Saturday, March 16, 2013

We Bought a Zoo

Year 5, Day 75 - 3/16/13 - Movie #1,376

BEFORE:  Linking actors seemed to be impossible tonight, until I realized that, according to IMDB, three actors did appear in both this film and "Zookeeper": Bart the bear, Crystal the monkey, and Felix the lion.  Hey, I never specifically said that the links would be human actors.  Still, I'm not sure why the IMDB keeps track of this sort of thing.  It's not that the animals don't do fine work, but it seems like the database has enough work keeping track of people's roles, and maybe only animal casting agents would be interested in the resumes of lions and monkeys.

THE PLOT:  A father moves his family to the countryside to renovate and re-open a struggling zoo.

AFTER: I guess when I kicked off Movie Year 5 with "Les Miserables", it sort of set the tone for the year.  Already this year I've covered mutinies, shipwrecks, drug addiction, sex addiction, horrible bosses, fake romances, affairs, divorces, animal abuse, dirty politics, fatal illnesses, viral outbreaks, the monkey uprising, Smurf invasion, and "The Cat in the Hat".  So I've seen my share of disaster, and the year's just entering its second quarter.

This film seemed like it was going to fit right in line, with a family weighed down by grief and loss, then taking on the perils of renovating a broken-down zoo, and coming close to bankruptcy as a result.  But with a little more cash and a lot of determination, they find a way to turn it around, which ultimately brings them closer together.  It ended up being even more uplifiting than "Life of Pi" was supposed to be (but wasn't).

These zoo films come at a time for me when I'm thinking about career change.  The lead character in "Zookeeper" left the zoo, but then came back to it, and tonight's lead walks away from a reporting career and then finds a new one at a zoo.  It's not that I'm thinking of working at a zoo (some might say that I already do...) but which is the right path for me?  Stick with something I know well, or strike out and do something crazy?

This year marks 20 years in the animation biz for me, and I've been an office manager, producer, film trafficker, researcher, voice-over artist, event coordinator, ghost writer, payroll manager - you name it.  There's a little voice inside that says I should take what I've learned and go work for Disney or Marvel or something - but then I'd just be a cog in some giant corporate wheel.  I looked at the job openings for Marvel yesterday, and they have titles like "web data analyst" or "licensing traffic coordinator" and I think after a week of doing a very specific job I'd want to shoot myself.  So the louder voice says I'm in a good place being a sort of jack-of-all-trades at two companies.

But what about the other little voice that says to go out and do something crazy?  Write a screenplay, open a sandwich shop, travel around the country taking pictures of people dressed like super-heroes?  Obviously there's more risk involved, plus less pay, and I guess if I really felt strongly about doing those things I'd just go do them.  Who knows, I may get those opportunities - but the louder voice prevails, saying to stay the course, be sensible, keep getting paychecks.

Then the other inner voice pops up and wonders, "Why am I looking for career advice from a couple of zoo movies?"  Why do I have to keep second-guessing myself, why do I wonder if I can succeed at something else, when I'm enjoying some measure of success now?  Who's to tell me I can't spend 20 years in one place, and make my career the way I want to?  Plenty of people have spent their whole careers at one job, and what's wrong with that?  Isn't there something to be said for company loyalty, and sticking with a job that needs to be done?

Really, I don't know why I'm burdening you with all this, but it feels good to talk about it.

Starring Matt Damon (last seen in "Contagion"), Scarlett Johansson (last seen in "The Horse Whisperer"), Thomas Haden Church (last seen in "Easy A"), Angus Macfadyen (last seen in "The Rat Pack"), Elle Fanning (last seen in "Babel"), Patrick Fugit, John Michael Higgins (last seen in "Bad Teacher"), Carla Gallo, J.B. Smoove, with a cameo from Peter Riegert (last seen in "The Mask")

RATING: 7 out of 10 boxes of haddock

Friday, March 15, 2013


Year 5, Day 74 - 3/15/13 - Movie #1,375

BEFORE:  This is a somewhat logical progression, since Mighty Joe Young was placed in a zoo - and just look how well THAT turned out.  Really tough to find a good actor link tonight, I had to consult the Oracle of Bacon, which informs me that Bill Paxton was also in "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over" with Sylvester Stallone, who voices a zoo animal tonight.

