Just in Time for Oscar: Neglected Founder, a Late Arrival, Serious Moonlight, Not Quite Fantastic…and Why I’m Not Completely Gaga over La La (Warning: Spoilers in La La Land)
It could be the end of the world as we know it as Gynneth Paltrow has the misfortune to be "patient zero" in Steven Soderbergh's earnest, intense all-star thriller Contagion. Poor Paltrow spends but a few minutes onscreen, having returned from China to the U.S, (by way of a quick illicit rest stop in Chicago), and succumbing to a mysterious virus that she may well have brought over. Paltrow's grieving (and immune) husband Matt Damon tries to protect his surviving daughter from infection while health official Lawrence Fishburne uses his expertise (and extensive staff) to try to come up with a vaccine. In the meantime, scientist Kate Winslet looks for answers stateside while Marion Cotillard 's WHO investigator looks to China, and the fate of the world might just fall to two dedicated doctors, Jennifer Ehle-and Elliott Gould. Lest you think that this worldwide outbreak only inspires acts of altruism, there are disturbing passages of mankind running amok in scenes of looting, home invasions and killings. Soderbergh presents these episodes with a degree of restraint, but it's no holds barred in the graphic depiction of the effects of the virus (only beginning with Ms. Paltrow). In addition, Jude Law is on hand as an unscrupulous blogger who uses the outbreak as a chance to promote himself -and some dangerous conspiracy theories. The movie's solemn, almost clinical tone gains emotional impact as it goes on, and all the actors do convincing work; however some key players disappear from the proceedings in a not so credible manner (and I don't mean by dying), while some plot developments are dropped abruptly. In spite of this, Contagion is worth the trip-just don't forget the hand wipes.
If you crossed Michael Mann's 80's crime films with the French New Wave cinema, and then tossed in some Sergio Leone references and soaked them all in a Sam Pechinpah-style bloodbath, you'll have something resembling Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive, a somewhat unconventional thriller with its roots in well-known (primarily Hollywood) conventions. Ryan Gosling is a Hollywood stunt driver-- and occasional getaway driver-- with no name: steely, calm, taciturn, with a disarming smile he trots out on occasion, especially in the company of innocent neighbor Carey Mulligan and her young son. When his boss Bryan Cranston introduces Gosling to a shady ex-producer (Albert Brooks) with money to invest, the future seems momentarily bright. But as we're in the land of film noir, the inevitable complications arise in the form of Mulligan's ex-con husband, a heist gone awry, double crosses and some mighty bloody (and I do mean bloody) confrontations with some very dangerous characters. While the movie's plot outline may not hold many surprises, there are many pleasures to be had throughout: the car chase sequences work on a visceral level; Gosling and Mulligan make an appealing pair; Christina Hendricks is fine as a calculating moll while Ron Perlman is an imposing presence as a gangster with hidden interests. However, when all is said and done, Albert Brooks steals the show. He plays the role of an ex-producer turned murderous gangster as if he were waiting for this part all his life. In the movie's early sections, he displays hints of menace, along with the usual witty displays of Brooksian neurosis that is a hallmark of his own work. He makes this shady character likable, believable, and very dangerous, up until-and way past---the moment when he uses his fork for something other than to twirl spaghetti.