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The Invention of Lying (2009)

The television spots for The Invention of Lying had me befuddled with a world that could only tell the truth. The spots let the main character knows how much the other characters hated him, which I thought was strange that they wouldn’t hold up. They would be lying by omission which goes against their code, sort to speak. The movie has a lukewarm reception last fall when it was released; I thought that this film was much more than brutal honesty.

In this alternate universe, the human race has evolved with only the ability to tell the truth. Anything that pops into their minds comes out of their mouths like oral diarrhea. Damn it, some of their bluntness has rubbed off me. Oh, well. The narrator of this story is an ordinary man named Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) that recounts the events of his before telling the first ever lie. He is afraid that he will be fired from his job as a screenwriter for Lecture Pictures. There is no fiction in this world so everything is researched from found documents are recited into the camera by an orator. Mark works with the 14th century, which is mostly about the Bubonic Plague.

His slacker friend, Greg (Louis CK) sets Mark up on a blind date with his longtime crush, Anna (Jennifer Garner), who is not terribly impressed by Mark when she opens the door. She doesn’t have high hopes for their date, because he is poor, fat with a smug nose. Anna is the complete opposite with discussing all the material things that she can get for work that she doesn’t want to do. Making her feelings known throughout the date takes Mark by surprise where Anna kisses him on the cheek. He thinks that he has a legitimate shot with her.

His worst fears are realized when the next day; he is canned by his boss, Anthony (Jeffery Tambor). Then, the landlord comes by for the rent. He has only three hundred left in his account. He has one day until he is out on the street. Going to the bank to withdraw the amount with the system down the teller asks Mark how much to withdraw, a switch is triggered in his mind to say eight hundred. The systems goes back online, the teller sees three hundred, but she trusts that Mark is telling her the truth and gives him the eight hundred.

Mark is giddy like a schoolgirl. He tests out his leap of the evolutionary ladder by telling Greg about this new idea he stumbled upon. He is drunk his new found power that he could do whatever he wants; cheating at a local casino, telling white lies to keep people from killing themselves like his neighbor, Frank (Jonah Hill), write a fictional screenplay that stick it to fellow screenwriter, Brad (Rob Lowe) and former assistant, Shelley (Tina Fey) and have the “stature” to have a second date with Anna. The more lies he tells, the greater the ramifications of those multiply.

I’m surprised that people aren’t depressed in this world. Some subjects should have been explored more with the damage done by hearing nothing but the truth all of your life. I thought some instances of this world rang false. There is supposed to be no doubt in this world, but at the end of the movie a character is having them. Wouldn’t that be a lie? There were some instances about genetic match ups that got on my nerves a little bit. The movie is not laugh out loud comedy. It’s actually sweet and touching.

Judgment: It makes you rethink about what is right instance of telling the truth and telling a white lie.

Rating: ****

Up in the Air (2009)

The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places; and one of those lights, slightly brighter than the rest, will be my wingtip passing over.

— Ryan Bingham

Jason Reitman’s latest film is getting considerable awards attention as of late. I was surprised that it was playing at my local theater. Going into the movie, I didn’t want to have too much expectation of it, because I might be disappointed with it. Ultimately, the movie is a wake-up call that people cannot live a solitary life.

Based on the book by Walter Kirn, Up in the Air tells the story of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), an “executive efficiency expert”, which is a fancy term for a mediator that a company hires to fire their employees without doing the firing themselves. He is ultimately content in his life living from Hilton hotel to Hilton hotel, renting cars from Hertz and living out of one nicely packed carry-on. He travels 322 days out of the year and he wants to rack up many flier miles that he can so he could reach his ultimate goal of ten million miles that six people accomplished before.

His life takes a detour at a hotel bar when he meets the vivacious Alex (Vera Farmiga) who literally charms the pants off of him. She is on the same boat as Ryan. They both enjoy the allure of racking up frequent flyer miles and keeping up with multiple membership cards. They both have an understanding their relationship is strictly casual to where they intersect on their different travel schedules.

His boss, Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman), calls Ryan back to home base at the Career Transition Corporation, where he lets the other experts knows that their face-to-face methodology is obsolete. A young Cornell grad student named Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) shows the experts that a better way to be more efficient is to fire people via e-conference.

This does not sit well with Ryan, whose whole livelihood is built around not being grounded in one place for too long. Craig thought that it would be best for Ryan is bring Natalie along on his firing runs so she could better prepare the technology before Ryan becomes irrelevant.

For a man that doesn’t want to have anybody is his life, these two women, Alex and Natalie start to become a chink in his armor. He slowly begins to realize that his life is all that is it cracked up to be. He needs to face reality and have a human reconnection with somebody.

