Sunday, September 18, 2011

CONTAGION (2011)

Written by Scott Z. Burns


Directed by Steven Soderbergh


Where & When: Vista Theater, Los Angeles, CA. September 11, 2011 7:00PM



Have you ever thought about what you would do if a unknown, deadly, airborne virus was gradually wiping out the entire human population?

I sure hope you haven't but if you tend to dwell on dark subjects, then "Contagion", the latest thriller by Steven Soderbergh, gives you the perfect opportunity to envision this chilling scenario. What makes this even more frightening is that the possibility of this actually occurring seems even more plausible considering the current condition of our planet.

Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is in a Chicago airport, waiting to return home to Minneapolis after a business trip in Hong Kong. She has a raspy cough and doesn't feel well but simply assumes it's jet-lag. By the time she arrives home to her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon) and their son, Beth is feeling much worse with a very high fever. Two days later, Beth has a seizure and is rushed to the hospital. Doctors do all they can but Beth dies but they can't explain the cause of death to her grieving husband. Mitch is barely able to deal with the loss when he is called home by the babysitter but by the time he gets there, his son has also died from the same mysterious ailment.

This virus, which seems to be easily spread from a contaminated person either by touching, coughing or breathing, is killing people not only in the areas that Beth had visited but rapidly across the rest of the globe. Mitch, however, seems to be immune to this virus and he is quarantined and questioned by Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet). She was sent by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) of the C.D.C to help investigate this growing epidemic.

Over the course of the investigation, doctors struggle to identify the common aspects of the virus while political bureaucracy manages to get in the way, the Department of Homeland Security gets involved, checking to see if this could possibly be a bio weapon and a paranoid, attention-seeking blogger (Jude Law) takes advantage of the fear and the power of the Internet to manipulate the frightened public and to profit from this crisis.

It's seems that Mr. Soderbergh remembers the all-star disaster flicks of the 1970's but instead of a burning skyscraper or a capsized cruise ship, his modern version of that type of film is less over-the-top spectacle and something more grounded in reality which is backed up with plausible science that makes the stakes feel much higher as time is quickly running out.

While "Contagion" seems like a rough outline of what would most likely occur if this situation actually happened but we are never able to connect to the large, global cast of doomed characters as they are either not properly fleshed out or they are not on screen long enough to leave any real impression. All of the big-name actors on board, which includes Marion Cotillard as a doctor from the World Health Organization sent to China to figure out how this virus began but ends up being used as a pawn (and in even smaller roles, Elliott Gould, Bryan Cranston, John Hawkes and Sanaa Lathan), are all fully committed but because of time constraints, all of their star-power is wasted in parts that don't add up to much more than cameos. Only Jennifer Ehle, as the doctor who works desperately on trying to create a vaccine, in a quiet but effective performance leaves any impact.

Mr. Soderbergh has always been one of the more adventurous film makers working today and although not everything he has made has been worthy of overwhelming praise but every film has been refreshingly challenging as well as offering thoughtful and unconventional ideas (including his more commercial ventures) while never feeling like a waste of time or energy. "Contagion" presents a relatively, mainstream sci-fi thriller combined with his trademark idiosyncratic film making which is accomplished with a sharp screenplay, although the final resolution feels a bit too tidy and unbelievably fast.

"Contagion" is a fascinating look how human beings react and behave during an unimaginable crisis but the film doesn't leave a deep or lasting impression although it certainly creates a certain sense of paranoia. It will probably encourage people to stock up on hand sanitizer and become a little bit more nervous when they hear somebody cough.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

2011 FALL MOVIE PREVIEW

The sun has finally set on this year's crop of summer flicks so that means it's time to focus on the fall which tends to bring us darker and more dramatic fare. I tend to prefer this time of the year because the films tends to be more bold, challenging and certainly less predictable.

I'm going to share a few of the upcoming films that look particularly interesting to me.

All of the U.S. release dates are subject to change:

"THE IDES OF MARCH"

Release Date: October 7, 2011

George Clooney has returned to the director's chair and has made a political drama, based on the stage play, "Farragut North", about a young and ambitious media strategist (Ryan Gosling) working for a Democratic Governor (Clooney) running for President. After the young man discovers a troubling secret about the candidate that could unravel his campaign, he must decide whether to adhere to his values or do whatever it takes to help the Governor win. The film has a great cast that includes Paul Giamatti, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright and Evan Rachel Wood.


"DIRTY GIRL"

Release Date: October 7, 2011

Set in the 1980's, this quirky comedy stars Juno Temple as Danielle, a promiscuous Southern teenager who fights with her deeply religious mother (Milla Jovovich) and wants to find her birth father. After she befriends a fellow outcast, a gay classmate (Jeremy Dozier), they take off on a road trip to Los Angeles to find Danielle's father. William H. Macy, Mary Steenburgen, and country singers, Dwight Yoakam and Tim McGraw make appearances in the film.



"THE SKIN I LIVE IN"

Release Date: October 14, 2011

After twenty-one years, Antonio Banderas has re-teamed with writer/director Pedro Almodovar in a dark and disturbing horror story about a deranged doctor who holds a young woman (Elena Araya from "Talk To Her") captive so he can use her for an experiment that will not cause human flesh to burn. This twisted tale has plenty of sex and high drama that is done in a way that only Almodovar can deliver. Marisa Parades ("All About My Mother") also stars.



