Reviews in Short

By Cole Smithey

The Informant. Director Steven Soderbergh has loads of fun with a perky musical score (courtesy of Marvin Hamlisch) and jaunty ’70sera visual hat-tips in this movie, but the filmmaker is unable to tease out substance from this off-key, one-note samba. Habitual Corporate liar Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is an ambitious biochemist who adds to his growing collection of sports cars by bilking huge amounts of money from his employer, Archer Daniels Midland. He covers his tracks by playing two ends against the middle, in this case the FBI versus his bosses at ADM. Because every word Mark speaks is a lie, there’s no use trying to follow the story for any cogent sense of substantive meaning. "The Informant!" is all tone, style and irony at the exclusion of the story. Satire is not a good genre for Soderbergh. (Warner Bros. Pictures) Rated R. 108 mins. (C-)

Sorority Row. Worse even that its insipid script (written by Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger) is Elliot Greenberg’s editing of a meandering slasher pic notable only for the number of nubile bare breasts it manages to fit into nearly every other scene. The movie sets up a batch of wrongheaded sorority girls who scheme to punk frat boy Garrett (Matt O’Leary), making bedroom moves on Megan (Audriuna Partridge) after giving her a roofie at a party. Megan barfs foam and seems to die, after which leader Jessica (Leah Pipes) takes Megan, Garrett and her gang to an abandoned mine shaft to prolong Garrett’s freak-out. In his panic, Garrett does retire Megan with a tire iron. The chicks drop Megan’s body down a well and go back to living a 24/7 party until a shrouded figure starts knocking off related kids and adults alike. I wish I could say that there was one redeeming reason to see this movie, but there isn’t. Rated R. 101 mins. (D)

9. This extended version of Shane Acker’s Oscar-nominated 11-minute animated student short follows a group of retro "stitchpunk" doll characters that have numbers instead of names. Elijah Wood voices title character 9, who bumbles around a post-apocalyptic World War II-era bombed-out European landscape, where most of the humans have been killed off in a huge war where machines took over. Accompanied by his shrinking group of fellow oppressed creatures, 9 launches a mission to attack the "Great" machine, which seems to embody the monster of industrial capitalism to which his genius creator contributed. The film’s overblown chase plot never makes its thematic perspective clear. Acker’s visual devices fall flat due to a lack of empathetic context for the creatures, who come off as soulless. Tim Burton and Russian visionary Timur Bekmambetov take producing credits for a movie your kids won’t get and you won’t enjoy. (Focus Features) Rated PG-13. 81 mins. (C-)

Halloween II. Writer/director Rob Zombie’s one-note blood bath is a juvenile experiment in gore for gore’s sake. It remains a mystery how such an incompetent writer could ever sell the kind of monotonous drivel that "Halloween II" represents, much less get a budget to direct it. Audiences looking for any kind of story will be sorely disappointed with Zombie’s barely mapped out narrative, wherein plenty of characters with little-to-no personality are savagely murdered by a giant serial killer with a grave mommy complex. Malcolm McDowell slums it as Dr. Samuel Loomis, an exploitation author whose Halloween-timed launch of his latest book about the notorious Mike Myers attracts all kind of threats and humiliations. Even the film’s visual style is full of dumb set designs and gaudy lighting compositions that flatten out all would-be suspense. Rated R.105 mins. (F)

Extract. As prolific as writer/director Mike Judge has been throughout a stellar career, which includes such television staples as "Beavis and Butt-Head” and "King of the Hill," it’s to his detriment (and ours) that he hasn’t done more feature films. "Office Space" (1999) became a cult classic after its failed theatrical release, as did "Idiocracy" (2006). With "Extract," Judge crafts a solid comic narrative base for a f lavoring-extract company run by sexually frustrated owner Joel Reynold (Jason Bateman). Reynold’s barely competent staff set off a chain reaction accident that climaxes with a severed testicle for would-be f loor-manager Step (Clifton Collins Jr.). Step falls prey to the con-artist attentions of Cindy (Mila Kunis), a sex-kitten opportunist determined to help Step sue the company out of business. The tone of the comedy is spot-on, but Judge never manages to bring the humor to a boil. (Miramax) Rated R. 90 mins. (B-)

Taking Woodstock. Ang Lee’s clumsy adaptation of Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte’s book "Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Lift" can’t decide if it wants to be a comedy, a drama or reflection on a small town community transformed by a cultural happening. Demetri Martin steps lightly around his closeted character, Elliot Teichberg, who lives with his parents at their ramshackle motel in the Catskills. Intent on protecting his parents from bankruptcy, Elliot seeks out music producer Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) after hearing that an adjacent town has lost its permit to host his music and arts festival. There are flashes of inspiration here, but nothing to sustain a feature film’s worth of narrative import. (Focus Features) Rated R. 120 mins. (C)

Inglourious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino has matured as an auteur, even if he’s just as prone as ever to creating funny sequences of cinematic revelry just for sport. There’s a virtuosic use of character, dialogue, suspense and surprise in each of this film’s five chapters. A tense opening sequence sets Tarantino’s darkly comic, yet heavily dramatic, tone. Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and his small group of soldiers visit the remote farmhouse of Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet), who is suspected of hiding Jews. A polite battle of wits and willpower plays out with a savory, cinematic drama that is astounding in its precise execution. The following section introduces Tennesseean Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), who indoctrinates his elite squad of Nazi scalpers with a speech spun of richly humored narrative gold. The following four chapters build on one another toward a kind of World War II fantasy climax that is cathartic as it is bittersweet for its inevitable collateral damage. Rated R. 152 mins. (A )

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