CONTAGION is One of the Scariest Movies Ever Made.

Sometimes the scariest movies are the ones that feel the most real. That is the case with the 2011 film from Steven Soderbergh, Contagion. As we speak, the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disease is making its way into more and more populations, infecting thousands of individuals. Even at the time of its release, Soderbergh’s medical thriller was unnerving in its realistic portrayal of how quickly a virus can become an epidemic that can turn healthy individuals into statistics. With the Coronavirus in full swing, suspending just about all professional sports leagues imaginable, as well as delaying the release of just about every film being released theatrically in the next month, Contagion feels less like a fictional thriller and more like a documentary right now.

We start off with a black screen and the sound of someone coughing. We learn this cough belongs to Gwyneth Paltrow’s character Beth Ehmoff, who is on a business trip to Hong Kong. Once she returns home to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) in Minneapolis, she has a frightening seizure in their kitchen (which is witnessed by her young boy – yikes) and within days, she’s pronounced dead of an unknown cause. An autopsy is performed on her brain, revealing something disturbing that we don’t see (ratcheting up the dread even more) that leads one of the doctors to tell his partner to step away from the table and call everyone.

This brings the DHS and CDC into the picture. We meet CDC director Dr. Ellis Cheever played by Laurence Fishburne, who dispatches Epidemic Intelligence Officer Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minneapolis to investigate. She traces the outbreak back to Beth and while investigating, she comes across the man who had picked Beth up from the airport. He starts experiencing similar symptoms to Beth and she comes racing to his aid. Shortly thereafter, Mears becomes infected herself and eventually succumbs to the virus. This is the movie reminding the audience that nobody is safe. Medical experts may know the most out of everyone in the room about the key to wellness, but they aren’t out of the woods.

As the film goes on, we see the widespread panic begin to escalate. Conspiracy theorist Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) uses his blog to claim that he has cured himself from the virus through a homeopathic cure derived from forsythia. As a result, pharmacies become raided by the panicked many that are seeking forsythia. In a key scene, Cheever chastises Krumwiede on live television for creating fear through means of rumors, basically stating the fake news he is spreading is far more dangerous than the disease itself. And might I remind you that this movie came out back in 2011?

Though we eventually arrive at the cure in the movie, it isn’t the (somewhat) optimistic ending that imprinted itself on my mental state once the film concluded. It was the the film’s sheer authenticity in its depiction of a frighteningly similar epidemic that is currently in the air. It was the unshakably chilling final scene that pulls back the curtain, revealing the virus’ source and through montage, how it found its way to its patient zero, Beth. How man’s carelessness, even those like her immune husband, who heedlessly rests his hand over his mouth while watching television, is scarier than anything.

Please See BIRDS OF PREY.

Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was one of the lone bright spots of Suicide Squad, a movie with so much potential, but sadly ended up being a dumpster fire, despite making bank at the box office. Seeing how Robbie was practically born to play Harley, DC and Warner Bros opted to bring the character back (other Suicide Squad members weren’t as fortunate) by giving her her own starring film. That starring film would be the long-winded title Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), which would double as both a Harley Quinn movie, as well as a vehicle to bring DC’s team of female antiheroes, the Birds of Prey, together on the big screen for the first time.

In Birds of Prey (we’ll just refer to it as that from here), Harley Quinn is dealing with her puddin’ “Mr. J” (Jared Leto’s Joker from Suicide Squad) dumping her. Her means of recovery is adopting a hyena which she names after Bruce Wayne, taking up roller derby and blowing up Ace Chemicals, the locale where she pledged herself to Joker by ditching her Harleen Quinzel persona and becoming Harley Quinn. This draws the attention of detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), who is on the hunt for someone that is murdering mobsters via a crossbow. Meanwhile in Gotham City, crime lord Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) sends his chauffeur Dinah Lance, who calls herself Black Canary (Jurnee Smollet-Bell) and deranged henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) after a young girl named Cassandra Cain, who has stolen a diamond from him. In other words, it’s a normal day in Gotham.

It gives me great delight (and relief) to say that Birds of Prey, unlike Suicide Squad, is not a disappointment. Directed by Cathy Yan (Dirty Pigs), Birds of Prey is first and foremost a Harley Quinn movie. The entire movie is told from her point-of-view. Harley catches the audience up on what has happened since we last saw her and walks us through the wild goose chase she eventually becomes involved in.

It isn’t until the final act when Birds of Prey really becomes, well, a Birds of Prey movie though. At this point of the film, Harley finds herself in a predicament and must become unlikely allies with Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary and Renee Montoya in order to take down their common enemy, Roman. If you were looking forward to a Birds of Prey movie, you may be disappointed that they get together so late into the film. Now, when they do get together, it’s great. There’s an action scene in an abandoned amusement park where they take on Roman and his goons that is a terrific action set piece. It’s what you wanted to see, but again, it admittedly takes a while to get to that moment (despite the movie only being 109 minutes, which is relatively “short” for comic book movie standards).

I still found the movie to be perfectly enjoyable prior to their team-up though and that of course, is thanks to Robbie, who unsurprisingly disappears into this role once again. She commands the screen by transforming into Harley Quinn. I honestly completely forgot the actress is originally from Australia, she speaks in Harley’s iconic Northeastern accent so effortlessly. Whether it’d be the comics or Batman: The Animated Series, Harley has always been an unpredictable character. And that’s part of her appeal. She’s the kind of character that’ll raid the GCPD with a grenade launcher full of smoke bombs and confetti in tow, as evidenced in probably my favorite action scene in the movie.

