Dec 14, 2010

Hunter reviews The Social Network

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The Social Network isn't the zeitgeisty generation-defining film that idiots on the internet hold it up to be, but that's okay, because the movie actually makes no attempt to even be that.  The Social Network is merely about the big, dramatic fight that took place behind something that changed the internet, and thus changed the world.  The movie is not about that change, which is probably a good thing.

Written by West Wing creator and crack-cocaine connoisseur Aaron Sorkin and directed by the wizard perfectionist David Fincher, The Social Network is a cleverly structured legal drama, the wheelhouse that put Sorkin on the map with A Few Good Men, although this film makes an attempt to be more grounded in reality.  Here we center around Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and circumstances that caused the creation of Facebook, and how said circumstances led to a massive legal battle between him, his best friend Eduardo Saverin (future Spider-Man Andrew Garfield), and a pair of big-shot Harvard mensches, The Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer playing both roles via movie magic).  The film opens with some of Sorkin's trademark cocaine-fueled machine-gun verbal sparring before depicting the drunken, misogynist origin for the idea of stalking people online, with Zuckerberg, powered by fridge full of Beck's beer, creating a site that compares pictures of women at Harvard called FaceMash in a montage cut to diamond-like perfection, with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross providing the right tone of blips, bloops and hums to compliment the rapid-fire coding and hacking.  It sets the tone for what is to follow.

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The Social Network is crafted like a clock on a script level, little bits of dialogue here and there have itty bitty payoffs in small places that you might not catch if you aren't paying attention.  The big gears fit together beautifully, but it's the small ones clicking together in harmony that keep the watch together and on time.  Sorkin and Fincher are both masters of their respected crafts, even if the dialogue Sorkin writes for his characters is often too perfect and witty (Sorkin is a writer who is probably incapable of creating a character who is even mildly unintelligent).  Really The Social Network is an unlikely pairing of writer and director, as Fincher is known for his technical prowess as filmmaker, creating visually stunning works like Fight Club and subtle pleasures like Zodiac, whereas Sorkin usually works with more writer-friendly directors that let the actors do the heavy lifting, as you'll usually see guys like Rob Reiner or Mike Nichols take on a Sorkin script.  Thankfully neither of these giants step on each others toes, they use their talents to compliment and enhance the film they're making.  Fincher steps back and lets the actors hammer out the dialogue, but works his magic in areas like the montage described earlier, as well as a stunning sequence where the Winklevoss twins participate in a competitive crew race.

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Something Sorkin deserves some serious credit for is his objective approach to the characters (although he was probably able to show restraint due to the apolitical nature of the story).  While it may seem that the film doesn't favor Zuckerberg on the surface, the movie is fairly even-handed in its approach, giving nuance to the characters' positives and negatives.  In fact, my opinion towards Zuckerberg was in his favor by the time it was all over, despite the Citizen Kane-like ending Sorkin and Fincher give us, but really it's the final cog in the nice Swiss watch they've constructed, cashing the check they wrote during the film's opening scene.  The main theme that has come up in discussions about this movie is how the film is about a social network that was created by an anti-social person, but this is only partially true in terms of what the movie really conveys.  The way Zuckerberg interacts with others suggests an approach to socializing that is not unlike the way one interacts with others on Facebook itself.  He makes assumptions and jumps to conclusions about others as though they speak to him in a purely textual form, and draws conclusions of tone based on his own feelings at the time, sort of the way we do when we read an e-mail or a text message.  He values speaking to people alone, rather than in a public setting, and edges his best friend and C.F.O. out of the company in the most passive-aggressive way possible, and we all know that Facebook is a great place to exercise that sort of behavior.  However, Zuckerberg isn't the only character in the film with a total lack of communication skills.  The Winklevoss Twins assume that things will work out for them as rich Harvard men, and allow the situation to get completely out of control, when they should've acted the moment they felt Zuckerberg was dodging them.  Their inability to communicate due to their upper-class sense of entitlement leads to their downfall (okay, so they got $65 million from their lawsuit, but Zuckerberg's net worth today is $6.9 billion, so who's the chump?).  Eduardo Saverin should have gotten the hint that Zuckerberg wanted him to move to California to do business, rather than try to sell advertising on the antiquated east coast, which leads to him getting screwed.  The list goes on and on.  To me, The Social Network, whether this was intentional or not, shows how communication between people is inherently poor, and Facebook is the ultimate manifestation of that, not just the idea that we're all hanging out in an internet club house created by an anti-social weirdo where we socialize based on his rules, that's just the on-the-nose interpretation you'll hear parroted at press junkets and by critics with no imagination.  It's there, but there's also more nuance in the story than was probably intended.  But again, this is something one takes away from the movie, the film's aims aren't as lofty and as pretentious as setting out to define the way our generation communicates.

Certainly The Social Network is one of the better films of 2010, despite any reservations I have with it.  Technically it's well oiled and cooked to near-perfection, as a tale of friendship and betrayal, it's masterful.  The fanboys on the internet oversell it like anything good, just don't use the word "zeitgeist" when describing it.

-H

Update: If you want a more in-depth look at The Social Network, check out the episode The Hollywood Saloon recently did detailing and discussing the film here.  It's a fantastic listen!

