Posts Tagged ‘The Social Network’

Winkelvii Petition Harvard Over Larry Summers Calling Them A-holes For Their Attire, Etc. A One-Act Play In Three Pages

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Winkelvii Petition Harvard Over Larry Summers Calling Them A-holes For Their Attire, Etc. A One-Act Play In Three Pages

How Social Network Should Have Ended

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Happy Monday.

Emerson’s Up-Close Dissection Of The Social Network

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Emerson‘s Up-Close Dissection Of The Visual Style Of The Social Network

The Real Sean Parker Lunches With The FT

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

“He is more like a Sorkin character than anyone I’ve ever met–if not the anti-hero of The Social Network.”
The Real Sean Parker Lunches With The FT

Reznor Discovered Social Network About “A Guy Who Needs To Prove Himself”

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Reznor Discovered Social Network About “A Guy Who Needs To Prove Himself”

After Oscar

Sunday, February 27th, 2011
Award And the Oscar Goes to … Who I Said WOULD win Who I said SHOULD win Neve’s Picks And the Gurus Picks
Best Picture

The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech


The Social Network

The King’s Speech
Best Director

Tom Hooper

Tom Hooper

Darren Aronofsky

David Fincher

Davd Fincher
Best Actor

Colin Firth

Colin Firth

Javier Bardem

Jesse Eisenberg

Colin Firth
Supporting Actor

Christian Bale

Geoffrey Rush

John Hawkes

Christian Bale

Christian Bale
Best Actress

Natalie Portman

Annette Bening

Michelle Williams

Annette Bening

Natalie Portman
Supporting Actress

Melissa Leo

Helena Bonham-Carter

Hailee Steinfeld

Melissa Leo

Melissa Leo

Toy Story 3




Toy Story 3

Inside Job

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Inside Job

Exit Through the Gift Shop

In a Better World




In a Better World
Adapted Screenplay

Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

The Social Network

Winter’s Bone

Toy Story 3

Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Original Screenplay

David Seidler, The King’s Speech

The Kids Are All Right



The King’s Speech

DP/30 Oscar Nominees 2010/11: The Cinematographers

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Jeff Cronenweth, The Social Network

Roger Deakins, True Grit

Matty Libatique, Black Swan

Wally Pfister, Inception

Gurus o’ Gold – What Would The Oscars Look Like As Of Today?

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

There still may be some changes. Just adding in the last few late votes, for instance, pushed Melissa Leo back into the top Gurus slot in Supporting Actress.

But if The Gurus are right, just 3 days before balloting closes, the scoresheet the next morning will look like this…

The King’s Speech – 4 Oscars – Picture, Actor, Original Screenplay, Score
Inception – 4 Oscars – Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Art Direction
The Social Network – 3 Oscars – Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing
The Fighter – 2 Oscars – Supp Actor, Supp Actress
Toy Story 3 – 2 Oscars- Song, Animated Feature

And getting 1 Oscar each….

Black Swan – Actress
Inside Job – Documentary
In A Better World – Foreign Language
The Wolfman – Make-Up
Day & Night – Animated Short
Wish 143 – Live Action Short
Alice In Wonderland – Costume
True Grit – Cinematography

And with half an Oscar each (the Gurus have them tied for the lead)…

Strangers No More/The Warriors of Qiuang – Short Doc

ESPN Surmising Moneyball The Next Social Network, Whatever That Means

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

ESPN Surmising Moneyball The Next Social Network, Whatever That Means

Winklevii Hit The Daily… In Spandex

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Winklevii Hit The Daily… In Spandex

About The Social Network Behind The Social Network Feature-Length Making-Of Online And On-Demand-Of Feature That’s Online And On-Demand

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Behind The Social Network Feature-Length Making-Of Online And On-Demand

Cover-Profiling David Fincher

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Cover-Profiling David Fincher

I’d Like to Thank the Academy …

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

… for announcing its nominations at such a ridiculously early hour during Sundance every year. Everyone in the business who’s already hitting their exhaustion point at the fest really appreciates getting to wake super early so we can hear nominations that rarely offer any huge surprises. But we’ll see.

… Okay, there were a few surprises, pleasant and otherwise:

I’m happy to see Dogtooth get a nomination for Best Foreign; we’ve been talking about that film since Toronto 2009, so it’s nice to see it get some love. But I’ll be rooting for my #1 film of the year, Biutiful, to win the category.

Speaking of Biutiful, how great is it that Javier Bardem got that well-deserved Best Actor nomination? In a perfect world, he would win it, but all things being what they are in Hollywood, you can give the performance of your career as he does here and still be the underdog.

No Ryan Gosling, though, which is too bad. Not sure which Best Actor nominee I would have bumped to make room for him. Bridges, maybe.

And also good to see John Hawkes get the Supporting Actor nom for Winter’s Bone. He’s my pick to win it. Fingers crossed.

On the chick side of things, I’m not unhappy to see any of the actresses who were nominated for Best Actress. It would be easy to get excited about the nominees all being from films with small budgets. Not that there’s anyone from a bigger film I would have liked to have seen nominated, but still.

As for the Supporting Actress noms, nothing shocking there, though it’s probably Hailee Steinfeld’s to lose. Here’s hoping her career survives the dreaded “child nominee” backlash, and that she has someone smart guiding her script choices post-True Grit.

Aronofsky and the Coens got well-deserved director nods. I wish Debra Granik’s name was on that list as well, but at least they tossed her a bone for screenplay. And what? No Christopher Nolan?

