Tag Archives: 3.5 stars

Quickie: Mr Holmes

Mr Holmes posterAn aged, retired Sherlock Holmes (Sir Ian McKellen) looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman.

Most iterations of Sherlock Holmes revolve around the great detective using all his cunning and guile to solve a labyrinthine mystery that would outwit most normal folk. Mr Holmes‘ focus, however, is less on the mystery and more on the man himself as he battles old age.

Through flashbacks, the film does involved a mystery of a woman apparently plotting to kill her husband, but this is nothing more than a Maguffin, and it’s Holmes’ struggle to recall these events that is of more interest. Those looking for an intriguing mystery may be a little disappointed, as there’s nothing that’s really going to have you on the edge of your seat, but the snapshot of an older Holmes is intriguing enough in itself.

Sir Ian is simply mesmerising as Holmes. From the way he holds himself and moves around to the way he breathes is so precise. Laura Linney hams it up a little as his housekeeper, but Milo Parker as her son Roger is superb, a real little Sherlock Holmes in the making.

Whilst it may be largely throwaway, Mr Holmes is an intriguing take on the character, and is a look at the loneliness that genius can bring with it as he battles perhaps his greatest foe yet, and one that he will ultimately not defeat – his own mortality.

3 and a half pigeons3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review – Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), along with his trusty news team Brian (Paul Rudd), Champ (David Koechner) and Brick (Steve Carell), are back and are about to become the face of a new televisual sensation – 24-hour rolling news. However, the course of good news never did run smooth…

Gone are the days when a simple trailer, a couple of posters and maybe a few press interviews would make up the entirety of a film’s marketing campaign. Now it often seems the case that more effort is actually put into the marketing than the film itself. Unfortunately that feels the case with Anchorman 2.

The backdrop of Anchorman 2 is the 1980s but it actually has something to say about the state of news today, and this is where it has more substance than the first film. It makes a comment on the way we are fed news but also how we consume it. Once upon a time, much of what we consider ‘news’ wouldn’t even be entertained in newsrooms, but it’s now become something for that very purpose – to entertain – and that’s the message at the core of Anchorman 2.

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But we’ve not come along for that, have we? We’ve come along for the jokes, which unfortunately are a very mixed bag. Now, the film does have some very funny moments, but too often does its jokes labour or miss the mark completely. What we get is jokes recycled from the first film or overplayed so that they no longer become funny. For example, Ron struggling to come to terms with having a black boss is amusing at first, but after the third or fourth instance, the joke gets a bit thin. There’s also an incredibly bizarre 20 minute section involving a lighthouse and a shark which just seems ridiculously out of place and consequently feels unnecessary.

But Anchorman 2 isn’t a disaster by any stretch of the imagination, and for fans there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Brian showcasing his collection of condoms is a particular highlight, whilst Steve Carell’s Brick is still one of the funniest things about the whole film. There are also a couple of interesting new characters, namely Jack Marsden as young and stylish anchor Jack Lime, and Kristen Wiig’s Chani Lastnamé as a love interest for Brick.

Whether Anchorman 2 ever becomes as beloved as the original film remains to be seen, but there’s nothing here to convert those who aren’t already big fans of Ron et al. Even when the film isn’t working, there are still laughs to be had, but just like watching 24-hours news, it can start to feel a little stale all too quickly.

Pros

  • Interesting comment on the state of news
  • Very funny in places
  • Steve Carell’s Brick

Cons

  • Not as funny as it needs to be
  • Recycled jokes
  • Starts to feel a little long by the end

3 and a half pigeons3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: This is the End

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Whilst at James Franco’s housewarming party, Seth Rogan and Jay Baruchel are suddenly faced with the apocalypse. Holed up in Franco’s house with a number of other celebrities, they must survive the fire and brimstone closing in on them as well as settle some personal differences.

