Category Archives: Reviews

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Friendship (The Social Network)

As I watched The Social Network at its midnight screening in Harvard Square one name kept popping up in my mind. No, it wasn’t Mark Zuckerberg, the protagonist villain or David Fincher, the film’s director but instead I kept thinking of Shakespeare. The characters and themes in The Social Network are Shakespearean in magnitude. No, there are no monarchs or castles in the film but at a certain point one begins to see Zuckerberg turn into a modern day king, Harvard become the kingdom he is banished from and his Facebook headquarters grow into his new domain. What always impressed me about Shakespeare was that he was able to both come up with incredibly complex plots and characters while also writing them in the most beautiful prose. David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin are able to achieve both of those qualities.

As I’m sure you all know, The Social Network is “the Facebook movie” but in the film Facebook is simply a vehicle for its characters to grapple with power, enact revenge and stroke their own highly inflated egos. It all starts off with Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) getting dumped by his B.U. girlfriend, subsequently blogging nasty comments about her and from there getting the inspiration for Facebook, if we are to assume that Facebook was all his idea in the first place. The first half of the film takes place primarily at Harvard, inside its buildings and inside of its minds. Fincher deliciously captures the world of the Ivy League and the social hierarchy that drives a nerdy undergrad like Zuckerberg to strive to become one of the elites. The hulking Winklevoss twins (both played with a brilliant sense of superiority by Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) begin to challenge Zuckerberg, claiming that they were the creators of Facebook. In the end though the film never devolves into a typical courtroom brawl.

After Zuckerberg leaves Harvard and sets up shop in Palo Alto we see him get a taste of the good life, overseeing his rapidly growing business while rapidly growing away from human connection of any meaning. We see him lose his girlfriend, his best friend and a community that knew him only to replace them with money driven opportunists and “friends” that he can add with a click of a button. Jesse Eisenberg plays all of this with a veneer of calm collectedness that could crack at any moment. He seems all right but we know that he is not. When his best friend and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (played exceptionally by Andrew Garfield) confronts him over his misdeeds in a final scene of climactic brilliance we see how insecure he still is despite his billions.

The technical aspects of the film succeed on all fronts too. The cinematography is better than it ever had to be for a film of this sort. Harvard is awash in dark tones that exude prestige, Palo Alto’s brightness reflects a coldness about the place and one rowing match scene is particularly mesmerizing. Trent Reznor’s score is unlike any other you will probably here this year. It is electronica meets classical, fully embracing the film’s modernity with its timeless themes. Eisenberg and Garfield are both fantastic in the film while smaller parts like those of Hammer and Rooney Mara’s complement each other in their dissimilarity. Mara plays Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend and though she is only in the film for a matter of minutes she excels in each one. Justin Timberlake (Sean Parker) does his Justin Timberlake thing. Though he plays sleaziness well, he seems at times too conscious of the fact that he is in a film and we become too aware that he is acting.

Much could and should be said about The Social Network. It is certainly one of the most original and exciting American films to have come out in the last decade. It also reflects our own lives in frightening ways. Fincher shows us that through Facebook each one of us can become a celebrity, if not a king. But just like the king that Zuckerberg becomes, we too can become disconnected from our friends and those we love and at the end of the day when we go online and check our emails or Facebook pages all we’ll be looking for is someone to come mend our broken and lonely hearts.

Bottom Line: The Social Network is not too be missed, go see it in the theatre!

What did you think of the film? Comment!

Here is a fun interview with the cast and screenwriter:

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“Inception” On My Mind

This has been a troubled summer movie season. Most films that have come out have been of poor quality and even typical cheesy yet guiltily fun movies like Prince of Persia have underperformed at the box office. Inception has finally come out to save the day.