Nothing terribly shocking in the docs nominations. Once Exit Through the Gift Shop made the short list, it seemed likely to make the final cut. I hope it wins. And I guess I am going to have to get off my ass and force myself to watch Restrepo.

Good for The Illusionist for at least getting a nomination … maybe that will interest more parents in watching it with their kids. Okay, probably not, but a girl can dare to dream. If it actually beat out Toy Story 3 that would be probably the biggest shocker of the Oscars this year, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for that to happen.

And yay for the Roadside Attractions team for scoring noms for two films, Winter’s Bone and Biutiful. It’s been interesting to watch as Roadside has stepped up into the awards game with some smart acquisitions. Nice guys all around, and I’m happy for them almost as much as for the films, both of which I loved.

Okay, thanks Academy. Back to Sundance.

Frenzy on the Wall: If I Had a Ballot 2011

Monday, January 24th, 2011

2011 was not a very strong year for movies, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t worthy performances and filmmakers that deserve some attention.  As I do every year,  I’m going to give my picks for the Oscars in the major awards as if I had an actual ballot.  Since the Academy cannot be trusted to make the right decisions and will probably make the safe choice whenever possible, it’s fun to give my perspective.  Needless to say, I don’t see the Academy sending me a ballot anytime soon.

Best Picture

  • The American
  • Black Swan
  • Blue Valentine
  • The Social Network
  • Trash Humpers

I don’t believe in the Academy’s new(ish) rule to expand the category to ten nominees, so I’m going with five.  I think Black Swan and The Social Network are locks for spots and Blue Valentine will most likely make an appearance, but you can forgot about the Academy nominating something as deliberate as The American or something as truly avant-garde as Trash Humpers.  The Academy will pat itself on the back for nominating Black Swan, thinking that it’s an “art” film when it’s really just an amazingly well-done and dense genre picture.

I’m not knocking Black Swan at all – it was my second favorite film of the year – but what the voting bloc views as “avant-garde” and what is actually avant-garde are two entirely different things, so let’s not applaud the Academy just because they nominate a film as complicated as Black Swan; that should be the norm and we should be pushing them to go even further.

Having said that, I think all five of these films are worthy pictures of getting nominated in a field of ten in any given year.  A film like The American or Trash Humpers probably wouldn’t make it on my ballot of five in a stronger year and Blue Valentine is pushing it.  I didn’t catch the latter film until recently and I think it’s strong from start to finish, but that scene at the hospital towards the end really strained credulity.


I just don’t see how a man can go into a hospital and punch someone/wreck the place without security or an orderly coming to help.  People in hospitals are trained to subdue people who may get violent and yet, the man in question is able to walk out of the place and get in his car.  More than that: this was a film that I related to on such a deep level for almost every second of the film until that moment, when I could no longer relate to that character.  It’s a shame, because it’s a perfect film otherwise.

(End Spoilers)

But really, The Social Network is the film to beat and I don’t see anything coming close.  It’s not a revolutionary movie, it’s just a really great story told well.  It’s a profound statement about the times we live in and there are a lot of issues of betrayal, friendship, privacy, etc. that are brought up and explored in the film.  But more important than any of that is that it is exceptionally entertaining on a surface level.  The subtext of the film would not be nearly as interesting if it wasn’t for the fact that the text itself is so funny, poignant, and exciting.  It’s not perfect, but it’s close to it.  If I had any issue with the film, it’s that I wish it was at least an hour longer.  It’s the film of the year and unless the Academy is incredibly short-sighted (and they are), it will win Best Picture.

Best Director

  • Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
  • Anton Corbijn (The American)
  • David Fincher (The Social Network)
  • Harmony Korine (Trash Humpers)
  • Gaspar Noe (Enter the Void)

Ordinarily, I believe that the best five films are the five best directed films.  However, I had to make room for Gaspar Noe for his dynamic achievement with Enter the Void.  It’s not a great film because Noe’s script is a bit too trite, but the way he brings the impossible to life is something to be applauded and rewarded.  Derek Cianfrance did a fantastic job,  though I think it owes a big debt to the films of John Cassavetes, but it’s really not about the job that he did with Blue Valentine, but rather how masterful Noe’s direction was for Enter the Void.

Noe and Korine were the only filmmakers this year that sought to create something that was unique to the screen yet familiar enough to audiences.  I don’t think they were perfect because their natural impulse is to push the audience away rather than invite them in; it’s almost like they created video art rather than cinema (although that argument is a slippery slope and worthy of its own column).  Both Noe and Korine were successful in bringing their eccentric visions to life, but I can’t say they were the best because it was harder for me to engage with their works.

I think Corbijn did a fine job with The American, which has one of the most beautifully melancholic tones and a somnambulant yet charming pace.  The film it reminded me of the most was Anthony Minghella’s fantastic The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Both films are about handsome killers who hide themselves and fall in love, yet can’t escape their pasts; and both films are set in beautiful European cities that are shot lovingly and without rapid movements of the camera.  It’s really a complete 180 from Corbijn’s first feature, Control, and showed that he’s capable of all sorts of genres.  I’m excited to see what he does next.

For me, this award is a race between Aronofsky and Fincher.  These couldn’t be two more different films and both are really indicative of who each of these directors are as filmmakers.  Aronofsky’s Black Swan is hyper and emotional while Fincher’s The Social Network is controlled and tightly focused.  I think both films are touching in their own ways and both have (very different) built-in reasons to keep us from being too heartbroken by what occurs.  But for me, I have to go with what I thought was the better film and that’s The Social Network.  Having seen both multiple times, I don’t think The Social Network loses anything on repeat viewings whereas Black Swan loses the element of surprise that makes it so distressing to watch the first time around.  So, Fincher should – and will – win the award for Best Director.

