Video Verdict: ‘Everybody’s Fine,’ ‘Vampire’s Assistant: Cirque du Freak,’ ‘The Box,’ ‘The Informant!’

Matt Damon plays corporate whistleblower Mark Whitacre in director Steven Soderbergh’s offbeat dramedy “The Informant!”

This week’s video releases cover a lot of territory, with everything from a teen-vampire thriller to a family drama starring Robert DeNiro hitting rental store shelves.

 

Everybody’s Fine
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language
Miramax
Available on: DVD

What would Hollywood do without dysfunctional families? Well, for one thing, it would have to stop churning out movies like “Everybody’s Fine.” Since the film, starring Robert De Niro as a widower trying to gather his family for the holidays, is good, I suppose there’s no reason to lobby for a sudden infusion of familial sanity.

Early in the picture, Frank Goode (De Niro) learns that each of his four children have cancelled on a weekend reunion. So, he decides to flit about the country, visiting each of them and getting a better bead on their lives. Because Frank’s wife handled most of the inter-family communication in the past, it’s a learning experience for him and the kids.

“Everybody’s Fine” has its share of typical moments, but even these are skillfully handled by writer-director Kirk Jones, who succeeds in delivering a sweet, sentimental portrait of family dynamics. De Niro, of course, drives the movie, but Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore and Kate Beckinsale portray his kids, so he has plenty of talent to play off. Also, the film has an underlying plot point – that it would be improper to divulge – that gives it a little more heft than many of the entries in its genre.

“Everybody’s Fine” is a simple film, but it also has a good deal of heart. Combine that with Robert De Niro and it’s hard to miss.

DVD extras include deleted and extended scenes, plus a feature on the making of Paul McCarney’s “(I Want To) Come Home” music video.

 

 

‘The Informant!’
3 stars
Rated R for language
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Director Steven Soderbergh has produced a strikingly unusual tale of corporate corruption by focusing less on crimes committed and more on the man who brought them to public view. “The Informant!” relies almost entirely on the perspective of protagonist/antagonist Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), the real-life Archer Daniels Midland executive who worked undercover with the FBI to build a price fixing case against the company while simultaneously embezzling money.

Soderbergh and Damon present a stylized vision of Whitacre that, while undoubtedly filled with inaccuracies, is just plain fascinating. Viewers are frequently allowed inside the character’s head through the use of voiceovers in which he meditates on everything from the pay scale of other employees to the hunting habits of polar bears. It is a bizarre vision, but one that’s inspired.

Damon, who has always been a fine actor, is getting better with age, and his version of Whitacre is intensely smart but more than a little goofy. It’s a terrific performance that stands up nicely beside his turns in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Good Will Hunting.”

Although Damon is clearly the heart of the movie, he gets apt support from Scott Bakula and Joel McHale, who play investigating FBI agents, and Melanie Lynskey, who plays Whitacre’s wife, Ginger. It’s a nice ensemble that Soderbergh skillfully ran through the paces, and the result is a fascinating movie that is one part character study, one part corporate drama and all parts entertaining.

DVD extras are limited to deleted scenes.

 

 

The Vampire’s Assistant: Cirque du Freak
1½ stars
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense supernatural violence and action, disturbing images, thematic elements and some language
Universal
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

With the success of the “Twilight” movies and the TV shows “True Blood” and “The Vampire Diaries,” the undead have become all the rage. Sadly, more often than not, vampire tales stink, and “Cirque du Freak” is no exception.

The story, based on a popular children’s book series, focuses on a teenager named Darren (Chris Massoglia) who has a tendency to get into trouble with his more impetuous friend, Steve (Josh Hutcherson). One night, they attend a touring freak show and, after one unlikely event leads to another, Darren is turned into a half-vampire.

Suddenly inhuman, Darren gets a crash course in the wacky world of the supernatural, where vampires (undead who do not kill their prey) are constantly battling the Vampaneze (bloodsuckers who do kill). His tour guide is a mysterious but kind-hearted vampire named Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly), and Darren finds himself on the adventure of his undead life.

Reilly makes an appealing vampire, but there’s little else to appreciate in this soulless teen drama. Although the movie is set in the world of the supernatural, it lacks all wonder and excitement. In part, that’s because Massoglia’s Darren is just plain dull. You’d think a teen boy with vampire powers would be going nuts, in bad and good ways, but we don’t see that. Director Paul Weitz (“About a Boy,” “American Pie”) hints at Darren’s internal struggle now and again, but not successfully.

