WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 49

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 49th WWW:

1) The Invention of Lying:
I have mixed feelings about this movie. For the most part, I absolutely loved it, and if you liked Ricky Gervais in Ghost Town, here he continues that tradition of the feel-good comedy with the hapless chubby everyman as the hero. The concept is a great one, an alternate world in which there is no lying. As he explains the opening voiceover, this means no deceit, no flattery, and no fiction. People believe everything, because no one ever speaks something that isn't true. There isn't even a need for the words truth or lie. When Gervais' Mark Bellison picks up Jennifer Garner for a date, she's brutally honest about being out of his league. Even as he pursues her throughout the film and chips away at her with his charm and humor, she's forthright in her concerns that genetically, he'd give her fat kids with pudgy noses. Mark is a writer for a local station that only writes about historical events to be read over the air. He loses his job, and hits rock bottom, until something goes off in his brain, and he tells the world's first lie, to keep himself from getting evicted. Once he discovers this power, and the fact that people will believe anything he says, things begin to turn around for him. And Mark is a good guy, so while the initial temptation for personal gain is there, he also uses his “power” to help people. About halfway through, the movie gets in to some dangerous territory by broaching the subject of religion. Basically, we get an atheist's view of the world, because there is no religion, which means the existence of a higher being, whatever your faith, is a lie. In a film that states that there would be no religion in a world without lies, our protagonist takes some actions that a Christian or any person of faith might take. He helps a homeless man get some money, helps a young bickering couple reconcile, and offers friendship and companionship to a man struggling with thoughts of suicide. There's a truly beautiful montage in there of Gervais being this great guy. And when he comforts a dying woman with words of an afterlife, he unintentionally opens a huge can of worms. Suddenly, he's inventing a “religion”, an oddly placed spoof of Christianity, and telling people about a big man in the sky who decides if they get mansions when they die based on whether or not they were good or bad in life. He has to answer questions like “Did the Man in the Sky give my mother cancer?” and “Did the Man in the Sky cure my mom's cancer?”, and basically digs a big hole for himself and the film. It manages to get back on track and give us a sweet ending, and remind us that this is a movie about a nice fat guy trying to get a pretty girl, but it probably should have avoided the other stuff entirely. Still, it was an original idea for a movie with a charming, likable hero, and had quite a few cameos, some less obvious than others. Whatever your beliefs, it's certainly thought-provoking and entertaining.

2) The Soloist:
Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx are two actors at the top of their game right now, no more evident than in this film. RDJ plays Steve Lopez, a real-life reporter who discovers a Julliard trained musician homeless on the streets of LA. Foxx plays that musician, one Nathaniel Ayers, and does a great job capturing the chaos suffered by the mentally ill. Schizophrenia broke Ayers, and sent him out on the street, and only music seemed to drown out the voices in his head. Lopez began writing about Ayers in his column, and in doing some research learned that this guy playing beautiful music with only two strings on a violin did even more with the double bass. Ayers is suspicious and afraid of being confined, but Lopez eventually lures him in to a homeless shelter run by a guy played by True Blood's Nelsan Ellis. As something of a musician myself, though not on the level of Ayers, I definitely appreciated music as a force of order, as notes and rhythms bringing peace to someone's troubled mind. As RDJ's Lopez notes to his ex-wife at one point in the film, he gained an appreciation for Ayers' appreciation of music, seeing the love in his face when he listened to Beethoven. The Soloist isn't a big action epic, and most of it focuses on two characters, and the setting around them. But these are great actors portraying equally great people, and in capturing the streets of L.A., the film shows what perils and environments the real Lopez braved, first to get his story, but ultimately to help a great new friend.

