Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Informant!

Director Steve Soderbergh crosses "Catch Me If You Can", "Ocean's 12", and "The Informer" to make an film based on a wild true story. Mark Whitacre is a bio-chemist executive and the world's greatest bi-polar sociopath. A series of events turn him informer against his corporation and the ensuing intrigue turns more outrageous the deeper Whitacre goes, building lie upon lie, right up to the end.

Matt Damon plays Mark Whitacre and he is terrific. He completely inhabits the character and the role is unlike anything he's ever done before. The problem is when you begin to realize what a nut job Whitacre really is, you lose your sympathy for the character. While Mr. Damon is very entertaining to watch, the film is all style and not much substance.

Mr. Soderbergh captures the mood and style of the mid- 90's and Marvin Hamlisch's kitschy score is perfect for the story. The film is very amusing but never laugh out loud funny, and the trailer spoils many of the best lines.

Scott Backula, best known for his TV work, does a good job as the FBI agent assigned to the case as Whitacre's handler. He tries hard to keep up but he's no match for Mr. Damon, who completely owns the film. Tony Hale also co-stars and does some great double takes as Whitacre's attorney.

The disclaimer at the beginning alerts you that the film is based on a true story but names and elements have been changed and or embellished. Truth be told, thanks mostly to Mr. Damon, "The Informant!" is worth your time.

Monday, September 07, 2009


Mike Judge's "Office Space" is a cult comedy classic. The same will not be said for "Extract". While the film has some pretty funny moments, the plot and characters dissipate into the air and don't stay with you very long.

Jason Bateman plays Joel, the owner of an Extract factory and the film is built around his problems at work and at home. Mr. Bateman is a wonderful comic "everyman" but watching him here only made me miss "Arrested Development". Ben Affleck, surprisingly, is the funniest character in the film and when his character disappears for most of the 3rd act, he is sorely missed. All of the factory workers are portrayed as morons or immigrants who have no skills and don't speak the language. It's a wonder the factory runs at all.

Clifton Collins Jr. plays Step, a worker injured in a freak accident. When a beautiful con artist, played by Mila Kunis convinces him to sue, Joel's problems multiply and the plot thickens. There is a funny cameo by Gene Simmons as a bottom feeding lawyer and a subplot about infidelity featuring Kristen Wiig, as Joel's wife Susie. Ms. Wiig is a very funny sketch comic but her character here has very little to do and J.K. Simmons is wasted as another factory manager who keeps popping into Joel's office like a blue collar version of Kramer from "Seinfield".

When the film is funny, it's very funny. Unfortunately it's not funny enough. The bar for Mr. Judge is still set at "Office Space" and fans of that film, if they look carefully, will catch a glimpse of Gary Cole in the background in a bar scene.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

World's Greatest Dad

Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, this is one dark comedy. While not as twisted as "Shakes The Clown" , "World's Greatest Dad" uses a rather nasty plot device to reveal a film with a strong emotional core. That said, this is not a mainstream film and will not be for everyone.

Robin Williams is just terrific as a dad coping with a poor excuse for a son. When tragedy strikes (in a unusual way), an opportunity arises by accident and sets in motion very unexpected results. Mr. Williams plays this role very straight and shows his best dramatic side since "Insomnia" and "One Hour Photo". The subject matter is dark but Mr. Goldthwait shows maturity in his writing and keeps the film honest even when his protagonist isn't.

The film co-stars Daryl Sabara as Mr. Williams son, Kyle. This is not the cute kid you remember from "Spy Kids". Also featured is Henry Simmons, Alexie Gilmore, and Evan Martin as Kyle's best friend, Andrew. Mr. Martin is very good as the kid who is sharper than anyone thinks.

This is the type of film that won't draw a big audience but one day may reach cult status. I look forward to seeing more from Mr. Goldthwait.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife

Making a film out of a bestselling, complex, romantic Sci-fi novel is a difficult thing. The film succeeds on the simplest level. It brings out the best in it's lead characters, highlights the most memorable parts of the book and draws the viewer into the romantic conundrum of it's time traveling tale.

Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana are very believable in their love although it's a great leap of faith to accept how it starts. I was disappointed in Mr. Bana's aging process in the film though. Wearing a long hair wig to be appear younger and adding a few gray streaks to appear older really wasn't that convincing.

If you buy into the relationship, you will be rewarded by a very romantic tale of love unconstrained by time. If you don't, you'll probably find yourself walking out mumbling how idiotic it all is. The story works so much better as a novel. The book was a complex story that had the luxury to tell it's tale at it's own pace. As the film must inevitably edit for (ironically) time constraint, so much is lost but the central story still does work. I think fans of the book will be happy with the film but if you haven't read the book, you may have a hard time accepting Henry and Claire's relationship.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Taking Woodstock

Using the Woodstock festival as a backdrop, Director Ang Lee recreates events behind the scene that add up to a sweet coming of age film. While we never actually get to see the bands play, Mr. Lee cleverly recreates an atmosphere that gives the viewer a sense of what it must have been like for those remarkable three days.

The film centers on Elliott Teichberg, a young man trying to help his parents hold on to their decaying motel in White Lake NY. It was Elliott who contacted Woodstock ventures and eventually helped to arrange to have the concert held on Max Yasgur's farm. Elliot's relationship with his parents, friends and the townspeople is the focus here with the concert itself taking a backseat.

There are some terrific performances from Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman as Elliot's parents. Liv Schreiber and Emile Hirsch have interesting cameos (although I would have enjoyed more of their own back stories) and Eugene Levy plays it straight as Max Yasgur. Elliot is played by Demetri Martin and it is Mr. Martin who has the unfortunate task of being the bland glue holding all the other colorful characters together.

The film is interesting if only for the back story of how the festival came together. Elliot's coming of age tale is nothing new but Woodstock does make for a colorful fabric to weave the tale. If you're more interested in the concert itself, rent the recently released 4 hour uncut version of "Woodstock". One of the greatest concert films ever produced and a visual reminder of something that we'll never experience again.