Catching Up With The Films of 2018: Fifty Shades Freed (dir by James Foley)


“Mrs. Grey will see you now.”  (Insert your own eye roll GIF here.)

Occasionally, you see a film and, even though you know you should, you just never get around to reviewing it.  For instance, I saw Fifty Shades Freed when it was originally released in February and then I watched it again when it was released on DVD.  Both times, I thought to myself that I should write down my thoughts on the film, if for no other reason than the fact that I previously reviewed both Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker for this site.  And yet, I never did.  To be honest, it was difficult to really think of anything to say about this movie that I hadn’t said about the previous two films.

Fifty Shades Freed opens with Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Ana (Dakota Johnson) getting married and going on their honeymoon.  It’s fun!  It’s sexy!  And it’s kinda creepy because, as always, Christian has control issues and he has to have his security team following them all over the place.  Christian freaks out with Ana removes her top on the beach.  Ana gasps at the sights of handcuffs.  There’s one hot sex scene that will temporarily make you forget about the fact that Jamie Dornan doesn’t seem to be that good of an actor.  It’s everything that you’d expect from a Fifty Shades honeymoon.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon ends way too quickly and then we have to deal with the marriage.  On the plus side, marrying Christian Grey means that you get to live in a really nice house and fly around in a private jet.  On the negative side, Christian is still basically an immature douchebag and, now that’s she rich, Ana has become a lot less likable.

Christian freaks out when he discovers that Ana is still using the name “Ana Steele” in her email address.  Ana explains that she’s Ana Steele at work but then, when she meets an architect named Gia Matteo (Arielle Kebbell), Ana tells her to stop flirting with her husband and announces, “You can call me Mrs. Grey!” with all the intensity of Kelly Kapowski announcing that she’s going to prom with Zach Morris on Saved By The Bell.

The marriage continues to play out like a perfume commercial written by Sartre’s bastard child.  Fortunately, there’s a few more sex scenes that are designed to again remind us that a good body can make up for a lack of everything else.  Unfortunately, Ana gets upset when Christian tries to humiliate her for real and a pouty Christian walks out of a shower as soon as Ana steps into it.  Ana is told that she’s pregnant and Christian totally freaks out because he still has all sorts of things that he wants to do with his money.  Christian’s a douchebag but he’s got a good body and he’s like super rich.  Have I already mentioned that?

Anyway, it turns out that Ana is being stalked by her former boss, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson).  Fortunately, all of the stalking allows Ana and Christian to rediscover their love for each other.  There’s a kidnapping.  There’s a car chase.  There’s a lot of music and a lot of scenes of Dakota Johnson looking confused and Jamie Dornan looking blank.  It’s a Fifty Shades movie.  What else were you expecting?

The usual argument that critics tend to make with the Fifty Shades trilogy is that the movies are terrible but Dakota Johnson does the best that she can with the material.  Actually, both Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are pretty lousy in all three of these films but Ana was at least kind of a sympathetic character in the previous two films.  Unfortunately, Fifty Shades Freed sees Ana and Christian becoming a boring married couple and what little chemistry Dornan and Johnson had in the previous films completely vanishes.  As a result, Ana doesn’t seem like someone lucky enough to have fallen in love with a man who just happens to be super wealthy.  Instead, she just comes across like someone who sold her soul for a private jet.

Fifty Shades Freed is the weakest of the trilogy, done in by the fact that there’s really not much of a story to tell.  Ana and Christian get to live blissfully ever after and it’s always good to see happy mannequins.  I saw this movie with my best friend and we talked through the entire movie and I imagine that’s what we’ll do every time we rewatch it.

Playing Catch-Up With Four Biopics From 2017: All Eyez On Me, Maudie, A Quiet Passion, and Victoria and Abdul


Continuing with my efforts to get caught up on the major films that I saw in 2017, here are my reviews of four biopics!  Two of them are very good.  One of them is so-so.  And the other one … well, let’s just get to it…

All Eyez on Me (dir by Benny Boon)

All Eyez On Me is a movie that I think a lot of people had high hopes for.  It was a biopic about Tupac Shakur, who died over 20 years ago but remains one of the most influential artists of all time.  Starring Demetrius Shipp, Jr. (who, if nothing else, bore a strong physical resemblance to Tupac), All Eyez on Me followed Shakur from his youth as the son of activist Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira), through his early stardom, his political awakening, his time in prison, his eventual association with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana), and his still unsolved murder in Las Vegas.  Along the way all of the expected people pop up.  Kat Graham plays Jada Pinkett and tells Tupac that he’s wasting his talent.  Someone who looks nothing like Dr. Dre is introduced as being Dr. Dre.  Another actor wanders through a scene and says his name is Snoop Dogg.  The film last 2 hours and 20 minutes, with some scenes feeling oddly rushed while other drag on interminably.

