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Contagion (#110 of 5)

Box Office Rap Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster

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Box Office Rap: Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster
Box Office Rap: Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster

When Contagion opened in IMAX theaters on September 9, 2011, only a handful of films had previously been offered in that large-scale presentation that weren’t either part of a franchise, an original film with hopes of becoming a franchise, a work based on another text, or a prominent remake a la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. From 2002 to September 2011, a total of 77 wide release films made their way to IMAX screens. Of these, and excluding animated and concert films, only three films (Eagle Eye, Inception, and Sanctum) opened over that nine-year span that didn’t fit the above qualifications. Certainly, these anomalous entries can be explained by their potential box-office appeal, but only Inception had directorial (let’s say auteur) pedigree, which is where my interest lies. We shall call such films art-house blockbusters (AHB), in accordance with our established definition.

Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2011

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Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2011
Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2011

Dishonorable Mention

A Dangerous Method (Italian): Don’t let those pretty faces fool you. While sheer actorly beauty kept the Italian one-sheet for David Cronenberg’s latest out of the Top 10, it can’t mask the fact that this is an absurdly lazy piece of advertising, a makeup ad masquerading as a movie poster. The French variation at least had the decency to imply what the film is about. This one simply implies studio starfucking. [Poster] [Article]

Atlas Shrugged: Or, at least, the designers did. In addtion to the Tea Party-targeted adaptation of Ayn Rand’s doorstopper looking like a dated TV movie, its poster reads like a flyer a Jehovah’s Witness might leave on your welcome mat, its beveled, golden, B-grade text beckoning for converts. As expected, the corner-printshop marketing couldn’t save the film—a blown opportunity, and part one of a planned trilogy—from tanking. [Poster]

Burning Palms: You don’t want to see Burning Palms? A multi-character L.A. drama featuring Shannen Doherty, Adrianna Barraza, a hippie-fied Lake Bell, and “five tales that will f#%! you up for life?” What about if this poster tries to sell it to you? No? Okay. [Poster]

Understanding Screenwriting #82: Contagion, Detective Dee, Drive, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #82: <em>Contagion</em>, <em>Detective Dee</em>, <em>Drive</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #82: <em>Contagion</em>, <em>Detective Dee</em>, <em>Drive</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Contagion, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Drive, Backstory 5: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1990s (book), Up All Night, Free Agents, How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, 2 Broke Girls, Castle, but first…

Fan Mail: I was rather disappointed that none of you folks took the bait and commented on item in #81 on the Cirque du Soleil production Iris. I figured some of this column’s readers would feel strongly one way or the other on my whacking the Canadians, but as I have learned over the years doing this column, you never know what people are going to respond to.

For our Korean fans, the Korean language version of my book Understanding Screenwriting: Learning from Good, Not-So-Good, and Bad Screenplays has just been published in South Korea. Given the interest by some people in the North Korean regime, I am sure a few copies will drift across the border.

Contagion (2011. Written by Scott Z. Burns. 106 minutes)

The (cough, cough) feel-bad movie (cough, cough) of the fall: There is no narrator here. Thank goodness Scott Z. Burns got that out of his system, for now anyway, with The Informant! (2009, see US #54). Here is he is telling the story with the same speed and skill that he brought to The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), and it works for about the first three-quarters of the movie.

Oscar Prospects: Carnage

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Oscar Prospects: Carnage
Oscar Prospects: Carnage

It’s hard to discuss the Oscar chances of the cast of Carnage without thinking of all four fuming co-leads as being yet more hamsters on the Academy’s wheel (a hamster, after all, ends up being one of the sharper elements of Roman Polanski’s latest). Such is not to say, necessarily, that Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz took their roles with a mind for rewards beyond the artistic (this is no blatantly baity project), but any decent thespian who signs on for an upper-middlebrow movie bound for release between October and January surely knows he’s tossing himself into a repetitive race for largely-unattainable gold. Carnage is a curious specimen in terms of Oscar probability. It has an enviable batch of top talents, and it’s attractively sophisticated, yet it bucks norms of even the talking-room subgenre in which it’s classified. Without seeing a frame of it, one might rightfully assume the film would go the way of Doubt, with all members of its actorly quartet clinching nominations for reinterpreting their stage-originated roles, but that likely won’t happen here. The already-crowded fields notwithstanding, con can match pro in the case of each performer.