Movie Review: Contagion

In an increasingly mobile world where people and news travel fast, Contagion is a timely reflection on this brave new world. The conspiracy theorists will look to the movie for vindication while the script has a shot across the bow of everyone from the pharmaceutical conglomerate to the independent blogger. It plays on our fears and ask questions of recent events including the swine flu epidemic and a world where super bugs crawl and adapt.

Looking at the movie poster you could be forgiven for thinking we’ve ended up back in the era of the 70s movie making. Remember ‘disaster greats’ like 1974’s Towering Inferno? You look down the cast list and see Newman, Wagner, McQueen, Astaire, Dunaway and even O J Simpson! That was the feel I had for Contagion with a cast list that reads like a red carpet who’s who to includes Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Lawrence Fishburne and Kate Winslet.

Now I’ve got that little retro flashback off my chest let’s look beyond the poster and ask how the ensemble cast measured up under Steven Soderbergh’s direction. The direction of this movie is superb. While taking a ‘real world’ plot and fleshing it out to a world changing event, Soderbergh has woven the credible with the personal. The opening scenes involving Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and their child played by Griffin Kane will challenge anyone not to be connected to the plot and a possible personal outcome when in touch with a virus that infects, spreads, adapts and kills.

Steven-Soderbergh - Contagion

The pivot point of the movie is based around Paltrow’s character, a global executive who acts as courier of disaster. Her relationship with Husband Matt Damon is called into question and the links that build a chain to ground zero construct a superb script. The lines of communication between those trying to protect us from imminent annihilation and the man on the street are well drawn. Along the journey we are asked to question our own morality as we look through the eyes of everyone from the academic elite to the solo dad scared his son may die in the wake.

Many of those in the review screening will have not have been lost on the irony of watching a movie concerned with public contact enhancing the danger of the spread of disease while in the a confined movie theatre sharing air-conditioning. The cinema scene from the 1995 hit ‘Outbreak’ sprang to mind as an occasional cough during the screening sent a nervous ripple through the audience.

The conflict in this movie happens at several levels. Health authorities argue about budgets, not lives. A nun volunteers in the face of death while nurses strike waiting for protocols to be delivered. The police chase down looters while the hungry don’t want to touch the food they find for fear of contamination. Add to that a father protecting his daughter from the boyfriend with disease status ‘unknown’ and you have the tension required to be both frustrated and annoyed at our ability to deal with our inability to control this undervalued asset we call ‘life’.

Some may call Contagion a herald of control, others a beacon on the rocks. It’s all about your perspective and you will be asked to question yours. One underlying question movies like this do it ask “What is man capable of?” This movie comes up trumps for walking you out of the cinema with questions to be answered. Ask yourself these questions. “If my child was dying would I fight for their life, their food, a cure?” “If a global outbreak took place would I trust the local government or global authorities?” These are the kind of questions you should be willing to ask and live with after seeing Contagion.

At the end of the evening people left alone, not arm in arm. Hands were in pockets and as I approached the underground carpark an attendee from the movie was holding the door open for others with his hand sheaved in his sleeve. No touching of public door handles for this movie audience.

Are you a Tattoo?

One of the modern day dilemmas involves ink, skin and Mum. Most teenagers will think about it, bikers will do it and wives may regret it. The thought of getting a tattoo has probably drifted through your mind from time to time. How have you resolved the question. Did you vote in favour of the needle or find a compelling argument to via left? Through this post I want to also ask "Are you a Tattoo?" and see what that means to you personally.

I know for myself I've often admired the artwork of a well inked tattoo and appreciated many of the personal tributes and anchor points in people's lives that led them to mark an occasion or relationship. You can't help but be touched by a photographic representation of a lost loved one or impressed by 3D art that encompasses the values of the individual. But what happens when life changes? When that living relationship has lost its savour or our values have changed. Do we try to erase the ink?

You're probably picking up that this post isn't about answers as much as the questions I've worked through asking the question 'Should I get a tattoo'? As a Christian I've been observing two lines of thought that seem to embrace the extreme positions. On one side is the confident position that we shouldn't deface our skin because the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Its found in 1 Corinthians 3 v16-17 and says; "Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple."  If you live your faith you probably take that verse and ask yourself if this applies to me and not only with tattoos but the way I live, the way I eat, the exercise I do or don't all come under question. There's no point applying it to only one part of our lives. Then you hit the topic right between the eyes when you read this;

Leviticus 19 v 28 challenges me with "You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD."

Many Christians today are moving past these verses saying that we are under grace and not under law as they pursue ink art that declares their faith. This article at http://christianity.about.com handles it well. Firstly talking about the Leviticus verse it explains the context of the commandment dealing with pagan worship and then comes back to some wise guidelines that we can learn through reading and understanding Romans 14.

