Tag Archives: cinema

Side Effects

20 Mar

Director: Stephen Soderbergh (2013)

SideEffects2013PosterThere is nothing more terrifying than reading the side effects on new medication. Written on the thinnest paper, intricately folded into the tiny box with origamic precision to ensure they can include all the reported side effects. Hair loss, hair gain, decreased sex drive, weight loss, weight gain, depression… It’s better to avoid them at all costs. But in a country where health care comes at a cost, the pharmaceutical industry becomes a dangerous beast when, just like our medication, doctors can also be bought.

Allegedly Soderbergh’s last film, Side Effects delivers a terrifying insight into the American disease of big pharma in the mould of a post-Hitchcockian psychological thriller. But unlike the legally required notes in your medicine, to reveal the plots and surprises of the film would be a sincerely unwanted side effect of this review.

Emily (Rooney Mara) eagerly awaits the return of her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) as he is finally released from prison following a four year stint for insider trading. But after a surprise run-in with a wall in her car, Emily is soon diagnosed with depression and agrees to start seeing a psychiatrist, Jonathan Bands (Jude Law). When other drugs fail to work, Jonathan contacts Emily’s old psychiatrist, Victoria (Catherine Zeta Jones) who suggests a new drug, Ablixa that might help Emily regain control of her spiralling life and help her enjoy life with her newly returned husband.

Bringing up often overlooked themes of mental illness and violence alongside notions of guilt and who should hold the blame when pharma goes wrong, Side Effects is an eye opener into the corruption and dangers of a society obsessed with pharmaceutical fixes. Last seen in Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, Channing Tatum functions as a (shirtless) catalyst to jumpstart the film, illuminating the struggles of Emily to feel excitement that her husband is finally returned. And shirtless. Yet she feels nothing. Rooney Mara is a quiet terror as the troubled Emily while Jude Law’s unwinding Jonathon drives the film as the plot twists and strangles around him.

Like a trip you can’t – and don’t want to – escape, Side Effects is an unrelenting thriller double, possibly triple, bluffing its way into the mind and definitions of ‘madness’ and beyond. If this really is Soderbergh’s last film, to continue the drug metaphors, we are truly going out on a high.


The Summit

25 Oct

Director: Nick Ryan (2012)

In August 2008, 18 climbers reached the top of K2, the second highest mountain on Earth yet perhaps the most technically brutal of the ‘eight-thousanders’ coveted by serious mountaineers each year. But only seven would make it safely back down the ‘Savage Mountain’. The truth about what happened on the mountain has long been shrouded in mystery, but Nick Ryan’s new documentary, The Summit, aims to shed new light on the tragic incident.

Receiving its world premiere at London Film Festival as part of the festival’s coveted ‘Documentary’ strand, The Summit is at once a beautiful and affecting account of the quiet but deadly battle between man and Mother Nature. A relative newcomer to feature films, Ryan’s directorial debut is one of great promise. Told through archive footage, talking heads and photographs found on the victim’s cameras alongside reconstructions, The Summit balances the intricacies of mountain climbing with the intricacies of the human condition in the face of pure nature, and essentially, death.

The enthusiasm and excitement of the climbers is invigorating, illustrating just why people endure what many of us would consider insane, namely embark on a journey to ‘the Death Zone’, the area above 8,000 metres when the body begins to shut down due to lack of oxygen. But their passion drove the climbers to overcome the risks and live their dream; and judging by the jubilant summit photos, adorned with their national flags and good luck mascots, the journey was worth every step.

However, in addition to be an homage to human perseverance and skill, The Summit is still a tale of human tragedy, given added pathos by the words of family members as they continue to search for the truth as to why their loved ones never made it home. Particular focus is given to Ger McDonnell, an amicable Irish climber – and first Irishman to summit K2 – and his close friend and climbing companion, Pemba Gyalje Sherpa. While Ger lost his life on K2, refusing to descend while he stayed to help others, Pemba survived and thankfully offers his voice as a beacon of truth amidst the rumours of what happened that day as climbers were left without their lifeline down the mountain after an avalanche cut their essential ropes.

