Friday, September 18, 2009

The Informant!

There’s a scene in The Informant!, Steven Soderbergh’s new refreshing film, that is unlike any scene I’ve ever seen in a film.  Without divulging too much, the scene has Matt Damon sitting next to his wife on their couch, a familiar FBI agent in front of them.  Suddenly Damon’s narration, which so far in the film has served only as a witty, stream-of-conscience plot device, finally makes a purpose.  Everything clicks into place.  The audience, along with the supporting characters in the scene, finally understand Damon’s character.  It’s the kind of scene that will get Damon nominated for an Oscar.

The Informant! is by far the most invigorating, mature comedy of the year.  Based on a true story, Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a high-level exec at an agri-business giant.  Unhappy with his work, he admirably goes to the FBI to whistle blow his company’s wrong doings.  What, we routinely ask, is Whitacre getting out of this situation?  And therein lies the bulk of the film.

Damon, who packed on some serious pounds, grew a bad mustache and an even worse haircut, has never been better than as the conflicted Whitacre.  His every move, from his facial twitches to his posture, are completely believable.  He makes the film a total joy. 

Steven Soderbergh is one of the few living American auteurs of cinema.  Whether he gives us his bare-bones indies (Bubble, The Girlfriend Experience), some heavyweight blockbusters (the Ocean’s 11 series) or a fresh mix of both (Traffic, Out of Sight), he never bores.  In short: I have yet to see a bad, or disappointing, Soderbergh film (yes this includes Solaris, Full Frontal, The Limey, etc).  His dedication to the craft of filmmaking is so evident, whether he’s attributing the ‘50s Rat Pack era, ‘70s crime, or even historical drama, the man can make a film (and shoot and edit, which he often does under pseudonyms).  I’m a fan, what can I say.

But sorry, back to The Informant!, which is a film for everyone.  Older crowds will enjoy the business politics of it (and they may remember the actual story), and the younger crowd will like the well-paced comedic timing (especially in that Adaptation-esque narration).

The preview for the film isn’t that impressive.  But for good reason. The Informant! offers up a lot of surprises, which are better discovered during the actual movie.  Damon, Soderbergh and the odd (albeit brilliantly played) cast are all in top form.  Sure to be one of the best films of the year.  A

Jennifer's Body

Jennifer’s Body will likely make a nice chunk of change it’s first weekend.  The dudes will go to get a glimpse of Megan Fox, and the gals will go to see some feminism empowerment (well, maybe).  But after this first weekend, believe you me, the film’s numbers will tank.

Why?  Because it sucks.

Don’t blame Fox (she’s not that bad), and definitely not Amanda Seyfried (Big Love, Mean Girls), they do good work.  Blame the silly, pointless, meandering script by Diablo Cody (who won an Oscar for writing Juno).  The film doesn’t make much sense, and when it seldom does, you won’t care enough to stay involved.  Director Karyn Kusama, who made the great Girlfight in 2000, seems to enjoy the hyperbolic metaphor of it all: the hot man eater actually is… a… man eater.  But the rest of us don’t feel “in” on the joke.

Jennifer Check, a clichéd high school hottie turns into a demon via the lamest demonic takeover I’ve ever seen.  She roams around school, flaunting her shit when she’s well fed, and preying on men when she starts to become physically weak.  Her best friend, Needy is the first and only one to figure it out, which eventually lands her in an insane asylum (really?).

You might enjoy this movie if a.) you like Cody’s smartass writing (which I often feel is too smart for its own good), or b.) you want to see some Fox-y skin.  Let me help the horny jerkoffs: you don’t see nothin’.  So basically, stay away.  I’d rather you see Sorority Row.  D

(Note: Okay, I just finished reading Roger Ebert's review of the film.  His last sentence says: "It's not art, it's not Juno, it's not Girlfight, for that matter, but as a movie about a flesh-eating cheerleader, it's better than it has to be."  Yes, I suppose that's fair.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sorority Row

So, why did I enjoy Sorority Row (well, as much as a person can enjoy a movie called Sorotiy Row)? Honestly, I’m not sure. All the basic teen-slasher clichés are there. The predictability. The silly killings. The false reality (I mean seriously, where the hell do these girls go to school? I’ve frequented many a college party and have never come close to what these chicks have going on.)

So, why?

Maybe it’s because I see promise in the lead, played by Briana Evigan (the one with a conscience). Maybe it’s because one of the lame dudes playing a typical frat boy actually made me, purposefully, laugh at out loud (“We’ll talk later”). Maybe it’s because the in-focus/out-of-focus cinematography felt fresh. Maybe it’s because the film didn’t tastelessly illustrate young women’s bodies as much as I thought it would.

I don’t know. Can’t explain it. But this seemingly throwaway slasher about a slew of sorority sisters who accidentally kill one of their own, unwisely try to cover it up, then find it biting them in ass several months later (yes, it’s I Know What You Did Last Summer with a bitchy cast), really isn’t that bad.