THE PLOT:  A group of zoo animals decide to break their code of silence in order to help their lovable zoo keeper find love.

AFTER:  I suppose I can see the connection - both "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and "Congo" featured apes who could speak in sign language, and "Congo" even had a gorilla talking (with the aid of a computer).  Tonight it goes further, with a gorilla (heck, the whole zoo) talking for real.  Turns out the animals could talk all along, they just never had anything to say before. (Sorry, old joke.)

That puts this in the realm of "Dr. Doolittle", where only the main character could converse with animals - here the animals choose to speak only to the kindest of their captors.  They pretty much have the run of the zoo, too, at least when no humans are around.  Which also hearkens back to the monkeys leaving their cages in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" whenever they wanted.  I guess the reality of zoo enclosures and cages is just too bleak for a Hollywood movie.

But I could have taken this a little more easily if the main character was delusional or had hit his head or something, thus gaining the power to understand animals.  Immediately after learning that all animals can speak perfect English, our zookeeper hero hits his head, and I just think maybe the screenplay got the events in the wrong order.  Get concussion, THEN understand animals.  Or I'd settle for a brain tumor causing auditory hallucinations.

It's simple, just put it together.  Lonely guy, socially awkward around women, 8 years working at the zoo with minimal human contact.  Anyone in that position might talk to the animals.  But when they start answering back, it might be time to get professional help. Especially since NONE of their advice turns out to be helpful in the zookeeper's quest to get his girlfriend back.  What's stranger, the animals telling him to pee in the middle of the restaurant to mark his territory, or him actually DOING that? 

So if the animals don't understand human relationships, and their advice doesn't apply, then why does he listen to them?  Also, why create a movie where this is a key plot point?  It really does seem like a long way to go.  In fact, the film seems to enjoy taking the long way around in every way - this is really a 10-minute plot padded out to about 100 minutes.

Failing at several relationships, only to learn that the best way to act is to "Be yourself"?  Or a man changing every aspect of his life, just to determine he was better off in the first place?  Again, seems like a long way to go.  I realize this may be aimed at kids or young teens, but it still all seems like a lot of work for minimal returns.

NITPICK POINT:  To the best of my knowledge, the word "zookeep" is not properly used as a verb.  "I have to zookeep this weekend."  Nope, doesn't work.  I had the same negative reaction as when I hear some young person say, "I bartend on the weekends."  I realize the English language is ever-changing, but you've got to draw the line somewhere - they should say "I tend bar on the weekends."  So should it be "I have to keep zoo this weekend"?  There must be a better way to say that. 

Also starring Kevin James (last seen in "The Dilemma"), Rosario Dawson (last seen in "Seven Pounds"), Nat Faxon (last seen in "Bad Teacher"), Joe Rogan, Leslie Bibb, Donnie Wahlberg, Ken Jeong (last seen in "The Hangover Part II"), Nicholas Turturro, and the voices of Adam Sandler (last seen in "50 First Dates"), Nick Nolte (last seen in "Under Fire"), Jon Favreau (last seen in "Speechless"), Cher, Maya Rudolph (last seen in "Bridesmaids"), Don Rickles, Jim Breuer.

RATING: 3 out of 10 ice sculptures

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mighty Joe Young

Year 5, Day 73 - 3/14/13 - Movie #1,374

BEFORE:  If I'd been thinking properly, I could have fit in that new "Oz" film after "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" - with the tie-in being James Franco talking to CGI creatures, and there's probably a flying monkey or two in there somewhere.  Oh well, I didn't think of it, so that ship has sailed for now - anyway, I'm finally in a position to watch films faster than I'm adding them to the list, the cable channels don't seem to be running many new movies, so I've got to make some progress while I can.  Linking from "Congo", Delroy Lindo was also in "The Cider House Rules" with Charlize Theron.

