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Casper Andreas and Fred M. Caruso’s
The Big Gay Musical

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Dear God, not another low-budget, campy and cliché’ gay movie where buff twinkies burst into song for no reason whatsoever except to desperately want to recapture the MGM golden years! This was my reaction when I first heard The Big Gay Musical was in production. Ah, but I soon read that Casper Andreas, who had recently directed the highly underrated gay rocker romance Between Love & Goodbye, was involved. I became less whiny and more excited. Andreas is quite prolific and usually NOT at the expense of quality (I say usually because the less said about A Four Letter Word, the better).

With The Big Gay Musical, Andreas--along with the multi-hat-donning participation of Fred M. Caruso, who co-produced, co-directed, wrote and penned lyrics to many of the songs—have created a wonderful genre-blended story that is terrifically entertaining and has a political conscience.

In the movie, no one breaks into song without a good reason. Instead they’ve created a musical within the film titled, Adam and Steve Just the Way God Made Them, a radical off-broadway reworking of the Book of Genesis where Adam and Eve are banished from the garden and God creates a second Adam…and his new partner, Steve. The stage show, in a fun if hodgepodge manner, introduce Tammy-Faye and Jim Baker types to rail against the sin of homosexuality and a quite effeminate God, who basically demands tolerance the way you’d imagine Paul Lynde would. The film continuously and cleverly returns to the stage show, using it as a framing device of sorts.

Meanwhile, offstage, Paul/Adam (Daniel Robinson) has just been dumped by his boyfriend and decides being a slut is the way to go. Paul works at a piano bar where he (and others) sing about their own inner turmoil. Eddie/Steve has just had (unprotected) sex for the first time and is HIV-concerned. He has also just come out to his very religious parents whose reactions are less than embracing.

The relationship between Paul and Eddie never quite mirror that of Adam and Steve and I wish it had. Still it’s nice to see two friends be there for one another without the necessity of them hitting the sheets.

Andreas and Caruso take on sexual behavior themes such as love vs. sex and the attempt to marry the two and they do so in a manner that feels modern and sincere, although sometimes the film does veer off into the obvious and cliché’. My biggest complaint is that the film is actually too short at 90 minutes. Another fifteen minutes could have meant deeper character development. But my quibbling seems silly since the film works far more than it doesn’t.

The production values are terrific and the ensemble is, for the most part, admirable. Daniel Robinson is quite impressive as Paul and his slut song brings down the house. But it’s Joey Dudding’s sweet and sensitive Eddie who truly moves us, simply by giving us a true portrayal of a guy on the cusp of coming out and all the foibles that are inherent in that mega-step.

The songs are sensational, in the show within the film as well as the cabaret performed numbers. And the eleven o’clock anthem, “As I Am” sung by the terrific Liz McCartney and written by Rick Crom, is a beautiful plea for acceptance that sums up where the film’s heart is.

Stanley Tucci's
Blind Date
Opens Friiday September 25, 2009

Written By: Stanley Tucci, David Schechter, based on Theo Van Gogh’s film and a screenplay by Valerie Boutade and Kim Van Kooten

Starring: Stanley Tucci; Patricia Clarkson; and Thijs Romer

Variance Films/ Variance Films
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

With the price for a Broadway show now comparable to tickets at the Metropolitan Opera, stagy movies are welcome—so long as the viewer understands that in a basically two-character performance such as that found in Stanley Tucci’s Blind Date does not replicate the cinematic virtues of the big screen. Blind Date features incisive dialogue by Tucci and co-writer David Schechter, talk that reveals inner lives, with outward action merely an excuse to delve into character.

The film, a remake of a work by Theo van Gogh, who was murdered in his home state of the Netherlands, tells the story of a married couple, Don (Stanley Tucci) and his wife Janna (Patricia Clarkson). Those in the audience not prepared for the concept may not realize until deeply into the drama that the couple are not really blind dates, first the man, then the woman answering newspaper lonely-hearts ads requesting specific character traits. The two are, in fact, playing games to try to get over the death of their five-year-old daughter in a car accident.

While some of the games—skits, really—are funny, such as the punch delivered by a woman to an aggressive man who is seeking a blind date and another with Mr. Tucci as a blind man with a cane who seeks a female assistant—the overall tone is serious - the action slow-moving and penetrating. Tucci frames the proceedings with the story of a a magician who, in an initial scene has a sparse nightclub crowd in stitches as he tries to pull objects out of his fly. The magic acts are a parable of the story of the two lovers who try to restore the magic in their lives which was lost after the death of their daughter.

