Tag Archives: Catherine-Zeta Jones

Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects

I’m usually a nut for anything that Steven Soderbergh has made, but Side Effects was a big ol’ dud. I think it had something to do with expectations, really; I was sold on a smart, scary psychological thriller that explored the unnerving fallout behaviour of trial drugs and shady products snuck into consumerism by Big Pharma. What I got turned out to be a lurid, trashy exercise in deception and Basic Instinct shenanigans, the kind of back end to a film you’d find Eric Roberts or Mark Harmon starring in on HBO back in the day. Not that that’s a bad thing per se, it was just definitely not what I expected from a filmmaker as thoughtful as Soderbergh, but I guess this was his playful side taking over the wheel in the third act. Rooney Mara plays a young woman whose husband (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison, an event which seems to coincide with her recent depression and suicidal behaviour. Her psychiatrist (Jude Law) prescribes her an experimental new drug, likely not yet even approved by the FDA, and things go from bad to worse when she kills hubby in a freaky sleepwalking episode. The drug is shelved, Law is disgraced, the trial stops right there. End of story, right? I wish. The good doctor just has an inkling that something else is going on, something involving both Mara and another shady practitioner played by Catherine Zeta Jones. If I had some idea going in that this was inevitably going to ditch the ideas it claimed to be making a film about and get cheap and sleazy I might have been more receptive, but as is the plot gets so steamy and ridiculous I couldn’t believe I was watching the same film that I started out with. There’s a few twists too many, a lack of believable character action and and a kinky subplot that had me laughing, and not in the good way either. Hard to say much more without spoiling it, but it’s one outlandish turn of events, like a car on the way to a college conference that suddenly veers off an exit to the strip club without warning. I expected more from everyone involved.

-Nate Hill

Martin Campbell’s The Mask Of Zorro

Martin Campbell’s The Mask Of Zorro still holds up today, thanks mostly to its sumptuous, sultry production design and three passionate, swashbuckling and delightfully self aware performances from Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta Jones and Antonio Banderas. This was one of the first more intense and violent adventure films I saw as a young’un, and while the PG13 heroics seem tame in comparison to other films, it still has that menacing edge for me. Hopkins is a scene stealer as Don Diego, the fearless rascal who takes up the mantle of Zorro and passes it along to haughty young thief Alejandro (Banderas) years after he’s betrayed by despicable nobleman Montero (Stuart Wilson, slimy and then some). The real eye catcher is drop dead gorgeous Zeta Jones as Diego’s daughter Elena, whose swordplay and roguish attitude both match and spar with that of Banderas, their chemistry onscreen is pure Latin fire in full flame. It gets quite lighthearted and theatrical at times but this is after all Zorro and not Batman we’re talking about here, he’s kind of like the Latin Lone Ranger and the flamboyant flourish is part of the charm. The supporting cast is fun too, but Matt Letscher is a bit vanilla to play the dastardly secondary villain who literally keeps heads in a jar, they would have been better off going the grizzled character actor route instead of a golden boy like him. All is well with Maury Chaykin as a testy prison warden and the late L.Q. Jones as a crusty outlaw who mentors young Banderas and has arguably the most memorable scene of the film. The star power of our three leads is where it’s at though, Banderas is smokin’ good in the charcoal black outfit waving the classic needle sword around in people’s faces, Hopkins exudes an amused nobility and Jones… man, you don’t find beauty and charisma like that every day. James Horner’s score is a trumpet blast of celebratory cues that fires up the action energetically, Cecilia Montiel’s production design lovingly brings the world and time period to life, while Campbell paints in broad, playful director’s strokes, all to bring us what has become an adventure classic. There is a sequel, but it’s kind of a listless, gaudy retread that loses the magic in cheesy set pieces, stick with this diamond instead .

