Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Music: Rancid - "Ruby Soho"



Why? Because I felt like it, and because I'm embarrassed to say I always thought this was a Clash song.

Whetting the Appetite

This article about Black Swan accomplishes the difficult task of piquing my interest while not giving away too many details about the film. Here's some insight into the grueling work Natalie did during the shoot.... (NYT)

Nina, the young dancer Ms. Portman plays, lives a virtually monastic life, sharing a cramped Manhattan apartment with her overbearing mother (played by Barbara Hershey) and venturing forth only for company classes and rehearsals. And this, as Ms. Portman told it, was her existence too during the making of “Black Swan.”

“Basically,” she said, “I didn’t do anything except work. There was no, like, meeting up with friends for dinner or going to the movies. We’d do 16-hour days, then I’d go home and work out, because I had to stay in shape, and I’d prepare for the next day’s scenes and then get maybe five hours of sleep. It was really, really extreme.”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Catfish

The documentary Catfish has been shrewdly marketed to preserve its surprises; advertisements for the film have avoided even the slightest intimation of what lies at the end of the road started down by New York photographer Nev Schulman when he receives a painting of one of his photographs from Abby, an eight-year old prodigy living in Michigan. Abby, her mother Angela, and her older sister Megan (with whom Nev starts a heavy virtual flirtation) all seem a little too good to be true, and it's easy for the mind to conjure some sort of David Lynchian, Middle American freak show when Nev travels to Michigan in search of the truth about Abby and her family,. Nev is accompanied by his brother Ariel and their friend Henry Joost, the two directors of Catfish. What do three smart, attractive New Yorkers discover when far from home and surrounded by strangers? There must be a con game afoot or the endgame of a grotesque obsession; after all anyone can get on Facebook and be anyone they like. I won't reveal the secrets of Catfish here, but suffice it to say that what the Schulman brothers and Joost discover in Michigan is at once scarier and more moving than they or anyone watching will expect. Catfish is the first film to really make the Internet its subject, as opposed to a plot device or source of cheap thrills. The possibilities for connection, in the first scenes of Nev's attraction to Megan, give way to horror at the almost infinite opportunities for fraud. Megan's presentation of another artist's song as her own is debunked, setting off a series of events that reveal the depths to which the use of the Web as a means of personal expression can be called into question.

It is to the filmmakers' credit that Catfish doesn't turn exploitative once the Michigan secrets are unraveled. Nev, whose participation in the film turns occasionally reluctant, has succumbed not just to Megan's beauty but to the false intimacy of Facebook. His attitude towards what he finds in Michigan could have turned confrontational but is in fact that of someone waking up with an unexplained wound and trying to discover how it happened. Catfish doesn't arrive at any grand statements about the meaning of Facebook; by keeping its focus small it does something far more valuable by holding the mirror up to the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell online.

Insular

A weird post about the band The National that assigns some consequences to the band's success that I don't think there is any evidence for. For example:

...the ability of rock to comment on youthful experiences on the world, and the frustration, anger, confusion and emotional toll that come with it—areas rock has generally been one of the only vocal outlets for this demographic—is fading fast.

It is? Can the closing of such a large thematic door really be attributed to the modest success of such a self-regarding band? (To be clear, self-regard works for them.) More importantly, I'm pretty sure that listeners to all kinds of popular music have and will continue to relate to and interpret songs in ways never intended by the artists. Music is a niche business these days, and The National are a long way from leaving their niche despite all their merits. (Tynan's Anger)

Monday, October 25, 2010

For Rent: Remember Me


When a script that makes an honest attempt at emotional realism attracts talented actors and yet the resulting film still feels ridiculous, what is to be said? Such is the case with Remember Me, directed by Allen Coulter, and best remembered as Robert Pattinson's first major non-Twilight role. Pattinson plays Tyler, a New York son of privilege slumming it in Lower Manhattan. A night out puts Tyler on the radar of an angry cop (Chris Cooper) and eventually of the cop's daughter Ally (Emilie de Ravin), who quickly gets Tyler out of a prolonged funk. What does Tyler have to be so blue about? The same question might be asked of any of the major characters, since Remember Me luxuriates in sadness. Ally and her dad have suffered their own losses, and Tyler's younger sister Caroline (Ruby Jerins) feels the absence of their distant father (Pierce Brosnan). No room for comic relief here; the time is needed for dealing with the movie's two capital-letter themes, Chance and the Need for Connection.

