“The Social Network” review

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David Fincher directs a film about the dramatic origins of the website we know as Facebook, called “The Social Network”. The film is based off of Ben Mezrich’s book “The Accidental Billionaires”, and tells the (allegedly true) story of a Harvard hacker kid, Mark Zuckerberg. The film tells of how his creation of the website Facebook would come to earn him billions of dollars but also destroy his relationships with the people around him, including the co-creator of the website and his best friend, Eduardo Saverin.

Allow to me say right off the bat that although the subject matter involves Facebook, this is by no means some quick, half-hearted attempt to capitalize on the website’s huge success. Quite the opposite, actually. “The Social Network” is not a movie about a website, it is a movie about the website’s origins and impact, on a human scale. “The Social Network” is a grand, bold, often blunt portrait of one man’s relationships with other people melting not because of his success, but because of the personality traits success brings out in him.

The first scene, where Zuckerberg breaks up with girlfriend Erica, establishes Zuckerberg as being hyper-articulate, overly defensive and yet undeniably a genius. It also establishes the ridiculously quick pace at which characters speak in this film, with roughly 4 hours worth of dialogue condensed into a 120-minute flick. Yet, one is never overwhelmed or struggling to keep up with the film, because the film is never smug or self-satisfied about it. Props to “West Wing”s Aaron Sorkin for crafting such a good script.

Despite its quick pace and rhythm, the tone of the movie is somewhat somber. When Zuckerberg’s success begins we don’t rejoice with him, we feel like we’re witnessing the end of this character as his friends know him. Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails supplies the score for this movie, and does some really great electro/soft rock beats for it.

Jesse Eisenberg delivers nothing more and nothing less than the best male performance of the year as Mark Zuckerberg. Fully fleshing out Mark for all his genius, his quirks, his cruelty, it’s as riveting and watchable a piece of acting as has been done all year. Andrew Garfield (the next ‘Spider-Man’) portrays Eduardo, the co-creator of Facebook who Mark gradually abandons over time. Although his role doesn’t nearly require as much as Eisenberg’s, it’s still an emotionally demanding one and Garfield knocks it out of the park.

The real surprise here is Justin Timberlake in his first serious dramatic film-role, who is absolutely fantastic as Sean Parker, another Internet guru that Mark idolizes. His role generally requires him to be very energetic, hyper and upbeat and to anyone who’s seen his ‘SNL’ skits, it’s no surprise that he knocks that stuff out of the park. But it’s in his last few scenes where Timberlake displays a great sadness, and really comes into his own as a dramatic actor. Rooney Mara, Joseph Mazzello, Brenda Song and Armie Hammer all play various associates of Zuckerberg and despite their limited screen time are all great.

“The Social Network” is alternately witty, heartbreaking, hilarious and intense, but above all, is as riveting, entertaining and just plain good as films can get. Functioning as a character study, a tragedy, a comedy, a snapshot of the way we communicate with one another, and just a damn good story, “The Social Network” captures everything that I love about movies.
4

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“The Town” review

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Ben Affleck writes, directs, and acts in the crime thriller “The Town”. After hitting a huge slump in the early 2000s with cinematic turds like “Pearl Harbor” and “Gigli”, Affleck has re-invented himself as a director (and a great one at that). His first film “Gone Baby Gone” was the signal of a great directorial talent arriving, and he fully delivers on that promise with “The Town”.

The film is set in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown, described as “the bank robbery capital of America”. Just as some fathers pass on family businesses to their sons, here fathers pass on bank robbery to their sons. Doug Macray, played by Affleck, has lived in this town, robbing banks and armored cars all his life. But when he falls in love with Claire, the manager of a bank his squad has recently robbed, he finds himself at a crossroads between the woman he loves and the job he’s known all his life.

“The Town” is a very satisfying piece of entertainment that succeeds as a heist flick, as a story of a guy changing his ways and as a straight up thriller. The best part of the film is the sense of atmosphere and grittiness that Ben Affleck conjures in his Boston setting. He really knows how to shoot the environment in a distinctive, stand-out way, and I applaud him for it.

Although there are only two or three actual sequences of the characters practicing their trade (bank robbery), they are some of the most stand-out set pieces I’ve seen in a film all year. Assuredly directed and well-paced, rest assured that despite many memorable dialogue-driven scenes, the heist sequences are the highlights of the movie.

The acting is pretty damn fantastic in this film. Affleck directs himself in what is probably the best, richest performance in his entire career. Rebecca Hall plays his love interest, Claire. She delivers a good performance but I feel her character is very under-developed, but I suppose thats a fault with the script and not the actress. Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” plays an FBI squad leader dedicated to bringing down Doug, and he delivers his lines with the necessary level of conviction. The stand-out performance is, no doubt, Jeremy Renner as Jem, a loose-cannon member of Doug’s robber squad. He brings an intensity to his character that is really interesting to watch, and I believe he deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

All this said, I had a few issues with “The Town”. The love sub-plot between Doug and Claire, on which most of the action in the film is based, was very under-developed I think. Their chemistry was fleshed-out well, I just think the movie never really built up their character’s longing for each other the way it should have. And although the ending to this movie is truly fantastic in every way, the final shot feels more artificial and tacked-on every time I think about it.

