Unsane


Viewed – 01 September 2018  online-rental

Didn’t Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Traffic) announce his retirements at one stage, or did I dream that?  Either way the man continues to deliver movies including this latest psychological thriller starring The Crown’s Clare Foy who plays Sawyer, a woman who has started a new job in a new city after running from a stalker.  However after an intended one night stand goes awry, she turns to a psychiatrist to tackle some of her demons.  Problem is she unwittingly signs herself into a psychiatric institute and is unable to leave for seven days.  Is she losing her mind and has her stalker returned?

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Soderberg’s movie has an immediately unsettling aesthetic.  Filmed believe it or not entirely on an iPhone, and with claustrophobic, unconventional filming techniques that makes everything seem dream-like … it was easy for me to go along with the paranoia and hopelessness of Sawyer’s plight.  Once the hospital becomes the main location, the way the movie questions what is real and what might be in Sawyer’s head is very well done.  Foy is brilliant, damaged and vulnerable making her one of those actors that really becomes the character.  Support from genre icon Amy Irving (Carrie) was welcome if under-used and along with a creepy stalker this ticked all my boxes. 

I’d have liked the ‘is she imagining it?’ element explored a little more than it was as it kind of turns into a typical thriller in the final act … but along with plenty of atmosphere and a few genuine shocks, I really enjoyed this.

Verdict:  4 /5

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Sicario


Viewed – 02 February 2016 Online-rental

I had heard some good buzz surrounding this gritty thriller set in the drug underworld of the Mexican Cartels, so was quite hyped up to sit down to it finally.  Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow, Looper) plays an F.B.I. agent who attracts the attention of a team of government agents when she stumbles upon a crime scene associated with the Mexican drug barons.  Given the opportunity to join a top secret mission into Mexico, she at first thinks this is a chance to further her career, until eventually she starts to realize maybe what she’s involved in may not be strictly by the book.

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Skilfully shot and with a very authentic feel, this thriller was packed full of tension and drew me in easily with echoes of Stephen Soderberg hit ‘Traffic’ as well as aspects of cult TV series Breaking Bad.  However with an emphasis on secret operations and misleading information, especially from the point of view of Blunt’s character I’ll admit I found this confusing for a good portion of the run time.  The subject is nothing particularly new and doesn’t really go anywhere all that surprising, but with added support of a cool and mysterious Benicio Del Toro and the always enjoyable Josh Brolin … this at least had some solid performances to help me through a convoluted narrative.  Blunt is especially good in an emotional role that cements her reputation as one of the more interesting British actresses around.  I’d have really likbenicioed more action to offset the tension as it’s a movie where I was expecting something to kick off any second.  Tense moments such as a claustrophobic tunnel scene and a drawn out freeway journey certainly added to such expectations.  Yet much is left until the closing moments, which by then I was feeling more frustrated than entertained.

The movie however pulls no punches as far as showing the shocking lengths these drug dealers will go to, but with several confusing characters (not helped by similar Mexican names) and a pace that rushed through important plot details … this, although intriguing could have been so much better.

Verdict: 3 /5

Side Effects


Viewed – 31 July 2013  DVD

On initial release, the big draw of this was that it was to be the final film of Director Steven Soderberg’s prolific career.  Now I wouldn’t say I’m either an admirer or dislike the movies of this acclaimed filmmaker, having enjoyed the likes of Traffic, Haywire but rarely totally loving his style, which is normally fly on the wall realism with a shimmer of Hollywood style.  He attracts big names to many of his movies, but often sticks with a set group of actors – and this is no different.

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Jude Law is a psychiatrist who stumbles upon the case of depressive young woman, Emily (Rooney Mara) who having just attempted suicide by driving her car into a wall – he agrees to treat her.  After being recommended a new drug by a work colleague, a fellow psychiatrist played by Catherine Zeta Jones, Law’s treatment of Emily soon takes a turn for the worse when unexpected side effects become apparent.

Good to see Mara in a more interesting and absorbing role than that of the disappointing remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, with this complex character suiting her better, making for a promising young actress.  Jude Law is a personal favorite of mine and think he gets better with age, and here he is very good as a doctor in a difficult situation.  Less appealing is the normally enjoyable Zeta Jones who apart from clearly looking like she’s had some work done, just doesn’t suit the rather manipulative turn she presents here, but was still kind of sexy.  Soderberg’s swansong may lack the multi-layered complexity of some of his other work, but is a more than worthy end to an acclaimed career, with enough twists and turns to keep this viewer gripped (with one particular heart-in-mouth moment).  However as the subject wasn’t overly appealing, I came away not exactly blown away even when certain unexpected developments were revealed.  Soderberg’s movies have often left me feeling like that, like he could churn this kind of material out in his sleep – and as always it’s cold and clinical, with the odd good moment.  I won’t say some of the things here didn’t get me thinking, they certainly did … just not enough.

It sounds harsh, and don’t get me wrong he has made some good movies, this included, but he’s never wowed me, so I for one won’t miss his work all that much.   One for fans or anyone who finds the subject intriguing.

Verdict:  3 /5

Haywire


Viewed – 15 February 2013 DVD

Has to be said, director Steven Soderbergh has been one of the more prolific film makers of recent years, sometimes churning out several movies a year.  He is also one of the most versatile, now dipping his toe in the espionage thriller sub-genre with this latest offering.

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Newcomer and former MMA (mixed martial arts) champion Gina Carano stars as a highly skilled Government agent who during a mission in Barcelona is set up by her own people, and is soon out seeking revenge.  Nothing all that original but for a cool-as-ice performance from the very sexy Carano, showcasing some impressive skills in several gritty and realistically-shot fights.  Realism is the key word here and Soderbergh delivers a very well made movie that shoots the action like a documentary film maker but sprinkles events in an assured, stylish sheen.  It’s a unique approach but helps this movie gain its own identity.

Support from the likes of Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas are good but nothing all that special.  Clearly this is a showcase for Carano who proves herself not only a believable action star but also a likable screen presence, and I for one will be keeping my eye on her.  Fast, slick and very enjoyable.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Contagion


Viewed – 09 May 2012  DVD

This was compelling.  With the memory of virus outbreaks like bird flu, swine flu etc causing much furor at the time, the idea of a virus that spreads across the globe, quickly infecting and killing millions seems wholly believable, and to be honest … terrifying.  Yet this is not a horror movie, more so a convincing portrayal of an epidemic and the people whose lives it affects, some tragically.

Directed by the acclaimed Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Oceans Eleven) this has an ensemble cast of recognizable names including Kate Winslett, Jude Law and Matt Damon that all deliver very real performances, and is shot in a semi-documentary fashion, that replaces Hollywood glitz and action with human drama and emotion.  I especially liked how it not only showed the government and scientists tackling the outbreak, but also how the general public can turn on each other in their desperation.  And although it could be easily compared to Dustin Hoffman hit ‘Outbreak’, this proved the more earnest and thought-provoking.  Granted the pace drops a bit in the middle, and the ‘vaccine’ seems to come out of nowhere … but overall this has it where it counts.

So to conclude, this was a refreshing drama that didn’t need to rely on thrills and spills to tell an absorbing story filled with character and social commentary … and I thought it was very good indeed.

Verdict:  4 /5