Friday, December 19, 2014

End-of-the-Year Sci-Fi Movie Reviews - "Parts Per Billion"

Last year around this time I found myself watching a bunch of relatively new but not very good science fiction movies on Netflix. I wrote reviews of them on the blog. Since there isn't much going on in baseball cards at this time of the year, I thought I'd do the same this year.

Our first feature is "Parts Per Billion", a direct to rental, released in May of 2014.
The movie follows the fate of three couples, Erik and Annie (top row), Len and Mia (middle row) and Andy and Esther (bottom row) as a biological agent is used in the Middle East.  It has a pretty well known, including Frank Langella, Gena Rowlands, Rosario Dawson and Josh Hartnett. The phrase "parts per billion" is used twice in the movie, which hardly seems like a reason to use it as the title.

The movie opens with Erik, a musician, noodling on his guitar while his girl friend Anna is watching faux CNN on her laptop.  Scenes of Erik and Anna arguing about dirty dishes, going to dinner, meeting an old girl friend of Erik's are inter-spaced with news flashes concerning first the rumors of biological warfare, the denial by everyone involved, and people dropping dead in the street. At first the US looks safe but, according to one newscaster, the "trade winds" are blowing the pathogen across Europe.

Here's the first, for me, real problem with the movie. In the northern hemisphere, the trade winds are called the "westerlies" because they blow from the west. This movie would have you believe the westerlies blow toward the west. A minor error perhaps but the entire movie relies on the pathogen reaching the US East Coast relatively quickly. If the movie had been more engaging, I'd care less about this.

The movie jumps from current time scenes, like the one described above, to flashbacks presented in confusing order and, at least in the beginning, no awareness for the viewer that a flashback is happening. Through these flashbacks we learn that these three couples are connected, although that connection ultimately does not matter.

Andy is the original inventor of the pathogen although he claims to believe he didn't know if it's potential use as a weapon. This brought much money to Andy. Erik is Andy's grandson, who was only born as a result of Andy's ill-gotten wealth keeping his daughter, who had some unnamed disease, alive long enough for Andy to be born. Mia is Andy's lawyer. He's being sued for disclosing trade secrets of the company that developed the pathogen from Andy's work. It's through this connection we learn that Andy was sorry he'd ever worked on the project. Mia has to practically slap him in the face to keep him focused.

The flashbacks for each couple intermingle with each other and with the present scenes. Erik and Anna, seem to take no precautions for the pending disaster, even though Anna was pretty worried about it in the beginning of the movie. Andy and Esther were in the hospital due to an apparent Esther heart-attack. As people in the hospital are dropping like flies, Andy has rustled up some small oxygen canisters to keep he and his wife alive. He tells Esther that the pathogen is only deadly above a concentration in the air of 30 parts per billion and that after 8 days the pathogen will expire (or something). Len and Mia, who apparently had miles of plastic sheeting in their house, have sealed up all the windows and doors and prepare to wait out the 8 days in the basement. They hear on the radio, apparently the last thing before the radio dies, that it's 45 parts per billion they have to worry about.

That this wasn't a very good movie wasn't for lack of trying. There are some good actors in this and I'd say that the acting was pretty credible. But ultimately these people weren't very interesting and all the effort that went into tying their stories together meant noting.

By the end of the movie, they may all be dead. Erik and Anna who spent the last few minutes of their life making love sure look dead. Andy and Esther, after having made a trek from the hospital they were in to another hospital looking for more oxygen, go out on the hospital lawn and take off their oxygen masks (which probably weren't protecting them anyway) and gaze expectantly into the sky. Len and Mia, who seem to have the best chance to survive, get into an argument over if they should do the 'Adam and Eve' thing. On the second or maybe third day of their hiding, Mia wants out. Len begs her to stay. The last we see of them is Mia on the basement stairs with Len on his knees begging.

Throughout the movie, Anna was having visions (or psychotic breaks) where she was seeing a young blond girl running barefoot through he woods wearing a white shift and a necklace of flowers.  Since Anna is blond, I thought it was some childhood memory. The last scene has the little girl running down to a river where a woman, also dressed in a white shift, is apparently about to clean some clothes in the river. The little girl shows what she found in the woods - Anna's engagement ring.

Make of this what you will.

Two interesting facts about the movie. One, it was filmed in Detroit. The State of Michigan granted the film company about $300,000 in state tax incentives. It was never made clear where the story was taking place and the director seemed to be taking pains to not reveal it was Detroit. A local may have known. The second fact is that the movie had 16 executive producers, including actor Dennis Hopper, who died 4 years ago.

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