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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Snitch ••1/2

MV5BNTM4MTYzNjA3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzcyNDA5OA@@._V1_SX214_Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Jon Bernthal
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Screenplay:Justin Haythe, Ric Roman Waugh
Drama/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: February 22, 2013



Someone told on you Scott – the Snitch review is in!

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Son of a snitch! Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to Jason Matthews who has been thrown in jail because his buddy sent him a stash of cocaine to “hold” for him. He’s facing 10 years in federal prison. His estranged father, John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson) pulls some strings and gets a meeting with US Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon). She agrees to lessen Jason’s sentence if Matthews can act as an informant against the local kingpin drug dealer. Matthews agrees and enlists the help of an ex-con who works for him, Daniel James (Jon Bernthal).

James introduces Matthews to a dangerous local drug dealer named Malik (Michael K. Williams). Matthews offers his trucking business to help Malik transport drugs, but Malik is suspicious of him. He is willing to allow Matthews to transport a large shipment but only if Matthews is willing to drive the truck himself. In addition, James must accompany him. The two deliver the goods but Sarandon’s main field agent Cooper (Barry Pepper) fails to make an arrest, believing that Matthews can lead them to a higher drug cartel figure.

Scott, this movie is based upon actual events. The father, Matthews, is getting pulled deeper and deeper into the drug ring, making his risk greater and greater. I found it hard to believe that any man would risk his life for his son’s wrong-doing. But, it was based upon actual events, so I guess it must have happened.

But, there comes a point where something happens that is beyond belief. Matthews has visitation with his son. And he looks deeply, meaningfully into his son’s eyes and says: “You’ve taught me something. You’ve taught me the value of loyalty.” In other words, this man was willing to risk his life, livelihood, and potentially the lives of his and James’ family to spring his son – when all his son had to do was “snitch” on his friends. I found this impossible to swallow.

Greg, it wasn’t so hard for me to believe that a father would risk life and limb for his son. Personally, I would never have done what Matthews did for his boy, but I know many parents who will do anything and risk anything for their kids’ well-being. It borders on craziness to me, but never underestimate the sometimes illogical strength of the parent-child bond.

The prison visitation scene was fascinating. The son is getting beaten up by the other prisoners and has cuts and bruises all over his face. Again, my reaction would have been, “Listen, you idiot, you can stop all this if you simply tell the D.A. that you’ll snitch on drug dealers at your school.” So maybe this movie is a cautionary tale about what can happen when parents worship their children, even when the children show some truly lame judgment.

Fair enough. Snitch is a sugar-coated peek into the world of drug running. Compared to The Counselor (which I hated, by the way), this movie is like a Saturday-morning cartoon. The bad guys are Yosemite-Sam look-alikes and the Feds are cookie-cutter politicians out to further their own careers more than interested in doing the right thing.

Greg, I found myself liking this movie despite problems I had with Matthews bailing out his kid when the kid wasn’t willing to help himself. Pardon the pun, but Dwayne Johnson puts in a rock-solid performance, showing that he can act and actually has some decent range. There are two other noteworthy performances here. John Bernthal delivers a stirring portrayal of Matthews’ sidekick on the drug deliveries, and Barry Pepper is outstanding in his role as Susan Sarandon’s sidekick on the law enforcement side.

Snitch isn’t without other flaws. One irritating inconsistency occurs when Agent Cooper puts Matthews in harm’s way by failing to make an arrest when he (Cooper) senses there are bigger fish to fry. Keeghan chews him out for this error, but then later it is Keeghan who puts Matthews is terrible harm’s way and it is Cooper who challenges her and wants to protect Matthews’ safety. Why do these two characters flip-flop their positions? Doesn’t makes sense.

I was mildly entertained during Snitch but I don’t feel the need to see it again. I did like it better than the aforementioned The Counselor. Dwayne Johnson did a passable job, but let’s face it, he plays himself in every film. I give Snitch 2 Reels out of 5. Johnson’s character of Matthews goes on a good hero’s journey and learns a flimsy lesson about loyalty. But it’s enough for me to award him 3 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-2 Hero: superman-3

Greg, my ratings are yours in reverse. Snitch entertained me with its gripping portrayal of family loyalty (however misguided it was) and its suspenseful depiction of the dangers of infiltrating dangerous drug cartels. The film earns 3 Reels out of 5 for me.

