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Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Social Network.... and a few thoughts on other films

The Social Network

Give or take Inception, The Social Network is perhaps the "buzziest" movie to come out so far this year. It comes to us with ecstatic reviews, zeitgeist appeal (who's not on Facebook now?), and a truly talented director (David Fincher) and writer (Aaron Sorkin) combo.

The movie does not disappoint. From first frame to last, The Social Network is a highly engaging, suspenseful, and fascinating character study of a man (boy?) who is a bit of an enigma. It's easy to leave the movie and come out with very different feelings about Mark Zuckerberg. Villain, hero, tragic hero? The movie never really pulls it out for either side. Personally, I fall in the anti-hero side, but I'd love to hear from those who disagree.

The most accomplished part of the film is the highly literate script that moves quickly and tells us just about everything we need to know without being expository. I also loved the intense music by Trent Reznor and the performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield. I've always liked Jesse Eisenberg in his earlier performances (Rodger Dodger, The Squid and the Whale, Adventureland), but goes beyond his previous performances here. He plays Zuckerberg as an obsessive, socially delayed, ambitious, and somewhat pathetic. I don't think he ever cracks a smile in the whole movie. Andrew Garfield, as Zuckerberg's partner, also gives a very good performance as the most sympathetic character in the movie. I also really enjoyed Justin Timberlake's performance as the flashy and charismatic creator of Napster.

As much as a I really really liked the film, it doesn't quite tip the scales to love for me. It was a lot of fun, and very interesting, but it's not a movie I would go back to again and again. It's being talked up a lot as an Oscar frontrunner, but I don't quite see it winning the whole thing at this point. It will certainly do well in nominations, but I don't think the older Academy will push it over for the win. It's still one of the most engaging and exciting movies of the year.

Grade: A-

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2010)

As a fan of the books, I was excited to see how the Swedes adapted Stieg Larsson's characters to the screen. What I found was a long movie that was consistently watchable but still didn't add some of the important details of the books. It was fun to watch, but I think mostly because I knew the characters from the books. Noomi Rapace gives a good performance as the title character, but she didn't quite fit my image of Lisbeth Salander. I wanted someone even edgier and stranger, and in the movie she came across as semi-normal. It was fun to watch, though, and I'm sure I'll see the next two.

Grade: B-

Babies (2010)

So this was kind of cute, but also pretty tedious after 80-some minutes. No narration, no explanation, just a film comparing four babies. I think maybe some Werner Herzog-like narration would have kept me more interested.

There were several scenes where the babies interacted with cats that I loved. I would have liked it better if it was called "Cats" and just had a few scenes of babies. What does that say about me?

Grade: C

Monday, October 4, 2010

Why Children of Men is a Masterpiece

Have you ever been blown away by a film, but only on a second viewing? This recently happened to me with Children of Men. I saw the movie a few years ago and I admired it quite a bit. When I watched it last week though, it completely overwhelmed me with its brilliance and emotional impact. Whereas before I didn't include it on my Top 10 of 2006 list, I honestly think it's now my favorite movie of that year.

Here's a few reasons why it's brilliant.....

1. The Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. There is not a wasted shot in this entire movie. It's often easy to make beautiful vistas look beautiful, but here Lubezki has to engage us in a movie that is ugly both emotionally and physically. There are several bravura sequences: The opening sequence, the car chase that ends in a killing, and the entrance into the immigration camp. In several of these sequences, Lubezki tells the whole story in a single shot. Check out the clip below to see what a master he is.

Movie Videos & Movie Scenes at

2. Clive Owen. There are many modern actors who work at being chameleons, slipping into roles with new accents and new tricks for each role. Clive Owen strikes me as more of a classic Hollywood actor. He plays a similar archetype in the movies, a world-weary observer of those around him (Closer, Gosford Park). Within each role though, he finds new depths. I think Children of Men is perhaps his best performance, showing a man who has built up a shell and how that shell is gently cracked.

3. The Uncompromised Vision. I can't imagine that director Alfanso Cuaron wasn't pressured to make this story more palatable to Hollywood audiences. I'm glad he stuck to his guns. There are several instances where major characters disappear from the story, and these lend a shocking power to the movie. He also has the strength to throw in just enough gallows humor to keep the viewer from being entirely overwhelmed.

4. The Political/Religious Allegory. I'm not always one for allegories in movies, since they can too often just be obvious or devoid of any true meaning. Here's one who's allegory works on many levels. Politically, the world depicted in Children of Men is realistic enough that I can imagine it happening if world events take a certain turn. The immigrant-bashing, homeland security, and general hopelessness seem all to real, yet you're not hit over the head with it.

I tend to like Christian allegories even less in movies. If I watch "The Green Mile" and notice that Michael Clarke Duncan's character is a Christ figure, does that illuminate anything about either the movie or faith to me? No. In Children of Men, I truly connected with its central premise of the first "child" being born into a viscous world in need of hope. Watching the character of Kee have a child in a dingy abandoned apartment, I couldn't help but think how sanitized the Christmas story has become. Children of Movie is the rare movie that actually made me think about religious ideas in a new and complex way.

I'm so glad I took the chance to watch this movie again. Do any of my readers have similar stories? Movies you liked the first time but grew into your favorites?