Guilty Pleasure No. 28: Swimfan (dir by John Polson)


Oh my God, y’all — Swimfan was on last night!

Do you remember Swimfan?  It originally came out in 2002 and it starred Jesse Bradford, the hot guy from Bring It On, and Erika Christensen, the drug addicted runaway from Traffic.  The movie is like a high school version of Fatal Attraction.  Jesse swims for the high school swim team.  Erika is a psycho stalker who is obsessed with swimmers.  Chaos follows.

I was on a high school date when I first saw Swimfan.  Fortunately, the movie offered up some very important life lessons.

Probably the film’s most important lesson was that you should always put out because, if you don’t, your dumbass boyfriend is going to end up cheating on you with some psycho bitch who is going to go all obsessive on his ass and end up framing him for murder.  When Swimfan starts, Ben (Jesse Bradford!) is dating Amy (Shiri Appleby) and they’re a cute couple but Amy is more into studying and planning for the future than in having sex with Ben.

So, of course, Ben ends up cheating on her with the new girl at school, Madison Bell (Erika Christensen).  He does this despite the fact that Madison is obviously unbalanced from the minute that he meets her, has a major case of the crazy eyes, and tends to come across as being a little bit robotic.  It’s only one night and Ben says that he feels terrible about it but Madison still decides that Ben is her man now.

It all leads to this scene:

(I have to admit that the artful placement of the camera in this scene makes me laugh every time.  The filmmakers were obviously really determined to get that PG-13 rating.  Also, just a little tip — if you’re taking nudes for your man, try smiling.)

When Ben keeps rejecting her, Madison conspires to get him kicked off the swim team.  She also kills the swimmer who takes Ben’s place on the team and frames Ben for the crime.  (The exact same thing happened to Michael Phelps but you never hear about it because all the media wants to talk about is that time he got his picture taken at that party.)  And then she tries to kill Amy and, the movie tells us, this all could have been avoided if only Amy hadn’t spent so much time worrying about which college to go to.  Keep your man happy, girls, the movie tells us, or be prepared to deal with the consequences. Boys will be boys!

The other life lesson is that you should really learn how to swim.  Since this movie is called Swimfan and it features a gigantic subplot about swimming, you can already guess that it’s all going to end with a big fight in a pool.  Ben can swim.  Madison and Amy can’t.  Can you guess what happens?  Watching Swimfan last night reminded me that I still need to learn how to swim.  Thank you, Swimfan!

Anyway, Swimfan is definitely a guilty pleasure.  I mean, if you want to get technical about it, this is a really, really bad movie.  The plot is derivative of every single stalker thriller that you’ve ever seen.  Jesse Bradford is pretty good but Erika Christensen appears to be in a daze.  And yet, whenever I see that it’s on, I can’t help but watch it.  Some of it, of course, is because Swimfan appeals to the same nostalgia that still causes me to sing …Baby One More Time, at the top of my lungs, whenever I’m driving home despite the fact that Britney’s later songs are so much better.  But beyond the nostalgia appeal, Swimfan is just so ludicrous and silly and over the top.  How can you not be a fan of Swimfan?

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Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings

Hallmark Review: Anything For Love (2016, dir. Terry Ingram)


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“And I would do anything for love. I’d run right into hell and back. I would do anything for love. I’ll never lie to you, and that’s a fact. But I’ll never forget the way you feel right now. Oh, no. No way. And I would do anything for love. But I won’t do that. No I won’t do that. Anything for love. Oh, I would do anything for love. I would do anything for love. But I won’t do that. No I won’t do that.”
-I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) performed by Meatloaf and written by David Steinman

Okay, as much as that song fits the tile, they really couldn’t open a romantic comedy with such a serious operatic song. Instead, we dip into another 1970’s artist’s repertoire for a song. Well, 1970s when she was solo. That being Linda Ronstadt singing When Will I Be Loved.

