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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Dark Skies A Dark Horse Candidate For One Of 2013’s Best New Movies

Courtesy: The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Courtesy: The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Dark Skies was met largely with mixed reviews when it originally debuted in theaters early in 2013.  This movie proved to be another work for which there was no grey area.  Either audiences liked it or they hated it.  Those that panned it seemed to do so mostly because of the expectations of it being a horror movie.  Those same individuals obviously weren’t or aren’t fans of science fiction, as (not to spoil the movie too much) that’s what it really turned out to be.  It turned out to be more psychological science fiction thriller than horror.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Even this critic went into the movie, having not seen it during its stint in theaters, expecting it to be just another ghost story.  It was a pleasant surprise to discover that that wasn’t the case.  As a matter of fact, it was that surprise twist that helped to make this underappreciated thriller an edge-of-the-seat thriller that is deserving of being seen at least once.

What makes Dark Skies worth being seen at least once is the manner in which Writer/Director Scott Stewart has managed to take advantage of that line between science fiction and horror that has become increasingly blurred through the modern history of movies.  That same blurred line is what irked many viewers and critics.  But odds are those individuals that were so bothered by the story’s surprise were specifically horror fans rather than science fiction fans or a combination of both.  What’s more, the expectation among so many horror fans today is that a horror movie apparently can’t be horror without a significant amount of bloodshed.  That in itself is a sad statement.  Those expecting such levels of violence and bloodshed won’t get that from this movie.  Stewart has proven that his movie doesn’t need all of that, either in order to be successful.  It does well enough without the sex, violence, and bloodshed, as it pays tribute to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist, and specific other classic horror and sci-fi flicks.  There’s even something of a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, The Birds tossed in for good measure.  Stewart was not trying to directly rip off said movies or anger viewers who have become far too accustomed to unnecessary story elements.  Rather, he was paying tribute to the classics and proving at the same time, that movies with real substance still have a place in today’s overly crowded market of otherwise dry works that try to cover up their lack of substance with those unnecessary extremes. 

Dark Skies has quite a bit which makes it a successful work, despite what other critics might want to believe.  For all the positives to this undervalued work, it isn’t without at least one fault.  That major fault would be the scene transitions.  Many of the movie’s scene transitions early on feel like little more than a grouping of jump cuts, making following the story not as easy as it perhaps could be.  Luckily, if one allows one’s self to become engaged in the story, one will see that the jump cut feeling in question does eventually make way for better transitions.  In turn, one will better enjoy the story right up to its surprise twist ending, which is yet another of the story’s positives.

The surprise twist ending is just one more of so many positives that make Dark Skies a movie worth seeing for anyone that is open minded enough to give it a chance.  Just as interesting as the story’s twist ending is the deleted scene that was the original ending sequence included in the bonus deleted scenes featurette on the brand new Blu-ray/DVD/VUDU combo pack.  Viewers can watch the original ending both with and without commentary, along with a whole grouping of other deleted scenes.  The bonus commentary does add even more appreciation for the work that went into making each scene.  Though even in watching the deleted scenes without commentary, audiences can gain just as much appreciation for what was and was not used in the final film.  It’s yet more proof of the value of bonus features in a movie’s home release.  It is those bonus deleted scenes, along with everything else that went into making this movie that makes it worth another watch now that it’s available on Blu-ray/DVD/VUDU.  Dark Skies is available today in stores and online.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.