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Damon’s Wife Triggers Pandemic; Martial Arts Showdown: Movies

Anna Jacoby-Heron and Matt Damon in the thriller "Contagion" which opens on Sept. 9 across the U.S. Photographer: Claudette Barius/Warner Bros. via Bloomberg

After watching “Contagion,” you may not feel like shaking hands for a while.

Steven Soderbergh’s thriller is about a deadly global virus that can be spread by incidental contact like touching someone else’s drinking glass or dinner plate.

Starting with one person, it quickly spreads to millions around the world. One minute you’ve got a headache, fever and hacking cough. The next, you’re dead.

It’s a fertile subject, yet Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (who teamed on “The Informant!”) only scratch the surface of its dramatic potential. “Contagion” is cluttered with too many characters, leaving little room for any of them to develop beyond archetypes.

Matt Damon is the grieving father and husband, Kate Winslet the brave selfless doctor, Laurence Fishburne the concerned public-health official, Jude Law the rabble-rousing blogger and Marion Cotillard the dogged World Health Organization official trying to find the source of the pandemic.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays Damon’s wife, who contracts the disease on a business trip to Hong Kong and brings it home to Minnesota. Even though she dies early in the film -- the first victim of the virus -- we end up knowing as much about her (through flashbacks) as the other characters.

Soderbergh takes us to London, Tokyo, China, Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco, but never stays long enough to establish any continuity.

The scenes of desperate people looting, robbing and stampeding to get a dose of the scarce vaccine are realistic and frightening. And the quick cutting does build tension.

Still, the film bogs down in the minutiae of tracking the disease and finding a cure. Though lives are in danger, it’s hard to get emotionally involved when you hardly know the people at risk.

“Contagion,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2


“Warrior” is an electrifying, mixed martial arts version of “The Fighter” about two estranged brothers heading for a showdown at the sport’s biggest event.

This underdog story pushes every emotional button in a winning way that doesn’t seem overly manipulative.

With two magnetic stars, Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, and a gritty drama that builds to a pulsating climax, Gavin O’Connor’s film should appeal to a wider audience than just those who like to see people kicked, kneed and punched.

Tommy (Hardy, who played an even tougher guy in “Bronson”) is an ex-Marine and former wrestling standout who returns home after a long absence. He asks his reformed-drunk father (Nick Nolte) to train him for a $5 million, winner-take-all MMA tournament in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Iraq Trauma

His brother Brendan (Edgerton), a former fighter now teaching high-school physics, enters the same event in a long-shot bid to save his family home from foreclosure. Neither brother knows the other is going to compete in the tournament.

Both resent their father, who left their mother during his drinking days, and Tommy is also traumatized by his time as a soldier in Iraq.

A more immediate concern is Koba, a ferocious, undefeated Russian played by Olympic champion and pro wrestler Kurt Angle. The realism of the brutal fight scenes is heightened by the presence of actual MMA fighters like Erik “Bad” Apple and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.

“Warrior” is too violent and probably too corny for some moviegoers. In the end, though, it’s hard to resist cheering for these brawling brothers.

“Warrior,” from Lions Gate, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***1/2

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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