Fan Fare

Entertainment behind the scenes

How the ‘Contagion’ virus was born

By Peter Christian Hall
The opinions expressed are his own.

The most riveting player in Contagion, the star-laden thriller about a global pandemic, is a virus — the so-called MEV-1 paramyxovirus that an American businesswoman spreads from Hong Kong to Minneapolis in the movie’s opening sequence. The bug that emerged from years of brainstorming by top scientific and creative minds has itself become an overnight superstar.

Contagion’s proprietary serial killer — the offspring of related viral strains from a bat and a pig — started out its scripted life as a souped-up avian influenza. “Flu seemed the worst-case pandemic to talk about,” says Laurie Garrett, an emerging-disease expert and bestselling author (The Coming Plague and Betrayal of Trust) who in 2008 began working closely with screenwriter Scott Z. Burns on at least 30 script drafts.

“A tremendous amount of work went into coming up with a very detailed scenario about how all the elements around the world would respond if we had a truly virulent 1918-type flu.” The Great Pandemic that accompanied World War I infected more than half a billion people and killed well over 50 million, most of them aged 16 to 40.

When nature surprised Garrett and Burns with the 2009 swine flu pandemic, they quickly realized Novel H1N1 wasn’t going to be virulent enough to hold the public’s interest in “a flu movie.”

“Ides of March” stars play politics, or not, at TIFF


George Clooney and Ryan Gosling at TIFF

Politics may make for good films, but don’t expect the stars of “The Ides of March” to run for office any time soon.

George Clooney, who directs and stars as governor Mike Morris in the political drama, has already said he isn’t interested in a real-life political career.

UDPATE – Sheen’s “Torpedo” is a dud. What will he shoot now?


Conan1He’s no Conan O’Brien, Charlie Sheen.

But he did stage a comeback in Chicago.

Update — Following his Detroit  bomb, Charlie Sheen did what any respectable entertainer would do. He lived by the credo “the show must go on, ” and revamped his “Violent Torpedo of Truth” with a talk show format. Fans evidently liked it.

Charlie Sheen come’s back.

What Happened in Detroit? We covered here: Fans of the man with self-diagnosed “tiger’s blood” came to Detroit to cheer their hero in his one-man redemption show “My Violent Torpedo of Truth: Defeat is Not An Option”. They wanted him to prove his “Adonis DNA” and take on the corporate entertainment titans who fired him. They wanted to see if he had kicked his drugs and drinks-fueled lifestyle at his in-home rehab clinic he calls “The Sober Valley Lodge.” They wanted comedy, perhaps a few songs. They wanted the real story behind Sheen’s Hollywood veil.

Did Gervais go too far at Globes?


The day afteRickyr the Golden Globes, and, in Britain at least, there is as much media chatter about show host Ricky Gervais and his no-holds-barred approach as there is about Colin Firth’s acting award for his portrayal of the stammering King George VI in “The King’s Speech”.

Normally the reaction on this side of the pond to major U.S. movie award shows is to champion the victorious Brits, or otherwise bemoan their failure. This year would have been no exception — joy for Firth, otherwise disappointment for the film about the British monarchy — were it not for Gervais and his less-than-gentle jokes that took aim at, among others, Charlie Sheen, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp of “The Tourist”, The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Cher, the actresses in Sex and the City, prominent Scientologists and Hugh Hefner.

Helena Bonham Carter, queen of Halloween frights


This item is both good, and perhaps not so good, for director Tim Burton. His long-term companion, Helena Bonham Carter, has had the distinct honor (some might say dubious distinction) of making it on a list — twice — of top movie-themed Halloween costumes. The first time, she is a queen (good) and the second, a witch (not so good, although given Burton’s taste in characters  — Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd — he might think it’s cool).

Online movie ticket seller polled some  2,200 people on its website, asking them about the upcoming ghoulish holiday where people dress like goblins or werewolves and play tricks or get treats. Fifty-five percent said they would dress up and of those, 58 percent said they’d pick a movie-themed costume.

