"The Weekend Rent" offers quick-hit suggestions of what to watch at home to get psyched for new releases in theaters, on Fridays.
The new film Side Effects may be the final movie by director Steven Soderbergh, who has reportedly said that he will retire. Side Effects stars Jude Law as a psychiatrist who prescribes a drug called Ablixa to treat Emily's (Rooney Mara) anxiety disorder only afterwards to have the woman wake up in her apartment with a murdered person. Was it intentional or is Emily a victim of his medical treatment? Find out in theaters, where Side Effects is currently playing.
Soderbergh burst onto the scene with 1989's festival favorite Sex, Lies and Videotape and has directed acclaimed films such as Erin Brockovich, Traffic and the Ocean's Eleven trilogy. Since the 50-year-old director has reportedly said he will retire from the big screen, we decided to have a final-countdown weekend with Soderbergh's five films before Side Effects.
First up is 2009's The Girlfriend Experience starring then-active porn actress Sasha Grey as a high-end Manhattan call girl who is interviewed by a journalist about her work and personal life while her clients spend more time worrying about the looming financial crisis than her services. This experimental drama featuring too many long shots divided critics and audiences—some thought it was an honest exploration of human nature while others found it pretentious and odd. What do you think?
Although The Girlfriend Experience wasn't one that everyone wanted, you'll find little argument that The Informant! is the work of genius. Released the same year as The Girlfriend Experience, The Informant! stars Matt Damon as real-life whistleblower Mark Whitacre, who was integral in the lysine price-fixing conspiracy of the mid-1990s. Damon is brilliant as Whitacre worms his way out of situation after situation until he digs himself into a hole so deep that he has no other option except to be buried in it.
Two years later, Soderbergh had us all reaching for the Purell with Contagion. Gwyneth Paltrow (who else?) unknowingly becomes patient zero by contracting a deadly virus and starts a global pandemic that starts killing off mass amounts of people quickly as medical professionals scramble to find a vaccine. Damon again appears as Paltrow's husband, Kate Winslet is a doctor struggling to treat the infected, Jude Law plays a conspiracy-theorist blogger, and Marion Cotillard is the doctor tracing the origins of the virus. This paranoia-inducing movie will have you giving the hairy eyeball to anyone sneezing or clearing their throat in your vicinity. Good times!
Soderbergh is a risk taker and seems to enjoy casting non-traditional actors in leading roles. For Haywire, the director decided he wanted to make an action movie built around a character played by real-life MMA fighter Gina Carano. Carano does all her own stunts as Mallory Kane—a highly trained operative working for a government contractor who is double-crossed by her own agency and now the target of assassins. Carano isn't going to take Oscar statues away from anyone soon, but she is totally believable as a gal who would knock a guy across the room as opposed to, say, bony Angelina Jolie.
Channing Tatum gets smacked down by Carano in the opening scene of Haywire, but Tatum smacks some other parts around as the titular gyrating dancer in Soderbergh's male-stripper opus Magic Mike. The movie could have been a fluffy romantic comedy or nothing more than a fleshy parade of ripped dudes in a lesser director's hands, but Soderbergh crafted it as a somewhat gritty drama about what goes on behind the curtain at a male strip club headed up by Matthew McConaughey. This isn't a male Showgirls, in other words.
Soderbergh's final five movies before Side Effects are wildly different. If Side Effects is truly his last big-screen effort, at least we can enjoy the diversity of his video legacy at home for many years to come.
All of the films listed above are available on DVD and/or Blu-ray as well as on various VOD services.