Virus spreads; dark beckons
Infection dejection: Matt Damon stars with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law in Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion.”
Updated: January 9, 2012 6:06PM
NEW THIS WEEK
★ ★ ★
Rated: PG-13 for disturbing content and some language
Stars: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow
Director Steven Soderbergh’s (the “Ocean’s 11” trilogy) cool, competent and surprisingly calm bio-thriller argues for the best side of humanity (self-sacrifice, dedication, generosity) while occasionally milking the worst (rioting, looting, trampling) to keep things hopping. A cheating wife/globe-trotting executive (Paltrow) gets paid back big-time for her infidelity when she contracts a bat-transmitted killer virus in Hong Kong and brings it back stateside. The resulting epidemic spares her husband (Damon) but looks likely to wipe out up to 70 million people around the world unless the Centers for Disease Control (represented by near-saintly Laurence Fishburne, Winslet and Jennifer Ehle) can whip up a vaccine in record time. Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Burns (who also wrote “The Informant!” for him) keep the grim plot developments scooting along almost as rapidly as the virus multiplies, while generally resisting the urge to get exploitational (aside from a few shockers including the death of a child and one of the stars being autopsied). Even so, you may find it hard for a while to say no to hand sanitizer.
DON’T BE AFRAID
OF THE DARK
★ ★ ★ 1/2
Rated: R for violence and terror
Stars: Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison
Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) only produced this remake of a 1973 TV movie that terrified him as a child, but “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” shows his artful influence in every frame. Preoccupied divorced dad/architect Pearce is remodeling a mysterious old mansion where a famous artist and his young son disappeared long ago, when his unhappy young daughter (Madison) arrives for a stay and attracts the attention of the small, scampering, child-eating monkey imps in the basement. The horrific opening scene of “Don’t Be Afraid” is graphically violent, but for the most part, del Toro and comic-book-artist-turned-director Troy Nixey rely on dark, brooding atmosphere (stirred by an always anxiously restless moving camera) to unnerve the audience — punctuated by a couple of joltingly effective peekaboo shocks.
★ ★ 1/2
Rated: PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and for brief language
Stars: John Cusack, Jeremy Piven, Kate Beckinsale
John Cusack sleepwalks through his role as a New York filmmaker who meets the one, true, predestined love of his life (Beckinsale) while shopping for gloves at Bloomingdale’s, then loses her because she insists on parting without exchanging names. If they’re meant to be together, she reasons, the universe will bring them together again. Ten years down the line, both are about to marry perfectly nice, but non-fated, partners — who stand a good chance of being tossed aside like, well, like an old pair of gloves. Extras include commentary by director Peter Chelsom, a production diary and storyboard comparisons.
PRESENTS: SEASON FIVE
This five-disc collection of the Hitchcock-hosted mystery/thriller TV series features all 38 episodes of 1959-60 season, featuring performers such as Steve McQueen, Peter Lorre, Walter Matthau, Dick Van Dyke, William Shatner and Burt Reynolds.
AN IDIOT ABROAD
“The Office” and “Extras” co-creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant concocted this BBC series that sends their friend Karl Pilkington around the world, supposedly to experience the “Seven Wonders,” but in fact to put him in the path of every imaginable travel horror. Extras include deleted scenes and photo gallery.
This Emmy-winning HBO mini-series adaptation of the 1941 novel by James M. Cain details the efforts of a Depression-era single mother (Kate Winslet) to raise her unappreciative daughter. Extras include commentary by director Todd Haynes (“Far from Heaven”) and a menu-based index of each of the five episodes.
A weekend getaway for seven vacationers at a Louisiana Gulf Coast vacation home turns into a nightmare when aquatic carnivores join the party. David R. Ellis (“Snakes on a Plane”) directed the thriller. Rated PG-13 for violence and terror, disturbing images, sexual references, partial nudity, language and thematic material.
The roaring ’20s and the rumpled ’70s are up for grabs next week with HBO’s first-season collection of “Boardwalk Empire,” starring Steve Buscemi as Atlantic City boss Nucky Thompson, and Universal’s “Columbo: Mystery Movie Collection,” featuring Peter Falk in seven TV movies about the brilliant but utterly non-disco detective Columbo.