So what would you do? I've often thought about getting three tattoos possibly merged into one piece of art that speak about my heritage. I was born in England then at the age of nearly 5 came out to New Zealand where I was raised. In 1998 my job took my family and I to Australia for 13 years where we enjoyed raising our family and becoming Aussie citizens. Patriotism is one reason for a tattoo. A sense of being, connection and loving the values of a nation. For those reasons I looked at the idea of a tattoo for each place of citizenship. I could see an image with a Lion, a Kiwi and a Kangaroo engaged with the flags of each nation.

I guess a point that stays with me is that tattoos imprint us. Unless we spend some expensive money on laser removal you can bet its there for life. The thing I like about my life is that through the grace of God, patience and discipline I can change and be changed. When I receive God's forgiveness he cleanses me as white as snow. Those broken relationships that come from lust and selfishness along with the greed based mistakes can all be wiped off the slate. I like a sarcastic quote I heard in a movie trailer for the new Happy Feet 2 movie. One of the characters is told they're beautiful to which they respond, "Only on the outside". It's true we are each beautiful people, unique in so many ways but the inside isn't always so beautiful. To me thats the part of me that needs the most work and attention. I'm more interested in internal 'heart' surgery than the plastic surgery of the outside.

So where are we today? I haven't an inch of ink on my body. The closest I've come is to write down to 'Remember the Milk' on the back of my hand. I also don't feel there is enough conviction about it to make me step into any area I still feel is grey. As a Dad I don't know I'd feel comfortable about my kids getting a tattoo so I have to then turn back to the mirror and ask how that applies to my own calls.

As you think this one through for yourself, enjoy this Weird Al parody and leave me a comment. Love to hear about your journey on this one.

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Dealing with a Challenge in Public

Every now and then an example appears that shows brilliance in dealing with a challenge in public. Sometimes we learn from the mistakes and sometimes its clear that this example is one to follow. Recently when Bill Hybels had to confront a tremor in the organisaton of his church's annual leadership summit the timing and focus of the issue were both public and awkward. The Global Leadership Summit that impacts leaders in over 75 countries annually is run from the Chicago based Willowcreek church. Speakers often come from varying points of the compass and include both business and church leaders. Their contributions range from those who have overcome personal adversity to community and government leaders.

For the 2011 event one of the key speakers was Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. As the event drew near a petition was formed by some individuals concerned that the CEO of Starbucks shouldn't speak at a church that they believed was anti-gay. Despite discussions with Starbucks to endeavour to work through the issue the perceived impact and threats from the group involved in the petition to boycott Starbucks meant that Schultz had to withdraw. For anyone that has had the privilege of reading his new book 'Onward' you will appreciate the disappointment that must have been felt by the GLS Willowcreek leadership. Yet the calibre of the way they dealt with the issue is found in this video.

Be inspired, go to a GLS, buy a Starbucks coffee and read "Onward"

 

Movie Review: In Time

When I first heard the premise of Justin Timberlake taking a lead in Andrew Niccol’s new Sci-Fi Thriller In Time, I immediately thought this sounds like Logan's Run with a Pop Star. Driving to the preview showing I was then confronted by a publicity poster on the back of a bus that looked like a mash-up of Tron and Water for Elephants which initiated an emotional tangent or two but what was I truly in for? The trailer had given great premise for the story which is always a key strength of an Andrew Niccol production so would the movie itself live up to expectations.

As a fan of his works in The Truman Show (writer) and The Terminal (writer/director) the New Zealand born Niccol has mesmerised International audiences with his ability to challenge societal values through connected story telling. While Gattaca was his first release it wasn’t his first feature story as The Truman Show took so long to come to production primarily because of sourcing Peter Weir and Jim Carey. His first public release was never the less the Sci-Fi flic Gattaca which took Ethan Hawke and future wife Uma Thurman into the world of genetic engineering with a younger Jude Law. This is definitely worth watching again or maybe for the first time. On a side note watch for a possible remake of this one.

"Hollywood's only allegiance these days is to money. If they think there's cash to be made by making films with a conscience, then you might see a revival of that kind of film-making. Otherwise, forget it." – Andrew Niccol

When you hear quotes like this from Niccol, you have a perspective on what he is trying to achieve and deliver to customers through the Hollywood sausage machines. So if Hollywood has an allegiance to money then what is that value actually mean to you and I? In a not too distant future Niccol suggests through In Time  a world where genetic engineering means you don’t age past 25. Look in the mirror, like what you see? This is what you’re left with for as long as you have credit. And in this environment the credit for every transaction from taxes and loan repayments through to a bus ride are all paid in ‘time’.