If you’re not a fan of the specific brand of humour that Seth Rogan and his merry gang have largely built a career around, then there’s not a huge amount in This is the End that’s going to convince you to the contrary. However, for those who find nothing funnier than Seth and friends riffing of each other, then there’s plenty to enjoy.

In terms of the humour, we know pretty much exactly what we’re getting for most of the film. There’s plenty of the standard drug and dick jokes that raise a giggle the first few times but ultimately become a little stale and repetitive. There is also a fair few references to previous films the actors have appeared in, so if you aren’t well versed in their filmography, some jokes may go a little over your head.

Much of the humour, however, particularly in the first half of the film comes from the novelty that everyone is playing themselves, although usually twisted, over the top versions. The decision to do this is a masterstroke but sometimes comes across as a bit of self-congratulatory circle jerking. If they had played ‘proper’ characters then it would have lost a lot of its humour and arguably its largest USP, but there are times when the self parody goes so far that it just feels like they’re patting each other on the back and saying how awesome they all are.

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There are some excellent interactions between some of them, however, with Danny McBride probably providing most of the laughs. He’s not afraid to send up most of his buddies, and an argument between him and James Franco over a ‘used’ porno magazine is disturbingly hilarious. Jonah Hill as an uber nicey nicey version of himself is also worth a few laughs although, like Seth Rogan, if you’re not a fan, there’s little here to change your opinion.

Having several other celeb cameos popping up throughout raises a fair few laughs and further adds to the novelty factor of the whole thing. Michael Cera as a coked up sex pest, for instance, is pretty funny, whilst Emma Watson’s feisty five minutes is also a highlight.

The second half of the film actually mixes things up a little, dispensing with the straight up comedy angle and actually becoming more of an action film. This change of pace really gives the film a bit of drive, stopping it from becoming too stale and gives some of the characters more of a sense of purpose. There are also a bunch of fun references to horror films, including Rosemary’s Baby, Ghostbusters and The Exorcist.

So, whilst This is The End is funny in places, it’s also pretty inconsistent and for large parts isn’t nearly as funny as it thinks it is. It relies a little too heavily on Seth Rogan’s tried and tested formula and feels a little too familiar in places, despite the setting. Having said that, when it’s funny, it’s very funny and for fans of Rogan et al, this could well prove to be one of this year’s funniest films.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Man of Steel

Man-of-Steel-2013-Movie

After his father Jor-el (Russell Crowe) sent him to Earth to escape the destruction of his home planet of Krypton, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) must discover his true identity and assume the role of Superman to protect Earth from ruin at the hands of fellow Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon).

With the massive success of the The Dark Knight Trilogy, the news that Christopher Nolan was brought on board alongside director Zack Snyder for the new Superman film was met with almost unanimous delight. After all, the woeful Superman Returns in 2006 meant that Clark Kent et al really needed a strong outing, and Man of Steel provides just that. For about half a film.

For the first half of Man of Steel, we get much of what the trailers promised: a more grounded origin for Clark (aside from the sections on Krypton) and more of an idea of what life was like growing up as he tries to hide his powers. Even the early scenes with Clark in his blue & red threads work well. However, it’s almost as if Snyder comes along about half way through and chucks a glass of cold water over the film, reminding it that it’s supposed to be a brainless summer blockbuster. Gone is any kind of real storyline or character development and in comes, well, Transformers. The action seems to last an age, and with so much going on, it can be difficult to keep track of everything.

Man of Steel

The CGI gets ramped up to dangerously high levels and we see the utter decimation of Metropolis, which, whilst reasonably  impressive, seems very out of place in a Superman film. This is a superhero known for saving lives yet his quest to stop Zod presumably causes untold loss of life during the destruction of the city. I say ‘presumably’ because we never actually really see much peril whatsoever. Where are all the people?! There never really feels like much of a threat to humanity because we don’t see them. It all feels a little shallow and like some kind of dick measuring contest with Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.

