Tag Archives: Elliott Gould

Contagion

Returning home from a business trip to Hong Kong, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) goes from coughing to dead on the kitchen floor, foaming at the mouth in very short order. As husband Mitch (Matt Damon) accompanies her to the hospital, their young son is dying at home, though not before infecting a few people at school. Mitch, however, seems to be immune. There are similar pockets popping up in China and Japan, as well as elsewhere in the U.S.. The particular strain of contagion is new, and scientists from the Centers for Disease Control are racing to identify and stop it.

Director Steven Soderbergh masterfully creates wonderful tension with this tightly scripted (by Scott Z. Burns) horror film where infection is the monster and everyone is a potential victim. You start looking at rather innocuous things – a doorknob, a packed bus, a water-eyed child – as awfully threatening and suddenly the movie is packed with dread and danger.

Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard play scientists with boots on the ground who suffer for their work in their own ways, while a little higher up the chain, Laurence Fishburne grapples with the more ethical side of the equation. In a race to save lives, whose lives will be saved first? There are lots of fine performances but no real stand-outs and Soderbergh seems determined to cast every celebrity he’s ever had drinks with. Because it’s packed with so many characters and perspectives, it’s not a very intimate story, rather, it’s more like a disaster movie where the threat is invisible but no less deadly.

Of course, in a scenario like this, disease is only part of the problem. With thousands dropping dead every day and no cure in sight, society begins to break down. Quarantine laws shuts down even essential services. Life as we know it ends rather quickly, and the world’s greatest cities are quickly shadows of their former selves. It truly doesn’t take much, which is the scariest reminder of all.

Humor Me

Nate, a prize-winning playwright, has been writing his most recent play for the last four years. When his wife leaves him, taking his adorable son and his ability to pay rent with her, he’s forced to do the thing he’s always sworn he’d never do – move in with his father, who lives in a retirement community called Cranberry Bog.

Of course, Bob (Elliott Gould) thinks his son is a lazy, stagnant fool who’s wasting his Harvard education, so he puts him to work fluffing and folding towels in the Cranberry Bog laundry. And Nate’s talents are further wasted by producing a portion of a musical number with the local community players, ie, old ladies who are unequal parts cranky humor-me-stilland horny. Nate (Jemaine Clement) would like to reconnect with his father, but the two have been distant since the death of Nate’s mother – and he was always closest to her. Other people think Bob is very funny, but since his answers to all of Nate’s very serious questions are always jokes, the two men remain separate in their grief.

I have loved Clement since his days on Flight of the Conchords. His performance in Humor Me is more grounded in reality than usual, infusing this sad-sack with some quirks and personality tics that give Nate some real warmth. Of course, I have loved Elliott Gould for much, much longer, and his diverse professional background is evident in every line, not all of which are truly worthy of him, but he never lets them down. In fact, I’d say the casting and performances in this film are its greatest asset. Ingrid Michaelson, Maria Dizzia, Priscilla Lopez, Joey Slotnick, Willie Carpenter, Le Clanché du Rant, Rosemary Prinz, Annie Potts, and Bebe Neuwirth fill in the gaps between Bob and Nate, creating a living, breathing community not easily conveyed through film.

Humor Me manages a delicate balance that often errs on the side of comedy. It’s light, and if it’s not exactly fresh, it has a lot of talent backing up the retreads.

 

 

Humor Me is screening at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival tonight, 8pm, at the Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 5, and May 10, 9pm, at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. Check it out, and bring your dad.

 

The Las Vegas Chronicles: Ocean’s 11

When Danny Ocean (George Clooney) puts together his 11-man team of thieves to pull the ultimate heist, he’s got some iconic Las Vegas locations in mind: the Bellagio, The MGM Grand, and The Mirage.

The main action takes place at the swankiest of the hotels, the Bellagio, home of those famous fountains. The Bellagio gave the crew unprecedented access, and even closed down their valet parking during filming, forcing even the high rollers to use underground parking (egads!). When Julia Roberts makes her entrance, it’s  down the beautiful staircase in the Bellagio Conservatory but no, you can’t recreate that scene, because the stairs were soon torn down to make room for a spa wing. The biggest stars all stayed at the Bellagio too, and gambled during their down time. George Clooney says Matt Damon won the most money, while Damon insists it was Brad Pitt. The only thing the whole cast agrees on is that it was George who lost the most: he managed to lose an astonishing 25 hands of blackjack in a row.

We’re writing about movies set in Las Vegas this week because that happens to be where we’re hiding out. It’s often called sin city, and I can only assume that sin is gluttony. Las Vegas is home to some of the most fabulous eateries in the entire world. You could easily find a different 12-course, $1200 meal every night of the week, or, alternatively, you could do all-you-can-eat shellfish for $12.99. Brad Pitt’s character is always taking advantage of Las Vegas’s fine foods – in one scene where he’s spying on Julia Roberts, his character is eating shrimp cocktail, and filming went on long enough that Pitt ended up eating 40 shrimps, which is maybe not all you can eat, but definitely more than you should.

In the movie, the script called for the blowing up of hotel New York, New York. However, in the wake of 9\11, it was thought that this image would be too disturbing, and a fake hotel, the Xanadu, stood in. The Xanadu never exited but it was planned to be Vegas’s first mega-resort in the 1970s. Disputes over sewage disrupted plans and it was never built.

And how can we talking about Vegas without talking about Elvis – or talk about this movie without mentioning the song that was remixed and used so successfully? Producers wanted to stay away from the obviousness of “Viva Las Vegas” so they used Presley’s A Little Less Conversation instead, giving it a modern mix. It soon found traction on the radio and became a hit, decades after it was originally recorded. The King is alive and well.

Ocean’s 11 closes with that shot in front of the fountain. The characters saunter away a little mournfully, one by one – a shot that had to be orchestrated for the movie and wouldn’t be possible in real life. They had to drain one of the fountains so the guys had somewhere to go. In the original Ocean’s 11, the men walked away from the Sands casino, which is where many members of the rat pack were performing at the time (in fact, most of the movie had to be filmed in the mornings since the guys sleep in the afternoon, perform at night, get hair and makeup done in the wee hours, and show up to set as the sun rose). Sammy Davis Jr. was not allowed to stay on the strip with his cast-mates and had to be shuttled to a “colored” hotel, and this man was a bona fide player and Vegas mainstay. Sinatra had to appeal to the casino owners for special dispensation to break the colour barrier. How’s that for some warm and fuzzy Vegas nostalgia?

 

We’re traipsing around Vegas this week, so be sure to follow our adventures on Twitter (@assholemovies) – shenanigans guaranteed.