Woodrow and Milly most definitely do not meet cute. They come together as participants in a $50 bar bet to see who can devour the most live crickets at a beer-soaked Los Angeles dive. The couple then embarks on an impromptu road trip to Texas, where they egg each other on to do increasingly dangerous and disgusting things, getting off on a mutual adrenaline rush. Milly seems too aggressive for her new beau, but perhaps soft-spoken Woodrow is the one to watch. He and his slacker pal Aiden, both obsessed with Mad Max films, spend their days building weapons of mass destruction–flamethrowers and indestructible cars–just in case the apocalypse arrives. But when Woodrow and Milly have a bad breakup, the gamesmanship really begins between the two and the WMDs ensure that broken hearts will be joined by broken bones. At first blush debuting writer-director Evan Glodell might seem like Cronenberg divorced from social commentary, smashing together human flesh and metal machines merely for sensationalism. But there’s more here. Glodell may not be concerned with a sick society, but he’s very attuned to heartsickness and its combustible nature. Watch trailer.
In our viral, interconnected age, when we fear the rapid spread of computer worms, toxic financial derivatives and lab-built bio-nightmares, Steven Soderbergh offers a timely blockbuster about a killer flu that is a shockingly straightforward medical procedural, one which makes only scant concessions to the usual standards of character-driven megaplex movies. The film follows a deadly bug that begins in Hong Kong and rapidly winds around the world after finding its patient zero: a traveling American businessperson (Gwyneth Paltrow). As the body count grows, we watch epidemiologists at the World Health Organization do their work, tracking the illness. Interesting that the main villain is a blogger (Jude Law) who is willing to spread disinformation for a profit. While it’s possible for hysteria to drive poor information online (see: immunizations, autism), the world of new media is mostly our ally. Think of the glacial initial response to AIDS, which was caused not only by politics but also by a lack of shared info, computer infrastructure and advanced statistical analysis. The tools Law’s character uses, which can rapidly disseminate information, are more likely to prevent an epidemic than abet one. Not everything that goes viral harms us. Watch trailer.
Tuesday, After Christmas
Radu Muntean’s romantic drama about the dissolution of a marriage during a family’s seemingly happy holiday season is another example from the recent Romanian wave of stark, convincing dramas. Middle-aged banker Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is having an affair with a younger woman (Maria Popistasu), and we only learn subsequently that his mistress is also his daughter’s dentist. His lies mount, but Cristi still believes the duplicity is manageable. Right before Christmas, he suddenly realizes the situation is, in fact, untenable, and sheepishly tells his wife (Mirela Oprisor) that their marriage is over. It’s a shattering and impassioned climax, but the small, mundane moments before and after the fissure are just as impressive. As Muntean follows his principals through their workaday existences–running errands, eating meals–it becomes apparent that life is largely a number of seemingly unimportant details that collect and form and present us with a truth that we only, at most, suspected. Watch trailer.