Leonardo DiCaprio photo from Inception

What do you love the most? What do you fear the most? What are you greatest secrets? These seem to be the questions that Inception asks its viewers. No, Inception is not your typical summer blockbuster, at least not in the sense that it makes the viewer think, wonder and yes, even dream. If you haven’t already heard, the plot deals with specially skilled men and women who hack into people’s dreams to steal ideas and information from them when they are at their most vulnerable state of sleep. However, when a wealthy Japanese businessman named Saito (played by Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe) asks Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) to implant a genuine idea into another businessman’s dream, the whole world of the film turns upside down. The beginning of the film is confusing if not also a bit slow paced. So much of the film weighs on the fact that there is so much to explain about how dreams work, how one can hack into someone’s else’s mind and to what is generally going on in the story. Director Christopher Nolan seemed intent on not having a single plot hole.

Despite the fact that there is so much explanation, it can still be difficult to know what is going on. This is certainly for many, a film worth seeing multiple times. It’s not that the ideas in the film are half baked, in fact they are fully baked, it’s just that one might not know exactly what one is eating. It certainly is delicious though. There is eye candy galore. The dream sequences are gorgeously shot, particularly scenes in Paris with Dicaprio and Ellen Page when the whole city implodes and a mind bending zero-gravity fight scene with Joseph Gordon-Levitt that is simply stunning. For all the hype about the dreams though I did wonder if Nolan couldn’t have made the dreams more dream-like. I commend him for not simply making the dreams the now typical Salvador Dali inspired surrealist orgies that we see so often. On the other hand, Nolan could have perhaps made the dreams more like our own dreams in the way that space does not connect in a logical way and how images bleed into each other, creating nonsense.

Nevertheless the dream-filled final 45 minutes or so are utterly superb. Nolan makes the bold assertion that the focus of this film is not its beautiful CGI, nor even its twisty-turny plot but its characters’ connections with each other. There is a motif throughout the film of little objects hidden away in little boxes where no one can find them. The ultimate point of Inception is to open up those boxes where we keep our most frightening and painful pieces of our pasts and to make peace with them so we can ultimately move on. No matter how visually stunning the final act is or how surprising it might be to some, what is most surprising is that Nolan’s climax is an emotional one, one that hinges on the growth of its characters, not on the size of its explosions.

The cast is what Hollywood dreams are made of, 2 of its actors have won Academy Awards (Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine) and 3 have been nominated (Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe). DiCaprio here is especially of note. Anyone who is not convinced that he can act should see this film, Leo is at his very best here, arguably more believable than he was in The Aviator or more honest than he was in The Departed. Marion Cotillard also demands our attention and shows us that she’s been having a bright career since La Vie En Rose. By the way, anyone who was a fan of that film will enjoy the Edith Piaf reference in this film. Also great is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as DiCaprio’s partner in crime, I hope more good roles come his way. There is not a single weak spot in the cast, great performances by all!

Joseph Gordon-Levitt photo from Inception

The cinematography is hypnotic and Hans Zimmer’s score is heart-pounding and practically nerve-wracking yet miraculously doesn’t overpower the film. It’s reported that Nolan spent 10 years on the script and it certainly shows. After The Dark Knight, expectations for Christopher Nolan’s next picture were high and though he may not have topped that film in sheer exhilaration, with Inception he has created a film that demands our attentions if not also also our hearts.

Bottom Line: Go see this in the theater, your friends, family and coworkers will be talking about this one for weeks.

Watch this nice little featurette on the film and make sure to vote on the poll!

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Alice in Wonderland – Review

I did not have the highest hopes when I stepped into the theatre the other day to see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. After all, the reviews have been mediocre at best. Unfortunately I cannot say that my opinion of the film differs much from most reviewer’s.

The film is undeniably entertaining. It begins with Alice, a beautiful 19 year old woman who gets proposed to by an unattractive goof of a man. The last thing she wants to do though is get married or grow up for that matter. I mean who would want to grow up when one could instead venture into Burton’s psychedelic Wonderland of unlimited possibility instead? When Alice stumbles upon Wonderland, we watch with breathtaking glee as she encounters the most absurd and scary of characters. The world that Burton has created is as imaginative as anything he has made in the past and arguably more beautiful. In 3D, even a simple drop of water keeps you mesmerized. One of the best, if not the best scene in the film is one in which Alice drinks from a bottle of potion labeled “Drink Me” and eats from a cake labeled “Eat Me” and proceeds to shrink and grow. Unfortunately the rest of the film seems to stumble along with no direction.