Pattinson is credible enough as a lost soul, he must have relished having scenes with some meat on them. There's a confrontation scene in Brosnan's office that's livelier than the whole Twilight saga combined. Yet the entire cast (de Ravin has less to do but is winningly spiky) is defeated by the movie's need to impose meaning, and the ending features the most gratuitous use of 9/11 I've ever seen in a work of art. Remember Me wants to be serious but its surfaces are all that linger in the mind.

May 27, 2011

Finally:

Ok, mark your calendars, tell your friends you’ll be busy that day and prepare. Terrence Malick‘s long-awaited and highly anticipated “The Tree Of Life” has officially been scheduled with a May 27, 2011 release date.

We were honestly expecting to wait until next fall for this one, but the late spring limited release is an interesting move. Last we heard Berlin, Sundance and Cannes were all battling to land the premiere of the film, but if we had to guess, we think the May release date makes it a no-brainer for a Cannes premiere. Malick doesn’t do a lot of press and a Cannes premiere will allow him and the cast to do world press all in one shot, and then have the film hit theaters five days after the festival closes on May 22nd.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Music: Rolling Stones - "Happy"



Here's one in honor of first-time author Keith Richards; in those days Mick apparently didn't have to leave the stage during Keith's spotlight number.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jack Goes Boating

Philip Seymour Hoffman makes a low-key but confident directorial debut with Jack Goes Boating, based on a play by Bob Glaudini in which Hoffman and two of his co-stars appeared Off Broadway. Hoffman also plays Jack, a New York limo driver whose romantic life gets some sprucing up from co-worker Clyde (the excellent John Ortiz) and his wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). An awkward winter blind date with Connie (Amy Ryan, a new addition to the film cast) leads to a plan for summer boating in Central Park. The bulk of the film is the gentle comedy of Jack's progress towards the boat trip; he needs Clyde to give him swimming lessons and help planning a dinner party for the two couples. Watching Jack blossom is fun, but Hoffman has played inarticulate nice guys before. I was more impressed by Ryan's carefully worked out restraint as Connie, full of feelings she wants to express but doesn't know how to. Ryan's performance is especially touching and delicate as the relationship turns physical, and Connie's assertiveness at the climax feels earned.

Glaudini's screenplay contrasts Jack and Connie's fumblings with the crumbling marriage of Clyde and Lucy. John Ortiz is especially good as Clyde, a smart underachiever who can't deal with knowing that Lucy is slipping away. Hoffman keeps the material from feeling too stagey until the big dinner party scene at the end; Jack Goes Boating is full of funky New York texture, from the pool Jack swims in to the barren limo lot where Jack and Clyde start their work day. Philip Seymour Hoffman's talents as an actor are self-evident; in directing for the first time he reveals a more subtle but no less rich set of gifts.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It Gets Better



I could put any video from the It Gets Better project up here and make the same basic point, but I'm moved by this ensemble contribution from company members at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I'm also proud to say that one of the participants is Christine Albright-Tufts, whom I have had the pleasure of sharing a stage with. Better people or more talented actors are hard to come by in my experience. The video was made by her lucky husband John Tufts, also an OSF actor. Oh, and I really want to go to Oregon.......

