The High Countries

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The Informant!

The Informant!, A Case Study in Lying.

Whitacre (Damon) lays tape... one of hundreds.

A Case Study In Lying

by Bryce VanKooten

The Informant! — with a little jitter at the end — is a quirky movie. Its a spectacle of laughter and stress for just under two hours. When I walked out with my buddy Bryan, we both looked at each other and said, “I’m exhausted … But that was pretty good.”  Now, even hours later, it still seems like a fair assessment.

Matt Damon (and his extra 30lbs, on the ol’ tummy) came out swinging a little slower (re: different) than in his previous Ocean’s or Bourne flicks, while reuniting with his old pal Steven Soderburgh. The Informant!, along with a couple nice new faces to dramedy – the versatile Tony Hale and Joel McHale — finds a niche like an itch you can’t scratch. Never the ending spoiler, I was tossed and turned by this faux Crime Caper so frequently that I must have changed seat positions to three positions on loop: laughter, cringe, horror … Repeat.

Infiltrating the life of whistle-blower-turned-FBI-informant Mark Whitacre, The Informant! keeps it’s pace like a bad summer camp relationship — giggles, realization, anger. There was no room for sympathy. There was no room for understanding. How do you understand a pathological liar? As Bryan and I sat there through the film, we couldn’t help but slowly see ourselves get more and more angry at the pathetic and despicable display of humanity on screen. And he got me! I didn’t know he was lying! And it was so obvious the whole time! I will admit though, I do love a good foolin’.

There’s a couple scenes that make the movie worth the price of admission. Sadly, many of them were spoiled in the trailer (a curse I’ve coined “Being Fox’d”, for its similarity to 20th Century Fox and Megan Fox’s reputation for impeccable previews and horrific results), but a few remain on the screen. Matt Damon’s spot-on execution of all of the ‘bugged rooms’ scenes are brilliant to the core and his portrayal of the ghastly 1990’s ties are pastel-perfect. Props to the Costume Department … (pun). There’s a mid-level biochemist somewhere in the world right now tickled pink, guaranteed.

The most pivotal of all Whitacre’s moments onscreen was between his unflinchingly loving wife Ginger (Melanie Lynskey) and the charming, beaten down FBI Agent Shepard (Scott Bakula). Finally caught in a web of lies, Whitacre is confronted by the consequences of his actions. He is, indeed, a pathological liar, among others things … including a felon. It has that Beautiful Mind twinge to it, you know? That feeling that, the truth is out, but reality just somehow got more confusing.

The lesson to be learned for Whitacre is not ‘telling the truth’ – he’s been told, advised, coerced, arm-wreslted, pleaded with, bargained for that countless times – the lesson here, one would surmise, would be to figure out his motivations leading up to his felonious actions. A man who seemingly had it all – countless cars, land, money, a loving wife and kids – risks it all … for what?

And that’s something we never get. I still don’t get it. Fame? Variety? Spice? Sheer boredom?

Why do I like this movie?

I just do.

It’s quirky and funny and well written and sharp. All the actors are spot on and it nails the evanescent truth about lying. I can hear my father’s words now, “I can’t promise you you’ll get caught, but I can promise you one thing: you tell me the truth and you won’t get in as much trouble as you will if you lie to me about it.

Plus, Joel McHale, first major feature role? Come on…

September 23, 2009 Posted by | Entertainment, Film Reviews, Movies | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Hangover

Four friends prepare for a night like no other...

Four friends prepare for a night like no other...

Comedy Genius … With a Dash of the Party Juice

by Bryce VanKooten

I’d been expecting it. Hoped it would change the landscape of the corn-fed comedy, this one. The Hangover — director Todd Phillips’ (Old School) newest jaunt down the halls of adult adolescence — was sadly the script someone should have written long ago; the characters we’ve all known, loved, and hated and the coup de grâce to regurgitated frat boy humor.

Let’s get one thing straight: I haven’t laughed that hard in years.