While some will consider the film an actors’ exercise, the more patient and prescient in the audience will feel the heartbreak of two people, who try vainly to overcome their pain and stop themselves from the extreme act of suicide. Patricia Clarkson, a wonderful performer who is soon to appear with Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island, is best known for arty works like Steven Zaillian’s All the King’s Men. Tucci meets the challenge in a role that tests his serious dimensions as well as his famous comic talents.

Thomas Kist does the camera work in Loren Weeks’ production design of a spacious bar with room for the couple’s literal and figurative dance.

Unrated. 80 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

Russell Brown’s
The Blue Tooth Virgin

Opens Friday, September 25, 2009

Written by Russell Brown
Starring: Austin Peck; Bryce Johnson; Roma Maffia; and Karen Black

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Russell Brown’s sweet tart of a film, The Blue Tooth Virgin, is a funny, probing and satiric look at Hollywood screenwriting. The movie bracingly deconstructs the writing process (specific to living in La-la-land) and the criticism that can affect and alter that process…as well as the artist. All the while the pic breaks most of the scriptwriting rules itself: it’s a totally talky and cerebral piece told in seven scenes with complete concentration on the writing and the writer. (Usually only Charlie Kaufman can get away with this type of audaciousness.)

Aspiring screenwriter Sam (Austin Peck) asks his magazine editor friend, David (Bryce Johnson) to read his new screenplay. Sam had some success writing for a TV series. The plot of The Blue Tooth Virgin, the title of Sam’s film, is a convoluted mess and features a hermaphrodite who morphs. David loathes the script but tries to let his friend, who has trouble taking criticism, down easy. The two soon become virtual enemies and Sam is dismayed to learn what his wife really thinks of the script as well. As Sam decides to give up on his craft, David dons the screenwriting cap…

The Blue Tooth Virgin deals with themes that all artists—all people-- can relate to: having a giant ego vs. the low self-esteem that usually accompanies it; the need most (creative) folks have for validation and the notion that everything in life is “rooted in one upsmanship.”

Writer/director Brown does a nice job of keeping what is essentially a theatre piece exciting to watch. And he’s cast his film quite well. Austin Peck perfectly balances Sam’s insecurities and deep desire to impress with a healthy sense of his own worth. Peck commands the screen and shows an ease and deftness with comedy. Johnson’s David is a slimeball but he allows us to see enough humanity so we actually sympathize with him. Nip/Tuck’s Roma Maffia turns up as a scene stealing therapist.

But it’s veteran Karen Black who takes the movie to hilarious and giddy heights while providing the most biting satire. In a wonderfully lengthy scene near the end of the film Sam visits a very expensive script consultant, played by Black, and she devilishly toys with him and them brings out some tremendous truths about him, his writing, and consequently, about the industry and the art of writing in general. If there were any way to mount an Oscar campaign for Black she’d be a definite contender.

The Blue Tooth Virgin is refreshing indie that will divide critics and audiences simply because of the subject matter. Do yourself a favor, see it and make up your own mind.

Nicolas Winding Refn’s
Opens October 2, 2009
Bam Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Avenue / Brooklyn

Written by Brock Norman Brock, Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Tom Hardy; Matt King; James Lance; Kelly Adams; and Amanda Burton

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Hideous, gorgeous, mesmerizing, disgusting, disturbing, bombastic, cultish and damned absorbing—all describe the title character in Nicolas Winding Refn’s feature Bronson. And those adjectives describe the film as well.

Bronson is one of the most original film’s I’ve seen this year and I mean original in the way Pulp Fiction was original, by appropriation. The film borrows liberally from A Clockwork Orange, Raging Bull, All That Jazz and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest…to name but a few. Yet if you are influenced by the best (and the films named above are certainly four of the best) you may come up with a gem of your own, albeit a lesser one than the above mentioned.

Bronson tells the story of Britain’s most notorious prisoner, Michael Peterson, who later took on the boxing name of Charles Bronson, after the Death Wish star. At age 19, he was arrested for armed robbery (where he netted a whopping 26.18 pounds) and was sentenced to seven years in prison. That sentence grew to 34 years and he has spent 30 of those in solitary confinement. Bronson’s brutal behavior and rage-filled ‘fuck you’ to the system are what account for his remaining incarcerated—that and his constant kidnapping of prison employees and holding them hostage. But he has never murdered or raped anyone. He’s become a cult figure in the British media and he seems to enjoy adding to his own notoriety.

