Roger Ebert grades on the curve, and by genre, which can sometimes surprise the novice reader, perhaps when flashy trash like “Point Break” gets three and a half stars. (The fact that movie was released in 1991 and I still remember its star rating should tell you something about how personally I take shit like this.) He’s been tough on Steven Soderbergh, like a parent disappointed that a child is not working up to his potential. One of my fondest movie memories was the year we got eight inches of snow on Christmas eve, scuttling our holiday driving plans, and leaving me to snuggle under Kate’s brand-new sleeping bag on the couch and watch “Ocean’s 11″ on HBO, which I enjoyed immensely as a perfect little soap bubble of a summer movie. Ebert gave it three stars, and this dismissal: “I enjoyed it. It didn’t shake me up and I wasn’t much involved, but I liked it as a five-finger exercise. Now it’s time for Soderbergh to get back to work.”
He was similarly sort of meh about “Contagion,” which Kate and I saw last weekend and I loved. I think it’s because I can no longer suspend disbelief to watch the vast majority of thrillers; I have to believe in paranormal activity, or exorcism, or that women walk into creepy dark houses in the dead of night, or that cars can jump off freeways and land in drivable condition, or explosions can be outrun, or whatever.
But “Contagion” thrills by being fictional but absolutely realistic and utterly believable, which means I was well and truly freaked out. A particularly nasty flu virus, trailing central nervous system complications, gets into one woman, who infects three continents in one night of business socializing in Asia, and things go downhill from there. Social disintegration is one of those things I sometimes think about as a large-metro-area resident, although we should all think about it. Fact: Three months before the Y2K milestone, a large water main broke in Fort Wayne, disrupting water service to a big chunk of the north side. Within hours, residents were shoving one another in grocery aisles, fighting over the bottled water. Northeast Indiana has a wide streak of homespun paranoia, but I thought that was a remarkable turn of events for a place that’s generally friendly and neighborly.
We all know what happened during Katrina. Does anybody think a killer flu wouldn’t have the same effect?
Anyway, if you liked the “Traffic” part of Soderbergh’s back catalog, you’ll like “Contagion.” Nothing like watching a scene of American corpses being shoveled into mass graves to light up an October evening. I should also note this is the second Soderbergh film in my memory to feature a blogger as the bad guy. Not the bad guy — that would give them too much credit and screen time — but as a certain type of bottom-feeding sleazebag scuttling through society’s basement. “Blogging is graffiti with punctuation,” one character tells another. Hey, I resemble that remark. But I still really liked “Contagion.”
I was rolling through town yesterday, doing this and that, listening to my local NPR station, when I heard a soundbite from the Sunday chatfests, Michele Bachmann bringing the Krazy:
“I believe that Iraq should reimburse the United States fully for the amount of money that we have spent to liberate these people,” said Rep. Bachmann in an appearance Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” …“We are there as the nation that liberated these people,” she said. “And that’s the thanks that the United States is getting? After 4,400 lives were expended and over $800 billion? And so on the way out, we are being kicked out of the country? I think this is absolutely outrageous.”
You know what I think? I think Bachmann should change her name to Andrew Dice Clay and hit the comedy circuit. Stupid, offensive, thuddingly unfunny — who would even notice the difference from the original?
“These people,” she says. There must be a formal term for that form of address — the direct accusative, perhaps. “You people” is the more common form; remember when Ross Perot got raked over that one? He was speaking to a largely black audience, and said something like, “And who pays the most when that happens? You people.” Utterly unjustified, that charge, and taken entirely out of context. If he’d said “you guys,” no one would have even noticed. I recall the incident mainly because it was the day one of my lemon-faced, right-wing colleagues made a truly funny newsroom quip about it:
“See, if he’d said, ‘People of you,’ he’d have been fine.”
OK, time to get moving on what promises to be a ridiculously busy day, but not in a bad way, if that makes any sense. How about some bloggage:
Here’s a little something for my homosexual friends. And everyone else who enjoys a good barn-dance song.
Here’s something I wrote for a local public-policy magazine. It promises to be of interest to approximately .02 percent of you — Michigan teacher contract negotiations and education funding, whoo — but click on it anyway, so they throw me another assignment.
New York magazine is looking at food television all week. In the opening installment, Adam Platt writes:
Back in the distant, quaintly mannered era of Jacques Pépin and Julia Child, cooking shows were a guilty pleasure, enjoyed by a handful of high-minded home cooks and the occasional obsessive, fatso schoolboy (like me). But in the last fifteen years, that equation has dramatically flipped. It’s the non-cooks now who tune in to see Emeril Lagasse’s latest recipe, then rush out by the millions to purchase the latest signature frying pan endorsed by Bobby Flay.
Yes, I’d agree with that, because the target market for designer cookware is almost entirely non-cooks. Real cooks pick it up at their garage sales a few years later.
It’s about to rain, and I have to take out the trash. Happy Tuesday to all.