Best Actor

  • George Clooney (The American)
  • Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole)
  • Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
  • Andy Garcia (City Island)
  • Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine)

To me, it’s a real shame that Aaron Eckhart isn’t getting more love for his performance in John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole.  He and Nicole Kidman are equals in that movie, one performance doesn’t work without the other and both of them smash it out of the park.  Eckhart is understanding and sympathetic and yet flawed and on the verge of making mistakes; what makes his performance (and the film) work so well is that we relate to both his and Kidman’s characters from moment to moment.

Gosling is similarly great and for a lot of the same reasons.  Blue Valentine is also a film about a couple first and foremost and wouldn’t work if the two actors weren’t at the top of their games.  Gosling is given the more difficult role in Blue Valentine because he does quite a few things that might make us detest him, yet he more than makes up for it by playing a character who is understanding at the oddest of times – and Gosling makes it feel earned.  His character is not a particularly intelligent person and we’re given a few hints at why this might be the case, but can sympathize with his longing and with the ways in which he tries to make this relationship work.  Gosling and Eckhart both deserve to be nominated.

Clooney and Garcia are playing two completely different parts (and I just realized at this moment that they played adversaries in the Ocean’s 11 franchise).  Clooney is introverted from beginning to end and is loathe to tell his secrets to anyone.  Garcia is more manic and upbeat, anxious to get his secrets out.  People don’t give Clooney a whole lot of credit because he’s always so cool, calculated and…well, handsome as hell.  But he’s playing a difficult part in The American because so much of it is dependent on the way in which he moves rather than the way in which he speaks.  Garcia’s part in City Island is the exact opposite – it depends so much on how his speech and manner changes from scene to scene depending on who he is around.  Clooney’s part is dramatic and tragic in every sense of the word; Garcia’s part is dramatic in the hysterical sense of the word.  Both actors play their parts as perfectly as could be expected and I’d be willing to bet that if you swapped their roles, we wouldn’t be talking about either movie right now.

Finally there is Jesse Eisenberg who gives the best male performance of the year in The Social Network.  There isn’t enough I can say about this guy, who manages to make the character of Mark Zuckerberg into both villain and hero.  We cringe when he puts down his best friend because we know he’s better than that.  We believe he’s capable of redemption, that he’s not a monster.  The tragedy of the film is that he’s a person that so badly wants to connect with the people around him, that he wants to be popular, and yet he fails at every turn on a human level while succeeding on a business level.  Ultimately, at the end of the film, he’s in the Facebook offices surrounded by people and yet he’s completely alone – headphones on his ears, isolated from everyone and even his best friend can’t jolt him out of this unreality by smashing his laptop because there’s always another computer at his disposal.  Eisenberg convinces us that Zuckerberg is human and so we realte to much of what he does.  If we didn’t,  we wouldn’t be so disgusted by what he does wrong.  He should win Best Actor, but he won’t because the Academy will reward Colin Firth’s stammering performance in The King’s Speech.

(Side note: The King’s Speech is a perfectly decent film but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.  Firth is a great actor, but this is hardly his crowning achievement.  The truth of the matter is that we can see Firth’s acting in every scene, we can see the wheels turning.  William Goldman once said that actors love playing drunks and mentally disabled people because Oscar voters can actually see them acting, knowing that the actor themselves isn’t actually disabled in any way.  But those aren’t the difficult roles at all; rather, the difficult roles are the ones where it’s hard to see the strings.  I think Firth does a good job in The King’s Speech, but I don’t think it was particularly difficult role to pull off.)

Best Actress

  • Madeline Carroll (Flipped)
  • Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
  • Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
  • Rachel Weisz (Agora)
  • Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

It was difficult to leave off Jennifer Lawrence (excellent in Winter’s Bone), Annette Bening (for that one amazing scene in The Kids Are All Right), Zoe Kazan (astounding in The Exploding Girl), Tilda Swinton (heartbreaking in I Am Love), Carey Mulligan (wonderfully understated in Never Let Me Go) and Hailee Steinfeld (for carrying True Grit).  It was a strong year for lead female performances.

However, I couldn’t in good conscience omit young Madeline Carroll’s dynamite turn in Rob Reiner’s Flipped.  I don’t blame you if you haven’t seen the movie because it doesn’t look like it’s going to be nearly as engaging as it is.  It’s a sentimental and saccharine-laced story of young love in early 60s suburbia, but one of the primary reasons why it works so well is Carroll’s charisma.  She’s playing an eccentric character who is irrationally in love with the boy next door.  The only reason the film doesn’t work is because Carroll is so much more magnetic than her counterpart.  She’s so good that it almost ruins the movie because no other part of the film works as well as her performance.  Carroll is someone to watch for.

Rachel Weisz carries Agora in a way that very few actresses could.  She is powerful and dynamic as Hypatia, the mathematician and astrologer in 5th century Alexandria.  There is a fine line that Weisz navigates between being magnanimous and being a martyr, yet Weisz’s Hypatia is noble throughout without us ever feeling like we’re being given a caricature of a decent person in the face of evil.  A lot of the dialogue Weisz has to recite is a bit cumbersome, but she is able to pull it off and make it sound natural.

