; over the years he’s written, produced and even composed and Side Effects sees him working as editor, cinematographer and director on the same film for the sixth time in his career. It’s a refined, almost cold visual aesthetic but one that is subject to deliberate rhythms and pacing, and this might just the the most effective combination of those three skills yet. It’s a slow start as regular Soderbergh scribe Scott Z. Burns sets out the playing field, with Rooney Mara’s Emily struggling to deal with the return of husband Martin (Channing Tatum) from prison after a stretch for insider dealing. When she attempts to deal with her onset of depression in dramatic fashion, she comes under the care of psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who attempts to find the right drug to help her deal with her difficulties. It’s not the first time that Emily’s needed help, and her previous counsellor Victoria (Catherine Zeta-Jones) suggests a new drug, Ablixa, might be the best option of those not already tried, but it may just be the start of Emily’s real problems…
Soderbergh’s back catalogue is written through Side Effects like a stick of rock: as well as the crisp digital photography and the economy of the script, which never wastes a word even during the deliberately paced set-up. He’s got form in the political arena, and for the opening stretch Side Effects seems to be setting itself up as a thorough examination of the cynical and profitable pharmaceutical industry that’s practically spoon fed to most of America. (There’s an interesting, and telling, line where Jude Law comments on the difference between his practice in the US and how different it would have been in the UK had he stayed.) But it’s also never that simple in a Soderbergh film and there’s enough twists and turns packed into the second half to keep even the sharpest audience on their toes. The more the film progresses, the more the narrative takes on a classic feel, and it wouldn’t have been a stretch to imagine Bernard Herrmann coming up with a similarly jittery score to Thomas Newman’s nervous stylings, or indeed the likes of Cary Grant or James Stewart taking on the Jude Law role had this been made fifty years ago.
Soderbergh’s always been an actor’s director at heart, ultimately as concerned with performance as he is with image, and most of the cast have become regular collaborators. While Zeta-Jones and Tatum are both on their third outing with the director, it’s Jude Law’s sophomore turn that anchors Side Effects, and it’s around 1000% more effective than his embarrassing Australian from Contagion. Where Contagion was chilling but sprawling and at times unfocused, Side Effects coils itself more and more tightly and it’s a showcase both Law and first-timer Rooney Mara, utterly believable as the depressive Emily. It’s undoubtedly a film of its time, with much to say about modern lives and current struggles, but it’s possibly writer Burns’ most effective script to date and it’s hard to imagine anyone except Steven Soderbergh working today being able to play it out so effectively, especially in the way that possibly sensitive themes such as depression and the financial crisis are not only handled, but then not undermined when the narrative takes one sharp turn after another. It’s maybe fitting that someone so focused on the image of his films is supposedly taking his break to work on his painting, but given that he’s still got cinematic treats like this within him, let’s all hope that it’s just a sabbatical and not the last we’ll see of him.
Why see it at the cinema: Soderbergh is a master of his art and every image and sound is lovingly crafted. The darkness of the cinema will also help focus you into the tightly wound tension that Soderbergh crafts, especially in the second half.
What about the rating: Rated 15 for strong language, sex and violence. No argument, and it’s certainly a more effective film at this rating as it’s really one pivotal scene that earns this rating, which would have lessened the overall impact had it been cut to 12A.
My cinema experience: Saturday morning at my local Cineworld in Cambridge; having pre-booked my ticket I thankfully sailed through to the cinema, to be joined by the usual crowd of single men taking in a Saturday morning film with clearly nothing better to do. Thankfully we weren’t submitted to any projection problems.
The Corridor Of Uncertainty: The film started twenty-three minutes after the advertised time, which for me was a complete relief; having struggled to find a parking space I arrived in just as the BBFC title card appeared on screen.
The Score: 9/10
The Review: The career trajectory of Catherine Zeta Jones has been an almost fairytale one. Girl from the Welsh valleys, hit British TV series, failed pop career, obscurity, then returns to conquer Hollywood with an Oscar, and a marriage to one of the biggest names in film. There was a fascination at the time with the pairing, not least because at the time, CZJ was 31 and Michael Douglas was 56. It doesn’t take a genius to see how the marketing men came up with this concept. There’s probably a more interesting movie in the concept of the life of the Hollywood actress who wins an Oscar and then finds herself condemned to a life of insipid romantic comedies, but instead we’re saddled with this.
Coming so soon after the recent French hit Heartbreaker, which managed to do so much right in both romance and comedy, it’s genuinely dispiriting to see one that gets so much so wrong. Watching this, you find your mind wandering to better examples of the genres that The Rebound encompasses – better age gap movies (Harold and Maude, for example), better overbearing Jewish parents movies, better obnoxious and troublesome kids movies, better male / female discourse on relationship movies, and so on.