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Awards Away

Black Swan is among the nominees for Best Feature at the Gotham Awards. I'm pleased to see Winter's Bone and its star Jennifer Lawrence getting some attention.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Red

Why is a hit squad trying to kill ex-CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and a group of his former colleagues? Robert Schwentke's Red answers that question but the answer isn't as interesting as watching Willis and a cast of high-end thespians romp through what would otherwise be a pretty formulaic action comedy. John Malkovich and Helen Mirren play two fellow spies roused from retirement; Malkovich's dry paranoia gets some of the movie's best laughs while the spark in Mirren's eyes is actually the energy the movie runs on for awhile. Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox, and Mary-Louise Parker join the ride, and Red is so goofily dedicated to its own internal logic that it works until the plot kicks in. Defense contractors, vice presidents, covert operations; the logistics force the movie to a conclusion less interesting than what has come before. Although the pace can best be described as shambling, I was happy enough to bounce around with Frank and his crew until the all-too-predictable fireworks. The people of Red earn my attention, but even they can't triumph over the formula.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Music: Belle & Sebastian - "Write About Love"



The title track of their new album; this live version unfortunately doesn't feature vocals from Carey Mulligan, who sings on the studio version.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dept. of Surprised Complaints

Was anyone else bothered by the broad gay jokes on this week's episode of Community? Anyway, I was irritated by this fussy post, which essentially argues that all the energy and attention going towards Dan Savage's It Gets Better campaign should be used to get people and governments to not hate gays. That's literally true but practically wrongheaded; Savage's videos are doing something that no gay-friendly sitcom or federal judge can do, and that's provide examples of adult gay and lesbian role models to the people who need them most. Gay teen suicides didn't just start last week. The importance of gay adults modeling their lives for teens cannot be overstated, and while the larger fights continue the small victories must be acknowledged.

Never Let Me Go

(Attention: those not aware of the film's "twist" may want to skip for now)

Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go (based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro) begins at an English prep school called Hailsham in 1978. Early on a teacher (Sally Hawkins) reveals to her charges that planning and dreaming for the future are pointless. The students of Hailsham are the raw materials of a great scientific breakthrough, one that has rendered most serious illness irrelevant. The students can't appreciate the increased life expectancy and reduced medical bills though. Hailsham students are clones, created solely for the purpose of being farmed for organs once they reach adulthood. Ishiguro's term for the involuntary removal of organs from these people is "donation," perhaps the best example of the chilling politeness that pervades Romanek's handsome film.

The opening section of Never Let Me Go takes place at Hailsham and sets up the film's triangle. Kathy (played as a child by Isobel Meikle-Small) is attracted to Tommy (Charlie Rowe), whose lack of athletic talent makes him an outcast among the boys. Tommy's head is turned by Ruth (Ella Purnell), and Kathy is too diffident to pursue anyone else. The mood of what's-going-on sustains things for awhile, but as the adults take over the lack of dramatic momentum begins to slow thing down. Now 18 years old, Tommy, Ruth, and Kathy are moved from Hailsham and now played by Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, and Carey Mulligan respectively. The three are fully aware of their fate, but their isolation as children leaves them powerless to write a new story. The closest anyone comes to an awareness of their ethical situation is Ruth's observation that "we are modeled on trash" after a botched attempt to find the person's she's modeled after. Knightley is a good choice to play the spiky Ruth, but her anger has no place to go. Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland are interested in the personal not the political; the question of how the clones are perceived in society is ignored in favor of the romance. Never Let Me Go is a film about people waiting for their number to be called and not doing anything about it.

As the years pass Kathy becomes a "carer," a sort of attendant to fellow clones who have begun to donate. Carey Mulligan plays Kathy with a carefully constructed shyness that is wholly foreign to the character she played in An Education. Mulligan is defeated by what the story asks of her, which is to accept her fate. If Never Let Me Go is a classist fable then it is an unhappy one; the world hums along as those "born" in the wrong circumstances fritter away years with food, music, and sex. Romanek shoots the English countryside and his gorgeous cast beautifully (Andrew Garfield has a facility for playing people who get screwed over.), but anything besides the blandest of messages has been imagined out of this story. Never Let Me Go creates a new world, but it doesn't give its residents the power to change it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Richard Jenkins in North Country



This speech from the 2005 drama directed by Niki Caro is just one more example of the unshowy brilliance Jenkins seems able to summon at will. There's nothing quite this emotive in Let Me In, but Jenkins's turn as the attendant of a young vampire is just as heartbreaking.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Let Me In

(Attention: If you're unfamiliar with Let The Right One In, stop reading and see it.)