Daytime therapist, nighttime filmmaker captures Soviet life


Photo by Daniel Bases

He’s a physiotherapist by day and a filmmaker by nights, weekends and everything in between. Semyon Pinkhasov has captured facets of Soviet life that rarely get shared beyond Russia’s borders, even after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

(For story, click on

The self-taught, self-financed, award-winning amateur documentary filmmaker has seen his films shown worldwide at festivals and on Russian and English-language television channels. Focused on the arts and the sport of fencing (U.S. Olympic Team Coach in 1984), he tells stories about Grigory Fried, who has run a music appreciation club in Moscow for 45 years without taking a kopeck; Tikhon Khrennikov, the first and last secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers; and Boris Efimov, perhaps Stalin’s favorite cartoonist.

Can Cannes live with low U.S. turnout?


Cannes2010-1So, Cannes 2010 is about to get underway and the usual bout of soul-searching, navel-gazing and nail-biting is occupying minds in the Mediterranean resort.

No one knows whether it will be a strong year or not until the end, of course, so the main focus for a lot of critics and journalists in the runup to Wednesday’s opening (with Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood”) has been the lack of U.S. titles in the main competition lineup and also in sidebar events. Doug Liman’s political “Fair Game”, based on the true story of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, is the country’s sole representative out of 19 competition movies. That said, Oliver Stone and Woody Allen are both in town with films, and they don’t come much bigger or more respected.

“Avatar”, “Precious”, Clooney, Cruz? Who should get movie awards?


The Hollywood awards season is shaping up nicely after a week of  critics awards and nominations for top movies and performances from the  Golden Globes organizers and the Screen Actors Guild.AVTR-2z26

So far , the movies with the biggest momentum behind them seem to be “Up in the Air”, with George Clooney,  harrowing  urban tale “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”,  Quentin Tarantino’s  summer box office hit war fantasy “Inglourious Basterds”,  the much-talked about sci-fi epic  “Avatar”, glittering musical “Nine”,  Iraq war drama “The Hurt Locker” and  British coming of age movie “An Education”.

Early UK reviews suggest Twilight sequel lacks bite


The Daily Mail calls the eagetwilightrly anticipated second instalment in the Twilight franchise “disastrous” and “one long pain in the neck“, and gives it just one star out of five compared with four stars for the first film. The Daily Mirror is kinder, saying the movie “effortlessly sweeps you along in a swirl of intoxicating passion.” It goes on to say the film, which hits US and UK theatres on Friday, works better as a love story than as a supernatural adventure.Whoever you believe in the coming days, when the already speeding Twilight hype machine goes into overdrive, critics’ opinions are likely to have little impact on how the film fares at the ticket booths. The Twilight franchise based on the hugely popular novels by U.S. author Stephenie Meyer is being touted as the next Harry Potter, i.e. billions of box office bucks in the next few days.As in the original, British actor Robert Pattinson plays Edward, the brooding bloodsucker who befriends Bella, played by Kristen Stewart. And Taylor Lautner is set to become the next heartthrob for his portrayal of American werewolf Jacob Black.Catherine Hardwicke’s original Twilight movie made $384 million at the global box office. Few would bet against the sequel beating that tally, no matter what the critics think.

Box office gets “Wild” as adults groove with kids’ tale


whild-thingsDirector Spike Jonze’s movie adaptation “Where the Wild Things Are” proved naysayers wrong this past weekend with a strong opening at U.S. box offices, making $32.5 million. The film brought Jonze’s hipster ethic to a popular 1963 children’s book, and managed to attract both adults and kids.

Of course, other movies have done that before, including this year’s Disney/Pixar film “Up.” But the doubters were particularly vocal about “Where the Wild Things Are” because early in the production process there were questions about whether the film was too scary for young kids and not scary enough for adults. You can read about some of it here, but none of those past concerns seemed to matter over the weekend.