• One of the overlooked performances of last year was by Matt Damon in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Informant!”
Damon plays a real-life whistle-blower who was at the center of one of the biggest price-fixing investigations in U.S. history, involving Archer Daniels Midland.
On the surface, it might be fodder for a thriller, a la “The Insider,” but Mark Whitacre, Damon’s character, was bizarre, to say the least. Soderbergh turned it into a black comedy.
Seen as one of the bright stars on ADM’s horizon, Whitacre tipped off the FBI about his involvement in the scheme in 1992 and secretly spied on the company over the next three years. However, the Feds weren’t aware that Whitacre suffered from bipolar disorder, which led to some wild behavior on his part. He believed the company would make him head of the corporation after the investigation. More mind-boggling was the fact that while Whitacre was taping his co-workers for the government, he was embezzling millions of dollars from the company.
The facts are pretty well-known. So the brilliance of this film is how Soderbergh comically peels away the layers of Whitacre’s strange personality – to the surprise of his co-workers, family and the government – and how Damon manages to humanize him.
• In “Everybody’s Fine,” Robert De Niro plays Frank, a retired factory worker who is suffering from failing health because of his former job. A widower, he invites his four grown children – who all live in different parts of the country – to visit, but they all make excuses.
Having never been close to them, Frank doesn’t really know much about them, except what his late wife has told him and that has been positive. But his years are numbered; so he heads out on a road trip with the intent of getting to know them.
Long before you see the signs for New York, Chicago, Denver and Las Vegas, you know that Frank will be in for disappointment.
There are a few comic elements scattered about, and De Niro pulls out all of his tricks as he gives Frank the same passive-aggressive personality we’ve seen in many of his roles. But it’s hard to believe that Frank is quite so deluded about his children or himself as a father. Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore and Sam Rockwell have their moments as his children.
• “The September Issue” is a documentary about Vogue’s September 2007 issue, which set a record at well over 800 pages. The magazine is lorded over by the notorious Anna Wintour, whose opinion is said to be able to break or make those in the world of fashion.
Filmmaker R.J. Cutler followed Wintour around for months during the preparation for the issue. This is “The Devil Wears Prada” for real. “Pope” is how an assistant describes Wintour, who strives for her idea of perfection as actress Sienna Miller – who was the September 2007 cover girl – doesn’t quite measure up. Thank God for Photoshop.
But no matter what you think of the fashion world, watching Wintour rule is a gas.
And how can she be wrong? The pope is, after all, infallible.
• "Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” is based on the first in a series of young adult books about an average American teen, Darren (Chris Massoglia), who becomes a vampire and soon finds himself in the middle of a war between factions of the undead – those who feed off humans and those who don’t.
As the title implies, Darren’s new circus world is populated by some weird characters – like a bearded lady (Salma Hayek), a snake boy (Patrick Fugit) and a cute girl (Jessica Carlson) with the tail of a monkey.
• Being on Showtime, season one of “Nurse Jackie” pushes the black in black comedy. “Sopranos” alum Edie Falco plays the title role, a New York City nurse who turns to Vicodin (a painkiller) and Adderall (a stimulant) when the going gets tough, which is every day.
While it’s nice to see Falco back on TV, whatever the show’s creators are pushing, it seems over the top. The show comes back March 22.
• ABC is releasing the first half of season one of “FlashForward.” (The show returns to the air on March 18 for the remainder of the season.) Give the science-fiction series some credit so far.
Despite its complicated premise about a mysterious event that causes nearly everyone on the planet to simultaneously black out for more than two minutes and see what appear to be visions of their lives approximately six months in the future, the series hasn’t “lost” me yet.
Other new films: “The Box,” “Motherhood,” “Crude” and “Sorority Row”
Television: “Jersey Shore: Season 1 Uncensored,” “Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor,” “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, “Midsomer Murders: Set 14,” Night Court: The Complete Third Season,” Ghost Hunters: Season Five, Part One,” “Project Runway: Season Six,” “Adam-12: Season Four,” “The Universe: The Complete Season Four,” “My Three Sons”