The film’s style is spectacular (kudos to the entire production team) with a framing device that reminded me of Olivier in The Entertainer (as well as DeNiro in Raging Bull), where Bronson speaks to an almost faceless audience narrating his own insane story—even though the narrative is pretty thin.

Choosing to forego the normal biopic format, Refn, instead, opts for outrageous and flamboyant scenes that do not necessarily come together but are certainly fascinating (if sometimes difficult) to watch.

Luckily the film has Tom Hardy in the central role giving a career-making, bravura performance. It’s an out-of-this-world, over-the-top, tour de force, hilarious, cartoonish hodgepodge of a portrait and he gleefully and demonically dives in full body and soul.

Hardy commands the screen and we are enthralled, and terrified, by it--whether he is shouting incessantly at a librarian he is holding hostage “Don’t Fucking Move,” or we see his ticking time bomb nature in a wild and wacky nuthouse scene.

Hardy’s Bronson is another type of non-conformist, anti-hero like Alex in Clockwork or McMurphy in Cuckoo’s Nest or Luke in Cool Hand Luke. Unfortunately, we are never really shown where Bronson’s unrelenting fury comes from. But we can certainly see how it develops while he’s incarcerated. And Hardy’s occasional lapses into the melancholy artist’s bubble brilliantly gives us glimpses of the man he could have been had he had some type of guidance as a youth.

Michael Moore's
Capitalism: A Love Story
Opens: September 23, 2009 (limited); October 2 (wider)

Written By: Michael Moore
Starring: Michael Moore; Ronald Reagan; George W. Bush; Henry Paulson; Alan Greenspan; many others

Overture Films
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Having once tilted the scales at 300 pounds, Michael Moore looks more like a 19th century robber baron than a 21st century left wing populist. Substitute a high silk hat for his ubiquitous baseball cap, and Mr. Moore could conceivably have gotten notice for a cabinet position by former President William Howard Taft. Paradoxically, though, the firebrand of leftist politics might have had high praise for Andrew Carnegie, one of the richest capitalists in U.S. history, as the steel magnate gave away most of his money to establish libraries, schools and universities while setting aside considerable sums to establish pensions for his employees.

Moore, at fifty-four is this country’s most successful documentary filmmaker; he has pilloried the American health system (Sicko), automobile execs (Roger and Me), America’s penchant for unnecessary wars (Fahrenheit 9/11, Canadian Bacon), the gun lobby (Bowling for Columbine), and the practice of laying off workers despite record profits (The Big One). Now with his latest entry into one-sided documentary filmmaking, the ironically titled Capitalism: A Love Story, he illustrates his disgust for the ways that Big Money’s corruption has punished millions of workers who have spent their lives playing by the rules.

In his NY Times column September 21, Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman states that “It’s time for the president to realize that sometimes populism, especially populism that makes bankers angry, is exactly what the economy needs.” Michael Moore could not agree more. What’s more, Moore expresses himself, through this absolutely riveting, laugh-out-loud movie, in ways that are a lot more humorous than (with due respect) Mr. Krugman’s column.

People who go to Michael Moore films do not necessarily agree with everything he comes up with. But even those who hate the guy’s ideology stream to the multiplexes not necessarily because he has the best ideas, but because he is hands down the most entertaining documentarian alive today. Forget talking heads, the bane of this genre of film. Forget the boredom of balanced documentaries. While recent films like Crude, about the pollution of Ecuador’s rain forests by the Chevron corporation, are enlightening with more arguments favoring the left than business interests, they are sometimes difficult to sit through. Moore never has that problem.

This time around, his look into the recent meltdown of the American economy throws off a tightly-formatted common to Bowling for Columbine in favor of jumping from one story to another in a seemingly random way—which to me is one of the negative points of Capitalism. Furthermore, I’m not at all sure the audience, or at least those without Ph.D’s in Economics like Paul Krugman, will gain much intellectual understanding of the causes of the near-Depression that the U.S. has so far avoided, even if ten percent of the work force is now considered unemployed. We—or should I say I—still do not understand “derivatives,” whose malfunction seemed to be the big cause of this recession, nor am I knowledgeable about “credit swaps.” But Moore does not consider this a priority. He wants us to say “I’m mad as hell and I’m not taking it anymore,” to band together with our fellows to demand that politicians get off their duffs to make real changes, not the change that President Obama hectored us with during his campaign. Moore himself states this paradox at the conclusion of his 126-minute doc, “I refuse to live in a country like this, and I’m not leaving.”

