Contagion

Scott Z. Burns

Side Effects marks the third collaboration between screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and director Steven Soderbergh. They previously tackled the mind of a bipolar pathological liar with The Informant and a horror-esque “what if?” movie with Contagion. For Side Effects, they’re not taking on pharmaceuticals, but a twisty thriller in the vein of Fatal Attraction and Body Heat. This is the type of movie that drops a new piece of information in almost every scene, causing you to rethink most of what you previously saw. Burns accomplished that with a split narrative starring characters who aren’t exactly the most noble. An ensemble movie with characters one can’t really root for is something of a rare commodity these days, and from the sounds of it, it’s something Burns would like to see (and write) more of. Here’s what screenwriter Scott Z. Burns had to say about constructing ensemble narratives, how Russian literature inspired Side Effects, and some of his frustrations with the studio storytelling norms:

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Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh is one of the most prolific filmmakers of our era. Though his early retirement is immanent, he’s released more films – and a greater variety of films – in his twenty-three years of directing than some filmmakers helm in a lifetime. Since bursting on the American independent film scene in 1989 with sex, lies, and videotape, Soderbergh has made studio blockbusters and micro-budget experiments, strange remakes and films that blur the line between narrative and documentary, not to mention semi-biopics of public figures as diverse as Spalding Gray, Che Guevara, Erin Brockovich, and Channing Tatum. He’s been a leader in exploring the possibilities of new digital filmmaking technologies, and it seems there isn’t a genre or scale of filmmaking that he hasn’t yet touched. He’s even made a film that you’ll never see. Last week, the trailer for Side Effects, Soderbergh’s last theatrical film and his penultimate film project (the final, final one being the made-for-HBO Liberace biopic Beyond the Candelabra), made its debut on the web. So with the supposed final days of an impressive career by a prolific filmmaker upon us, here’s a bit of free film school from a guy that considers both George Clooney and Sasha Grey his muses.

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Culture Warrior

For the first time in recent memory, I’m going into Oscar Sunday having no idea who is likely to take home many of the major awards. I’m sure there are entire websites out there devoted to an accurate prediction of who and what will take home the gold on Sunday, but there seems something a bit different about this year. Of the nine films nominated, I don’t have a clear sense of what would be the top five had AMPAS not changed the number of entries in the top category. While The Artist may clearly have more of a chance than, say, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, there’s no grand battle between likely leads like there was between The King’s Speech and The Social Network last year. And I don’t think I’m alone in stating that this year’s uninspiring list of nominees seems to reflect a growing indifference against the ceremony itself. Sure, on Sunday, like I have every year since I was eleven years old, I’ll watch the entire ceremony from beginning to end. And, like every year since I was twenty-one years old, I’ll make fun of the pompous and excessive self-congratulatory nature of the proceedings. But while in most years I have had some skin in the game, besides the two nominations afforded to the excellent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the presence of the transcendentally excellent Pina in the Best Documentary Feature category, this year I didn’t even get a sense that the Academy was awarding […]

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Reel Sex

People were up in arms Tuesday after the announcement of nominees for the 84th Annual Academy Awards. So many seem to forget that every year they are disappointed with the nominees and every year there is some film or performer who was left off or included on the prestigious list. I may have spent the final weeks of 2011 lamenting my utter ennui with last year’s films, but I never in a million years expected some of the Oscar outcomes. No Supporting Actor nomination for Albert Brooks, whose performance in Drive unnerved audiences to the core? Or the blatant disregard for solid documentary filmmaking in The Interrupters, Buck, or Project Nim, three entries into filmmaking that will forever impact the way we view the world around us? No, the Academy seemed to forget the impressive and daring offerings in favor of an adorable dog in a silent film. What is this, 1920? Last I checked The Jazz Singer pushed us into the land of the talkies. I could spend all day gnawing my tongue over which films shouldn’t have been included in this year’s awards recognition, but just like arguing the virtues and evils of the MPAA, our time is better used talking about some of the sexy pieces of work that the Academy felt were too provocative to include (for reasons I have completely made up in my mind. Hey, they have their prerogative, I have mine.). Going along with the Academy’s new voodoo math rules of deciding the […]

