Did you have a chance to check out last week’s films “Warm Bodies” and “Bullet to the Head?” If so, leave me a comment and let me know why you liked them or not.

I’m still working my way through my awards season screener pile and posting new reviews on my website. Over the course of this week I’ve shared my opinion of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Anna Karenina,” “The Master,” and “Rise of the Guardians.”

I found “Beasts” visually stunning and unique, but a bit abstract for my taste. “Anna Karenina” was very flashy with too much style and not enough substance for me. I thought “The Master” was masterfully (pun intended) directed and the story captivated me, however I was disappointed by the ending. Finally, “Rise of the Guardians” was silly and creative in its use of traditional characters and selection of voice actors, yet its animation and story were uninspired. Click here to see full reviews from my site.   

This week’s column has my review of the Steven Soderbergh crime thriller “Side Effects” and my predictions based on the trailer for the Jason Bateman/Melissa McCarthy comedy “Identity Thief.”


Psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) finds his happy marriage and successful career crashing down around him after he prescribes his patient Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) a new antidepressant, which has unanticipated side effects.  

Director: Steven Soderbergh (“Magic Mike,” “Haywire”)

Writer: Scott Z. Burns (“Contagion,” “The Informant”)

Notable Supporting Actors: Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mamie Gummer

MY TAKE: “Side effects may include manslaughter.” Now that would get your attention if you saw it in the fine print section of a drug ad! Can an adverse reaction to prescription medication really cause a person to involuntarily kill someone else? And if so, is that patient responsible? Better yet, is the doctor who prescribed the pills also culpable, even if he or she didn’t foresee this reaction? These intriguing questions are raised by Stephen Soderbergh’s crime thriller “Side Effects,” although whether any of them are actually answered is debatable.

“Side Effects” is a by-the-numbers thriller about a decent guy (Law) whose life is thrown into complete disarray after a series of missteps place him in a compromising position ethically and professionally. Is he really at fault? Should he take the blame? Or is there more to this story than simple ill-effects caused by medication? The investigation that Dr. Banks conducts to answer these questions, plays out in a predictable fashion, while the film proceeds at a steady cadence. Although the tale keeps your attention, these two facets are perhaps the movie’s biggest shortcomings, because there are few surprises and the tension never quite builds up to a boil.

Talented composer Thomas Newman, who worked on 2012’s “Skyfall” and “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” crafts unsettling stringed music which encourages a sense of paranoia throughout, but his score alone doesn’t create strong tension. Neither do the sexually charged aspects of this thriller, which are weak at best and offensive to some at worst. At least they involve Ms. Mara who is a solid actress and not too hard on the eyes. Mara, Law, and Catherine Zeta-Jones all turn in fine performances as the central characters, but they’re really the only ones that matter. The rest of the actors aren’t given much to work with and could be interchangeable.    

One area that “Side Effects” doesn’t disappoint is its style. This movie contains the thumbprint of its director and cinematographer Steven Soderbergh, who borrows elements from his three previous films “Contagion,” “Haywire,” and “Magic Mike.” He uses freaky music like he did in “Contagion,” soft yellow filters on the actors similar to “Haywire,” and a couple of signature crane shots from “Magic Mike.” Soderbergh also throws in some new tricks like this creepy simultaneous pan and slow zoom that he uses, experiments that would have been nice in greater quantity. His film may be slick and pleasant to watch, however Soderbergh’s “Side Effects” is not a strong thriller. I prefer his prior flicks over this diluted effort.

My Grade:  B