Alice encounters the Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp and follows his guidance for he believes that she is the savior of Wonderland. Depp plays the Mad Hatter with his signature bizarreness and tries hard to create an original character but in the end you cannot differentiate between Depp, the actor and his character. When I watched the film, all I could think was, “Oh there’s Depp again, acting odd, like he does in most of his films.” Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a terrific actor but one whose fame has grown almost too large. Helena Bonham Carter is undeniably delicious as the Red Queen. She heightens every scene she is in into one of ludicrous art. We are told that she is “evil” but it’s difficult not to root for her. Her entourage of unattractive henchmen look like characters from a Commedia dell’arte play and add to Burton’s bizarre vision. Anne Hathaway is pleasant as the White Queen but the role hardly gives her room to exercise her very formidable acting muscles.

In the end though this film is a classic example of style over substance. It looks like a gorgeous acid trip but its story is overly simple and actually makes no sense. We never learn why the Red Queen is evil and why the White Queen is good and therefore never have any investment in the outcome of the story. I never really rooted for Alice or the “good” characters, nor did I particularly despise the Red King and Red Queen. There are also implausible elements in the film like how the Red Queen never suspects Alice of being Alice, despite the fact that there are rumors that she has returned to Wonderland. To top it all off Johnny Depp has a pointless dance at the end of the film for seemingly no reason whatsoever. I love Tim Burton so ultimately I was disappointed in his latest film because I know he can do much better.

Bottom line: If you really want to see this film, see it in 3D for a fun, dumb time or wait until it comes out on DVD.

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Up In The Air (with George)

Actor | Authors | Directors | Producers | RolesClass | Media Products | Movies | Up in the Air | Individual | George Clooney

“This land is your land, this land is my land,” croons Sharon Jones during the opening credits but she might as well be saying, “this movie is your movie, this movie is my movie.” Before seeing “Up In The Air” I was slightly concerned that I, a young 20 year old would find little to relate to. After all, the film stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a middle age single Casanova who (when he isn’t too busy giving motivational speeches) works for a company whose sole purpose is to respectfully fire the employees of other companies. Not too many people live his lifestyle but there are characters and sentiments in this film that will without a doubt relate to just about everyone.

As the film starts Ryan Bingham is reveling in unwedded bliss, in being alone and in his constant work-related travel, indeed according Bingham, “moving is living.” His small airport-sized world changes though when Natalie Keener (played with exuberant pep by Anna Kendrick), joins Ryan’s company. She’s a woman fresh out of college who proposes that the company save considerable money by having its employees fire people through an Internet program like “Skype” instead of by actually flying out and firing employees face to face. Ryan unapologetically hates this idea but is forced to show Natalie what his job entails by flying her around the country with him and having her observe him work.

Meanwhile, Ryan meets Alex Goran, a sexy middle age woman, played by Vera Farmiga who like Ryan, spends most of her time flying from city to city on business trips. Their chemistry is undeniable and watching the two of them interact is more fun than any fight scene from “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” What is remarkable about this film is that in our age of super short attention spans, this movie indulges in long scenes, filled with dialogue, humor and subtlety. When Natalie discusses relationships and careers with Ryan and Alex, you are sucked in completely to their lives. Clooney, Farmiga and Kendrick work so effortlessly together that they seem like they’ve been working together for years in a theater troupe. Their work in this movie should garner each of them Academy Award nominations.

