Daily Film Thoughts: Oktoberfest

Last night, I saw three highly anticipated features of mine – all released (here) on Friday. Lets get this started (in order of viewing). Oh, and I just saw Shrink so I’ll write that up as well, seeing as I have a beef to chew with it.

First up is Capitalism: A Love Story – a self-indulgent, ironically titled feature by Michael Moore. Not that self-indulgent is a negative term for those accustomed to Moore’s work, as each of his ‘documentaries’ are very one-sided and opinionated. So for those expecting him to switch up how he plays his hands, I wouldn’t recommend you go all-in on this one.

Demonstrating America’s capitalistic evolution — or rather, devolution — the latest from one of the more self-sustaining American filmmakers is apt in its governmental criticism, justified in its humanistic intent, and above all, sober in its very serious-hardly humorous direction. While this is undoubtedly Moore’s most ominous and mature work to date, there still lies within the beating heart of an angry man soaked in bias. This indefinitely effects the rhythm at times – dragging the film from its rapture-like convictions and forewarning down to an eminently uninteresting one.

Interviews prove particularly wayward as purpose turns into manipulation and manipulation into stark truths. There is no comfort zone one can obtain when the bombastically narrated archival footage jumps to an incredulous interview. The human interest gets debilitated, apart from the final 30 minutes where there’s plenty to get worked up about and involved in. These are by far the best scenes the film has to offer as they work on several emotional levels; causing viewers the juxtaposed position of wanting to cry out their sorrows with gritted teeth and a hate-fueled, murderous mind.

The only detriment that Moore and his films find are the fact that they aren’t technically documentaries. They don’t present facts without an emphasized personal view and they generally find themselves trying for exploitative humor that is generally anti-Republican – thankfully, this is not abundant as it was in most of his features this decade (Bowling For Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11 & Captain Mike Across America). Instead the film is content with being genuine – both in the expect eyes of Moore’s fans and in the eyes of a researcher – and chugs along its earnest path urgently.

While Moore’s messages are always sincere, this is truly his most unpretentious yet. His zealous antics are seldom which greatly improves upon his methods and demonstrates the pensiveness of this feature all the more adamantly. Although it appears he has an air of self-righteousness by predicting the Bush era to be a disaster if reelected (he doesn’t give his anti-Bush agenda a rest here) which weakens his entire agenda, if only because he likes to pop in an “I told you so” every so often.

A feature with paramount importance that spins a far bleaker principle than one would hope to witness. Certainly not as serious a feature as one would expect from the antics of Mr. Moore. Yet I don’t know what’s more depressing: the destruction of families by the greedy hand of big business or the somber final desire evoked by Michael Moore in a tone that barely sounded hopeful. [8/10]

Next was easily one of my most anticipated of the year in Zombieland. As this easily falls into the current hot topic of zombies, its solid BO outing this weekend was expected – even if it was rated R and ran for only 80 minutes. With a great cast that compliments the assortment of characters, Ruben Fleischer’s directorial debut subsumes the dedicated style that occasionally graces theater screens; creating the finest comedic atmosphere of the year.

The film starts off with a bang: or rather with a list. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a neurotic, irritable but completely likable (sound familiar?) young man begins to tell his story to those willing to watch his life unfold. He starts off by introducing the ill circumstances America (and presumable the world) has fallen to: a mad-cow sparked zombie outburst. He begins listing off numbers followed by rules he applies to his daily routine in this unfavorable terrain. Each exercised effectively and humorously in his own practice and each unquestionably important to remaining alive, and well, undead.

A bit down the line, as Columbus treks across car-scattered highway, an SUV on a mission for destruction begins to hurdle towards him – decimating the abandoned automobiles with its custom-built wrecking plate. An awkward standoff ensues between a timid Columbus and a driven and emotionally distant self-named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). If you’re curious, Tallahassee applies the names of the cities people are headed for to them, as to not become humanly correlated – a rule that also applies to Columbus, so there’s no real confrontation about the new world order being administered by the tough guy.

So they set off together. Tallahassee decidedly gives Columbus a ride near Ohio, but not to the homestead the incongruous loner partially wants to revisit, if only to see a familiar face. Here we learn that Tallahassee has an incredible appetite for Twinkies and in fact, is rather drawn to them as his sole quest in this world; disregarding his safety to acquire one last creamy Hostess treat. This is expressed wonderfully when he flips his lid over the ability to eat as many Snowballs as possible because he so desires the Twinkie.

