Soderbergh’s Contagion has many
things in common with movies like Outbreak and The Andromeda Strain, with one
notable exception — it feels utterly, terrifyingly genuine. It also inspires
serious respect for the doctors and scientists who fight deadly diseases, a
battle that often seems unwinnable.
Contagion is a
multi-character epic, following everyone from epidemiologists to regular
citizens dealing with a fast-moving virus that comes into the U.S. via a
businesswoman (Gwyneth Paltrow) who has recently returned from Hong Kong. Her
husband (Matt Damon) struggles to hold the family together while everything
falls apart around them, while the CDC and WHO (led by Kate Winslet, Laurence
Fishburne and Marion Cotillard) investigate and try to contain the illness. They’re
hampered by a blogger (Jude Law) who is pushing conspiracy theories and quack
“cures” on a desperate public.
covers nearly every possible angle of such a crisis, much as he did in the
drug-problem saga Traffic. While Contagion has its predecessor’s great
cast and thought-provoking scope, it also has weak spots that keep it from
reaching the same level of brilliance. Cotillard’s storyline goes berserk about
halfway through, and although Law’s character is fascinating, he gets short
shrift while Soderbergh focuses on Damon and the scientists. This probably
would have made a better mini-series than it does a feature film — it’s
certainly interesting enough to warrant that kind of commitment.
does work is the sense Soderbergh creates that this could easily happen in the
near future. It’s an ultimately optimistic film, and it gives due credit to the
people whose efforts would most likely save lives, but it’s definitely rooted
in reality. You won’t want to touch any doorknobs for a few days after seeing
it. Or breathe on anyone. Or go out in public without a HazMat suit ….
featurettes on the film’s verisimilitude and the research that went into it; a
PSA on how pandemics spread and how to prevent them. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 —LL
When you have fighting robots, does it
really matter if the story gets sappy?
If you have Hugh Jackman as your
leading human, the answer is a firm no. In this loose reworking of a grim
Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) short
story, the former Wolverine star plays an ex-boxer named Charlie Kenton who
operates fighting bots now that the sport is banned. Actually, he might be
better off if he were swinging his fists himself. He’s heavily in debt, and his
expensive bots quickly turn into scrap metal.
When Charlie is forced to spend
“quality time” with his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo), the two discover a
dilapidated sparring bot who becomes a potent contender thanks to Max’s ability
to turn spare parts into essential components and Charlie’s knowledge of the
Of course, the two become the family
they should have been a long time ago. Jackman, to his credit, can make this
schmaltz work beautifully. From his lungs, “Yeah, right” dialogue sounds almost
He also does the impossible by not
getting upstaged by the robots. One of the marvels of the film is that not only
do the cyborgs look convincing playing off the people but also they each have
distinct personalities as they go into the ring. If they didn’t, it would be
impossible to put any emotional investment in the outcome of the matches. Oh,
and because they’re bots, it’s not as guilt inducing when they lose limbs or
even their heads.
Director Shawn Levy (Date Night) may have recently made the
ranks of AVClub.com’s “10 Directors You Didn’t Know You Hated.” Because he
turned Matheson’s sad tale (which was adapted into a terrific Twilight Zone episode starring Lee
Marvin) into a feel good movie and didn’t hit the canvas, maybe we
should lay off the Hate-or-Ade.
Extras: Depending on whether you get the Blu-Ray or the DVD,
there’s a ton of featurettes. One reveals how Sugar Ray Leonard taught Jackman
and the bots how to pull off convincing boxing moves. There’s also a commentary
by Levy, deleted scenes and bloopers. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 —DL
a movie about baseball and math. How exciting.
that’s your sarcastic response to the plot of Moneyball, you are not alone. Give it a chance, though, because it’s
actually quite engaging. Based on Michael Lewis’ non-fiction book about Oakland
A’s general manager Billy Beane, Moneyball has a crackling script and energetic pace that belie its less-than-intriguing
nominee Brad Pitt gives one of his best performances as Beane, whose team gets
hammered endlessly by wealthy opponents who can afford hotshot players
(including some of Beane’s, who leave for higher paychecks). A chance meeting
with young stats whiz Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, also Oscar-nominated) changes
the way Beane chooses players, and shakes up decades of accepted
from the performances, the film’s greatest asset is the screenplay by masters
Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian. They also wrote the script for The Social Network, another great movie
about a seemingly boring subject (guys sitting at computers!), and their rapid-fire
style is everywhere. Director Bennett Miller slows it down just enough to let
the narrative unfold properly. This is, quite literally, “inside baseball”
material, and it needs to be handled carefully for popular consumption.
still find its most appreciative audience among baseball geeks, who either love
or hate Beane’s muckraking reforms. It won’t make fans or statisticians out of
anyone else, but it will be a very pleasant surprise.
and extended scenes; a blooper reel; features on Beane’s accomplishments and
the efforts to give the film authenticity; the Blu-Ray also has features on
casting and the challenges of adapting Lewis’ book. (PG-13) Rating: 4 —LL
Considering it was the first movie to ever win an Academy
Award for Best Picture, it’s been a travesty that Wings has been unavailable on Blu-Ray, much less DVD, until now.
Thankfully, Paramount has finally corrected that problem. It was the last
silent film to take Best Picture at the Oscars. We’ll have to see if The Artist will be so fortunate when the
little gold men are handed out later this month.
The new edition has been spruced up and has a new orchestra
score. There’s color tinting, but thankfully none of this detracts from the
wonder that is the film itself. Olathe native Charles “Buddy” Rogers, who later
married Mary Pickford, and Richard Arlen play a couple of daring pilots who
take on the Germans in World War I. They also wind up endangering their close
friendship when they both fall in love with the same woman (Clara Bow).
The love triangle is adequate, but the main reason to see Wings is some of the most jaw dropping areal
footage ever shot. Keep in mind, these folks didn’t have CGIs.
Rogers and Arlen actually had to learn to fly the fragile,
rickety biplanes. Instead of having the actors on a set with a backdrop of
painted clouds behind them, you can tell that Rogers is in the sky with the
wind hammering his face. He was often in the air for hours and vomited from airsickness
and stress. It’s a miracle this guy lived to be in his 90s.
I’m not sure of what to make of a scene where Rogers gets
loaded on Champagne and stumbles through a room full of bubbles, but Clara Bow
is mesmerizing in what could have been a throwaway role. It’s also fun to see a
young Gary Cooper in a tiny cameo. He’s only on for a few seconds, but he
manages to steal the film just by looking somber.
making of featurettes and one look at the restoration process. As an added
bonus, make sure to watch Rogers’ lips. He got to cuss out the Germans because
it was a silent movie. (N/R) Rating: 4 —DL