The Social Network

October 11, 2010 by  
Filed under Movies

I guess you could pinpoint 2003 as the turning point in American mainstream internet usage to include “social networking”, even though it has been a part of computer usage since as early as the 1980’s and probably earlier than that. But the explosion of sites like MySpace and the lesser known Friendster brought it to the forefront and meanwhile in that snooty little college establishment known as Harvard, sniveling jerks were hard at work at revolutionizing easily the most prominent and vibrant internet social community we now know as Facebook.

Millions of people around the world use this site as a way of connecting, and reconnecting, with friends and family. It’s gotten to the point where you could very well see your own grandmother or great aunt “poking” you or “tagging” you in a photo. It’s kind of awkward and sick, but it’s the way things are now. So get used to it?

I suppose it’s apt, then, that we find out the story behind the making of Facebook since it is so popular and mainstream now. And Hollywood spared no expense. David Fincher, who has made himself a household name with films like “Fight Club”, “Se7en”, and the recent Oscar nominated “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, brings us this story that was already adapted as a book in “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich who came to fame with “Bringing Down the House”, the story of MIT grads who took down Las Vegas casinos with their Blackjack skills. Just like that book, the story is stylized and sensationalized so that we skip all the geeky intricacies of how things like this can be developed and get right to the sex, drugs, and rock and roll that people clamor for.

Well, just like in the film adaptation of “Bringing Down the House” which was the surprisingly drab and banal “21”, “The Social Network” fails on every level it’s trying to succeed on. Not only boasting the Oscar nominated David Fincher, but they also brought in Aaron Sorkin to write the script, Trent Reznor to co-write the score, and got some hot rising stars like Jesse Eisenberg (“Adventureland”, “Zombieland”), Andrew Garfield (“The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”), and the already famous Justin Timberlake.

But these elements don’t come together as a slam dunk as it should have. Sorkin’s tired act of making every character sound like they have an IQ of 160 grows weary within the first 15 minutes, and he doesn’t develop the characters at all. We’re supposed to understand that Mark Zuckerberg, the “inventor” of Facebook, is cold, calculating and backstabbing. But he’s also somewhat misunderstood. Unfortunately, through Zuckerberg’s cold gaze, we never really get to know him at all. Even if that’s Sorkin’s point–why make this movie in the first place?

The film begins auspiciously enough with Zuckerberg and his girlfriend having a far more intelligent conversation than they probably should which involves him saying he wants to join a “Final Club” after getting a perfect 1600 on his SAT’s which got him into Harvard in the first place. He says you have to do something special to be in a Final Club. His girlfriend doesn’t get it. And he writes her off, and she gets mad. Later, when he’s somewhat drunk, he blogs about her publicly and then designs a web site comparing different female co-eds from different campuses. His site is a big hit, but he also further damages his relationship with the girl that he kind of wants back.

Now here you have a promising premise…that never goes anywhere. And that’s because the film jumps from that right into the law suits that Zuckerberg (played by Eisenberg to the best of his ability) is having with his former associate, Eduardo Saverin (played by Garfield in another strong role). He’s also involved with a law suit from twin Harvard students named Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (try saying that name 5 times fast) that claim he stole their idea for Facebook. The story from there is an overblown and curiously undramatic study in betrayal and backstabbing that leads to the demise of the friendship between Eduardo and Zuckerberg.

The problem is that the friendship itself isn’t well established, and Zuckerberg is so hard to read that you never know what his motivations are or why he does any of the things he ends up doing. The other problem is that the real story isn’t even close to what this sensationalized adaptation is, and if you’re going to get it wrong, get it wrong the way they did in “Braveheart” at least. Make it interesting! There’s absolutely nothing interesting about these characters, and you couldn’t care less what happens to them because you know in the end they all become multi millionaires anyway. There’s no sense of loss, no sense of real calamity–and worst, there’s no conflict. There’s no explanation on why Zuckerberg turns to Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake playing Justin Timberlake playing Sean Parker) except that maybe it’s because he’s Justin Timberlake, and how can you turn down an offer from Justin Timberlake? The guy’s so cool.

