• Open Road and Endgame Releasing Acquire Homefront

    June 11, 2013

    Open Road Films and Endgame Releasing have struck a deal to acquire the U.S. distribution rights to Millennium Films’ action thrillerHomefront, directed by Gary Fleder (Runaway Jury, Don’t Say A Word) from a screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and based on the book by Chuck Logan. The film stars Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, and Frank Grillo.

    Open Road Films and Endgame Releasing will release Homefrontnationwide on October 4, 2013. The deal was announced today by Tom Ortenberg, CEO of Open Road Films, James D.Stern, CEO of Endgame Entertainment and Avi Lerner, Chairman of Millennium Films.

    Homefront is an action movie about a widowed ex-DEA agent who retires to a small town for the sake of his 10-year-old daughter. The only problem is he picked the wrong town.

    Homefront is produced by Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King Templeton and John Thompson. Executive producers are Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson, and Mark Gill.

    “Working from a terrific script by Sylvester Stallone, Gary Fleder has crafted a smart, suspenseful, action-packed thriller which is Jason Statham’s most exciting movie in years,” stated Ortenberg.

    “I have great admiration for the strong, successful company that Tom Ortenberg and his team have built from scratch, and for their consistency in picking great movies and delivering great results: from ‘The Grey’ to ‘End of Watch’ to ‘A Haunted House,’ to name just a few,” Lerner said. “Their expertise and their passion for this project, which is one of the best-testing films in our company history, gives me very high hopes for our chances on the U.S. release.”

  • May Cause Greed, Lust or Retirement

    February 7, 2013

    The marketing campaign for “Side Effects,” Steven Soderbergh’s tight and twisty new pharma-caper, includes aWeb site for a fictitious antidepressant called Ablixa. You can tell the site is fake because the “professional consultation” it offers is provided byJude Law, who plays a psychiatrist in the film. But the embedded commercial is a perfect parody of something that has become very familiar in recent years: a vague and seductive montage of sad and happy scenes accompanied by new-agey music and, interrupting the inspiring sales pitch, a sotto voce recitation of warnings and possible complications.

    Mr. Soderbergh, who serves as his own cinematographer (under the pseudonym Peter Andrews), cleverly evokes the style of these ubiquitous drug advertisements in the movie itself. We spend most of the first half-hour in the company of Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a young New Yorker who lives in a gray fog of hopelessness. The Ablixa ad represents this condition with cartoon clouds, while Mr. Soderbergh paints Manhattan in watery shades of gloom. Thomas Newman’s score mimics and subverts the soothing music of antidepressant sales pitches, composing lullabies that portend a sleep full of nightmares. Ms. Mara, fine-boned and fragile-looking, but with a deep reservoir of scary intensity (see “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”), moves through her scenes with a blunted, haunted affect, and Emily stirs the protective instincts of the audience, of Mr. Law’s Dr. Jonathan Banks and also of her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum).

    He is a former hedge fund cowboy recently (and not all that repentantly) released from prison after serving four years for insider trading. His return coincides with — or perhaps sets off — a severe depressive episode for his wife, including a suicide attempt in an underground parking garage. Martin, affable, hunky and upbeat (as I said, Channing Tatum), also represents the principal happiness that Emily has known in her life. A flashback renders the time before his incarceration as a bright blur of delicious shared luxury: Champagne in crystal flutes, a handsome sailboat, a cute little Mercedes in the driveway of a grand Greenwich mansion.

    You will note that those signifiers of the good life are material rather than mental. Abundance is bliss. And though “Side Effects” (written by Scott Z. Burns, Mr. Soderbergh’s collaborator on “Contagion” and“The Informant!”) starts out on the pharmacologically renovated terrain of the psychological thriller — locating drama and suspense in the puzzles of Emily’s inner experience — it eventually separates the thrills from the psychology, flattening into a somewhat conventional story of double crosses and disguised motives. The movie is finally less about madness and medicine than about lust, jealousy and greed.

    Not that those things are entirely unrelated, and not that a clever, old-fashioned noir potboiler is unwelcome in this cold, dumb season. Even as it concentrates on the pathos and pathology of an individual case, “Side Effects” glances at the larger economic forces that impinge on Emily’s condition. Behind the kind doctors and enticing advertisements lie the interests of big business. Dr. Banks, eager to advance his family’s fortune (his wife, who works in banking, is played by Vinessa Shaw), accepts a lucrative consulting gig for the company that makes Ablixa, whose brand seems to be everywhere — on name tags at conferences, on ballpoint pens and prescription pads.