The main reason why All Eyez On Me fails is that, unlike Straight Outta Compton, All Eyez on Me never figures out how translate Tupac’s legacy into cinematic form.  For instance, when I watched Straight Outta Compton, I probably knew less about NWA than I knew about Tupac Shakur when I watched All Eyez On Me.  But then there was that scene where NWA performed “Fuck That Police” while surrounded by the police and, at that moment, I understood why NWA deserved their own movie.  There’s no comparable scene in All Eyez On Me, which gets so bogged down in going through the usual biopic motions that it never really comes to grips with why Tupac is such an iconic figure.  Combine that with some less than stellar performances and some amazingly awkward dialogue and the end result is a film that is massively disappointing.

Maudie (dir by Aisling Walsh)

Maudie tells the story of Maud Lewis, a Canadian woman who found fame as a painter despite suffering from crippling arthritis.  Working and living in a one-room house with her husband, a fisherman named Everett (Ethan Hawke), Maud Lewis’s paintings of flowers and birds eventually became so popular that one was even purchased by then-Vice President Richard Nixon.

Maudie is a very special movie, largely because of the incredibly moving performance of Sally Hawkins in the role of Maud.  As played by Hawkins, Maud may occasionally be meek but she never surrenders her dream to create something beautiful out the often harsh circumstances of her life.  Hawkins not only captures Maud’s physical struggles but she also captures (and makes compelling) the inner strength of this remarkable artist.  Ethan Hawke also gives a remarkable performance as the gruff Everett.  When you Everett first appears, you hate him.  But, as the film progresses, Hawke starts to show hints of a sensitive soul that’d hiding underneath all of his gruffnes.  In the end, Everett is as saved by Maud’s art as is Maud.

Directed by Aisling Walsh, this is a low-key but all together remarkable and touching film.  If Sally Hawkins wasn’t already certain to get an Oscar nomination for Shape of the Water, she would definitely deserve one for Maudie.

A Quiet Passion (dir by Terrence Davies)

You would be totally justified in assuming that this film, a biopic of poet Emily Dickinson, would have absolutely nothing in common with The Last Jedi.  However, believe it or not, they actually do have something very much in common.  They are both films that, on Rotten Tomatoes, scored high with critics and not so high with audiences.  When last I checked, it had a 93% critical score and a 51% audience score.

Well, you know what?  Who cares?  The idea that you can judge a film’s worth based on an arbitrary number is pure evil, anyway.

Personally, I’m not surprised to hear that audiences struggled with A Quiet Passion.  It’s a very challenging film, one that is more concerned with mood than with traditional narrative.  The film is much like Dickinson herself: dark, uncompromising, sharply funny, and, on the surface, unconcerned with what people might think.  Much as how Dickinson retreated into her Amherst home, the film retreats into Dickinson’s head.  It’s not always the most pleasant place to hide out but, at the same time, it’s so alive with creativity and filled with such a sharp wit that it’s tempting never to leave.

In the role of Emily, Cynthia Nixon gave one of the best performance of the year, bringing Emily to uncompromising life.  Neither the film not Nixon ever make the mistake of sentimentalizing Dickinson.  Her pain is just as real as her genius.  Ultimately, though, both Nixon’s performance and A Quiet Passion stands as a tribute to Emily’s own quiet passion.

Much like Emily Dickinson’s poetry, A Quiet Passion will be appreciated with time.

Victoria & Abdul (dir by Stephen Frears)

If there’s ever been a film that deserves to be known as “generic Oscar bait,” it’s Victoria & Abdul.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not a bad movie or anything like that.  Instead, it’s a very respectable film about Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her servant, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), an Indian Muslim.  While the rest of the royal court is scandalized by Victoria’s close relationship with the foreigner, Karim teaches the Queen about the Koran and encourages her to enjoy life.  The royal court is played by the usual collection of distinguished actors who always appear in movies like this: Simon Callow, Tom Pigott-Smith, and Michael Gambon.  Victoria’s heir is played by Eddie Izzard, which should tell you all you need to know about how the future Edward VII is portrayed.

