Steven Soderbergh’s style shines with grittiness, A-listers
Marion Cotillard and Chin Chan star in “Contagion.”
★★★ (out of four)
2011, Dir. Steven Soderbergh, U.S., PG-13
“Contagion” is rated PG-13 for profanity, violence and
- New films
Director: Bennett Miller.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Robin Wright.
The plot: Oakland A’s manager works to put together a baseball
club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft
Director: John Singleton.
Starring: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins.
The plot: Nathan discovers he was kidnapped as a child and
begins to uncover a vast conspiracy.
Genre: Action, drama.
- Film roundup
“Red State” is an especially surprising and most welcome
game-changer for Kevin Smith, who has built a career out of
straight comedies predicated on crude sex and fart jokes. The film
represents a giant leap forward for him as a filmmaker, and is
indeed the only Smith film that suggests any interest in actual
cinematic technique. I was initially skeptical when he claimed that
producing and distributing the movie himself allowed him the
opportunity to deliver the visionary, uncompromising, totally
kick-ass horror flick he intended to make, free from the studio
interference that allegedly ruined several of his previous works.
Yet it appears there’s something to these claims, and upon seeing
the film it is clear that Smith has intentionally bucked every
genre convention and audience expectation imaginable. He fought the
system, and he’s come out on top.
This layering of rich characterizations, alternately gentle and
pointed humor, and philosophical subtext (the most dense I’ve seen
since in a comedy since “Leaves of Grass”) can probably be
attributed to screenwriter David Schisgal, a former Harvard
philosophy student with a background in documentaries, rather than
studio stooge Jesse Peretz. The director showcases an unusual
visual flair, and it’s rare that modern comedies are able to invoke
subtle flashes of New Wave or otherwise impressionistic influence,
as Peretz does here. But it is ultimately the strength of the
film’s script and performances that set it apart.
‘RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES’
More morality play than typical summer blockbuster, this “Planet
of the Apes” envisions a not-too-distant future in which human
greed and arrogance lays the groundwork for the primate-run society
first seen in the 1968 film with Charlton Heston. Our primary human
protagonist is medical researcher Will Rodman (James Franco,
looking way too spaced out to be believable as an M.D.), an
altruistic lad who is working tirelessly to find a cure for
Alzheimer’s, the disease that is slowing destroying his father
(John Lithgow). After a lab mishap involving an aggressive ape
leaves him without a prime test subject for his regenerative
“cure,” Will secretly takes home that ape’s offspring, named Caesar
(played by Andy Serkis, king of the blue-screen), to conduct
‘COWBOYS & ALIENS’
I always appreciate it when a film makes an effort to show me
something I haven’t seen before, and I’m willing to forgive a great
many oversights in exchange for that spark of creativity. “Cowboys
& Aliens” (based on the comic book by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg,
but credited to no less than eight screenwriters) offers up an
intriguing blend of the Western, adventure and science-fiction
genres, and that alone is a novel enough concept to pique my
interest. The film has a lot of fun with the madcap mixup and even
includes several blink-and-you’ll-miss-them nods to such genre
staples as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Searchers,” and I can
honestly say that I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Posted: Friday, September 16, 2011 8:13 am
We’re moving into the fall movie season this week with a look at
Steven Soderbergh’s disease pot-boiler “Contagion,” with a review
of Nicolas Winding Refn’s hotly anticipated crime thriller “Drive”
coming next time. After that we’ll hit a bit of a lull with
(tentatively scheduled) reviews of the lighthearted inside-baseball
flick “Moneyball” and the cancer dramedy “50/50,” but I’m confident
that things will pick up again soon. And, as I said before, be on
the lookout for periodic horror-themed DVD picks as we approach
Steven Soderbergh, even when he’s off his game, never fails to
fascinate as a director. In 1989 he brought indie filmmaking into
the mainstream with the trail-blazing Cannes winner “Sex, Lies, and
Videotape,” and in the decades since his indie roots have
re-emerged with such eyebrow-raising works as “Bubble” (an
incredible, slow-burn character piece comprised entirely of
non-professional actors), “The Girlfriend Experience” (starring
real-life adult film actress Sasha Grey) and “Che” (the four-hour
Che Guevara biopic that nobody saw but everybody professes to
Friday, September 16, 2011 8:13 am.