“Contagion”–Infects Us All

Contagion

With the tagline: “Don’t talk to anyone. Don’t touch anyone”, this B-rated movie “Contagion” (2011), directed by Stephen Soderbergh, is eerily prescient nine years later.

A pandemic–“a novel virus”– is about to create havoc, beginning with the opening scene where Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is at the Hong Kong airport, waiting to catch a plane back to Chicago.  Her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) will soon discover that his wife is patient zero–the  original carrier of the deadly virus which begins to get out of control in a matter of days.  The CDC’s principal investigators,   Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet)  and Dr. Cheever   (Laurence Fishburne),  attempt to identify the virus and develop a vaccine while analyzing the exponential rate of growth.  Everyone worldwide is advised to stay calm, maintain social distancing (yes, they use that term) and wear masks to avoid touching their own faces.  It is unsettling to hear terms now commonplace such as fomites (the surfaces to which viruses cling) and R0 (“r-naught”)–the number of people a single carrier infects.   

Contagion movie

Several days pass before anyone realizes the extent or gravity of this new virus. In Contagion we see hospital workers with insufficient protective equipment,– some without N95 masks,– succumb as first responders. Do you hear the Twilight Zone theme song yet?  The Centers for Disease Control, led by Dr. Cheever’s investigative team, is villified and accused of conspiracies.  An unethical journalist profits from a homeopathic “cure” which creates mobs at local drugstores.  Looting and panic ensue.

As the contagion spreads to millions of people worldwide, societal order begins to break down as people panic in the uncertainty that a vaccine will be developed. 

The second time around, viewing Contagion is a chilling déjà vu. No longer a film of science fiction, depicting a dystopia in the distant future, Contagion is a cautionary tale right now… for all of us.

The Great Wall–Not Trump’s Version

The Great Wall

[Another guest post by Ray Hecht, who reviewed this movie on his website on January 5.  The movie has already been released in China where Ray resides but will not be released in the US until February.  The following review is abridged.]

The Great Wall was recently released in China with much hype. Directed by  the critically acclaimed  Zhang Yimou ( Raise the Red Lantern), and starring Matt Damon, it is  the first truly American and Chinese coproduction.

Unfortunately, the film has already been poorly received and critically panned in China. However,  it can still make for an enjoyable romp.

The Great Wall  succeeds at being an exciting fantasy adventure about Western explorers fighting monsters in an ancient Chinese setting. The story opens with horse-riding mercenaries seeking mysterious explosive black powder. Eventually they make it to the Great Wall, where they meet Damon’s love interest Commander Lin (played by Jing Tian).

Matt Damon’s costar,  Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones), is excellent and usually outshines Damon in scenes they share. The pair of warriors have good chemistry as buddy action films, although with a somewhat predictable character arc.

The plot moves quickly. Monsters  called Taotie  are  hordes of demons in epic battles. The carefully honed craft of Chinese wushu-style film proves to be more engaging than the indulgences of high-end Hollywood CGI war in intricate face-to-face combat.  The moral lessons of trust and loyalty are heavy handed. The original story of the monsters and  color-coded uniforms for the Chinese army seem reminiscent of the Power Rangers TV show targeted for children. The climatic final battle in the capital city does give the viewer some satisfactory drama,  but overall The Great Wall is not meant to be taken seriously.

This reviewer recommends having modest expectations and enjoy it for what it is: A fun, Hollywood fantasy movie which just happens to take place in China.

The Great Wall will be released in America on February 17th.