The Informant! (2009) The Informant!, on the surface, feels like the kind of movie that should have been written/directed/produced by the Coen brothers — a hapless businessman way over his head, played by a paunchy, mustachioed Matt Damon (in the Coen universe it would have been William H. Macy), a '90s Midwest setting (Decatur and Springfield, Il) ripe for comedic picking. But while the Coens would have led down absurdest and surrealist paths of symbolism, director Steven Soderbergh lets the ridiculousness of it's real-life protagonist Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) do all the work. Whitacre was a VP of ADM, the corn processing giant, who worked undercover for two years with the FBI to expose price-fixing and other supposed scandals. He proves a hilariously bumbling yet, despite himself, competent spy, fluent in several languages but with way more book smarts than street. Like an absent-minded Patrick Bateman in the Midwest (without the serial killing) Whitacre's brain drifts hilariously aloof from one materialistic aside to another — thoughts of buying new ties to whether he likes the feeling of wool on skin and other meaningless absurdities. Example: "I've been to Tokyo. They sell little-girl underwear in the vending machines right on the main drag, the Ginza, or whatever. Guys in suits buying used girl panties. How is that okay? That's not okay."
Among the wandering thoughts, he's prone to delusions of grander and totally oblivious to the fact that he will probably not be awarded the CEOship for attempting to bring down ADM's top brass. With manic depression's highs and lows, Whitacre lets the excitement and greed get in the way of his "moral" crusade, but proves ultimately endearing for his childlike naivety and indefatigable spirit. Also, this film slyly says more about the American justice system — it's perverse bureaucracy and fucked priorities — than anything else this year. David Simon would be proud. A
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) Is Fantastic Mr. Fox the tweeist little twee-fest in the history of twee? Yes. But it's also as painfully detailed, sardonic, witty and dry as anything in director Wes Anderson's filmography (Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic, Rushmore, etc). But with all little things just right, the plotting provides the weak link. As Fox (George Clooney) and his band of ornery woodland creatures (Bill Murray, et al) do battle with mean ole Farmer Bean, the rules seem to constantly change (now Fox can dig is way out of any problem, now he can't, now he can again, etc). But, the familial themes familiar to any Anderson film provide the real backbone — jealousy, trust, betrayal and redemption. And, the animation looked stunning in Bluray, every little stop-motioned, hand-placed piece of fur or yarn is clearly defined and as painstakingly detailed as any live-motion set ever dreamed by the lanky auteur. B+
Angels and Demons (2009) Ugh, the papal mystery, European setting and pseudo history do provide an oddly intriguing premise, but Ron Howard is still a hack and Tom Hanks is still no Harrison Ford. At least the mullet is gone. A definite improvement on the god-awful Da Vinci Code ... but enough with the damn symbols. C-
Zombieland (2009) This movie rocked. No reason to say anything else, really. Fun time. A
The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009) — I really wanted to hate this. It's "wacky" New Ageism, boomer nostalgia, based-on-a-true-story excuse for existence. But what I found was a likable, light-hearted look at some of the more eccentric LSD casualties of the '60s. I'm tired and lazy and don't want to get into it, but just know that the movie is ridiculous and dumb but pretty funny and entertaining. B