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This Week in Blu-ray

Hey look, it’s an edition of This Week in Blu-ray. We’d bet you didn’t see that coming, did you? Anyway, it’s back to the grind with plenty of great new Blu-ray releases to talk about. Everything from one of the best shows on television to Brad Pitt revolutionizing the game of baseball to a few releases from previous weeks that we’re sad to have missed. This includes, of course, a release from last week that has us developing a severe case of mysophobia. Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season It has taken HBO something like forever to get their premiere drama out on Blu-ray and DVD, but the story of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and his power struggles at the top of 1920s Atlantic City is more than worth the wait. From an all-star cast led by Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Michael Shannon and Kelly McDonald (alongside Paz de la Huerta’s naked body), Boardwalk is one show that does not fail to keep its audience glued from episode to episode. Which makes it the perfect title for a Blu-ray purchase, as you’ll want to keep watching until you hit the end. And with its beautiful menus, well-designed and sturdy packaging and decent assortment of extras, the Blu-ray set feels right at home in the stylish world of Nucky and friends. It’s the collector’s item that you’ll want to have on your shelf for years to come.

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Drinking Games

January doesn’t just mean it’s time for colder days and snowfall that makes traffic a mess. January also means that cold and flu season is fully upon us. And what better movie to watch during cold and flu season than Steven Soderbergh’s thriller about a killer virus that threatens to wipe out a significant portion of the world’s population. Watching Contagion on Blu-ray or DVD gives you a sense of security because you won’t be terrified every time someone in the movie theater coughs. And that sense of security can be helped by knocking back a few beers or glasses of wine while watching the movie. Just get your flu shot first.

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This Week in DVD

Welcome to 2012 and the last year of your life! That’s not me threatening you by the way, it’s the Mayans. And who better to predict the end of civilization than a culture that’s long since gone extinct. This week’s DVD releases are filled with other things looking to kill you including Contagion, Shark Night, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and a really well put together woman named Frankenhooker. As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. The Guard A smuggling ring in a small Irish seaside town draws the attention of an FBI agent (Don Cheadle), and he’s forced to team up with a local cop (Brendan Gleeson) of dubious morality if he hopes to crack the case. John Michael McDonagh’s wonderfully foul and often witty black comedy offers a great pairing with Gleeson and Cheadle playing off of each other to perfection. Gleeson in particular shines as a rude, sarcastic and possibly racist hick who may be a better comedian than police officer. This one gets compared to the superior In Bruges for a few different reasons, but it stands quite strong on its own.

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The Best Movie Trailers of 2011

They say it’s hard to judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to world of cinema and movie marketing (and the plethora of films that hit theaters each weekend), it’s hard not to use a film’s three-minute long trailer to judge whether or not it will be something you’ll be interested in seeing (and with movie prices on the up and up, it’s hard to go in blind these days). The illustrious Jack Giroux and Allison Loring rounded up the top 11 trailers released over the past year. They’re both for films that came out in 2011 and either lived up to or fell short of their promise and for films due to be released next year that have begun teasing us early. Plus a few honorable mentions because Jack and I aren’t super great at math (we’re writers, and I’m pretty sure you can only be good at one or the other). From horror to action to comedy (and much discussion about the merits of underwear – you’ll see), our picks spanned the genres proving that it does not matter what type of film you are promoting, just whether or not you are able to grab people’s attention. Listed in no particular order, let us know in the comments if you agree, disagree or if there was a trailer you loved that we missed on our list.

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As we all sit here at Reject HQ, gathered around an absurdly long, but incredibly imposing, table discussing what to do with the nuclear missiles we just “creatively appropriated” from a breakaway Russian republic, it occurs to us that 2011 was a great year to be bad. For every boring, dopey, goody-good hero that popped up on the silver screen, there was a brilliant, super cool, woefully misunderstood villain doing everything he/she/it could to thwart the zero hero at every turn. So when Supreme Commander #1, better known to the world (and those pesky Avengers so they’ll stop blasting our lair) as Neil Miller, issued an official order (delivered by a specially-trained, fire-breathing, gun-toting alligator who lives in the moat) to construct a supersonic death ray…that assignment went to Kate “Femme Fatale” Erbland. But then I got asked to do this list of the 20 Best Villains of 2011, a decided promotion from my usual position as sinister cocktail-fetcher and cleaner of the diabolical gutters.

