Thursday, 14 March 2013
'The Paperboy', 'Side Effects' and 'Outrage Beyond': review round-up
'The Paperboy' - Dir. Lee Daniels (15)
Trashy, pulpy and a little kitsch, Lee Daniels' follow-up to 'Precious' would be much more fun if it weren't also a little po-faced. For a film that has clear arthouse pretensions, this is the movie in which Nicole Kidman's brash, convict-obsessed Charlotte wees on Zac Efron's besotted face. It's the movie which (in one of the most bizarre, awkward and misjudged scenes I've ever seen) sees Charlotte masturbating in front of the assembled cast during a visit to her incarcerated fiance, played by John Cusack - also feverishly masturbating, as hot-shot newspapermen Matthew McConaughey, David Oyelowo and their young driver (Efron) look on speechless: confused and a little aroused. It isn't like anything else you've seen and the there are some enjoyably extreme moments, like those highlighted, but this is funny-bad where the "bad" outweighs the "funny" by some margin.
It's replete with heavy-handed montage sequences and imagery that implies some sort of deep meaning but which under close analysis seems to yield very little. There's a Macy Grey narration that could be excised without harming the film in any way and which seems confused about who it's addressing. Why Grey's housemaid is even telling the story in the first place is never made clear by Pete Dexter's screenplay, based on his own novel. There's also the sort of over the top poverty porn that made parts of 'Precious' so baffling and slightly offensive, with every lower-class character a filthy degenerate with a funny accent. It's fun to see Cusack play against type, but it's an excessive performance - though Kidman is stand-out and the rest of the cast solid - but that's hardly enough to make up for the film's many shortcomings: an investigation storyline that goes nowhere; vague commentary on late-60s racial politics that goes nowhere; and a chase sequence in the third act that is quite possibly the least tense and exciting ever committed to film. It's a mess. Shambolic filmmaking.
'Side Effects' - Dir. Steven Soderbergh (15)
Not the film you expect it to be following a twist at the halfway point, 'Side Effects' - the supposed final film of director Steven Soderbergh - is a gripping thriller that takes many an unusual turn, stretching credibility all in the name of entertainment value. Partly a commentary on the power wielded by big US pharmaceutical companies over the medical profession - and on the power of doctors over patients - and the over-prescription of anti-depressants, the cold and methodical nature of the first half is reminiscent of the dry and earnest 'Contagion'. That section of the movie sees Jude Law's charismatic and plausible psychiatrist coming to the aid of a suicidal depressive played by Rooney Mara - a patient, seduced by advertising, into demanding a particular drug which also happens to be sponsoring several of her doctors.
The second half - which I can't really write about here - is tense, gripping and hugely entertaining, though it's undeniably quite contrived and a little silly. Never more so than whenever Catherine Zeta-Jones appears as a rival psychiatrist who looks more like someone's idea of a "sexy librarian" roleplay fantasy than a medical professional. There's something exploitative about some her scenes with Mara in particular, but it didn't hamper my enjoyment of Soderbergh's latest in a run of recent (and varied) successes - that include 'Magic Mike', 'Haywire', 'The Informant!' and the aforementioned 'Contagion'. Needless to say, I hope this isn't the final feature of a progressive 50 year-old director who appears to be going from strength to strength. Like most vintage Soderbergh, this isn't a film without flaws: but it's interesting, bold and dynamic cinema full of surprises.
'Outrage Beyond' - Dir. Takeshi Kitano (TBC)
Not his most cinematic, stylish or daring work to date - being a thoroughly enjoyable and polished, but otherwise fairly standard Yakuza gangster thriller - 'Outrage Beyond' (a sequel to his earlier 'Outrage') keeps Takeshi Kitano on solid and more commercially viable ground following a period of self-reflection and experimentation. In it he plays a former mob enforcer who just doesn't give a fuck - not about the police or his criminal overlords - making him the rogue element in a society built around deference and respect for authority. He's as enjoyable a screen presence as ever, though the film seems to lose momentum whenever he's not on-screen. Most interesting is the way the film portrays the complicity of the police in mob activity, through the schemes of Fumiyo Kohinata's cynical and manipulative Detective Kataoka - perhaps the real villain of the piece.