“Side Effects” (2013) starring Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, & Catherine Zeta-Jones

One pill can change your life. -A tagline for the movie

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) has just been reunited w/ her loving husband- Martin (Channing Tatum- at 33 y.o.)- who served a 4 yr. jail sentence for insider trading. However, the 28 y.o. graphic designer becomes V depressed (even attempting suicide by crashing her car into a wall). At the ER, Emily convinces the consulting psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), to release her instead of hospitalizing her for observation (as is commonly done). Emily explains that therapy was helpful for her in the past, and becomes his regular patient. Dr. Banks gives her some meds, BUT none of them are working for Emily. After conferring w/ her former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Dr. Banks prescribes an experimental new medication- Ablixa.

Director Steven Soderbergh considered casting Lindsay Lohan for the role of Emily and he auditioned her 3x; however, producers felt that her ongoing legal issues would disrupt the production process. Blake Lively was originally cast as Emily, BUT the production company dropped out after learning of her casting; they returned after Mara took over the role. Law (then 41 y.o.) admitted that he felt insecure playing the lead role, as it was his 1st role as a husband/ father (as in real life), the 1st time using his real accent, w/ no hair/makeup changes. Soderbergh said that one of his biggest influences making the movie was the work of Adrian Lyne, esp. Fatal Attraction (1987).

If the character should be nude in the scene and it makes sense and I trust the person making the film, then I don’t see a problem with it. I certainly don’t want to be involved in anything that is gratuitous, but I don’t think the human body is something to be ashamed of. Every other person on the planet has the same parts as I do. So seeing them shouldn’t be a huge shock to most people. -Rooney Mara

The less you know about this movie, the more you will enjoy it. I learned about it from the most recent ep of Fatal Attractions podcast. As several critics have noted, Soderbergh (who also operates the camera) doesn’t stick to just one genre in his work. Here, the viewer thinks it will one type of movie, but then it takes a different turn after about 40 mins. The screenplay (by Scott Z. Burns) is V well-written. I wasn’t a fan of the lighting that was chosen for some scenes; the yellow/green tint doesn’t look appealing. The production design was well done; most of the interiors are apts and offices of modern-day NYC. The acting was strong, aside from some of the line readings/mannerisms of Zeta-Jones; she and Tatum have appeared in other of this director’s films. The supporting cast (incl. veterans of the NYC theater) add to the story. If you enjoy thrillers and don’t mind characters who operate in the “gray area,” check this out.

[1] There are surprises (one of them hinted at in the opening scene) and then further and further twists.

[2] The screenplay is incredibly well-written, creating characters that amaze us, disappoint us and deceive us all the while being a part of an interesting and complex story. […]

It’s more of an edge-of-your-mind thriller rather than an edge-of-your- seat thriller. Never really scared, always questioning the moral and psychological behaviour of these characters.

[3] For half of the movie, it is a persuasive indictment of the pharmaceutical industry and its crass behavior toward its patients; for the other half, it is a three- cornered mystery/thriller, with double crosses and framings galore.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“The Hitch-Hiker” (1953) directed by Ida Lupino

When was the last time you invited death into your car? -A tag line for the film

Two friends, Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien- who has appeared in several noir films) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy- the more conventionally handsome of the pair), on their way to Mexico for a fishing trip, pick-up a stranded motorist, Emmett Myers (William Talman- the prosecutor on Perry Mason) who turns turns out to be psychopath/escaped convict. Myers has a facial deformity which prevents one of his eyes from ever closing- creepy! He has murdered other good Samaritans; he taunts/threatens the two pals, getting joy from holding them hostage w/ his gun. Myers’s destination is a ferryboat in Baja, CA. Collins and Bowen hope to stay alive long enough to escape or maybe get rescued by Mexican cops.

Emmett Myers: You guys are soft. You know what makes you that way? You’re up to your neck in IOU’s. You’re suckers! You’re scared to get out on your own. You’ve always had it good, so you’re soft. Well, not me! Nobody ever gave me anything, so I don’t owe nobody!

The Hitch-Hiker is the ONLY film noir of the classic era directed by a woman- Ida Lupino! She was born/raised in England, then came over to the US as a teenager in the ’30s. At Warner Bros. (where she was contracted), Lupino often played characters much older than her years (b/c she had the maturity and talent). As a V slim/petite ingenue, she had her hair colored platinum. In the late ’40s, Lupino (inspired by Italian neo-realist directors, incl. Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini) decided to take on a new role; she and her writer/producer husband (Collier Young) may’ve been the first to coin the phrase “the filmmakers.” While Lupino was directing, she always wore pants, explaining that they were more suited to the work than skirts/dresses. Her production company wasn’t afraid of controversial topics or centering stories of females: Not Wanted deals w/ a teenager’s unwanted pregnancy, Never Fear is centered on a dancer who has polio, and Outrage considers what happens after a woman survives rape.

