Tuesday, September 29, 2009

All is love.

Watch this space for thoughts on Spike Jonze's film of Where the Wild Things Are, coming tomorrow. In case anyone' is wondering, it's a masterpiece that is deeply emotionally complex, astounding in countless ways, and one of the great films about childhood. I feel no hesitation in saying it will become a classic. More than superlatives later.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Informant!: Husking for the Truth!

A middle aged man, paunchy but not fat, with a mustache, wearing glasses and a hairpiece walks into an office building in a slightly too big grey suite. "Hello" he greets secretaries and colleagues. The man walks into an office, shuts the door and closes the blinds. Then he sits. What those secretaries and colleagues don't know is that he's an informant (an Informant!) and that he's wearing a wire that will provide the FBI with evidence of a price-fixing scandal in the lysine business sure to cause waves across the world. This man has a secret. This man is going behind the back of his company to expose their illegal operations, in the eyes of the law this man is a hero. This man has a family, three children, two of the adopted as he was himself. This man has made a home for himself and a place in the world based on his whits and his hard work. This man is the best of America. This man is also a liar. A pathological one. And he's real.

Steven Soderbergh's latest film The Informant! stars Matt Damon as the titular tattler. Damon plays Mark Whitacre, bio-chemist and big wig at Archer Daniels Midland, out of Decatur, Illinois and the film tells the true (I swear!) story of Whitacre's unraveling during his co-operation with the FBI. The story is real, and is thus, out there, but the film's major joy comes from the way in which Sodbergh and Bourne Ultimatum screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, working from Kurt Eichenwald's book (Eichenwald's own story is worthy of a film), parcel out more and more information about Whitacre. One way in which they acheive a state of grand misdirection is by employing Damon as Whitacre as the narrator to the film. Immediately, the audience is engaged with Whitacre and grow to identify, and like him through his stream of conscious inner monologues and veneer of the good, family man setting out to right a wrong in his life. Doing what Mark Whitacre is doing as a man in his position is noble, but it's only one facet to his life. Others come fast and hard as the film progresses, and it's best that we find those things out as the other characters in the film do. I will say though, that I never expected the 847 area code change to be a plot point in a film.

Every frame in the film is Soderbergh's, and clearly, but it is Damon's brilliant performance that is the key to the movie's success. It's a credit to Damon's ability that seeing it a second time, knowing what we know (and don't know) at the end, that the film not only holds together but becomes a deeper, richer, funnier and more intriguing study of this guy (whoever he is) who, though we hear some of his thoughts, has an entire different world inside his head, as we all do, though his is constantly spinning, identity behind identity.

One of my favorite things in the entire movie is the way Soderbergh (operating his own Red One Digital Cinema camera) does the reoccurring tracking shots of Whitacre walking into his office. They have a jitteryness to them that reminds me of '70s movies when cameras became light enough to gun it on a dolly or a Steadicam, and there's a real sense of movement and the physical effects of that movement that give the shots an energy that adds to Whitacre's stream of conscious voice over and greeting of personnel. It's almost as if Whitacre is racing to his office to be alone again with his own mind, to attend to some mental business and then get into character as a rising corporate star, a spy, a family man, a criminal, a sane human being.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Jennifer's Body: Blood. Sucking.

A young girl is lured into a van by a struggling emo band who thinks she's a virgin. They drive to a forest, and following satanic instructions they found on the internet, stab and bleed her as a sacrifice to Satan, in hopes that Satan will reward them with a career. Little do they know that the virgin they picked is anything but, and according to their satanic instructions, this means the girl will be given demonic powers and feast on flesh for the rest of her days. The entire idea isn't a bad one, there's feminist implications, room for interesting gore and dramatic weight from the dynamic between two friends where one is clearly the dominant force, but Karyn Kusama's Diablo Cody-penned Jennifer's Body squanders it on cheap jokes, sluggish pacing, limp writing and negative-adjective emo songs. The reason Cody's Juno worked is simple and clear now, Jason Reitman. With Reitman there to find the right way to film Cody's slang-filled script, it came off as genuine and evolved into a sweet, touching film. Jennifer obviously isn't going for sweet or touching, it's going for thrills and laughs and it fails on both accounts because Karyn Kusama is less adept at filmmaking than Reitman, and she squanders what little charm the screenplay has and the, for the most part, excellent cast she has at her disposal. Megan Fox is fine, she's not great, but she's far from the humorless stick with boobs that most people make her out to be. I've only seen her in one movie before this, Robert Weide's very funny How To Lose Friends and Alienate People, where she played a vacuous, vapid, vacuum of cocaine and praise hording young actress, perhaps a less image conscious version of herself. There, I thought she was perfect; she was as mean and heartlessly aloof as she was meant to be, but it's obvious her career has fallen into her lap not for her talent but for her looks. Having said that, she's perfect for the part, Jennifer is a mean, heartlessly aloof high school beauty, only this time she literally eats people alive. Given better direction and a more accomplished filmmaker, she could have been one of the classic horror queens, a grotesque, blood thirsty extrapolation of the high school bitch, but here she's given some dark eye shadow, unzips her sweatshirt and is morphed into a figure resembling the one on the poster of Pink Floyd's The Wall, then quickly shrouded in shadow to conceal the limited budget of the film. Amanda Seyfried, a very talented young actress, tries as she might to make the arc of her character work, but with glaringly obvious plot holes, and little of a character, she comes out empty handed. She's left screaming and scrunching her face without purpose or a safety net of a character. Likewise, cameos from Juno's J.K. Simmons and the ever reliable Amy Sedaris offer nothing but the thought of how disappointed the two must have been when they saw this final product vomited onto the screen. Without cohesive structure, intelligent writing and adept direction, it seems Jennifer could stand to learn a thing or two from Juno.