‘Side Effects’ Galore

Posted on May 20, 2013
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There’s four surprisingly good thrillers hitting the shelves this week, headed up by the sleeper “Side Effects,” directed by the prolific Steven Soderbergh. The film starts out as a prosaic psychological thriller about a young woman, Emily (Rooney Mara), who begins suffering from terrifying anxiety attacks and bouts of sleepwalking after her husband (Channing Tatum) is released from prison. She turns to psychiatrist Dr. Banks (Jude Law) for help, but when Banks prescribes an photo experimental drug, the side effects have chilling and deadly consequences, putting the doctor on the hot seat. From this point on, the film becomes a deluxe mystery-thriller as Banks becomes a detective to uncover the motives behind a conspiracy to discredit his name. There’s plenty of unexpected twists and turns as the film winds down towards its unexpected ending. Also stars Catherine Zeta-Jones as a rival shrink.

Next up is “The Last Stand,” notable for the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the big screen in a starring role, and for the first English-language film by South Korean director Jee-woon Kim, who gave us the nasty but fantastic gore-mystery-thrillers “A Tale of Two Sisters” and “I Saw the Devil” and the unreleased gangster drama “A Bittersweet Life.” Many U.S. debuts for foreign directors aren’t auspicious, and this one falls into that category. It revolves around the escape of a vicious drug kingpin from an FBI prisoner convoy in Las Vegas who — with an army of henchmen packing as much firepower as a small country — heads south to the U.S.-Mexico border. No one can stop him — except for the obstinate Sheriff of the only town that stands between the kingpin and freedom: Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who gathers his small ragtag police force to stop the bad guys, setting the stage for a classic showdown. It’s predictable and fun, but certainly not as stylish as the director’s previous outings. Co-stars Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzman, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Zach Gilford and Genesis Rodriguez.

“Beautiful Creatures” is a supernatural love story set in the South, about two star-crossed lovers: Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), a young man longing to escape his small town, and Lena (Alice Englert), a mysterious new girl who, it turns out, is a “caster” who, on her 16th birthday, either goes over to the good or bad side of witchcraft. Together they uncover the dark secrets of their respective families, their history and their town. It’s gothic-teen-romance along the lines of “The Twilight Saga” but brought to a higher level by a pair of British stalwarts — Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson — who thoroughly enjoy their turns before the camera. Based on the best-selling book (and book series) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Directed by Richard LaGravenese and also starring Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann and Eileen Atkins.

“Parker” is a by-the-book action-thriller starring Jason Statham as Parker, a professional thief photo who lives by a personal code of ethics: Don’t steal from people who can’t afford it and don’t hurt people who don’t deserve it. When his crew double crosses him after their latest heist, steals his stash, and leaves him for dead, Parker tracks them to Palm Beach, playground of the rich and famous, where he evens the score. Along the way he takes on an unlikely partner, Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), a savvy insider who’s short on cash, but big on looks, smarts and ambition. It’s pretty predictable but it’s always fun to watch Statham smash heads and Lopez strut her stuff. Based on the novel “Flashfire,” one of the series of bestselling novels by Donald E. Westlake (under the pen name of Richard Stark). Directed by Taylor Hackford and co-starring Nick Nolte, Michael Chiklis, Clifton Collins Jr., Wendell Pierce, Micah Hauptman, Patti LuPone, Emma Booth and Bobby Cannavale.

“The ABCs of Death” (2013) is a very interesting experiment in programming filmmaking: Twenty-six directors were each assigned a letter of the alphabet and then given free reign in choosing a word to create a story involving death. The result: Twenty-six provocative, funny, shocking and great ways to die (A is for Apocalypse, E is for Exterminate, H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion, K is for Klutz, N is for Nuptials, P is for Pressure, S is for Speed, U is for photo Unearthed, Z is for Zetsumetsu, etc.) Sone are gruesome and horrible, some are funny and satirical; their brevity makes each one interesting since none are long enough to get bored and, though there are a lot more misses than hits, its all very watchable. On DVD and Blu-ray form Magnolia Home Entertainment.

“Nightfall” (2012 — Hong Kong), starring Simon Yam and Nick Cheung, is a grisly thriller that pits a bitter, aging detective against a recently released murderer in a mystery surrounding the killing of a popular opera singer who, it turns out, was a brutal misogynist. What starts out as a clear-cut case of revenge gets murkier and convoluted with the truth becoming harder and harder to uncover as the case progresses. Who is really guilty in the murder? A fast-paced, enjoyable procedural highlighted by swooping visuals and colors. A promising second outing for young director Chow Hin Yeung Roy. On DVD and Blu-ray from Well Go USA


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