The movie begins and we are introduced to Katherine Benson (Erika Christensen) and Jack Cooper (Paul Greene) as they both get ready for work. She’s a president of a real estate firm and he is a nurse. I have to admit that while I recognized Linda’s voice, I wasn’t sure who it was till I looked it up later. Also, it didn’t help that the movie cuts to Jack in bed during the song and his Great Dane is named Roxy. Of course that made me think of Roxy Music and their song More Than This.

However, while Bill Murray was in Lost In Translation, sang the song, it was directed by Sofia Coppola, and Paul Greene was in her film Somewhere (2010), there is a more appropriate Roxy Music song for a later scene.

As soon as Katherine arrives at work we meet her secretary named Debbie.

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I’m really not sure if we are meant to look down on Debbie for dating so many men or not. I get the feeling that we aren’t. She is supposed to stand in contrast to Katherine as someone who may be just an executive assistant, but seems to be a whole lot happier because she puts herself out there. Katherine seems wound pretty tight and isolated even if she is rich and powerful.

Despite her tough exterior and what she soon says to her father, I’d say Katherine wants to know what love is (I Want To Know What Love Is by Foreigner).

Hey! If Hallmark can start whipping out Billy Joel, REO Speedwagon, and Linda Ronstadt, then I can add some great music to my reviews too.

We now meet Katherine’s father named Edward Benson (Tom Butler). He walks right in and tells us her it’s about time she gets serious with her boyfriend named Charles (Antonio Cupo). She’s worried that he might just want to get his hands on her company. That’s when Dad pulls out the big guns.

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That’s right! A picture of her on a pony. He reminds her of how scared she was to get on it till he got her on it and walked with her the whole way. He says he would walk “a million circles before I’d ever let any harm come to you”. That may be true, but she deserves a man who would walk 500 miles just to fall down at her door (I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)).

I kind of feel bad if the movie is going to make this so easy for me. Nevertheless, since he did whip out the pony and they did start with Ronstadt, I simply can’t let it slide. Here is The Stone Poneys’ Different Drum. Even if it is getting a little ahead of myself.

Now we go to work with Jack at the hospital. There is a little subplot here, but I’m gonna be blunt. That subplot is really just there for one reason. So that we can at least see Jack do some nursing. He just basically tries to help the kid from shutting himself out from the world and only living in fear of his upcoming surgery. He sort of takes away his gaming device to give him a book. I thought it was a bit ridiculous since studies have shown that gaming really helps patients in hospitals. However, honestly, it isn’t helping this particular kid. It still comes across as a bit of pandering to a fear of technology and modern culture, but I’m okay with it here.

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This is as good a time as any to mention that any weirdness about male nurses in this movie is kind of stupid. I mean if this were the pre-ER days, then sure. But it isn’t. That show had plenty of male nurses and was extremely popular. It just seemed dumb to me. Luckily, our man Jack basically feels the same way even if his unhelpful friend here is making him a bit of a jealous guy when they are looking at ladies throwing themselves at the doctors. I’m going with the Roxy Music cover version here since I promised at least one more their songs (Jealous Guy by Roxy Music).

Now we go out with Katherine and her boyfriend Charles. Charles does the standard low key I’m not the right guy Hallmark thing. He also proposes. Well, sort of.

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He seems to want to pin her and go steady. I’d cue up Neil Sedaka, but that would imply this is them going steady again. I’d say he’s thinking more When In Rome’s The Promise…

while she’s feeling more like Real Life’s Send Me An Angel rather than sticking me with Charles.

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That awkward moment when you spend a bunch of time looking for the appropriate song for a scene, go with Send Me An Angel, then come to the next scene only to remember that one of the minor characters is named Angel. These girls are just here to setup what both Katherine and Jack are going to do for love. We find out from Jack’s friend that he should lie about his job to get girls. In his case it’s upscaling to a doctor. In the next scene, it’s Debbie convincing Katherine that she should downscale to an executive assistant like herself in order to get men. This leads both to put up fake profiles on a dating website. It also means I get to post Lies by The Knickerbockers.