How does he get us in the audience mad as hell? He does this by pointing out incidents that support the idea that it’s not really the politicians or the corporate leaders who are to blame, but the capitalist system itself. In at least one incident, that of a robotics company that is owned by the workers in which its CEO gets no more pay than any worker nor is his vote more important than that of a prole, the company is making money without laying off any of its employees.

Here are other ways he demonstrates the failure of the capitalism, one which he believes is “free market” only if you’re rich, or someone in the top one percent of the population (which controls more wealth than the bottom ninety-five percent).

Item: A “bottom feeding” real estate company goes out of its way to locate housing that is foreclosed, buys it up at a bargain, and resells to those who have more money than the families thrown out on the street or having to live in the backs of their trucks;

Item: General Motors and the U.S. auto corporations made big bucks because we (the U.S.) bombed out their competitors in Germany, Japan and Italy;

Item: An auto executive states flat-out that if the company can be saved by laying off 10%, 30%, or 100% of its workforce, he would have no problem swinging the ax;

Item: Flint, Michigan, the town in which Michael Moore was born in 1954 and in which his dad made a living, is now a basket-case of destroyed housing, its auto workers long out of jobs by GM’s abandonment;

Item: Politicians give campaign contributions not only to the political groups they favor, but to anyone who has a chance of winning. When Obama looked like a victor in the last election, the biggies threw as much money at him as they did to the Republicans. Moral--Both parties profit by the status quo, so do not expect changes from the Democrats and Republicans, both of which believe in the capitalist system;

Item: Juvenile delinquents in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania are not as delinquent as one might think by lookins at their 50million+ dollars jail. The jail was built by a private company which paid off the judge to send any kid who had a fight in the mall.

Item: Pilots, the people who have our lives in their hands, make far less money than you think. The recent crash of a plane in Buffalo was piloted by a pair who had to have second jobs to survive, thereby making them fatigued;

Little of the humor comes from the people whom Moore interviews. Just one executive had the wit to reply to Moore’s request for advice, “Stop making movies!”

The picture begins by comparing Ancient Rome to the U.S. today, editors John Walter and Conor O’Neill with a team of co-editors smartly showing how we are in the same predicament as the folks who gave us a system of laws.

Photographer Dan Marracino and Jayme Roy keep busy, on the run, showing up with Michael Moore whenever some action is going down, such as when Moore, in New York’s financial district, bellow into a megaphone that he is there to make a citizens’ arrest of the directors of AIG—whose collapse would supposedly have helped lead us into another Great Depression. The soundtrack is ominous, often ironically so, with contributions from Beethoven’s Ninth and a jazzed-up version of The Internationale (the original was much better).

Economics may still be the dismal science, but a couple of hours with Michael Moore is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.

Rated R. 126 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

Bob Gosse's
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

Opens Friday September 25, 2009

Written By: Tucker Max, Nils Parker, from Tucker Max’s novel
Starring: Traci Lords; Jesse Bradford; Matt Czuchry; Keri Lynn Pratt; Geoff Stults

Freestyle Releasing/ Darko Entertainment
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

If you think the most disgusting bathroom scene in movie history occurs in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, that the most vulgar depiction of university life in America is John Landis’s Animal House, and the grossest humor in recent years has been created by Judd Apatow, think again. Even though I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell received an “R” rating instead of the killjoy NC-17, Bob Gosse who directs and Tucker Max who wrote the screenplay from his own best-selling novel, must have avoided the dread letters and number by a pubic hair.

Tucker Max, who serves as a producer and writer, is played by a most personable New Hampshire-born fellow with all-American good looks - Matt Czuchry (whom you may have never come across if you’ve never seen stuff like Eight Legged Freaks). Even though Czuchry's bio states that he has passed his 32nd birthday, he easily convinces as a 25-year-old law school student in “Beer.”

