RMN Quick Critique: Side Effects (2013)



        The first act of this film had me worried that director Steven Soderbergh had made a drama dedicated to scolding the evil pharmaceutical companies with a cautionary tale, before tossing any preachy message aside for a twisty thriller with a top-notch cast. This continues a solid streak of small films with big box office potential for Soderbergh, following last year's Magic Mike and Haywire. Solid entertainment by a seriously talented director, though nothing of substance within the script by Scott Z. Burns (Contagion).


Entertainment: 7/10

Quality: 7.5/10

Availability: Blu-ray, DVD, Redbox



The World’s End theatrical review




        Apocalypse films have riddled our cinemas in the last decade, but in a surprising turn of events some of the most successful of this summer have been comedies. This is the End was as Hollywood as possible, while the somewhat similarly titled The World’s End is the final film in the extremely popular British films directed by Edgar Wright. The World’s End is the final film in the Cornetto Trilogy (also known as the ‘Blood and Ice Cream’ Trilogy), which began with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.


        Keeping true to the themes of male friendship paired with a melancholy about youth lost, The World’s End is a fitting end to the trilogy. Simon Pegg serves as our narrator, and the film’s most volatile and unpredictable character, Gary King. Struggling to adjust to the idea of being an adult as he reaches middle-age, King convinces his former cohorts of youth (Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine) for a return visit down memory lane. They attempt a pub crawl 20 years after they failed it the first time, and somehow become entangled in a robotic overtaking of sorts.


        The ways in which these three films interact with each other is worth investigating, and I could spend this entire review remarking on the clever connections. All three star Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, whose friendship is central to each narrative. Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End both imagine an apocalypse which must be survived by an adult male protagonist living an irresponsibly youthful existence. Both Hot Fuzz and The World’s End involve a small-town conspiracy uncovered by an outsider. There are many connections between the three, but they all also stand on their own.


At the same time, it seems as though the criticisms given to Hot Fuzz were taken into consideration while making The World’s End, though it may not have been for the best. While Hot Fuzz seemed slow starting, The World’s End may show its hand too early. Or perhaps these actors and the dialogue is just far more interesting than any way the robotic invasion can be elevated. This is not a film with ground-breaking special effects, but that is not due to a limited budget. With a poster design, title and basic plot borrowed from a science fiction dud and a soundtrack which could be taken straight from a 1980s John Carpenter film, there is a campiness to this film which is a delightfully and intentionally campy.



Entertainment Value: 8/10

Quality of Filmmaking: 8/10

Historical Significance: 6/10



Political Animals: The Complete Series DVD review


  • Actors: Sigourney Weaver, Carla Gugino, James Wolk, Sebastian Stan, Brittany Ishibashi
  • Producers: Greg Berlanti, Laurence Marks, Sarah Caplan
  • Format: Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: August 6, 2013
  • Run Time: 301 minutes



            Transparently borrowing from reality for its cliché and predictable story, “Political Animals” attempts to enter the world of political television shows alongside “The West Wing” and the more recently successful Netflix Original, “House of Cards.” There is a strongly feminist through line in the narrative, which is ironic considering how sex-obsessed and exploitative nearly every episode of the miniseries seems to be. This show wants to have its cake and eat it too, but by trying to be everything and please everyone, it just ends up a jumbled mess of incoherent angry feminist rants amidst poorly constructed real-life recreations. In the end, it just feels like a de-fanged feminazi version of “House of Cards.”


            The series jumps around with flashbacks that are entirely unnecessary, especially when they reveal information that doesn’t really need to be shown once we have been given back-story enough to understand what happened in the past. If you followed Hillary Clinton’s failed attempt at running for President or her embarrassing marital issues while in the White House, there are no surprises here for you. Sigourney Weaver plays Clinton… I mean, Elaine Barrish Hammond, former first lady attempting to shake off her latest defeat in her political career and marriage. After blaming her husband’s infidelity as her reason for being unable to win a primary election, Elaine divorces her philandering former President husband (Ciarán Hinds) and prepares her plan to run again despite any damage it does to her family.