THE PLOT:  After Mighty Joe Young is brought to America, he escapes and rampages through Hollywood, spurred by tormentors out for revenge.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "King Kong" (2005) (Movie #917)

AFTER:  I never saw the classic version of this one, whereas I've seen all three versions of "King Kong", so I wondered how a giant gorilla ended up with a man's name.  I guess if you can name a tiger Richard Parker, you can name an ape Joe Young.  But he's always come across to me as the poor man's Kong.

And, I figured right.  While MJY is much bigger than a normal gorilla, he's nowhere near the size of Kong.  Which makes him a lot more realistic, but also less impressive.  Kong got to climb the Empire State Building and/or the World Trade Center, and Joe gets what, the Hollywood sign?  Yawn.

It's funny how the same people who watch Mighty Joe Young running through the wilderness at top speed, destroying three truckloads of animal poachers, make the decision that he really belongs in Los Angeles, for his own safety.  Right.  Because when you take a giant ape away from the environment he's familiar with, where he takes down any human threat with ease, you really need to put him in a confined space in the middle of a crowded metropolis where he can be taunted mercilessly by former poachers and zoo patrons.  What could possibly go wrong?

"Hello, and thank you for coming to our fund-raising gala.  Please, have a cocktail and some bacon-wrapped shrimp.  What's that, you say?  Giant gorilla destroying the buffet table?  Yes, well, here at the Conservation Animal Sanctuary Haven, we do believe in a cage-free environment, and please make your check out to our initials, C.A.S.H. - thanks, gotta go, bye!"

You can take it as a watershed moment when you compare "Congo", released in 1995, and this film, released three years later.  Somewhere in between was the point where CGI took over and became the standard for effects, or at least became cost-effective enough for widespread use.  "Congo" used mostly people in ape suits, and it showed, but for a single, giant gorilla, CGI was really the best way to go. 

Also starring Bill Paxton, David Paymer (last seen in "The Five-Year Engagement"), Rade Serbedzija, Regina King, Lawrence Pressman, Naveen Andrews (last seen in "Rollerball"), Christian Clemenson (last seen in "J. Edgar"), with a cameo from Ray Harryhausen.

RATING: 4 out of 10 tranquilizer darts

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Year 5, Day 72 - 3/13/13 - Movie #1,373

BEFORE:  More monkeys tonight - no, wait, I mean apes.  They get so sensitive about that, don't you know.  Another look at an APE society tonight.  Linking from "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", James Franco was also in "Milk" with character actor Peter Jason, who's somewhere in tonight's film.  I bet he's playing either a military guy or a reporter...

THE PLOT:  When an expedition to the African Congo ends in disaster, a new team is assembled to find out what went wrong.

AFTER:  Speaking of people wearing ape suits, that sort of thing dominates tonight. Gorilla FX by Stan Winston, who did some great effects work ("Aliens") and some not-so-great ("Manimal").

This film has an impressive pedigree - based on a novel by Michael Crichton, the writer of "Jurassic Park", with a screenplay by John Patrick Shanley, screenwriter of "Moonstruck", and directed by Frank Marshall, director of "Alive" and producer of "Back to the Future" and "Indiana Jones" films.  So what the heck happened here?  Like the missing expedition, all we know is that something went horribly wrong.

God, where to begin?  An expedition to Africa has many different agendas - to release a "talking" gorilla back into the wild, to find giant diamonds, and to figure out what happened to the previous expedition, even though their last transmission makes it pretty clear they died horribly.  It's too much - if you try to do everything at once, you can end up doing nothing well.