Nicole Kidman and Michelle Williams are fantastic for all of the reasons I mentioned above in regards to their co-stars.  Kidman does some of the best work of her career in Rabbit Hole, giving us a character who is going through unimaginable pain.  And Williams continues to prove that she might be the best actress of her generation by playing a woman on the precipice of imploding.  What makes both performances so strong is the fact that both actresses make difficult choices in order to make their characters feel real and human.  The disinterested look in Williams’ eyes as she walks past Gosling in the shower “future room” sequence in Blue Valentine or the way Kidman smacks herself in the shoulder in the climactic argument in Rabbit Hole, these are tics that the actors bring to the table that humanize their characters in unexpected ways.

But the performance of the year – male of female – is Natalie Portman in Black Swan.  It’s not just that Portman’s Nina Sayers is so fragile that she’s almost on the verge of tears in almost every scene or that she commits herself so fully to this unhinged performance that is both repulsive and attractive at the same time, it’s that in addition to all of the typical acting traits she exhibits, she is also a convincing dancer.  Let me make that clear: Portman’s dancing ability and the way in which it morphs throughout the film is integral to the development of the character.  When Portman dances at the end of the film and we see that she has finally captured the essence of the “black swan” role, I could tell that there was a difference in the way she danced.  I’m not a ballet scholar, but even I could tell that there was a different emotional tone to her dance at the end of the film.  It wasn’t just in the way she moved – although there was that – but it was in the look in her eyes.  I can’t think of another performance that I’ve seen in recent years that was so dependent on movement and I can’t think of another performer who pulled it off so well.  Portman is in nearly every frame of Black Swan and she doesn’t give a single false note.  Nina Sayers is the Daniel Plainview of this year.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Matt Damon (True Grit)
  • John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone)
  • Kevin Kline (The Extra Man)
  • Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom)
  • Justin Timberlake (The Social Network)

The most difficult thing about this category was figuring out The Social Network situation.  I could easily replace Timberlake with Andrew Garfield or Armie Hammer.  And it was difficult not to put Garfield or Hammer in there in place of Kevin Kline or Matt Damon, as well.  Ultimately, I went with Timberlake in my Social Network slot because the film goes to a completely different level the moment Timberlake steps on the screen.  He is playing the most engaging character, for sure, but he is absolutely mesmerizing.  Timberlake has always been charismatic, but here he uses it to play a character who he is ruthless and villainous; he is the Iago of the film and his paranoia is always bubbling under the surface.

Kline and Damon are both playing oddball characters in their respective films and there are few actors better suited to those sorts of eccentrics than the two of them.  Kline plays a kind of greasy and unhygienic “gentleman” that I had never seen before on a film screen, yet he makes it seem familiar and comfortable.  And Damon plays a cocky and stupidly courageous Texas Ranger.  When writing about their characters, one has to use odd word pairings in order to describe them, like “stupidly courageous” or “unhygienic gentleman;”  for that alone, I think they deserve to be here.

Hawkes and Mendelsohn, for me, gave the two best performances in this category and they are surprisingly similar.  They both play shady criminals who are akin to caged animals, ready to strike at a moment’s notice despite the fact that there aren’t many scenes where they do.  It’s all in the way these actors move, the eerie calm in their eyes.  They are playing different sides of the same coin, to be sure, since Mendelsohn is truly villainous and Hawkes is surprisingly heroic.  However, if Animal Kingdom was from Pope’s perspective, perhaps he would seem more heroic and if Winter’s Bone was from Teardrop’s perspective then he might seem more evil.  I found it hard to shake either of their performances and each had a specific scene that was emblematic.  In Animal Kingdom, there was the scene in which Pope harasses one of his younger brothers and calls him gay and in Winter’s Bone, there’s the scene in which Teardrop gets pulled over by the cop.  In both scenes, we can tell from the performances of Hawkes and Mendelsohn (as well as their co-stars in those scenes) that they are capable of doing absolutely anything in that moment.  We have no freaking idea how these characters are going to react in those scenes and that’s what makes their performances so fantastic.

If I had to pick a winner, though, it would have to be Hawkes.  When the film ended, I wished I was following Teardrop on to wherever the hell he was going.  It haunted me.

(Side note: I know, I left Christian Bale off for The Fighter.  Truthfully, I really liked his performance and thought it was the best Bale has been since Rescue Dawn.  However, similarly to Colin Firth, I think Bale has the showier role and I think quite often he goes over the top.  I think he’s saved somewhat by the fact that Melissa Leo goes so far over the top that Bale’s scenery-chewing doesn’t seem so blatant, yet I found his scenes to be a bit cringe-worthy at times and for the wrong reasons.  He wasn’t terrible, and I’m certainly in the minority, but I didn’t buy into his character whole hog the way I wanted to.)

Best Supporting Actress

  • Greta Gerwig (Greenberg)
  • Rebecca Hall (Please Give)
  • Barbara Hershey (Black Swan)
  • Mila Kunis (Black Swan)
  • Dianne Wiest (Rabbit Hole)

I’m hesitant to even put Gerwig in this category because I think she’s really the lead of the film in so many ways, but I wanted to sneak her in here because she really holds that movie together.  Ben Stiller has the showier title role of the stunted adult, but Gerwig fascinated me because I know that character.  She plays the young hipster who is trying to get by and accidentally (and naively) sleeps around with all the wrong guys, including the title character.  Each of her mistakes is easily forgivable because she’s such a decent person, but despite seeming like she has her head on straight, she continues to see Greenberg, a man who is wrong in every way possible.  I really admired the way Gerwig was willing to do less in each of her scenes, knowing that the audience would be understanding her more because of her quietness.

Rebecca Hall is also playing a character that often goes overlooked by most award-givers: a nice person who does good things.  Hall plays a woman who is kind to her cantankerous grandmother and gives mammograms, often to older women.  She isn’t a dark or dangerous character, but a decent one who strives to be better.  In other words, Hall plays a character like many of us; someone who feels obligated to care for the people that she loves.

