Scott Z. Burns is a genius.
It’s okay if you don’t know who Burns is. He’s the screenwriter who wrote “Contagion,” the world’s most discussed movie right now.
Throughout 2009 and 2010, Burns talked to medical professions of every stripe: doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, biologists, etc. as he researched what would happen if a virus that sprouted from animals in a wet market in China swept around the world causing not only a viral pandemic, but also a global shutdown, and, ultimately, complete chaos.
The movie made from Burns’s script is “Contagion.” It’s directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Elliot Gould, Marion Cotillard and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Released in 2011, “Contagion” is one of the most prescient films I’ve seen. Moment after moment corresponds to what is happening in our lives right now in such jaw-dropping fashion that you almost can’t believe what you’re watching, until, that is, you visit your local grocery store. Or want to go to a movie theater. Or hope to knock back a good stiff drink in a bar.
Speaking of the present, we know nurses are heroic, but who would have ever guessed that supermarket employees would be heroes, too?
The film, a multi-layered medical thriller like no other, begins on Day Two of the start of the health emergency that will lead to a deadly pandemic. I reviewed “Contagion” on Sept. 12, 2011 in a publication I was writing for at the time.
Here’s a little bit of my rave review: “Although “Contagion” is about a serious subject, it entertains in the way all good dramas do. It’s about conflict, from which gripping drama arises. There is also a keen-eyed and keen-eared glimpse of how people talk and of how people would react. There are fascinating insights into how governments would martial their forces and of how society would work together or fall apart. There are myriad eye-opening statistics and a lot of very clever lines of dialogue.
“As the movie progresses, heroes take their chances and the more stoic citizens face their demise with grace under pressure. We eventually find ourselves at day 1. Soderbergh has taken us full circle. Day 1 manages to be even more terrifying and more of a possibility than we might have imagined. Day 1 could really happen.”
Not having seen it in a while, I watched “Contagion” via my DVD copy the other day. I was mesmerized by the comparisons to what’s occurring now in scene after scene. Its story is fascinating and very well executed — the new gold standard. Governments seem to using it as a playbook.
Unfortunately, as you might expect, physical copies of “Contagion” are difficult to come by. If you can find one, expect to pay a steep price for it. In December, in the Warner Brothers back catalog, the film ranked number 270. It is now number two. What’s number one? The “Harry Potter” titles configured as a single entry.
The good news is that “Contagion” is back on iTunes. Additionally, some on-demand services may have it, and they may also have one or more of the films noted below.
Four other contagion movies I recommend are “Outbreak,” “28 Days Later,” “The Andromeda Strain” and “The Cassandra Crossing.” DVDs and Blu-rays may still be in the marketplace, and all are available to stream.
Although I find Dustin Hoffman’s performance a bit hammy, the frantic pace of “Outbreak,” in which a virus escapes the jungle, lends itself well to its delivery of an over-the-top tale about a California town gripped by a virus. Available on Netflix.
Director Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” is a stunning zombie thriller written by Alex Garland and starring Cillian Murphy. A virus overwhelms Great Britain. I consider this one of the greatest horror movies I’ve seen. Available on Hulu.
“The Andromeda Strain,” from the mega-bestselling novel by Michael Crichton, is about a specially selected group of research scientists compelled to go to New Mexico to investigate mysterious deaths after a satellite crashes and releases a biological element. It’s intelligent and tense. Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.
“The Cassandra Crossing” is a lot of fun. It’s one of those classic 1970s disaster movies. Call it plague on a train. A virus gets loose from a laboratory. As expected, it has an all-star cast, including O.J. Simpson as a priest (yep), Burt Lancaster, Sophia Loren, Ava Gardner and Richard Harris. Available on Tubi, Google Play and YouTube.
Completely free is the website Tubi, which could be your entertainment salvation. More than 12,000 movies and other media offerings can be accessed on your computer on Tubi. There’s also an app for tablets and smartphones. The only caveat is that there are advertisements within the films, albeit minimal and well-placed. Find it at tubitv.com.
Open Culture is also free. Thousands of old movies, documentaries, television shows, lectures, museum visits and theater and opera performances are available. The website is poorly designed, but it’s easy to figure out. You’ll have access to some classic cinema treasures. It's at openculture.com.
Fans of foreign and independent movies, those so-called art-house features from the greatest filmmakers, should register for the Criterion Collection Channel’s website. More than 1,000 classics can be streamed. Apps are available. The first two weeks are free at criterionchannel.com.
Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI news network. Contact him at email@example.com.