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Cinema Sunday (10/4/09) October 4, 2009

Posted by monty in movies.
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Two observations and one review from the cinema this weekend:

Observations:

1) I’m fairly certain we don’t need a remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.

I’m not morally opposed to remakes, even if the remake is rarely – if ever – as good as the original.  I figure if it’s acceptable in the world of theater, then it should be okay for movies, too.  I mean, there’s little chance anyone will ever transcend Marlon Brando as the definitive Stanley Kowalski, but that doesn’t stop countless high schools, colleges, community groups, and professional troupes from staging their version of A Streetcar Named Desire each year.  But for a movie remake to work – thereby justifying the amount of money poured into the project – it seems like it should stand a chance of bettering the original, or at least provide a new spin on the subject matter. But no matter how much I love Jackie Earle Haley, there’s just no way a remake produced by professional turd merchant Michael Bay and directed by some anonymous rent-a-hack known only for music videos can ever come close to Wes Craven’s still-creepy original.  It’s yet another entry in the rapidly-growing series of cynical reboots (see also: 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and 2009’s Friday the 13th) created for the sole purpose of swiping $10 from teenagers who don’t know any better.  Next up: Casablanca, directed by Brett Ratner and starring Mark Wahlberg and Cameron Diaz.

2) Roland Emmerich needs to stop making movies about things blowing up and/or falling down.

Ever since 1996, most of his movies have followed this pattern.  There’s Independence Day (things blowing up thanks to aliens [and Will Smith]), Godzilla (things blowing up thanks to a giant lizard), and The Day After Tomorrow (things blowing up thanks to nature).  Now we have 2012 (things blowing up thanks to … planetary alignment?  Prophecy? The disintegration of John Cusack’s career?).  I know he’s also given us The Patriot and 10,000 B.C., which feature things not blowing up, but those are hardly the equivalent of having Citizen Cane and The Bicycle Thief buried in your filmography.  Judging from the trailer, 2012 features more animation than Toy Story, and a script that features exactly four sentences of dialogue.  It’s being released right before Thanksgiving, because nothing says “holiday cheer” like the end of the world.

Review:

The Invention of Lying movie posterEver since I first saw the U.K. version of The Office in 2003, Ricky Gervais has been, if not one of my idols, then at least one of the Top Three people I would most like to meet in real life (the other two: his frequent writing partner, Stephen Merchant, and Shaun of the Dead‘s Simon Pegg).  The Invention of Lying continues my infatuation with the man.

The movie, co-written and directed by Gervais (along with Matthew Robinson), and starring Gervais and Jennifer Garner, is simply the smartest comedy you’ll see all year. That distinction – which, in a perfect world, would ensure its success –  guarantees that it’ll be a flop of epic proportions at the American box office.  There are a few reasons for this.  The marketing of the movie is terrible and makes it sound like a half-assed variation on Jim Carrey’s Liar, Liar. A more honest ad campaign would sound something like this: In a world where no one knows how to lie, one man discovers how to do it, and in the process invents religion.  Secondly, the movie-going public loves a known quantity, and Gervais himself is really known only to the select cult of nerdy Anglophiles (like me) who have followed him from The Office to Extras to his podcasts and standup.  But, as I mentioned, the movie’s subtlety and smarts are what will ultimately prevent it from gaining traction at the multiplex.

The movie starts out bleakly satirical.  It’s not just that no one knows how to lie.  It’s that they’re brutally honest and disclose everything.  When Mark (Gervais) meets Anna (Garner) for their first date at the start of the movie, she’s frank in telling him that she doesn’t anticipate the date going anywhere because he’s fat and has a snub nose (she also tells him that she’s going to go upstairs to finish getting ready, but will also probably finish masturbating).  As a result of this inability to sugar-coat reality – or even to deceive themselves that things are better than they seem – most of the people trudge through their days in despair.  This is true of Mark, too.  He knows his date with Anna was a disaster, he’s about to be fired as a screenwriter for a movie company (because fiction doesn’t exist, movies consist of filmed lectures about historical events), his mother is confined to a nursing home (named, honestly, “A Sad Place Where Homeless Old People Come to Die”), and he’s about to be evicted because he doesn’t have the $800 to pay his rent.  After receiving his eviction notice, Mark goes to the bank to withdraw the rest of his savings, and it’s here that he makes the titular discovery.  He is told by the bank teller that the system is down, but even though she can’t access his balance, how much money would he like to withdraw?  Synapses fire, connections are made, and Mark gleefully takes the resulting $800 to his landlord.  The next step? Because everyone takes anything anyone says at face value, the fun to be had by the one man who knows how to lie is limitless.

A lot of the fun of the movie is in having no idea where it’s headed, so I won’t relate any more specifics of the plot.  But in picking up steam following Mark’s epiphany, the movie becomes both a clever romantic comedy and a whip-smart evisceration of religion.  And that’s exactly why it won’t find an audience in our dumbed-down culture.  Gervais is too smart to let the movie trade in the same cheap, treacly sentimentality of most romances, and, in his unapologetic atheism, he launches a funny, but uncompromising, attack on the unreliability and ambiguity of religious dogma.  He doesn’t attack those who believe; instead, he points out how one very persuasive man can create a belief system that alters the lives of the masses.

Along with Gervais and Garner, Louis C.K. is hysterical as Mark’s best friend, and the movie features a panoply of cameos (presumably from people dying to work with Gervais).  Tina Fey, Christopher Guest, Martin Starr, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton, Jason Bateman, and John Hodgman all make very brief – and very funny – appearances.  See it and spread the word.  The Invention of Lying is a movie that doesn’t deserve to slip through the cracks.

*****

Current listening:

Comsat land

The Comsat Angels – Land

Last movie seen:

zombieland_poster

Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer, dir.)

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Comments»

1. Amanda - October 5, 2009

This is one of my favorite songs.

2. rcm - October 5, 2009

Did you mean to leave this on the Mountain Goats post? I’m assuming so, but I wasn’t sure.

3. Amanda - October 5, 2009

Yup, I did. The comment thing is at the beginning of posts but I thought they were at the end. This is where paying attention would come in handy but you know that I never do that. It’s still one of my favorite songs and I liked The Invention of Lying. There!


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