Or maybe, after seeing Whiteout, Halloween 2, and The Final Destination, dogshit would look like filet mignon. C+

Whiteout

Ten struggling independent filmmakers could’ve made their first feature.  One thousand families could’ve received free health care. 14,285 African children could’ve been fed for their entire young lives. 

What do these statistics have in common?  They are all better uses for the amount of money it took to make Whiteout.  A film that isn’t worth the time it would take me to type a plot summary. 

Why, Kate Beckinsale, why?  You have so much talent, as is evident in The Last Days of Disco, Brokedown Palace, Laurel Canyon, The Aviator and (most of all) Snow Angels. 

Stop.  Selling.  Out.

We’re still a few months away, but Whiteout is right up there with Transformers 2 for worst film of the decade. 

A friend recently asked me: “if you don’t like these cheesy horror movies, then why the hell do you go see them?”

My response was simple: “So you don’t have to.”  F

Monday, September 7, 2009

Halloween II

Halloween II starts off with a dream sequence… I think. Michael Myers, presumed dead, wakes up after the ambulance transporting his body hits a cow in the middle of the road (a cow… really?). He offs the two paramedics then walks off. Next scene, the female lead from the first Halloween wakes up in her ER room, only to be stalked by Myers, who finally chases her down and drives a knife into her head. Then she wakes up. So when did the dream start? Did Myers actually escape the ambulance like that? I have no idea. But maybe I’m looking too much into it.

Rob Zombie’s revamp of John Carpenter’s classic was actually not that bad. I remember seeing his first Halloween two years ago and being entertained throughout (mostly with the first hour, when we deal with the young Michael). Such is not the case here.

We often give horror films the benefit of the doubt. Myers gets shot several times and lives, okay. He lives for a year in a shack, walking around empty fields, okay. He puts on his mask before he kills people, even though they won’t be able to tell anyone about him anyway, okay. He happens to kill a girl at a crowded party (who just happens to be best friend with his most sought after victim), okay. But seriously, how can this dude possibly know where his biological sister, Laurie now lives? The yellow pages? Google maps? Does Michael Myers own a GPS? I wonder what the sales person at Best Buy thought of his buoyant personality.

You want blood? You got it. Boobs? Check. Bad acting? Of course. But if you’re in the torture-porn mood already, I suggest staying home, renting Zombie’s first Halloween, tuning off the lights and being entertainingly grossed out.

One positive quality of the film that I will mention is that it does look good. As with the first Halloween, Zombie produces a dark, shadowy, blue-ish hue that is very pleasing, and distinctive, to the eye. He also knows how to use slow motion in a way that is not distracting or annoying. Take for instance the scene when Laurie runs rabidly through the woods, freezing just in front of bright lights, silhouetting her in the dark moonlight; it looks great, I just don’t give a shit about what I’m seeing. D

Extract

Here’s the thing, I’m writing this review nearly five hours after seeing Extract, problem is, I’m having trouble remembering it. Not because I wasn’t paying attention, but because there isn’t anything memorable to recall.

Shame, as director Mike Judge is responsible to two of pop culture’s most original cartoons (Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill) and the cult classic Office Space. But no, Extract is a run-of-the-mill, clichéd mess.

Joel (Jason Bateman, always funny, but not here) is hoping to sell his food flavoring company and retire early. But why? He hates the Caribbean and his wife (Kristin Wiig, always funny, but not here) wears her sweatpants so tight that Joel hasn’t gotten laid in months. Suddenly a factory worker loses one of his balls in a freak accident and Joel’s corporate buy-out isn’t so feasible.

In his spare time Joel goes to a hotel bar where his favorite, stoned-out barkeep (Ben Affleck, sometimes funny, but not here) convinces Joel to cheat on his wife. So Joel, doped up a horse tranquilizer (could be funny, but not here) conjures up a plan to hire a gigolo to seduce his wife, so that Joel can bang a hustling hottie (Mila Kunis, always a knockout, especially here). Keeping up? Didn’t think so.

Trying to make a film as funny and original as Office Space is a daunting task. I wasn’t expecting that. I was just hoping for some laughs from a cast I usually enjoy (who, if you haven’t guessed, aren’t funny).

Maybe I’ll get some crap from my peers for judging this film too harshly and not appreciating what it is: a simple comedy, meant only to provoke a few laughs. But that’s not true, I do understand that concept, it’s just that Extract really isn’t funny. The movie might have been saved if it didn’t reuse its same gags over and over. The annoying neighbor stopping the car, the bitching about not getting any, the barroom talks, the stupid gigolo, the tight sweatpants, the accountant who can’t remember names. All of these jokes would play well if we only saw them once (maybe twice), but instead Judge reuses them again and again, wearing us out with each “new” scene.

I can see Beavis and Butt-Head watching Extract on TV. After about 10 minutes, Butt-Head would slap Beavis in the head for not changing the channel sooner. “Beavis,” he’d say, “That chick was hot, but that movie blows.” Sadly, I’d be inclined to agree. D