The chemistry these two characters conjure up is wonderful, but short lived. The most enjoyable moments are found early on in the feature; between awkward pauses and comedic, inscrutable conversations, these scenes are golden and without a scent of a habitual template.

Of course the top-fleet enjoyment has to come to an end. This is initially impressed upon the audience when the baffling duo cross paths with a sister and sister couplet in the back of a vacant superstore (also without Twinkies). The elder – roughly 20 years old and extremely beautiful – aptly named Wichita (Emma Stone) and her younger sister – a very desensitized, but still innocent 12 year old – Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) embrace the presence of the two men with watery eyes, worried for their future. Of course the two guys don’t know how to interpret this, but give sympathies anyways – trying to be compassionate without being overly affected. This plays out poorly in their favor and the sisters make off with their weapons and rides. Of course, their paths cross again, making them the group you bare witness to in the trailers.

The only misstep, albeit major, that the story takes in an otherwise intricately planned trip is the formula in which it bestows. After the two take on another two, the unpredictable path becomes very obvious in the direction it wishes to take. It doesn’t misfire like one would assume having the unusual teenage romantic vibe in the mix, but the film does find itself stagnant at times; taking away from the overall accelerated pace previous applied.

That said, the film is seldom reluctant to capitalize on the story at hand – causing very memorable events to earnestly fall into place. Of course, the scenario everyone is talking about takes place in a famous actor’s mansion – I won’t bother to say who it is just because I find it taboo to reveal anything that would be considered a spoiler, even if it doesn’t apply directly to the theme or climax – in which a slew of reactions jump from each of the four characters. The outline sets up for a variety of great comedic moments and even the film’s few emotionally heavy ones.

It plays as well as a video game would, the only difference is you don’t have the added anguish of not passing a level. Rather, the only suffering you’ll find yourself possessing will either be over the sorrowful connotations you hold with any of the troubled characters or the generic way it plays out. Either way, neither significantly detract from the overall enjoyment that the film embraces. In the end, Zombieland is as outlandish a romp as one would expect and definitely in the top tier of great cinematic experiences 2009 has produced. [8/10]

After working my way to an entirely devoted comedy through the last two features, I finally found myself watching The Invention of Lying – a feature that takes place in an alternate reality and proves testament to the unrivaled comedy styling of one Ricky Gervais; both in acting and writing.

Working side-by-side with newcomer Matthew Robinson in both writing and directing the feature, Gervais presents an old routine with an exciting front; like an old reliable car with an exciting new paint job. The heart of the story is as traditional as any romantic comedy you’ve seen, but the comedic intentions and formatting is a marvel. The dialogue is particularly impressive, but with a film set in an a world that is entirely honest that was a given.

Similar to many other films, the story is about a man who can’t get any breaks; in laments terms, a loser. He can’t get dates, he isn’t successful with his work and his friends range from pathetic to more pathetic. Here the main character is Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) and the single reason for his unhappiness is the constructed world around him. After being insulted in a variety of blunt ways – as, of course, he’s accustomed to having lived in this forward world his entire life – and losing his job, Mark finds himself able to do something no one else has ever been able to do in the history of mankind; lie. It starts off as a tingling in the back of his mind that he uses occasionally, but of course this snowballs to the point where he’s the world surrounding him.

Lying is found very easy in this submissive place. However, the worst of it all is that he has no one to share this gift with. Every time he attempts to explain these powers, no one can comprehend what he’s talking about and just go along as is in their nature. This grows to hysterical points where the protagonist will say a statement such as “I’m black” and characters around him will ordinarily reply with  “I knew it”. Its an entirely boisterous idea that Gervais and the rest of the cast surely enjoyed cavorting with. Even a generally regulated Jonah Hill takes on aberrant emotional depths that suit his demeanor.

On the romantic front, Mark finds himself in no man’s land. Thanks to his unequivocal physique, just about every woman is turned off by his appearance; not willing to dig into the genuine soul of the fine man. Each attempt at a date is met with an unfavorable and insensitive reply that generally ends with ‘you’re ugly’. Much to the fortune of Mark, he finds himself in a date with a woman he’s admired for years in Anna (Jennifer Garner). One of my primary complaints with the feature is that it never really gives rhyme or reason as to why Mark is so infatuated with her or had been for all those months leading up to this point. She’s very trenchant, states on countless occasions that she won’t ever be with him because she wants her children to be of the highest genetic code and that he really isn’t her type. Obviously everyone in this universe are the same way, but a scene hardly develops without her coming off completely selfish. But as I said earlier, any laudation the film earns will not be for its skeleton.