There are moments where the story could develop but Sorkin manages to dismantle his own story by his dialog getting in the way of actual plot development. What works so well in “The West Wing” or “Sports Night” is that the story is told through the characters, and the dialog is a rhythmic progression that is like music that moves the story along. Here, it’s used as a device to simply boast how smart Sorkin is as a dialog writer. It serves no purpose and winds up coming off as smug and aloof to what the audience wants to see–which is drama.

Nothing’s really at stake for these characters and so they come off as just spoiled rich kids–which is exactly what they are. Yes, they’re smart. Zuckerberg deserves the credit he gets for being innovative. However, not only did he have a lot of help–but it’s not like Facebook was the first social network that was popular. It’s just that it’s the most popular *now*. MySpace was all the rage in 2006, and back in the mid 90’s, BBS’s were the way to go for social networking.

But the movie never delves into the actual development of Facebook, what makes it so easy and accessible and why people are addicted to it. Instead the film boasts a lot of attractive people drinking Appletinis and loud thumping club scenes that not only probably didn’t happen in real life, but aren’t interesting to watch either.

What I would’ve liked to have seen, and what this movie totally lacks, is a clear perspective. We’re never sure why Zuckerberg needs to create this social network–is it because he’s lonely because it’s so hard for him to make friends with someone because he’s so insufferable as a person? Sure that’s touched upon, but it’s never really paid off. Make this into a story about Zuckerberg’s personal toil with his own introverted nature and anti-socialism and what he lacks with people…and then ironically creates the most popular social networking site, possibly of all time. The film nicks and nibbles at this theme but it never fully explores it. It leaves it hanging in dead air.

While Facebook may have brought to light something that many were unaware of and revolutionized something in our culture, “The Social Network” did not.

My rating: :(

Inception

July 18, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Christopher Nolan has to be one of our most ambitious filmmakers. He’s been compared to Kubrick, in his unique visionary approach to films, and his ability to create worlds that every character lives and breathes in, such as “Memento”, and his “Batman” reboot. He’s made some great films, including “The Dark Knight”, and “Following”; he’s also made more gimmicky films that work only as a trick such as “The Prestige”.

With “Inception”, he takes on the world of dreams. Dream sequences have been a part of film for a long time, and sometimes they work and sometimes they won’t. But what if an entire movie is based in a dream (or is it?) state? How do we define reality in that world?

The plot revolves around Dom Cobb (Leonard DiCaprio, in another strong performance) who operates a business of dream-sharing through a machine that he uses for industrial espionage to steal his clients’ ideas and thoughts in their subconscious for his own gain–and he’s caught by his newest client, Saito (Ken Watanabe), who wants to use him for his own purposes and stage a “dream stealing” with a rival business mogul.

What you must do in order to fully accomplish this complex idea of dream-stealing, is have a team of dream operators. A chemist to make the sedative; a forger to impersonate other subconscious characters in the person’s memory in order to fully manipulate the dreamer; and an architect, someone to literally create the dream world.

What Dom suggests in this case, with entering the subconscious of Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy), is what’s known as “inception”–planting a thought in someone’s mind before they can, but recognizing that it is in fact their own idea. The suggestion is deemed impossible by his Point Man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), but as in any movie–this one JUST MIGHT WORK!

The team runs into issues while they enter the dream world because of an array of “security” (your subconscious trying to protect you from invaders) that can easily kill them–and when you die, you wake up, but in this case they are so heavily sedated that they could wind up in a “limbo” if they were to die in the dream. They go deeper into dream worlds to a point where they’re operating on a third level dream world, and the deeper you go, the slower time goes.

The architect, played by Ellen Page, also notices  a wrinkle in Dom’s plan: he has an unending dream of living with his wife (Marion Cotillard) who has died and he blames himself for her death.

Nolan’s dream worlds are breathtaking. The sequences of the fighting that goes on in one of the hotel corridors in one of the dream worlds is fascinating. Some of the ideas in this film are very interesting, and even at a running time of 148 minutes, the film never drags.

But it also didn’t work for me. I couldn’t buy into the question the film tries to ask (and leaves open) about whether this was all a dream or whether it was reality. Movies that involve dreams can suffer the same kind of problems that movies involving time travel can. You have to create your own rules, which Nolan does, but those rules are based in such a neatly done way that there’s no reason to think that any of the story is real. It’s so deeply based in dreams, and there’s so much logic behind the dream worlds and elements of subconscious that can be manipulated that the “reality” in the film isn’t given enough screen time to be considered credible.

