'Capitalism' is another lesson from Moore

Since "Roger and Me," Michael Moore has gradually developed a shtick that has proven consistently successful and predictable. He smartly blends into his films a stand-up routine, a hybrid persona, part comedian and part documentary filmmaker, a gadfly who is at the center of his own quixotic journey.

Hardly breaking a sweat, Moore charges the windmills of the health industry, the auto industry, the politics of 9-11, the gun lobby, and, in the case of "Capitalism: A Love Story," the masters of the universe who hang out on Wall Street.

He reduces the recent failure of our capitalistic system down to, essentially, "greed." Surprisingly, he doesn't splice into "Capitalism" the memorable speech, delivered by Gordon Gecko in Oliver Stone's "Wall Street," wherein he insists that greed is good. Greed is the sparkplug that ignites our economic engine.

Of course, Moore points out that it is this ethos of greed, when unregulated, that results in collapse of our financial institutions, the most recent example the recession-quasi depression now in full sway in the country.

To add insult to injury, the people who end up being responsible for providing the safety net for the debacle are not the predatory lenders or their rapacious CEOs, nor the geniuses that designed the ephemera called derivatives and those unintelligible swaps, but the working people of America. That would be those folks who not only paid for Wall Street's catastrophe, but have lost their homes in record numbers to foreclosure and now find themselves out of work with no turnaround in sight.

While it is true that what occurred to our economy is an abyss of complexity, Moore, with a straight face, nails capitalism for being, inherently, evil (he even consults his parish priest and bishop who agree without equivocation). Allowed to operate unchecked, he argues, it will victimize those outside of the tent while benefiting those few on the inside of the tent (95 percent of all the wealth in the country is held by 1 percent, says Moore), always operating in its own self-interest, bound by the guiding principle of whatever it takes to maximize profit.

And when push comes to shove, insists Moore, those charged with the fiduciary duty of safeguarding the country, of formulating policies to solve the current crisis, they will conspire together to make sure that they protect themselves and their institutions first, regardless of the cost to the taxpayers who are being asked to pay the tab for Wall Street's recklessness. The operative word, which he inserts into the film in various ways, is "conspire." Meaning Wall Street and Washington cutting a deal multi-billion dollar deal.

Unfortunately, what Moore would replace capitalism with is never proffered, other than to say, "democracy," his final word in the film. What that exactly means is unclear. And it is an enormous question, for Moore has just spent all but two hours skewering the economic construct that drives our economy forward, meaning private enterprise, entrepreneurship and profit/loss So what now?

He leaves the impression that he wants to say "socialism" but can't quite bring himself to go there, perhaps because he knows that most Americans have an almost Pavlovian response to the idea (some hear communism), although our system of government is, already, a hybrid of capitalism and socialism: single-payer parks, police departments, fire departments, public schools, public universities and public highways.

Moore is a wonderful propagandist — funny, prescient, a provocateur who is content to place his thumb in the eyes of the powers that be and then happily go on his way. Of course, he makes some compelling points while revealing the dark side of banks and corporations. At other times, he happily strings crime scene tape around various Wall Street buildings while confronting hapless security guards, insisting he wants to enter to make a citizen's arrest.

In the end, ever consistent, Moore fashions a film that is a smorgasbord of observations and revelations, nostalgia, all moved along by his almost resigned voiceover, as if he concludes, finally, that all that can really be done is to sigh deeply while encouraging his audience to do what they can. He has.

Love Happens

Ah, yes. In Hollywood, love happens. Year after year, in endless permutations.

Unfortunately, too often it happens in the most consistently insipid ways. The question this observation begs is, "Why?" Why not smart and insightful and funny and sad and engagingly entertaining? Do the studios assume that audiences are so dumbed down that should they produce an intelligent and snappy film, moviegoers will reject it out of hand as being, well, too intelligent and too snappy?

In the recently released early fall concoction, "Love Happens," the writers immediately reach out for a now-familiar stereotype: the young, professional woman who, despite her talent and intelligence, is desperate to find a man to complete her. And if said guy is flawed, well, with enough time and effort, what's quirky is fixable. What's paramount is getting the guy.

Whatever happened to the Katherine Hepburn/Rosalind Russell types who frankly were not all that interested in swapping their independence for a guy in a fedora hat and tailored double-breasted suit? At least not without some serious negotiations and moments that were genuinely funny.

Enter Jennifer Aniston in the role of Eloise Chandler, a floral designer and flower shop owner, who has just split from her semi-rocker boyfriend who was cheating on her. While arranging a hotel bouquet, she runs into Burke Ryan, portrayed by Aaron Ekhart, a self-help guru (think Tony Robbins) who has written one book, "A-Okay," which focuses on how to cope with the loss of a loved one. As it turns out, Ryan lost his wife three years ago and is now offering seminars to those who are grieving. Naturally, Ryan isn't taking his own advice and has more personal baggage than can be found in his hotel's lobby. Plus a father-in-law, played nicely by Martin Sheen, who thinks he's less than honest with his readers and says so.

Inevitably, Ryan and Chandler arrange a dinner date. As it turns out, during those moments when Ryan and Eloise share the screen, well, chemistry there isn't. The electricity they generate, to mix metaphors, couldn't run an electric toothbrush.

The rest of the story is not worth discussing, other than to say that in any reality other than Hollywood, Eloise, with her good looks and easygoing personality, would not be on the market and Ryan would be in long-term therapy. As for the screenwriters: dudes, the '90s are way over.

One final comment: if there's a reason to see "Love Happens," it's the supporting cast. Case in point would be John Carroll Lynch, a fine character actor who portrays a father who has lost his young son and in turn his life as he knew it. It's an excellent performance, as is that of Dan Fogler, Ryan's agent. He's convincingly Machiavellian and caring at the same time. And there's Judy Geer, who has established a solid career playing sidekick to lead actresses, "The Wedding Planner" comes to mind. As mentioned, Sheen, who has maybe three scenes in the film, is excellent. So much talent, lost in such a mediocre movie.

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