Tag Archives: Matt Damon

Contagion Is Catching – A.K.A. Matt Damon Does Nothing

This movie just wasn't that sick.

It was spreading, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. For some mad reason, all the critics were praising Contagion. More and more people went to the film, and it infected each of them in turn. People with perfectly rational views of cinema were gone in a matter of days, replaced by a new crowd of bandwagoning zombies.

And I was not immune. Drawn by the allure and mystery of a movie that looked like an even worse version of The Core (“They don’t have to weaponize the bird flu. The birds are already doing that!” one character claims in the trailer, the epitome of absurd fear mongering), I found myself suddenly at the movie theater with no recollection of how I’d gotten there. I looked down, and in my hand was a ticket. As a firm believer in the power of sunk costs, I headed in and proceeded to watch no characters do anything. Ever.

Contagion opens with a dialogue-free sequence of people all around the world getting sick. The screen flashes with the name of the city and its population, and you’re immediately afraid. “Oh shit! That’s a big number!” is generally what I thought to myself throughout this, and it’s actually really frightening—all these close-ups of people coughing and then touching surfaces, then eventually dying. Unfortunately, the movie was far from able to maintain that sort of momentum.

I call it the Contagion Effect—it had so much potential!

Do it yourself! Hey kids, here’s something you can try at home! Think of something that had a lot of great potential but then just fizzled out—your idea for a flying car, for example, or that cute girl before she hit puberty, or your parents’ relationship. Great! Now say “Yeah, that really succumbed to the Contagion Effect.” There. You’ve done it! To get even more out of this, go look up the word succumbed.

The movie manages to remain enthralling for about half an hour, but then you realize that it’s not so much a film as it is a newscast of what it would be like should such an outbreak occur—news reports and scientists going over data, but nothing remotely like a movie. None of the characters gets into any dire situations, and none of them ever takes any real action.

In this thrilling scene, we get a long explanation of science!

While the movie boasts a huge ensemble cast, the main character is the disease itself. None of the other players gets enough screen time for you to develop any emotional attachment. The closest we come to this is Matt Damon, and, boy, was I dying for him to become a badass! He starts out as this regular dad whose wife is the first known case of the virus, and we find out his wife’s cheating on him in the first scene, so we as viewers would be okay if he ended up with a new love interest. When it turns out he’s immune, he is the key to saving the world. Scratch that. Nobody gives a shit. But then, when the entire city goes into lockdown and riots start to take over, when food becomes scarce and people turn on each other, Matt Damon must do everything he can to protect his daughter, the last person on earth he cares about, and there’s no telling whether she’s immune. Scratch that. Although the movie gives him every opportunity, he never does a damn thing!

Nobody does. They just sort of live their lives, or, if they get sick, they die. That’s it. The only person who does anything at all is the scientist who finds the cure, and do you know what she did? Well, she found the cure. Man, that’s some serious excitement there—all those shots of her doing research in the lab, doing some testing, and then, that’s right folks, she finds the cure.

Here's some characters holding a thrilling press conference.

For all that, the movie was still relatively compelling, and I’ve figured out why: It’s not because it’s a good movie; it’s because we can relate to this issue. This is a scenario that’s so feasible that we’re all scared of it, whether or not we’ve given it any conscious thought. Even without any compelling characters or plot or drama or anything, the sheer numbers and scope are horrifying, and I never want to touch any surface again.

I recommend doing what the characters do: Stay inside and avoid this like the plague, or maybe more like swine flu—I mean, it’s not that bad.



I wouldn’t have been nearly as afraid if the music hadn’t punctuated every mention of the virus spreading, every scene of death, and every close-up of a surface, so good work Cliff Martinez.

For those of you who’ve seen the movie, what about those unresolved plotlines? The way that one girl who gets kidnapped just sort of walks away toward the end, never to be heard from again? Or the bitchy lady who keep thinking of money instead of saving lives, and after a while she just stops showing up, no comeuppance delivered? Just another reason it didn’t feel like a movie.

Written by Russ Nickel


Filed under Review

The Adjustment Bureau – Angels, Doors, and Boredom

(Warning: The following may and does contain SPOILERS)

Have I sinned? Is it thanks to some flaw in my character that I was led to The Adjustment Bureau? Or did sitting through the movie simply cause the fewest ripples? I tried to avoid it; I did—but every conflicting event was canceled, every excuse invalidated. I didn’t have a ride, then someone offered to drive. I was too hungry, then a stranger handed me a burrito. I had to finish building a machine that could drill to the center of the earth so I could set off some nuclear bombs and restart the spinning of earth’s core, then I realized that didn’t make any scientific sense! After so many small miracles, I knew I couldn’t avoid my fate any longer. I had to go the movies.

