[3.5 stars] Contagion (2011) on IMDb [Amazon]

Porn for hypochondriacs!

Within the first few minutes of this movie, Gwyneth Paltrow: (a) returns to the US from a business trip to Hong Kong; (b) cheats on her husband; (c) develops a disgusting cough; (d) gets really unattractive for a glamorous movie star; (e) kicks the bucket.

This disconcerts her husband, Matt Damon. (At first, the news goes right over his head.) While moviewatchers might not mind Gwyneth's absence, the movie also kills off Matt Damon's cute stepson with the same disgusting cough. That shows us that things are really serious.

As it turns out, Gwyneth and the kid are just very early casualties of a new virulent disease that spreads worldwide in a matter of days. The movie flits between disease researchers racing to discover the nature of the illness and develop a vaccine, and ordinary people trying to deal with the unravelling social fabric while increasing their odds for survival.

The IMDB points out the massive number of Oscar winners/nominees that appear here: in addition to Matt and Gwyneth, there's Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Elliott Gould, John Hawkes, Jude Law, and Kate Winslet. It's not that any of these people actually have to act much, though; mainly they just look scared, confused, devious, or concerned. And, as in Gwyneth's (and, later, Kate's) case, unattractive.

Maybe there should be an Oscar category for that: Most Unattractive Performance by an Ordinarily Good-Looking Actor or Actress.

(There is a very good performance from Jennifer Ehle, playing a dedicated scientist. She hasn't got an Oscar win or nomination yet, but I'm thinking she will someday.)

Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:48 AM EST


[2.0 stars] Monsters (2010) on IMDb [Amazon]

A low-budget sci-fi movie with pretensions. Didn't work well for me.

It's six years since Earth has been accidentally invaded by aliens: a NASA probe designed to pick up samples from some unspecified planet or moon crashed in Northern Mexico, letting loose a surprisingly tenacious plague of giant tentacled glowing shrimplike beasties. There's now an "Infected Zone" where travel is risky to impossible. Worse, the aliens are starting to aggressively break out of their zone.

Fate brings together Andrew and Samantha: she's (for a reason I didn't quite catch) on the Mexican side of the Infected Zone, and her rich daddy wants her back safe in the US. Andrew is a photographer working for one of Daddy's companies, and so he's coerced into finding her passage.

This doesn't work well. The alien breakout has disrupted normal traffic between the countries, and—guess what?—their only option is travel by river and land through the Zone.

What's good: for a low-budget movie, the alien special effects are pretty decent. The expository bits are nicely understated; if you watch it, pay attention to the TV news bits running in the background, road signs, and wall murals. Overall, we're given a decent picture of a society trying to adapt (sometimes failing to adapt) to a hostile alien presence.

Not so good: the movie is pointlessly padded with local Mexican color. Andrew and Samantha spend a lot of time together, allegedly developing their relationship, but the picture that emerges is of two shallow, irresponsible young people, not too bright, and not too sympathetic or interesting.

It's also simply inexplicable why these creatures are such a big problem. They're huge, slow-moving, and eminently killable. Their reproductive cycle doesn't seem like it would be difficult to disrupt.

Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:47 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2012-06-10 Update

[phony baloney]

Not much action this past week on the Google phony hits:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Barack Obama" phony 23,100,000 -100,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,040,000 -30,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 401,000 +34,000

But it is (as usual) easy to find recent Phony news:

  • Remember a few years back when an enraptured young lady gushed that she wouldn't have to worry about paying for gasoline and making mortgage payments under President Obama? Perhaps unsurprisingly, some enterprising crooks noticed that sort of mentality could be the basis of a profitable scam:

    A new scam using President Barack Obama's name claims to provide utility bill credits in exchange for personal information, including social security numbers, according to Public Service Electric and Gas.

    "The scam, which has been reported in a number of states, claims that President Barack Obama is providing credits or applying payment to utility bills," the company said in a statement.

    Shame on these rapscallions! Promising free goodies to private citizens while underhandedly taking their money—that sort of thing is only legal for the government to do!

  • Writing at the Atlantic, Major Garrett makes a general non-partisan point about phoniness:

    Something is wrong with American politics and it's not partisanship. It's phony unifiers who mawkishly promise bonhomie when their true aim is to align just enough of their partisans and partisan-leaning independents to win. The promise of unity is a cynical tool to win elections, not a governing approach.

    Garrett points out, accurately, that we'd be better served by an explicit (and more honest) partisanship in campaigns: "Division forces people to listen to an argument and take sides."

  • Parenthetically, Jonah Goldberg explains why that probably ain't gonna happen in his new book (which you should read):

    After an eighteen-month campaign, all of the informed, conscious, and ideologically consistent voters have already made up their minds. All that's left are the undecided centrists, who actually think they have the more sophisticated and serious position; their indecision comes, actually, by virtue of the fact they've either not paid much attention until way too late in the game, or more simply, they're a**holes who think they must be at the center of the universe.

    That's the simplest and probably the most accurate explanation of why political campaigns are the way they are: they're designed to appeal to people who don't pay much attention to political issues.

  • Michael Crowley of Time discusses a "Catch-22" for Mitt Romney, who everyone seems to agree is not a "naturally gifted politician":

    The eternal question for the non-gifted pol is what to do about it: stick relentlessly to a script and some across like a phony robot; or "be yourself," and risk tripping over your own klutzy feet.

    Unless there are two people named "Michael Crowley" working for Time, this is the same guy who, a few weeks previous derided the "phony" debates about the candidates' characters, and not their policies.

    This is what happens when you have a Contractual Obligation to churn out a certain number of words each week: consistency can take a back seat.

  • Crowley, by the way, claims that (in contrast to Romney) President Obama is a "naturally gifted" politician, who doesn't make klutzy stumbles when going off-script. Unfortunately, Crowley was writing on June 5; on June 8, Obama served up an off-script pratfall, while "being himself":

    President Obama said today that the "private sector is doing fine" as the U.S. economy recovers from recession, but urged Congress to send more federal aid to states and localities to boost government hiring.

    The comment triggered an onslaught of attacks from Republicans, who pointed to dismal job growth and an unemployment rate lingering above 8 percent as a sign Obama is out of touch.

    It's one of those gaffes where Obama said what he really thought, rather than sticking to his prefabricated campaign talking points. A while later, he was back to reading off the phony script:

    Obama later clarified his remark during an Oval Office photo op, saying "it's absolutely clear the economy is not doing fine" and that while there's "good momentum" in the private sector "there are still too many people out of work."

    We turn to Victor Davis Hanson for the diagnosis:

    So we are in an interesting paradox: All empirical evidence points to the worldwide failure of the blue-state model (e.g., California, the southern Mediterranean, anti-Walker Wisconsin), and yet Barack Obama's entire career, from community organizing, to the state legislature, to the Senate, was predicated on just such a protocol of public borrowing to provide expansive government entitlements and jobs in exchange for a loyal political constituency, with the debt, in redistributive fashion, to be serviced by wringing more revenue from the suspect private sector that is always doing "fine."

    Obama knows no other way, and so his adolescent exasperation is always with a supposedly thriving small business or corporation that for some reason or another won't pay for his redistributive dreams. If only that "doing fine" private sector would not sit on "trillions" of dollars, resist spread-the-wealth higher taxes, fight Obamacare, and whine about needed new regulations, then, presto, we would have plenty of money to give a pre-Walker Wisconsin or insolvent California -- and everything would be just fine.

  • Proposed title for the history of the Obama Administration: "Driving the Choomwagon Down the Road to Serfdom".

Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:55 PM EST