Posts Tagged ‘Channing Tatum’

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 12.50.06Kicking off the 2016 edition of Glasgow Film Festival last night was The Coen Brother’s new romp Hail, Caesar! their ode to the Studio System era of 50s Hollywood. As to be expected with the Coens, they deal with their subject with an equal amount of love and cynicism, looking at the “Golden Era” of their craft with a healthy dose of post-modern irony.

As is now customary with the Coens, the brothers direct a star-studded ensemble cast in their lighthearted love-letter to a bygone era, excellently re-creating the studio lots of Capitol Pictures. Binding the multiple simultaneous projects together is Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) the studio’s fixer who solves the various problems of the studio’s cast and crew, as well as batting away questions from scoop-hungry twin sister journalists, both played by Tilda Swinton.

Nearing the climax of the studio’s production of their “premier picture Hail, Caesar!” however, central star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears on an assumed “1 or 2-day bender”; though the party line is that he has a “high-ankle sprain”. In actual fact, Whitlock has been kidnapped, in a scheme actualised by a couple of extras on the set of the film, and taken to a strange place where nothing is quite as it seems.

Although they set the film up a potential road-caper, The Coens don’t, in fact, focus merely on Whitlock’s disappearance, but also the studio’s “the show must go on” attitude, in spite of adversity due to a tight schedule and budget. While Mannix is aware of the problem and its severe nature, it doesn’t suddenly jump to the top of his priorities list in his daily roles, as he must keep various other stars and directors happy with their own problems, while also considering a highly lucrative and much more comfortable job offer of his own.

This is when the film is at its best, showing the rather manic Studio System as it churns out its latest epic, western, drama and musical, all the while needing a cool pair of hands at the centre of it all (Mannix) who – while clearly respected within the studio – has no elevated status, which is reserved for the “key talent”. While Mannix doesn’t seem to mind this, he does battle his own personal demons and Catholic guilt, with a secret smoking habit and a tempting job offer. Despite this he is a seemingly decent man who genuinely loves and respects his family.

Brolin plays the, on the face of it, controlled Mannix with aplomb, and is excellent as lynchpin for the entire picture. While Clooney and other star cameo turns (Johannsson, Tatum, McDormand, Swinton) are all highly enjoyable, the film simply wouldn’t have a leg to stand on without Brolin.

The trouble is that the film as a whole fails to really capitalise on the wealth of talent on offer. While it is highly entertaining, there is nothing here that really sticks with you for much longer than the screen-time. There is plenty of humour and enjoyment to be found in the Coen’s faithful recreating of 1950s Hollywood, including an exaggerated nod to the blacklist and “Communist threat” of the era – playing at times like a twisted version of the recent biopic Trumbo – yet the film doesn’t dig much further than that.

While this isn’t necessarily a problem given the Coens have largely made a career out of films where nothing really happens, or works, it equally is that expectation which befalls Hail, Caesar!. Any fans of the brothers’ work can find various re-treadings of ideas they’ve done before and much more successfully.

For instance, the setting and ideas on display here are also in the masterful Barton Fink, the comedic road movie caper in The Big Lebowski, the kidnapping trope in Fargo, the theological considerations of A Serious Man. These films explored their central ideas very successfully and while Hail, Caesar! is clearly more light-hearted fare, one can’t help but feel that we’ve been here before and in more entertaining circumstances.

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I give Soderbergh three years. Three years for him to put down the paintbrush and get back to film making again. Anyone who has read an interview with Soderbergh recently can attest to the fact that he is undergoing some silver screen existential crisis. This, Side Effectswill be his last proper film before he folds up the director’s chair. Cinema has become too stale for him. Canvas is the way forward. We’ll see, Steven, we’ll see.

If Side Effects is really his last film, then the eclectic auteur has gone out with a bang rather than a whimper. The Hollywood veteran has worked at a furious rate since his 1989 breakthrough Sex, Lies and Videotape, melding an inimitable career of highbrow blockbusters and arthouse experiments. No one has blurred the line so successfully between art and commerce in Hollywood the past 20 years or so. Soderbergh is a one off, so for him to announce his surrender is disappointing. Side Effects is perhaps a perfect encapsulation of Soderbergh’s strengths as a film maker, a devastating mix of cinematic thrills and probing social satire.

Rooney Mara plays Emily Taylor, a moderately achieving urbanite whose husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison for insider trading. A fledgling married couple, Emily struggles to adapt to the return of her husband, and resorts to suicidal flirtations in a cry for help. A meeting with suave English doctor Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) alerts her to the availability of Ablixa, a new anti-depressant that will apparently cue her woes. Dr. Banks, however, has ulterior motives for supplying Ablixa; a lucrative contract with the pharmaceutical company behind the drug leaves him eager to press the drug on new clients. The drug begins to work its wonders and Emily and Dr Banks are ecstatic- that is until things start to go dreadfully, devastatingly wrong.

Side Effects is one of those few films where it works much better if you know little about it. Scott Z Burn’s sparky, live wire script is as twisty as a drive down a Scottish highlands road. If you think you have a handle on where Side Effects is going, think again. While the first third succeeds as a psychological thriller in the Polanski vein, the final two acts change tact and move into another genre entirely and then back again. It is testament to Soderbergh and Burn’s talent that the story never loses focus or sags as the plot veers from one direction to the next. It is gripping from start to finish.

The blank beauty of Mara is utilised perfectly by Soderbergh, perfectly conveying the sense of despair that depression brings, while also hinting at something bubbling under the surface. Law, a much maligned actor, proves how talented he can be with the right role. His Dr Banks is eminently likeable, personable yet flawed. You get the sense that this is someone with high moral aspirations, but always a few fingertips away from grasping this moral ground. The film takes Banks to murky places, but his character never feels emotionally adrift from the audience. Tatum and Catherine Zeta Jones, as the creepy Dr Siebert, both give strong performances in smaller roles. You wonder why Zeta Jones hasn’t played the queen bitch role more often, as she excels here.

Side Effects also features a disorientating array of visuals, led by Peter Andrews (Soderbergh’s DOP alias). Never complacent, Soderbergh moves from muted greys to flushed reds from scene to scene, mirroring the disorientating effects of the drugs. A mixture of high and low angle shots add to the confusion, keeping the audience on their toes all the time. Thomas Newman’s tingly ambient score is like a quietly sinister lullaby floating through the film, contributing to the sense of dread. Soderbergh’s films have often been interesting sensory exercises and this is no different.

While there are moments when the audience’s plausibility meter is stretched to breaking point, Soderbergh always pulls it back. Side Effects performs perfectly as an exercise in the paranoid thriller genre, but it is also a film keen to deliver a message and keep the audience thinking for a few days. It touches on the financial crisis and the effect that has had on society, the pharmaceutical industry and even the judiciary system. It is definitely not just a pretty face. While the cinematic thrills and spills are the ones that grab you by the wrists, the message of moral responsibility will inevitably linger in the mind.

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