Contagion

The Black Death at jet speed. This movie has a lot of big name actors, which is good because the screenwriters didn’t spend any time on character arcs. We get star personas instead of characters (except for Jennifer Ehle, who actually creates a character out of nothing and steals the picture).  In the absence of the usual hokey stories, the movie plays more like a documentary than a disaster film. The science seems real (and the scientific advisers seem pleased to have their names associated with the film, not always the case in the past). Details of social breakdown (first responders who don’t respond, mass burials, a newfound interest in personal guns) seem all too real, perhaps even understated. Attention Republicans — the government, scientists and the UN  are portrayed as heroes.  Journalists — not so much.

In the past few years, we have had epidemics of illnesses that were highly contagious but not virulent (H1N1), or virulent but not highly contagious (SARS) In the 1990s, there was an outbreak of a new flu virus that was both highly contagious and virulent, but which was contained in a relatively unpopulated area (rural Malaysia). We’re not going to be that lucky forever.

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Queen To Play

A young French cleaning woman suddenly decides she wants to learn chess.  One of her clients, an eccentric American widower (Kevin Kline, speaking passable French), obliges.  \It turns out she is pretty good, although she has a hard time convincing the local chess intelligentsia of that fact. This being a French movie, s*xual attraction enters the picture. On the other hand, this being a French movie, things don’t progress the way you expect them to. This movie isn’t really about chess, any more than Billy Eliott was about dancing. It’s a metaphor for a woman who discovers, in midlife, what she is really capable of. The Corsican scenery isn’t bad either.

Beyond Silence

A French-German co-production about a young girl, child of deaf parents, who suddenly discovers a love for music. This causes a major problem with her father, the child of a musical family who basically discarded him because he couldn’t hear.  If nothing else, this movie will make you appreciate America’s relatively enlightened attitudes towards the handicapped. But the movie has a lot to say about the interactions between parents and children. We all wish that our children will have better lives than we did, and will be able to do more than we can. But what happens when they actually do?

This film features Howie Seago whom many of us have seen on stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

To Be or Not To Be

It’s often said that there are no successful comedies about WWII, but this one, made in 1942, comes closest.  Jack Benny (!) and Carole Lombard play Shakespearean actors in occupied Warsaw, outfoxing stupid (but still dangerous) Nazis in a serious of ever-more-ridiculous deceptions.  The rendition of Shylock’s speech by a Jewish actor who suddenly appears in a crowd of Nazis is as affecting as it is unexpected.  Robert Stack, impossibly young and implausibly blond, appears as a young Polish aviator.  Despite the comedy, the movie has an undeniable poignancy, since we know (as the film-makers did not) that the Allies’ promises to the Polish government-in-exile were not to be honored.

Flame and Citron

A contemporary Danish film about two young Danes involved in the Resistance during WWII.  The young men just want to kill Nazis, and those who collaborate with them.  They wonder why their Resistance bosses keep selecting relatively minor figures as targets, allowing the really evil ones to continue unmolested.  The moviemakers have their views about the myth of the “heroic Resistance.”  But the young men, who never waver from what they regard as the moral imperative of their mission, are all the more heroic for persevering even when it becomes clear that some of the people supposedly on their side have far more dubious motives.