But we’re not talking a midly acceptable movie whose peers best it for quality, we’re talking a painful excuse for a movie whose jugdement you find yourself calling into question at every turn. The initial set-up is poorly handled and doesn’t engage sympathy for any of the characters. There are two interviews whose purpose is to set up the characters which feel hideously unnatural because they come straight out of Exposition for Dummies, chapter one. It takes an unnecessary amount of time for our two leads to interact in any meaningful way, and the various chapters of their burgeoning romance are all slow and obvious, right up until the last act, which goes off in random and unwanted directions and seemingly doesn’t know how to resolve matters. Most of the fault must be levelled at writer / director Bart Freundlich, who’s made so many indifferent or poor movies over the years it does give you cause for concern that studios keep giving him money to spend.
The bright spots? Justin Bartha is OK, and feels sort of natural around the kids, and might do better with decent material, and… well, that’s about it. Catherine Zeta Jones isn’t likeable or sympathetic, the supporting cast get nothing interesting to do, the score is incredibly poor and kills some scenes stone dead, there’s maybe one scene that will linger in the memory after you’ve seen it, the movie has nothing interesting to say about any of the concepts it raises, and there’s scant believability in the passage of time that the movie portrays, which also serves to rob you of whatever emotional investment you had left in the final scenes. Hopefully whatever movie you see on the rebound from this one will be better – it would be hard for it not to be.
Why see it at the cinema: My excuses – I had three hours to kill before The A Team and nothing better to be doing (or so I thought), and I also made comment about CZJ’s face in an earlier blog. I can report that it does look someone’s put a bulldog clip on the back of her head and pulled her skin taught – she shows no facial movement that would be able to be recognised as emotion, which just doesn’t help the movie on top of all its other faults. I had pretty poor reasons, when it comes down to it, and I was the only person in my screening. Hopefully there will be one less at as many as possible of the remainder.
The Score: 2/10
With any addiction, sometimes it takes the counsel of those around you to help you realise you’ve got a problem. I’ve now seen 59 movies at the cinema this year, four of which I’ve seen twice for varying reasons. I want to see Splice tomorrow, but it’s a bit of a trek to the nearest place showing it, and I’ll have the car for a few hours before that as well. Unfortunately, the only thing I’ve not seen also showing at that cinema is The Rebound. However, after this post (when you’ll see in the comments someone already called me nuts and stupid), I feel in some way honour bound to see that through to its logical conclusion.
I’m also a Twitter addict, and will happily get caught up in any of the latest trends. So when the #filmconfessions hash tag started yesterday, I chipped in with:
I also confessed to the Catherine Zeta Jones plan for the weekend. Thanks then, to RickProcter, who replied with this wake-up call.
I realise that, on reflection, this isn’t strictly true. I have seen The Elephant Man, and I did go to see Dune for my 11th birthday, but it’s one of only three movies I’ve ever walked out on. However, I have some Lynch bought, downloaded (not to mention six Kurosawa movies), and I’m going to pay to watch a CZJ romcom this weekend that I know won’t be any good before I see it, rather than one of the aforementioned movies that I already own and can see for free.
So I think I have a problem. For this weekend, I will be watching Mulholland Dr. via whatever medium I can to address the balance. But tell me, do I have an out of control addiction? Do I need help? And if so, where can I get it?
Just asking. Wait, better explain. The purpose of this site is to advocate cinema attendance as life choice as regularly as possible, and so consequently I see a lot of things in cinemas, some of which I wonder whether I’ve seen or not.
Went to see Greenberg last night, and had a completely random selection of trailers, one of which was for the upcoming Catherine Zeta Jones yuck-fest The Rebound. Now I’d like to think I’m not descending completely into male chauvinism in my old age, but pardon me for saying that CZJ, once upon a time, was incredibly hot. (For anyone in the UK, I’m talking The Darling Buds of May era here, before she married the scary old man or started appearing in films with them.)
But there was something coming over which seems to only be visible on the big screen. Having sucked it up and re-watched the trailer below, maybe you need to see it on the big screen, or maybe it’s just me, but it looks like Catherine has something wrong with her face. I’m not enough of an expert on these matters to judge, so maybe she’s felt the need for a bit of Botox, or maybe she’s keeping the same fixed expression for fear of catching old man disease (which would explain why she’s playing against men much younger now), or maybe it’s just the effect of the picture she’s got in her attic starting to kick in, but on the big screen something looked scarily wrong with her face, as if the special effects guys who made the young faces in X-Men 3 were now invading random movies.
So maybe that’s a slightly odd recommendation for seeing movies at the cinema, but there you go. Anyway, watch it if you dare. You won’t see it here, but if it comes on before a movie near you, then be afraid. Be very afraid.
EDIT: Having seen this trailer twice more since on the big screen, the bit where it’s most obvious is where she’s on the street and she and her friend are talking about a chiropractor and they see Justin Bartha from a distance. I may end up seeing the whole movie to bottom this out once and for all.