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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Invention of Lying is a truly funny comedy

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 11:40 AM

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This winning comedy, directed, co-written by and starring Ricky Gervais (Ghost Town, Britain’s The Office), imagines a world in which everyone always tells the truth. In this alternate universe, lies, fiction, irony, imagination and social niceties are unknown. Daily life is a depressing minefield of rude insults and unfiltered admissions. The movie hilariously explores the pitfalls of truthfulness in the opening scenes, in which pudgy Mark Bellison (Gervais) calls on blind date Anna (Jennifer Garner), who bluntly admits her disappointment in his looks. When Mark, a screenwriter for a company that makes boring historical documentaries, is fired and evicted, he has a sudden impulse to lie to get extra money from his bank. As the world’s only man who can lie, Mark feels empowered to get rich and pursue Anna, who still finds him insufficiently handsome. Comforting his dying mother, Mark “invents” a hopeful story about the afterlife, and becomes an unintentional messiah. The movie is sprinkled with droll lines, smart visual gags and funny parts for Tina Fey, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jonah Hill. Although it doesn’t know quite what to do with its marvelous premise and sags a bit after its brilliant opening, it’s refreshingly thoughtful, original and very funny. *** 1/2

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Zombieland is a worthy addition to the zom com genre

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 10:59 AM

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The world has been devastated by a plague that turns the infected into flesh-eating killing machines. Among the few survivors are uber-wuss Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, in Michael Cera-lite mode), who’s lucky this is a comedy and not a horror movie or he would have been dead before the opening credits. This is a guy who tries to fight off a zombie attack with a bag of cotton balls. But while he may not be much good at fighting, Columbus proves quite handy for providing flashbacks, relating amusing plot detours like the “zombie kill of the week” and, most importantly, spelling out “the rules” of Zombieland.

Helping to keep Columbus among the living is the wise cracking bad-ass Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), whose only goal other than survival is to find a Twinkie. He’s vulgar, funny and selfish on the outside, but underneath that rough exterior beats the heart of a hero. He’s like the Han Solo of zombie movies. Harrelson hasn’t had a starring role in a mainstream movie like this for a while, but he clearly still has his movie star chops. His performance here is every bit as iconic as his Larry Flynt, Roy Munson or Mickey Knox. In short, he owns this movie.

Tallahassee and Columbus eventually meet up with Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). The girls were pulling cons together before the plague hit, a skill that serves them well in the “everyone for themselves” world of Zombieland. After overcoming some trust issues, the four head for California hoping to reach an amusement park the girls believe is zombie-free. Not likely, but at least there might be Twinkies.

It’s not as over the top as Peter Jackson’s Dead/Alive or as hilarious as Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, but Zombieland nonetheless manages to carve out its own enjoyable little niche in the zom com genre. Chances are it’ll be an even bigger niche than either of those films, since without the excessive gore and references to other movies, Zombieland works as well for mainstream audiences as it does for the zombie faithful. It also boasts a secret weapon: a surprise extended cameo from a comedy legend who shall remain nameless here, although if you want to spoil the surprise you can look it up on IMDB. The cameo is perhaps dragged out a bit too long, but it provides a lot of laughs. For that matter, so does the rest of Zombieland. ***

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Capitalist punishment is the theme of Michael Moore's new film

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 9:20 AM

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Considering how op-ed documentarian Michael Moore has been flogging the same themes now for 20 years, it's either a testament to Moore's prankster wit or the miserable times we live in that the fellow doesn't have to repeat himself as he cheekily exposes portfolio after portfolio of Stupid-Evil Corporate Tricks. In Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore offers his populist-history of the deregulation, foreclosures, union-busting, predatory lending and Wall Street greed that climaxed in last autumn's economic collapse and the billion-dollar breadline of financial tycoons — elites who don't even make anything — parading to Washington D.C. for cash bailouts (Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and an unbilled Dennis Kucinich are among the heroes who resisted). Moore is in his glory when, like a fat, lumpy, funny alt-newspaper (no names, please), he turns up stuff the mainstream media missed, like the shamefully low pay of modern airline pilots, a deplorable corporate moneymaking scheme called "dead peasants," and the charge that stock market "derivatives" are calculated nonsense to befuddle what few watchdogs still monitor the bandit bankers and Goldman Sachs gangsters at the top of the financial food chain.