A young boy spends his nights as the lone visitor to a snowy apartment complex playground. A man and a young girl move in next door and paper over their windows with cardboard. The boy's mother is lost in a fog of self-pity and religion and his father is largely absent. Such are the particulars of both Tomas Alfredson's 2008 Let The Right One In and the new American remake Let Me In, directed by Matt Reeves. I wasn't the only one afraid of what a remake could have been, since Hollywood isn't exactly known for the restraint and narrative austerity Alfredson favors. So it's with pleasure I can report that Let Me In honors the spirit of  its source and even improves on it at moments. It's 1983 in New Mexico and 12-year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is barely surviving at school, tormented by a bully (Dylan Minnette) and with a lack of parental presence in his life. It wasn't until the end credits that I realized Owen's mom was played by Cara Buono of Mad Men, every time we (and Owen) see her she's just passing through the frame. The lack of a language barrier takes away some of the otherworldly, ice-bound quality that Alfredson's film had, but Reeves gains something in the exchange. Owen's problems at school are unrelenting and terrifying, and not having to negotiate subtitles makes it much creepier when Owen, alone in his room, fantasizes about taking revenge while brandishing a knife and wearing a creepy mask.

If you know Let The Right One In then you'll know that things start looking up for Owen with the arrival of Abby (Chloe Moretz), who doesn't seem to concerned about not wearing shoes outside in the snow. Moretz ably suggests a woman older than her years who is still a slave to her appetites; Reeves uses makeup effects judiciously on Moretz when Abby's bloodlust is up, and the motif of strange gurgling sounds emanating from Abby is carried over from the original. As Owen gains confidence through the friendship the bodies begin to pile up. The result of the killings necessary to feed Abby's bloodlust are investigated by a detective (Elias Koteas) who is always just as far behind as the movie needs him to be. The detective character is a Reeves addition to the film, and as reliable as Koteas is this character only exists to serve the plot. I missed the group of half-drunken friends in Let The Right One In who cross paths with Abby after one of their own becomes a victim. At this point a word must be said about Richard Jenkins, who plays a character billed as "The Father" but is in fact both Abby's provider and servant. Reeves shows us just enough to sketch in the dynamics of the relationship: The Father is tired and soul-sick of killing to supply Abby with blood, at the end of his moral rope but unable to abandon his Mistress. The question of what brought the two together is wisely left untouched. Jenkins and Moretz play all of this with great economy; there's a wonderful quiet moment of tenderness between the two and The Father's final mission on Abby's behalf is the greatest improvement Let Me In makes upon its source. It's hard not to spoil, but suffice it to say Reeves pulls off a marvelous set piece that underscores just how hard it must have been to keep Abby alive all these years.

Not every choice made in Let Me In is the right one. Reeves turns up the gore in a scene where a woman (Sasha Barrese) bitten by Abby bursts into flames after being exposed to light. Alfredson wrote the scene as a suicide; a woman choosing to die after realizing what she is becoming; here, Reeves gives us the sight of someone sucking their own blood and the flames take out a nurse. Although Owen's tormentor Kenny is given some motivation for his behavior (the bullied become bullies), the dynamics of the gang of bullies are played pretty unsubtly. In Let The Right One In it's clear one of the boys is a bully only because he's afraid of the others. I did like Owen seeing the results of Abby's hunger. Since Let Me In shares an ending with its parent film it's only fair that Owen know what he's in for. Although I'm not sure a remake of Let The Right One In was necessary, Matt Reeves has made one that not only succeeds but adds to this odd and quiet curio of a love story.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Music: Throwing Muses - "Hate My Way"



