Carol Takes the Train

Carol Christmas

In Todd Haynes’ picture-perfect design of aching mid-century refinement and repression, Carol (adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel, The Price of Salt), our titular maddening matron (Cate Blanchett) meets her soon-to-be lover/shop girl Therese (Rooney Mara) in the toy department while looking for a doll for her four-year girl for Christmas.  Therese convinces her instead to buy a train set.  The whole film, delicately detailed and quietly chugging along, is like that perfectly constructed train set – and the characters are all there perfect in their places…until they aren’t…until their desires cause everything that was supposed to represent the American Dream in the 1950’s to derail.

Haynes and his lead, Blanchett, are firmly in their wheelhouses.  Blanchett is right at home depicting a troubled woman stuck at the echelons of society in an impossibly well-do-family with a controlling husband (Kyle Chandler) and adorable little girl with impossibly WASPy names like Harge and Rindy.  She was made to play this type of role, a woman of carefully controlled mannerisms hiding her repression and passions.  Continue reading

Side Effects May Include Smirks, Butts on the Edges of Seats, and Oh No She Didn’t’s!

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, you sly dog, you!

Everyone is Side Effects talks in hushed, measured, careful tones even when angry or sad… or acting. It’s as if Soderbergh had the entire cast tranquilized. Everything about his camera and framing is measured as well. The opening shots (with Thomas Newman’s best score since American Beauty playing on the soundtrack over innocuous credits) echo Hitchcock’s Psycho. We’re in a city…we’re zooming in on a building…a window…slowly we enter a room… there’s blood on the floor…and clues. Shots, tight, not lingering. Not wasting a moment. And then…three months earlier…the title card announces.

After that hint of suspense, Soderbergh tranquillizes the audience. We think we’re watching some topical drama about the dangers of prescription drugs and societal malaise during the Great Recession. Pretty, thin little Emily (a perfectly cast Rooney Mara) looks like a strong wind will blow her away. She suffers from depression, and her husband (a cavalier and charming Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison where he served a short term for insider trading. Emily, struggling to cope, slams her car into a wall and then goes under the watchful care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law, appropriately arrogant but empathetic) who thoughtfully tries to find the right cocktail of medication to get her through her “poisonous fog.” He even takes care to contact her former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Seibert (a deliciously cold Catherine Zeta-Jones).
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