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2011 gave us a lot of great music (as I rounded up here), but there was one composer who stood out from the pack with his distinctive scores (two of which made my year-end list) for films that ranged from a backseat law practice (The Lincoln Lawyer) to a viral epidemic (Contagion) to a near silent stunt driver by day, getaway driver by night (Drive). Three very different films with three distinct scores, all from the same composer – Cliff Martinez. Martinez has garnered the most attention and praise for his score for Drive, but he also created impressive (and memorable) music for The Lincoln Lawyer and Contagion. The Lincoln Lawyer may not have been the biggest hit at the box office, but it was a decent film and it stood out in my mind more than I thought it would, thanks to its music. The same was the case with Contagion, a film I enjoyed well enough, but kept thinking back on thanks to its score. When I looked into who was behind these scores it was no surprise when I came to find Martinez behind the conductor’s baton for both.

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Year in Review: The Best Scores and Soundtracks of 2011

It has been quite the year in film, but even more so when it came to the music in those films. We got scores that pushed the envelope, soundtracks that were full of nostalgia and orchestration that could easily fit in to the 1930s. It was an eclectic year that introduced us to new talent while also reestablishing the music from existing ones. Normally when the year comes to close, I look back on the various soundtracks and scores from the films that came out and I can easily hone in on a handful that most stood out to me. 2011 was not that kind of year. With even more artists becoming composers (The Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx), impressive composers coming to the forefront (Cliff Martinez with his scores for The Lincoln Lawyer, Contagion and Drive, two of which made this list) and childhood favorites back on the big screen (The Muppets and Winnie the Pooh), there was a huge pool of talent and good music to choose from. And although it makes my task of rounding up the top picks more difficult, it also means films are getting filled with more and more good music – a trend I hope (and expect) will continue in 2012. But on to this year’s picks!

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Culture Warrior

The month of September is typically regarded as one of the least exciting and least eventful in the calendar year. It’s something of an interval month, a strange in-between phase sandwiched in the middle of summer Hollywood blockbusters and the “quality” flicks and holiday programming of the fall. In strictly monetary terms, it’s the most underperforming month of the year, and has even been beaten by the desolate burial ground that is January in terms of event-style opening weekends. But this may ultimately be a good thing. In fact, if future Septembers continue to exhibit the same patterns as this month, the time of the year in which schools go back in session and you can no longer wear all-white may prove to be one of the most interesting and exciting months on the wide-release calendar.

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The Reject Report

I may have spoken a little too soon about the Circle of Life in this week’s Reject Report. The Circle of Life isn’t complete until a 17-year-old film, The Lion King in this case, gets re-released in 3D on over 2,300 screens and subsequently takes the box office by storm. That’s right. More than 17 years after its initial run, which pulled in $825.7m worldwide, The Lion King has Hakuna Matata’ed in the #1 spot yet again. It didn’t match the $34.2m opening weekend numbers it made the first weekend of July in 1994, but it came reasonably close. Close enough to let Disney as well as anyone who even had an inkling of an idea to re-release an older film in 3D know that that might be the way to go. Just five weekend ago article were being written about the possible demise of 3D. With films like Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night not living up to expectations, it seemed the novelty of seeing films that literally come at you may have been at its frayed end. Of course, you can’t give 3D all the credit for The Lion King stacking up against the competition. The film is a classic, regarded by many as one of Disney’s best, and the children of 1994 who fell in the love with the film are now taking their own kids to watch it. Even without the 3D element it’s a formula for success, one made even more potent with the added […]

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The Reject Report

I thought about opening this Reject Report with a play on the lyrics to “Circle of the Life.” A certain Disney classic is getting its re-release in 3-D this weekend, and you know how we love playing around with lyrics here at the Reject Report. But then we witnessed Ryan Gosling wearing leather driving gloves. Never mind the white bomber jacket complete with scorpion embroidered on the back. Those gloves are what we focused on. Then, after about 45 minutes of staring, we remembered we have a job to do. There’s box office analyses that need to be…um…analyzed, and four new wide releases to split the box office dollars between them. Two R-rated thrillers, that Disney classic that’s getting a re-release on over 2300 screens, and a rom-com starring Sarah Jessica Parker. Over/under on how many words I give that movie.