The video quality isn't great; who cares, it's vintage! I was inspired to look up this 1988 performance after reading a review of Kristin Hersh's memoir Rat Girl, which chronicles Hersh's busy professional and personal lives in 1985 and '86. I'll be picking up a copy. (NYT)

“Rat Girl” is sensitive and emotionally raw, which figures; it’s also wildly funny, which didn’t figure at all, since the Muses were never big on humor. Hersh, now a solo artist, has a generous adult affection for her adolescent self. She started the band with her stepsister, Tanya Donelly (who later fronted the successful ’90s band Belly), and in the year chronicled here played with the bassist Leslie Langston and the drummer David Narcizo, the group’s token boy. Having suffered a concussion in a car accident, Hersh grew up hearing music (“sound tapping me on the shoulder”) and believed her songs were psychic revelations. This was no secret — like her teen-mom back story, it was a crucial part of her mystique. Hersh was a messed-up kid, just like her fans, except far more confident. When I caught a Throwing Muses show on Valentine’s Day 1987, in a college dining hall, it was the first time I’d ever seen a rock band with three women up front, as well as the first time I’d seen a singer keep her eyes shut tight all the way through every song. She apparently didn’t even notice we were there — and that seemed indescribably cool.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

It's Kind of a Funny Story

If you're surprised that writer/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are behind the gentle teen comedy It's Kind of a Funny Story, don't worry. The filmmakers who made their names with Half Nelson have made something tart and open-ended out of what could have been a sentimental mess. Based on Ned Vizzini's novel, Funny Story finds the outwardly stable Craig (Keir Gilchrist of The United States of Tara) at a crisis point. Academic pressures and love for a girl (Zoe Kravitz) he can't have bring Craig to the verge of suicide before the decision to check himself into a psychiatric ward. The movie's other two major characters are patients on the ward. Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) is a depressive trying to restore his relationship with his daughter and Noelle (Emma Roberts) is a self-cutter whose indie rock T-shirts catch Craig's eye. There's really nothing wrong with Craig that a few days rest and some self-examination couldn't cure, and that both the movie's charm and it's biggest problem. Although much effort is expended trying to avoid the pushing of capital L Life Lessons, the lack of any darkness means there's not much at stake. Bobby and Noelle are both well-played characters with believable problems of their own, but I was never concerned about their mental health. Gilchrist has an easy, unforced appeal but once he realizes that he's much better off than most of his fellow patients there's a distinct lack of tension. (The idea of a psych ward break for overstressed teens must have deeper satirical possibilities.) I was happy enough to spend some time with Craig and his new friends but Fleck and Boden go a little too far in an effort to avoid cliche. It's Kind of a Funny Story doesn't live up to its title.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Road Trip, with junk food

I just finished reading David Lipsky's Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, an account of a road trip Lipsky took with the late David Foster Wallace in 1996. Wallace was breaking cultural news at the time; his novel Infinite Jest  had made Wallace that rarest of creatures, the crossover literary novelist. Lipsky's book is a transcription of conversations he recorded for a never-written Rolling Stone piece that would (it seems reasonable to say) have captured Wallace amidst all the attendant hype around his book and positioned him as a decade-defining highbrow hipster. Although Of Course is structured as a book-length interview, with Wallace's ruminations on fame, movies, Alanis Morrissette, and addiction interrupted by Lipsky questions and 2010 commentary on the proceedings.

