Feb. 9 (Bloomberg) -- The quietly bloody opening of Steven Soderbergh’s psychiatric-meds melodrama “Side Effects” leaves a horror-movie chill.
Then the picture unfolds so upsettingly that the last thing I expected was to be laughing my head off by the end.
The title refers specifically to the malign side effects of prescription antidepressants. A psychiatrist (Jude Law) takes on a suicidal patient (Rooney Mara), whose husband (Channing Tatum) has just finished a four-year sentence for insider trading.
The shrink puts her on a fictional pill called Ablixa. The critique of Big Pharma is implicit throughout: He’s also being paid $50,000 to enlist guinea pigs for yet another new drug. We see one patient jump at the chance -- never mind the risks -- as soon as she finds out it’s free.
The terrific cast includes Vinessa Shaw as Law’s wife, Ann Dowd as Tatum’s mother and Catherine Zeta-Jones with her hair yanked back in a bun and a bearing hard enough to break teeth.
Thomas Newman’s initially delicate score draws you in without directing your feelings at every minute. The demonically clever script, by Scott Z. Burns, dances dangerously close to the edge of oh-come-on -- and in retrospect there are a couple of glitches I can’t account for. But my mind never wandered.
“Side Effects,” from Open Road films, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **** (Seligman)
“Identity Thief” gives Melissa McCarthy -- the terrifically likable star of TV’s “Mike & Molly” who stole “Bridesmaids” from its well-toned leading ladies -- her full-fledged feature-film starring role. But the result is dispiriting, to say the least.
Co-starring a droll Jason Bateman, the film features McCarthy as Diana, a tacky, hair-permed Florida grifter who funds her shopping mall sprees with scammed credit-card information.
Her latest victim is Sandy Patterson (Bateman), a corporate-finance drone in Denver who falls afoul of his boss and the law when Diana lifts his identity for some shady doings.
The film’s contrivances hit hard and fast, beginning when a Denver police detective (Morris Chestnut) agrees that, yes, Sandy should fly to Florida and ask Diane to come to Denver to clear up all misunderstandings.
With two assassins and a bounty hunter on their trail, the odd couple bicker and bond on a cross-country drive, sharing their hearts and surviving a string of ineptly staged chases and crashes with nary a scratch.
Along the way, we’re asked to weep with Diana one moment -- she’s a misunderstood orphan -- and then cringe in disgust (as Bateman’s Sandy does) at her loud, floor-shaking motel-room romp with an equally chunky pick-up (Eric Stonestreet).
If “Identity Thief” were funnier or emotionally truer, we might be willing to overlook its plot holes and loose ends.
The relentless insincerity, though, is one crime too many.
“Identity Thief,” from Universal Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ** (Evans)
As “Lore” opens, an officer in Nazi uniform rushes his wife and children into hiding. Are they Jews? No, we soon learn, they’re the opposite: loyal Germans who have reason to be frightened now that the war is over.
Suddenly, and bewilderingly, the children are on their own.
The movie shows what happens as the adolescent Hannelore (Saskia Rosendahl) attempts to get herself and her siblings -- a younger sister, two small twins and a baby boy -- across the country to the safety of their grandmother’s home near Hamburg.
Deprivation and danger are everywhere, along with occasional hints of beauty and hope. Thomas (Kai Malina), a young man with ambiguous motives, offers help.
When Lore learns that he’s carrying Jewish papers, she has to balance the revulsion born of years of propaganda with her need for his aid and her attraction to him. It’s a mangled landscape absent rules and where, as he tells her, everyone has done something criminal.
Director Cate Shortland (an Australian who has said she speaks virtually no German), has a very subtle touch, keeping the action understated and elliptical. You can’t see where it’s heading until it gets there.
Using few words, she shows how Lore slowly awakens from her dream of propaganda to the truth of who her parents and their compatriots really are.
“Lore,” from Music Box Films, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: *** (Seligman)
The high-security wing of Rome’s Rebibbia Prison has had a drama program since 2000. In their superb “Caesar Must Die,” the brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (“Padre Padrone”) use it to film a modern-dress, modern-language “Julius Caesar.”
With its themes of conspiracy and betrayal, it’s the right Shakespearean tragedy; most of the actor-prisoners have ties to organized crime.
They play both their roles and themselves. The film at first appears to be a documentary about the production.
Only gradually does it become clear that the jokes and face-offs that interrupt the rehearsals are part of the script, and that the “rehearsals,” shot all over the prison in the right scenic order, are the Tavianis’ staging.
The movie lasts just 76 minutes, and every one of them is intense.
“Caesar Must Die,” from Adopt Films, is in limited release. Rating: ****1/2
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and New York Weekend.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.