"MY WEEK WITH MARILYN"

Release Date: November 4, 2011

This drama is based on the memoir by Colin Clark, (played by Eddie Redmayne) who was a production assistant on the British set of the 1956 film, "The Prince and the Showgirl" which starred Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). After Monroe's new husband, Arthur Miller (Dougay Scott) has to return to America, Clark is assigned to keep her company for a week. The film also features Emma Watson ("Harry Potter"), Julia Ormond, Dominic Cooper and Judi Dench.


"WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN"

Release Date: December 2, 2011

Lynne Ramsay, the acclaimed Scottish director is releasing only her third feature film since her 1999 award-winning debut, "Ratcatcher". Tilda Swinton stars as a mother who struggles to understand the events that lead up to her son, Kevin's massacre of teachers and his fellow students at his high school. Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, the film also features John C. Reilly as Kevin's father and Ezra Miller as Kevin.



"A DANGEROUS METHOD"

Release Date:  December 9, 2011

Director, David Cronenberg has teamed-up with Viggo Mortensen for the third consecutive time ("A History of Violence", "Eastern Promises") for a film about the relationship between psychiatrist, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his mentor, Sigmond Freud (Mortensen) and the troubled student (Keira Knightly) who comes between them.



"W.E."

Release Date: December 9, 2011

"W.E." is the story of two women; one, a lonely young woman (Abbie Cornish) in present-day New York who is obsessed about the love story of England's King Edward VII (James D'Arcy) who gave up the crown in 1936 to marry American divorcee, Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) with the other being Simpson herself from the early days of their romance to the difficult times later in the relationship. The film, co-written and directed by the "Queen of Pop", Madonna, has already premiered at this year's Venice Film Festival and will also screen at the Toronto Film Festival.



"'TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY"

Release Date: December 9, 2011

This 1974 novel by John le Carre was first made in to a seven part mini-series by the BBC in 1979 and now has been made in to a feature film. Gary Oldman plays a former British spy who is brought out of retirement to uncover a Russian agent. Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Ciaran Hinds, John Hurt and Oscar winner, Colin Firth round out this impressive cast of British actors.



"THE IRON LADY"

Release Date: December 16, 2011

Meryl Streep could possibly earn her seventeenth Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher in a story about the days before leading up to the Falklands War in 1982. Fellow Oscar winner, Jim Broadbent co-stars as her husband.



"CARNAGE"

Release Date:  December 18, 2011

Based on the play, "God of Carnage" by Yasmina Reza,  this is the story of two sets of parents; one wealthy (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) and the other middle-class, (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) who come together to discuss a fight their children had that day but as the evening progresses, they begin acting increasingly childish and unreasonable. The controversial, Roman Polanski directs this dark comedy.

Monday, September 5, 2011

ANOTHER EARTH (2011)

Written by Mike Cahill & Brit Marling


Directed by Mike Cahill


Where & When: Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood, CA. August 30, 2011 4:30PM



"Another Earth" wants to be a grand, thought-provoking story about loss and redemption with a sci-fi twist but instead is only able to manage to be a low-budget, fairly routine, and slightly disturbing drama

The film begins with a tragedy as Rhoda (Brit Marling), a gregarious, intelligent young woman, is leaving a party one evening. She has had a little too much to drink but drives home anyway. Rhoda hears news that another planet has been found that could sustain human life but as she take her eyes off the road to stare at this new discovery, she crashes into a car, killing an expectant mother, her young child and leaving the father in a critical condition.

After serving four years in prison, Rhoda has become glum and withdrawn, with her plans to go to college to study astrophysics now over. She keeps to herself, not wanting to deal with people, so she gets a job as a custodian at a high school and works with a blind, elderly man who doesn't speak. Rhoda is having great difficulty trying to find a way to move on with her life or even if she should continue living but her interest is piqued by an essay contest for an opportunity to win a trip to the new planet, now called Earth 2, which we have communicated with and seems to be an exact replica of our own Earth. Fascinated by the idea, she is inspired to write a completely honest entry on why she wants to go.

After a chance sighting of John Burroughs (William Mapother), the only survivor from the car accident, Rhoda now wants to apologize for what she has done as she was unable to while he was in a coma for months after the incident. She finds out where he lives but after she gets the nerve to knock on his door, Rhoda backs down and claims to offer a free trial cleaning service. John was a successful music composer but after losing his family, he was left broken-down, depressed, and spending each day drinking heavily.

Against better judgement, Rhoda begins working for him without revealing who she actually is. The two slowly develop a friendship that inspires John to create new music and opens Rhoda up to feel and laugh again. This soon leads to inevitably more tender feelings between them and after Rhoda wins the contest, John is happy for her but doesn't want her to go which leaves her to face several complicated and difficult decisions.

"Another Earth" poses some intriguing ideas, such as, if Rhoda actually went to this parallel planet, would it truly be exactly the same and could it be dramatically altered by her presence there but Mr. Cahill, (who also did cinematography, edited and produced) because of his budget, wasn't able to fully explore this theme so the film doesn't have much to offer beyond a thin and unremarkable melodrama. I know that Rhoda wanted to make amends but I'm pretty sure she could have found a smarter way than causing this poor man even more pain by not revealing that she is the one responsible for killing his family until long after she sleeps with him.

The only real highlight of "Another Earth" is the discovery of a new talent as Ms Marling, who also co-wrote the screenplay, manages to give a moving performance with little dialogue and with the use of her very expressive face. I'm sure this film will be just enough of a calling card to lead to other more promising opportunities for this young actress.

"Another Earth" is never able to soar as many of the deeper ideas that it touches are never fully developed which keeps this film sadly Earthbound.