Thwarted by government coups in several countries, they somehow find the exact spot they're looking for, even though no one at any point ever consults one of those new-fangled "map" thingies, and discover that the previous team was attacked by evil gorillas, even though we're told by the gorilla expert that's impossible, gorillas aren't aggressive.  So, is the expert wrong, or is the movie wrong?

If so, he'd fit right in with a team consisting of a Romanian financier who has no money, and an ex-CIA communications expert who has no communications skills.  Oh, but she can cobble a laser together, so that's something.  But she's the only woman ever not interested in a giant diamond, so go figure.

NITPICK POINT: Again, Africa is a big place.  If you need to go to a specific spot, just find an expedition that's going to Africa, give them a wad of cash, and after a random parachute drop, you'll probably end up very close to where you need to be.

NITPICK POINT #2: My science education stopped at 11th-grade physics, but I'm pretty sure there's a difference between an industrial diamond and a valuable gem-type diamond.  Similarly, I think there's a difference between a communications laser and the kind you blow stuff up with.  Actually, is there really a kind you blow stuff up with, or is that just in sci-fi films?

Also starring Laura Linney (last seen in "Searching for Bobby Fischer"), Dylan Walsh (last seen in "Secretariat"), Ernie Hudson (last seen in "Speechless"), Tim Curry (last seen in "The Three Musketeers" (1993)), Joe Don Baker, with cameos from Bruce Campbell (last seen in "Intolerable Cruelty"), John Hawkes (last seen in "Contagion"), Joe Pantoliano, Delroy Lindo and Jimmy Buffett (!!)

RATING: 3 out of 10 sesame cakes

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Year 5, Day 71 - 3/12/13 - Movie #1,372

BEFORE: Well, at the end of last year I promised you all monkeys, so with "Outbreak" I started to deliver, and tonight I continue the chain.  In a way, the "Planet of the Apes" series is responsible for this whole project, in that I had seen most of the films when I was a kid (this was back before even "Star Wars" was a thing) but in 2008 Turner Classic Movies ran all of the films, and I decided to watch the series through, and it all made a lot more sense.  "Hmm," I thought, "what other insights can I gain from watching movies in a particular order?"  And from such a dangerous thought arose the first Movie Year. 

Linking from "Outbreak", Morgan Freeman was also in "Red" with Brian Cox (last seen in "The Campaign")

THE PLOT:  A substance, designed to help the brain repair itself, gives rise to a super-intelligent chimp who leads an ape uprising.

AFTER:  SPOILER ALERT - if you haven't seen the original "Planet of the Apes", skip a few paragraphs - though you probably know the much-parodied surprise ending, which is part of pop culture by now.

Another thing that arose from watching "Planet of the Apes" as a kid was my love for time-travel movies.  The original film featured astronauts who were in suspended animation, traveling near light-speed (which is itself a form of time-travel) so they essentially travel far into the future to a planet where apes act like men, and men are enslaved beasts.  Surprise! It's future-Earth, after some kind of apocalypse or plague or general decline in the fabric of civilization.  Because apparently after you travel some distance in a spaceship, it turns around (somehow) and heads back home. 

The 2nd film in the series, "Beneath the Planet of the Apes", featured this same thing happening to ANOTHER spaceship, and a new astronaut appeared on the "alien" planet - but this film ended with the destruction of the Earth, and the rest of the series backtracked to explain how the apes took over.  Two smart apes took off in a spaceship before future-Earth blowed up and they (somehow) went back in time to the early 1970's, as detailed in "Escape from the Planet of the Apes".  

Those two apes had a baby, and in the final two films, "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" and "Battle for the Planet of the Apes", that smart chimp baby, Caesar, grew up and led the revolution of the monkeys against humanity.  In order to make this all work, the filmmakers in 1972 had to envision the future society of 1991, in which humans had trained apes and monkeys to do all of their menial tasks, like serving meals and sweeping the streets.  Umm, yeah, so that happened.