The movie is like a plane taking off. Sorry for the metaphor, but go with me on this. When it gets off the ground, it’s a little bumpy. It steadily gets better as it progresses toward the end. I did have a problem with the motivations of Alex. I can’t explain it here. Watch for it in the spoiler section.

The performances were solid across the board. Clooney was basically playing himself expect he was more cold and distant about how he doesn’t care about the countless lives that he change. Farmiga showed subtle exuberance in her approach of the love interest that tickles Ryan’s fancy. Kendrick was a small fish going into a ocean full of piranhas, but she is a scrappy girl that is not afraid to tell it like it is.

Judgment: This movie is a relevant take on if bad things happen, good things come around the corner.

Rating: ****1/2

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Juno (2007)

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You should’ve gone to China, you know, ’cause I hear they give away babies like free iPods. You know, they pretty much just put them in those t-shirt guns and shoot them out at sporting events.

— Juno MacGuff

I haven’t seen Juno since it was in theaters during the Oscar hoopla in 2007. There has been considerable backlash with this movie like any other movie that receives a lot of buzz that it could give you a migraine. Re-visting this movie again, I still think it’s a sweet story that has a lot of heart over the off-putting dialogue.

Juno MacGruff (Ellen Page) is sixteen-year-old pseudo-intellectual hipster Minnesota girl that finds out that she is pregnant with her Tic-Tac popping best friend, Paulie Bleecker’s (Michael Cera) baby. Freaked out by the news, she wants to have a quick abortion, but she decides to have the baby.

She tells her synergistic cheerleader best girl friend, Leah (Olivia Thirlby) who thinks that she has a food baby. (A Diablo Cody-ism). When she tells Paulie, he was surprised that she was preggers, since they had sex when they were bored.

Deciding to give the baby away, Leah and Juno look for prospective adoptive parents in the local “Penny Saver”. They come across an ad with a huge picture of the perfect married couple, Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman). Juno thinks that they could be the ones to take care of her baby.

Before meeting the adoptive parents, Juno has to drop the news to her father, Mac (J.K. Simmons) and stepmother, Bren (Allison Janney). When she does, they thought that she was drug addict or a big sloppy drunk. The news was worse then they imagined.

Mac and Juno drive up to St. Cloud where the Lorings live. Juno gathers that Vanessa is a prim and proper, uptight woman who just wants to be a mother. Other the other hand, Mark is a laidback jingle writer that is more of man-child, someone that she could vibe with about retro slasher films, Les Paul guitars and vintage rock ‘n roll.

Should the film been nominated for Best Picture? Of course not. The only reason that the movie was, because of the buzz that surrounded the movie; Fox Searchlight can put on an Oscar campaign like Harvey Weinstein. It was easily accessible.

Universally the dialogue has been a problem for people. Sometimes it could be too right on the nose or you wonder the fuck did they just say. I think the performances saved the movie for sucking big time. As much as I don’t like Michael Cera, he was less Cera-like, because he had a supporting role in this film.

Judgment: If you could get past the first third of this film, then you will enjoy this film.

Rating: ****

State of Play (2009)

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That’s what you call damn fine reporting.

— Cal McAffrey

Yesterday, I saw State of Play that is based on the BBC miniseries of the same name. This movie is written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray. Directed by Kevin Macdonald.

I heard about this movie a year ago when the writer’s strike was happening. I heard news that Brad Pitt was set to play Cal McAffrey, and Edward Norton was suppose to play Representative Stephen Collins, but they had to drop out of the film. Pitt’s reason was because of the script needing a rewrite and Norton has scheduling conflicts.

The movie opens a possible random act when a drug dealer and bicyclist are gunned down in a dark alleyway by a man with a silencer (Michael Berresse).

The next day, a young Congressional aide, Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer) is found dead after a subway accident. The news travels to Rep. Collins (Ben Affleck) that leads to a media firestorm after their dirty laundry is exposed to the public. The news does not sit well with his wife, Anne (Robin Wright Penn).

A Washington Globe journalist, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is an old college friend of Collins. He personally investigates to see if the two murders are interconnected.

The editor-in-chief Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren) is struggling to keep the newspaper afloat in an ever-changing electronic media age. She assigns a rookie that works for the newspaper’s blog, Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) to Cal. Cal is not happy about it. He thinks that bloggers regurgitates another person’s work that adds their “opinion” to it.

There are twists and turns that kept me engaged with the story to the very end. The movie is showing that newspapers are dying a slow, painful death. Nothing is being done to stop it. In an age of Internet blogging, newspapers are struggling to stay current to the times.

Newspapers rule and blogs drool. That should have been the tag line to the movie.

Judgment: If you are looking for a tight political thriller, then check this movie out.

Rating: ***1/2

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