Writer and director Jason Reitman, whose previous work includes “Juno” and “Thank You For Smoking,” has crafted a film that like his last two efforts includes undeniable humor and style yet also speaks to our broader world with seriousness and weight. This is a movie about our failed economy, our rising unemployment, our isolation and our addiction to technology. It is also about a college grad trying to juggle relationships and work, a woman just looking for a fun time and a man who realizes that he in fact does not want to be alone. For all of these reasons I related to this film and had so much fun doing it. “Up In The Air,” is not unlike a 21st century version of “The Apartment,” it is light yet heavy, funny yet serious, somewhat slow but hugely entertaining. These days movies like this don’t get made that often.

Bottom Line: Go see this movie in the theater, it will win lots of awards and you don’t want to be out of the loop.

EKL

Watch this video of Reitman, Farmiga and Kendrick discuss the film with the awesome Peter Travers.

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Avatar: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love 3D

'Avatar' vs. 'District 9' vs. 'Trek'? | avatar_dl

After Avatar opened on December 18, I was afraid that much of the praise being given to the film had to do with the fact that most viewers were so awed by the movie’s 3D visuals that they did not pay attention to the rest of the film. When I first saw the film, my friends and I showed up to the movie theatre and were only able to see the movie in 2D. At the time I was frustrated but once the lights in the theatre dimmed and the first shots of the movie started I was captivated.

Even in regular, good-old fashioned 2D Avatar proves to be breathtakingly beautiful. Perhaps more importantly (and surprisingly) the story more often than not holds up. While not particularly original, Avatar’s plotline manages to be relevant, almost too relevant. James Cameron does not aim for subtlety; that is for sure. His story of American Marines in 2154 colonizing the planet of Pandora, mining for its precious resource Unobtainium, killing the indigenous Na’vi people and destroying their habitat contains many parallels and references to American imperialism. The only problem is that these allusions are so transparent that they feel heavy handed. The phrases “shock and awe” and “preemptive attack” are mentioned, obviously references to the Iraq war. Perhaps I am missing the point though. The fact that an action blockbuster of this magnitude has such a strong anti-imperialist point of view (no matter how unsubtle it may be) is what is really revolutionary about this film. The sentiments in this film are not new but never have these messages targeted such a wide audience and accessed (and hopefully opened) the eyes and ears of so many Americans. This is a mainstream movie with a not-so-mainstream point of view.

When I saw the film the second time in 3D most of my grievences about Cameron’s script fell by the wayside. Still, lines like “If they get to the Tree of Souls we’re done for,” are too ridiculous to takes seriously. Additionally the repeated line “I see you,” is cheesy and unnecessary and Jake Sully’s rallying cry towards the end of the film sounds far too much like William Wallace’s “freedom” speech in Braveheart. Nevertheless, when seeing the film for a second time, I decided not to be cynical and ended up enjoying the film immensely. The performances by Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver are admirable. They manage to emote through their blue Na’vi avatars and more importantly through their stilted, clunky dialogue. Zoe Saldana is beautiful as Neytiri and is a truly believable character despite the fact that she is a 10 foot tall blue Alien. In Neytiri we see how James Cameron’s use of motion capture technology is absolutely ingenious. James Horner’s score is beautiful and rousing but sounds a bit too much like his Titanic score. There are also undertones of The Lion King and Braveheart soundtracks.

The scene in which this film really came together for me emotionally was the scene in which the Marines destroy the Na’vi’s sacred Hometree. The music and visual spectacle are in an epic synch here and the Na’vi’s expressions of terror and sorrow miraculously look human. The sequence certainly evokes the scene in Apocalypse Now in which Richard Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries” plays as the Americans bomb Vietnam. Somehow we manage to find the same level of sympathy for the Na’vi as we do for the Vietnamese. James Cameron has produced a film to be celebrated and seen – in the movie theatre. Avatar has the power to completely immerse you in another world but still tells you something important about our own. Movies like this come around once in a blue Pandoran Moon.

Bottom line: See this movie as soon as you can in the movie theatre and preferably in 3D.

EKL

If you’d like to know more about the motion capture technology used in Avatar, watch this fascinating video.

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