-Nate Hill

Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic

I feel like the one thing to take away from Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic is that the war on drugs isn’t working in any sense. That’s the short answer, but at nearly three hours runtime, Soderbergh isn’t interested in any kind of short answers, let alone clean cut, definitive or resolute ones that help anyone sleep at night. It’s a sprawling, complex international labyrinth of a film that scans every faction from the loftiest echelons of American politics to the poorest slums of Mexico, not necessarily looking for answers but digging up new questions and conundrums. In Washington, the president elects a straightforward family man (Michael Douglas) as the new drug czar and face of the crusade, except that his daughter (Erika Christensen) is knee-deep in hard drug addiction and heading down a dark path. Across the border, a Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro, fantastic) tries to prevent corruption from eating away at his country and the soul of his partner. Back stateside, two undercover narcs (Luis Guzman and Don Cheadle) prep a captured mid level smuggler (Miguel Ferrer stealing scenes like nobody’s business) to testify against the higher ups. The wife (Catherine Zeta Jones) of an imprisoned kingpin (Steven Bauer, sadly only glimpsed briefly) deals with her husband’s enemies while his slick dick lawyer (Dennis Quaid) eyes her up for the taking. A scary Mexican military General (Tomas Milian) fights drug running for his own mystery goal, and many other stories play out both in the US and Mexico. Soderbergh gets together a treasure chest of cameos and supporting talent that includes the likes of Clifton Collins Jr., Emilio Riveria, Topher Grace, Peter Riegart, James Brolin, Albert Finney, Marisol Padilla Sanchez, Viola Davis, John Slattery, Yul Vasquez, Jack Conley, Benjamin Bratt, Salma Hayek and more. This isn’t a tunnel vision action flick or even your garden variety ensemble crime piece, there’s a distracted, fractured feel to the narrative that no doubt mirrors the very difficult nature of how this all works. Opinions and alliances shift, people die, others prosper and it all kind of seems for nought, except that almighty dollar. Del Toro and Douglas fare best in terms of bearing witness to it all; both are changed men by the time their final scenes roll around and the arcs come full circle. They anchor the vast network of people from respective sides of the border, showing the multilayered damage that such a problem, and the ‘war’ against it unleashes. Endlessly fascinating film.

-Nate Hill

Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Twelve

I enjoy Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Twelve for a number of reasons, chief among them how decidedly different it is from Eleven. It’s like they not only chose to set it in Europe, but also to stylistically change the glib, cavalier Vegas aesthetic for an oddball, impenetrable Euro vibe that’s a lot weirder and more dense this time, and as such we have fun in a new fashion than the first. There’s also not just the laser focus of one singular, do or die heist but rather a string of robberies, betrayals and loose subplots flung around like diamonds, as well as a few cameos buried like Faberge Easter eggs. Good old Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) has tracked down Danny Ocean (George Clooney), Tess (Julia Roberts), Rusty (Brad Pitt) and their merry band of thieves across the pond to Europe, and he wants his money back from their epic Bellagio/Mirage/MGM Grand heist. This sets in motion an impossibility intricate, knowingly convoluted series of mad dash heists and classy encounters with the finest arch burglars Europe has to offer, including legendary thief the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel) and hilarious fence Eddie Izzard in full fussy mode. Everyone from Danny’s original team returns, from the scene stealing, cigar devouring Elliott Gould to the bickering brothers Casey Affleck and Scott Caan. Hell, even Topher Grace as himself is back, and that gigantic Vegas tough guy that fake brawled with Clooney the first time turns up for a spell. There’s fresh faces abound too, including sultry Catherine Zeta Jones as a cunning Interpol agent who’s on to their trail, no thanks to Pitt who happens to be dating her. Oh, and how about the surprise cameo which I won’t spoil except to say it’s tied into another pseudo cameo that’s so ingenious it can’t be explained, you just gotta see it. To be honest, the whole heist plot is one fabulously befuddled bag of nonsense, tomfoolery and monkeyshines, made no clearer with flashbacks, gimmicks, ulterior motives and cinematic trickery until we’re left wondering what in the fuck exactly happened. More so in Twelve though it’s about the journey, and not the destination, whereas Eleven made it clear that sights were set on completing that heist with dedicated tunnel vision. Here one is reminded of a bunch of Italians sitting around having coffee and chatting amongst themselves while they’re late for a meeting; they’ll get there eventually, but right now all that matters is how good the conversation and camaraderie is. Speaking of sitting around and talking, my favourite scene of the film is with Danny, Rusty, Matt Damon’s Linus and Robbie ‘Hagrid’ Coltrane, who plays an underworld contact. They’re sat in a Paris cafe talking, and they use nothing but a nonsense gibberish vernacular that seems to make sense to them all but Damon, but probably doesn’t to any of them, but the key is that they all remain cool, bluff each other out and have fun. That sums up the film in one aspect, a breezy blast of silliness that shouldn’t be examined too hard, but rather enjoyed at a hazy distance with a glass of fine wine. Good fun all round.

