Monthly Archives: September 2011

Contagion

Definition of contagion:
a. A contagious disease
b. The transmission of a disease by direct or indirect contact
c. A disease-producing agent (as a virus)
d. A people-centered, realistic movie about all of the above

The fact that Contagion, in part, takes place in Minneapolis doesn’t help in remembering that it’s just a movie about a worldwide disease outbreak, not the actual thing.
I (surprisingly) wasn’t as paranoid about germs after seeing the movie as some audiences I’ve heard about, but the simple series of events Soderbergh chose to lead to the death of millions and millions of people certainly put the effect of a pandemic in perspective.
Contagion starts in with Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, Beth, traveling from Hong Kong to Minneapolis and subsequently becoming sick with a deadly virus that quickly infects more and more people. Her husband Mitch, played by Matt Damon, is immune, leaving him to show the human side of what the disease outbreak causes in society while the world around him resorts to violence and stealing. As more people begin to get sick and die across the world, Soderbergh breaks apart the crisis from the standpoint of Homeland Security, the Minnesota Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, as well as the media.The film is shown as a race against time while researchers try to create a vaccine to fight the virus as well as find its source.
For me, a film like this could easily turn into one big scare tactic with over the top results, but Sodebergh effectively kept the topic and his cast on a short leash. Simply, and it’s not a bad thing, what’s scary about Contagion is how believable it is. At no point in the film is there a worldwide war zone, zombies, aliens or some freak accident that caused the virus to spread. There is certainly violence as a result of the disease when people are fighting to survive, but, sadly, in the events that take place it’s all human nature that can’t be controlled.
I’d say all of the acting performances in Contagion are level with each other, but that’s a good thing.
All the characters are fighting for something in their own sector of society and I don’t think the actors were meant to shine over each other, but focus on telling a story as if it were actually happening to them.
Of course I have a bias toward Matt Damon on any day and I think he fit the role of Mitch well. For the most interesting character, I’d pick Jude Law’s blogging journalist who interjects himself into the disease crisis to experience it first hand.
If Contagion fell short anywhere, the plot surrounding Marion Cotillard’s character (a doctor with the World Health Organization) wasn’t tied in to all the other events as much as it should have been. It made sense, but fell away from the story at times, then reappeared.
Overall, Contagion comes off as original in the “disease outbreak” genre and I appreciate that Soderbergh and his cast kept the story, despite its many complicated elements, human.

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How Did This Get Made?

Podcasts are my new obsession. It all started with a friend’s recommendation to check out How Did This Get Made? with Paul Scheer. I thought I could handle one and was pleased to discover something else to listen to on the way to and from work, although I will always love The Current.
The premise of HDTGM is simple, it’s about bad movies (so bad they’re awesome) and people talking about bad movies. Scheer and his costars see a bad movie and then break it apart scene by scene and play clips of the dialogue. There’s also a guest star in each episode to add to the regular cast. At the end they involve a listener challenge, asking fans to give their take on the movies or think of alternative titles/endings. I’ve made it through their renditions of Smurfs, The Green Lantern, The Tourist, Mac and Me and The Back Up Plan so far and I’m hooked. I actually haven’t seen any of those movies, but could listen to the HDTGM folks talk about them all day long.
Then there’s all the podcasts I found related to this one and all of a sudden my computer is almost out of memory. I have yet to delve into the Nerdist recordings I’ve heard about with Chris Hardwick, Doug Love Movies, and don’t even get me started on the library of Breaking Bad talks I have waiting in my queue.
I feel like I’ve seriously been living under a rock as far as the podcast world is concerned and with the amount of time I spend in the car in a given week, it’s a true shame all that listening time has been wasted.
Luckily I’m driving to see my parents in Wisconsin tomorrow so I’ve got 4 hours or so each way, with a fun-filled family visit in between, to catch up.
Signing off now … must … download … more …. podcasts.

Weekend picks

Upon checking the film releases this weekend and reviewing my record of must-sees, I could probably spend the next three days camped out at the multi-plex. I don’t think the fall movie season has officially started, so I have a lot of work to do if I am going to keep up. Realistically I hope to see at least one of these films this weekend: Our Idiot Brother, 3D Shark Night, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, Bellflower or The Whistleblower.
In the meantime I can recommend some options based on what I have seen recently, both in the theater and on DVD.
For starters, thank goodness Crazy, Stupid, Love is still in theaters because everyone needs to see it, plain and simple. If I didn’t have other film priorities, I’d probably go to it again, I liked it that much. Ladies drag your dates to this one or gather your pals together, heck see it by yourself, I don’t care. I may be a little biased here because I’ve become obsessed with Mr. Ryan Gosling lately, but this movie deserves a first, and second, and third, look. It’s like that popular song on the radio you can’t get out of your head — think anything in the Foster the People catalog.
Gosling and his washboard abs star as Jacob, a womanizer who takes Steve Carell’s character Cal Weaver under his wing after going through a divorce with his wife Emily (Julianne Moore). Fortunately for audiences, this movie does not go down the rom-com tubes with its plot and has very smart writing. And the cast is the tops with Marisa Tomei, Emma Stone and Jonah Bobo as a kid I actually liked in a movie. Most of the time his type of character is just plain annoying, but Bobo’s performance landed on my good side. As Cal and Emily’s son Robbie, Bobo masters the angst of an eighth-grader watching his parents’ marriage fall apart without coming off as trying too hard or falling into the cliches associated with such a character.
Steve Carell plays the role like he does in most of his other movies — almost to the point you think that’s how he is in real life. True or not, it makes the character seem real to the audience and the entire cast had strong chemistry on screen.
I am sure it will be a stretch to get any guy to see this movie, but my advice is to give it a try.

If they do, a reward could be a viewing of the oldie but goodie Strange Brew.

My friends and I were lucky enough to see it on the big screen last weekend at the Lake Harriet Music and Movies in the park. Sadly it was the last installment of the event and we only just heard about it that week. But the completely weird, crazy and hilarious Strange Brew delivered a fine end-of-the-summer experience. I’ll definitely be back in the audience next summer and hope the event organizers replay some of this year’s choices such as Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and The Labryinth or something of the like. I am sure I am one of the few people that took this long to be on the Strange Brew bandwagon, so I don’t need to bother explaining what it’s about. Just pop in the DVD this weekend and open a bottle of beer, it’s beauty.
My last selection may be a little obscure but if you like indie films, check out Ceremony on DVD. The 2010 release stars Michael Angarano as Sam Davis, a hopeless romantic who crashes the wedding of a woman he met only met once, played by Uma Thurman.
Ever since I achieved my film fanatic status, a good indie is still my favorite genre. There can be unknown or established actors (obviously The Bride Uma Thurman is not a new face in Hollywood) and I enjoy plots that end with some soul searching by the viewer. In the case of Ceremony, the quirky backdrop of a hippie beach wedding and a remote retro hotel create a unique touch and add to the appeal of the film. Most indies I see provide the opportunity to interject myself into the plot and ask, what would I do?
Would I drag my friend on a road trip to reunite with a lost love or do nothing and risk never knowing what would have happened? Ceremony may not please all audiences, but it took a potentially complex and heavy plot and turned it around to be as happy as it is sad. 
Hope those suggestions provide something for everyone, relax and enjoy the show!