It wasn’t an altogether pleasant experience. The car seat had left a sticky residue on my pants, the burrito was vegetarian, and I kept worrying that the world was about to end, but worst of all was this persistent feeling that I’d been tricked. Twice in the last month I’ve ended up watching romance movies. And I never watch romance movies by accident. Because if I do, I don’t remember to bring tissues for my tears, and my face just ends up a total mess. I Am Number Four looked like an epic superhero movie, so I went, only to find myself stranded on a small island of CG in an ocean of emotion. The Adjustment Bureau was no better. What looked like a supernatural thriller starring Jason Bourne was nothing more than a tale of bittersweet love covered in a deceptively crunchy shell of conspiratorial candy coating.

I suppose bittersweet isn’t all bad, though—useful for baking. Anyway, Matt Damon stars as David Norris, an up-and-coming politician with a pretty face and a promising future. He loses an election and is on the verge of also losing hope when he runs into Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) in the bathroom. It’s love at first sight. Her carefree attitude inspires him to give a heartfelt speech that wins over the public. By chance, he later runs into her on a bus, and things are looking great. The only problem is, he was never supposed to see her again.

The Adjustment Bureau knew David needed a nudge in the right direction so he wouldn’t give up, and they chose to use Elise, but they weren’t meant to be together. That goes against the Bureau’s plan, and it’s up to the agents to make sure everything goes according to plan. That’s right. There’s a secret world of agents running around the world mapping out our lives for us. The plan is God’s work, and these guys in suits are angels, and, you guessed it, there’s no such thing as free will. But love conquers everything, even God, so David sets out to prove he has free will, overcome the administrative powers of the seraphim, and tell God to suck one.

The setup is full of fate vs. free will potential, with plenty of room for conspiracy and action, but that setup is all it is. The movie never really delivers, choosing instead to spend lots of time on the love story and long-winded explanations of the workings of the Bureau. Nothing particularly exciting ever happens, save for one scene of David running from the agents. Plus there’s a bunch of arbitrary rules tossed in that reek heavily of plot device and rip you out of the flow of the film. Angels wear hats that allow them to make doors lead to distant locations. Hats?! Oh, and certain doors connect to specific other doors, so the angels have to spend a lot of time memorizing the “substreets.” This leads to the comedic line “I hate downtown.” Yeah, it gets a laugh, but really it’s just pointing out the absurdity of these arbitrary plot conventions. Turn a doorknob right and you jump to the next place. Turn it left and you meet God. And for some reason, angels are weak to water.

The Bureau’s limitations are silly, but so are their conventions. Each agent is only allowed to make so many minor changes, because after that, the effects, or “ripples” become too great, but we see one angel cause series after series of car accidents. If we start to imagine the butterfly effect, even the smallest change will have huge repercussions, and something like a car crash is really gonna fuck someone’s day. I mean, imagine. You’re driving to work, then boom! Angel messes you up with his magic. Suddenly you’re in the hospital and your wife has to leave work to come meet you. Her friend has to take over her shift, meaning she can’t go out on her blind date. It falls through and she ends up with some low-life and they give birth to Hitler 2.

Ok. Ok. People have told me that I tend to read way too heavily into the science fiction behind these love stories (read: The Lake House—basically time-travel vomit), so I think maybe I’m being a little harsh and I try to keep an open mind. I’m sitting back, trying to enjoy myself, when out of nowhere the movie tells me that the characters aren’t really in love anyway. They slap you right in the face with it. The agents explain that the only reason David and Elise love each other is because they were supposed to end up together in an earlier version of the plan! Suddenly the film isn’t about love conquering everything or even free will vs. predestination. It’s about David accidentally stumbling onto an outdated version of his fate because the agents made a mistake. It completely eviscerates the entire romance. And it’s not even revealed as a twist; it’s just mentioned in passing like it’s no big deal, but I mean, what am I supposed to be rooting for? For the beta version of the plan to win? For David to literally reach God and beat the crap out of him? Actually, that would be pretty sweet. Could be some hardcore, supernatural action sequence.

Oh well. I suppose it’s not my place to question God’s plan, for as we all know, the best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew, and leave us nothing but grief and pain. But you know whose plan I can question? The screenwriters, because this movie could use some serious adjustment.