Ida Lupino is the most talented and versatile woman in the history of movies. -Eddie Muller, TCM host

This tense/atmospheric movie is available in the public domain; the run time is at 71 mins. It is based on an incident that happened in California in the early ’50s. At this time in the US, hitch-hiking wasn’t that uncommon. A man named Billy Cook murdered a family of 5, incl. 3 children, then killed a traveling salesman. He kidnapped 2 hunting buddies (James Burke and Forest Dameron) and took them across the border into Mexico, intending to kill them, too. However, Cook was captured by Mexican police and extradited to the US. Lupino somehow met Dameron at an event in Palm Springs, FL, and felt this story would make a compelling movie. She also met w/ Cook while he was on death row in San Quentin- wow!

Talman recalled an incident that happened shortly after the release of The Hitch-Hiker. He was driving his convertible in LA w/ the top down, and he stopped at a red light. Another driver in a convertible stopped next to him stared at him for a few seconds, then asked: “You’re the hitchhiker, right?” Talman nodded. The other driver got out of his car, slapped Tallman across the face, then drove off. Talman said: “You know, I never won an Academy Award, but I guess that was about as close as I ever will come to one.”

[1] This flawlessly acted and directed thriller sustains a uniquely tense atmosphere from start to finish, and this without reverting to explicit violence or dreadful clichés. 

[2] We’ve seen many similar plots over the years, but I thought this was a fresh and unpredictable. Lupino’s direction really suits the material, the tension builds throughout, and Talman is unforgettable.

[3] This is a low budget, black and white suspense thriller that has more tension in it than a dozen recent movies. The low budget works in its favour, with tight camera angles making for a claustrophobic viewing experience. Actress Ida Lupino certainly knows what she’s doing behind the camera, as she rarely puts a foot wrong here: the pacing is exact and the performances are excellent.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

 

Spoiler-Free Review: “The Batman” (2022) starring Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, & Paul Dano

…rather than make Bruce Wayne the playboy version we’ve seen before, there’s another version who had gone through a great tragedy and became a recluse. Kurt Cobain had a relationship w/ fame, where being famous was not his goal. He loved music, but the idea of being famous for music was a double edged sword for him. And that made me think of Rob Pattinson, actually. I felt that this rock-star vibe suited him well. After all, he became a pop-culture icon at a very young age and had to carry that burden too, and extricate himself from it to become the actor he is today. -Matt Reeves, writer/director

Bruce Wayne in this reimagining of Batman was partially inspired by Kurt Cobain. Reeves was listening to Nirvana when he wrote the 1st act. This is the 1st movie to directly address the black eye makeup under the cowl. In previous versions, the makeup just disappeared when Bruce took his mask off. Reeves explained: “I just loved the idea of taking off [the mask] and under that there’s the sweating and the dripping and the whole theatricality of becoming this character.” Robert Pattinson (whose acting I don’t yet know well) and Zoë Kravitz (who plays Selina Kyle AKA Catwoman) were friends for about 10 yrs before being cast in this film. Reeves commented that they already had great chemistry and a natural connection from the beginning of shooting. I thought almost ALL the scenes btwn Batman and Catwoman crackled w/ chemistry!

Bruce is obsessed in being Batman. He has no desire to be Bruce and he wants to just throw it away. He hasn’t gotten over being the 10-year-old boy who, in his mind, let his parents die. For him, being Batman is like a strange kind of therapy. He thinks this is the way he can save himself, by living in this kind of Zen state as Batman, where it’s just pure instinct and no emotional baggage. It feels like he has a death wish going out at night. I always get the impression that he wants to keep recreating the night when his parents died. In his mind, every single person he is fighting is the person who killed his parents. -Robert Pattinson

This Batman is a “detective” of sorts, as many critics/viewers noted; he works w/ the police to solve crime. He is a man of few words and doesn’t feel the needs to put on the persona of Bruce Wayne. At this point, he has been at the vigilante biz for 2yrs and Gotham doesn’t trust him. However, the respected Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright- always great in any role) brings him in on tough cases as he trusts Batman. Reeves’ version of the Riddler (Paul Dano- all grown up) was partly inspired by the Zodiac killer who operated in California in the late 1960s. I noticed that some Adam Driver fans also admire this character actor. Like Driver, Dano is V tall, doesn’t have a face typical of a Hollywood actor, and is able to project vulnerability. Andy Serkis takes on the (rare) good guy role; he plays Alfred, BUT doesn’t get too much to do. I thought he did fine w/ what he was given. Did some of you recognize Colin Farrell!? (I ONLY knew it was him b/c I listened to some movie podcasts before viewing!) John Turturro (a veteran character actor who I know from Spike Lee movies) has a pivotal role, BUT I don’t want to give too much away.