3) Valkyrie:
It's a little slow, and a lot of this movie is men standing around in rooms, whispering and plotting. When you get past Tom Cruise as a WW II German colonel, there actually is a compelling story at the heart of this Bryan Singer film, based on actual events. The real Colonel Stauffenberg was among the Germans who wanted to take down Hitler, to, as Cruise's version says in the film, “show the rest of the world that we're not all like him”. Treason against one's own country is a bold move, even in recognizing the atrocities the Nazi party was committing. Failure would mean certain death, but most of these men held to their principles. The limitations of being based on historical events do make for a slow picture at times, although there is great tension when their plan to kill Hitler and stage a coup goes in to effect. The problem here, one Quentin Tarantino got around in his fictitious WW II tale Inglourious Basterds, is that we're pretty sure we know how the story is going to end. Singer still sets up an intense climax, to the point that I found myself wondering if he was going to stray from the history books to make a more exciting story. There are definitely some strong performances here that capture the honor and nobility of this group, and you root for them in spite of knowing history.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



Anonymous FawnDoo said...

With all due respect, because I know from reading past posts here that your religion is important to you, I don't understand why you describe the actions that Gervais' character takes in this film as being "decidedly Christian" ones. Helping a homeless man, helping people to reconcile after a fight, offering friendship to someone contemplating suicide - these are examples of decency, common humanity, being nice, recognizing that we're all this this together, looking out for one another and extending a hand to those who need it.

Now, I'm not saying that people who identify themselves as Christian don't have these intentions and feelings close to their heart. What I do object to a bit is identifying these actions as "decidedly Christian". As opposed to decidedly Buddhist, decidedly Muslim, decidedly Jewish or any other group or religion? It seems like you're sticking a copyright notice on these intentions, something along the lines of "TM and (c) Christianity, 2010" :-) which I'm sure wasn't your intention. Christians don't have the monopoly on being nice to people and looking out for one another.

Gervais is a well known atheist, and as someone of that persuasion myself I have to say that that one line of your review rankled a bit. I'm a nice guy, I like to think that I do my bit, I help out and I have compassion for those around me. I don't identify myself as a Christian, but then again I don't think I need to in order to do the things I mentioned above. I think the point of including that in the film was not to try to relate religion to lying, but to show that like anything else, lying has the potential to be turned to good applications as well as bad ones.

As I said, I am sure that this wasn't your intention and I am probably responding to something in a little more spikey manner than is strictly required, but I felt strongly enough about it to want to give feedback.

6/27/2010 9:30 AM  
Blogger Spockgirl said...

Further to Fawndoo's comment, I noticed the "decidedly Christian" bit as well, but I wasn't going to say anything. That being said, the comment expressed it probably better than I could have, except I'm not quite atheist.

6/27/2010 3:14 PM  
Blogger MCF said...

I didn't mean to offend, and I will concede that I could have worded the "decidedly Christian" part a little better; I certainly didn't mean to imply that Christians held the sole rights to human decency.

That being said, the "religion" he creates in the film is clearly a send-up of Judeo-Christian standards. He comes out with notes written on two pizza boxes, paralleling the ten commandments. He speaks of one man in the sky, setting up a monotheistic scenario. At one point in the film, he has a long hair, a beard, and is wearing sheets and looks like Jesus. The first "church" has his likeness in stained glass. If there was an equal send-up of Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or other faiths, I might have worded things differently. Mainly, I was going for the juxtaposition of that montage of human kindness followed by a half-hour spoof that basically equated God with Santa Claus and Christians with children taking comfort from a fairy tale. If the imagery wasn't so specific, I might have made a more general comment. It was an odd shift in the tone and pace of the film, a little more understandable now that you pointed out Gervais' position on the subject.

Sorry again for my adverb choice; I'll see if I can rephrase. Atheism is something I can't grasp personally, but I certainly respect differing beliefs or lack thereof. We each have to draw our own conclusions in this world. The film itself even acknowledges how utterly frightening and depressing a notion it is that we simple cease to exist when we die. At the very least Gervais seems to acknowledge the psychological benefit of faith, even if he himself can't embrace it. Someday, we'll all find out what's on the other side for sure....

6/27/2010 4:49 PM  
Blogger Spockgirl said...

I believe that the Muslim (Islam) and Jewish (Judaism) faiths are both monotheistic. Buddhism follows the teachings of a man/prophet. Not sure about Hinduism, but I believe it has both gods and goddesses. I don't believe any one religion can claim a monopoly on human decency, looking at it from a historical perspective. I wasn't really offended by your comment, it just seemed a little biased. Otherwise, very thorough review.

6/28/2010 12:30 AM  

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