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Contagion

Lisa and I saw this over the weekend. If you’ve been thinking about checking it out, but were worried that it might be upsetting, you should know that it’s mostly harmless. Even though it’s about a mass tragedy, it doesn’t touch any 9/11 nerves. Unfortunately, it doesn’t touch any other nerves, either.

Cold, clinical, and smartly paced, Contagion feels less like a story and more like a dramatization of a (fictional) catastrophe. The attempt to show the global scope of the pandemic, the multiple plotlines, and the relatively short running time mean you never stay with any character long enough to really get to know or care about them. And the all-star cast only amplifies this distancing effect. Seeing a plague victim get autopsied ought to be harrowing, but all I could think, watching a doctor peel back the scalp of a certain A-list actress, was “Huh, first Glee, now this.”

The film also raises all sorts of issues related to the pandemic without resolving or even exploring most of them, because, again, there just isn’t time. Talking about it afterwards, Lisa and I noted any number of throwaway plot points that could have served as the basis for an entire movie. For example, Matt Damon, as Gwyneth Paltrow’s husband, learns from a CDC investigator that in the course of bringing the plague back to Minnesota from Hong Kong, Gwyneth made a stopover in Chicago, where her (supposedly ex-)lover happens to live. So, a grieving widower, forced to deal with the discovery that his dead wife was cheating on him—that could be a good story. Here, it just gets lost.

I don’t want to be totally negative, because it was a diverting film—we weren’t bored, and we went to the matinee so it was cheap entertainment—but we were both left wishing there’d been more to it. All that talent, you expect something more substantial.

Sep. 11, 2011

Weird decade, eh? Next time, I may try the blue pill…

Stay safe and stay sane today, everyone.

FYI, Charlie Jade is on Hulu

If you’re looking for an offbeat sci-fi series—or just something non-9/11 related to watch over the weekend—check out Charlie Jade on Hulu. It’s a Canadian/South African production filmed in and around Cape Town. It concerns a private investigator from an alternate universe who gets blown into our world after rebels in a third universe sabotage a facility belonging to the evil Vexcor Corporation.

I first heard about this show when I was on a Norwescon panel with series creator Bob Wertheimer and lead actor Jeffrey Pierce. Unfortunately, it’s never been released on DVD in the U.S., and its only U.S. broadcast was a one-shot run on the Sci Fi Channel that aired at the wrong time for me to catch it. I’ve only watched the pilot so far, but I like it—it’s got a gritty, TV-budget Blade Runner aesthetic going on, and the S.A. locale makes it feel different without trying too hard.

Also interesting: Complications Ensue, a screenwriting blog by Alex Epstein, who was lead writer for the show.

Elsewhere in the Mirage world…

Huffington Post reports [via Research Maven]:

Among the many bizarre items uncovered as Libyan rebels ransacked Muammar Gaddafi’s Tripoli compound: an album filled with photos of former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The discovery was perhaps not surprising given Gaddafi’s much-professed admiration of the former U.S. Secretary of State, MSNBC is noting. “I support my darling black African woman,” Gaddafi told al-Jazeera television in 2007, according to The Guardian. “I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders…Leezza, Leezza, Leezza. I love her very much. I admire her and I’m proud of her because she’s a black woman of African origin.”

I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for this:

In 2008, Rice historically became the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Tripoli since 1953. She and Gaddafi are reported to have enjoyed a private dinner, during which a State Department report indicates the Libyan leader also showered his visitor with an estimated $212,000 worth of gifts — including a diamond ring in a wooden box, a lute and an accompanying DVD, and a locket with Qaddafi’s own picture inside.

I wonder if the villa is owned by the Alighieri family

This morning’s New York Times has an article about Dick Cheney’s new memoir. I thought this bit at the end was interesting:

[I]n the epilogue, Mr. Cheney writes that after undergoing heart surgery in 2010, he was unconscious for weeks. During that period, he wrote, he had a prolonged, vivid dream that he was living in an Italian villa, pacing the stone paths to get coffee and newspapers.

Songs About Books — Aug. 19

If you’re in the Seattle area and looking for something cool to do on the evening of August 19th (that would be the Friday after next), Fremont Abbey Arts Center is hosting Songs About Books, a project in which five local songwriters will be performing original songs inspired by books assigned to them by The Stranger‘s Paul Constant. My own Set This House in Order is one of the books, and the artist who’ll be making it sing is Johanna Kunin (Bright Archer).

The other artists who’ll be performing are Alex Guy (Led to Sea), singing songs inspired by Vladamir Nabakov’s Pale Fire; Ryan Barrett (The Pica Beats), singing about Michael Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island; Joshua Morrison, singing about Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai; and Levi Fuller, singing about Maggie Nelson’s Bluets.

Tickets, available online, are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Everybody gets a free limited-edition Songs About Books CD at the door; I’ll be in the audience with a pen, so if you’d like me to forge Nabakov’s signature on the liner notes, just give a yell.

If you can’t attend the concert but still want to hear the music, you can listen to sample song tracks and buy copies of the CD on the Ball of Wax blog’s Bandcamp page.