Friday Flicks: Will ‘Contagion’ Fever Catch On?

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Gwyneth Paltrow in "Contagion"

Grab some popcorn! NewsFeed’s Glen Levy brings you the movies you should check out (or avoid) this weekend.

Contagion

Tagline: The World Goes Viral

What is it with long haul flights fueling the plot devices for A-list packed vehicles? Last year’s Inception only really got going once everyone dozed off during the Sydney-Los Angeles leg and this week’s Contagion requires Gwyneth Paltrow to cough for all she’s worth once wheels are up between Hong Kong and Chicago.

But that’s pretty much all these movies share, apart from the fact that Marion Cotillard appears in both. But her Dr. Leonora Orantes (who is at the World Health Organization in Geneva) is not being directed by the auteur Christopher Nolan this time around but rather Steven Soderbergh, who marks his foray in the disaster movie genre as all concerned follow the worldwide spread of a deadly, unknown virus.

And those concerned are familiar faces: in addition to the aforementioned, we have ourselves some Matt Damon (Paltrow’s screen husband, at home in Minneapolis), Jude Law (a blogger in San Francisco who is the first journalist to hit upon the story) and Kate Winslet, the “epidemic intelligence officer,” who takes instructions from Laurence Fishburne.

Though it’s his debut in this particular genre, Soderbergh knows a thing or two about a multistranded narrative (see the Oscar-winning Traffic for further evidence) but our own critic Richard Corliss (who knows a thing or two about everything movie-related) was on the side of Contagion “for a good hour, a very good first hour.” It’s probably harsh to come down too hard as Soderbergh never lacks for ambition. And considering that this is his 22nd feature in as many years (to say nothing of his producing credits), it’s plain to see why he would be attached to such a project: he’s a one-man movie-making virus of his own.

(LIST:Top 10 Epidemic Movies)

Warrior

Tagline: Fight For Country

Another actor who was in Nolan’s Inception was Tom Hardy, who memorably played Eames, the Forger, and arguably stole the show from under Leo DiCaprio’s nose. But he wasn’t the lead. In Warrior, at the bare minimum (emphasis on bare, if you’ve checked out the poster), he gets equal billing alongside Joel Edgerton.

They play the brothers Conlon (Tommy and Brendan) with Hardy’s Tommy the ex-Marine with a tragic past. He returns home for the first time in years to enlist the help of his father Paddy (Nick Nolte) to train for SPARTA, only the biggest winner-takes-all event in mixed martial arts history. The winner, in case you hadn’t guessed, takes all.

As for brother Brendan, he’s more the married with kids type, struggling to pay his mortgage on his teaching wage. What lesson does he learn? To go immediately to Atlantic City, without passing Go, so he too can pit his wits ā€“ or rather his fists and feet ā€“ in the MMA tournament.

We’re in three-act, three-fight territory, and if you care for Warrior, then you’ll need to thank three men: both our protagonists (Edgerton is also worth further investigation in last year’s Australian smash hit Animal Kingdom) as well as writer-director Gavin O’Connor, who has crafted a picture that people are comparing (or at least mentioning in the same review) to Rocky. But perhaps we should have seen it coming: Hardy bulked up a couple of years back in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson and O’Connor’s Miracle from 2004 laid much of the ground work he’s now taking to another level. And as the song nearly goes, you’ve got to fight for the right to partake on the big stage.

(VIDEO: In the Octagon, Off the Streets: A Mixed-Martial-Arts Champ Builds Community)

NewsFeed’s Flicks Pick: The brutal world of MMA might demand a winner, but we’re calling it a tie between our two films.

Glen Levy is an Executive Producer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @glenjl. You can also continue the discussion on TIMEā€™s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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