Famous Filmmaker : Forgotten Film | Steven Soderbergh: The Informant!

Though this will be Steven Soderbergh’s first appearance as the featured director in this series, I can all but guarantee this won’t be his last. Throughout his career he has worn so many different hats directorally, ranging from thrillers to pulpy action flicks to intimate dramas, though Soderbergh does seem to have a penchant for making great docudramas, among them the oft overlooked 2009 gem, The Informant!. While this film is recent enough that it still exists in public memory, and was financially successful, this film is often overlooked when discussing Soderbergh’s extensive and diverse filmography. In addition, it is a movie that I feel is sorely under-seen, despite it being a terrific piece of cinema.

The Informant

Right off the bat, Matt Damon fits perfectly in the role of Mark Whitacre, a biochemist turned businessman working for ADM, a food processing mega corporation located in small town Illinois. Mark is almost instantly one of the most likable character I have ever seen in a movie. He is worldly, intelligent, motivated, and idealistic without seeming naive.  Mark has a childlike sense of wonder and seems to be equal parts imaginative and thoughtful. However, Mark is also just a touch paranoid, and when the FBI is called in to investigate the potential contamination of a compound Mark frequently works on called lysine, he immediately starts blabbing company secrets, concerned that this investigation might turn up some unsavory actions that Mark was forced into by his superiors.

As it turns out, ADM, along with most other lysine distributors international, have been engaging in price fixing. Since this could potentially be a billion dollar lawsuit for the government, and Mark has made the mistake of being the only person to leak this information, he is somewhat willing pushed into becoming an FBI informant to gather intel for this theoretical lawsuit. However, things start to take a bit of a turn later in the investigation, as Mark starts to worry about his job security after he likely sends all his friends and co-workers to jail. Coupled with his now ever growing ego, based on all the attention and acclaim he is receiving from the FBI for being a whistleblower, Mark starts to make a streak of increasingly questionable decisions as the investigation draws to a close, shedding double on the once unquestionable scrupulousness of his character.

Though this film often times feels like a “small” movie, it is among my favorite Soderbergh films. The screenplay is fantastic, all the dialogue is snappy and tight, and Matt Damon delivers some one liners that I still remember to this day from my initial viewing of the film on its release. The supporting cast is stellar, and full of comedians who rarely seem to make it to the silver screen like Tom Papa and Joel McHale. If you haven’t gotten a chance to see this film, try to work it into a viewing one weekend. Though I wouldn’t exactly describe it as a must see for everyone, I find it hard to picture anyone disliking this charming film.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Star Trek: Into Darkness Review

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I’ve always been intrigued by sci-fi because it’s a genre in which the imagination is unfettered by boring old reality and is instead free to explore the furthest reaches of the reason, where almost anything is possible. That being said, Star Trek is perhaps the only sci-fi franchise that makes the limitless reaches of the universe feel small and bland. I’m no fan of Star Trek as a franchise, mainly because I had yet to be conceived at the point of it’s heyday, but Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek: Into Darkness are doing the IP no favors.

Into Darkness, directed by the incorrigible J.J Abrams- also responsible for Super 8, Mission: Impossible III, and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII– marks yet another film which falls heavily within the territory of the thoroughly mediocre. Abrams is not necessarily a bad director, but he certainly wouldn’t be categorized as ‘good’ either. He does, however, have an outstanding mind for marketing. His whole “mystery box” shtick, a phenomenally pretentious analogy basically explaining the common-sense fact that “audiences like to be surprised” has served him very well in the past, and has let him get away with making bland film after bland film by marketing his movies as the greatest, most shocking thing since sliced bread and the solution to peace in the Middle East.

The film stars Chris Pine as Captain Kirk and features Zachary Quinto and Benedict Cumberbatch as well as the crew of the U.S.S Enterprise as they reprise their roles from the first film. Settling into the trend of omitting decent writing in lieu of flashy action sequences (I wasn’t aware that there was a mandatory tradeoff until recently) Into Darkness has a cast that out-stripes its script. Dialogue is awkward and sometimes cringe-worthy and the vast majority of the crew members have no purpose or identity of their own aside from being play-things for Kirk and Spock to interact with. It’s ironic because the crew of the Starship Enterprise seems to be made of a diverse and interesting cast of characters. Most, however, seem to exist superficially and are fundamentally completely ineffectual, specifically the lovely ladies of Starfleet, who sit around all day talking about boys.

The Star Trek universe has never been limited by the fickle constraints of logic and reason. The 2009 film took the concepts of reason and feasibility and summarily jettisoned them into the vacuum of space. Likewise, Into Darkness pulls its fair share of deus ex machinas out of its ass. One of my favorites was the use of superblood (yes, they literally call it superblood) to save a dying character’s life. I can appreciate that fact that sci-fi grants a measure of creative freedom as far as technology is concerned, but at a certain point one starts to get the impression that Abrams was phoning it in more than usual. The film also suffered from a curious action movie trope, commonly known as ‘countdown madness.’ Andrew counted from no less than five countdowns over the course of the film, each marking time until some explosion of epic proportion moved us along to the next bit of exposition. Countdowns have long been an action movie staple, but just because they’re used often, doesn’t mean than they’re an incredibly cheap and hollow way to build tension.

Not helping the already messy dialogue was a story that was fundamentally silly. I can’t really talk about this next bit without revealing some SPOILERS, so prepare yourself. The main antagonist this time around is none other than than infamous Khan, played by Cumberbatch, but here’s the thing: not once is the existence of the genetically enhanced super soldiers referenced in the previous film, nor is their origin explained beyond one line of exposition from Khan. Apparently, we’re just supposed to sit there and accept it all like the lemmings that Abrams thinks we are. As for Khan’s character as a whole, he’s basically whatever Abrams wants him to be, depending on what the scene calls for.  He’s essentially a nonentity, along with virtually every other cast member, who simply wears the skin of whatever nonsensical plot devise Abrams dreams up next. Character development is virtually nonexistent as well, as Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and all the rest simply rehash what has already been established in the first film. It’s shocking how similar the Into Darkness is to 2009’s Star Trek in that respect.

The character to whom I relate most is Karl Urban’s brilliant portrayal of Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, who is presumably the only sensible person left in the entire universe. Bones seems to be the only one cognizant of the fact that he’s stuck in space on a ship full of morons, captained by a psychotic jock fresh out of training camp. Like Bones, I was getting excessively tired of Kirk’s antics. I realized with sorrow in my breast that I had been had by Abrams yet again. Star Trek: Into Darkness is nothing more than a bland expansion upon a nonsensical reboot, and adds nothing to enrich or enhance the series as a whole.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5