Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Oct. 7 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Oct. 7

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THE INFORMANT! No stranger to coloring outside the margins, Steven Soderbergh displays a quirky brand of lunacy with The Informant!, a like-it-or-leave-it endeavor blessed with a terrific central performance from Matt Damon. Damon leaves behind Jason Bourne's muscularity and goes all pudgy as Mark Whitacre, a midlevel executive at the major conglomeration Archer Daniels Midland. Whitacre seems like a pleasant enough fellow, so when he approaches FBI agents Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Bob Herndon (Joel McHale) volunteering to uncover a price-fixing racket at the company, they believe he might be honest when he claims he's turning whistleblower because it's the right thing to do. Unfortunately, with Mark Whitacre, there's far more than meets the eye. Whitacre has a way of embellishing some stories and leaving crucial facts out of other ones, which leads to no small amount of frustration for the agents trying to do their jobs. In Whitacre's mind, he's the hero of this particular saga, but to everyone else, he might merely be a lying nutjob. In adapting Kurt Eichenwald's book The Informant (A True Story), scripter Scott Z. Burns and Soderbergh find the proper consistent tone to allow this to function as a loopy satire. Adding to the mirth is a bouncy score by veteran Marvin Hamlisch, which never provides us with the musical cues we might expect. In fact, given the current state of the nation, with its stories of greedy banks and fat-cat CEOs bleeding average Americans dry, tackling this saga of corporate malfeasance with all comic cylinders firing might have been the only palatable way to present such a downbeat tale. Otherwise, if we weren't busy laughing, we'd be busy crying. ***

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS With its freewheeling exploits and liberties with historical veracity, Quentin Tarantino's World War II excursion is a celebration of film as its own entity, beholden to nothing but its own creative impulses. One would be correct in assuming that Inglourious Basterds is a remake of 1978's international production Inglorious Bastards, but except for the similar title, the films have nothing in common. The joke is that Tarantino's film isn't even primarily about the Basterds; rather, Tarantino pulls his story this way and that, to the point that marquee star Brad Pitt, as Basterds leader Aldo Raine, is MIA for long stretches at a time. In screen minutes, he probably places third under Melanie Laurent as Shosanna, the lone survivor of a massacre that left her family members dead, and Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, the so-called "Jew hunter" responsible for the aforementioned slaughter. All three are fine, and it's easy to see why Waltz won a Best Actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Like the best Tarantino flicks, this one is more talk than action, and the auteur also continues to be as big a film fan as he is a filmmaker, evidenced by how the movie is marinated in an unequivocal admiration for cinema. For all its attributes, the film does make a couple of miscalculations. The stunt casting – exploitation director Eli Roth as Raines' right-hand man, Mike Myers as a British officer – doesn't work at all. And after 2-1/2 hours of leisurely storytelling, the ending feels disappointingly rushed, the sort of abrupt conclusion sure to leave a bad taste in the mouths of countless moviegoers. Truth be told, another half-hour wouldn't have damaged Inglourious Basterds; it moves so quickly anyway that it's (to quote a famous line about another movie) "history written with lightning" – even if these particular chapters exist only in Quentin Tarantino's feverish imagination. ***

JENNIFER'S BODY When Diablo Cody won the Oscar for penning the delightful Juno, I'm assuming it was less for her hip-today-gone-tomorrow dialogue and more for her creation of ingratiating yet recognizably flawed characters as well as her deftness in telling a story with numerous emotional peaks. With her sophomore – and sophomoric – script, Cody has retained the hipster-speak but left out everything else. In Jennifer's Body, the warmth and wit have been replaced with cruelty and denseness, and what might have been a penetrating high school comedy – a new Heathers or Mean Girls – turns out to be nothing more than a cheap horror flick packed with lowbrow titillation. Megan Fox stars as Jennifer, who, after being served up as a satanic sacrifice by the members of an obscure band seeking fame and fortune (hey, it beats taking the humiliating American Idol path), returns as a vampire-zombie-thingie that must gorge on human blood to survive. There's always an audience for revenge fantasies, and perhaps if Jennifer had gone after misogynistic creeps, there'd be more rooting interest for her even given her demonic state. But Jennifer solely seems to target nice guys, which not only makes her a one-note killing machine but also cripples any attempts by Cody and director Karyn Kusama to provide any originality to a played-out genre that has traditionally been owned by male filmmakers. Instead of serving as a much-needed role reversal take on the standard terror tale, Jennifer's Body is merely a sellout, most notably in a pointless scene in which (fanboy alert!) Jennifer and her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) briefly lock lips – a desperate sequence that's about as erotic to behold as Glenn Beck in a wet T-shirt. Seyfried is fine while Fox is dreadful, delivering her lines as if she doesn't quite understand half the words she's uttering. More than anyone else, she's the one who turns Jennifer's Body into a rotting corpse of a movie. *1/2


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