In this mostly entertaining and unremittingly vulgar frat-boy comedy, Tucker, a chronic liar who in one classroom scene acts like the kid you sent to the principal in middle school, takes off on a discussion, baited by a professor (Edward Hibbert—who was in the audience at the screening I attended), and delivers a diatribe that even a conservative Republican would call politically incorrect. Political correctness takes a vacation throughout the film’s 105 minutes, as three guys in law school (supposedly best friends despite their possessing quite distinct personalities), head off to the Texas town of Salem to attend a bachelor party given by Tucker and Drew (Jesse Bradford) for the square-jawed Dan (Geoff Stuits). Dan is coaxed to lie to his perky fiancé, Kristy (Keri Lynn Pratt), who believes they’re going to a local bar. While Tucker is the most articulate, able to lie convincingly even to his pals, Dan comes off like more of a straight-arrow fellow who’d probably prefer to have a beer with his pals at home rather than with Mephistopheles in Hades. For his part, Drew is a misanthrope who insults women to their faces.

As the three cavort with a variety of women in a bar and later in a strip club, they discover that the various members of the fair sex, who are labeled sluts one and all by Drew, are as different in temperament as the fellows. After a series of events, each one a fair game for a Saturday Night Live skit—some coming off just as Tucker would want including a roll in the hay with a midget—the stage is set for redemption. Is Tucker really redeemed? Hardly, but he has a way to convince one and all that the halo around his head is the genuine article.

Some crafty, if stereotypical side roles are played nicely by Meagen Fay, an actress with an impressive resume, in the role of the bride’s mom and Marika Domincyzk as Lara, an alleged slut who gets the better of the misanthropic Drew, thereby redeeming him. Remember, though: the toilet scene is so off-the-wall realistic you’ll find it difficult to keep your eyes on the screen.

Rated R. 105 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson’s
The Invention of Lying

Opens Friday, October 2, 2009

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Written by Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson
Starring: Ricky Gervais; Jennifer Garner; Louis C.K.; Fionnula Flanagan; Jonah Hill; Jeffrey Tambor; Rob Lowe; Tina Fey; and a host of surprise cameos.

The Invention of Lying is something uncommon and extraordinary in mainstream filmmaking, it’s a movie that actually puts forth sophisticated and complex philosophical notions that may not be in keeping with the religious comfort levels of most American audiences. The genius here is that Ricky Gervais with co-writer/director Matthew Robinson, do this in such a witty, clever and hilarious way that the subversiveness of the work will, more than likely, slip right by…yet, perhaps, subconsciously, penetrate a bit…

Gervais and Robinson sock it to us from the get-go with an incisively nasty bit at the opening credits.

Then we are escorted, via Gervais voice-over, into a serious and sad world where everyone tells the truth and no one has ever lied. Ironically, no one is very happy. A funny example of how the premise provides a neat spin on things, a nursing home which would normally be called something cheery like “Happy Landing,” here is simply: “A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People.”

Mark Bellison (Gervais) is a terribly ordinary screenwriter on the verge of getting fired. He works for Lecture Films, which is one of writer’s many bitingly satiric creations. See Lecture Films makes popular motion pictures where someone sits there telling stories about historical things that occurred—there is absolutely no creativity involved in a society without the ability to embellish.

As an act of desperation, Bellison tells the very first lie ever and the floodgates to ALL possibilities open. He begins to realize he can have anything he wants, including the egotistical yet beautiful Anna (Jennifer Garner). The plot explodes when, in an attempt to comfort his mother (Fionnula Flanagan) on her deathbed, he creates a lie about the afterlife. The medical staff overhears and within hours the media is involved. This forces Bellison to come up with an elaborate, yet completely false, idea of what happens after we die and that “the man in the sky” is responsible for all the good and bad in the world. The scene where he pastes these “commandments” onto the back of pizza boxes is a sheer joy and an instant classic moment in film comedy.

The notion that religion was created to give people needed comfort and hope so they have reason to live and chaos doesn’t rule the day, isn’t anything new, but it will piss a lot of people off--especially those whose faith is deeply rooted. Gervais, after all, is a self-proclaimed atheist. But detractors would be missing out on one of the most inventive and thought-provoking comedies to come out in a long time.

A film with the potential to create dialogue, speculation and debate is a fantastic thing. A comedy that does this is a downright miracle.

Gervais gives a subtle and endearing performance. How can you not like him? And the ensemble, filled with terrific cameos, rocks!

