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This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 9, 2011)

09 Sep 2011

The Toronto International Film Festival begins this week.

If there are still not enough films there to see, these are opening: CONTAGION, CREATURE and WARRIOR.

CONTAGION (USA 2011) ****
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

CONTAGION follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days. The film begins at Day 2 of the virus and ends with Day 1 showing how (fictitiously) the virus really originated.  The film is a dead serious documentary style fictionalised piece following the epidemic as it grows worldwide with the medical community racing to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself.

The subject is still hot-off the press as people have still not forgotten the deadly impact of SARS and other infectious diseased such as West Nile and the swine and bird flues.  The script by Scott Z. Burns likely follows the headlines and documentation of SARs.  All this makes the film work like a time bomb thriller with many subplots.

The main plot concerns the start and spread and containment of the epidemic here named the bird flu.  The story includes the discovery of the vaccine and how it is distributed not leaving out the problems of who is entitled to receive it first.  The film also takes the pandemonium one step further by allowing the flu and deaths to spread across all the continents with rioting that results from insufficient vaccine production.                    To humanize the story, the script adds several real life characters.  The main one is the Center for Disease Control’s Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) asked by a deputy from the Department of Homeland Security (Enrico Colantoni) to contain he problem.  He is no angel and makes mistakes by evacuating his loved one thus leaking out confidential information.  Another involves Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) who develops a slight cough as she waits in a Chicago airport to go home to Minneapolis and be with her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) and son Clark (Griffin Kane).  By the following afternoon, she is dead from an unknown cause.  Then there is the CDC investigator Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) investigating Emhoff’s death and the city’s growing virus cluster while World Health Organization investigator Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) heads to China to track the virus’ origin.  Meanwhile, at the CDC, doctors Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) and David Eisenberg (Demitri Martin) attempt to grow the virus in a lab so they can begin testing vaccines.  Finally, freelance blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) seizes the opportunity to report the story and then seizes a far more villainous opportunity as he preys upon fear and paranoia to feed his messiah complex.

To his credit, Soderbergh balances the characters quite well with his intercutting of the stories so that it does not feel as if he is a traffic cop directing traffic.  It helps that the plot is so strong that the subplots flow conveniently into each other.  Soderbergh moves his film fast, especially during the second half and the film works like a thriller with a time bomb waiting to explode.  With the revelation of how the flu originated, the climax ends like the solution of a whodunit.  The poor Chinese look like the villains in the film though they get tricked into given false vaccines by the Americans.

CONTAGION is an ambitious piece that can clearly look silly and fall apart in the hands of an inexperienced director.  Fortunately, we have Steven Soderbergh at the helm, and he has done a film like this before with TRAFFIC where he tackled the topic of drugs on a wide scale.

CREATURE (USA 2011) *

Directed by Fred M. Andrews

CREATURE treads the over-worn trodden path of the old B-horror flicks in which the creature is nothing more than some actor in a monster suit terrorizing scantily clad teens.

In CREATURE, a group of friends head out on a road trip, get lost obviously and stop for groceries at a store owned by Chopper (horrormeister Sid Haig).  The locals hide the tale of Lockjaw, a fabled god-like creature who is half-man, half alligator.  Their curiosity peaked; the group decides to play along with the local tourist trap and journey deep into the backwoods to find the old dilapidated cabin, the supposed birthplace of the creature. As they set-up camp for the night, their faith is put to the test when Lockjaw turns out to be more than just a myth and they realize the locals are hiding a horrifying secret that jeopardizes them all.

Andrews does not bother with explanations or credibility.  Why are the group of friends who obviously dislike each other on a road trip?  And what is the purpose of this road trip?  The half man half alligator monster makes no sense.  All the locals are typecast as idiotic inbreds.

But CREATURE is both boring and annoying.  Boring because the audience have seen all of what transpires before, mostly on late night TV.  Writer/director Andrews attempts to spice the proceedings a bit with a lesbian scene and a bit of violence like chopped off legs but to no avail.  The teen group are so annoying from the very first scene when they reckless drive across the country risking their lives and others.

The special effects are pathetic and the story ridiculous.  When told of the local legend, one character says: “This is the stupidest story I have ever heard!”  And making a film out of the stupidest story ever has resulted in this reciprocal film.

(Special one week screening at the Royal, College Street.)

WARRIOR (USA 2011) **
Directed by Gavin O’Connor

Sports mixed martial arts movie that contains as much melodrama as its fight sequences.  Overlong at over 2 hours, there are too many matches at the end before the climatic one between the brothers.

The story concerns two brothers, each with their own reasons for needing to win the $5 million prize money in the championship fight.  Haunted by a tragic past, ex-Marine Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) returns home for the first time in fourteen years to enlist the help of his father (Nick Nolte) to train for SPARTA, the biggest winner-takes-all event in mixed martial arts history. A former wrestling prodigy, Tommy blazes a path toward the championship while his brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), an ex-fighter-turned teacher, returns to the ring in a desperate bid to save his family from financial ruin. But when Brendan''s unlikely, underdog rise sets him on a collision course with the unstoppable Tommy, the two brothers must finally confront each other.

The film establishes early on who the good brother is, so no matter how much better Tommy is in fighting, Brendan will emerge the winner.  And with films of this nature, nothing is mentioned of what happens to the poor widow who is supposed to get Tommy’s prize winnings to support her family.

The film contains many flaws, the most obvious being the fact that the father is the new coach but nowhere in the film is he seen doing any coaching.  The family drama is intensified that it tethers to the point of incredibility.  Tommy hates father; Brendan discovers mother was ill; father has demons to exorcise; unresolved sibling differences are just a few.

The fight scenes are well choreographed as expected in fight films of this nature.  The match between the brothers is not really believable as Tommy is clearly the better fighter.  But the script has to do its course.

Overdrawn drama, over-stretched fight scenes and the fact that the audience has seen this story time again makes WARRIOR a let-down.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:


Best Film Opening This Week:  Contagion
Best Film Playing: Attack the Block
Best Comedy: Bridesmaids
Best Family: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Best Documentary: Chasing Madoff
Best Foreign: Sarah’s Key (Elle S’appelait Sarah)

Avoid: Creature

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