About 15 years ago, I was told it was important to keep a tally of your favorite things in life: books, quotes, songs, films, etc:

  • Wish I Could Have Been IN It Moment: chariot-survival-kill-everyone-fight — Gladiator
  • Wish I Could Have Witnessed It: opening mafia, back room conversation — The Godfather.
  • Best Page in a Script, Ever: Gandalf’s conversation with Frodo, in the cave, when they first see Gollum — Lord of The Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.
  • Hardest I’ve Ever Laughed in a Theater, To Date: casino table scene — Rush Hour 2.
  • Most Terrified, Ever, On First Viewing: T-Rex-in-Ford-Explorer scene — Jurassic Park.
  • Movie I’ve Seen the Most Times: four-way tie (gotta be 30, at least) — Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Hook, 3 Ninjas, Old School.

So it’s only natural that The Hangover has to fall in that list somewhere. Maybe somewhere between Hardest Laughed, or Wish I Was There; maybe a new category all together: Most Outrageous on Screen – that has a nice ring to it.

The Hangover is a simple story. Four guys go to Vegas for a bachelor party. The night ensues and they wake up to find a laundry list of shenanigans (the debris of such shenanigans all around them) as proof of their night of debauchery and clues they must use to find their best friend and missing man-to-be-married.

Its not 15 minutes in and we’ve had enough laughs — my face hurt, let’s be honest, here.

Our friend alcohol (and so much more, we soon find out) as our guide and new characters before our eyes, The Hangover proves to be a far cry from the pitiful repackaging of humor we’ve seen in Semi Pro, Forgetting Sarah Marshal (yeah, I said it), Step Brothers (I said it, too) and Harold and Kumar … whatever they do, blah, blah, the list goes on. If I had to put my finger on it, The Hangover is like a not-so-raunchy (until the end credits – yikes) Tropic Thunder. I’ll use TBS’ false tag-line here: …very funny.

There’s seldom a simple movie that reinvents the wheel. Tropic Thunder was anything but simple — just ask Mr. Stiller – and Old School was nearly 6 years ago, not that Old School was the Mona Lisa … you get my point. Its tough to tell a simple story and bring something new to the table, but The Hangover manages to do just that. But what’s the rub? I mean, how? I’ll tell you: new characters.

No one knows Zach Galifianakis (which is one of the larger tragedies on planet Earth*). Bradley Cooper is still either the yoked up muscleman in Wedding Crashers or the sensitive-no-wait-I-think-he’s-a-douche-bag from He’s Just Not That Into You, so we all haven’t come close to seeing enough of him. And not one person in the USA is sick of Ed Helms (The Office‘s Andy Bernard) whom Will Ferrell claims to be the funniest person he knows, making these three guys primed for comedic wonders. Throw in a masterful performance from the missing groom Doug (Justin Bartha) and we’ve got a movie on our hands. That was a lengthy thought/sentence(s), my apologies. More plainly, all four guys are fairly new to the big screen and all very funny.


Now, fast forward. I’m in my seat. I’m sitting next to my sister — once she gets laughing only gets me laughing worse and then it’s an avalanche of joyous tears from then on out – and we’re prepared for a raunchy ride of tastelessness and debauchery. To be frank … it was, but not nearly as bad as I thought it could be. Before we knew it, we were winding our way through a quasi-film noir of some kind, searching for clues and tripping up on every Chinese gangster (lame, I thought), washed up heavyweight champ and stray baby we could breast-feed. It was new. It was a mystery movie.

It was hysterical.

I don’t know that I can recommend The Hangover to just anyone. It’s not your mother’s cup of tea — unless your mom is a stripper, which, coincidentally has a place in this movie — but it is incredibly funny and surprisingly smart. Bottom line: sit down, enjoy some of the best comedy in years and don’t forget to stay through the end credits … if you can handle them.

That may have been the worst advice I’ve ever given you.

*If you’ve never seen “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis”, please watch. And watch here

June 5, 2009 Posted by | Entertainment | , , , , , , | Leave a comment