Heavenly Creatures (1994)

heavenlycreatures_1Starring Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet, Sarah Peirse, Diana Kent, Clive Merrison, Simon O’Connor, Jed Brophy, Peter Elliott, Gilbert Goldie, Geoffrey Heath

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: Moderate. The last time I saw this a few years ago I told myself that I’d seen it enough times.


Having risen to mythic status in genre cinema, Peter Jackson next turned his focus towards something a bit different: the true story of a New Zealand murder in the 1950s. Heavenly Creatures isn’t completely separate from his early genre efforts, though, as the film’s female protagonists have healthy, vivid imaginations which Jackson explores and brings to life. This makes Heavenly Creatures both an indie drama and a film that could have only come from the FX-minded Jackson. It definitely separates Heavenly Creatures from the pack, and it made Hollywood take notice. Just a few years earlier he was going gonzo with lawnmowers and an endless supply of fake blood, yet for his next film he receives an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay? Nobody saw that coming. For just about everyone but the gorehounds, Heavenly Creatures is the film that put Peter Jackson on the map, and is perhaps the most important film of his career.

In her first role, Kate Winslet plays Juliet, an English girl who’s just come to New Zealand with her parents. They regularly move around the world, so she is rich, cultured and a bit spoiled. She quickly makes friends with Pauline (Melanie Lynskey, also in her first role), a depressed loner and native New Zealander who lives a simpler life with her parents. Their family has boarders staying at their home to help pay the bills, but her parents are nice people who do what they can to care for Pauline. The girls bond over their shared love of things like opera star Mario Lanza, art, writing and their sickly childhoods. Pauline lived a fairly solitary life prior to meeting Juliet, and she revels in the joy of finding someone who shares so many common interests.

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Contagion (2011)

Starring Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, Sanaa Lathan, Elliott Gould, Anna Jacoby-Heron

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Expectations: High, I have a good feeling about this one.

I’m not a huge Steven Soderbergh fan, but I respect him immensely. Where most Oscar-winning directors are happy to stay sheltered within the studio system once they receive their acclaim, Soderbergh is not one to be shackled to any one genre or tied to any specific type of film. He consistently makes the films he wants to make, casting unknown actors in one film and then following it up with a slickly produced Ocean’s Eleven film. If there’s one style that has become synonymous with his name though, it’s the ensemble cast drama, even if he hasn’t really made too many of them. Traffic was clearly his defining film for most people (and me as well), so going into Contagion I had an idea that it would be “Traffic with germs”.

That’s pretty much what I got, but that’s far too simple of a way to put it. It both sells the film short and fails to convey the triumph that Soderbergh has achieved with Contagion. There have been lots of viral epidemic movies throughout the years, but never have they been as hyper-realistic as this. Contagion methodically moves from day-to-day, tracking the course of the outbreak across the world. It focuses on a number of people in various locations around the world, and together their stories weave into an overall picture of the epidemic story that is Contagion. It’s like a disease procedural, so if you zoned out or got bored during this paragraph, then perhaps this film is not for you. If, on the other hand, this sounds interesting and up your alley, then definitely give Contagion a shot.

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