Kate Winslet

Carnage

2012

Sony Film Classics

Directed by Roman Polanski

Produced by Said Ben Said

Screenplay by Roman Polanski and Yasmina Reza

Based on the play “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza 

When the end credits of CARNAGE scrolled on the screen I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from the animated movie “The Point” which is the lesson learned by the main character Oblio who is the only round-headed person in a land where everything and everyone has a point.  The lesson: You don’t have to have a point to have a point.

What has this got to do with CARNAGE?  Well, I just threw it out there so that if and when you decide to watch it you won’t be taken by surprise by the movie’s conclusion which isn’t really a conclusion.

Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) visit the Brooklyn condo of Michael and Penelope Longstreet (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster) to discuss a recent incident involving their sons.  During a playground dispute, the Cowan boy hit the Longstreet boy with a stick, knocking out two of his teeth.  The parents have decided to meet to avoid legal foofaraw and resolve the matter themselves.  Penelope insists they they can work this out in a civilized manner.  Turns out that she’s wrong.  As the discussion gets more involved as the two couples discuss marriage, parenthood, their jobs and their lives, civilized behavior begins to deteriorate.  And once the apple cobbler, 12 year old Scotch and cigars come out, things really begin to heat up.

Penelope is insistent that societal responsibility must be adhered to and blame assigned.  Michael strives to remain the genial and affable host, struggling to contain his short temper and naturally abrasive manner.  Nancy resents being in competition with Alan’s Blackberry which he seems to prefer talking to during the meeting rather than the Longstreets.  What starts out as a simple meeting soon turns into the four people dissecting each other verbally, cutting away the false faces they wear to get along in the world and getting at who they really are underneath.

Now, don’t worry that we’re getting into “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” territory here.  Although the movie could have easily gone that way, it doesn’t.  Instead, it’s surprisingly light and funny.  The characters don’t really go for each other’s jugular, instead we get them throwing solid jabs at each other but never going for a knockout punch.

What we have here are four really fine actors just…well, acting.  99% of the movie takes place inside of the Longstreet apartment with just the four actors.  And it is fun to watch them at work.  Especially John C. Reilly who stole the movie every chance he got, as far as I was concerned.  But everybody gets a chance to shine and they do.  For some, this movie may be too much like a filmed play but I didn’t have a problem with it.  Matter of fact, I prefer to watch my plays this way, especially when they are this well-acted.

Well, maybe just two problems.  It does get a little tiresome to have the Cowans continually attempt to leave the apartment only to have to return.  And I can’t see four people getting that drunk on one bottle of Scotch.  But at one point, Alan does say; “That’s some Scotch,” so maybe it is possible.

So should you see CARNAGE?  You should if you like the actors involved and want to see them throwing witty, sharp dialog at each other.  There’s really no plot here, no story, no stirring resolution or life-changing  epiphany.  Just four great actors doing what they do best.

80 minutes

Rated R for language as there is no violence or sex at all.

Contagion

2011

Warner Bros.

Directed by Stephen Soderbergh

Produced by Michael Shamberg and Stacy Sher

Written by Scott Z. Burns

I like Stephen Soderbergh as a filmmaker because of his unpredictability.  He makes films that obviously are personal projects because they’re the kind of movies that leave me scratching my head after I’ve seen them.  I’m talking about movies like “Full Frontal” “Erin Brockovich” and “The Girlfriend Experience” Then he turns around and directs first rate, sitting-on-the-edge-of-my-seat crime thrillers like “Out of Sight” and “The Limey”  Then there are movies like “Kafka” and “Bubble” which are difficult to describe or explain and really should be seen without any idea of what they’re about.  And Soderbergh proved with “Ocean’s 11” “Ocean’s 12” and “Ocean’s 13” that he could do big blockbusters with all-star ensemble casts.  Then he up jumps and directs a two-part bio pic “Che” that is nothing less than astounding.  So we’re talking about an extraordinary director of talent and range who knows what he’s doing in a variety of genres.

So why did CONTAGION feel like I was watching a newbie director desperately trying to figure out what his own movie was about?

Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns to her Minneapolis home from a business trip to Hong Kong to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) and son Clark.  The happy reunion isn’t happy for very long as Beth dies two days after returning home and Clark dies not long after.  Both Mitch and his daughter from a previous marriage appear to be immune to whatever it was that killed Beth and Clark and a good thing for them that they are.

The new disease, MEV-1 is both frightening and lethal.  It swiftly spreads across the world and the death toll rises to a staggering level.  Nobody can figure out where the disease came from and while more and more people die, Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburn) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia struggles to find a cure.  Assisted by his field agent Dr. Ellen Mears (Kate Winslet) and an independent researcher Dr. Sussman (Elliott Gould), Cheever has to juggle several explosive balls.  There’s the Department of Homeland Security who insists that this epidemic must be a bioweapon attack.  Video blogger Alan Krumweide (Jude Law) claims that there is a homeopathic cure for MEV-1 that the government is keeping secret.  His blogs only add to the breakdown of social order as panicked people flee population centers by the millions while the ones who are left turn on each other, stealing food and water.  Entire states are quarantined off by the Army and National Guard in an attempt to minimize the spread of the disease.  A disease that looks as if it’s going to wipe out humanity, no matter what.

Sounds like a really thrilling movie, don’t it?  Sorry to disappoint you but it’s not.  I found CONTAGION to be slow moving and downright impersonal in it’s handling of a truly frightening possibility that all the experts say is due to happen any day now.  But the characters in CONTAGION seem to accept the possible extinction of the human race with a shrug and an “Oh, well, nothing lasts forever.”  Only Jude Law sinks his teeth in and gives his character energy and drive.  Alan Krumweide is as low as they come but at least when he’s on the screen he’s interesting and there’s something happening.

CONTAGION is one of those movies that makes me feel smarter while watching it because even though I don’t understand a word of technospeak (but I do speak fluent technobabble) I just feel smarter listening to the big brains discuss what the virus is and how to combat it.  And that’s an aspect of the movie I wanted to see explored in greater detail but it never is.  When Dr. Cheever and the other big brains in the movie discuss MEV-1 they talk about it almost as if were an intelligent organism with a plan and purpose.  It’s a fascinating idea but it’s never followed up on and instead we get scenes of Matt Damon yelling at his daughter not to open the door for her boyfriend because he might be infected.  Never mind that if the boyfriend has survived as long as Matt Damon and his daughter then there’s just as good a chance he’s as immune as they are.

Maybe I’ve been corrupted by too many 70’s/80’s disaster movies but there just wasn’t enough running around, screaming and looting. I wanted to see entire cities burning as panicked citizens attempt to cleanse the world with fire and kill the plague.  I wanted to see truckloads of dead babies being pitchforked into giant roaring furnaces and cripples in wheelchairs and on crutches throwing themselves from the rooftops of blazing hospitals.   It’s comforting to see the various governmental agencies acting in such a cool, logical, professional manner but it doesn’t make for interesting movie watching.

So should you see CONTAGION?  Sure. It’s not that it’s a bad movie.  The performances are adequate and the movie looks good.  I just think that the possible end of the world should be told as if it really matters and not just to be taken as inevitability.

106 minutes

PG-13