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Honestly, ‘Lying’ just runs out of steam

FRIDAY, OCT. 2, 2009

Rob Lowe and Tina Fey appear in “The Invention of Lying.” Warner Bros. (Warner Bros. / The Spokesman-Review)
Rob Lowe and Tina Fey appear in “The Invention of Lying.” Warner Bros. (Warner Bros. / The Spokesman-Review)

“The Invention of Lying,” the new film from Ricky “The Office” Gervais, might be this year’s most subtly subversive comedy.

It may well be the first mainstream atheism-based feature film, and its amusing premise – that lying is not always a bad thing because falsehoods provide hope – is a new twist on the familiar I-can-only-tell-the-truth, “Liar Liar” gag.

The always-funny Gervais, who co-directed and co-wrote the script, plays Mark, a screenwriter who knows he’s a loser because in this world, people say exactly what they think – which is really horrific, especially if you are short, slightly chubby and not particularly successful.

His date, Anna (Jennifer Garner), tells him right up front she’s not going to sleep with him, because she’s out of his league. His neighbor (Jonah Hill) responds to a simple “how are you?” with the information that he’s planning to kill himself.

At work, where Mark makes exceedingly dull films about the 14th century (because no one has yet learned to make up stories), his secretary (an underused Tina Fey) tells him casually that she loathes him even before his boss (Jeffrey Tambor) fires him.

Then, desperate to pay his rent, Mark tells a lie. Suddenly he’s lying all over the place, sometimes for personal gain, often to make others feel better.

And what really makes people feel better is hearing that they’re looked after by a Man in the Sky who promises if they’re good, they’ll go to a wonderful place when they die.

“The Invention of Lying” is jammed – maybe too jammed – with cameos; it relies a bit too heavily on familiar faces to inject a jolt when the storyline wanes.

It also runs out of steam abruptly, as if there were nowhere else to go, but Gervais’ wickedly sly concept lingers quite awhile after the final chuckle. And that’s the truth.

‘Capitalism: A Love Story’

With “Capitalism: A Love Story,” Michael Moore brings it all back to “Roger & Me,” the 1989 essay/documentary that started it all.

That cautionary Jeremiad about the export of American jobs overseas and the export of power and money from “We the People” to Wall Street is the warning at the beginning and exclamation point at the end of “Capitalism.” And Moore being Moore, he can’t quite resist a bit of “I told you so” in the process.

“I tried to warn GM that this day was coming,” he says of the bankrupt automaker.

It’s too much for one movie. The unholy alliance between Big Bankers and the Treasury Department, the politics of shifting the tax burden away from the rich and screaming “socialism” at those who challenge it, the loss of jobs and rights from individuals to corporations – Moore tries to get at all these currents in American unease in “Capitalism.”

There’s a lot of depressing information about the depths of corporate wrongdoing and the lengths the villains have gone to in re-distributing wealth and power to a handful of people at a handful of Wall Street firms.

Moore pulls a few stunts, trying to stage citizen’s arrests at Goldman Sachs and AIG. He rents an armored truck and demands repayment of government bailout money.

“Capitalism” is alternately moving and disheartening, energizing and enervating. Even if you don’t wholly buy Moore’s self-proclaimed prophet status, the evidence on display may convince you that the semantics game that turned this “market” system into an American religion isn’t working, and simply labeling alternatives “socialism” no longer ends that argument.

- Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinal

‘It Might Get Loud’

If Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, U2’s The Edge and The White Stripes’ Jack White all met in a room with their guitars, what would happen?

“Probably a fist fight,” White predicts in the documentary “It Might Get Loud,” which does eventually bring these iconic musicians together in an ad hoc studio.

And then, boastfully: “I’m gonna trick them into teaching me all their tricks.”

From the get-go, White establishes himself as this film’s most charismatic and unpredictable figure, but, at 34, he is also the youngest with the most to prove. Page, 65, has aged into a courtly rock nobleman (complete with flowing white locks and the title of OBE), while The Edge, 48, embodies the humility of a man atop the world.

Director-producer Davis Guggenheim, switching gears from his Oscar-winning “An Inconvenient Truth,” breathlessly follows his heroes as they revisit old stomping grounds, lay down new tracks and discuss their influences. It’s familiar material, but at least it comes straight from their mouths.

Page, the craftsman, finds a way to respect The Edge’s effects-laden style, although White’s primitivist approach is too distinctive to fit in.

Still, they manage an affectionate, shambling version of The Band’s “The Weight.” And not a punch is thrown.

- Rafer Guzman, Newsday

‘Toy Story 3D’

Converting Pixar’s history-changing cartoons “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” into 3-D and pairing them for a double feature reminds us how very good these movies were and remain, how great the computer animation and how witty and sentimental the scripts.

Their two-week stay in America’s theaters also gets the word out to folks that, yes, Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” (Andy goes to college, the toys are donated to a day care) is coming out next June.

The movies look fabulous. Remember when the toy soldiers re-con Andy’s birthday party to report on what new toys he’s been given? The walkie-talkie they tote downstairs practically jabs you in the eye.

But that’s also the problem with this re-issue – remembering. Back in its golden age, Disney puts its classic cartoons back in theaters every few years, letting new generations discover “Lady and the Tramp,” “Pinocchio,” “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” and “The Jungle Book” for themselves.

In the age of video, that special-experience novelty is gone. When the kids know the words to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” when parents know every line – blasting from the DVD player in the back seat – what’s the point?

And what child under the age of 10 is going to sit still in a movie theater for three hours?

Fans, however, will want to check this out just for the delightful wrapping Pixar put on the pairing.

They created a new intro, “Maximizing your ‘Toy Story’ double-feature experience,” and there’s an intermission featurette that shows original test footage of Woody and Buzz and other chunks of “Toy Story” trivia.

- Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

‘Bright Star’

Fashion has enjoyed something of a resuscitation this season, especially in the cinema. Just as Vogue editor Anna Wintour makes her screen debut in the delicious documentary “The September Issue,” here comes “Bright Star’s” Fanny Brawne, who in the early 19th century captured the heart of poet John Keats in between stitching extravagantly layered collars and captivating hats.

“Bright Star,” from writer-director Jane Campion (“The Piano”), makes a convincing case that fashion is every bit as legitimate a form of self-expression as fine literature, even if Miss Brawne (Abbie Cornish) must suffer the intellectual snobbery of Keats and his best friend, Charles Brown (Ben Whishaw and Paul Schneider, respectively).

Her spirit and verve win over the romantic young Keats, who over the two years portrayed in “Bright Star” falls in love, proposes and tragically dies of tuberculosis in Italy.

Campion lovingly attends to the flourishes and furbelows of 19th-century British life, bringing the camera in for careful close-ups of Fanny’s meticulous stitch work.

But Cornish’s Brawne doesn’t quite manage to convey the lively, unpredictable personality that attracted Keats. For that, look to Schneider’s Brown, who seems infused with a passion all the more fiery for being devotedly platonic.

- Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

“Bright Star” is playing at the Magic Lantern Theatre.

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