We also get possibly the most shoehorned romance in the history of cinema. We all know what’s going to happen; it comes as no surprise, but when it does arrive, it feels so out of the blue with no foundation to it whatsoever. It’s in there because someone felt it needed to be to sell movie tickets and for no other reason.

Now there is still plenty to like in Man of Steel. The first half, maybe even two thirds is perfectly enjoyable and there are some excellent scenes, particularly those showing Clark as a youngster and an excellent fight scene between Supes and some of Zod’s cronies on the streets of (I think) Smallville.

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The casting is also generally pretty strong. Cavill is an excellent Superman, looking eerily like Christopher Reeve at times, and could well be the face of Clark and his alter ego for a whole new generation of fans. Russell Crowe does an admiral job as Jor-el, whilst Michael Shannon is a suitably formidable Zod, even though for much of the film he doesn’t seem to carry any threat whatsoever, instead just being a bit mean and doing some shouting. Only in the final 15 minutes or so does he actually get his hands dirty and even then he just punches Superman a bit. Good luck with that. In fact, it felt like most of the threat came from henchwoman Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) who seemed a much more menacing villain. Amy Adams as Lois Lane is also decent enough, although the obvious attempts to make the character a strong female role ultimately fall a little flat.

So is this the Superman film to finally put Metropolis back on the map? Personally, it didn’t quite hit the mark. It felt like it was caught between being an origin story and part of an already established series. Batman Begins has a similar structure but holds everything together with a much more grounded crucial final act. Man of Steel certainly has its moments but is ultimately let down by a lack of focus, depth and conviction to do something a little different.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: The Kid With a Bike

the_kid_with_a_bike_1Cyril (Thomas Doret) is a 12 year old boy living in foster care in Seraing, Belgium. He is desperately searching for his father and his treasured bike, but is devastated when his father wants nothing to do with him. However, Cyril meets Samantha (Cécile de France), a local hairdresser, who not only finds his bike, but also agrees to foster him at weekends. This arrangement turns out to be an unstable one, especially when Cyril gets mixed up with a local drug dealer.

During the first ten minutes of The Kid With a Bike, it’s immediately evident that Cyril, at just 12 years old, is already a pretty damaged character. He lives in a care home, has no mother of which to speak and is clearly on a hiding to nothing looking for his father. It’s not a nice situation to witness and is made all the more frustrating by the unfaltering faith Cyril puts in his disinterested dad. Right from the off we’re aware that Cyril’s life is a crossroads and he could take either direction. His bike is the only constant in his life, which is why he’s so protective over it.

This should provide all the ammunition needed to identify and sympathise with Cyril, but it just doesn’t quite happen (at least not for me). Some of the scenes with Cyril and his dad are truly gut-wrenching, but those just don’t seem to make up for how difficult a child Cyril is. He’s clearly had a difficult upbringing that’s been devoid of any kind of parental love, but it’s hard to sympathise with someone who is often purposely irritating, disobedient and, at times, violent. Samantha seems to have never ending patience with him.

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But that’s another slightly contentious issue – Samantha’s motivation for fostering and caring for Cyril are completely unknown. After a very brief meeting with Cyril in a doctors’ surgery, she goes out of her way to find his bike and agrees to foster him, yet we never know why. She’s even prepared to sacrifice her other relationships for the sake of Cyril, which whilst hugely admirable, just seems a little far fetched. It would be nice to learn a little more about Samantha and why she is so dedicated to helping a boy she barely knows. Some may like the ambiguity of her motivations and argue that one shouldn’t be so critical of someone else’s altruism, but it just doesn’t quite feel believable.

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne provide excellent direction for the film, which gives it a slightly more arthouse feel. It could easily have been straightforwardly shot, but the use of long takes, the odd jump cut and the juxtaposition of drab and vibrant colours help to give it more of an identity.