The David Foster Wallace that Lipsky spent five days with is a mostly amiable but much more emotionally raw person than one might suspect from his fiction. Wallace, at the end of a book tour that seems modest by '90s standards, is preoccupied with not letting all the attention go to his head and with not becoming someone famous for being a "writer" as opposed to being famous for what he writes. He imagines being a person who flies to New York and inserts himself into photos at book parties, as if too many compliments would threaten his ability to control his work habits. Of course Wallace had reason to be concerned; Lipsky takes him and us through Wallace's history of substance abuse, halfway houses, suicidal ideation, and a hospitalization. Though Wallace battled depression all his life, these were all things it seemed were behind him before his suicide in 2008. The question of "how to live" is often brought up when Wallace's themes are discussed, and even at the height of his success the question was an immediate one for the novelist. Wallace saw himself as person whose life could go badly off course if he believed his own hype, and he resists all Lipsky's efforts to turn the talk to how awesome celebrity is.

So therefore, whatever famousness is about, the hype is famous. You're not here because of me, you're here because of all this buzz about the book.

In all the discussion of what Although Of Course adds to the Wallace canon I can find no discussion of whether the book should have been published at all. Lipsky includes an 2010 "afterword" (gratingly inserted at the front) in which he describes regretting the behavior of his younger self, which includes harping on the way Wallace pronounced words, his drug consumption, and the question of the sincerity of Wallace's anti-fame persona. It's disconcerting to watch Lipsky cozy up to Wallace and then turn on him, and there's something about the confessional last section of Although Of Course that doesn't feel entirely voluntary. I could never get out of the way of Lipsky: how close he got to Wallace and how sad it is to read his words today. Lipsky can't help but ascribe some agenda to Wallace ("Flattering me again") even as Wallace continues to refuse participation in his own hype until the very end. We have the fiction and the essays; biographies will follow. It is unutterably sad that Wallace chose to leave this world, at this point I don't know what is gained by not allowing these private moments to stay private.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

One more on Malick

I couldn't resist this Slate piece on the director's bizarre behavior during the making of The Thin Red Line as revealed in the new Criterion extras. (via @mattzollerseitz)

Of course, genius filmmakers are allowed to improvise, request supernatural feats from their staff, waste time and money, and generally behave in an inscrutable manner befitting their ineffable gifts. "It seems to me that Terry does so much of his work in the editing room," explains production designer Jack Fisk on the commentary—but there, too, Malick works in mysterious ways. According to one of The Thin Red Line's three editors, Billy Weber, Malick saw a full version of the film exactly once: a five-hour work print assembled during the 18-month-long post-production process, and screened for him under some duress. ("We forced him to watch," Weber says in an interview.) Otherwise, Malick edited by watching one reel at a time, with the sound off, while listening to a Green Day CD. If he missed any dialogue, it stayed in; if he didn't, it would likely be supplanted by music or voiceover. "I don't think he was capable of seeing the movie as a whole during the process," co-editor Leslie Jones says evenly. "…That was a big adjustment."

Monday, October 04, 2010

Dept. of Reasons to get a Blu-Ray player

I'm really going to have see The Thin Red Line again. Thank you, Criterion.... (Greencine)

There are no answers, of course, for questions such as these. They're offshoots of another question that, though seemingly simple, throws the world upside down: What's natural? Or, What's nature? This film has a few gestures towards that field of inquiry, but none of its turns-of plot, of language, of vantage-can offer any definitive position. The most natural thing in the film is this drift, which we might understand as the most natural thing about film itself: its ability to inhabit its subjects and its audience alike. I'm not talking about implicating the spectator's gaze or any such psychoanalytic phooey; I'm talking a whole other brand of gobbledygook that has to do with phenomenology. Which is a fancy, possibly flip, way of saying that Malick understands how movies help us see a world we can sense better than we can comprehend.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Sunday Music: R.E.M. - "So. Central Rain"



From 1983; a vintage performance from the band that was my first touchstone with culture that wasn't so mass or pop. Happy Birthday to me....