As for the hero story, I’m not convinced that Matthews is changed one iota by his questionable decision to risk his life a dozen times over for his pathetic son. Alas, he’d do it all again in a heartbeat. I didn’t see too much else in the hero journey — no mentor and no father figure, for example. So I’m reducing my Heroes rating to just 2 out of 5.

Movie: reel-3 Hero: superman-2

Side Effects •••1/2

SideEffects2013PosterStarring: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Scott Z. Burns
Crime/Drama/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 106 minutes
Release Date: February 8, 2013



Watching Side Effects had the unusual side effect of making me sleepy.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Sounds to me like you watched Sighed Effects.

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) welcomes her husband (Channing Tatum) home from a 4-year stint in a federal prison. She’s trying to be a good wife, but she suffers from depression. She attempts suicide and finds herself in a hospital where resident psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) prescribes some medication for her and asks her to visit him in his offices. After consulting with her old doctor, Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), he prescribes a new drug, Ablixa. Things are dicey on this drug – Emily has strange bouts of sleep-walking and one night murders her husband while in a drug-induced haze.

Emily is brought to trial and Banks testifies on her behalf, arguing to the court that she killed her husband while she was under the influence of Ablixa.  Emily is found not guilty by reason of insanity. But meanwhile, Banks career and his personal life are in ruins. He is criticized for not anticipating the side effect, for getting paid to dispense Ablixa to patients, and for developing inappropriately close relationships with Emily and a previous female client. The remainder of the movie is spent watching Banks try to piece his life back together.

Scott, this movie confused me. It starts out like a typical “cause” film, leading us down the path of a woman who has used little-tested psychiatric drugs and something terrible has happened. What I expected was a lesson in how important it is to be cautious with mood-altering drugs. But the story took a hard turn, switching heroes from Emily and her challenges, to Jonathan and his problems now that he’s associated with a bad case.

Later, the story takes yet another turn that leads us down a third path. I’m not sure if I should be impressed with the movie-makers’ cleverness at keeping me off-balance, or annoyed that I didn’t get one movie with a strong message. Instead, I get three movies for the price of one. I cannot decide if this is a watered-down story or a bargain.

There is indeed a twist, Greg, and I’m thankful for it. I would have been disappointed if the movie had only been about the side effects of medication and the legal implications of these unexpected effects. Maybe I enjoyed this movie because I’m a psychologist who appreciates the rare portrayal of a good therapist in the movies. Our hero Jonathan is a competent, compassionate doctor who makes a couple of minor mistakes and pays dearly for them. Side Effects is intriguing, deceptive, and intelligently made.

Rooney Mara deserves credit for masterfully playing us, our hero Jonathan, and the entire legal system to the hilt. In our recent review of The Fifth Estate, I mentioned how much I enjoy seeing Benedict Cumberbatch play dark loose cannon characters. Rooney Mara is the female equivalent of Cumberbatch. Her slightly off-kilter nonverbal mannerisms are alarmingly alluring. She is essentially reprising her role in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo here.

You’re right about the performances. Our three leads handle the twists with ease. Jude Law, in particular plays Banks at first as a competent psychiatrist, then an obsessive bent in proving his innocence, and finally as a man redeemed. It’s a great arc for a hero. The problem I have is that the movie flips our heroes and it’s a little hard to know who we’re rooting for. But that definitely added to the suspense.

I enjoyed Side Effects and recommend it. I give it 3 Reels out of 5 for an off-kilter presentation and 3 Heroes out of 5 for switching our affections and our attention from one hero to another.

Movie: reel-3 Heroes: superman-3

Side Effects is an effective psychological thriller that owes its success to outstanding performances by Law, Mara, and Zeta-Jones and some slick direction from Steven Soderbergh. The movie raises several interesting issues about the dispensation of mood-enhancing drugs and the legal liabilities associated with prescribing medications. Side Effects made me think, and it made me feel, too. That’s high praise for any movie these days. I’m impressed enough to award it 4 Reels out of 5.

The hero story was interesting. Certainly Banks is thrown into an unfamiliar world and has to claw his way out of it. He doesn’t get much help, as the cops, his wife, and his fellow psychologists all turn against him. Nor is there a mentor, a father figure, a sidekick, or a love interest (other than his wife). Does Banks emerge a changed man? As with many movies, we cannot say. I suspect he will now lead a more professionally cautious life and will attend to his family more. Because of all the gaps in the classic hero journey, I can only give Banks 3 Heroes out of 5.

Movie: reel-4 Heroes: superman-3