It’s also worth mentioning the performances from the two leads, Thomas Doret and Cécile de France. Both give superb (and often very physical) performances, with de France in particular really standing out. Doret occasionally doesn’t exude enough emotion in the role, but for such a young actor, it’s a fine debut feature.

The Kid With a Bike is a very succinct little film. It’s not concerned with what came before and leaves us to make up our own mind about what comes after. It also has an ending that some may not get along with, appearing more allegorical than providing any actual narrative purpose, but it doesn’t harm the film at all. At times The Kid With a Bike is a very moving piece of cinema, but too often it feels a little shallow and keeps you just at arms’ length. A little more depth to the characters would have worked wonders.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May MarleneWhen Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) escapes from a commune, she goes to stay with her sister but struggles to adapt to normal life. As she continues to alienate herself from those around her, her grip on reality gets looser and looser.

MMMM is apparently loosely based on the Manson Family cult, which gives the film a much more sinister undertone, one that comes to the forefront as the film progresses. We see Martha’s experiences in the commune through a series of flashbacks, each of which gets progressively unsettling. And it’s ‘unsettling’ that best describes the film. There’s not much to scare, but plenty to unnerve thanks in part to the remote rural setting and constant perturbing use of sound.

It can be rather slow paced at times and the distinction between present and past is sometimes (deliberately?) ambiguous, which may prove slightly confusing. The film’s conclusion is also likely to be contentious for many. Without giving too much away, it’s hugely open-ended and relies on the audience to fill in quite a few gaps. This abrupt ending may be frustrating for some but it does leave you mulling over the various interpretations and the possibilities of what may or may not happen.

This is Elizabeth Olsen’s second picture after 2011’s Silent House and she does a superb job throughout. As Martha (Marcy May & Marlene are names she picks up in the commune) she is perfectly on edge at all times, whilst John Hawkes as commune leader Patrick is also excellent.

MMMM is not an easy watch but it’s one that gives more the more you invest in it. Its quirky Instagrammed look becomes slightly tiresome and you do have to work hard at times, but there’s enough here to keep you intrigued to the end.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Room 237

Room 237Since the birth of cinema all those years ago, there are few films that have captured people’s imagination quite like The Shining. There are some who think Stanley Kubrick butchered Stephen King’s original text (including, famously, King himself), whilst there are many who believe it is one of the deepest, most meticulously put together films of all time.

Room 237 is a series of theories on the The Shining’s themes and messages from some who very much believe the latter.

Now, you’re enjoyment of Room 237 is going to hinge on a couple of important factors. The first is whether or not you’ve seen The Shining. For those who somehow haven’t seen it yet, then there’s probably not going to be much here to like. The second factor is how you feel about modern film criticism. If someone analysing films’ smallest and seemingly inconsequential details irks you then, again, this probably isn’t wise viewing.

Here we have five film theorists picking The Shining apart in excruciating detail, their interpretations carrying varying levels of plausibility. There are suggestions that the film is really about the genocide of the native Americans, whilst another theory is that this was Kubrick’s Holocaust film. Whilst these seem reasonable given the evidence presented, other theories carry less weight. That The Shining was Kubrick’s admission that he helped fake the Apollo 11 moon landings, whilst still interesting, is stretching things ever so slightly.

Kubrick is famous for the attention to detail he lavished upon his pictures and there’s a very good chance that some of what’s being offered here was indeed the filmmaker’s intentions. However, assertions that an office paper tray has been purposely placed to create a phallus when Overlook manager Ullman stands next to it is laughable at best. According to one of the theorists, whether Kubrick intended these messages is besides the point; what matters is that they’re there. How anyone can judge what Kubrick has unconsciously put into his films is bizarre and a even a little arrogant.

In terms of how the documentary has been created, Room 237 is a little amateurish. We are never see anything of the five theorists; they are simply faceless voices, which does diminish their claims somewhat. As you’d expect, we see a series of scenes from The Shining to help explain the various claims, but we also get a number of scenes from other Kubrick films, as well as several other unrelated films, that actually make everything a little confusing. A random scene from Spartacus or A Clockwork Orange adds nothing to what’s being shown.

