My Week in Movies: September 3, '11

The Informant!
Steven Soderbergh, 2009
"The Informant!" initially appears a simple story about, in so many ways, being a good samaritan. We identify with the empathetically shaky haplessness - protagonist Mark at once represents the pure, often conflicted instinct to do what we think is right. We feel responsibility to help even if we know not the proper methods. Mark's sociopathy is difficult to accept just as the same can self-reflectively be. We latch on happenstance to feign merit, often convincing our own selves of as much in the process. We make excuses, place blame and pose in comfortable yet complimentary fashions to "survive" First World society. In the film's circumstances, prolific corporate scandal plays as a twenty-something relationship doomed from the commencement through pettiness and mutual manipulation. Posture downshifted and expression freshly quirked, Matt Damon does not disappoint in the least as he absorbs into our could-be hero with an occasionally relevant stream of inner dialogue that drives home the film's eternally whimsical tone. He is joined by an unusual cast predominantly of comics - including Scott Adsit of "30 Rock" (and various other why's-he-always-only-there-for-two-seconds bit parts) and El Superbeasto himself, Tom Papa - in dry roles that lend further novelly laugh-out-loud humor sans definitive punchlines. Soderbergh's tight pace and knack for implicative, intercommunicative composition, often aided here by gently illuminating backlighting, suggests layers of story and, more apparently, just looks very, very nice. I already anticipate a revisit so I might pick up on more detail and follow the characterization from a new perspective. Screenshots after the jump.

Our Idiot Brother
Jesse Peretz, 2011
What a pleasant little ensemble flick. The ever-cool Paul Rudd has proven it with career-rejuvenating parts in the likes of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and proven it again with somewhat more recent roles such as Chuck (AKA "Kunu") in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and Peter (AKA "Pistol") in "I Love You, Man", and here with the facilely lovable Ned he shows us once more that although in many ways he is a "character actor", he lends fresh nuances to certain outings, clearly signifying them in their respective rights. Almost all other ensemble members follow suit, playing about as we've come to expect and enjoy but with unique character detail enough to be distinct to this particular slice of cinema. I even finally liked the here somewhat Parker Posey-esque and otherwise overexposed Elizabeth Banks for the first time since the mentioned "Virgin" (that's right, in spite of my devout "Scrubs" fanhood I'm not even so hot on her invasion of J.D.'s love life). Also of special note is Steve Coogan, whose performance lay mostly between his sparse lines - for commonly being such a likable schmuck he really oozes the slime here, yet we can't help but laugh with his demeanor and understated expressions. And hey, Adam Scott! And T.J. Miller! Rashida Jones! The list goes on! "Our Idiot Brother" is just a loose glimpse in to an amusing sibling unit so lighthearted I almost want to finish these merry thoughts with a smiley. ...J

The Guard
John Michael McDonagh, 2011
Brendan Gleeson's brazen audacity is a cool, stout-scented breeze in a contemporarily conservative cinematic climate. Though the rhythmically punchy, distinctly reverent and darkly amusing Irish Film Board production "The Guard" does experience arid regions, it is mostly a rollicking portrait of Gaelic Ireland through the eyes of the titular officer, with no lack of a little basal emotional relish.

Further first-time viewings:

The Devil's Double - Lee Tamahori, 2011
The horrors of modern warfare are so inaccessible to me - I more readily grasp a stricter adherence to the rules of engagement - so this unique dual-portrait of an enemy to many and his political decoy is a welcome entry in the line of films dealing with the 1990s/2000s Iraq conflict. To its compelling story's benefit, "The Devil's Double" - more or less a Baghdad version of "Scarface" - does not attempt to emulate a winding doppelgänger thriller. We are never misled as to who is who thanks to Dominic Cooper's parallel performances, the respective nuances of which galvanize the illusion that we are genuinely watching two separate individuals. The film, like James Cox' also quite interesting and approachable "Wonderland", never does establish much dramatic resonance, however, and while its weave twixt pounding nightclubs, assassination attempts and all manner of morally negligent excess is alarming, the core investment I felt as an audience member was thin.

Bright Star - Jane Campion, 2009
Frequently lovely - strikingly so, even - but... oh, man, I don't even know. There's nothing wrong with it by any means, and I'm not even against its sort of setting (for example, I quite like Ang Lee's "Sense & Sensibility" and adore Laurence Dunmore's "The Libertine"), there's just nothing there for me to care about; nothing to generate personal interest behind the images. Listen to further thoughts on Episode 19 of Reel Time (coming soon).

Limitless - Neil Burger, 2011
A piquing concept goes pedestrian here, with plot holes gaping as the once-titular "dark fields", twists predictable as Wladimir Klitschko's right arm and a climax so laughable the fact that it made final cut ought to instill confidence in the most insecure writer. It's far from the worst thing ever - it's somewhat enjoyable, really, and Bradley Cooper is perfectly serviceable in the lead - but your time is better spent elsewhere.

The Men Who Stare at Goats - Grant Heslov, 2009
With the help of a few fun performances, "The Men Who Stare at Goats" capably goes about its stranger-than-fiction storyline and is not without its amusing moments, but is moreover an ugly bore taking too long to wrap itself up. George Clooney looks good as a flower child, though, let me tell ya.

Total: 7

Rewatches (4): Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Stoller, 2008), Going the Distance (Burstein, 2010), The Piano (Campion, 1993), Charlotte's Web (Nichols & Takamoto, 1973)
-"The Piano" hardly felt like a rewatch. I saw it once when I was much younger and - outside Harvey's unshakable little Keitel - it did not stick with me in the least. My thoughts on it now are about the same as mine regarding "Bright Star", above, though "Star" is probably a little prettier. Listen to further thoughts on Episode 19 of Reel Time (coming soon).

-I would also provide thoughts on "The Debt" (John Madden, 2010), but I was driven out of the theater after only 20 minutes by my peeviest of peeves - a peeve so peevy I'd rather listen to nails on a chalkboard for an hour than endure its peevishly peeving peevery. Yep, I was immediately surrounded by the obnoxious chomping of popcorn and slurping of Skittle juices. Sloppy eating in general drives me up the wall with just one piggish chomp and in a movie theater, in all honesty, it's better when people are more overt with their rude disruptions; I'm actually slightly less perturbed when people talk as if the auditorium is their living room (that's not an invitation, though - please kindly shut the hell up). Shooting looks does nothing and I'm not one to confront these issues point blank. Silently dealing with an elephant in the room after such a confrontation would be far more distracting anyhow, I imagine. In this case the movie didn't seem - after those mere 20 minutes, anyway - all that worth my money, despite its intriguing premise and mostly excellent principle cast. Maybe I'll give it a fair shake on DVD. Seriously though, what do we need, a giant flashing sign above the screen demanding, "KEEP YOUR WAGGLING PIG LIPS CLOSED!"? Read more in my new list, The 5 Worst Movie Theater Disruptions.

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