Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

DVDs In Brief: February 24, 2010

A.V. Club Staff
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The miracle of Kurt Eichenwald’s book The Informant is how it turned a seemingly mundane biochemical price-fixing case into a thriller as wild and compulsively readable as any John Grisham or Michael Crichton novel. The exclamation point that writer Scott Burns and director Steven Soderbergh put on their adaptation, The Informant! (Warner Bros.), is just the first indication that it goes one step further, into the realm of high comedy. For the most part, it succeeds overwhelmingly, thanks to a breezy tone and Matt Damon’s wonderful turn as a would-be double-dealer awash in self-delusion…

Adapting a sturdy Richard Matheson short story with a neat twist ought to have given director Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko, Southland Tales) a chance to prove he could make a straightforward popular thriller. It didn’t. Instead, he delivered The Box (Warner Bros.), a strange, frustrating, frequently arresting thriller about need, greed, and… well, saying more would spoil it. It stiffed at the box office, but a second life as a cult film should start mere seconds after this DVD debut…

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Unfaithful film adaptations of niche-y genre books face a particular problem: Fans of the book often hate the films for going mainstream and deviating from what made the book unique in the first place, yet the mainstream may not care regardless of how broad the film goes. At least that was the case with Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (Universal), a fairly generic kids’ horror film spun off of a darker 12-book series. The books’ fans didn’t like the film’s comic touches or John C. Reilly’s swaggering, smirking performance as a circus vampire who takes on a spider-loving kid as his apprentice. Problem was, apart from the books’ fans, no one else cared at all…

Robert De Niro continues to sleepwalk toward irrelevance with terminally beige roles in snoozers like last year’s Everybody’s Fine (Buena Vista), which casts him as a doddering retired dad who visits his adult children (Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell, and Kate Beckinsale) and discovers their lives aren’t anywhere near as perfect as he had been led to believe. Life lessons of the most maudlin, predictable variety ensue…

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The September Issue (Lionsgate) probes the cult of Anna Wintour, the ice-queen editor of Vogue and the inspiration for Meryl Streep’s imperious publishing-world dictator in The Devil Wears Prada. Following Wintour as she and her bullied and seduced minions prepare to put out the biggest, most important issue of the year, the film benefits from a magnetic, compelling subject, but it never gets behind her icy façade. It’s sadly apt that a film about the fashion industry is a little superficial.

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