(Note: My review of Can't Stop The Music is forthcoming, it's a matter of when I'm in the mood to watch Steve Guttenberg skate to disco music.)

Dec 12, 2010

Episode 4 - I Confess: The Guilty Pleasuredome - Part 2 Listener Feedback

Well here it is all. Episode 4 - I Confess: The Guilty Pleasuredome Part 2 - Listener Feedback. This episode is filled with both voicemails and emails, the Guilty Pleasure picks from our listeners are discussed by Hunter and Stu. Come listen in on this epic show - enjoy!

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Dec 8, 2010

My Defense of PSYCHO ‘98

NOTE: This post assumes you've listened to part 1 of Episode 4, located below.  If you haven't, give it a listen before you read any further. - H

So by now many of you know that Gus Van Sant's Psycho remake is the most poisonous pleasure on my shelf.  I mentioned in the show that I had written a defense of it, so I thought I would dig it up and share it with all of you.

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Few remakes draw the ire of movie fans more so than Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Hitchcock’s beloved horror masterpiece, Psycho. Van Sant was cool as a blow-torch coming off of his success with Good Will Hunting, which gave him the clout to tackle such a project, which seemed to be doomed in terms of public perception from the beginning. How could any director be so arrogant as to remake Psycho? Was Van Sant stroking his ego? Putting himself on the same pedestal as Hitchcock? Not quite. Van Sant said going in that cinema is so young that in the next few hundred years, we’ll probably see more films getting in on the remake game than we are even now, and he saw this nearly shot-for-shot remake as an experiment, taking on Psycho as though it were a play by using the original script Hitchcock used that was penned by Joseph Stefano, and directing the actors his way in the framework of the original shot set-ups. It’s a ballsy approach, but is it a failed experiment? Not really, it doesn’t improve upon Hitchcock’s original, but it does something I enjoy.

Despite what you may think of this movie, it’s impossible to argue with its noble intentions. These intentions are on full display in the opening shot, which unlike most of the set-ups in this movie, differs greatly from Hitchcock’s original opening. The original Psycho opened with a few pans and dissolves across a city skyline, panning and dissolving into Marion Crane and her lover lounging in a hotel room. Hitchcock originally wanted the camera to float from the sky into the hotel window, but the technology wasn’t quite there in 1960, so the idea was scrapped in favor of the previously mentioned technique. The opening to Van Sant’s version does exactly that, floating from the outside into a hotel room, where Marion and her lover are doing said lounging. There is no way to know whether or not this looks as Hitch intended, but it’s a fabulous tribute to his original ideas for the movie.

Hitchcock was famous for his lack of respect for actors, often referring to them as cattle, and as creatures who are to be “coddled and spanked.” His approach to acting suited his style, for Hitch, the story always came first, and the actors were in service to that, never encouraging his players to worry about intangible things pertaining to their character. Van Sant, on the other hand, often works with fussy method actors, and his approach warrants his characters to think about character aspects that may not be in the script. This, along with the use of color, is the major difference in Van Sant’s approach to Psycho. The way Anne Heche plays Marion Crane is different than Janet Leigh’s approach. Leigh plays her as a good girl who makes a big mistake, and realizes it once it’s too late. Heche plays her as somewhat sketchy, she’s a nice lady, but one who has probably made a few mistakes in her life before she makes the big one that brings it to an end at the Bates Motel. Anthony Perkins plays Norman Bates as a seemingly wholesome guy who clearly has issues beneath the surface once you have one conversation with him. Vince Vaughn plays him a seemingly nice guy who sets off your gaydar and clearly has issues beneath the surface once you have one conversation with him. The bi-curious nature of Norman’s demeanor in this movie is clearly intentional, given Van Sant’s own homosexual orientation. He seems less innocent than Perkins, and while I like the good-boy surface of Perkins’ performance, it’s cool to see a different take on the character, even if it's not as effective.

So why watch Van Sant’s remake of Psycho when you have the original? Why bother making a new version of such a beloved film? Hitchcock’s Psycho is a movie I watch fairly regularly, I know it very well and it entertains me every time, from the opening right down to the admittedly simplistic pop-psychology in the conclusion. But having an alternate version doesn’t bother me, in fact it only enriches the original. While I always put on the original to the virgin viewer, I often force Psycho veterans to sit through this one, if only because they hate this movie out of principle without having seen it, which is silly. Sometimes I put it on by myself, just because seeing Psycho new again from a different angle is always a refreshing experience, which is why I wouldn’t call Van Sant’s experiment a failure, but a success in my eyes.

-H

Dec 6, 2010

Episode 4 - I Confess: The Guilty Pleasuredome - Part 1

Ok, it's time for us to 'fess up. Come join Hunter and Stu as they lay bare their souls (and lose some dignity perhaps also) with our I Confess: The Guilty Pleasuredome episode. Just what films that we once were too ashamed to admit to do we divulge to the world? Well you'll just have to listen and find out.

Please note: This is just part I of I Confess, Part II is our listener feedback portion, and with some real doozies in amongst our listeners lists, you won't want to miss that one. Part II drops in a couple of days of release of Part I.

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