Score: 2.5/5¢


Written by Russ Nickel

Leave a comment

Filed under Review

True Grit – Cowboys Acting Serious

I never rightly expected True Grit to send me a trampin’ through the wilderness on a journey o’ my own, pittin’ me against man and nature, but when I found m’self parked at the wrong movie theater, my life transformed into a most dire adventure. I’d already paid the meter 45 cents; if I reparked now, those coins would’ve given of themselves fer nothin’. I stood, perplexed, until my cousin said he knew the where’bouts of the other theater. We put aside our differences, he one o’ them proud college types, me a lowly alcoholic, and set out together, our common goal keepin’ our travel civil.

We sprinted through them streets, never heedin’ the warnings o’ the people we flew past. We ran and we ran, like we was on the dodge, all the while knowin’ we was never gonna make it, but then, suddenly, the theater came into view, and what a sight it was. We raced down the stairs, and before we knew it, we was inside. But I still had to acquire m’self some sustenance. I didn’t have time for decisions, so I told the girl behind the counter, “Get me some popcorn, lady. Whichever size is best.” She seemed miffed and did not act until I specified. Once I did, she moved ponderous slow and would not hand over the bag until I done tell her whether I wanted butter. I said I was watchin’ my figure, so no thank you ma’am, but my cousin, see, he wanted just a bit, so he asks for it. She musta been right spiteful, because she poured on more butter than I ever did see and handed it over with a glare in her eye.

Our old-west style journey finally over, my cousin and I settled into our seats, sitting right next to a young couple and thus unintentionally ruining their chances of making out the whole time.

In my opinion, True Grit received way too much acclaim. Its award-worthy acting and snappy, well-written dialogue were the stuff of Best Pictures, and critics and average moviegoers were drawn to this, forgetting that there’s more to movies than just acting and dialogue. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much more to this movie. Where was the plot? Where was the character development? Where was the emotion?

The plot was slow and predictable. True Grit is basically just a buddy cop movie augmented with a precocious little girl. In order to fit the Hollywood standard, the girl is required to succeed, the two buddies must have flaws that are counterpoints to each others, and the main characters must have a falling out, only to put aside their differences right before the climax. True Grit follows this plotline exactly, but the Coen brothers try to hide that fact behind high production values and a not 100% happy ending. By making the girl lose an arm, the brothers hope to shift this movie from trope to trophy.

Because the plot was so obvious, I never once feared for the characters, and if you’re never afraid of what might happen, there’s no emotional tension. You end up with a movie that’s logically good but emotionally uninspired. Sure, the little girl was smart for her age and very determined, but they spent like an hour building up that character. How many times do I have to watch her barter? She starts off precocious, and she ends precocious. By the time the closing credits rolled around, the only thing she’d learned was how to function with one less arm.

Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) is a totally wasted character. Get it? But seriously, he had so much potential. He’s this badass marshal who’s seen better days and now pisses away all his money on booze. Jeff Bridges plays him so well, but he just doesn’t have enough to work with. He could have started out down in the dumps, been inspired by this girl, lost his newfound faith, and then come through in the end. That’s basically what happens, except that they never sell you on his character arc. You can from tell the beginning that he’s still just as hardcore as ever. You never truly believe that he’s given up, and when he finally saves the day it’s just not surprising.

Maybe it’s a little more realistic this way, but it’s like the Coen brothers decided the only way to achieve realism was to sacrifice character and plot. Nothing interesting happens until well into the film when Cogburn and the girl come upon a cabin and kill some shady characters. Sure, it might be realistic for nothing to happen, but we don’t go to the theater for nothing; we go for a good story. Also in the name of realism, the main villain is painted as a sort of normal guy. Well that’s great, except I don’t care about watching Mattie Ross track down someone normal. I want higher stakes!

True Grit had high production values, great acting, wonderful dialogue, and a good sense of the Old West. What it did not have was an interesting plot, good character arcs, high stakes, or any semblance of emotional connection. Because the things that made it good are usually lauded by critics and people who think too highly of themselves, this movie has received largely positive reviews, but in my opinion, it simply wasn’t entertaining. And art, be it good or bad, serious or light-hearted, meaningful or shallow, must do one thing, and that is entertain. I was teetering on the edge of boredom throughout, and therefore, I give True Grit:


Alignment: Standard Gold

I know this is a nitpick, but why did that guy cut off his partner’s fingers before immediately stabbing him in the chest? That’s just unnecessary!

Written by Russ Nickel

Leave a comment

Filed under Review