By the fifth film in the series, the production values were a disgrace, the budget was minimal, and the continuity was an absolute mess.  The near-future story of ape warfare was told in flashback to apes in the far future, which is a rather confusing framework.  How do you tell a story in the past tense when it's set in our future that hasn't happened yet?  For this, you really need Douglas Adams' fictional book "Time Traveler's Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations", which might recommend using the Future Perfect tense, except that with time travel, the future is rarely proved to be perfect.  (Adams' joke, not mine.)

Anyway, what I appreciated about the film series, despite all its fractured continuity and missing explanations, was that it appeared to form a time loop - the astronauts went into the future and caused events that impacted on the past, and those past events seemed to (somehow) create the future that they would later find themselves in.  I think.  Yes, that's right - if it's not a perfect circle, at least it's a self-explanatory loop.  But sending the smart monkey from the future to the past, where he could educate other monkeys, seems like a bit of a cheat.  It's a little like having someone from the future use a time machine to go back and give the blueprints of the machine to the inventor of the time machine.  Then who really invented/will invent the time machine?

If, however, you're more familiar with the 2001 "remake" of "Planet of the Apes", it was pretty much the original film re-done, even though they said it wasn't going to be.  They lied.  It also featured the apes running the planet, with little explanation of how it all came to be.

FINALLY, 40 or so years later, some enterprising screenwriter decided to ditch the complexities of time/space travel and came up with another way for monkeys to get smarter.  And it seems so simple, as the best story ideas always do in retrospect.  A drug company is working on a cure for Alzheimer's, and of course they'd test the drug out on chimpanzees, to see if it could restore the cognitive function that they never had.  Wait, what?  Look, don't worry about it, it's all very technical, just work with me here.  All it takes is one smart monkey, and we've got a potential uprising. And we all know that scientists who test on lab animals are the worst pieces of scum and deserve every bad thing coming their way, even though that process has led to almost every significant medical breakthrough of the 20th century.

When this chimp, also coincidentally named Caesar, is taken away from his adopted "father", and sent to live in a monkey sanctuary, what you get is the ape equivalent of a prison film, where the zookeepers are the hacks and the different apes are like different gangs.  Caesar wisely picks a fight with the biggest mofo in the prison yard, and then gets the gorilla to act as his enforcer, and then before long he's smuggling in smokes and running the joint like Andy Dufresne in "The Shawshank Redemption".

Of course, what's a prison film without a breakout, so inevitably the apes get loose, and run wild around San Francisco, the best part of the film.  Special effects have come so freakin' far - whatever we can imagine now can appear on film.  The original "Planet of the Apes" film, no lie, blew its entire budget on make-up, and was still considered ground-breaking in terms of visual effects.  Seriously, I can remember a time when an army of gorillas and orangutans on horseback was just played by a bunch of actors wearing rubber masks and clothing.  It's good to live in the future.

Unfortunately, "Rise" is just half of the story.  The closing credits feature glimpses of what's to come in next year's "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" (which sort of resembles what I saw in "Contagion" and "Outbreak") and I can't wait.  Bring on the evolution revolution.

Also starring James Franco (last seen in "Your Highness"), John Lithgow (also last seen in "The Campaign"), Frieda Pinto, Tyler Labine, Tom Felton (last seen in "Get Him to the Greek") and Andy Serkis (last seen playing another ape in "King Kong")

RATING: 7 out of 10 cable cars

Monday, March 11, 2013


Year 5, Day 70 - 3/11/13 - Movie #1,371

BEFORE:  See what I did there?  Then again, maybe you saw this one coming.  Linking from "Contagion", Gwyneth Paltrow was also in "Seven" with Morgan Freeman and another of tonight's actors (identity withheld in case you haven't seen "Seven"). 

THE PLOT:  Extreme measures are necessary to contain an epidemic of a deadly airborne virus.