The fact that Barbara Hershey and Dianne Wiest gave terrific performances in their respective films should come as no shock to anyone who has followed their careers.  These are two wonderful actresses.  Wiest is quietly heartbroken and devastated throughout Rabbit Hole, hoping to spare her daughters the pain that she has felt.  Hershey, on the other hand, is playing a character who is almost hoping to pass on the pain she felt to her daughter.

For me, the winner of this category has to be Mila Kunis, for many of the same reasons why Portman should win her category.  Black Swan does not work if Kunis is not Portman’s equal and other in the film.  When Kunis shows up in the film, it’s that same feeling as when Timberlake shows up in The Social Network: everything becomes more electric and exciting.  Each scene with Portman and Kunis in Black Swan is ripe with tension and emotion because of the way they play off one another.  Witness that scene in the restaurant.  It’s not just that Kunis eats a burger while Portman eats her salad, it’s that Kunis derives pleasure from her food without much thought while Portman pokes around at her food meekly and painfully.  I’m sure this won’t be the last we see of Kunis in the awards conversation, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t win this year.

The Rest

The column is running a little (okay a lot) long, so here would be my winners in some of the other categories:

Score – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Social Network, hands down, no contest.  One of the best albums of any kind that I heard this year.

Cinematography – Benoit Debie for Enter the Void, for doing things with the camera I never thought possible.

Best Original Screenplay – Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, and Joey Curtis for Blue Valentine.  A great screenplay for what it leaves out.

Best Adapted Screenplay – Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network.  Duh.

Best Documentary – Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop, even if it might be a gigantic joke on all of us.  A fascinating portrait of the rise of graffiti art.

Social Network Added To iTunes Roster For SAG’s 93,000 Members To Poke

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Social Network Added To iTunes Roster For SAG’s 93,000 Members To Poke

Critics Roundup — January 13

Friday, January 14th, 2011

The Green Hornet|||||Yellow
The Dilemma |||Green||Green
Barney’s Version |||Green|Green|Green
A Somewhat Gentle Man |||Yellow||Green
Black Swan|Green|Green|Green|Green|Green
The Fighter|Green|Green||Green|Green
127 Hours |Green|Green|Green|Green|
The Social Network|Yellow|Green|Green|Yellow|Green

As Awards Go, Mr. Fincher Sez Mr. Universe Makes More Sense To Him

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

As Awards Go, Mr. Fincher Sez Mr. Universe Makes More Sense To Him

MW on Movies: Army of Shadows, The Social Network, Hotel Terminus … and more

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011


Army of Shadows (Four Stars)

France; Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969 (Criterion)

Melville’s finest, most real and most personal film was not one of his nonpareil gangster movies, though, as you watch it, it often feels like film noir swallowing up the world. It’s this great grim tale of the WW2 Resistance based on Joseph Kessel’s novel, starring Lino Ventura as the stoic Resistance leader “Gu“ Gerbier, and Simone Signoret, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassell and Serge Reggiani among his comrades and combatants.

Melville adapted the novel, drawing on his own years with the Resistance. The superb cinematography is by Pierre Lhomme. The movie is full of jailbreaks and gun battles and hairsbreadth action scenes, but it’s not done in a typical, sensational, melodramatic manner.

It doesn’t get your motor racing in the usual way. Army of Shadows transpires in a gray world, bleak, chilling, full of the shadows of the title, where night is often falling, or has already fallen. And it’s done in a manner that suggests men (and a woman) who know they will die, who are dead already, but still stubbornly refuse to submit.

Most movie horror is false, however entertaining. Here is true fear, inexorable, deadly, as tight and unsmiling as the face of Gu, sizing up his chances of living another ten minutes. (In French, with English subtitles.)

Extras: Commentary by film historian Ginette Vincendreau; Interviews with Lhomme and editor Françoise Bonnot; Archival footage and interviews with Melville, Kessel, cast members and real Resistance veterans; the short “Jean-Pierre Melville and ‘Army of Shadows‘” (2005); documentary short “Le Journal de la Resistance” (1944); Booklet with two fine essays by Amy Taubin and Robert O. Paxton, and excerpts from Rui Nogueira’s book-length interview “Melville on Melville.”


The Social Network (Four Stars)

U.S.; David Fincher, 2010

The Social Network — David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin‘s high-style, computer-wise tale of flashy programs and dirty deeds behind the 500 million-user Internet hookup phenomenon Facebook (or at least their version of it) — has definitely become this year’s top thing in award-caliber, critic-certified, “must-see” movies, winning end-of-year film prizes like mad, one after the other: from New York, Chicago, L. A., and Boston to, last weekend, the National Society of Film Critics. And it’s the primo generator right now, of Oscar buzz, and all kinds of comparisons to classics from Shakespeare to Citizen Kane. Another Shakespeare? Another Kane? Actually, it’s not.

But all that buzz is fine with me. This is the kind of movie they actually should be spending those ultra-million dollars or so to make in Hollywood. It’s a brainy, jazzy, cool, impudent, contemporary-hip, ultra-savvy, wired-in, high velocity show that races you through the beginnings of Facebook (hatched in a Harvard dorm by an angry sophomore named Mark Zuckerberg), through its mushroom-like growth on the web and resulting big-bucks corporatization, through all the human eggs you had to break to make this computer-hit omelet, and finally (via actual court transcripts), into the flurry of law suits, Rashomon-ish multiple viewpoints and bitter recriminations that almost inevitably exploded when its net worth hit the billions, and there was loot to be grabbed, and lawyers to pay.

