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Entries in Movies (3)

Thursday
Mar042010

Burroughs Film Kicks Off CIMMfest

The Chicago International Movies and Music Festival returns in its second year March 4 - 7, sporting an impressive lineup of events that highlight the blending of two complimentary mediums.  The innovative festival kicks off with the Chicago Premiere screening of William Burroughs: A Man Within


The startling documentary by Chicago-born director Yony Leyser features never before seen footage of the legendary beat author, as well as exclusive interviews with many of his close friends and colleagues, including John Waters, David Cronenberg, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and Jello Biafra, among others.  Actor Peter Weller provides narration. 

Watching the trailer for this movie gave me the chills.  Having gone through a prodigious beat phase in my teenage years, I dutifully read Burroughs' Naked Lunch and Junky along with Kerouac and Ginsberg.  The works could not have been more different, as instead of the open road and collective consciousness, Burroughs offered almost schizophrenic talk of heroin abuse and assholes, queer life and firearms.  He lived a life of struggle, with addiction, being openly gay, and the consequences of shooting his wife.  His was an unenviable fame.

To view the man in the taut, sallow flesh was something else entirely, to actually see the man within these seminal works once banned by the U.S. Government.  And though I knew of his import in the popular culture, I had no idea he touched the lives of so many film and music icons.  This film will be a powerpunch opening for CIMMfest, enhanced by live performances from Thee Majesty & Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Penny Arcade, both of whom are featured in the film.

This opening night morsel only whets the appetite for the eclectic events throughout the weekend at locations like Schubas, Lincoln Hall, and St. Paul's Community Center.  Other highlights of the weekend include documentaries on The Mountain Goats, Paul Stanley from KISS, System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian, and cult legend Robyn Hitchcock, who also gives an exclusive live performance. 

Check out the full list of films here for what is Chicago's newest addition to an already stellar array of festivals.

Sunday
Feb072010

A Look Back at Miramax

I may not be as familiar with the many intertwined layers that make up the Hollywood film studio system as some of my friends who have formally studied in the industry, but I do understand the importance of independent movies within that system. 

Oftentimes the most well-crafted, personal stories come from the passionate and committed minds of independent filmmakers.  Independent movies are about taking a risk, and not necessarily worrying about mass appeal or the bottom line. 

When fewer and fewer studios are supporting independent filmmakers, it is with some trepidation that we hear news such as the recent closing of Miramax studios.  Film School Rejects and Entertainment Weekly take a look back at some of the studios best titles. 

The 15 Best Miramax Films

Miramax Filmography: Relive the best of the indie studio's triumphs

Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men

Saturday
Feb062010

Man in the Sky Forbid!

 

The Invention of Lying

Directed by Ricky Gervais

Warner Bros.

On DVD January 19, 2010

 

 

Writer / Director Ricky Gervais casts himself as a tubby loser (surprise) in The Invention of Lying, a film that takes place in a world where people have not evolved the ability to lie.  The setup portion of the movie gives new meaning to the phrase, “The truth hurts,” as every character communicates with the most brutal honesty.  It’s like they can’t even lie by omission.  Everything comes out without a filter, which makes for some choice comedic moments.

Mark arrives early for a date.

Anna (Jennifer Garner): Oh, you’re early. I was just masturbating.

Mark (Ricky Gervais): That makes me think of your vagina.

People share their doubts, depression, and fear of living as calmly as if talking about the weather. There is a decided lack of emotion in this world, on both extremes, with characters showing neither anger nor love.  It makes me ask, what does honesty to a fault have to do with lack of passion?

It’s not much use trying to analyze these inconsistencies, as the world of the movie is just Gervais’ take on what a world without lying would look like.  This cynical outlook on humanity does set up the strength of the film, which is the comedy that is produced when Mark becomes the only person in the world who can lie, turning the rest of humanity into gullible saps. 

After making the obvious choice to abuse this power for sex and money, which provides some high-quality gaffes, the movie takes a pedantic turn as Mark becomes the first person to describe the afterlife when comforting his mother on her deathbed.  Immediately he is a worldwide sensation, because everyone believes every word he says. 

He reluctantly takes on the role of Moses, claiming he communicates with the “Man in the Sky”, even writing down 10 rules on tablet-like pizza boxes.  The scene where he preaches these rules to the congregation on his lawn has some good laughs, as people struggle to understand what it takes to get into their mansion in the afterlife. 

Overall, though, the religious satire that comprises the major thematic material of this film comes off as a bit heavy-handed, essentially espousing the view that people are gullible and that any made-up set of rules can be accepted if it provides a sense of comfort.  The scene where a depressed Mark is wrapped up in a sheet and has Jesus-like locks and beard is far too over-the-top for the small chuckle it received.  

Where Mark does draw the line, though, is when it comes to lying in order to get the girl.  Anna has fallen in love with Mark, but will not mate with him due to his deficient genetic material, the driving force behind marriage in this society.  But when he had an opportunity to get his wish by lying, he passed on it, desiring her to come to this decision on her own, which she eventually does.  He successfully widens her worldview to embrace more than physical beauty or material possessions. 

So while religion is made profane through lying, love remains a pure ideal for Mark (and Ricky).  Even when he admits to Anna that he made up the Man in the Sky, she doesn’t seem to care, apparently because it makes others feel good.  Love triumphs, and the masses stay happily in the dark. 

Whatever my thoughts on organized religion, I have to say that this skewering of faith, religion, and humanity’s desire for comfort is too belittling of a caricature to embrace.  This extreme worldview may work for a society as emotionally destitute as the one conjured up by Gervais, but the critique does not adequately cross over to the complex realities of the real world.  Which is just fine, because it is in fact a comedy, and a slick and well-produced one at that.  The witty, self-deprecating writing that is Gervais’ bread and butter is fleshed out nicely by a supporting cast led by Louis C.K. and Rob Lowe, with Jonah Hill and Tina Fey rounding out the A-list comedic talent.  Jennifer Garner is a great co-lead, showing that she can be funny, sexy, and (eventually) sincere even in a world as doomed as this one.  The Invention of Lying succeeds as a comedy, but fails as a lesson on faith. 

2 / 4 stars

Official Website