AFTER:  This covers a lot of the same ground as "Contagion", with an animal-based virus infecting humans and causing a pandemic that forces the U.S. military to invoke martial law.  Here the main outbreak is confined to just one California town, although it was shown spreading to Boston, it didn't seem to affect that city quite as bad.  Must have been the cold weather.

I'm sure there are official military and medical guidelines for dealing with a plague, at least, I'd like to think so.  But the problem is, they're drawn up by imperfect humans, and then have to be carried out by other imperfect humans, which explains why we saw members of the CDC bending the rules in favor of their friends and family, and that also happens in this film.  I wonder if regular people are just faceless masses to those in charge, and ultimately get treated differently from people that they personally care about.  As always, it comes down to who you know.

Again, I'm fascinated by the mechanics of dealing with a plague, but when those rules then are thrown out the window or disregarded, that's when my interest starts to wane.  Why set up the rules of engagement just to discard them later on?  

"Outbreak" is more of a thriller than "Contagion", more narrative in structure, whereas "Contagion" just feels like a collection of loosely-connected themes.  This makes "Outbreak" a bit easier to follow, but it also leads to some "Oh, come ON!" moments, mostly because Dustin Hoffman seems like such an unlikely sort of action hero.  According to IMDB, the original plan was to have a more action-oriented star like Harrison Ford, and Hoffman was clearly not the first choice.  So it seems like the casting mutated over time, just like the virus did.

NITPICK POINT: Again, I've got a problem with people removing their sealed bio-suits in very dramatic fashion.  Looks great on film, we get to see the actor's faces more, but ill-advised for their characters.  Would you film a movie in space where people remove their space helmets to deliver a line?  Of course not, because they'd die - same deal.  In the most extreme examples, the army team goes into an infected village, and are told by one local that the virus is not airborne, so they remove their suits.  Well, how the heck does HE know?  Where's his medical degree?

Another time, two characters take off their bio-suits and walk straight through the "hot zone" while completely unprotected.  They get into a helicopter and leave the quarantined town - isn't that EXACTLY the type of behavior that could spread the virus to another city?

NITPICK POINT #2: Show me the man who works for the military who can synthesize a viral antidote from a creature with antibodies and is also an accomplished helicopter pilot.  Given the specialized training that army, umm, specialists go through, I sincerely doubt any soldier would have both skills.

NITPICK POINT #3: As we learned last night, even if you can find an infected creature that isn't sick, and therefore has the antibodies, it can take months to develop an antivirus - even if you skip clinical trials on lab animals and then humans.  And to generate enough for a town - add on a few more weeks.  Not hours.

NITPICK POINT #4: Do I even need to get into how hard it would be in real life to find one lost monkey in the woods of California?  Look at the size of a monkey, compared with the size of Northern California.  Logically, it would take a month, and I think that's a very low estimate.  Also, what are the chances that the monkey wasn't bitten by another animal, or didn't bite or scratch another animal while defending itself in the woods?   I call "Shenanigans" all around.

Also starring Dustin Hoffman (last heard in "Kung Fu Panda 2"), Kevin Spacey (last seen in "Recount"), Rene Russo (last seen in "Thor"), Cuba Gooding Jr., Donald Sutherland (last seen in "Horrible Bosses"), Patrick Dempsey.

RATING: 6 out of 10 rocket launchers

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Year 5, Day 69 - 3/10/13 - Movie #1,370

BEFORE:  If I were looking to make a point about violence in films, I suppose I would have kept some kind of fatality counter going, but honestly that seems like a lot of work.  But with the topic at hand, I count 6 on-screen deaths in the past week's films - and two funerals, plus one I attended in the real world.  Tonight that number's on track to go much much higher.  Just wait until I get into my serial-killer chain later this spring...

Linking from "The Sessions", John Hawkes carries over, which was my secondary reason for dropping that 2012 film into the chain.

THE PLOT:  A thriller centered on the threat posed by a deadly disease and an international team of doctors contracted by the CDC to deal with the outbreak.