The Social Network is almost wickedly entertaining, and it does something most movies don‘t these days. It celebrates smartness. It gives us protagonists who are phenoms and prodigies of brain power rather than of sexiness, guts or toughness. (That’s part of why so many critics like it so much.)

The Mark Zuckerberg of the movie — whose real-life model apparently, and understandably, doesn’t like what he saw here — is a perpetually frowning, utterly irreverent, empathy-challenged, hoodie-clad techno-geek of nearly non-existent social skills and a nearly bankrupt couth account — a low-conscience, seemingly unrepentantly mean number-cruncher and people-user who arrogantly believes he’s smarter than almost everyone else around him, and whose only saving grace may be that he’s actually, maybe, sort-of right.

Then again, what’s “smart?“ Brains, intellect, or genius, maybe should be defined as a bit more than hatching a lucrative concept, writing a great computer program, and putting a billion in your bank account. (The source for Sorkin’s screenplay is a Ben Mezrich book, written almost concurrently, called The Accidental Billionaires. ) Genius may actually be involved with something more scientific, artistic, mystical: with perceiving the ultimate, penetrating the great mysteries of life, reaching the multitudes, touching the soul of the happy few, or even improving the lot of humankind. Shakespeare. Citizen Kane.

But, in the top fillip of The Social Network’s many, many ironies, we see that maybe Mark and his fellow web movers and shakers — and the whole new social-communal wrinkle that they‘ve been chosen to dramatically represent — don’t really “need” things like empathy, sympathy, what we’d call humanity. This guy’s got something more tangible: a dynamite idea, a way to hook up 500 million Facebook “friends,” and get advertisers to cough up truckloads of cash. Ironically (of course), all this is accomplished by a super-dweeb who alienates everybody in person, including his date and the guy who used to be his best friend.

Social Network starts with its very best scene: a fictional encounter in a Cambridge bar between glaring, fast-talking, self-aggrandizing Mark (played to perfection by modern movie geek-in-excelsis Jesse Eisenberg) and an ironic (naturally), knowing brain-babe named (fictitiously but appropriately) Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). Mark is trying to impress Erica, his current serial-date, with his I. Q., his talk-back panache, and his possible impending campus social triumphs, maybe election to the “final club.” He wants to wow her with sheer words-a-minute. In the dim, chatty little bar where it looks like so many quick hot fucks have been hatched, he keeps trying to drown her in verbiage, lashing back at her parries, pulling out his stud credentials and his coitus curriculum vita.

Her scathing response is to tell him that he may think she’s breaking up with him now because he’s a geek, but it’s actually because he‘s an asshole.

Incensed, he stalks out of the bar, and back to his dorm room — and hurls himself into a classic miffed geek’s techno-revenge. Mark disses Erica on-line, hacks into the Harvard dorm files, appropriates the girl student photos and sets up a nasty little website called FaceMash, in which horny losers or sex bullies, or just plain lonely guys, like himself, get to ogle the photos and rate who’s hot and who’s not. This site proves so popular, it crashes the university’s computer system. Hot stuff? Actually, it’s not.

The exploit also draws flack from the university, as well as the attention of two well-connected Harvard student society, twins, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss — played by the very well-connected 6’5” actor Armie Hammer, with the help of Fincher’s digital aces and actor/body double Josh Pence. The Winklevosses, and their business guy Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) want Mark to create a Harvard variant on other popular student computer social networks of the day at other colleges. He agrees, then joins with his best (maybe only) friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), to start planning and programming what eventually became, without the Winklevosses, Facebook.

Not so fast. The Winklevosses sued. Others sued. Eventually, even best buddy Eduardo sued — after he got slicked out of his top CEO slot upon the arrival of just the kind of snazzy techno-stud who’d appeal to a jilted geek like Mark: Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). Parker, the guy behind Napster, nudges out Eduardo after offering a priceless suggestion (changing the name “The Facebook” to simply “Facebook”) and bringing a promise of dough, babes, lines of coke, incredible success and magnums of champagne (not necessarily in that order), luring Mark to Palo Alto. The real Sean Parker apparently doesn’t like his film portrayal here either. A shame. After this movie, for a while, he seemed to me like a mix of the best of Mother Theresa, Elvis, Warren Buffet and Spider-Man. (Just kidding. Actually, he’s not.)

All that suggests the litigious format in which we get most of the rest of the story: flashback-laced dramatizations of the college and court hearings spouting up around the various suits, charges and counter-charges ignited by all that rancor and all that moola. Who’s lying? Who’s right? Who knows? Who cares? As with the current movie Howl, which mined high drama and bawdy comedy out of the Allen Ginsberg “Howl” obscenity trial transcripts, The Social Network often uses actual court transcripts as its dialogue source, which means we may be hearing actual lies — or actual truth. The important thing though, is that it’s all actually entertaining.

With Sorkin’s dialogue and transcripts crackling like “His Girl Friday” on fire, and the revelations (true or made-up) popping like a private eye’s unvarnished notes, and with every scene steeped in director Fincher‘s trademark fancy menacing noir moodiness, the rest of “Social Network” proves definitively that you don’t have to pull a gun to thrill an audience.

It’s never quite as entertaining though, as that first, terrific, entirely fictional kiss-off scene in the bar. Watching The Social Network and reading the sometimes extravagant comparisons it’s generated to Citizen Kane and Shakespeare, not to mention Paddy Chayefsky, Twelve Angry Geeks, and John Hughes, I began to wonder if the current movie strategy of presenting every fact-derived movie drama, fictionalized or not, with the real names of real people — like Shakespeare’s Holinshed-fed historical plays, but not like Kane, which turned William Randolph Hearst into Charles Foster Kane, Marion Davies into Susan Alexander, and mixed Hearst’s history promiscuously with Welles’ own — isn‘t actually more trouble than it‘s worth.