            I have no problem with a miniseries about the first female president, or one which appears to be heading that way. The problem that I had with this series is two-fold, and the first has to do with the angry feminist ideals written into the story. Elaine is not a proud female as much as she is a sexist woman who hates men and even admits that she wants to become president because she is tired of the egos of men. I found this personality equally egotistical, not to mention sexist and spiteful in the way she speaks of men in a way that would never be allowed were a man speaking about women. This type of double-standard goes completely against the feminist ideology, not to mention the fact that this series insists that every character is also sex-obsessed. There are far too many unnecessary and exploitative sex scenes, which seem to be inserted just to give it more edge. For example, what reason was there to have two separate scenes in which Elaine’s son discusses his impending nuptials with his fiancé during sex? These scenes could have been shot dozens of other ways. The sex doesn’t fuel the plot in any way, other than to titillate audiences as if they were all as sex-obsessed as former President Clinton… I mean, former President Hammond.


    Entertainment Value: 6/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 4/10

    Historical Significance: 2/10

    Disc Features: 0/10



    The Thick of It: Seasons 1-4 DVD review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 7
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: August 6, 2013


            If you have ever longed for a show which has the awkward sense of humor of “The Office” paired with the political savvy of “The West Wing,” this British satire is exactly that. “The Thick of It” follows the misadventures of the fictitious government offices of the Department of Social Affairs led by successive ministers, Hugh Abbot and Nicola Murray (Chris Langham and Rebecca Front). The series ran for four seasons and was the inspiration for the feature film, In the Loop, and HBO’s series, “Veep.”


            The series focuses on the daily spin put on the news in order to keep the truth from the public, though it mostly just points out the incompetence and uselessness of the positions. The Department of Social Affairs has several different cabinet ministers, with one being fired in the pilot episode. The one constant is the abusive party leader, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), who is the one to do the firing and a majority of the creative cursing that the show is famous for. They even employed a special writer just to come up with some of the more inflammatory insults used in each episode.


            This seven disc set includes all four seasons that make up the complete series. The first two discs are shorter, contained entirely on one disc each season. The third and fourth each take two discs each, with longer seasons, and there is a seventh disc with the specials. The special features are contained on each season along the way, which were all previously released discs combined in this set. The special features include commentaries on select episodes, deleted scenes and outtakes, and a number of making-of featurettes for the more dedicated fans.



    Entertainment Value: 7/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 8/10

    Historical Significance: 7/10

    Disc Features: 7/10



    Top Gear USA: The Complete Season 3 DVD Review

  • Number of discs: 4
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: August 6, 2013
  • Run Time: 704 minutes


            Any time you take a beloved product and change or adapt it, there are bound to be fans of the original that have nothing better to do but bitch and moan on internet discussion boards. “Top Gear USA” is a perfect example of this, angering many fans of the original BBC series which is exclusively made for gear heads. This American spin-off (aka: rip-off) is less interested in a passion in the technical aspects of the cars, and far more interested in the spectacle. This is fine until it becomes clear how much of the spectacle is staged, and how poorly it is done.


            The first problem many people have with this show is the hosts, and I think they are about 2/3 correct in this assessment. Actor Adam Ferrara is the least competent of the three, capable of crashing more than actually driving. His personality can also be somewhat grating, insisting on being as arrogant as the others without any of the ability and minimal knowledge. The racer included is Tanner Foust, who has the ability and knowledge paired with the show’s most obnoxiously conceited personality. Only the expert Rutledge Wood amused me, with a sense of humor and less competitive nature to make up for an unwillingness to speed dangerously or crash recklessly like the others.


            There could be an argument that these shows should focus on the ability of the cars more than anything else, but this is hardly the case with TGUSA, for better or worse. It comes off more manipulated and staged, like a majority of American “reality” television seems to be. For example, in one stunt challenge they are given passengers with drinks that aren’t to be spilled. When Adam and Rutledge drive, there is liquid in the drinks, but Tanner brings his own car to the race and apparently didn’t want to get water in the car. So instead of using a different car or addressing his vanity, instead they try and fake it by having cubs without water and the actors put their hands over it for the entire drive. The manipulation of the audience’s intelligence calls into question the validity of everything shown, and nullifies any belief in the stunts as well. American producers need to stop treating audiences like idiots when they make reality television. In that regard, the British version is still lightyears ahead in terms of accurate information and intelligent tests. The US version is poorly staged fake TV, kind of like watching “Jack-ass” with stunts done on a closed track and half faked.


            The complete third season is included in this four-disc set, along with special features. There are extra scenes, audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with each of the hosts.


    Entertainment Value: 7/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 3/10

    Historical Significance: 3/10

    Disc Features: 5/10