Whilst much of what’s being said can be disputed or flat out denied, what cannot be refuted is the lasting impact of The Shining. Above anything else, what Room 237 makes blindingly obvious is that this is a film that enraptured film critics and fans around the world and continues to do so. Maybe a paper tray does resemble a huge penis (it doesn’t) or perhaps Kubrick’s face can be seen in the clouds during the title sequence (it can’t), but what’s not up for debate is the passion some have for The Shining and that its impact doesn’t look like diminishing any time soon.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Trance

TranceWhen Danny Boyle was announced as the creative director for the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games, there was a fair amount of WTF-ing, but he managed to turn something no-one really cares about into something really quite impressive. Of course to us film fans, Danny Boyle is pretty well known but this brought the diminutive Mancunian attention on a truly global scale, even more so than his 2009 Oscar win for Slumdog Millionaire. And what better advert for his first film since the Olympics, Trance?

Simon (James McAvoy) is an art auctioneer who gets involved with a Franck (Vincent Cassel), a criminal who has agreed to wipe his gambling debts in exchange for helping to steal a hugely valuable painting. However, when Simon gets hit on the head and can’t remember the location of the painting, he seeks the help of hypnotist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to help him remember.

Trance does an excellent job of keeping you hooked throughout. It’s pretty perfectly paced and is neither a minute too long nor too short. However, it’s a film that had very little lasting impact for me. I was entertained for the 100 odd minutes the film was on, but almost as soon as the credits rolled, I felt somewhat indifferent to the whole thing. It plays out like a pretty standard heist flick for part of the film but when Elizabeth gets thrown into the mix, it becomes much more cerebral with nods to films such as Inception without ever displaying the style or the substance of Christopher Nolan’s film.

It ticks along at a fair old pace, which constantly keeps you glued to the screen but, much like Soderbergh’s Side Effects, when it comes to twists, turns and double bluffs, there are just too many in too short a time and the whole thing starts to feel a little brain bending. This is no doubt the point, but it doesn’t really give you the opportunity to fully make sense of things before the end of the film.

One area where Trance does excel is in its aesthetics. It looks superb, which is something we’ve come to expect from Boyle’s films. Each one of his films has a distinct visual style and Trance is no exception. From dark and grimey underground settings to spectacularly lit nighttime vistas, Trance is visually very impressive, but it does feel like Boyle is papering over the cracks a little. For example, his constant use of canted camera angles to give the film a dream-like quality is less than subtle and becomes a little distracting.

All of the actors do a decent enough job, but none are particularly exemplary. James McAvoy is fine and does nothing wrong, whilst Vincent Cassel could be replaced with just about any other actor; his talents simply aren’t put to the test here. Rosario Dawson probably comes out of this with the most credit, but the script still doesn’t really allow her to stretch herself as perhaps it could.

Trance is by no means a bad film. It’s fun and frenetic, but it’s also largely forgettable, which is not a criticism often attached to Boyle’s films. It’s a film that definitely deserves a place in the director’s filmography but, unfortunately, doesn’t come close to troubling those at the top.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: A Late Quartet

A Late QuartetMidway through A Late Quartet, Christopher Walken’s character is teaching a music class during which he tells a story of an incident when he played a piece of classical music for one of his peers and thought he’d messed it up good and proper. However, the other musician told him that he’d done well and that it’s important to focus on the good stuff and leave the morons to pick on the faults. He may very well have been inviting the film’s audience to do the same as A Late Quartet does do some things well but it also has its very clear faults.

The films tells the story of a world-renowned string quartet comprising of cellist Peter (Christopher Walken), first violinist Daniel (Mark Ivanir), second violinist Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and violist and Robert’s wife Juliette (Catherine Keener). However, when Peter is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and his future in the quartet becomes uncertain, the group’s professional and personal relationships become strained.