The story doesn’t help either. The whole Vampaneze angle feels like a discarded subplot from “Underworld,” and there’s a bunch of mumbo jumbo about a giant named Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris) that seems included primarily to set up a sequel. Hopefully, Universal will squash that idea and put a stake in this franchise right now.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and two making-of features.

 

 

The Box
1 star
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some violence and disturbing images
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

If you could make a million dollars, tax free, by pushing the button on a wooden box, would you do it?

Not so fast. There’s a catch. Push it and somebody you don’t know dies.

The setup for “The Box” is simple, but good, and – although I haven’t read it – I bet the short story that inspired the movie is solid. I say this not only because it was written by Richard Matheson but because it has brevity on its side, and with a tale like this, shorter is better.

Sadly, writer-director Richard Kelly’s film version stretches on a good 80 minutes after Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur Lewis (James Marsden) have decided whether to profit off of another human being’s demise. The drama in a story like this should be in the moral dilemma the characters face in making their decision, as well as the later fallout. Kelly gives us some of that, but it’s buried in a wild, science-fiction adventure that alternates between silly and indecipherable. In short, the movie becomes so offbeat and muddled that it seems to lose track of its theme.

Among other things, Kelly spends too much time with Arlington Steward (Frank Langella), the strange, disfigured man who delivers the box. Again, it’s the Lewises’ decision that’s of interest, so it shouldn’t matter how the package arrived. Another major flaw is that the Lewis family is too well off to be at the center of a drama like this.

Arthur drives a Corvette and works for NASA. Norma is a teacher. While they aren’t millionaires, the stakes for their decision seem pretty low, as the most pressing concern audiences know of is a struggle to pay for their son’s private schooling. Tragic!

On the surface, “The Box” seems like a good idea. But the writing and direction aren’t skillful enough to push most viewers’ buttons.

DVD extras are limited to an interview with Matheson. The Blu-ray release includes that feature plus an audio commentary by Kelly and several making-of features.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Sorority Row”: Modern remake of the 1983 horror film “The House on Sorority Row.” In this version, a group of sorority sisters decide to cover up an accidental murder that was the result of a prank-gone-wrong. Several months later, a killer who apparently knows what happened, starts picking them off. The film was directed by Stewart Hendler. Rumer Willis, Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes and Jamie Chung star.

“The Damned United”: Reality-based sports drama focused on the controversial change in leadership of English soccer team Leeds United during the early 1970s. The film considers how Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) shook things up both on and off the field when he was hired to manage the club. Timothy Spall (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire“), Colm Meaney (“Layer Cake“) and Jim Broadbent (“Iris“) also star.

“The September Issue”: Documentary film offering a behind-the-scenes look at the world of Vogue magazine editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and her high energy staff. Designers who are featured in the movie include Thakoon, John Galliano, Karl Lagerfield, Andre Leon Talley, Vera Wang, and Fred Leighton.

“Motherhood”: This film considers an over-the-top, crazy day in the life of stay-at-home mom Eliza Welsh (Uma Thurman). She juggles caring for two young children, playground politics and planning her 6-year-old daughter’s birthday party, all while her husband remains oblivious. Amidst the chaos, Eliza decides to enter an essay contest where she examines the question, “What Does Motherhood Mean to Me?” Anthony Edwards and Minnie Driver also star.

“Flash Forward – Part One, Season One”: The premise of this ABC television drama is that the entire human race loses consciousness at the same moment and each person gets what appears to be a look six months into the future. People then decide how to handle their lives, either accepting the fate they’ve seen or trying to change their perceived destiny? The remainder of season one is set to air beginning in mid-March, so you definitely have time to catch up.

“Nurse Jackie – Season One”: Showtime series starring Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton, a tough emergency room nurse. Jackie is a pro at handling her patients, but when it comes to her own life, her crazy personal dramas get the best of her. Available on DVD and Blu-ray. Season two is set to air in March.

“Lego – The Adventures of Clutch Powers”: This first-ever feature film about the Lego Universe looks at the adventures of characters built from Lego bricks. The action centers on hero Clutch Powers, who leads a team to the medieval world of Ashlar where he tries to defeat an evil wizard.

 

 

Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com

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6 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

6 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘Everybody’s Fine,’ ‘Vampire’s Assistant: Cirque du Freak,’ ‘The Box,’ ‘The Informant!’

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