AFTER: I was shocked yesterday to learn how many people died of polio in epidemics in the early 1900's, but even that pales in comparison to flu pandemics, such as the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918-1920, which may have killed between 50 to 100 million people worldwide.  The invention of commercial travel by steamship and then airplane sure didn't help keep these things contained.  Nowadays, by the time "patient zero" is identified, he or she could have travelled to several cities or even continents before showing signs of disease.

The film opens on a close-up of a woman at an airport bar, and we see a bowl of complimentary peanuts.  "A-ha!" I thought, since we all know those salty snack dishes are just breeding grounds for spreading bacteria - I mean, how often do they wash them?  People go to the restroom, forget (or defiantly refuse) to wash their hands and then stick them RIGHT BACK into the nut bowl.  Well, I was wrong about the peanuts, but the virus here does get transmitted through common objects.  Watch the first few minutes of the film as the camera lingers on briefcases, subway poles, shared cell phones - the implication is that we touch all these things every day and don't even think about where they've been.  Well, I do, I don't know about you.

How many times have I seen somebody on the subway cough into their hand, and then put it RIGHT BACK on the pole?  Or a person in a restaurant making my food while wearing those little plastic gloves take a call on their cell phone?  Well, they breathe on the phone, then they touch the phone with the gloves on, so the very thing that's meant to protect my food from their germs is now covered in them anyway.  It just drives me crazy, and it's enough to keep me from going back to that sandwich shop for a while.  Oh, but if I yell at the sandwich guy, or tell some straphanger to sneeze into their inner elbow instead, now I'm the bad guy.

As you can tell, I'm interested in the mechanics of it all, and this film really gets into it.  An R-nought number describes how many people, on average, a person with a certain disease is likely to infect.  For the flu, that number is about 1, and for smallpox it was 2.  For polio, it was between 4 and 5.  This number can be drastically reduced if sick people lessen their contact with others, wash their hands frequently, and - now this is key - STAY THE HELL HOME when they're sick, and don't ride the bus or subway right before I do. 

Unfortunately, I found the narrative mechanics of the film somewhat lacking - there were story threads that were introduced and then never followed up on.  Why was it so important to point out that one of the characters was having an affair in another city?  Sure, the implication was that she may have spread the virus there, but why didn't we see it, or any of the fallout from the affair or the infection?  Why bring it up and do exactly nothing with it?

The film has a loose structure, similar to "Babel" or "Traffic", in which we the audience see all the ways that the characters are connected, even if they don't.  This allows several different kinds of stories to be told, but not all of them are resolved, or even followed up on.  I can't tell if this is a failure inherent to the structure, or just a result of some odd editing choices.  Well, at least all of the scenes are presented in proper linear order, with one notable exception.

NITPICK POINT: Several characters take to wearing surgical masks, or plastic-like cubes over their heads to prevent infection.  But those only work if you wear them ALL the time.  One character is then seen being interviewed on TV, and he's not wearing his improvised bio-suit.  There's nothing particularly safe about the TV studio - if he believed that the suit worked, why take it off?

NITPICK POINT #2: The World Health Organization concentrates on identifying "Patient Zero" and the origin of the infection.  Why?  With millions infected and dying, and the social order collapsing, is this really the best use of their resources and time?  Why not join the race to create and produce a vaccine, and figure out where it came from later? 

Also starring Matt Damon (last heard in "Happy Feet Two"), Gwyneth Paltrow (last seen in "Running With Scissors"), Laurence Fishburne (last seen in "Searching for Bobby Fischer"), Jude Law (last seen in "All the King's Men"), Kate Winslet (ditto), Marion Cotillard (last seen in "Nine"), Bryan Cranston, Sanaa Lathan, Elliott Gould (last seen in "The Muppets Take Manhattan"), Demetri Martin.

RATING: 5 out of 10 petri dishes