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Yes, you are reading the title of the website right. So here you go with The Go-Go’s Head Over Heels.

And yes, Debbie is signing Katherine up as if she is her. I love that her favorite food is “Black Coffee”. That, and is that a fake pharmaceutical type ad at the bottom of the dating website?

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I guess that’s a yes. You can see that Jack is being honest. Sadly, his friend is in the room. While Jack steps out of the room, he changes Jack’s occupation to a doctor and submits the profile causing Jack to not know he hasn’t been truthful.

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The funny thing is, that’s a real dating website run in the UK.

Now we get something that I just plain don’t get.

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The sign behind the lady. There’s no drugs on the premises? What? This is a hospital. Wouldn’t drugs be all over the place. Please if you have an explanation for this then tell me cause it makes no sense to me. However, I think it’s a mistake cause the sign is covered over later in the movie.

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Now they start dating which begins with bowling. I’m sorry, but we’ll just have to imagine they left the skinheads at home cause Camper Van Beethoven has the only bowling song I know (Take The Skinheads Bowling by Camper Van Beethoven).

I like the sweet scene that follows. Katherine walks into her office to find two sets of flowers. One is from Charles and the other is for Debbie, as Katherine tells her father. However, they are for Katherine and she treasures them. It’s a nice scene.

So there’s your setup. You have Jack who believes he is dating a woman named Debbie who is an executive assistant that thinks he is a doctor. You have Katherine who is playing along, but only in that she is named Debbie and an executive assistant. Not in her feelings for him. Jack does figure it out though, but decides to play along that he is a doctor.

Ultimately, they are going to end up together after a minor speed bump. Yes, the whole he’s not a doctor thing of course, and Charles is behind the reveal. We have stuck with largely 1980s songs so let’s go with what Charles does to get information on Jack. Sing it, Hall & Oates!

She actually breaks it off with Jack and nearly ends up with Charles, but after saying things that are important to a relationship, she throws him a curve ball. He asks him if he would want her if she had Debbie’s job. This is not the face you want to give anyone you want to believe that you are never gonna give up.

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And yes, that means Rick Astley.

Didn’t think you were going to get away without him, did you?

The movie has a cute scene where Katherine goes to the hospital and pages Jack. Jack hears it then pages her. They briefly talk, then kiss.

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The movie doesn’t explicitly say it really, but it’s very much implied that this is one step away from marriage. In other words, together forever, which of course were the words I used so that I could include Rick Astley again.

Oh, and of course the kid goes off to surgery okay. The book did help him to stop ruminating, calm down, and go forward with what he needed to do.

What are my final thoughts? It’s just a little above average I would say. It avoids some of the typical cliches and doesn’t feel cheap. Case in point, when they are on the roof of a building, they are actually outside. Sadly, that is not a given in Hallmark movies. Don’t seek it out, but if it’s on, then I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you like Hallmark romance movies.

If you’ve put up with all my musical references, then I end this with probably the most bizarre music video for a love song I’ve ever seen: I Believe In A Thing Called Love by The Darkness.

Val’s Movie Roundup #4: Hallmark Edition


Recipe For Love

Recipe For Love (2014) – The movie begins with Lauren (Danielle Panabaker) as a kid writing a food blog about cafeteria food. She is told that’s a no no by the school. Then we jump ahead to when she’s an adult working in a kitchen. Suddenly, an opportunity falls into her lap. She is asked to ghostwrite a cook book for a television chef named Dexter Durant (Shawn Roberts). At first there is a little friction, but it doesn’t last long. The two open up to each other pretty quickly. We see behind the facade Dexter puts on for the audience and Lauren genuinely wants to make this cookbook happen. It’s not like this is a story about a woman whose voice is hidden behind a man’s. And it’s not about tearing down this fake personality to see Dexter fall from grace or watch him give up this thing he was only doing for fame. They work together, fall for each other, and both come out of the process better then when they began it. They both still love cooking and want to continue to do so with each other. I really liked that she wasn’t bashing against a wall that finally comes down in the end. Both of them begin to deal with each other as real people early on. I liked this Hallmark movie better than most I have seen.

