Side Effects One Of 2013’s Most Surprising Stories

Courtesy:  Open Road Films

Courtesy: Open Road Films

Side Effects is one of the most surprisingly entertaining movies that has been released in 2013.  This movie is a breath of fresh air in what otherwise feels like an industry that is dead and buried.  Audiences will be surprised at just how easily this almost Hitchcock style story manages to pull viewers into its world and keep them engaged with such little effort.  Script writer Scott Z. Burns is to be commended for having crafted such a solid and original story.  That is the key to the movie’s success.  The acting on the part of Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara also plays a role in the movie’s success.  Together with the writing, the two factors make Side Effects one of the year’s most underrated and underappreciated movies.  As easy as it is to point out everything that makes Side Effects one of the year’s most underrated and underappreciated movies, one would be remiss to ignore its one glaring problem.  That problem is the story’s overall pacing.  Its run time comes in at just under two hours.  But its tendency to drag, that run time tends to feel much longer in the grand scheme of things.  This aside, it still is not enough to make Side Effects unwatchable.  Being the only problematic issue with the story, Side Effects still remains a movie worth at least one watch by those looking for something new and original.

U.S. theaters were top heavy in 2013 with prequels, sequels, and reboots.  In all, the three categories accounted for nearly forty movies this year.  Many of those movies were not worth the price of admission, either.  So when Side Effects was released earlier this year, it didn’t take long for it to get lost in that sea of movies.  Side Effects is a movie deserving of at least one watch, though.  Much like Anchor Bay’s 6 Souls and Dark Skies, the trailers for the movie led viewers and critics alike to think one thing of the movie.  But in watching it, they discover there is something quite different at work.  Far too many critics either missed that something different, or simply refused to acknowledge it.  That is their loss.  To say that the story behind the story is twisted is an understatement.  Burns’ real story won’t be revealed here for the sake of those that have not yet seen this gripping thriller.  But when the story behind the story is revealed, everything will make sense for viewers.  Those that give the movie a chance and discover its surprises will agree that Burns is to be commended for having crafted such a gripping story.

The script developed by Scott Z. Burns is the central point of Side Effects’ success.  Just as worthy of note here, is the acting on the part of both Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara.  Tatum is typically known for roles that are little more than eye candy for female audiences in most of his movies.  So just as this movie was a breath of fresh air overall, it was just as much of a breath of fresh air to see Tatum take a backseat to Mara, who was the real lead in this story.  What’s more, he seemed to actually embrace the role, allowing her to shine as the seemingly emotionally troubled Emily.    It showed that he could potentially have a future as a dramatic actor if he ever decides to stop allowing himself to be pigeonholed into the same eye candy style roles to which he has become so accustomed.  Mara’s acting was just as impressive.  When she sits down with Dr. Banks and tells her story of supposedly having a stillborn child, her sadness is fully believable.  Mara makes Emily a sympathetic character.  She makes her believable, even in her “scarier” moments.  It goes to show both the ability of she herself and of Tatum to interpret their roles.  That ability to interpret their characters ultimately played into the ability to interpret the script, too.  And that combination of factors is what makes this a story that is worth at least one watch.  For all of its successes, Side Effects is not a perfect movie.  There is one glaring issue that holds the movie back.  Luckily for its sake, it doesn’t hold back the story enough to hurt it too badly.  That one glaring issue is the story’s pacing.

Side Effects’ run time comes in at just under two hours.  And its script was written relatively well.  But the story’s pacing is very problematic.  Fingers could easily be pointed at Burns for this.  But they could just as easily be pointed at director Steven Soderbergh.  It could have been a combination of both individuals.  But there are many points throughout the story at which it drags.  There are so many of those moments, in fact, that some viewers might find themselves reaching for their remotes to fast forward.  Luckily, even in fast forwarding, viewers won’t feel that they have missed anything.  There is still enough information in the story for audiences to put two and two together.  And in doing so, they will find themselves having the proverbial “coulda had a V-8 moment.”  That moment in question brings the whole story full circle and makes it clear why this story is worth at least one watch.  It is available now in stores and online.

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Lay The Favorite A Tough Bet For Audiences

Courtesy: RadiusTWC/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Courtesy: RadiusTWC/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Lay The Favorite is not a movie for everyone.  There are at least two possible reasons that this movie—which is another movie based on actual events—that despite an A-list cast, it might not appeal to all audiences.  The first of those reasons is that while it is based on actual events, the ability of audiences to relate to either the story or its characters is not there. That inability of audiences to connect to the story or its characters virtually eliminates suspension of disbelief and interest.  The second of the reasons it might not appeal to a wider swath of viewers than it could have is that it is a noticeably niche film, which ties directly into the ability of audiences to relate to it. As has already been noted, Lay The Favorite was a “gamble” of a movie.  And while it has its issues, there is at least one good thing that can be noted of it.  And it’s not what one might expect.  That one positive is the movie’s makeup department.  The people behind the cameras did a top notch job making Catherine Zeta-Jones near unrecognizable in her role as Dink’s (Bruce Willis) wife, Tulip.  It’s the one real saving grace to a story that otherwise struggles to reach audiences.

The biggest problem of Lay The Favorite is its lack of ability to be relatable to audiences.  The central story is of a young woman played by Rebecca Hall who starts out a stripper and ends up turning her life around, becoming a journalist.  Along the way, she experiences the trials and tribulations of love and life in general.  The problem is that there is simply something about Raymer’s character and her journey to which relating is difficult at the least.  Some might even draw quick comparisons to the likes of perhaps Erin Brokovich in watching Raymer’s story.  Perhaps it’s that somewhat subconscious comparison that makes Raymer’s story less than relatable.  It might lead some audiences to say to themselves, they’ve seen it already, and thus increase the odds of turning it off.

Audiences’ lack of ability to relate to Raymer in Lay The Favorite is just one problem from which the movie suffers.  It’s directly tied into the movie’s other issue, which is the inability of viewers to suspend their disbelief and be pulled into the story.  Right from the story’s outset, the story does little to pull viewers into its world.  There’s little to no back story other than the obvious note that Raymer started out as a stripper.  It does make an attempt to explain some back story.  The attempt is brief at best during a conversation between Raymer and Dink.  This is just one of many issues that bog down the story.  Though, in its defense, so few movies based on books and real life events ever have ever been entirely faithful to the original story.  So one can only wonder just how much this movie left out from Raymer’s original memoirs.         

For all the issues that Lay The Favorite has, there is at least one positive that can be taken away from the movie.  That one positive is the movie’s makeup department.  Veteran actress Catherine Zeta-Jones co-stars alongside Bruce Willis as Dink’s wife, Tulip.  Jones is almost entirely unrecognizable in her role.  Her hair and makeup have been done in a manner that makes her look like a completely different person.  The costume department is just as much to praise for this, too.  The two together truly got her into her role.  It’s proof of both departments’ talent in what they do.  Audiences can at least take this away from a movie that otherwise was a tough bet for its studios.