Widely considered the worst mountaineering disaster in modern climbing history, such an honest documentary is well overdue. With stunning photography by Robbie Ryan and Ryan’s sympathetic yet balanced approach, The Summit places you on top of the world, trying to catch your breath as you witness the mountain’s great shadow over China and the awesome views only a few get to see for themselves. Only the breath you need can never be caught as you are plummeted to the base of K2, watching in horror as events unfold on the mountain above and then to the living rooms of the families awaiting the feared news.

Deeply moving and inspiring in equal measure, The Summit is a must-see for any documentary fan or anyone prepared to be humbled by human perseverance in the face of Mother Nature.

(Originally published on The London Word).

The Hunger Games

14 Apr

Director: Gary Ross (2012)
Shut up, it is nothing like Twilight.
Pre-emptive rant out of the way I will proceed to put my cards on the table. I have indeed read The Hunger Games. The entire trilogy. And, even as a twenty something I thoroughly enjoyed them all. Well at least 2.5 of them. It may have been a dirty little secret at first and then when it was announced they were making a film, I realised I would be called upon to defend their honour or stand by and watch as they were dragged through the mud or shelved alongside the pish that is tween fiction/film franchises like the aforementioned film.  And, like our fearless protagonist, I come with bow and arrow and side braid ready to defend.
Written by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games may be a young adult book but it is one that is well written and gripping from start to finish – much like the film, despite clocking in at 140mins, even with huge sections cut out.
Set in the dytopian realm of Panem, Katniss Everdeen and her sister Prim line up for District 12’s Reaping, an annual lottery into which all the children aged over 12 are entered and one boy and one girl are selected as Tributes for the annual Hunger Games. As Tributes, they enter the arena not only fighting for their District but also for their lives in the ultimate competition where there can only be one winner and the real prize is survival. But as her sister’s name is drawn, almost like a reflex, Katniss volunteers in her place.
While it might not be a particularly new story (see also Series 7: The Contenders, Battle Royale), The Hunger Games takes it out of the ‘real world’ and transplants it into a surreal future where the Games are a punishment for humanity’s uprising – to remind them who is in control, the Capitol and the Peacekeepers.
Director Gary Ross has frankly done a fantastic job. With a battalion of fans from the books, Ross had a big job on his hands making a worthy film but as the stellar cast rolled in including Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci and Lenny Kravitz, the backing of such big names boded well for the final result. Stylish and entertaining from the start, the garish inhabitants of the Capitol are ravenous for their fix of violence and celebrity combined as the Tributes are paraded before them before plunged into the arena, televised 24 hours a day.
It’s a delirious world from the saturated colours and lurid falseness of the people to the terrifying side effects of the punishing arena. As sound and vision fades in and out of Katniss’ comprehension, so does our with such excellent mimicry from the camera work there was the briefest point I genuinely thought I was fainting too….Thankfully I wasn’t. And I wasn’t being attacked by Trackerjackers. Thankfully. Lawrence is superb as Katniss and though I found Josh Hutcherson a little too youthful for Peeta, her District compadre in the Games, he played well and, judging by the reaction of the teens sat next to me, was ticking boxes for younger viewers.
It’s been a while since I have seen a film adaptation done so well, from sets to characterisation, particularly with the Gameskeeper, Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) and the disconcertingly subdued President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who no doubt will come into his own in later films.
Even for those who haven’t read the book – or who have little interest (what you’re not adult enough to read a young adult book?) in doing so – The Hunger Games is a fantastic film that manages to avoid Hollywood kitsch and predictability, offering everything from winning directorship and screenwriting to costume design and gripping action. Yes it is soaked in media attention as the ‘next big thing’ which certainly worries me for its future, particularly with Gary Ross already out for the next installment but I urge you to ignore the hype and make up your own mind. And may the odds be ever in your favour.
(Get it? That’s a line from the movie…because yes, I am a tad obsessed. You will be too).