Monday, October 10, 2011

EPIDEMICS, CANCER, CIA SPOOKS..That's Entertainment!

Steven Soderbergh's scientific thriller CONTAGION not only entertains but also raises some important questions about why we need government, despite the growing demands of the Tea Party, the late Sarah Palin, and most elected officials of the GOP. The movie tracks the rapid spread of an unknown disease that begins in Hong Kong and quickly kills millions across the world. Soderbergh uses the fast, attention-getting devices he employed in his best film TRAFFIC (2000), for which he won an Oscar for Best Director. With low-key but penetrating performances by Kate Winslett, Laurence Fishbourne, Marion Coitiard and many others, CONTAGION examines the role of government facing a national, even global, crisis. The workings of the CDC and the World Health Organization are scrutinized and shown as groups of intelligent, caring, and hard-working people. Imagine the U.S. and the world without them. That seems to be the point of this entertaining but relevant thriller.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the finest young actors working today. When all the super hero hunks have faded in a year or so, he will be working on projects far out of their reach. He made an indelible impression as the young architecture lover in 500 DAYS OF SUMMER, playing a naive young man who falls hopelessly in love with Summer, a free spirit who is not interested in long-time commitment. We get to see Gordon-Levitt as needy, obsessed, ecstatic, and almost suicidal, all because of how Summer treats him. His new film 50/50 dares to call itself a comedy about cancer, but it's not really a comedy. Instead this film examines the reaction of a fine young man (after all, he works for NPR) who has spinal cancer with a 50/50 chance to live. The comic elements come from his randy best friend (Seth Rogen, who actually makes this character likable). As the film develops, Gordon-Levitt shows the many emotions that illness and possible death can rouse in a person. It's his show and it's Oscar-worthy.

And, finally, if you get Showtime (if not, wait for Netflix, etc.),I hope you are watching the thoroughly engrossing new series HOMELAND. Yes, I know it's about prisoners of war, torture, all the things we want to forget Chaney introduced us to. But it's smartly written and keeps you guessing all the way. Is this All-American POW, now home after 8 years in captivity, possibly a terrorist? Or is the bi-polar, already loopy CIA agent totally off her wagon? The entire cast resonates with reality, especially Clare Danes as the agent. She has nervous energy to spare, but she's also appealing and occasionally appalling. HOMELAND is one to make time for.

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