A few years back, I endured a particularly bad bout of flu, which I suspect might have been of the swine variety. Since then I have washed my hands obsessively, not quite OCD, but every time I come in from outside, every time I accept a delivery, every time I pick up the mail. If I'm out and about, I slather my hands with that sanitizing gel as often as I can remember to. After washing my hands in a public bathroom, I use a tissue to open the door to get out. I whole-heartedly agree with those epidemiologists who insist that a world-wide flu pandemic is not a matter of if, but when. Furthermore, I adore disaster films. My favorites from when I was a kid were King Kong, Godzilla (and all the sequels), The Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno, The Andromeda Strain--and I've seen The Day After Tomorrow three times (I'm a sucker for those scenes in the New York Public Libary). As anyone who has come to dinner at my house knows conspiracy theories are staples in my verbal diet. (Favorites: Chinatown, The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, Enemy of the State, the Bourne films...) So there was no way I wasn't running to see Contagion--and with that director and cast--just as soon as I could.
Can you believe I almost fell asleep?
You've got to hand it to Steven Soderbergh that he could make a movie called Contagion seem as if it were shot in slow motion. It was as if the guy had no idea how to tell a story. Strands began that went no where. Characters introduced then forgotten. The whole film was a veritable school of red herrings. And all that "talent" gone to waste. Gwenyth Paltrow is almost immediately killed off, Marion Cotillard is introduced than disappears for most of the movie, Lawrence Fishburne and Elliot Gould reduced to talking head doctors, Jude Law had potential but his aussie conspiracy babble eventually went nowhere. We're left with Matt Damon to hold down the fort! I mean it felt like a cruel inside joke, as if Soderbergh were taking his directorial revenge on movie stars--the movie should have been titled "Revenge." The biggest waste of all was Kate Winslet. In the first half of the film, we kept watching for her--she was going to save the world from disaster as well as this disasterous film--and then Soderbergh KILLS HER OFF. A red nose, a stretcher in a make-shift hospital, body bag, gone. Soon after her demise I was seriously nodding off. Visually, the film had some extraordinary shots--almost worth seeing for this. Otherwise a dud.
(Sorry for all the spoilers but it's my belief that no one should read a film review unless you have already seen the film or have no intention of seeing it. If the review then changes your mind one way or the other, how delightful!)
I didn't fall asleep in Carnage but I couldn't wait for it to be over. A film written and directed by the smug about the smug is just going to be flat no matter how many zippy speeches and drawing-room histrionics. The problem with this movie, besides the complete implausibility--and one dimensionality--of the script, was the casting. Jodie Foster is not a natural screecher, John C. Reilly kept struggling to give his hounded-husband-ready-to-explode routine more depth, Christoph Waltz was actually perfect because he understood the banality of his character and entertainingly stuck to type. But oh, Kate Winslet, what a waste! What was she doing in that room, with those people, with that husband, in that movie? She was too beautiful, too sophisticated, too intelligent for the part, her character so badly conceived as somewhere between trophy wife and kick-ass executive. Poor Winslet was totally at sea, doing the best she could as a dinghy in one scene and an ocean liner in another.
