Weekly DVD Picks & Passes

The Informant! (2009)

“The Spectacular Spider-Man,”

Vols. 6-7 (2010)


One of the best movies of 2009, The Informant! is now on DVD. A deceptively lighthearted dark comedy about international corporate crime, whistle-blowing and a lengthy, covert federal investigation, The Informant! takes so many twists and turns that by the time the end credits roll, it’s hard to recall that it all began with orange juice, maple syrup, biodegradable trash bags, jumbo shrimp and chickens.

What do all these things have in common? Corn. “Corn goes in one end,” Marc Whitacre (Matt Damon) confides in an inner monologue voice-over as he walks the office floors of Archer Daniels Midland, “and profit comes out the other.” Whitacre was a divisional president at ADM in charge of bioresearch in the early 1990s, and his story, not to give too much away, is an eyepopper.

We all like to think we would do the right thing; in moments of crisis, we tell ourselves that we have. The Informant! confronts us with the inveterate human capacity for self-justification and self-deception, and the extent to which we are all prone to casting ourselves as the hero of our own drama and the victim of our own tragedy.

More of “The Spectacular Spider-Man”! I thought this show was good before, but Vols. 6-7, now on DVD, are the best yet. This is the smartest kids’ show I know of today, and one of the best super-hero cartoon series ever. Creators Greg Weisman and Victor Cook have always set a high standard, but with these episodes, “Spider-Man” gets literally operatic and even Shakespearean.

Yes, literally. One episode, with a gangland war set in an opera house during a performance of Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” is scored to the opera (as well as other diegetic or on-screen music). Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” becomes a multi-episode structuring device as Peter’s classmates try out for the school play — tryouts that add wry commentary on the main action. (This device comes to a climax in the next disc to come, Vol. 8.)

These artful allusions aren’t just conceits. The opera episode is Godfather-esque in its well-crafted conflicts, motivations and characterizations. Moral thoughtfulness continues, as when one character’s gambling problem and another’s history with drugs prompt apt remarks about addiction and recovery.

Dialogue remains sharp. In a battle with a fiery opponent in a pool hall, with fire raging everywhere, Spider-Man quips to the manager, “Couldn’t spring for a sprinkler system, huh?” A “Cyrano de Bergerac” riff has jock Flash Thompson desperately turning to Peter to coach him in wooing a brainy beauty: “She like smartness! And, like, integrity and stuff.” Me, too.


Content advisory: The Informant: Limited profane language and a number of obscenities; brief crass remarks and language and a comment about a perverted practice. Teens and up. “The Spectacular Spider-Man”: Much fast-paced animated action violence, menace and scary images; romantic complications. Fine for all but very sensitive kids.

Beijing in New York

A 15-year follow-up to the Beijing Conference on Women will take place at the United Nations in New York in March. Some pro-lifers are monitoring the proceedings.

Northern Fights

A squabble in Canada over foreign aid has brought to light studies showing a drastic drop in maternal mortality rates after countries recriminalized abortion.

A Village Keeps Its Promise

A visit to Oberammergau, Germany, where the decennial Passion Play will be performed this year. The villagers promised to perform a play depicting the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ every 10 years if they could be spared any further deaths from the 1633 plague.