As I said, it’s not a bad movie as much as it’s just not a very interesting one.  You know that Abdul and Victoria are going to become close.  You know that the Royal Court is going to be a bunch of snobs.  You know that Victoria is going to get a chance to express anti-colonial sentiments that she must surely never actually possessed.  Indeed, whenever the film tries to make any sort of larger statement, all of the characters suddenly start talking as if they’re from 2017 as opposed to the late 1800s.

This is the second time that Judi Dench has played Victoria.  Previously, she played the Queen in a film called Mrs. Brown, which was about Victoria’s friendship with a Scottish servant.  Apparently, Victoria got along well with servants.

 

 

Film Review: Fifty Shades of Grey (dir by Sam Taylor-Johnson)


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If there’s anything that’s obvious from looking over some of the reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s that only after you’ve read the book can you properly appreciate the film.

If you haven’t read the book, you’ll probably watch the film and dismiss it as being a draggy film that has some truly terrible dialogue and which features two actors who look good naked but who have absolutely no chemistry.  You might appreciate that fact that Dakota Jonson, at the very least, appears to be trying to give a good performance.  You might even acknowledge that director Sam Taylor-Johnson manages to capture a few pretty images.  You might even be happy that she resisted the temptation to cast her husband, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (a.k.a., the least interesting bankable actor working today), in the role of Christian Grey.  But, even with all of that, you’ll probably still probably watch the film and, even with its artfully composed and shot sex scenes, think to yourself, “That was two hours of my life that I’ll never get back.”

However, if you have read the book, then you will be capable of watching the film and understanding that, as flawed as it may be, 50 Shades of Grey probably should have been a thousand times worse.  It may seem weird to praise Sam Taylor-Johnson for managing to create a below average film but, considering her source material, below average is probably the best that could be hoped for.

Both the film and the book tell the same basic story.  Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a 21 year-old English lit major.  We know that she’s intelligent because she knows the difference between Thomas Hardy the writer and Tom Hardy the actor.  We know that she’s innocent because, the first time that she interviews Christian Grey, she wears a sweater.

As for Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), he’s a 28 year-old multibillionaire.  We are constantly assured that he’s the most interesting man in the world, despite the fact that he actually seems to be rather dull.  He likes Ana.  She likes him.  But Christian doesn’t do the relationship thing.  Instead, he explains, “I fuck.  Hard.”  (As opposed to doing so limp…)  He’s not interested in having a “vanilla” relationship with Ana.  Instead, he wants her to sign a contract in which she’ll agree to be his submissive.

That’s right — Christian claims to be into BDSM.  And, in order to prove that point, he has a red dungeon that’s full of stuff that he apparently picked up at a BDSM yard sale.  The dungeon’s red, of course.  In both the book and the film, a good deal of time is spent attempting to explain BDSM and, in both cases, you’re left with the feeling that Christian got most of his knowledge from reading Wikipedia.  In many ways, Christian comes across like someone who has never had a drink pretending to be drunk.  He tries really hard but … no.

Anyway, a lot of the film comes down to Christian trying to get Ana to sign a contract.  Ana agrees to give up her freedom.  When she asks what she gets in return, Christian replies, “Me.”  Which, if Christian was being played by Ryan Gosling or Michael Fassbender, might be an incentive.  But instead, he’s being played by Jamie Dornan who, quite frankly, looks embarrassed to be there.

Those who have read the book will be pleased to discover that Christian’s immortal line of “I’m fifty shades of fucked up!” has been included in the film.  Dornan delivers it like an actor who has given up and who can blame him?  To her credit, Dakota Johnson manages to keep a straight face.

Here’s the main problem.  Christian Grey is a stalker asshole.  He’s an obsessive control freak who is basically using the BDSM lifestyle as a way to cover up the fact that he’s a sociopath.  Though that was not author E.L. James’s intention when she wrote the book, that’s who Christian Grey ultimately turns out to be.  And that’s the way that Jamie Dornan plays the character.  It’s not that Dornan is a bad actor.  Just watch him in The Fall and you’ll see that Dornan is capable of giving a very good performance.  Instead, you just get the feeling that he looked at the 50 Shades script, saw that Christian was an impossible character to play sympathetically, and decided to give the most literal performance possible.  When you were reading the book, you could always imagine some redeeming features for Christian.  But, when you watch the movie, you’re forced to accept this very literal interpretation of the character and it quickly becomes apparent that the only reason why anyone would possible love Christian is because he’s rich.