Random list of films I've seen but haven't devoted a proper blog to with rating @ to @@@@@
The Vagabond (Directed by Raj Kapoor in 1951 when he was just 27, this steamy melodrama represents the birth of Bollywood. The incredible chemistry between Kapoor and his leading lady Nargis is irresistable. And I saw it at MoMA for free. I love New York.) @@@@@
Margin Call (Nothing new here, didn't get my blood boiling at all and the subject--Wall Street greed and arrogance usually does. Some good acting from a great cast but pretty forgetttable. I imagine the play was better.) @@
Young Adult (I think Charlise Theron might be my favorite actress at the moment. She's got talent plus diva quality. This film is one note but she's so fabulous.) @@@@
Shame (a shame, waste of Michael Fassbinder's considerable talents. Carey Mulligan singing New York, New York excruciating and not in the way intended. Plus is that New York? It occured to me while watching that Steve McQueen should watch Pasolini's opus and take notes.) @@
One Day (Help, the accent! Ugh. Anne Hathaway botched this one.) @
Crazy, Stupid, Love (Ryan Gosling, need I say more? Besides, it was really very funny at times. And the casting is just perfect.) @@@@
Ides of March (George Clooney's future may be as a director. This effort was admirable and entertaining. Plausibility a bit stretched but I didn't care much. Besides, Ryan Gosling, need I say more?) @@@@
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Second best film of 2011 for me. Gary Oldman channels Alec Guinness and I love the change of glasses to mark time. BBC series, however, still the best . If you want to read more about the book/film/series two excellent pieces, both in The New Yorker, are Anthony Lane's "I Spy" http://nyr.kr/uXIWBb and David Denby's "We are all Smiley's People" http://nyr.kr/zzS9vr) @@@@@
The Skin I Live In (Best film of 2011 for me--Almodovar pushes the form like no other director. Here he explores the pygmalion myth as only he can.) @@@@@
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (As a good a rendition of the book you'll get but ah, the book. Doesn't really translate to film. Maggie Smith great.) @@@
The Godfather (Hadn't seen it in years but what a flawless film. The horse head was a stroke of genius as was casting Diane Keaton as Al Pacino's wife. Marlon Brando, as always, was sublime.) @@@@@
Nowhere Boy (directed by artist Sam Taylor-Wood and also surprisingly mediocre. Straightforward biopic without any attempt at innovation. HBO would have done it better. Anne Marie Duff and Kristin Scott Thomas saved it from total irrelevance.) @@
The Ghost Writer (directed by Roman Polanski and surprisingly mediocre. Ewan McGregor saved it from total boredom. Hitchcock touches nice but not enough-Ok plane fare.) @@
Frida (directed by Julie Taymor is gorgeous to look at but the script was not up to the visuals. Salma Hayek superb but not oscar material since though crippled her face remains beautiful.)
La Vie en Rose (Incredibly depressing--didn't want to learn so much about the Diva. Cotillard excellent, obvious oscar for portrayal of yet another fallen, defaced woman.
Notes on A Scandal (Thin but Judi Dench is superb. She totally outshines Cate Blanchett. Equation of repressed lesbian stalker with female statuatory rapist interesting. At least Dench didn't turn out to be a serial killer.)
It's Complicated (Perfect plane fare, especially while trying to avoid volcanic ash cloud. I laughed out loud at least twice. Fun to watch Alec Baldwin completely upstage Steve Martin.)
Bulletproof Monk (Not nearly as good as the phenomenal Kung Fu Hustle, but entertaining nonetheless. My 9 yr. old loved it.)
A Serious Man (Seriously boring but then again maybe I just didn't get it 'cause I'm a goy.) @
2012 (Blah disaster movie in which a novelist who sells only 500 copies is the hero and one of the chosen. LOL.) @
Defiance (Casting excellent-Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell-and story excellent--about class and morality among Eastern European Jews during holocaust--but script very mediocre.) @@
Two Loves (I always wonder how films like this one ever get made. No there there. Though Pheonix plays the icky vulnerable male with panache.) @
Inglourious Basterds (Like the kitchen sink after an inedible feast. Worse than a bad Cohen brothers film. Flaccid and unfunny.) @
Valkyrie (Don't bother. Boring, slow, flat. Such a shame as I really loved Singer's Usual Suspects. Cruise's fault no doubt.) -@
The Departed (Solid later Scorsese fare, lots of blood and plot twists but just barely holds together. DiCaprio surprisingly good and I always love Baldwin.) @@@
Word Play (excellent documentary about the NYTimes crossword puzzle geeks. It gave me serious nerd envy.) @@@@
Rachel Getting Married (cast evenly black/white yet black actors get no lines of any significance. Even Anna Deveare Smith only mumbles. Shameful.) @
District 9 (Sci Fi at its best. Philip K. Dick would approve.) @@@@@
American Graffitti (quite experimental and what a young Harrison Ford) @@@@
My Man Godfrey (Depression era romcom with the sublime William Powell and Carole Lombard. All too relevant.) @@@@@
Julia (unlikely thriller made great by uber actress Tilda Swinton) @@@@
The Eyes of Laura Mars (70s fashion thriller with Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones) @@@@@