Interesting how Moore uses the same one-sided techniques as the right-wing defenders of free markets; naked appeals to emotion, patriotism, religion (Catholic clergy in Rust Belt congregations condemn capitalism as a sin, pure and simple) and a mythologizing of a distant good-old-days of fair pay and honest labor, before a company mouthpiece named Ronald Reagan got elected and turned the country over to his CEO handlers (conservatives similarly trace all trouble in the world back to Jimmy Carter). Just as the red-staters found their supreme ideal of leadership in George W. Bush, Moore drools over Obama as a genuine agent of change, not just a new boss, same as the old boss, though a late appearance by FDR leaves some food for thought. A novelty rendition of "The Internationale" over the end credits is a real keeper, and the Convention and Visitor's Bureau will not be happy that Moore replays nearly the whole of local comic Mike Polk's fiendish YouTube hit "Cleveland... We're Not Detroit," getting this dying, drab town the bad PR that money just can't buy (but lack of it can). ***

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Five Essential Fall Films

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 4:30 PM

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The problem with most seasonal movie previews is their annoying tendency to cram every random title into a finite amount of space, thereby doing an injustice to the films most worthy of a discriminating moviegoers' attention. Certainly anyone who genuinely cares about the motion picture as an art form doesn't give a flying fuck that Saw 6 is set to open on October 23, or that somebody had the really terrible idea to remake Joe Ruben's 1987 cult classic The Stepfather (Oct. 16) starring Dylan Walsh from Nip/Tuck in the Terry O'Quinn role. And unless you have rugrats in the house, CGI ’toons like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (Sept. 18), Astro Boy (Oct. 23) and Planet 51 (Nov. 20) probably won't send your heart a-racing either. And don't even get me started on A Christmas Carol (Nov. 6), Robert Zemeckis' latest performance-capture horror show. Those dead eyes that Jim Carrey's Ebenezer Scrooge sports in the Disney film's trailer are already giving me the willies. Of course, kid flicks by grown-up auteurs like Spike Jonze and Wes Anderson are another matter entirely. So think of the following as five essential fall films.

1. Muckraking documentary filmmaker Michael Moore tackles the global financial crisis in his latest non-fiction fusillade with Capitalism: A Love Story (Oct. 2). Look for Wall Street fat cats to take it on the chin just like G.W. Bush did in Fahrenheit 9/11.

2. The early reviews haven't been kind and its release was delayed for an entire year, but it will still be interesting to see what Australian visionary John Hillcoat (The Proposition) does with The Road (Oct. 16), Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic best-seller. Viggo Mortensen plays "The Man."

3. Where the Wild Things Are (Oct. 16), Maurice Sendak's 1963 kid-lit classic finally makes it to the big screen in Spike Jonze's (Being John Malkovich) CGI-lite live-action adaptation. Jonze's indie cred helped him cast a bunch of cool actors (Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, James Gandolfini) not normally associated with family entertainment.

4. Don't let the Oprah or Tyler Perry imprimatur scare you off, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (Nov. 20), a magical realist-inflected urban melodrama about a put-upon Harlem teen (Gabourney Sidibe) won both the Grand Jury and Audience awards at Sundance this January. As the girl's unstable mother, plus-sized sitcom diva Mo'Nique gives a performance that's already generating beaucoup Oscar talk. So is the film itself.

5. George Clooney and Meryl Streep provide the voices for Mr. and Mrs. Fox in Fantastic Mr. Fox (Nov. 25), fabulist extraordinaire Wes Anderson's stop-motion-animated film based on Roald Dahl's 1970 children's novel. The early buzz has been, no pun intended, fantastic indeed.