We know, by now, that most docu-dramas mix fact with fiction, memoir with fantasy, and we’re aware that a movie like “The Social Network” is not the evening news — though actually, it’s probably more accurate, clear-eyed and less biased than Fox. So why not adopt Kane’s tactics?

I guess it’s because Zuckerberg is a star, and Facebook is a big brand name, and that’s part of how you sell movies. But I actually expected something more Kane-ian than what I got — expected to see Sorkin and Fincher mix more of the speed, snap and fact-drenched format of the Internet with their classic rapid-fire Hollywood social-dramatic story-telling. Maybe a quick bio of every character, a brisk low-down on every new situation, lots of background, lots of updates, lots of zipping back and forth. Whiz. Bang. But though “The Social Network” does some of that, it’s pleasantly old-fashioned in some ways. Happiest of all is its dependence on Sorkin’s dialogue, and on the high quality acting of its absolutely zero-cool cast.

Eisenberg makes Zuckerberg both pathetic and a little scary, never more so than in the show’s first scene and last shots — and he also makes the guy believably brilliant, a convincing innovator. Mara comes up with one of the ten greatest squelch scenes in movie history. (Unhappily she sort of vanishes from the movie afterwards, and so does Zuckerberg’s sex life, a mistake.)

Garfield makes you feel for a CEO, quite an achievement these days. I nominate Timberlake for “Bad Influence of the Year“ honors. Hammer pulls off a tour de force of digital twinnery; maybe he should now play Indiana‘s 6’5” Van Arsdales, Tom and Dick, in the ultimate inspirational tall twin sports bio. (Just kidding; he did a super job.) Doug Urbanski is believably mean and revoltingly snobbish, as then-Harvard president, Larry Summers. As Eduardo’s girlfriend Christy, Brenda Song is a song, and so is Dakota Johnson as Amelia.

Network director David Fincher seemed to give vent to almost every surrealist, artsy, fantastic impulse he had, when he put Brad Pitt, in Benjamin Button in reverse-rewind — and he’s been plunging us into psychological dread and horror ever since 1992‘s Alien3. Fincher is a real movie stylist, and Fight Club and Benjamin Button are both about as well-visualized as a modern movie can be. But here, Fincher takes a step back, lets Sorkin and the script and actors take over more. It shows how much easier it makes a director’s job when he has good material.

Something bothers me about Social Network though, and I’m not just trying to be perverse, and pick on a favorite. Social Network deserves its plaudits, deserves all these prose-poems of aesthetic orgasm it’s been getting. It’s a hell of a show. But Mark needs more of a back-story, especially a family back-story. Family and class count heavy in many success stories, as Armie Hammer would be the first to tell you. I think it’s wrong to put Mark on his own. Also, the payoff doesn’t seem as exciting to me as the buildup, the climax less of a knockout than I wanted, especially from any movie described by some as the new Kane. Citizen Kane could eat this movie for lunch. That’s okay. Kane cuts most other movies down to size as well, even great ones.

The Internet has changed us though, and one of the major alterations of consciousness is that these screens and their communications make us feel we’re not alone, when we are — and then realize that actually, we’re never alone. Ideas and words keep us going; all the ideas, and all the people out there are a great pool in which we can all swim.

The Social Network, almost a great movie, tells us that people and society have been changed by the computer age, in those ways and others — and also that, in some destructive ways, they’re still the same. It tells us implicitly that empathy matters more than millions of friends. But though that conclusion edifies and entertains, it doesn’t really dazzle us, or blind us with the light.

And I can’t help feeling that a lot of the audience may still misinterpret Mark the way an older audience misread and made a hero of “Wall Street‘s” “Greed is Good” huckster prince Gordon Gekko — that they’ll make more of a hero than an anti-hero of “Mark,“ because he’s smart, because he’s rich. Sorkin actually was offered and turned down the “Wall Street Money Never Sleeps” assignment, and maybe he was worried by that possibility of Gekko taking over again. In a society that worships moola as much as ours, it’s an occupational hazard.

This movie doesn’t entirely escape the pitfalls of success, and the perception of success, though it certainly tries to. For some, Social Network will be a cool show about a kid who made a billion. Actually, it’s not.

Extras: Commentary by Fincher; Commentary by Sorkin and the cast.


Hotel Terminus (Four Stars)

France: Marcel Ophuls, 1988 (Icarus)

Hotel Terminus gives us a look at a human monster — at his inescapable cruelty and undeniable monstrousness, and at his sometimes troubling humanity.

In the course of Marcel Ophuls’ classic four and a half hour documentary, Ophuls casts a cool, wide-open eye on the notorious WWII Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie — the bad cop who ruled Lyon, his slice of Vichy, with an iron fist, sent many Jews and Resistance fighters to their deaths, and, after the war, was a wanted fugitive for decades. Then, in the ‘80s, Barbie was extradited from his long time hiding place in Bolivia and brought back to France for trial.

Ophuls, a calm and suave, occasionally impatient, but relentless interrogator, never confronts Barbie directly; a prisoner now himself, and out of reach. But Ophuls interviews numerous people who knew and know Barbie (or “Sonny,“ as his boyhood friends called him) during his years of infamy: victims, witnesses, officials petty and large, lawyers, spies, French, Americans, Germans, ex-Resistance fighters, possible collaborators, rationalizers who want us to forget the past and fierce critics and enemies who will obviously never forget it.