In the end, The Invention of Lying lays out the rest of the competition with its unrelenting wit, high octane ensemble (that contain three cameo performances: one decent, one good and one fabulous) and bouquet of monotonous, yet interesting characters. From top to bottom, the honesty found within the feature is unprecedented in current cinema, urging viewers to ponder ‘if only the outline of the feature was as veracious…’ [8/10]

Shrink

I was debating whether or not to review this film. While I do find that three reviews on any particular post is fine, I find myself not feeling I’ve justified my distaste for most films this year. So while I won’t start reviewing every film I see, perhaps throwing out a more in-depth analysis of films I am not fond of will make this entire process more rounded.

When you think of an independent dramedy about a man who lives a tired existence that only gets more insipidly ritual to the point of inhabiting an unhealthy drug addiction starring a top-notch actor, your mind might jump to Love Liza. And although the 2002 feature starring Philip Seymour Hoffman is different in structure, I can tell you that both of these films suck equally.

The movie I’m speaking of today is Shrink – a film that sounds much better as a synopsis than it is in actual practice. Its the simple, yet desperately complicated tale of the intersecting lives of six Los Angelas residents and one therapist – each of whom cannot cope with their own turmoil and chunk of human suffering. Of course in order to be as diverse as possible, screenwriter Thomas Moffett throws in a plethora of unfounded characters of different backgrounds, just to dab a little “everyone’s the same” message on top of the disorderly purpose.

Each of these characters are connected in someway to therapy. Kevin Spacey plays Henry Carter, one of the top celebrity psychoanalysts in the state. His clients consist of a Colin Farrell circa 2005 clone in debilitated Irish actor Shamus (Jack Huston), aging box office star in Kate Amberson (Saffron Burrows), an aged alcoholic who still appears in newer features for the paycheck in Jack Holden (Robin Williams), a steadfast, cutthroat film producer who has a neurotic, impulsive side that is slowly pushing to his mental demise in Patrick (Dallas Roberts),  and a precocious and angsty young inner city youth named Jemma (Keke Palmer) whose case is given to Henry out of their parallel situations from one worried, but considerate father. Those are just his patients, mind you. There’s still a very big story that revolves around Henry’s godbrother and his difficulties in writing an apt, but marketable screenplay in Jeremy (Mark Webber). This accurately describes the shells of each of the characters, but none of them are fleshed out to any human connotations apart from the therapist.

Heavily symbolic gestures to pseudo-intellectuals run rampant throughout the course of the feature. For example, Jemma’s mother has passed away. When her mother was alive, she and Jemma used to go to a cinema that specialized in displaying classic features – Jemma kept every ticket. Now she has taped each ticket to her roof and every proceeding one she obtains when she skips school to indulge in the arts. It is so obvious that director Jonas Pate and writer Thomas Moffett are trying to administer an ominous burden atop this characters head and the intentions come off immensely pretentious and overly indulgent; something you’d only see in cinema. Same applies for the derisory introduction of suicide to the plot – a substantially ridiculous dialogue is created that will even make the most attentive viewers roll their eyes.

Despite the flaccid pacing, the anemically turgid score and the swiss-cheese-like characterization, this film is actually easy to get through. I attribute this solely to the esoteric participation of the ample ensemble. Kevin Spacey is always a marvel to watch perform, even if this role is essentially Lester Burnham without a family. Add onto the sophisticated lead performance a generous turn from Robin Williams – a man who only seems to be inching towards that performance with age – and delightful feminine touches from Saffron Burrows and Pell James; both criminally underrated amongst the slew of women in Hollywood.

The plentiful flaws are egregious; the seldom strengths are gratifying; but the film isn’t valuable on any level – be it intellectual or sentimental. In the end, Shrink’s message about the lament of life is as emotionally ethical as telling young children Santa isn’t real on Christmas Eve. [4/10]

It was good to get some commonplace reviews out of my system. Again, for anyone reading I vow to get back on the TIFF train and finish up the final five days I have left to review with the utmost potency. Cheers.

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