A Late Quartet is a film about classical music that isn’t really about classical music. Those hoping to delve into the world of Beethoven, Mozart et al will be somewhat disappointed as this is very much a character piece that relies on the dynamics between the characters and the performances of the actors. It’s a rather slow film with no discernible action to speak of, but it does very well to keep your attention, which enables you to invest in much of the plight the characters experience.

However, some story arcs are a lot stronger than others, and perhaps the most interesting is Walken’s Peter. He is the old master, the one that all of the others look up to and it genuinely feels like a hammer blow when he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Seeing him come to terms with the news and deteriorate as the film progresses is interesting but it’s something that ends up being on the film’s periphery. It is used as the catalyst for the other characters’ problems but it’s the most interesting story of the film and is not afforded enough attention. Robert is another engaging character and is superbly played by PSH, but his wife Juliette is much less interesting and feels very much like a weak link. Daniel is hot-headed, arrogant but undoubtedly talented but he’s a character who’s difficult to warm to and a relationship he develops with Robert and Juliette’s daughter feels contrived and a formulaic addition to an otherwise generally intelligent script.

Once you’ve bought into these characters’ lives (or some of them at least), the film delivers with an emotional climactic punch. It’s a little manipulative and it doesn’t really come as much of a surprise but it’s still satisfying enough. There was room for A Late Quartet to be something a little more than it ended up being. Some characters and storylines are stronger than others which leaves it feeling slightly uneven, but it’s still an engaging watch. Maybe only a moron would focus on the faults but when those faults prevent it from being as good as it potentially could have been, they’re worth mentioning.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Side Effects

Side EffectsSteven Soderbergh has some pretty impressive films under his belt but still seems to be a director who has never quite broken into Hollywood’s elite. He’s directed big name films such as Erin Brokovich and Ocean’s Eleven and won an Academy Award in 2000 for Traffic. However, those highs didn’t really last and his latter material, including films such as Magic Mike and Contagion, has had a much more lukewarm reception. Side Effects is (apparently) going to be Soderbergh’s final film having become disillusioned with Hollywood, and it’s another decent, if unspectacular, addition to his catalogue.

When her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is released from prison, Emily (Rooney Mara) falls into a deep depression. After trying to kill herself, she is prescribed a new drug by her therapist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). However, the drug has some unexpected and life altering side effects.

Side Effects suffers from a somewhat mundane start but soon picks up pace significantly, laying off the obvious subtexts of a ubiquitous and consumer-like pharmaceutical industry in favour of a more traditional thriller with strong central performances and a twist-laden plot. Because when Side Effects is good, it’s really good; it’s slick and never lets you settle long enough to feel comfortable. However, too often it stumbles and tries to be a little too clever for its own good. At the film’s climax, just as you should be fully engaged, it throws one too many twist at you and the whole thing becomes a bit of a mess. The motives of some of the characters, particularly Jonathan, are also questionable and some choices they make do belittle the story at times.

Performances are generally strong; Rooney Mara, in her first feature since 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, gives a subtle but effective performance, perfectly balancing her character’s vulnerability with something else bubbling just under the surface. However, it’s Jude Law whose performance really shines through; the dutiful doctor at the start, becoming a much more complex character by the film’s conclusion. Catherine Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, is little more than laughable as Victoria Siebert, Emily’s former shrink. Her acting is matched in eye-rolling melodrama only by her obviously foreboding black clothing and make-up. She might as well be wearing a witch’s hat. As for Channing Tatum, his small amount of screen time makes a mockery of his equal billing in the film’s advertising.

If this does indeed prove to be Soderbergh’s last film, then it’s difficult to say he’s gone out with a bang. Side Effects has a Hitchcockian dark side to it that is its strongest element (although possibly not explored enough), but it never gets out of third gear for long enough to consistently be as good as it threatens to be.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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