-Nate Hill

OCEAN’S TWELVE – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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After the commercial failures of Full Frontal and Solaris in 2002, there was pressure on Steven Soderbergh when he announced that his next film was to be the sequel to the wildly successful Ocean’s Eleven (2001), to not only come up with a box office hit but to also outperform the previous film. With big budget, star-studded casts like the one in Ocean’s Twelve (2004), there is always the danger of having them look too smug and self-indulgent instead of having fun along with the audience. Ocean’s Eleven managed to straddle this line quite well, resulting in an entertaining popcorn movie. Soderbergh kept his cast in check, never letting them go too far over-the-top and shooting it with a style that was always interesting to watch. The big question for the sequel was if he could pull off the same feat without repeating himself too much. Ocean’s Twelve ended making less than its predecessor (but still a lot of money) and cost more while also dividing critics but in some ways I find it a better film.

Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is supposed to be retired and enjoying domestic bliss with Tess (Julia Roberts). However, old habits die-hard and the lure of pulling heists is always calling. She catches him casing a jewelry story on their anniversary. To make matters worse, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) is still hot on their trail, tracking down all of the original eleven and letting them know, in his own casually menacing way, that he wants the $160 million, plus interest, that they stole from him in Ocean’s Eleven, and in two weeks time. The montage of him doing this mirrors the one in the first film where Danny and Rusty recruited their crew. If Benedict was an imposing figure in the first film, Andy Garcia makes him even more of a threatening presence in this montage by doing little except exude menace with his eyes and the all-business tone of his voice.

So, Danny gets everybody back together to figure out what to do. Obviously, they need to pull another job but they are too high profile in the United States, so they go to Europe and cross paths with a truly formidable opponent and rival master thief known as the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel), a bored French playboy. He’s jealous of Danny’s status as the world’s greatest thief and is out to prove that he’s the best by having the both of them go after the same thing: the Faberge Imperial Coronation egg. Vincent Cassel plays the Night Fox as an ultra-confident, cocky man in such a way that you want to see Danny and company knock him down a peg.

Ocean’s Twelve
ups the difficulty level for our heroes even more by having most of the crew neutralized leaving only Basher (Don Cheadle), Linus (Matt Damon) and Virgil (Scott Caan) left to pull off an impossible heist. So, they bring in Tess to pose as, well, Julia Roberts. Unfortunately, another major movie star is staying at the same hotel, which only adds to the meta aspect. Said movie star gamely plays a fictional version of himself. The scene where he meets Tess as Julia Roberts is very amusing as Damon and Roberts act all star-struck in front of him. It is also interesting in that the meta aspect that was present in Ocean’s Eleven is made even more explicit – something that turned off some critics and audiences but I think works extremely well because Soderbergh isn’t having a cutesy cameo of a movie star for the sake of it but actually incorporating them into the plot and making them an integral part of the scam.

If the first film was about Danny’s redemption by reconciling with Tess, then Ocean’s Twelve is about Rusty’s (Brad Pitt) redemption by reconciling with his past love, Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a determined and quite beautiful Interpol agent. Like Danny’s feelings for Tess potentially compromising his involvement in the heist in Ocean’s Eleven, Rusty’s feelings for Isabel leaves him potentially vulnerable in Ocean’s Twelve. To her credit, Catherine Zeta-Jones fits right in with the European vibe, maintaining just the right mix of determination in nailing Danny and his crew and vulnerability when she’s with Rusty. Their relationship elevates the film ever so slightly above the standard heist story and the conclusion of her subplot is surprisingly emotional and poignant – the highpoint of the trilogy and something you don’t expect from a film like Ocean’s Twelve, which is essentially a feature-length lark.

