Monday, May 21, 2012


Once again I apologize to my loyal PINNLAND EMPIRE followers as I haven’t been updating as much as I usually do but The Pink Smoke is working on some pretty awesome projects that they’ve asked me to contribute to and I couldn’t say no. BUT…I finally got around to watching ‘Contagion’ on Sunday and was so genuinely surprised at how good it was that I made time to write about it. Of all the 2011 films that I finally got around to watching this year (‘Super 8’, ‘Beginners’, ‘A Separation’, etc), this is the one film that stuck out the most so far. Is ‘Contagion’ one of Steven Soderbergh’s best films? Of course not. But did it deserve to be written off as fast as it was (especially when it did get fairly good reviews and holds a solid 83% on rotten tomatoes)? No. I was one of those people who dismissed ‘Contagion’ upon its theatrical release but now I’m kicking myself because it woulda been a pretty entertaining experience in the theater. No matter how close minded I am at first I always get around to watching (and sometimes buying) every Soderbergh movie. From ‘Ocean’s 13’ to ‘Full Frontal’, I end up watching ‘em all. Hell, his adaptation of ‘Solaris’ ended up becoming one of my all time favorite movies. I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but I honestly think he’s a genius and extremely talented beyond his ability to churn out movies like its nothing or to seamlessly jump from one genre to the next. Even with some of his mediocre work that leaves you shrugging your shoulders like; “…ok”, I still think there’s something in many of his movies that we aren’t seeing. ‘Contagion’ has the visual style of ‘Bubble’ and ‘The Informant’ (colder, steady and longer shots with strong bold and almost unnatural looking colors) along with an ensemble cast that rivals a movie like ‘Traffic’ (Jude Law, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Gwyneth Paltrow) along with a kind of social consciousness (mixed with entertainment) that we haven’t really seen in a Soderbergh film yet (although ‘Traffic’ and ‘Che’ could be exceptions). Even the non-top billed supporting cast was great (Brian Cranston, Jonathan Hawkes, Dimitri Martin and Sanaa Lathan). On a certain level Contagion’s minimalist qualities and scientific dialogue (I had no clue what they were talking about half the time) reminded me of the 2004 time traveling sci-fi thriller ‘Prime’. ‘Contagion’ is the perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book…err…movie by its cover.
I can imagine what many people thought when they heard and/or read about this movie; “ANOTHER virus outbreak movie? I’ll pass.” Not to mention that the trailer was a bit over the top and a lil’ too dramatic. But ‘Contagion’ falls more in to a category of films like ‘Safe’ instead of ‘Outbreak’ or even ‘Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes’. But unlike ‘Safe’ there’s no hidden message or allegory for AIDS or Cancer. Soderbergh is telling/scaring us with the straight out truth that viral outbreaks, germs, epidemics and disease could very likely fuck humanity up if we don’t do better and aren’t more cautious. ‘Contagion’ kinda makes up for recent stuff like ‘Fast Food Nation’ (which was ironically influenced by Soderbergh’s ‘Traffic’) and M. Night Shayamaln’s shitfest; ‘The Happening’. In under two hours ‘Contagion’ teaches us the importance of what we put in our bodies (especially pork and unwashed fruit), why we should be cautious while riding public transportation, the importance of hand sanitizer (which has to be the #1 selling thing on the market these days, at least in New York City), who you have sex with, why you shouldn’t come in to work if you aren’t feeling well and why you should cover your fucking mouth when you sneeze or cough. And apparently this film is supposedly pretty scientifically accurate. Mixing scientific accuracy with something thrilling & entertaining is pretty rare these days. ‘Contagion’ is an ensemble character story centered around a major virus outbreak that spreads throughout the world and is slowly wiping out humanity (the film mainly focuses on America, China and Europe). Like ‘Traffic’, Soderbergh shows us how a major event like a virus epidemic is dealt with on a personal level (Matt Damon & Gwyneth Paltrow), a government level and how to stop it (Laurence Fishburne & Kate Winslet), a social level (Marion Cotillard) and from a journalistic perspective (Jude Law). And unlike a ‘Pulp Fiction’ or ‘Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels’, many of the characters in this ensemble film don’t cross paths with one another, or when they do its very brief or vague. For example, you never see Laurence Fishburne in the same scene as Matt Damon or Gwyneth Paltrow in the same scene as Jude Law and Marion Cotillard is essentially in a whole other story away from the rest of the cast for most of the film. Without monsters, ghosts or serial killers, Steven Soderbergh made a pretty scary film from the beginning right down to films eerie final scene and closing credits equip with its creepy, droning score. Yes, there are plenty of cliché’s and moments where you can see what’s coming from a mile away and the film does kinda throw China under the bus as this careless disease-filled country, but the use of Paltrow’s character is pretty interesting, I found myself genuinely caring about Kate Winslet’s character, the score is great and the overall vibe is really cool. Had I seen this last year I don’t know if it woulda been in my top 10 or anything like that but it woulda gotten an honorable mention. 
At the very least ‘Contagion’ works on a minor level as it will have you scowl at the next person you see who sneezes or coughs and doesn’t cover their mouth (if you don’t already do that…which you should).


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