Meanwhile, in the role of Ana, Dakota Johnson actually does a pretty good job.  Fortunately, the film jettisons Ana’s narration and we don’t have to hear any details about what her inner goddess is doing while being ordered around by Christian.  As a result, Johnson’s interpretation of Ana is far different from how the character was portrayed in the book.  Whereas the book’s Ana seems to be desperate to be loved by Christian, Johnson’s Ana often seems to be struggling to keep a straight face.  Whereas the book’s Ana took the whole contract thing very seriously, Johnson’s Ana always seems to be on the verge of rolling her eyes.  It gives the film an interesting subtext in that you never quite believe that Johnson’s Ana could be as intrigued by Christian Grey as both the book and the film insist that she is. Instead, she mostly seems to put up with him and his kinks because he buys her expensive gifts.

And, since Christian is such a jerk, you really don’t mind the possibility that Ana’s main motivation might be materialistic.

(Another great thing about Dakota Johnson is that she seems to be sincerely embarrassed whenever she has to tell anyone that her name is “Anastasia Steele.”)

Finally, a word about Sam Taylor-Johnson.  On the basis of Nowhere Boy, she’s a talented director and, as far as 50 Shades of Grey goes, I think she does the best that she could possibly do.  At the very least, she seems to realize that the film is a bit ludicrous and she wisely plays some of the book’s worst moments for subversive laughter.  Considering that 50 Shades of Grey is one of the worst books ever written (and, by that, I mean that the book’s prose is so clunky and overdone that it’s damn near unreadable), Sam Taylor-Johnson probably does deserve some credit for making a movie that’s only below average as opposed to disastrous.  At the very least, I hope that 50 Shades of Grey will not damage her career in the way that Twilight damaged the equally talented Catherine Hardwicke’s.

I forced my boyfriend to see it with my on Valentine’s and there were a lot of couples in the theater.  But, for all the talk of how 50 Shades of Grey launched a thousand fantasies, it’s not a particularly erotic film.  The sex scenes are well shot but, since Jamie and Dakota have no chemistry, they also feel very clinical and detached.  (Add to that, for a film that’s being identified as being a chick flick, the camera spent a lot more time lingering on Dakota’s naked body than on Jamie’s.)  All the sex that followed couples viewing 50 Shades on Saturday night had more to do with the romance of Valentine’s Day and the glory of being in love than with the film itself.

(That, of course, is one of the huge differences between 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike.)

50 Shades of Grey apparently made a lot of money this weekend and, if you’re reading this review, chances are that you’ve already seen the film.  So, I’ll just conclude by saying that the film is not as bad as most people were expecting.  It’s just not particularly any good either.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing what Dakota and Sam Taylor-Johnson do in the future but Christian Grey can just stay in his red room for all I care.

(And now that you’ve read the review, why not have some real fun and check out the Fifty Shades of Grey text generator!?  Click on refresh a few times and you’ll have an erotic best seller of your own, ready to be published and to make you rich!)

Trailer: Zero Dark Thirty


After the success Kathryn Bigelow had with her award-winning film The Hurt Locker it was just part of the norm that people began to wonder what she would do to follow-up the film which gave her the Oscar for Best Director. There was talk of her making an action thriller about the Tri-Border Region in South America that many intelligence agencies consider a major haven for global organized crime and terrorist groups of all kinds. This particular idea bounced around for months then nothing came of it. Then news came about around late-Spring to early Summer 2011 that Bigelow and The Hurt Locker writer and collaborator Mark Boal came upon the idea that would be Bigelow’s follow-up.

The film that the two decided upon would be an action thriller detailing the global manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but this decision became even more important once news broke out on May 2, 2011 that the hunt for America’s Most Wanted criminal was finally over and that Operation Neptune Spear was a success with the death of Bin Laden.