When my kid saw me for the first time, he was utterly horrified. I have it on iPhone. He was horrified.

-Colin Farrell re: his transformation to Oswald (AKA The Penguin)

I already have my fave Batman (Christian Bale), so wasn’t TOO eager to see this version. There is also charm (and nostalgia) when looking back at Michael Keaton’s take on Batman, many growing up in the ’80s have commented. Also, Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer (who were exes) were hot as a romantic duo in Batman Returns! It got some decent reviews and was streaming on HBO Max, so I checked it out a few weeks ago. Yes, it’s a V long movie (as is the case nowadays w/ many movies)! The filmmakers create a realistic and noir-like environment; Gotham is usually gloomy, rainy, and dark. It (mostly) kept my attention, BUT I didn’t think much on it after a couple of days. If you want a diversion and enjoy this character, then give it a look.

Spoiler-Free Review: “House of Gucci” (2021) starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, & Jared Leto

A name to die for. -A tag line for the film

This is inspired by the family empire behind the Italian fashion house of Gucci. When Patrizia Reggiani, an outsider from humble beginnings, marries into the Gucci family, her unbridled ambition begins to unravel the family legacy and triggers a reckless spiral of betrayal, decadence, revenge, and ultimately… murder. -Synopsis

While it’s based on factual events, the story told in House of Gucci has significant parallels to Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann’s novel Buddenbrooks: Verfall einer Familie (1901). Mann’s chronicle of the decline of a wealthy German merchant family over 4 generations also deals w/ themes of decadence, social class, family image, the search for happiness, destructive relationships and disappointing children, the conflict between art and business and capitalist society at large. The acting style of the ensemble was in part inspired by the Commedia dell’arte, an Italian comedic theatre style popular in the 16th, 17th and 18th century. This style goes for comedic effect through exaggeration and sharply-drawn character types, also sometimes using colorful costumes and masks.

Paolo: You picked a real firecracker.

Maurizio: She’s a handful.

Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Margot Robbie, and Natalie Portman were all considered for the role of Patrizia. Christian Bale was considered for the role of Maurizio. While Scott wanted Driver for Maurizio, there were some scheduling issues at first. Chris Evans was considered as a back-up, in case Driver couldn’t free up his schedule. Robert De Niro was originally announced as being in talks to play Rodolfo Gucci, but Jeremy Irons was cast instead. Huston- who plays lawyer/advisor Domenico De Sole- was born and raised in England, and naturally speaks w/ an English accent. On his Hollywood (paternal) side, he’s the nephew of Angelica and Danny Huston and grandson of John Huston. Monica Bellucci was considered to play Pina, but turned down the part. Salma Hayek took on Pina; she’s married to François-Henri Pinault (founder/CEO of French multi-national company- Kering- which owns Gucci as of 2021).

Paolo: Never confuse sh*t with chocolate. They may look the same, but the taste is very different. Trust me I know.

Yes, the above are real lines written by an (experienced) screenwriter- LOL! To put it bluntly, this movie is a hot mess! I wasn’t shocked to see this, as I’d read much about it (on social media) long before viewing it. No amount of realistic wigs, glam clothes, or fancy sets/beautiful locations can ever make up for lackluster writing and uneven acting. Comedian Wanda Sykes referred to it during the Oscars as “House of Random Accents.” Many viewers commented that they enjoyed the 1st act, which is focused on the budding romance of Maurizio (a law student) and Patrizia (a secretary at her father’s trucking biz). Some critics noted that Driver gets the “boring” role; his acting is naturalistic (unlike several others here). Lady Gaga said she worked long and hard on her role; she shows the (unabashed) ambition of Patrizia. Her famous line: “Father, Son, and House of Gucci” was improvised. Irons (using his British accent) is the intimidating/snobby Gucci patriarch, Rodolfo. Uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) is the one who helps the young couple when Maurizio’s father disowns him (temporarily). Pacino looks V tame when compared to onscreen son, Paolo (Jared Leto). I don’t know where Leto got his accent and those mannerisms, BUT wow- is he annoying! Many felt that Paolo was a stereotype of an Italian man.

Aldo: Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.

