Tag Archives: entertainment

Review – Contagion (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2/5

In the Middle Ages, pestilence and plague were semi-regular occurrences. Every fifteen years or so, the grim reaper would appear in the form of the Black Death and scythe down a not insignificant percentage of populations across Europe. Again, in 1918, after World War I (WWI), the world was struck by another form of pestilence: the ‘Spanish Flu’, which killed one percent of the then-world population. Despite being over-all quite poor, Contagion shows us once more that mankind is still not immune to new diseases and viruses.

Mitch (Matt Damon) in shock after suddenly losing his wife to the epidemic.

Contagion is a medical thriller about a virus that rapidly spreads across the world. The first known death in America is that of Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow – Se7en, Shakespeare In Love, The Avengers Assemble), who returns home to her family and husband, Mitch (Matt Damon – True Grit, The Adjustment Bureau, Elysium), from a trip to Hong Kong only to have a seizure and die soon afterwards. Rapidly, more people become infected. There is no cure for the virus either, and around one in four people are expected to become infected. (Although, one in three people who become infected are expected to survive.)

Scientists, from across the world, led by Atalanta-based Dr. Ellis Cheevers (Laurence Fishburne – Apocalypse Now, The Matrix I-III, Man of Steel) and his team, work hard to find an antidote. Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet – Titanic, The Reader, Steve Jobs) uses her knowledge to try and slow down the spread of the virus, whilst working in the field. Dr. Leonara Orantes (Marion Cotillard – Public Enemies, Midnight In Paris, The Dark Knight Rises) works with a team in Hong Kong to establish where the virus came from in order to facilitate the creation of an antidote.

But until an antidote has been tested sufficiently and is safe, nothing can be distributed. In the meantime, indirectly egged-on by a conspiratorially-inclined blogger called Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law – Enemy At The Gates, The Holiday, Side Effects), social order breaks down.

Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle), a scientist under Dr. Ellis Cheevers, working hard in the laboratory to try and create an antidote.

The plot for Contagion has been done in a documentary style, similar to Cloverfield (albeit, without the camera wobbling). This entails that one watches the effects of the virus upon people and societies over a series of days. One images that the director, Steven Soderburgh (Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s Eleven & Ocean’s Twelve, Side Effects), did this to give the film a more realistic feel. If so, he succeeds. As a corollary of the realism, the speed at which the virus transmits and kills people has the impact of frightening the audience (in probably the same way that bubonic plague used to terrify people in Medieval times). Also, the timing of the chaos that subsequently unfolds, as a result of panic by those who have not yet been infected, seems quite natural. It is quite conceivable for law and order to collapse under the pressures that Contagion puts forward.

However, many aspects of the storyline are either left unexplained or fall by the wayside, which undermines the film considerably. Moreover, as the movie has no central protagonist, one cannot build any sympathy or empathy (or care) for any of the characters. Worse, the dialogue, at times, sounds contrived (if not risible) and none of the actors play particularly well. Even the normally excellent Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne and Matt Damon do not do themselves justice here.

Allan Krumwiede (Jude Law), wearing a ridiculous ‘wannabe’ Buzz Lightyear outfit so he doesn’t contract the virus, spreading his new-found insight about why the government has not distributed the cure as yet onto a random car.

Due to the lack of a dominant performer, the audience may struggle to maintain interest in the film. At 106 minutes, Contagion is an average length for a movie; yet, viewers may find themselves yawning or looking at their watches (long) before it is over, which is never a good sign for a film. Not even the music, which adopts a standard fast beat for much of the movie, has the ability to keep the audience’s eyes concentrated on the screen for long.

On the whole, Contagion has many deficient features, as several of the sub-stories are forgotten about and there is a distinct lack of a central and well-defined character. Nevertheless, Contagion appears scarily realistic and shows us that, irrespective of how advanced medical treatment may be, humanity is still potentially defenceless against new and ever-mutating epidemics.

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Review – The Adjustment Bureau (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2/5

Some critics proclaimed that The Adjustment Bureau was a fine amalgam between the Bourne series and Inception. Well, it bears no resemblance to either film. Moreover, it is a poorly executed movie in just about every sense.

The Adjustment Bureau begins with Congressman, David Norris (Matt Damon – The DepartedTrue Grit, Contagion), running for a seat in the Senate. On election night, he goes to the toilet to prepare a speech when he bumps into Elise (Emily Blunt – The Devil Wears Prada, Young Victoria, The Wolfman). Attraction is instant, but Elise leaves without giving David her contact details.

The agents who work for the Chairman. It is their job to 'adjust' peoples' fates to ensure they fit in with the Chairman's grand design for humanity.

Coincidentally, soon afterward in the film, they meet again on the bus; and this time David acquires her number. Yet, after leaving her, David comes across some people he was not expecting to meet. These men are agents who ‘adjust’ people’s futures in order to follow the plans set forth by the Chairman (God?). They inform David that he was not supposed to have met Elise for a second time and that he can never see her again. But David is determined to be with Elise; even if it means forfeiting his political ambitions. This, in turn, sets him on a collision course with powers greater than mankind.

The plot for this movie rapidly descends into a cliché love-story that tests the patience of those who believed that they were going to watch something a little more original and intellectually stimulating. The director, George Nolfi, to some extent tries to play to a more academic-minded audience by including the debate of free-will vs. God’s divine master-plan in the film. (Although, if anyone thinks that this debate is new, let’s bear in mind that it has been discussed regularly since the Middle Ages or, even more likely, since the Bible was written.) Yet, by only dealing with this debate vis-à-vis the love-story, Nolfi has ensured that all highly complex discourse on the subject appears only at a superficial level. It could have and should have been done better; especially when one bears in mind that this is the same man who wrote a well-crafted script for The Bourne Ultimatum.

David and Elise running frantically from the Chairman's agents so that they can be together.

Alike the debate, the dialogue is equally vain throughout The Adjustment Bureau. The acting is not much better either. Matt Damon gives his role a decent punt. Nevertheless, one questions why he chose to do this role in the first place. For the lesser known Emily Blunt, it is obvious why she has been chosen. But apart from looking pretty and having an over-all good physique, her performance is little better than her showing in the dreadful film, The Wolfman. Indeed, if it were not for her above-mentioned featured, plus her striking blue eyes and wonderful English accent; it is hard to see how she will ever be able to reach the dizzying heights that Natalie Portman has achieved in recent times.

The rest of the cast, particularly the Chairman’s agents, are woeful. Similarly, the special effects are pitiable because they look unreal. (Special effects have to at least give the façade of looking like they might be genuine.) The cinematography is not worth commenting upon as it is virtually non-existent. The choreography, on the other hand, has been pieced together smoothly, which enables the viewer to follow the plot easily.

How The Adjustment Bureau has been advertised as ‘Bourne meets Inception’ is beyond belief and nothing more than a marketing con. The Adjustment Bureau looks like it has been done on the cheap. It may try to be intelligent; yet that does not mean that it warrants comparisons to the aforementioned high-class films. The Adjustment Bureau needs a more original storyline; plus better acting, dialogue, special effects and care as a starting-point before it can be put into in the same bracket as the Bourne series or Inception.

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