Zero Dark Thirtyis the title of Bigelow’s film about the details and backstory which led up to this special operations mission on May 2, 2011. The first trailer for the film has been released by Sony and it’s short on details other than some voice overs over satellite imagery. I’m sure there’ll be more trailers that will open up what this film will truly be about leading up to it’s December release date (just in time for awards season).

It’s going to be interesting how Bigelow will do with this follow-up to The Hurt Locker. If her history is anything to go by then it shouldn’t disappoint even if some of her detractors will be chomping at the bit to see it fail and further see her Best Director Oscar win as a fluke done to keep the award from her ex-husband James Cameron.

Zero Dark Thirty is scheduled for a December 19, 2012 release date…just two days from the end of the world.

What If Lisa Marie Was In Charge of the Golden Raspberry Awards


If you’re following the Awards ceremony, you know that two major events are coming up next week.  On Tuesday, the Oscar nominations will be announced.  But before that, on Monday, the Golden Raspberry Award nominations will be announced.  For 32 years, the Golden Raspberries have been honoring the worst films of the year and they’ve always served as a nice counterpoint to the self-congratulatory nature of the Academy Awards.

Now, on Monday night, I’ll be posting what I would nominate if I was in charge of the Oscars but first, I’d like to show you what I’d nominate if I was solely responsible for making the Golden Raspberry nominations.

Now before anyone leaves me any pissy comments, these are not predictions.  I know that these are not the actual nominations.  I know that the actual Golden Raspberry nominations will probably look a lot different.  These are just my individual picks.

(My “winners” are listed in bold print.)

Worst Picture

Anonymous

The Conspirator

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

The Rum Diary

Straw Dogs

Worst Actor

Daniel Craig in Dream House, Cowboys and Aliens, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Aaron Eckhardt in Battle: Los Angeles

James Marsden in Straw Dogs

James McAvoy in The Conspirator

Brandon Routh in Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Worst Actress

Kate Bosworth in Straw Dogs

Anita Briem in Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Claire Foy in Season of the Witch

Brit Marling in Another Earth

Sara Paxton in Shark Night: 3-D

Worst Supporting Actor

Paul Giamatti in The Ides of March

Mel Gibson (as the Beaver) in The Beaver

Sir Derek Jacobi in Anonymous

Giovanni Ribisi in The Rum Diary

James Woods in Straw Dogs

Worst Supporting Actress

Jennifer Ehle in Contagion

Amber Heard in The Rum Diary

Willa Holland in Straw Dogs

Vanessa Redgrave in Anonymous

Oliva Wilde in Cowboys and Aliens

Worst Director

Roland Emmerich for Anonymous

Rod Lurie for Straw Dogs

Kevin Munroe for Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Robert Redford for The Conspirator

Bruce Robinson for The Rum Diary

Worst Screenplay

Anonymous, written by John Orloff.

Another Earth, written by Mike Cahill and Brit Marling

The Beaver, written by Kyle Killen

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, written by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer.

Straw Dogs, written by Rod Lurie.

(That’s right, it’s a tie.)

Worst Screen Couple 

Rhys Ifans and Joeley Richardson in Anonymous

Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave in Anonymous

Brit Marling and any breathing creature in Another Earth

Mel Gibson and The Beaver in The Beaver

James Marsden and Kate Bosworth in Straw Dogs

Worst Prequel, Sequel, or Remake

Arthur

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Scream 4

Straw Dogs

Transformers 3

Quick Review: Contagion (dir. by Steven Soderbergh)


Note that this isn’t the only review for Contagion.

Arleigh has an in-depth review of the film, which is also available to see, whereas this is more of a summary. As it’s for the same film, I’ve used the same tags that were in Arleigh’s post.

Before I start, I have to say that I haven’t had a theatre be so quiet during a film since I went to see Mirrors, and that was because there was no one there. My showing for Contagion was packed, but no one made a sound throughout the film. I coughed twice (because I had to), and you wouldn’t believe how many heads turned in my general direction. If nothing else, it shows that the movie had some impact to the audience, and that’s always (okay, usually) interesting to see. By the time the movie is over, you will probably pay attention to how many times you touch your face or the objects around you.

If there’s one thing I can give director Steven Soderbergh, it’s that he has a great ability to work with ensemble casts. He did a great job in getting everyone to work together on the Oceans Eleven remake and sequels. He also walked away with a Best Director Oscar for Traffic. His films have the ability to avoid having his stars chew up enough screen time that they appear to be an actual center character. Catherine Zeta-Jones’ had a character who’s story was just as strong as Benecio Del Toro’s.

