The Informant! (***½)

Posted on September 18th, 2009 in Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
Lies Scene

Lies Scene

The Informant is a *real* movie, made the way movies should be made.  First of all, the script is amazing.  Second, the acting is phenomenal.  Third, the score is perfect.  Fourth, the costumes, locations, and make-up are flawless.  And fifth, the directing and cinematography are beautiful.

And sixth of all, it’s funny as hell!

The story is loosely based on the events surrounding the Archers Daniels Midland price-fixing scandal of the 1990’s, primarily involving lysine, a food additive.  Matt Damon plays a fictionalized version of real-life whistle-blower Mark Whitacre, a high-level ADM executive who turned informant for the FBI.

As imagined in The Informant!, Mark Whitacre is a mildly sociopathic, self-deluding, compulsive-lying, white-collar criminal.  When Whitacre blames his own failures on sabotage by competitors, the FBI is called in to investigate.  Lead agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) develops a rapport with Whitacre, and eventually hears about much bigger malfeasance being perpetrated by ADM themselves.  Whitacre’s wife guilts him into revealing the sordid details to the FBI, seemingly because it is the right thing to do.

And over the course of the next few years, Whitacre is run as an undercover agent by the FBI, wearing wires, eliciting damning statements from competitors and co-workers who are being secretly videotaped, and providing substantiating documentation of the global price-fixing being organized by ADM.  And, when they finally have enough evidence to convince the Attorney General’s office that the case is solid, they swoop in and make a bunch of arrests.

And then the fun really begins.  I won’t divulge any of the rest of the story, but suffice it to say that The Informant is an engaging and laugh-out-loud black comedy, made with near-perfect craftsmanship.  Matt Damon added 30+ pounds to meet director Steven Soderbergh’s one-word description of the look we wanted for the character – doughy.  Add the 80’s styled hair and porn-star-ish moustache, and Damon is transformed into a grifter extraordinaire.

And if there was an Oscar category for Best Stream-of-Consciousness-Narration, this film should win, hand’s down.  As played by Damon, Whitacre is placed into many stressful, dangerous, and scary situations, but his running mental commentary is…sublimely detached and egocentric, as if he was having an out of body experience, and while his body and voice stay engaged with the real world, his thoughts wander to trying to figure out how polar bears realized their black noses made them stand out against the snow, and so cover them with a paw while lying in wait for prey.  Did they see their reflection in the ice or the water?  Did they notice other polar bears were conspicuous with their black noses?  That seems like a lot of thinking for a polar bear.

It certainly does.  And this movie will cause a lot of thinking from the audience, because the story moves fast, the plot is serpentine, and there are no dramatic zooms or musical flourishes to alert the audience that

Moon (***½)

Posted on September 13th, 2009 in Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
Hello, It's Me

Hello, It's Me

If you think you might end up going to see Moon, I strongly suggest that you stop reading this (and all) review(s) and just go see it.  Really, you don’t want to know what happens before you see it.  Trust me.

However, I read reviews all the time for movies I’m planning to see, because how else is one to figure out which movies to see, particularly if you don’t have time to see as many of them as you would like?  So, for the benefit of those of you who are trying to figure out if you might like Moon, the following paragraph (and *only* the following paragraph) will represent my attempt at a spoiler-free review/guide.  Remember, the paragraph after this next one will start to reveal plot, so only read this next paragraph if you haven’t seen it yet.

First of all, if you are looking for some light, late-summer fare to while away an evening with mindless entertainment, this isn’t it.  This movie is very challenging, the storyline is purposely confusing, the scope of the story is very small, and the ending is…well…not a typical Hollywood ending.  To give away a little of the flavor of the movie, it is set in the reasonably near future, and, as you may have guessed from the title, it has something to do with the Moon.  This is not a space opera (like Star Wars), it isn’t an breathtaking allegory of the ascent of man (like 2001: A Space Odyssey), and there aren’t any aliens (like Aliens).  All of the technology in this film is easily extrapolated by taking current technology and extrapolating it forward to the time the film is set.  And although the special effects are stunningly well-done, this is a movie based on the character(s) and their interactions with each other, and themselves, and the effects merely serve as just that…effects, not as the story itself.  And the story is incredibly well-done – well-written, well-acted, well-filmed, and well-directed.  So, if you can enjoy serious, small-scale character films that are well-done, and also just happen to be set in the future and off the planet Earth, this might be the film for you.

There, that concludes the generic review/recommendation, such as it is.  I know it contains some nuggets of information, but it couldn’t be helped – and, anyway, if you didn’t want to know about this movie you wouldn’t be reading this in the first place.

So, on to the more detailed review, which will also reveal the plot.

Again, please don’t read any further unless you want spoilers.

Not kidding now, here we go.

One last chance for you to go back.

