Informant (NR, 2013, Music Box Films)
There may be no person on the planet as uniquely qualified to honestly dissect the entire activist spectrum as Brandon Darby, and it’s for that very reason that so many people have no interest in hearing what he has to say. Spurred by his own experiences and the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort, Darby mobilized not simply as a far-left activist, but as a self-styled movement leader whose personality and ambition created wedges that reached chasmic levels as philosophies clashed. When one of those clashes involved the prospect of using extreme violence in a way that could potentially harm innocent people, Darby diverged and began a journey that morphed him into a tipster, an FBI informant and eventually an alleged traitor, target and reluctant (and not-so-reluctant) Tea Party poster child. And that mostly is just the story from Darby’s mouth. His detractors have a, let’s say, slightly different take on these events, and “Informant” does the only reasonable thing it can do by keeping quiet and letting both sides speak for themselves (and, to a point, respond to one another) without editorial intervention. Balance is “Informant’s” strongest asset, and its inclusion of subjects who were there but not necessarily entrenched in either camp goes a long way toward elevating it beyond a simple “he said, they said” piece. Of course, at its core, that’s still what it is, and the truth, which likely rests somewhere in the middle like it usually does, has no comment. But “Informant’s” inability to do the impossible and dig that truth up has no bearing on the entertainment value — and the interesting, mortifying and even funny insights into activism culture — it provides throughout the effort.
Extras: Additional interviews, footage of Darby at the Occupy Wall Street rally.
Clear History (NR, 2013, HBO)
Would you buy a car named Howard? Marketing guru Nathan Flomm (Larry David) doesn’t think so, and he’s convinced enough to sell his stake in a car company whose star and stock appear almost destined to rise. That’s conviction. But Nathan also thinks it’s a good idea to install a flap drivers can use to urinate while driving, so maybe he’s just insane. Or maybe he’s just Larry David with a new name. “Clear History” quickly flashes ahead 10 years, where Nathan has assumed a new name, haircut and home to escape the infamy of being the guy who quit what became a multibillion dollar company, and there’s a story about getting payback when his former boss (Jon Hamm) moves to the same resort town and doesn’t recognize him. But if the scene with J.B. Smoove doesn’t raise any alarms, the bits about restaurant silverware etiquette and a driver’s right of way make it clear that a Larry David by any other name may still be Larry David. That, of course, isn’t necessarily bad news. It may even be perfectly great news, because “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is a very funny show and an extended, alternate-universe episode is a treat in its own special way. Just understand what you’re getting if, somehow, you don’t like the show but still have some interest in seeing this. It’s funny, clever and actually goes somewhere with its story, but it’d be hard to dream up a worse demo reel for showcasing David’s versatility as an actor. Michael Keaton, Danny McBride, Eva Mendes, Kate Hudson and Philip Baker Hall also star. No extras.
Girl Most Likely (PG-13, 2013, Lions Gate)
Before it’s even established that Peter is Imogene’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend, it’s clear he’s planning a quick exit from their relationship. Before we know what Imogene does for a living, it’s clear we’re about to find out she’s about to lose her job. And while it’s less obvious what Imogene failed at (playwright) before settling on plan B in Manhattan, falling short again and finding no choice but to move back home with her content but strange family in New Jersey, “Girl Most Likely” need not come out and immediately say that she failed at anything, because it doesn’t really need to. We’ve all seen this movie before, and we all know how this goes. “Likely” has its moments, thanks to a few funny parts and an extensive effort of its cast’s part to be lively when being funny or inventive aren’t options. As a body of work, it’s perfectly, agreeably pleasant, if only thanks to that cast’s partial likability. But one might wonder if that title was a sly jab at Imogene’s thoroughly ordinary story if it didn’t entail giving “Likely” more self-awareness points than it earns. As vanilla as that early going is, it’s no match for a second half that replaces the amusing mood with an obligatory layer of drama that is equally plain. When a totally silly and narratively jarring end sequence arrives half out of nowhere to put this one to bed, it’s a welcome sight instead of a puzzling detour, if only because any surprise at all — even in the service of pure nonsense — will suffice at that point. Annette Bening, Matt Dillon, Darren Criss and Christopher Fitzgerald also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, bloopers.
Under the Dome (NR, 2013, CBS/Paramount)
It isn’t easy to make a hit television show, which is why “Under the Dome” — based on the Stephen King book of the same name, wherein a small town finds itself suddenly enclosed by an invisible but impenetrable dome — made a quick transformation from summer miniseries event to multi-season-with-no-end-in-sight show almost as soon as millions of viewers made it a hit. Unfortunately, it is no easier to maintain a hit show than become one, and with each passing episode, “Dome’s” struggles to extend itself look increasingly like its eventual undoing. The intriguing questions are all nicely laid out. Where’d the dome come from? Who put it there? What’s happening on the other side, which is as visible as ever but impenetrable by sound, radio waves and everything else? And last but never least, why is this happening? Problem is, “Dome’s” questions are so point-blank obvious that the show’s objective quickly turns to doing anything but answering them and fully satiating people’s curiosity. Who’d stick around if it did? So instead, here are stories about jealous lovers, crooked politicians, rogue sheriffs, crazy doomsday criers and numerous other characters whose true colors — for better or worse, though considerably more often for worse — are brought out by being enclosed together and cut off from the outside world. Some of these stories hit, but most are kneecapped by cliche, amateur-hour character design and a hammy production that, from the evil-eyed frowns to the soundtrack, is so overbearing as to flirt with comedy. The longer “Dome” stalls without interesting stories to keep it afloat, the less worthwhile it becomes to see what the dome’s secrets are. And when season one ends with a torrent of drawn-out storylines that remain unresolved only so season two has something to do, it’s enough to just give up entirely. (If you want answers, there’s always the book.)
Contents: 13 episodes, plus five behind-the-scenes features.