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Social Network

The critical moment in David Fincher's dense and icy The Social Network might just be the moment where Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg with masterful austerity) rejects the suggestion of his friend and business partner Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) that the new and rapidly expanding Facebook sell advertising. The version of Zuckerberg imagined by Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin correctly foresaw that ads on Facebook at that stage would have contributed to the transformation of the Internet into a sort of virtual Times Square, a place where you can't get the size of the ads out of your mind no matter what else your experience. Zuckerberg is the uncrackable nut of The Social Network, a man motivated as much by class resentment (he sees himself in competition with the students admitted to Harvard's final clubs) as by some libertarian version of the Web in which users bend the medium to their own ends as opposed to servicing the balance sheet of Microsoft or Apple. By the time Zuckerberg attempts to explain himself to a lawyer (Rashida Jones) who seems as much in awe of him as she is disgusted, the man has earned a moment of humanity. The closing shot of the youngest billionaire gazing at the profile picture of the woman (Rooney Mara) who dumped him is the most emotional image of the movie.

Aaron Sorkin's script pops with characters, incident, and zingers; although a number of these Harvard undergrads sound like they should be advising President Bartlet, the social strata through which Zuckerberg must fight his way to the top are delineated with great detail. The final clubs like the one the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) belong to are smoke filled dens of debauchery while Zuckerberg's dorm is plain and quiet, the perfect place for a night of hacking that turns Harvard's head when a site called Facemash crashes the campus network. A good portion of The Social Network takes place in a deposition room where Zuckerberg faces off with the Winklevoss brothers and their partner Divya Narendra, (Max MInghella) who are suing him for stealing their idea for a Harvard networking site. "If you were the inventors of Facebook, you'd have invented Facebook," Zuckerberg tells his accusers, and that's accurate. These deposition scenes (which also involve a separate suit filed by Severin) are filled with Zuckerberg's arrogance and putdowns, but no one can dispute the point that Zuckerberg conceived of something far bigger than the tony networking site the Winklevoss twins hired him to write code for or the ad-filled site Severin envisioned. Yet The Social Network would be far too cold for its own good if not for the performance of Andrew Garfield as Severin, a man who didn't need Zuckerberg to be successful (or to get into a final club) but was willing to suppress his own ego and gamble on his friend's idea. Severin's fate is all to clear when Zuckerberg is seduced by the ruthless Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake in his best screen performance) with talk of venture capital and Victoria's Secret models; it's a tribute to both Eisenberg and Garfield that the bond between the Severin and Zuckerberg is evident even as the two face off with lawyers at their sides.


Zuckerberg and his buddies are prone to getting "wired in," to pulling marathon coding sessions at the expense of sleep, food, or social pleasures. I can't imagine why David Fincher thought a movie about such ascetic types needed a heavy handed score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that almost drowned out the dialogue at the showing I saw.  As Facebook moves out of Zuckerberg's dorm room and into more modern settings the music becomes less irritating, but in the first half the score is a directorial intrusion that isn't needed. Otherwise the distance that Fincher maintains from his subjects is admirable; trying to understand men who changed the way humans interact would be pointless when we're still wrestling with the effects of their changes. What may keep The Social Network from being appreciated in its own time is its lack of reliance on clear heroes and villains; it's a movie about big ideas and the humanity of those who have them.

Friday, October 01, 2010

You Again

My deepest apologies for being away so long, but sometimes life gets in the way. Now that things are back to normal, can somebody get Kristen Bell a decent movie role? In You Again she plays a high school loser turned successful PR exec named Marni who comes home for her brother's (James Wolk) wedding to discover his fiance Joanna (Odette Yustman) is the same girl who terrorized her in high school. The extent to which Marni is willing to take revenge on her former rival and the repercussions of those actions are the rest of the story. It's amusing to watch the mishaps pile up as Marni is physically transformed back into her pimply high school self with bad haircut to match, but Joanna isn't an interesting enough rival and there's a parallel relationship between Marni's mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Joanna's aunt (Sigourney Weaver). Bell dances, runs, and fights with the awkwardness of a woman who still doesn't entirely trust herself, but You Again is happy to smooth over the rough spots.