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: :(

Zombieland

October 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

“When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”

That’s the famous line from George Romero’s classic horror satire “Dawn of the Dead”. I’m guessing hell isn’t full–or, that guy was totally wrong. There’s no such thing as zombies. Right?

Well, in the last few years, we’ve been introduced to a new kind of zombie. Richard Roeper, God’s gift to film criticism and wonderful hair, once stated that he likes this new angle of zombies–basically, the “this ain’t your daddy’s zombie!” attitude. Let’s make them fast and furious! But wait–were these zombies, that were “created” in “28 Days Later”–really zombies? I’ve had this debate so many times it makes *me* brain dead. No, they’re not zombies! At least, they’re not zombies in the Romero sense. They’re functioning people, they’re just “infected.” This worked in “28 Days Later” because like “Dawn of the Dead” and most of the “Dead” series, this was a social commentary rather than a straight up zombie movie.

The remake of “Dawn of the Dead” was a straight up zombie movie–and it got the idea all wrong, as fun as the movie was.

But here, in “Zombieland”, it kind of crosses the themes. We have people that are “infected” with some kind of virus that began with someone eating a rotten hamburger somewhere (I guess they had to come up with something…) and so they are somehow blood thirsty and want to eat people–you’d think they’d just have a hunger for lousy hamburgers, and just raid McDonald’s–but they’re also…zombies. They look dead, they have rings around their eyes, their mouths are full of disgusting ooze, and when they’re not rampaging, they’re making strange jerky motions that’s somewhere in between the zombies in “Night of the Living Dead” and Linda Blair in “The Exorcist”. In fact, in a way, you could say they look more like they’re possessed than “infected”.

But “Zombieland” is not really about plot. The movie is only about 81 minutes, so it gives you as thin a narrative as possible: a kid with many phobias is teamed up with an alpha male who loves Dale Earnhardt, and twinkies (inside joke about male sexuality/security? you decide), go on the road and wind up with two attractive and manipulative females and all of them end up being chased by zombies, and killing a lot of them.

There is also a very funny cameo by a great actor of our time–probably one of the greatest. And there’s a tie-in with the twinkie, for a moment.

So, the question is–does “Zombieland” work? Well, you have to look at it from this stand point to really understand what it’s getting at–do you find zombie killing funny? I don’t know that anyone’s really broached that before, not in a clear and crisp way. There always seems to be some kind of social satire muddled in the mix, and we have to wonder if we’re laughing at zombies, or ourselves.

Well, rest assured–there is no question here. The zombie killing is pretty hilarious. And Woody Harrelson as Talahassee (everyone’s name in the film represents where they’re from; i.e., Columbus, who is the kid with phobias) provides a lot of laughs because of his comic ability as an actor. Not every joke works, and some seem forced. There’s also a twist in something we learn about Talahassee’s past that seemed a bit morbid, especially when the scenes surrounding it are comparatively more comical. The pace of the film is a bit off, as well–sometimes it seems like we’re learning too much about people that are essentially placed in an arcade game like “House of the Dead”, just knocking off zombie after zombie, trying to come up with the Kill of the Week (but an old lady and a piano make the top of that list). You’d think for a film so short that clunkiness wouldn’t be an issue; but at times, some of the scenes do actually seem as though they drag.

As for the rest of the performances, Emma Stone (Wichita) is emerging as a fine young actress, and pulls of manipulative sexy just as well as she can pull of sweet and sensitive. Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus) proves you can out-Michael Cera Michael Cera, and Abigail Breslin (Little Rock) is good as well but I still couldn’t take her seriously as a schemer. Mike White (“The Good Girl”, “Chuck and Buck”, “School of Rock”) also makes an amusing appearance as a gas station attendant.

Probably the funniest element of the film comes from Columbus’ rules of survival: Cardio (rule #1), Beware of Bathrooms (rule#2), Seatbelts (rule #3), and Double tap (rule#4) among others. Each rule is given an example, and each time he performs a rule, a caption for said rule appears somewhere on the screen. It’s charming in its own way (and somewhat of an homage to Max Brooks’ “The Zombie Survival Guide”) and eventually, as always, some rules are meant to be broken.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable movie. It’s almost like a cute, dolled up Troma film. There’s just enough heart and just not enough gore, but it’s a good way to…ahem…kill…an hour and a half of your time.

And it really gives  you a craving for a Hostess Twinkie.

My rating: :-)