Overall, “The Town” is a very enjoyable movie that blends style, action, and substance. With stand-out action sequences and a great cast, the movie cements Ben Affleck as both an actor to admire and a director to be excited about. After 17 years in the business, he’s finally found his place.

351

“Easy A” review

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Emma Stone stars in the new high-school comedy, “Easy A”. Stone has been building a name for herself lately as a very talented young actress in films such as “Superbad” and “Zombieland”. Deep roles? No. Ones that require charm and wit to pull off? Absolutely, and Stone does them very well. She plays a sarcastic, whip-smart teenager named Olive, who is something of an unknown in her high school’s social circle.

But then rumors begin to circulate that Olive has engaged in certain promiscuous activities, and at first she goes along with the rumors. Why not? It furthers her popularity and adds a certain aura of mystery around her. But then after things begin to get seriously out of hand, Olive must repair her reputation.

If you understood my pure, undying hatred for pretty much every non-John Hughes or “Superbad” movie about high school ever made, then you’d understand the sheer surprise I feel right now. You know why? Because I love this movie.

“Easy A” does the rarest of things with the high school movie: Balance heart with cynicism, and apply both things in a manner that actually furthers the plot and our perception of the characters. The movie is for both those who embrace and despise the conventions of this genre. Basically, it’s for everyone.

Here portraying, Emma Stone delivers on the promise she’s shown in the past. Balancing killer comedic timing with a warm, likable quality, Stone is a fantastic, natural lead for this movie and will go far because of it. The supporting cast is very large, but the film actually balances all the characters quite well. Stand-outs include Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson (hilarious as Olive’s hippy-mentality parents) and Amanda Bynes as a religious nutjob who serves as something of a rival to Olive. The dialogue is really snappy, witty and flows quite well, although not to the extent that it’s distracting.

I have only one complaint with this movie, although it is quite large: Many characters (as well-acted as they are) often times completely shift personalities and perspectives within a scene or two, which leads me to believe that they serve as only reasons to get the movie from point A to point B.

Overall, problems with characterizations aside, I loved “Easy A”. Hilarious but also feel-good and genuine, it’s as entertaining a teenage comedy as Hollywood’s produced in a long while.

35

Summer 2010: Movie Recap

In the land of movie-going, this summer has been all about extremes. Explosions! 3-D! Genetically-spliced creatures! People surgically connected to one another, anus-to-mouth! In addition to concepts, it has been all about extremes in the sense of quality. They were either soul-crushingly awful, overwhelmingly mediocre, or just simply fantastic with very little middle ground between the three. So let’s delve into my picks for the best and worst of the summer.

Tom Six’s sickening “The Human Centipede” was no doubt the worst of the summer, and probably one of the worst, most sickening, soulless films I’ve ever seen. I’ve already explained the concept (see above paragraph), and rest assured that no matter what crap you see this year, none are as bad as “The Human Centipede”.

M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender”, however, was inept in just about every category in which his earlier films succeeded. It sports the worst direction of the year, with scenes, characters, sets, and effects all thrown in together that never come close to a cohesive whole.

And finally, Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” wasn’t particularly awful, but because there was nothing whatsoever distinctive or interesting about it, one could argue it was even more agonizing than an awful film. It wouldn’t have hurt to have a cohesive story, either.

Now onto the “goodies”.

The fifth best film of the year was Pixar’s “Toy Story 3”. Although repeat viewings have somewhat diminished it’s initial emotional punch, it still stands as a really entertaining, hilarious, and yes, heart-breaking film about trying to hold on to one’s childhood.

“The Kids Are All Right” was a brilliant ensemble piece about a family attempting to hold itself together. Bolstered by great performances (Julianne Moore and Annette Bening stand out in particular) and a killer script, the film is heartfelt, emotional, and yet still feels realistic, which makes all the difference.

I tend to disagree with Oscar voters’ picks, which surprises me to say that their recent pick for Best Foreign Language Film, “The Secret in Their Eyes”, was dead-on. Basically a murder mystery yet at its core a resonant love story, this film sports strong performances and a 5-minute long tracking shot that ranks with the best.

It’s a toss-up for my second and first favorite films, but for now Edgar Wright’s energetic retro-action comedy “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” takes second. Although the financial disappointment of this movie pretty much crushed me, I have no doubt that on DVD it’ll find a following. This movie is a fantastic piece of entertainment, with literally hundreds of gags, a couple knock-out action sequences, and yet at its core is a great romance.

My favorite release of the summer was Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”. Brilliant on pretty much every level that a film can be judged on, after four viewings the magic of this movie still wows me. By the year’s end, this and “Pilgrim”s ranking may shift, but for now, “Inception” ranks supreme above all others this summer.