Speaking of the movie’s action, it comes as no surprise to learn that the John Wick team lended a hand to the film’s action sequences. The action is unflinchingly brutal and the stunt work is top-notch. You could make a legitimate case that this movie has the best action of any film in the DCEU. You could also make the case Birds of Prey is the funniest film in the DCEU. Each time one of Harley’s foes appears, they are introduced with colorful title cards that list off that foe’s grievances with her. All I’ll say is, I didn’t expect this movie to reference Bernie Sanders. It’s things like these title cards, the candy-colored color palette of the film and the soundtrack that’s basically needle drop porn that really give this movie strong personality.

I’ve never seen Ewan McGregor play a character like this before. His Roman (later to become Black Mask) is eccentric. And scary. One moment, he’ll make you chuckle by taking offense to a snot bubble, but with the snap of a finger, he’ll menacingly order someone to strip. McGregor chews up all the scenery here and is clearly having a blast getting to do something different. I also really liked Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, who is a straight-up badass. Just don’t call her weapon a bow and arrow, she takes offense to that. I feel a lot of people will come out of this movie clamoring for a Huntress solo movie. For as cool as the character is, she probably gets the least screen time of any of the Birds of Prey. We get a brief glimpse of her interesting backstory, but that’s exactly it; it’s brief. Black Canary is also a potential fan favorite, while Renee Montoya was probably the weakest link. Not to say the character was bad, but she wasn’t as interesting as the others.

I am a bit discouraged by the film’s disappointing opening weekend at the box office. I’m hopeful that word-of-mouth will be good and it’ll wind up having strong legs and be just fine. I feel part of that has to do with people being turned away by it with its Suicide Squad connections, and possibly to some (lesser) degree, the fact that it’s rated R supposed to PG-13. But trust me when I say this movie isn’t the failure that Suicide Squad was. It’s in fact, quite good. It’s enjoyable from start to finish and much like the DCEU’s more-recent efforts, has its own voice. If you’re looking for a breakup movie this Valentine’s Day, go see this. It’s directed by a woman, featuring a diverse female cast who kick ass. It deserves your money. Please, go see Birds of Prey.

I Saw CATS in the Theater.

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Why on God’s green earth would you see Cats in the theater, John? That’s a question that I’m even asking myself. Based on the popular stage musical of the same name, Cats is about a tribe of, you guessed it, cats called the “Jellicles” (a word you’ll hear in the film a triple digit number of times), who must decide each year which one of them will ascend to the “Heaviside Layer” (basically heaven) and return purified. Did I mention the felines are humans crawling around in furry suits? Because yeah, this isn’t a cartoon. And for the sake of not having nightmares tonight, I wish it was one.

Now, unless you’ve been living cat-napping under a rock for the past 3 weeks, you’ll know this film has been getting absolutely lambasted by critics. And after having spent 110 minutes of pure horror for the eyeballs and listening to monotonous musical number after monotonous musical number, I can say that this is probably the worst movie I’ve ever seen in the theater. I never in a million years would’ve paid money to see it (or to even rent it for $2 from Redbox), but thanks to my local theater chain’s subscription service, I got to see it for free. When I had my barcode scanned, I joked to the guy at the box office, “It’s a free movie, don’t judge me”, and he laughed. Even though my wallet didn’t lose any weight, I wanted a couple valuable hours of my life refunded. 

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You see, Cats was a very easy movie to hate-watch. The problem is, while some movies are salvageable in a “so-bad-that-it’s-good” sense (i.e. The Fanatic), Cats is just depressing. You have talented actors like Idris Elba, Judi Dench and Ian McKellen, as well as talented singers like Jennifer Hudson (who’ll undoubtedly redeem herself later this year with Respect), Jason Derulo and Taylor Swift pretending to be cats. They move around like cats, hiss like cats, and make cat puns (i.e. “Cat got your tongue?”, “Oh no, look what the cat dragged in!”). I could see a situation where if you were intoxicated, this would seem like the greatest motion picture ever created, but being sober as I was, this was just painful. Within the opening scene, I wanted to leave. This is a movie where I honestly don’t know if I could look at those involved the same way again. I feel embarrassed for everyone that agreed to be a part of this cat-astrophe. 

That brings us to director Tom Hooper. Yeah, the guy who directed the Best Picture-winning The King’s Speech and the fabulous Les Miserables adaptation. I believe he’s a talented director (despite his prior effort The Danish Girl being hot garbage), but this one wasn’t it. This movie will always be on his filmography and that’ll be impossible to shake. I guess you could say the set design and choreography are good enough, but how am I supposed to appreciate those aspects when you have a musical number featuring tiny cockroach people? Then there’s Rebel Wilson, who, for the umpteenth time, is playing herself. Her shtick hasn’t been funny since Pitch Perfect. Perhaps the one time I wasn’t in complete pain was when Idris Elba’s Macavity, the film’s villain (in the barest of plots you’ll find), was on screen. That only being because he was the one character who didn’t break into song whenever the movie called upon them to make an appearance. And he actually wore clothes. But towards the end of the film, Macavity has a number where he’s stripped of all clothing, so there went that. I’m gonna wrap up this review now, as I feel the urge to go to church after spending a couple hours in hell.