Saturday, October 15, 2011

2 Movie Reviews: Contagion (2011) and The Ides of March (2011)

Contagion (2011)
Director - Steven Soderbergh
106 Min; PG-13
Matt Damon; Gwyneth Paltrow; Jude Law; Kate Winslet; Laurence Fishburne; John Hawkes; Marion Cotillard

Note: Spoilers in this review

When Gwyneth Paltrow travels to Hong Kong for work and seemingly does nothing but drink, gamble and, on her way back, whore it up with an old flame in Chicago, she reminds us all of the reasons we hate Gwyneth Paltrow. Thankfully for all of us, she is one of the first people to die from a new disease which we only pray was actually started because of her, but we also realize it was most likely given to her by someone or something (it was) and that her death would be a starting point for the movie in which we probably can guess the direction it will take but are also pleased with the execution (we do and we are.)

As with all awful people like Paltrow they hurt the ones they love. In her case, she kills her son and her lover - what an evil bitch. Ok, so she didn't know she would transfer the disease, but she exists and therefore she should have been aware that she would eventually do something horrible. But I digress.

Her husband Matt Damon is found to be immune to the deadly disease, thus proving once again that Damon made a deal with the devil as far back as School Ties (1992). Their daughter is now his to protect from the soon to be mobs of looters and those passing on the communicable nightmare. This is but one of no less than 5 sub plots involving normal people, CDC workers and their families, WHO workers and their families, scientists working on the vaccine and their families and a slightly improbably, Jude Law as a world famous blogger who garners some 12 million unique views of his video blogs calling out everyone involved for conspiracy theories to hide the truth about the disease and to withhold crucial vaccine information in order for corporations to profit. He may or may not be profiting in the same way.

All these subplots have managed to destroy other films (think the truly egregious Vantage Point (2008)) but such a strong director, script and actors help make this film a success. Never overly dramatic, though tens of millions are dying, the film is cohesive and keeps us well informed with a visual timeline throughout. At no point was I questioning what was happening or what day or month it was or who was involved in what part of the story - it all truly flowed very well (Though I will say the Cotillard storyline was a tad bit out of sync.)

There was never a doubt that this was a Soderbergh film.  Just look at the scene in a car with Matt Damon on his phone, the camera angled up from the passenger front seat to his face in the back seat - pure Soderbergh.  This has the feel of Traffic (2000) stamped all over it in just as good a way.

I'm not sure at what point I sort of lost any real care for the people involved, but I did, and in the end that leaves me with a slightly less enthusiastic feel of the film than I had at the mid point.  With that said, it is definitely one to see.

**** out of 5

The Ides of March (2011)
Director - George Clooney
101 Min; R
Cast: George Clooney; Ryan Gosling; Philip Seymour Hoffman; Paul Giamatti; Evan Rachel Wood

Clooney, Gosling, Giamatti and Hoffman in a political thriller? Yes please.  Unfortunately it becomes very predictable.  Great cast and great performances, but nothing special.  I wanted to like it more but really, other than some good acting, it never really delivers anything special.  Gosling's character deserved much more development and Hoffman really could have been explored much more. 

*** out of 5

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