Catch A Christmas Star

Catch A Christmas Star (2013) – I swear if it isn’t a dog movie, it’s a bible movie, otherwise it’s a Christmas movie. In fact, director John Bradshaw has made eight of them. This film introduces us to a family that has a little girl who likes a singer named Nikki (Shannon Elizabeth). She shows up at a record signing and wouldn’t you know it, turns out Nikki knows her Dad from the past. There’s no sense in spelling out the rest of the plot because you already know it. I didn’t like this one. I didn’t feel any chemistry. Shannon Elizabeth doesn’t act well. She certainly can’t sing. And while she is probably the nicest and sweetest person I could ever meet in real life, she looks like a plastic doll to me in this movie. I just couldn’t push past that. I’ve only seen four Hallmark Christmas movies, but I would go with A Royal Christmas (2014) instead.

My Boyfriends' Dogs

My Boyfriends’ Dogs (2014) – This year I replaced my desktop PC with a Mac. I kind of regret the choice of going with a Mac because the software is lousy. The hardware is giving me some problems too. But I’m going off on a tangent. My point is that while the computers have given out over the years, the monitors still work fine. As a result, I have the monitor that comes with the all in one Mac and two monitors from previous computers attached for a three monitor setup. This movie is like that. It follows Bailey (Erika Christensen) as she goes from one boyfriend to another, picking up their dogs along the way. It’s actually quite funny to see two of them show up on her doorstep with a dog for her to adopt. At the center of this series of dates is the guy at the pet shop cast because we can instantly tell he’s a good guy. Now all of this is told in flashback. At the beginning of the movie, Bailey wanders into a cafe wearing a wedding dress where she recounts her story to a some guy and Joyce Dewitt of Three’s Company fame. Turns out the final boyfriend almost became her husband before she ran out, dogs and all. I won’t spoil the ending, but it will have you yelling, “Oh, come on!” This one’s okay, but Recipe For Love is the best of the four in this roundup.

For Better Or For Worse

For Better or for Worse (2014) – This one is a Romeo and Juliet style story. You have the mother who does weddings. You have a father who does divorces. Their children decide to come together, become vegans, and organic farmers. Obviously, that doesn’t go to well with the parents. What follows is the parents getting closer while trying to drive the kids away, only to figure out that as weird as it seems, the kids are actually pretty happy together. The two parents also turn out to be happy as well with each other. Wait, I just realized something. I know it’s a little wishy washy, up for argument, and they did it in Clueless, but that smells a little like incest. A little weird for a Hallmark movie. Oh well, is it worth your time? You can do worse. It’s a decent 90 minutes or so without commercials. I wouldn’t seek it out, but if it’s on, then just enjoy it to pass the time.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #126: Veronika Decides To Die (dir by Emily Young)


VeronikaDecidesToDie_USPosterWell, here we are!

It’s been 9 weeks since we originally embarked on this journey that I called Embracing The Melodrama Part II.  At that time, my plan was to do 126 reviews in just three weeks.  It didn’t quite work out that way, did it?  But still, I had fun doing this series of reviews and I hope that you’ve had at least a little fun reading them.  If I’ve inspired you take a chance on any of the films that I’ve reviewed — whether it be Sunrise or An American Hippie In Israel or Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction or Calvary — then this has all been worth it!

So, for my final review in this series, I want to take a quick look at one of the most melodramatic films to be released this year so far, Veronika Decides To Die.

