Screened Out: Meds, Magic and Mayhem, Oh My!

By : Stephen Miller
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“You have to stay until the end!” This is what friends say when a movie has odd plot twists. They also say it when the film is uneven or purposefully misleading.

The psychological thriller Side Effects may include these qualities, plus confusion, lethargy, suspense, violence, melodrama, double-crosses, and a whole list of other symptoms.

Mara is a onetime upper-class wife who is distraught over husband Tatum’s jail time for insider trading. After Tatum is released, Mara is so self-destructive that psychiatrist Law prescribes meds. As different drugs seem to destroy Mara’s consciousness and mental state, Law finds that Mara’s been seeing another doctor (Zeta-Jones) for years.

The docs try to help Mara as she becomes more despondent and dangerous, to herself and to others around her.The first scene tells us there is going to be bloodshed. So this is a mystery, but whether it’s about pharmacology business, Mara’s marriage, or something else entirely isn’t settled until very late in the film.

Director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, the Ocean’s films) is very skilled. He’s worked with most of these actors before. He’s announced this is his last cinematic full-length film. (He plans to retire at 50, after HBO shows his Liberace biopic.)

Is it good? Mostly, even with stumbles, tangents and misdirection – just think of it as a meandering melodrama. Is it worth seeing? Sure, just give your brain and the film the first hour to get used to each other. | l |

Perhaps I should be more lenient, because I enjoy elaborate chase scenes, 40-car pile-ups, and extraneous explosions as much as the next guy. However, the Die Hard franchise makes millions worldwide. They could’ve afforded a better script and director. This fifth installment replaces wit and sardonic humor with violence interrupted by fake “touching” moments. Yuck.

The plot: Bruce Willis goes to Russia to find his son. (Remember the wimpy kid from the third film?) Hunky progeny Courtney is embroiled in a scandal involving a Russian politician, an entrepreneur, and Chernobyl. What follows are chase scenes, wrecked cars, extensive weaponry, and things that go boom. That’s it.

The dialogue is horribly hackneyed. The action is often shot with handheld digital shaky enough to induce motion sickness. The plot makes massive leaps – apparently the CIA cares about uranium, and then they don’t. Fickle CIA!

I don’t know who deserves the most blame here. Director John Moore (Behind Enemy LinesMax Payne) simply has lousy taste in scripts. Also, his camera work is so wildly inconsistent, it feels like several films mashed together. Writer Skip Woods (WolverineHitman) can write action but is clueless about humans. Isn’t Willis’ iconic character supposed to be funny? I laughed twice. Willis is an executive producer here, and without him, there is no Die Hard film. He seems primarily concerned with getting a paycheck. Time to let this franchise die.

Two teens – a supernatural and a mortal – fall in love. No, it’s not Twilight (thankfully). It’s a witch (Englert) and a Southern charmer (Ehrenreich). At first, Beautiful Creatures doesn’t linger in languid love poetry, knowing the trick is to entertain audiences.

Witchy Englert is turning sweet sixteen, the time when all “casters”discover if they’re good or evil. She is also very powerful. Her transformation brings about the culmination of a 250-year curse born on a Civil War battlefield. Ehrenreich is the handsome, young man who beguiles her heart, and vice versa. Along for the magical carpet ride are some wicked and good family members (Irons and Thompson).

This is adapted from a teen novel, helmed by screenwriter/director Richard LaGravenese. He once was a legend (The Fisher KingThe Horse Whisperer). His wizardry with dialogue shows early on with Southern Gothic humor. The cast seems to have a blast.

Then there are the problems. The film quits being fun halfway through. Ehrenreich’s narration – so wonderful in the beginning – disappears altogether. What does hard-drinking, sexist poet Charles Bukowski have to do with any of this? The adults are humorless. Relationships – Âbetween the boy and his absent father, between the witch and her family – seem mere illusions.

I sat there thinking of a dozen small ways this brief entertainment could be better, tighter and more magical. After the sleight was performed, I thought, â┚¬Å”Nice trick, but I’m not entirely charmed.”


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