On this, Contagion is no different. In essence, it’s almost like watching cameos in a miniseries.

Although the film is peppered with various actors, no one person can be considered the main character of the film. Soderbergh is able to get them all to play their roles well. He and Scott Z. Burns – one of the writers on The Bourne Ultimatum and a collaborator with Soderbergh – give us a number of perspectives for this story and damn, the whole thing is very tight overall. The movie has very little wasted space.

Like the story itself, the movie moves at a great pace, opening with Elizabeth Emhoff (Gwenyth Paltrow) on her second day after exposure to the virus after returning from a trip to Hong Kong. This eventually escalates to other infections reported in other areas around the world. In an effort to contain and understand what they’re dealing with, the Center for Disease Control starts an investigation. Lead by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Lawrence Fishburne), he sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minnesota to determine the scale of the problem.

In addition to the CDC’s efforts, the World Health Organization also gets involved, sending their own field agent to Hong Kong, played by Marion Cotillard. Both doctors come up with information that appear to be helpful for the overall investigation in various ways.

The other two angles in the film are through a conspiracy theory blogger / investigative reporter played by Jude Law and Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), who has to deal with the impact of his wife’s sickness. Enrico Colantoni, Brian Cranston, Sanaa Lathan, Elliot Gould and Jennifer Ehle round out the cast. It should be noted that Ehle is the daughter of Kenneth Branaugh’s Hamlet actress Rosemary Harris, who looks remarkably like her mother. That’s just something that caught my eye.

In terms of the Kid Factor, I would be hesitant to take kids to see this unless they had a pretty clear handle on death or getting sick. Teens and adults could probably handle the film, but anyone under than that may freak out a little. Mind you, there’s very little gore in this film. When I think about it, there’s not even a whole lot of blood. There is some violence though as the story escalates and humanity goes wild, but it’s not that far a cry from many zombie movies. It’s up to the parents discretion on whether their kids should see this.

I should also point out that the music in this film is also very good. Cliff Martinez, who also worked on the score for Drive (also out this month) did an impressive job with an electronic score that sits in the background of the film, but also fits the pacing of the film well. It’s worth giving it a listen if at all possible. This quick review was actually written to the Contagion score.

Contagion is definitely worth seeing, easily recommended, but if you happen to be particular about germs, note that this may not be the most comfortable film to watch. Don’t be shocked if you end up hugging yourself while watching this in the theatre. With Soderbergh moving away from film directing to pursue other interests, Contagion is a nice final bow to his career.

Review: Contagion (dir. by Steven Soderbergh)


In a world where almost every season news media both traditional and on-line warn the population of what could be an outbreak of a new super-virus that could cause a new pandemic similar to the Spanish Flu of 1918. This was a pandemic which occurred before transcontinental travel was the norm and the virus still managed to kill 1% of the world’s population. Now, it’s 2011 and with warnings of swine flu, bird flu, Ebola, SARS and any number of infectious diseases still in the public’s consciousness we get a new film from filmmaker Steven Soderbergh which seriously explores a world discovering a new deadly disease and how the world responds and deals with the crisis.

Contagion begins with a simple “Day 2” caption as we see one Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) awaiting her flight to board in O’Hare at Chicago. There’s a bit of character building about this character who we see as already in the early stages of what looks to be the flu. From there Soderbergh does an interesting bit where he lets the camera linger for just a split second longer whenever Beth touches something. Soderbergh does this many times that the audience will soon get used to it and forget the significance of the act. We see Beth get a ride home from a colleague back to her home where she’s welcomed home by her husband Mitch and her young son Clark who runs to her and gives her a big hug.

The story really hits the ground running as Beth and soon those she has come into contact with begin to show similar symptoms and quickly die. The CDC and it’s head administrator, Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), soon begin to see a pattern to the deaths and the similarity to their symptoms. We soon see another aspect of the story begin with the arrival of Dr. Erin Mears whose job is to investigate the circumstance which seems to be leading into a cluster case starting with Beth and the area she lives in.