Music is a big part of this movie. Early in the film (1978), we see a big party w/ crowd dancing to Donna Summer’s On the Radio (which wasn’t released until 1980). Another song at this party- Bad Girls– wasn’t released until 1979. Patrizia is shown using a Sony Walkman cassette player (which didn’t come out until 1979). During the wedding, which in the timeline of movie happens before 1983, Faith by George Michael plays (but it wasn’t released until 1987). Some viewers wanted to hear the vows and see more of the actual wedding. In reality, Patrizia and Maurizio Gucci were married in 1972; they had 2 daughters- Alessandra (shown in the film) and Allegra (not shown).

[1] Adam Driver and Lady Gaga can leave with their reputations relatively unscathed, even if perhaps Gaga hones an accent that’s a bit more Transylvanian than Milanese. Al Pacino and Jared Leto though are in a different film, with broad comedic performances...

I could, perhaps, forgive their choices if the overall film hung together better, but alas it doesn’t. The story is glacial at some points, but at others either skips over or brushes through sections that are required to make the story make sense.

In lesser hands, this might be more forgivable, but this is Ridley Scott and we’ve come to expect more. This was, in no uncertain terms, a shambles.

[2] Ridley Scott’s filmography is hit and miss, brilliant at his best like with ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’ though some of his films, such as GI Jane and Robin Hood (Legend is underrated in my view), are not too great.

As far as Scott’s films go, it’s a middling effort. Neither one of his best or worst.

House of Gucci has a lot that is good in my view. Have very little to complain about when it comes to how it looks, apart from some editing being in need of a tightening in the final act. The Italian scenery and the costumes are truly stunning though and the camerawork is similarly sumptuous. Scott’s direction is uneven dramatically, but is very impressive on a technical level, especially in his use of multiple cameras (which must make it easy for actors to know where to look).

[3] For me, this is all about the accent. Everybody is speaking English but in an overt Italian accent. It’s distracting. […] Maybe this needs to be a limited series on a streaming service. The acting seems to be getting accolades. I don’t mind that. They’re doing good work. The accent is just not my preference. All in all, this is a functional biopic with interesting actors doing a specific choice.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Quick Reviews of Recent Views (2021-2022)

And Just Like That (2021): HBO Max

This is the much-talked about (and criticized) sequel to SATC; writer Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), and stay-at-home mom Charlotte York-Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis) are now in their mid-50s. Of course, publicist Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) is NOT on the show; many fans objected to how her character was handled. At the start of the show, ALL the pals seem happily married; we see John AKA Mr. Big (Chris Noth), Steve (David Eigenberg), and Harry (Evan Handler). Anthony (Mario Cantone) and Stanford Blatch (Willie Garson) are married, BUT don’t look too happy. As for the teens, they’re annoying AF; Miranda’s 17 y.o. son Brady behaves V disrespectfully; Charlotte’s kids- 14 y.o. Lily and 12 y.o. Rose- are spoiled and uncompromising. Why spend SO much time on kids- it’s supposed to be about adults!? Carrie is one of the regular guests on a podcast hosted by a bisexual/non-binary comedian, Che Diaz (Sarah Ramirez).

I mainly tuned in to see Carrie’s realtor-turned-friend, Seema (Sarita Choudhury) who appears starting in E4; she’s mainly a theater/indie film actor; I saw her at a play reading in NYC in 2008 (and she is gorgeous IRL). Choudhury starred opposite a young Denzel Washington in Mira Nair’s indie/drama/romance Mississippi Masala. Seema’s mom is played by veteran/international actor/chef/author- Madhur Jaffrey. Miranda’s prof, Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman), and her jazz musician hubby, Andre (LeRoy McClain), are trying to have a baby w/ IVF. Lisa Todd Wexley AKA LTW (Nicole Ari Parker) is the mom of 3 young kids; Charlotte becomes her friend (after they meet while organizing school events). LTW’s hubby Herbert is played by Hamilton actor Chris Jackson; he (sadly) doesn’t have much to do. Where is the fun (I barely cracked a smile; don’t recall LOLs), fashion (Miranda’s wig and outfits don’t suit her at all), and romance!? IF you’re a fan of the original series, I suggest avoiding this one!