    These tokens of the medical-industrial complex are notable atmospheric details — minor symptoms or perhaps red herrings — rather than central concerns. The middle stretch of “Side Effects” is a forensic whodunit in which Dr. Banks, with the not always helpful assistance of Emily’s previous therapist (Catherine Zeta-Jones), tries to get to the bottom of a ghastly, possibly Ablixia-linked incident.

    I don’t want to say too much more, since while the plot may be predictable (and more than a little preposterous) in retrospect, Mr. Soderbergh handles it brilliantly, serving notice once again that he is a crackerjack genre technician. He is especially alert to the ways that shifts in the direction of the plot alter the identities of important characters. Mr. Law’s transformation is especially impressive, as the good doctor travels a circuit from compassion to confusion to coldblooded fury and discovers that paranoia is less a psychic disorder than a realistic response to circumstances.

    Mr. Soderbergh has said that “Side Effects” will be his last theatrically released feature film. (“Behind the Candelabra,” his Liberace biopic starring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas, will be shown on HBO.) As such, it is less a summing up than a greatest-hits package, reminding viewers of some of the things that this protean director has done well in recent years. (In addition to casting Channing Tatum, that is.) It has a clammy medical anxiety that recalls “Contagion,” hints of the corporate shenanigans of “The Informant!,” the do-gooder convictions of “Erin Brockovich” and an eye for high-end New York environments that defined “The Girlfriend Experience.”

    What these films have in common — and we can add “Magic Mike”and even the “Ocean’s Eleven” pictures to the list — is a critical interest in the intimate effects of a capitalist economy that bundles ethical risks along with material comforts and opportunities for self-making. Mr. Soderbergh’s tales of sex, drugs, illness and crime are also about money. To some extent, of course, money is the unacknowledged obsession of everyone who makes movies, but few filmmakers have put this concern on screen with such intelligence and wit. This honesty is a big reason to miss Mr. Soderbergh and to hope that his retirement is temporary.

  • Side Effects

    February 6, 2013

    First the bad news. Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh says Side Effects is the last film he plans to direct (up next, it's all painting, writing, theater and long-form TV). The good news is it's a hell of a thriller, twisty, terrific and packed with surprises you don't see coming. Soderbergh, who handles camera and editing on his films, has a rare gift for taking a familiar genre and filling it with provocations about how we screw up our lives. Just think of sex, lies & videotape, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, right up to Magic Mike. The gray areas are where shit happens, and Soderbergh is there taking full measure.

    Side Effects is Soderbergh in full, flinty vigor. It's anything but a formula murder mystery. Working from a script by Scott Z. Burns, a collaborator on The Informant! and Contagion, Soderbergh delivers ticking-bomb suspense laced with psychological acuity about a world where mood-altering meds are as disturbingly prevalent as social media.

    And Soderbergh lucks out with actors who stay keenly attuned to his wicked vision. There's no turning away from the seductively enigmatic Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) as she reels us into the anxieties of Emily Taylor. Her husband, Martin (a stellar Channing Tatum), is just out of prison. He did four years for insider trading. It's a shock to Emily's system. Her plush life with Martin is now a one-bedroom apartment unfashionably uptown and a grind of a job at a Manhattan ad agency.

    No sooner is Martin home than Emily is driving her car into a garage wall. The suicide attempt brings in Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a shrink with a ready prescription pad to treat the ills of Prozac nation. His drug of choice, a fictional one, is called Ablixa, with a website heralding its dubious virtues. In short order, Emily is perking up. In bed, this depressed wife mounts her husband like a bitch in heat. "Whoever makes this drug is going to be very rich," says Martin.

    Then come the side effects. One includes murder. Shocked? Don't be. Dr. Sasha Bardey, a psychiatrist who worked at Bellevue, co-produced the movie. Headlines are still being made about side effects that move past nausea and headaches into violence. Soderbergh pokes satirical fun at a Manhattan where you can't run into anyone who's not on antidepressants. But his film is deadly business.

    To avoid spoilers, I won't go further into plot. But you can't deny the heat generated by this cast. Law is sensationally good as a physician who can hand out beta blockers to ease tension in his wife (Vinessa Shaw), but can't heal himself when he gets in over his head. And Catherine Zeta-Jones, as the shrink Emily bonded with before Dr. Banks, is . . . well, let's start with dynamite. Soderbergh has sent out Side Effects with a memorable sting in its tail. There is a side effect to this movie, but it's one that I think most film junkies can live with: You can't get it out of your head.