Okay, if you’re still here, Moon stars Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, the lone worker at a helium mining facility located on the far side of the Moon.  He has signed up for a three year contract to work there alone, with only a talking computer called

Extract (***)

Posted on September 5th, 2009 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
Sympathy for the Bossman

Sympathy for the Bossman

When we heard that Mike Judge had a new movie coming out, we knew it was a must see for us on opening weekend.  His previous films Office Space and Idiocracy are considered to be works of genius in our house, even though it took us a while to discover and appreciate the masterpiece-i-ness of them both.  But we now know and love them, and regularly quote both on a daily basis.

For those unfamiliar, Office Space told the story of downtrodden workplace drones who rise up to throw off the shackles of their e-dentured servitude  and stick it to the man, while Idiocracy tells the story of the evolutionary decline of mankind into mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging, mono-syllabic morons.

In counterpoint to those films (particularly Office Space), Extract tells the story from the perspective of “the man”.  Jason Bateman plays Joel, who is the owner of a successful food flavoring extract company.  While he was in college he developed a unique way of creating extracts that retain their flavor when heated, leading to tastier results.  Through years of hard work he has parlayed his breakthrough into a moderately large factory, which he runs from his office overlooking the shop floor.  He’s so successful that General Foods is sniffing around and thinking about buying him out lock, stock, and barrel, which would allow Joel to retire a relatively wealthy man.

However, even with his professional success, Joel is not happy.  He and his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) have drifted apart, and Joel finds himself lusting after the flirty new company employee Cindy (Mila Kunis) who seems to be fascinated by the world of flavoring extracts.  But, Joel is honorable and can’t bring himself to be unfaithful, so his spacy bartender friend Dean (Ben Affleck) suggests that he secretly hire a gigolo to seduce his own wife.  If she goes for it, then Joel is then morally free to also cheat, and if she doesn’t go for it then he’s learned a valuable lesson about his wife’s fidelity.  So, in a fit of chemically-enhanced miscalculation, Joel hires the himbo gigolo to “clean his pool”.

And then – everything goes wrong for Joel.  His wife Suzie jumps at the chance to jump the new pool guy’s bones, Joel’s Idiocracy-like workers perform a ballet of OSHA violations that result in a sprung bolt performing a half-masculation on his floor supervisor Step (Clifton Collins, Jr.), who decides to sue big, which scares General Foods into delaying their buyout until the lawsuit is settled.  Add to that the fact that Cindy, the cute new employee, is also a sociopathic grifter who is pilfering the purses of her workmates while she dates Step and pushes him to sue for bigger money (which she presumably plans to get her hands on).


Jim Adler, the Texas Hammer!

To help Step score the big civil case win, Cindy hires bombastic lawyer Joe Adler (Gene

Asian Cajun Bar and Grill (***½)

Posted on September 4th, 2009 in Brenham,Commentary,Restaurant Reviews by EngineerBoy
Asian Cajun Bar and Grill

Asian Cajun Bar and Grill

18088 State Highway 105
Washington, TX 77880
(936) 878-2224

Between Navasota and Brenham, on Highway 105, on the south side of the highway, nestled in the trees stands a unique dining and drinking experience for the intrepid – the Asian Cajun Bar and Grill.  As you can see to the right, it looks like a typical Texas ice house, but it’s not.

First, a little back-story.  We live in Brenham, and circumstances often dictate that we have to head up to College Station.  Marie made that journey a couple of times in the last few weeks, and took a different (and more efficient) route than we usually took, and upon her return one day she mentioned seeing an establishment out in the middle of nowhere that claimed to serve both Asian and Cajun food.  We made a half-hearted mental dog-ear to remember to try the place out, but we figured that given the combination of factors it was probably a long shot that we’d end up liking it.

Tonight we headed to College Station to see a movie (Extract), and on our way up there we passed the joint again, and agreed that if it was still open on our way back we’d stop and check it out.  It was, and we did, and we’re glad we did.

It turns out that it is exactly what it seems, which is a combination of an ice house (which for non-Texans is a particular type of open-air, laid-back neighborhood bar), a sports bar, a Cajun restaurant, and an Asian restaurant.  The place appears to be run by a Cajun man and an Asian woman.  Our assumption is that they are a couple-type couple, but that’s just an assumption.  The place had a nice feel, and the proprieters were friendly.

I had the fried shrimp and Marie had the fried crawfish, and we also ordered some fried dumplings, and had a couple of Shiner Bocks to round out the meal.  The piece de resistance was that the Dallas Cowboys game was on in the dining room.  The food was excellent, the beer was cold, the service was good, and the Cowboys won (beating the Vikings in preseason!).  All in all, an excellent evening.

We’ve already made plans to go back, and foresee the Asian Cajun Bar and Grill becoming part of our regular dining rotation.