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Contagion (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Matt Damon worked hard in 2011, with this, The Adjustment Bureau and We Bought a Zoo (plus his cameo as the "handsome drug addict" in the SNL Digital Short "Best Friends"). None of the feature films were extraordinary (and Bureau stunk!), but his work in at least two of the films helped to elevate them to "decent" status.

In this pandemic thriller, he plays the husband of Gwyneth Paltrow's character, who just happens to be an initial carrier of a deadly virus that will wipe out a good chunk of the Earth. Paltrow, it must be said, can look sick like nobody else. Her role in the film is short, but it's powerful and grisly.

Kate Winslet does a fine job as somebody who got the wrong job at the wrong time. She, like Paltrow, can also play sick like a champ. They are Olympian coughers.

Not so good is Jude Law as a militant blogger with strange intentions. His character got on my nerves in a big way. Marion Cotillard also finds little success in the role of a kidnapped doctor. Director Steven Soderbergh crammed the film with too many subplots, and tried to say far too much. He should've kept to the main thriller aspect, rather than try to make so many grand statements.

Still, there's enough here to make it worth a watch—not the least of which is Paltrow coughing mightily.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There are three features about deadly viruses, what's being done to fight them, and how the likes of Matt Damon feel about the whole damn situation.

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret: Series One





(OUT OF 10)

This sinister and funny comedy set in England is a nice showcase for the demented talents of David Cross and Will Arnett. For Arrested Development and Mr. Show fans, this series is a must-see.

Cross plays the title character, a meek employee who is mistaken for a corporate lion, given a promotion and sent to England to head up the sales of an energy drink of questionable quality. Before embarking on his trip, he must take care of his cat—so he leaves the window open, puts a month's worth of cat food in a basin, leaves a bunch of water, and takes off. The progressively bad fate of his cat and his apartment is seen in hilarious tags after each show's credits.

Cross has no problem appearing pathetic, and Todd has to be his most-pathetic creation thus far. He can't sell the energy drink; he's prone to the public shitting of his pants; and he's terrible with the ladies. Sharon Horgan winningly plays the owner of a local café whom Todd apparently wants to bang.

Arnett is his usual brand of awesome as Cross' boss, who has a strange backstory of his own, and is prone to some of the more lethally vulgar tirades ever put on television. In a small but very funny role, Spike Jonze plays Todd's whiny boss.

A new Arrested Development project involving a Netflix miniseries and a film is in the works. Until then, Cross and Arnett provide a nice fix here for Bluth fans.

The show's second season premieres on IFC on Friday, Jan. 6.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Cross contributes to commentaries on all six episodes, and it's always fun to hear that guy talk about anything. There's also an extended version of the first episode, bloopers, deleted scenes and various featurettes. Overall, it looks like they put some work into this thing.

Apollo 18 (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

This is yet another "found footage" film, like those in the Paranormal Activity movies, The Blair Witch Project, etc. "Found footage" has become synonymous with: "We ain't got no money, so let's cheap out and pretend this shit is real so it can look all choppy like a documentary, and we don't need to have any real monsters, 'cause they're expensive." Or something like that.

The movie's plot asserts that one last Apollo mission took place—one that the American public never found out about. It's well-known in scientific quarters that Americans just couldn't handle the existence of cheap-looking rock monsters on the moon, so the footage was hidden until found-footage films became really popular in this century, when this was taken out of mothballs.

Early on, the scenario works a bit. However, things get progressively more ridiculous, to the point where it's laughable. I certainly found this one to be more entertaining than, say, Paranormal Activity 3, but not so much that I can recommend it.

The actors work hard, and there are a couple of good scares. But the overall tone is monotonous, and the found-footage gimmick is worn out.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A director's commentary, some deleted and alternate scenes, and some alternate endings.

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