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Double Feature: May 2013

Warning! Sitting around watching hours and hours of video will totally fry your brain! But if you do it right, watching movies back-to-back can illuminate wildly different details, create a whole new viewing experience, and totally BLOW your MIND. Plus, it’s fun. Here’s your monthly guide:

First up: Side Effects
Dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2013
Blu-ray/DVD – available 5/21

It wells up inside her from nowhere, rattles her nerves, and pushes her alarmingly close to destruction. A doctor approaches her in an emergency room and asks her jarringly direct questions that reveal her secret – that she is dangerous to herself and to others. They set up an appointment. He has her try a brand new pill, a lucky combination of chemicals that actually works. Ablixa controls her uncontrollable urges.

But you can tell there is still something very wrong, that things will soon take a nasty turn.

Rooney Mara, who stamped a big impression with just one scene in 2010′s The Social Network and went on to nab an Oscar nomination for 2011′s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, plays this antidepressant-dependant woman with a nerve-racking instability. She infests the very normal, very modern life of prescription medication with a queasy dread.

It seems at first as though Steven Soderbergh is using Side Effects to set ablaze the troubles of a society addicted to pills pushed by doctors who are supported by drug companies that live and die by profit margins. He spins a frightening, fascinating yarn with those elements for a while before twisting the story into something much smaller.

It’s almost disappointing how logical and confined the scope becomes – except that it turns into such a wild, even tawdry, game of chess.

Jude Law, in particular, has a lot of fun as the doctor, sliding from authority-figure-in-a-white-jacket to conspiracy-crackpot. He knows how to play by the rules, knows he must keep his family above the upper-middle class line or risk losing them. He is not made into some symbol of our corporate culture. He and the other players of this devious game are all just some possible side effects of it.

Next up: Michael Clayton
Dir. Tony Gilroy, 2007
Blu-ray/DVD – available now

Michael Clayton mops up side effects for a living. He moves in and makes problems go away quietly, with as little damage to the company image as possible. A fixer. One day he finds himself cleaning up after a friend.

Arthur Edens was defending one of these companies, U-North, against a class-action lawsuit, when he suddenly has a meltdown in a spectacularly embarrassing way. Later, he breathlessly confides to Clayton that he has discovered documents that prove the company knowingly allowed carcinogens in their products, causing widespread illness.

This bit of news is the sort of truth Clayton has always suspected about his clients, but would rather not acknowledge.

At its headquarters, U-North plays a promotional video on a loop with soothing music, green pastures, and tilled soil. Its logo depicts a delicate plant above the words: “We grow your world together.” Ablixa, from Side Effects, flaunts the words “Take back tomorrow” during a commercial showing a series of people in dark rooms plagued by hovering animated rain clouds, awaiting a miracle drug to bring them a sunny picnic.

Idyllic fantasies painted for the consumer.

Both movies delve into the disturbing sides of these fantasies, much in the way of great ’70s paranoia flicks like Three Days Of The Condor and The Parallax View. But where Condor and Parallax conclude that something cold and wicked must be controlling our world, Effects and Clayton both just assume that the world is cold and wicked, focusing instead on what a handful of individuals decide to do within it. The only way to win is to play the game.

Michael Clayton is one of the first great thrillers about an unsettling way of life in the 21st century. It is the earnest plea to Side Effects‘ bleak humor. Writer-director Tony Gilroy opens Clayton by framing thousands of anonymous business windows and ends it with a long, calm close-up of a human being’s face.

Celebrate Ebert – For 46 years, Roger Ebert brought an unprecedented mix of wit and passion to the art of watching movies. In his final ballot for Sight & Sound’s “Ten Greatest Movies of All Time” poll, he publicly argued with himself whether to include Synecdoche, New York or The Tree Of Life as his one new entry. Both movies are hugely ambitious, basically taking on life as a whole, but in utterly different ways: Synecdoche oozes a whimsical dreariness while Tree swims in an aching, loving soul.

– Rob Fagin

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