Veronika Decides To Die finally got an American release in 2015, six years after it initially premiered on the festival circuit.  Years before it was available here in the States, Veronika played in Europe.  Not surprisingly, the American release felt much like an afterthought, one final attempt to make a little money off the film before moving on.  It’s spent about a week in theaters and two months later, it is now showing up on cable and Netflix.  And while Veronika didn’t get many reviews, the few that it did get were rather dismissive.

But you know what?

I like Veronika Decides To Die.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not a great film.  In many ways, it’s a very silly film.  The entire plot hinges on a character doing something that makes no sense.  Frustrated with her life as an anonymous and lonely office worker, Veronika (Sarah Michelle Gellar) attempts to commit suicide.  She survives the suicide attempt and, upon waking in a mental hospital, she’s told by a mysterious psychologist (David Thewlis) that, as a result of her attempt, she now has a heart condition that will kill her in a matter of weeks.  And what does Veronika decide to do after learning that she’s going to die?  She voluntarily remains in the mental hospital and goes to sessions of group therapy!

And you never really believe that Veronika would do that.  But, if you can bring yourself to accept that one implausibility — well, you’ll soon be confronted by a lot of other implausibilities.  You’ll meet Veronika’s glassy-eyed roommate (Erika Christensen) and a mysterious older patient (Melissa Leo).  You’ll also meet Edward (Jonathan Tuker), who is mute but has such a sexy stare that he really doesn’t need to speak.  And as Veronika gets to know her fellow patients, she starts to come to terms with her own issues of anger and regret and she realize that importance of embracing life and doing what you love.

Of course, that’s a little hard to do when you’re in a mental hospital.  Luckily, there’s a piano that Veronika can play while Edward silently watches her.  If you’re guessing that this eventually leads to Veronika sitting naked at the piano and masturbating in front of Edward, well, you’re right…

Listen, Veronika Decides To Die is one of those films that takes itself way too seriously and it ends with a plot twist that you’ll see coming from a thousand miles away.  I can understand why the film’s release was delayed because the film’s tone is all over the place.

But, dammit, I liked Veronika Decides To Die!

When taken on its own defiantly melodramatic terms, it works.  That’s largely because Sarah Michelle Gellar really commits herself to the role.  You forget that you’re watching Buffy.  Instead, Gellar truly becomes Veronika, this tragically sad and lonely young woman who finds inner peace by masturbating at a piano.  Veronika Decides To Die is a movie that really shouldn’t work but Sarah Michelle Gellar saves it.  When the film starts, she beautifully captures Veronika’s lonely desperation, her feelings of isolation and worthlessness.  (I don’t care who you are, we’ve all felt like Veronika at some point in our life.)   As the film progresses, she portrays both Veronika’s anger and her growing appreciation of life.  She has a nice chemistry with Jonathan Tucker and, in the end, Sarah Michelle Gellar probably gives a better performance than the material really deserves.

Of course, another reason that Veronika Decides To Die works is because it is so silly and melodramatic.  This is one of those films that goes so far over-the-top that it creates an almost heightened sense of reality.  It becomes, almost despite itself, compulsively watchable.

It’s also the perfect film with which to complete Embracing the Melodrama Part II.  I hope y’all have enjoyed reading these 126 reviews because I’ve certainly enjoyed writing them!  To everyone who has read these reviews and clicked on the “like” button and occasionally left a comment or two, thank you so much!  Love you!   However much effort or work it may take, all of you make it worth it.

And now I’m going to go pass out for a little while…

Shattered Politics #69: Traffic (dir by Steven Soderbergh)


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I have mixed feelings about Steven Soderbergh.  On the one hand, his talent cannot be denied and you have to respect the fact that he’s willing to take chances and make films like The Girlfriend Experience and The Informant.  On the other hand, he’s also the director who has been responsible for overrated messes like Contagion and utter pretentious disasters like Haywire.  And it doesn’t help that Soderbergh’s fanbase seems to be largely made up of the type of hipsters who end up leaving comments under the articles at The A.V. Club.  Some people mourned Soderbergh’s retirement.  Personally, I think he made the right decision.  He retired before his misfires ended up outnumbering all of his masterpieces.