The film’s only flaw is its necessity to give into the Hollywood happy ending--although one can argue that it’s earned here—I would have loved to have had the pic follow through to a more inventive final act. Still, why grouse when we are given new and exciting cinematic scenes where we must think, analyze and explore—all the while laughing so hard we’re peeing our pants!

Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson’s
The Invention of Lying

Opens Friday, October 2, 2009

Written By: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
Starring: Ricky Gervais; Jennifer Garner; Rob Lowe; Tina Fey; Jonah Hill; Jason Bateman; and Jeffrey Tambor

Warner Bros
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Like Fletcher Reede, who was Jim Carrey’s alter ego in Tom Shadyac’s Liar Liar, and like all but two of Rickey Gervais and Matthew Robinson’s people in The Invention of Lying, I can’t lie about The Invention of Lying. Lying is easily the year’s best comedy, yet one with a certain resonance that might turn off a segment of potential viewers. This resonance is all to the good, however; it adds considerable depth to what would otherwise be a wonderful series of skits.

If you think that South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson’s outburst “You lie” during President Obama’s health-care meeting at a joint session of Congress was outrageous, just think of how much worse the world would be if the opposite occurred; that is, if nobody lied. Someone said that if everyone told the truth, there would not be even one pair of friends anywhere. If you cannot fathom this, you’ll get plenty of clues from the script of directors Gervais and Robinson, while Ricky Gervais, a solid comedian, trumps his own performance as Dr. McPhee in Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum.

The concept of the film is this. In an alternate universe (actually filmed in Lowell, Massachusetts and surroundings), everyone tells the truth. What’s more, people cannot keep their mouths shut: they are compelled to talk no matter how insulting their opinions. It’s physically impossible to lie. Because everyone knows this, all citizens believe whatever they hear. When Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais), a mediocre screenwriter for a TV station is fired by his boss (Jeffrey Tambor), he is unable to pay the rent as he possesses only $300 and not the $800 monthly rent that his landlord demands on pain of immediate eviction. A strange thing happens. Through some force, he gains the ability to lie becoming the only person in his universe who has the ability to fabricate. Though the computer in the bank states a balance of $300, he simply tells the clerk that he has $800. The clerk, of course, believes him and considers that the computer is in error. He gets the $800. He later takes a homeless person into the bank. The teller comes up with thousands of dollars. Mark sees a dishonest way to further his personal gain.

The film appears divided into two sections.

The first part shows the folks telling one another whatever comes to mind. A guy takes the day off from work telling his boss that he’s not sick, but that he hates the job. Mark’s receptionist (Tina Fey), reports that she can’t wait until Mark gets fired, while Brad (Rob Lowe), a top writer, handsome to boot, calls Mark a loser. At the same time this “loser,” who has long had a crush on beautiful and financially successful Anna (Jennifer Garner), tries to court her, winning one date which finds Anna telling Mark that she considers him chubby with a stubby nose and not in her league (the waiter in the restaurant readily agrees), and that she will not consider giving him a second date. However ignoble Mark’s new game, he will redeem himself in scenes with a depressed fellow (Jonah Hill) and with his dying mother (Fionulla Flanagan).

The second segment shows Mark as a new Moses, someone who serves as the ear of “The Man in the Sky” (in this universe nobody heard of “God”), delivering sermons to rapt masses who believe everything he says. When the gathered audience hear that “The Man in the Sky” cured one person’s cancer, the crowd cheers. When another in the audience states that someone dear to her died from cancer, the crowd boos loudly, calling “The Man in the Sky” something that’s not nice—and herein lies the most controversial reference in the film, one that is likely to turn off people in the movie audience who possess the combined traits of piety and humorlessness.

The dazzling script, which contains only a few wasted words, is extraordinary in its wit and depth, smart and funny like Mark himself. The Norman Rockwell scenes, capably filmed by Tim Suhrstedt, are as handsome as the aforementioned Brad. In the film’s highlight, Mark inscribes a list of commandments on two boxes of take-out pizza, bringing together the film’s humor and seriousness—the latter represented by Mark’s last words to his mother, who is on her deathbed, frightened about the nothingness that is about to envelop her.

Though the movie has elements of Liar Liar and a wedding scene that could have come out of The Graduate, The Invention of Lying is not only an original film, but also a film picture blessed with stellar performances, a witty script, superb comic timing, and, best of all, Ricky Gervais.

Rated PG-13. 99 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online





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