The third aspect of this film throws in internet news blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) who begins to suspect that several deaths around the world looks to be interconnected in someway and that the government, the CDC and the WHO (World Health Organization) are trying to hide these disturbing facts from the general public. Krumwiede becomes the purveyor of unfiltered news which seems to do more harm than good as more and more people begin to believe his conspiracy theories about what looks to be a growing global pandemic cause by an unknown virus every expert brought in to help cannot seem to figure out.

Let me just first say that to call Contagion a thriller in the traditional sense would be flimsy at best. Soderbergh and the film’s writer, Scott Z. Burns, have made a thriller but in a sense that it skews heavily on using realism and an almost docudrama style to push the film’s narrative. The thriller aspect comes from the notion that this film’s plot is not far off from actually becoming a real event. There’s no usage of dramatic tropes from past disaster and apocalyptic films to manipulate the audience. The film as a thriller would be quite mundane when stacked up against films like Outbreak and The Andromeda Strain. It’s the realness of the story, the events taking place on the screen which gives the film it’s dramatic heft.

We begin to see what Soderbergh is trying to accomplish with this film. How transcontinental travel which took weeks during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic now can spread a highly infectious disease in a manner of less than a day’s plane flight over one ocean. The film shows in disturbing detail just how easily we as a people can spread a disease just by doing the most innocuous thing like absently touching one’s face many times a minute then transferring whatever we had to any surface we touch. Contagion definitely will add to the paranoia of those who already have an unhealthy habit of disinfecting everything before they even touch it.

The film doesn’t just touch upon the medical side of solving the growing crisis, but also explores how the governmental response and sociological reaction to the epidemic. For the former we see how protocols and the need to slowly disseminate information to the public only adds to the public’s mistrust of the very agencies created to help them in case of such an event. Soderbergh doesn’t condemn or praise these agencies for their bureaucracy. We see the reason why places like the CDC take their time to finally inform the public as we get the unfiltered and manipulative news blog side of the news media in the form of Krumwiede’s blog. While he does dare to ask the questions other more traditional news organizations fail to ask he also becomes too enamored with how many people read his blog that he’s willing to manipulate the news itself in order to gain more followers.

Contagion hits the second half of the film with the world in full crisis mode and the film taking on a more apocalyptic tone. We see streets in San Francisco full of garbage bags as agencies who used to pick them up have either gone on strike or have stopped their daily runs in fear of infection. Then there are the riots at pharmacies and stores as interstate commerce grounds to a halt and no new supplies of goods and sundries make it to stores. Society itself begin to devolve as everyone and every group start to look after their own and begin to turn on others for the dwindling supplies.

It’s here in the second half that we see the film take on some of the more traditional aspects of a thriller, but even here Soderbergh doesn’t seem to want to linger on the more sensational side of the story. He continues, for good or ill, on the narrative style he began with and that’s to see the epidemic from beginning to conclusion in as clinical a manner as possible. It’s for this reason that at times the more intimate and personal side of the film’s story involving the Emhoff family seemed like it was from a different film. The Emhoff’s end up becoming the heart of the film, but it’s this emotional center that never seemed to fit with the sterile and cold narrative style Soderbergh chose to tell the film’s story.

The performances by the star-studded cast was quite good, but no one person really stood out. If I had to choose one it would have to be Kate Winslet’s Dr. Mears who goes out into the field early in the crisis investigating the early stages of the epidemic. We see her frustration at having to deal with local governmental agencies who fear the hit a quarantine would put on local economies (as if people dying in droves wouldn’t be a bigger hit) and the very danger of contracting the disease itself since having no knowledge of how it works she must use means of protection that may or may not protect her. While her story-arc in the film was just one of several it was her’s which really showed a major impact at how impersonal can be and how no one is truly safe.

Contagion is a film that tells a story about the possibility of such an event occurring and does it well, if not in a very clinical way, but it also shows just how unprepared we truly are when it comes to the smallest of creatures who sees us as nothing more than living forms of intercontinental travel. It’s exploration of such a global crisis in all it’s aspects (medical, research, governmental, media and sociological) makes it seem more like a docudrama more at home in the Discovery Channel, The Science Channel and the like instead of a cinema multiplex. It’s all due to Soderbergh’s storytelling skills that he’s able to pull off such a non-traditional thriller and make people more afraid about their surroundings coming out of the film than they were going into it. It’s not one of Soderbergh’s best films, but it’s a strong offering from him and one of the better films to come out in 2011.