Bridgerton (Season 2): Netflix

Everybody (and their mom) has an opinion on the show- LOL! Almost ALL my friends (IRL/online) were talking/messaging/tweeting about it (some more than 2 wks before S2 dropped). Since I’ve gotten a LOT more active on Twitter lately (and have some new connections), I couldn’t avoid the jokes, memes, etc. You have to shut-off your brain to enjoy shows like this (NO offense); it’s been compared to Jane Austen fan fiction and an alternate universe (AU) of Regency era England. MANY women of color (of all ages) esp. liked seeing the Indian (South Asian) representation in the Sharma sisters (played by Brits: statuesque Simone Ashley and petite Charithra Chandran)! I liked the “slow burn” romance (Anthony and Kate), the fam scenes of the Bridgertons (who all have great chemistry together), and (light-hearted/funny) scenes w/ the artist/bohemian bro, Benedict (Luke Thompson). I think the acting is stronger in this season; S1 didn’t impress me that much. There is one V powerful/emotional scene (S2 E3) that is unlike ANY I’ve seen in a period drama!

The Chair (2021): Netflix

This show was tweeted about by MANY women/POC/academics I follow, so I watched it when it came out last Fall. Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) is the new Chair of Humanities at a small/fictional university (Pembroke); she is the 1st woman and person of color (POC) to hold this post. Ji-Yoon is single (by choice) and the adoptive mom to a bright/challenging young daughter, Ju-Hee. The “old guard” at this school are played by veteran actors: Bob Balaban, Holland Taylor, and David Morse. Ji-Yoon’s closest friend/potential love interest, Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass), lost his wife a few years ago and his 18 y.o. daughter leaves for college in the 1st ep.

This comedy/drama series (6 eps; 30 mins/ea.) was filmed on-location in Pittsburgh and nearby areas. To create Pembroke’s campus, the show used Washington & Jefferson College and Chatham University. Annie Wyman (co-creator/co-writer) was actually an academic in an English department; she earned a PhD in English Lit from Harvard). David Duchovny (playing a version of himself) earned a Master’s in English Lit (Yale); he started (but didn’t complete) his PhD. If you (or your fam/pals) have connections to academia, you’ll esp. relate to this show!

The Gilded Age (2022): HBO Max

This is the show for ALL you Downton Abbey fans; it was also created by Julian Fellows, BUT he had several others collaborating w/ him (incl. prof/historian/co-executive producer- Erica Armstrong Dunbar). Another producer (who also directed some eps) is Salli Richardson-Whitfield; most will know her from her acting days. The setting is NYC in the 1880s where “old money” (the Van Rijans/Brooks) and “nouveaux riche” (the Russells) are nabes, BUT def NOT pals! There are MANY theater actresses (over the age of 40) who appear on this show: Cynthia Nixon, Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald (who I saw once on Broadway), Celia Keegan-Bolger, Debra Monk, Kelli O’Hara, and Donna Murphy. We also see more well-known movie actors (incl. Jeanne Tripplehorn and Nathan Lane) in small (yet pivotal) roles.

In his January 2022 NYT article The Gilded Age’ Finally Arrives on HBO, Dave Itzkoff reported that the long filming hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic allowed actress Denée Benton (who plays Peggy Scott) “to seek refinements of [her role] to better reflect [her] understanding of history. Benton said she urged the creative team to provide more ways to show that there were Black people like her character, Peggy, who lived in their own affluent and educated communities. I didn’t find Louisa Jacobson (who plays Marian Brook; one of Meryl Streep’s daughters) that compelling; MANY viewers agreed w/ me on this point. Peggy is much MORE interesting than Marian. I thought that George Russell (Morgan Spector- husband of actress Rebecca Hall) was better written than his wife Bertha (Carrie Coon). Coon was written as TOO strident (as some viewers noted online). George’s full beard was quite popular on Twitter- LOL! This is a period/costume drama, BUT it also has some brains (and is somewhat educational also).

Mare of Easttown (2021): HBO Max

If you like domestic drama mixed w/ a cop/mystery show (such as Happy Valley or Broadchurch), then check this out! A detective, Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet in an Emmy-winning role), in a small Pennsylvania town investigates a murder of a teen girl while trying to keep her fam/personal life from falling apart. I thought almost ALL of the actors did a terrific job; they seemed like real/unglamorous/flawed people. There was even a (spot-on) sketch about the show on SNL. Much has been talked about re: the complicated relationship between Mare and her funny/acerbic mom (played by veteran actress Jean Smart); these ladies had great chemistry together! I was also impressed by Evan Peters (who plays the naive/younger cop- Colin Zabel); it’s rare to see a police officer w/ doubt and vulnerability. You can also check him out in S1 of Pose. Guy Pearce (who acted w/ Winslet in HBO’s take on Mildred Pierce in 2011) plays Mare’s love interest; he is a writer-turned-prof who is in town as an adjunct. The creator/writer of this show, Craig Zobel, also wrote the recent movie The Way Back (starring Ben Affleck); it received some critical acclaim also.