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Sunday, March 29 News

Granger on Film: Movies to watch about pandemics

Since misery loves company, here are movies about pandemics that you can stream at home.

It’s “social distancing” that you need survive the plausible global pandemic in the all-too-terrifying bio-thriller “Contagion” (2011) that begins with an international traveler.

Headed home to Minneapolis from Hong Kong, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) stops for a drink at the airport, nibbles snacks at the bar and pays with a credit card. She’s feverish, coughing and jet-lagged when, two days later, her husband (Matt Damon) finds her dead.

Soon, others are displaying the same flulike symptoms in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Chicago, London and Paris, and it’s obvious that a lethal virus is been unleashed.

Alarmed, the Deputy Director (Laurence Fishburne) of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dispatches a first-responder investigator (Kate Winslet) and assigns a researcher (Jennifer Ehle) to find a vaccine, as a World Health Organization epidemiologist (Marion Cotillard) in Geneva tries to trace the virus to its source.

Meanwhile, a sensationalist blogger (Jude Law) claims the public isn’t being told the truth by the government and touts an herbal remedy.

Tapping into our most primal fears and survival instincts, screenwriter Scott Z. Burns has concocted a complex yet reasonably realistic ‘what if?’ scenario about pathogens mutating, recalling recent worries about SARS, avian flu and the H1N1 swine flu.

Dr. Ian Lipkin, of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, devised the disease as a corollary of the rare Nipah virus, which spread from pigs to farmers in Malaysia in the late 1990s.

Director/cinematographer Steven Soderbergh keeps the tension taut with fragmentary, fast-paced, documentary-like scenes and terse warnings. “Contagion” is available on Hulu.

Based on a book called “The Hot Zone,” Wolfgang Petersen’s “Outbreak” (1995) envisions the spread of viral hemorrhagic fever when a smuggler brings an African monkey into the United States, infecting a picturesque California town that is subsequently quarantined.

Ferociously virulent, the virus destroys the body’s major organs. Two physicians (Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo), who were once married, are pitted against an evil general (Donald Sutherland), who wants to use the germ as a weapon.

There’s a particularly grisly scene in which Kevin Spacey bleeds out of every orifice. “Outbreak” is available on Netflix.

The screen adaptation of Michael Chrichton’s techno-thriller, “The Andromeda Strain” (1971) focuses on research scientists who gather in Piedmont, N.M., after a government satellite crashes, releasing a microscopic organism that kills residents of a small, rural New Mexico town.

The story is told in flashback by Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill), who relates how the greenish, throbbing extraterrestrial life form, given the code name “Andromeda,” escaped from containment. While the pathogen is defeated, Stone warns that there will be future alien contaminants.

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Crichton does a non-speaking cameo during the scene where a doctor is told to break scrub because he must report to the Wildfire research facility. “The Andromeda Strain” is available on iTunes and Prime.

Charlton Heston stars in “The Omega Man” (1971), set in the aftermath of a biological weapon attack on the United States.

He’s a Los Angeles-based scientist who injects himself with an experimental vaccine, rendering himself immune. Struggling to maintain his sanity, he roams the streets where he finds nocturnal albino mutants who want to destroy all technology, the science they blame for humanity’s downfall.

In his autobiography “In the Arena,” Heston notes that the crucifixion scene was not in the original script but it easily fit into the storyline. Also, when he kisses Rosalind Cash, it was highly controversial as one of Hollywood’s first interracial kisses to be filmed.

This is the second adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel. The first was “The Last Man on Earth” (1964) with Vincent Price; the third adaptation, “I Am Legend” (2007), starred Will Smith. “The Omega Man” is available on iTunes and Prime.

If you enjoy star-studded disaster movies, “The Cassandra Crossing” (1976) teams Sophia Loren, Ava Gardner, Burt Lancaster, Richard Harris, Martin Sheen, Ingrid Thulin and O.J. Simpson, who are trapped on a plague-infested train speeding from Geneva to Stockholm.

With a terrorist onboard, the train is rerouted to an abandoned railway line to a former Nazi concentration camp in Janov, Poland, where passengers can be quarantined. But first they must cross the dangerously unstable Kasundruv Bridge, out of use since 1948, between Poland and Ukraine.

The streel arch bridge is actually the Garabit Viaduct in southern France, built from 1880-1884 by Gustave Eiffel, who later constructed the Eiffel Tower. “The Cassandra Crossing” is available on YouTube, Google Play and Tubi.

Susan Granger has been an on-air television and radio commentator and entertainment critic for more than 25 years. Raised in Hollywood, Granger appeared as a child actress in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Lassie. She currently resides in Westport.

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