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Win tickets to see Rosemary's Baby at the Cedar Lee

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 7:57 AM

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Roman Polanski's award winning 1969 horror classic Rosemary's Baby comes to the Cedar Lee Theatre this Saturday as part of Cleveland Cinemas' Cult Classic Series. In the film, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into an apartment in a building with a bad reputation. Strange things start to happen: a woman Rosemary meets in the washroom dies a mysterious death, Rosemary has strange dreams and hears strange noises and Guy becomes remote and distant. Then Rosemary becomes pregnant and begins to suspect that her neighbours have special plans for her child. Is it Satan's spawn? For a chance to win an admit-two pass to the 9:30 p.m. or midnight screening, stop by the Cleveland Scene office at 1468 West 9th Street, Suite 805, Cleveland, Ohio starting at noon Wednesday, September 30. First come, first served. The pass does not guarantee you admission and must be exchanged at the box office for tickets. Seating is limited. Arrive early. No cash value and non-transferable.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

A Q&A with Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman

Posted By on Mon, Sep 28, 2009 at 3:46 PM

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Now in its tenth year, the B-movie convention Cinema Wasteland (cinemawasteland.com) is back at the Strongsville Holiday Inn this weekend. One of the returning guests is Troma Entertainment co-founder Lloyd Kaufman, who’ll be there to help the “Troma Army” man the film studio’s booth. Famous for putting out classic B-movies such as The Toxic Avenger, Tromeo and Juliet and Poultreygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, Kaufman has just published a new book, Produce Your Own Damn Movie! We recently gave him a call at the Troma Studios to talk about his book, which is quite critical of the way the major movie studios have made it difficult for indie filmmakers to get their movies out to the general public.

I just heard an interview with you on Elvis Mitchell’s NPR program The Treatment and you didn’t have anything good to say about major movie studios. How have things changed during the 35 years you’ve been making movies?
The rules that used to prevent monopoly have all been done away with. There’s been a conspiracy between the government and all the media conglomerates, not just in the United States but in Europe and in Asia, where it’s totally corrupt

Is it all because of money?
Yes. [Director and screenwriter] Sam Fuller was a buddy and very much enjoyed our movies. He said there are only two causes of problems: women and money. The blacklist of the ’50s was all about money, not the commies. Now, there’s economic blacklisting of a different nature. The rules that used to protect the public against monopolies have all been taken down. There’s used to be a rule called the financial integration rule which prevented the vertical integration of the TV industry. That was done away with during Clinton. As a result, it’s almost impossible to get an independent movie on free TV or cable because they’re all owned by the devil-worshipping media conglomerates.

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A Q&A with In Search of Beethoven director Phil Grabsky

Posted By on Mon, Sep 28, 2009 at 10:49 AM

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When making his previous film, In Search of Mozart, director Phil Grabsky heard enough about Beethoven to make him think that should be his next subject. The result, In Search of Beethoven, is a documentary about the classical music icon that attempts to debunk many of the myths about how the composer. Grabsky will attend the 2 and 6 p.m. screenings at the Cleveland Museum of Art on Wednesday, Sept. 30 to conduct a question and answer session after the movie. (The film also screens at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2 and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4, but Grabsky won’t be at those screenings). We called Grabsky just after he landed in New York last week to ask him about the film. Here’s what he had to say.

What made you want to debunk the myths surrounding Beethoven?
Well, Beethoven is an interesting gestation. I’m a documentary filmmaker and I make films about all sorts of things. Before making Mozart, I made a film about Afghanistan. But in making the movie about Mozart, I would ask people, “Is Mozart the greatest conductor of all time? Have I chosen the right one?” They would say, “There’s no question he is one of the greatest. There’s no question he is one of the greatest creative individuals to ever walk the planet.” Then, there’d be a slightly troubling pause. They’d say, “But there’s Beethoven.” These films are really difficult to make and they’re impossible to fund. They take time and all the rest of it, but I couldn’t help myself. I thought, “If this music of Mozart is so great, what is it about Beethoven that makes him better?” I’m fascinated by the fact that a little baby is born in a small room in an upstairs apartment in Bonn. That little kid who’s no different to millions being born around the world somehow becomes one of the greatest composers of all time. Beethoven comes to Vienna one year after Mozart dies but everything’s changed. And the fact that it’s changed affects him and his music. That is fascinating. These babies aren’t born the greatest composers of all time. They may have something predetermined, but basically it’s like people throwing millions of pebbles and all of a sudden this palace emerges. An amazing amount of luck goes into it, too.

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