Matt Damon demonstrates excellent comic timing in this film and is the real stand-out of this strong cast. Early on, Linus asks Rusty if he could have more to do this time out and this moment comes across as quite self-reflexive. It’s as if Damon were almost asking if he could have more screen time in the film itself. In some respects, he is the group’s stammering conscience. There is an amusing scene where Linus, Danny and Rusty meet a contact by the name of Matsui (Robbie Coltrane) for a potential job. Danny, Rusty and Matsui all speak cryptically, which leaves poor Linus totally confused. Damon plays the scene so well as he looks desperately to his cohorts for help or some sort of clue as to what he should say. Put on the spot, Linus finally responds by quoting lyrics from “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin to hilarious effect.

While doing a press conference in Rome during the promotional tour for Ocean’s Eleven, Steven Soderbergh fell in love with the city and over dinner with producer Jerry Weintraub began thinking about the story and structure for a sequel. He got the idea to set it in Europe and was so inspired that he started writing down ideas. After returning to Los Angeles, Weintraub discovered George Nolfi’s screenplay, entitled Honor Among Thieves, about the greatest thief in America going up against his equal in Europe. It was originally developed for John Woo to direct but Weintraub sent the script to George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Soderbergh. The director came up with the basic idea for the film and thought that it “would be more fun if Twelve was the movie in which everything goes wrong from the get-go.” He ended up merging Nolfi’s script with his own ideas. Soderbergh saw this film as more emotional, character-driven and complicated on a narrative level than the first one.

Prior to the start of principal photography, which lasted 77 days, Julia Roberts found out that she was pregnant and Soderbergh incorporated it into the script. He also met with Vincent Cassel at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival and asked the actor if he would be interested in being in Ocean’s Twelve. He agreed without reading the script because he trusted someone with a reputation like Soderbergh’s. Once filming began, the production spent ten weeks globetrotting all over the world with stops in Chicago, Amsterdam, Paris, Monte Carlo, Lake Cuomo, and Rome. Principal photography concluded with four weeks on three Warner Brothers soundstages in L.A.

Once again Soderbergh keeps the pace brisk and breezy, making the two-hour running time fly by. Like its predecessor, Ocean’s Twelve is beautifully shot with atmospheric lighting and saturated color as evident in the bright yellow that permeates Isabel’s Europol lecture or the green lighting that illuminates the underwater sequence during a heist that Danny and his crew pull off, or the red lighting that dominates the nightclub where Rusty and Isabel meet. Most of the film takes place in Europe and Soderbergh adopts the look of a European film from the 1960s, which also applies to the eclectically groovy soundtrack from David Holmes that evokes a ‘60s Euro-lounge vibe. The director even described the film’s aesthetic as “the most expensive episode of a ‘60s television show ever.” He and Holmes agreed that the score would be completely different from Ocean’s Eleven in order to complement the different look and feel.

Soderbergh is an excellent visual storyteller and this is evident in several scenes that he depicts without any dialogue, instead resorting to music married to visuals that conveys exactly what’s going on. He understands the kind of movie he’s making and doesn’t try to be too cute or wink knowingly at the audience, instead focusing at the task at hand: making a confident, entertaining movie. Granted, Ocean’s Twelve is no Traffic (2000), and it’s not meant to be, but you could do a lot worse with two hours of your time.

STEVEN SODERBERGH’S SIDE EFFECTS — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Side Effects is a slick, smart, and deceptively layered thriller from Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns, who before this under the radar gem crafted the irreverent comedic masterwork The Informant! Side Effects is an extremely stylish head game that loves toying with the audience at all times, and it also happens to be very sexy, which is something that Soderbergh isn’t routinely known for; this is one of the more juicy and nervy offerings from this most eclectic filmmaker. Rooney Mara was absolutely terrific (not to mention disturbingly hot) and Jude Law was the perfect chump to get pulled into her web of potential deceit with possibly dangerous ramifications. The entire cast shines due to an unpredictable narrative that makes your head spin during the final reel, and as usual for Soderbergh, the film is just as interesting for what it doesn’t do than for what it does do. Upending conventions is Soderbergh’s typical stock in trade, and while this film was marketed as one thing, it really was something totally different than what had been suggested or what might be expected. This is one to watch again and again in order to fully appreciate all of the cinematic sleight of hand on display; it’s Soderbergh’s ode to Hitchcock. Also, Vinessa Shaw, as usual, was fantastic – she needs more work!

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