There are a few hints that I think the film gives you that make me lean toward it actually just being a dream. So in my mind, that’s what the film was. It’s an exercise in expanding the subconscious mind and opening it up into this large universe, and existing in it always. So then, what is the point of it? The story is actually quite simple when you strip it down–it’s just about guilt and salvation, ultimately.

The film is, as I’ve said about Nolan, very ambitious. But I don’t think the whole thing works. It has a lot of ideas, and a lot of them are intriguing. But as a film, there aren’t enough stakes, the characters aren’t fleshed out enough, and the plot is actually kind of ridiculous and even somewhat silly. In a film that takes itself and its ideas so seriously, it just comes off as pretentious and stiff rather than enlightening and eye-opening. The one thing that does work in the film is the action; in a way it does work as just that. But because the film wants to be so much more, and seems to want to expand your mind and open all of these questions for you. But it’s just too traditionally told and conventional to match that ambition.

As someone who dreams an awful lot, and has experienced very vivid dreams, I don’t know that I can buy into a reality that someone can “create” a world and actually manipulate it the way that they do in this film; and when you can’t buy into the reality, then it’s really hard to buy into the dream stuff–even though the dream worlds are more convincing and interesting. And that’s where the film ultimately fails for me.

It looks wonderful; but in the end, whether the top is still spinning doesn’t really matter.

My rating: :?

A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)

May 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Michael Bay has quickly become the equivalent of a 1st Grade Elementary School Level Producer of Remakes. And even then, I’m probably giving him too much credit because at least a 1st Grade production of something has charm and innocence, something his “remakes” lack. While he’s not the filmmaker, he is the money guy and the one who usually puts these together. But along with “Friday the 13th” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “A Nightmare On Elm Street” joins the clothesline of butchered projects that are coincidentally slasher remakes.

It’s not that this film is necessarily bad. The acting is fine, the visuals are well done, and the make-up is credible. It’s just incredibly bland. And I think that’s actually worse than something being bad. I’ve seen plenty of bad movies. Some of them are just bad. Like “Pulse” (not the 80’s thriller, but the awful 2006 film–which was a remake, too, but not of the 80’s thriller), or “Boogeyman”. Then there are films that actually are charmingly bad, like “Final Destination 3” or “Troll 2”. The remakes of “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare On Elm Street” fall into the former, rather than the latter. They’re literally ghosts of what made the originals classics. While those two movies created bloated franchises that became unoriginal and trashy, the originals still resonate today as being legendary horror films.

This film strays a bit from the original, too. And I’m not sure why. They’ve made Freddy more of a pedophile/stalker than a child murderer, which was what he was in the original “Nightmare on Elm Street”. But the film does nothing with this revelation. There’s absolutely no personality to this Freddy. He’s seething, angry, armed with his knife fingers and a bass amplified “scary” voice. But he has no value whatsoever. Part of what made Freddy endearing was his sense of humor about being so diabolical and sickeningly evil. He was a charismatic villain. This Freddy is a real glum one. He is also a pervert. Who wants to see that? It just doesn’t fit.

There’s nothing really of value in this film. People get slashed up, there’s blood. There are a few moments of “suspense” climaxing into a burst of orchestral hits and loud noises that’s supposed to pass for “thrills and chills”. But this is an empty funhouse. Wes Craven was not involved in this remake, unlike “Last House on the Left”, and I think they really missed out on letting him at least be a consultant. After all, it’s his movie. I find it interesting that a good portion of his catalog has been remade. I don’t know how I’d feel about that if I were him.

Like Zombie’s unfortunate “Halloween” remake sequel (I did like the first one), there’s no ambition or creativity at all in this film. It’s there, and it’s got some spooky imagery. But it doesn’t do anything for me at all. I think Jackie Earle Haley (Freddy) is a really good actor. But he was given nothing in this script to really do anything with. He’s a monster, but he has no personality.

So, Michael Bay I guess will keep on churning these things out. My advice is to recognize that every one of his movies looks the same, and every one of his movies will feel the same. Empty.

My rating: :(