The thing about Soderbergh is that his good films are so good that it makes it all the more frustrating to watch his failures.  If Soderbergh was just your typical bad director than a film like Contagion wouldn’t be as annoying.  But this is the man who also gave us Traffic!

And Traffic is a very good film.

First released in 2000, Traffic attempted to deal with the American war on drugs, a war that the film suggests might not even be worth fighting.  (Full disclosure: I support the legalization of drugs and, for that matter, just about everything else.  And yes, I am biased towards films that agree with me.  So is every other film critic out there.  The difference is that I’m willing to admit it.)  Traffic won four Oscars, including Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Benicio Del Toro.  It was also nominated for best picture but lost to Gladiator.

Traffic tells three, barely connected stories.  Each story is given its own distinct look, feel, and color scheme.  And while it takes a few minutes to get used to film’s visual scheme, it ultimately works quite well.  Though all of the film’s characters share the same general existence, they live in different worlds.  The only thing linking them together is drugs.

Judge Andrew Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is a judge on the Ohio Supreme Court who has recently been named as the new drug czar.  However, while Judge Wakefield is going around the country and talking to politicians (Harry Reid shows up playing himself and is just as creepy as always), his daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) is dating Seth (Topher Grace) and getting addicted to cocaine and heroin.  When Caroline run away, Judge Wakefield recruits Seth and, using him as a guide, searches the ghetto for his daughter.

The Wakefield scenes are bathed in cold and somber blues.  They’re beautiful to look at but, in some ways, they’re also some of the weakest in the film.  The whole plotline of Caroline going from being an innocent honor’s student to being a prostitute who sells her body for heroin feels a lot like the notorious anti-drug film Go Ask Alice.  At the same time, it’s interesting and a little fun to see Topher Grace playing such a little jerk.  Grace gets some of the best lines in the film, especially when he attacks Wakefield’s feelings of smug superiority.

In the film’s second storyline, two DEA Agents (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) arrest drug trafficker Eddie Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer).  Eddie works for the Ayala syndicate and, once he’s arrested, he turns informant.  Drug lord Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer) is arrested.  While Carlos sits on trial, his pregnant wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and his sleazy business associate (Dennis Quaid) struggle to hold together the business and find a way to kill Ruiz before he can testify.

This storyline is filmed in bright and vibrant colors and why not?  The Ayalas are rich and, unlike the Wakefields, they don’t feel the need to hide their material wealth.  This is actually probably my favorite storyline, largely because it’s the best acted and the most entertaining.  Miguel Ferrer, in particular, steals every scene that he’s in.  The scene where he explains the economics of being a drug trafficker is fascinating to watch.

The Ayala storyline may be my favorite but the film’s most thought-provoking storyline is the third one.  Taking place in Mexico, it stars Benicio Del Toro as Javier Rodriguez, a casually corrupt police officer who gets recruited to work for General Salazar (Tomas Milian), who is heading up Mexico’s war on the cartels.  Following the orders of Salazar, Javier captures assassin Frankie Flowers (Clifton Collins, Jr.) who is then savagely tortured by Salazar until he turns informer.  Javier comes to realize that Salazar is actually working for one of Mexico’s cartels.  When he decides to inform on Salazar, he puts his own life at risk.

The Mexico storyline is also the harshest and visually, it reflects that fact.  The heat literally seems to be rising up from the desert and the streets of Tijuana.  It takes a few minutes to adjust to the look of the Mexico scenes but, once you do, they become enthralling.

And Traffic, as a film, is undeniably enthralling as well.  Soderbergh deftly juggles the multiple storylines and brings them together to create a portrait of a society that’s being destroyed by the efforts to save it.  Hopefully, if Soderbergh ever does come out of retirement, he’ll give us more films like Traffic and less films like Contagion.