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Culture Warrior

For the past few weeks, cinephiles, journalists, and critics have been grappling with the notion of what ‘post-9/11 cinema’ is, has been, will be, and/or looks like. What they’ve come up with are a group of wildly different, potentially specious, but ultimately quite fascinating explorations on the relationship between art, commerce, and life – and by ‘life’ I mean, in this case, that rare type of event whose effect takes on an enduringly profound, universally personal, omnipresent ripple. The overwhelming conclusion that most of these observations end with is, rather appropriately and naturally, “I don’t know, but here are some thoughts.” Besides those works of audiovisual media that were directly inspired by, intentionally referenced, or somehow directly related to 9/11, it’s difficult to say exactly what a post-9/11 film is unless one allows for literally every film made afterward to potentially enter such a category. But perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong question.

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The Reject Report

America had a fever…and the only cure…was more fever. Not cowbell this time. Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion hit audience wallets hard this weekend bringing the director his biggest opening outside of films starring Julia Roberts. Maybe there is something to that American darling. Contagion was pretty well on par with analysis, knocked The Help off of its three-week pedestal, and ended up taking the #1 spot with a feverish vengeance. Okay, enough quips about sickness. Well maybe one or two more. As far as disaster movies go, the $60m star-studded film was pretty middle of the road, fitting in as far as opening weekends go between Poseidon‘s $22.1m and Knowing‘s $24.6m. Of course, looking at that reported budget, you can tell the film will be just fine in the long run. Most of the disaster films that have much bigger openings are Summer blockbusters, most of them involving some sort of alien being blowing up national monuments. But Soderbergh proved that even with a whimper you can create an effective end-of-the-world scenario and still rake in some decent cash.

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This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr heads into the MMA ring to battle Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, after being trained by a strung-out Nick Nolte who looks like he’s ready to have an aneurysm at any moment. Then he is sent into a bird flu panic when someone coughs on him at the airport. Not wanting to suffer the same fate as Gwenyth Paltrow, he takes a road trip down to the Louisiana bayou where he runs into a hillbilly redneck alligator mutant. But at least he didn’t have to see Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star.

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When a young executive (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a business trip to China, she returns with a bad cough and even worse headaches. Not long after, her young son appears to exhibit the same symptoms. Before her husband, the boy’s step-father played by Matt Damon, can even whip up a bowl of chicken soup, the boy and his mother are dead. The doctors are baffled by the mysterious disease, and soon more cases turn up around the world and scores of people begin dying. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as The World Health Organization work to their furthest limitations trying to identify the disease, track its spread, and develop a cure. In many ways, this film is the essence of drama – an examination of what it is that connects people. The word contagion by its definition is the communication, or sharing, of a disease, and Contagion connects us through the most ubiquitous objects in our daily lives. Director Steven Soderbergh lingers on shots of coffee cups, subway handrails, and doorknobs; silently inviting us to ponder on all previous users. This device is microcosmic of his larger mission: to illustrate how a singular event can connect people of divergent backgrounds, nationalities, cultures, and personalities. This is nothing new for Soderbergh, as he used the flow of narcotics into the U.S. to create connections between very different people in Traffic. He also examines how bureaucracy and the media would factor into a global catastrophe just as much […]

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What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly thing that you read. You know it, I know it, and little Baby Jesus knows it. We begin tonight with one of 70 new images from Contagion, Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming viral thriller. Early buzz insists that it’s not only good, but that it will make you want to wash your hands. As if you needed another reason — germs are everywhere, I tell you. Everywhere!

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A box just landed on my doorstep, and as the UPS man drove away, I opened it up to find a device that gets rid of germs on cell phones using some sort of UV light. Why would a marketing department send me that? Because inside was a USB drive containing the first trailer for Contagion – the forthcoming viral outbreak thriller from Steven Soderbergh. What better way to kick everything off? Plus, the trailer is gripping. Matt Damon brings the intensity, Laurence Fishburne brings the expertise, the rest of the cast (including Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law) bring anxiety, but behind every single performance is a major element of fear. Holy hell, this looks great:

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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