Michael Moore in Capitalism: A Love StoryCAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY

Watching the early scenes of Capitalism: A Love Story, I found myself thinking, none too happily, that the bloom was finally off the rose, and that my fondness for Michael Moore documentaries had, at last, reached its end.

As most of you are no doubt aware, the movie is Moore's latest assault on the evils of big business - with particular attention paid to the hows and whys behind last year's economic meltdown - and its introductory reel will likely annoy the hell out of the filmmaker's detractors. I say this because, as a major fan of Moore, it annoyed the hell out of me. Capitalism opens with scenes of families in Illinois, Michigan, and North Carolina being evicted from their homes, and while the footage is moving, Moore's employment of it is also rather infuriating, because the director gives us no context regarding the families' plights - no understanding of why these people are being forced out. (More than an hour into the film, Moore finally does give us backstory on the Illinois family's financial troubles; the Michigan and North Carolina families aren't referred to again.)

With Moore implying that these families are being ousted for no good reason - although, in actuality, he's just not providing the reason - Capitalism's opening scenes are a manipulative and all-too-easy means of getting the audience pissed off at "the banks" right off the bat. And this familiar tactic quickly leads to equally familiar examples of Michael Moore in extremis: a jokey film montage comparing America to the Roman Empire (and Dick Cheney to Nero); an interview with an "expert" (Wallace Shawn!) who offers vague "capitalism is bad" platitudes; an intensely self-serving comment in which, discussing the current financial crisis, the director states, "For 20 years, I've tried to warn people this day was coming, but to no avail." (As he's clearly carrying the weight of the world, it's no wonder Moore's shoulders are so slumped.) The Moore haters will detest all of this, of course, but by now, the filmmaker's faux naïveté and grandiosity and passion for cheap, lowbrow jokes have become dispiriting for some of the rest of us, too.

The shock of the movie, though, is that it still works, and frequently works quite well. Despite his egocentrism and attention-grabbing pranks, Moore is also a fantastically engaged and empathetic interviewer - he seems to truly want to understand the people he's talking with - and he lets his subjects speak at length and without editorializing; he's wise enough to realize that Capitalism isn't his story; it's their story, and it's our story. For every bit that makes you want to cower here, there are two or three that are remarkable: Moore's conversation with a man whose wife's death netted her company a small fortune in "dead peasant insurance"; his detailing of events leading to last fall's government bailout; his inclusion of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's address to the nation, arguing for the necessity of a "second Bill of Rights."

Both Moore's interviews and his found footage here bring the insidiousness of capitalism to light in ways that feel fresh and vital, and while the movie is mostly a mess, it's most definitely alive; it pulsates with anger and indignation and passion, and against all expectation, it's even hugely optimistic. (And, for many viewers, inspiring - the audience at my screening applauded at the end.) You can bemoan Michael Moore's methods in Capitalism: A Love Story, but it would be hard to argue that they're not effective. And while he may, as usual, be preaching to the choir, it's again for good reason - that's the only way you get them to sing.


Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid in PandorumPANDORUM

According to the sci-fi/horror flick Pandorum, the deranged mental state of the movie's title is one suffered by space travelers who've spent too much time in isolation - a homicidal mixture of paranoia and delirium. The etymology doesn't make much sense to me (shouldn't it be "paralirium"?), and regardless, it's a difficult title to remember. Wouldn't a better choice have been The Alient, as the movie is really just an obvious commingling of Alien and The Descent?

In the film, military men Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster awaken in a seemingly abandoned ramshackle spacecraft, with no idea of how they got there or what their mission is, and try to regain their memories while contending with troubling hallucinations and bald, shrieking, flesh-eating monsters. Unfortunately, the results aren't nearly as entertaining as that description might suggest. Director Christian Alvart establishes a queasily effective mood of claustrophobia and dread, and the setting's dark, labyrinthine catacombs and ceilings dripping with water and goo are impressive in their derivative ways. Yet Pandorum's central mystery grows more confounding and tiresome as it progresses, the frenzied editing makes it intensely tough to determine where the threats are coming from - or what, exactly, is happening at any given moment - and the dialogue offers little more than the standard variants on "Shut the f--- up!" and "Let's get the f--- out of here!" (Oscar Wilde this ain't.) And while there are a goodly number of jolts in the movie, almost all of them come from silence suddenly interrupted by an ear-splitting BAM!!! on the soundtrack, as if someone were routinely sneaking up behind you and slamming a door. The filmmakers don't appear to be going for scares in Pandorum so much as heart attacks, which is a way to go, I guess. But it seems counterproductive for genre filmmakers to want to off their audiences before they can line up for a sequel.


Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg in ZombielandZOMBIELAND

The highest compliment I can give director Ruben Fleischer's Zombieland is that it's just as much fun as its title. I'd wager that's the only compliment I need to give it. (If you're put off by the title, it's not like you're planning to see the movie anyway.) With running commentary and helpful zombie-killing tips provided by Jesse Eisenberg - the gifted young actor who, in one calendar year, has run the gamut from A(dventureland) to Z(ombieland) - Fleischer's gross-out comedy finds our endearingly twitchy protagonist teaming up with Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin to survive a world teeming with the undead. Bile is spewed, brains are bashed in, blood splatters the camera lens, and running a zippy 80 minutes, it's all just as gruesome and funny as you could want; it isn't genre pinnacle Shaun of the Dead, but it's close. The momentum, if not the enjoyment, sags a bit during the film's zombie-free midsection, and the climactic scenes are overrun with the sorts of unsatisfying, how'd-they-do-that? escapes that pissed off Kathy Bates so much in Misery. But given reams of hysterically quotable dialogue, the actors, Harrelson especially, are intensely enjoyable even when their material fails them. And Zombieland reaches a peak of inspired madness when our heroic foursome takes shelter in Bill Murray's palatial Hollywood mansion, and the deadpan master reveals that if he were allowed to do it all over again, he'd do it the same way - except maybe without Garfield. That's our Bill. Sane to the end.

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