Once you kick over your 25th year like Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) you have a year’s time credit and if you want to keep on living then you need to earn more time anyway possible. Joining Daddy’s role at the factory could be the inheritance you’ve wished for. Hard working blue collar works get 24hrs of credit for a day’s production if they meet every increasing quotas while four ‘time-zones’ away the white collar elite like Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried) live on Daddy’s money. A gap year here is talked about as taking a ‘decade’ to party. The economists give way to the ‘Capitalists of Time’ who play on a global scale creating the capitalist environment of haves and have-nots. This sets up a story where the phrase ‘Got a minute’ can have life and death consequences. Walk in Henry Hamilton, a supposed ‘Immortal’ with 1000s of years in credit who doesn’t feel the need to keep living and wanders into the ghetto flitting away time to the those with minutes to spare on a forgettable drink before he gives away his last 100 years to someone who ‘wouldn’t waste it’.

The backdrop of the story is laced with metaphorical nuances that address our values from time for pleasure and work through to possessions and family. All can be bought and earned. From the ghetto life we see the pitch of the “99 second” stores through to the toll gate to riches that can cost you a ‘year’ of time. When the real push of this Robin Hood story approaches its crescendo we’re playing for big bucks and a Million Years of time doesn’t seem enough to change the balance of power. The story is paced by each human’s matrix green time clock running up their forearm. Allegiances are bought and sold and family members can be those we die for or those we live to destroy. Time comes and goes in mere seconds and the ups and downs of a life worth living or acquired through ill-gotten gain keep the characters in a heady momentum.

When the poor become desperate they can approach a time pawn shop as a hope against the ‘Minutemen’; the Swindlers and Thieves willing to pray on those near death. If they succeed the poor are granted relief from this world while those who survive to chase the cheese another day are trying to avoid the Timekeepers. These are Police, the supposed keepers of justice making sure that every man has his day or minute and only as much as he deserves. A challenge thrown through the script is the quote; “For a few to be immortal many must die.”

Be prepared to be disturbed one key aspect of the movie. If we all stop aging at 25 then what would your 60year-old mother-in-law look like? If you’re introduced to a mother and daughter then how do deduce the roles and engagement of a relationship? It brings a whole new game to “whos who in the zoo”. This brings another interesting side discussion to the movie when the cast of mid thirty aged actors are playing 25year-olds on screen. Mad Man, Vincent Kartheiser (32yo) is typical of this decision with a hairline most 25 year-olds would run from. He plays ‘distinguished’ well but some characters were a distraction from the supposed storyline. An aging more rugged Cillian Murphy (35yo) plays the timekeeper Raymond Leon, a man from the ghetto who for seventy five years has ruled the roost, in keeping time. Big Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki (36yo) plays a mate of Will Salas who pays the consequences of drink and the ripples of time while a more appropriately aged Alex Pettyfer (21yo) brings out the thug side to keep the suffering minions in line. One cast member who steals a scene or two is Shyloh Oostwald. After small roles on House, Criminal Minds and iCarly this young lady may steal a feature movie or two in the future.

A wide supporting cast keep the action moving but this isn’t a vehicle for Timberlake or Seyfried to shine rather they are carried through the story. Maybe this perception speaks to the power of a strong story that doesn’t need a dramatic leading actor. The tone and backdrop of the movie bring a distinctly Detroit feel to the screen reflected in Mad Max style police vehicles and industrial concrete settings. Combine that with some CSI: Miami style sunsets and you constantly feel time like the sun is running out. In Time does Andrew Niccol justice in telling the story but I can’t help feeling it could have been paced better to create more tension that possibly another director may have brought to the script.

So walking away with time on my hands what has In Time done for me. It made me think about my next 23hrs and 59min for 109min and if I keep thinking about it I will value my time against living and family and not possessions.

Justin Time!

Worth 3.5 stars out of 5

Note:

Did this review bring back memories of Logan’s Run then watch for the remake scheduled for 2014 with Ryan Gosling and Rose Burne. Apparently they are dropping the age from 30 in the 1976 movie back to 21 to align with original book. It’s said the original movie was re-scripted to make the story line work for Michael York to be lead actor in the production when he was actually 34 at the time of the movie’s release.

Margin Call – Greedy by a nose

The events that took place creating what we now know as the ‘GFC’ have often been a mixture of rumour and conjecture. Now that rumour is a movie which looks to add fuel on the fire for the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ set and simply be a good ride for the masses. In an age when we are told to pay ahead for our retirement and invest in retirement funds which ultimately fund the share market you have to wonder if Mum and Dad (investors) really know who holds the ‘paperwork’ on the value of their investments. I have come across so many people who have lost all their invested retirement on bad advice that fuelled someone else's dream. Its not to say investing is bad it just highlights the trust empowered to the trustees of retirement funds and the fallibility of any of us when put in the position where tantalising power is an outstretched finger away.