The movie is shot as a series of conversations, abetted by archive material: a mystery story with Ophuls as the detective and the audience as his Watsons. And it unfolds so steadily, so quietly, with such endlessly inquisitive assurance, that its many moments of truth become all the more wrenching.

One of the most interesting of the Hotel Terminus interviewees is with Jacques Verges, Barbie’s unflappable, calm Euro-Asian defense lawyer — and an ex-leftist and supporter of the Algerian revolution. Another is Rene Hardy, the French Resistance leader and possible turncoat, suspected by his old colleagues or delivering his legendary Resistance comrade Jean Moulin to Barbie — and a man whom we see now near the end of his life, defending himself, recalling a deadly past that once gave meaning to that life, and now perhaps condemns it.

Hardy was the author who wrote the WWII novel Bitter Victory, about a cowardly officer who takes credit wrongfully for an act of heroism — and he also co-wrote the screenplay of Nicholas Ray’s movie adaptation, which starred Richard Burton and, as the duplicitous officer, Curt Jurgens. (Bitter Victory is the film that inspired the young French critic Jean-Luc Godard to say “Truth is blinding…and the cinema is Nicholas Ray.“)

The movie grips you throughout, for all 267 minutes. Barbie himself becomes, in the course of the film’s many revelations, a perfect example of the bourgeois beast and assassin, the “good family man” and cold-blooded functionary who tortures and murders for a living — and who is good at his job.

Unhappily, there are men, and women, like this, around us still, and only the fact that the fascists and killers aren’t in charge prevents them from plying their trade. It’s not a job perhaps that some of them would have chosen, or that they like. But, like Klaus Barbie, they do it. They do it. (This film has been available from Icarus for a while; it‘s an essential artifact of the last century‘s horrors.) (In French, with English subtitles.)



The Films of Rita Hayworth

U.S.: Various Directors, 1944-53 (Columbia)

She was so beautiful she made your hair stand on end, made your heart race, made your dreams blaze up.


One of the two great pin-up girls of World War II, in the famous shot that shows her kneeling in lingerie on a bed, she adorned the bunks and planes and knapsacks of many a soldier, sailor or flier, and even the A-bomb dropped on Bikini. (The other supreme pin-up, of course, was Betty Grable in a swim suit, bottom jutting, smiling over one shoulder.) Rita was the Goddess of Columbia in the ‘40s: a tall, leggy, auburn-haired musical deity who didn‘t sing, but danced up a storm, and who cared anyway?

She was born Margaret Cameron (“Rita”) Cansino in Brooklyn. But she became Rita Hayworth of Hollywood. You Were Never Lovelier was the title of one of her Columbia hits, and it fit her. She married a businessman named Edward Judson, who helped make her famous. Then she married Orson Welles (who put her, blonde, in the film noir flop-turned-classic The Lady from Shanghai) and Aly Khan, the millionaire Muslim playboy, who made her a world-wide tabloid sensation, and then a producer named James Hill, who put her in Separate Tables.

She grew old — all Goddesses grow old, if they‘re lucky — but she was still beautiful.

The movies grew less frequent. She began to forget her lines. She had Alzheimer’s. She died, at 68. Rita…

But all Hollywood Goddesses can come back, can live again. On screens. In our dreams. On TV. And so does Rita in at least two films in this box set, both directed by Charles Vidor: in Gilda, which was another great noir and her all-time greatest role, and in Cover Girl where she and Gene Kelly whirl and embrace, immortal in dancing shoes.
So don’t cry for Rita. Don’t feel bad. Wherever she is, she’ll always be smiling at us, kneeling on that bed, looking brazenly and sweetly from the wall of that bunk of that proud WWII sailor — who knows he‘s got the prettiest girl in the world, staring down at him.

Included: Cover Girl (U.S.; Charles Vidor, 1944) Three and a Half Stars. The movie that made Rita Rita. She’s a gorgeous show dancer, partner of Gene Kelly and Phil Silvers, who’s picked as a star cover girl (the movie is also full of real ones) and beckoned by bright lights and rich suitors (Lee Bowman, Otto Kruger) and wise-cracking dames (Eve Arden, natch.)

Kelly and his young choreographer-partner Stanley Donen did the dances, which includes one number in the street that strongly suggests the later Singing in the Rain (cop and all) and another that’s an all-time Kelly classic: the great, hair-raising, double-exposed “Alter Ego Ballet,“ where Gene dances with himself. (He never had a better partner, not even Rita or Fred.)

Tonight and Every Night (U.S.; Victor Saville, 1945) Two and a Half Stars. Based on the real-life story of the Windmill, the famous London music hall theatre that never closed during the Blitz, this considerably altered version has plenty of dancing space for Rita. With Janet Blair, Bowman, and Florence Bates.

Gilda (U.S.; Vidor, 1945) Three and a Half Stars. Rita’s all-time peak came when she strutted on stage in a Buenos Aires casino/night club in a black clinging gown and told the crowd — including bitter, love struck casino manager Glenn Ford, and suave, evil casino owner (and her husband) George Macready — to “Put the Blame on Mame.” Wow! Rita at her sultriest and most goddess-y, Ford at his most neurotically masculine, Macready in what may (as much as Paths of Glory) be the ultimate George Macready performance.

This is the greatest Rita Hayworth movie. And, like Rita’s Welles outing in Lady from Shanghai, it might be one of the greatest noirs, if it didn’t have that weird ending where Macready goes away for a while and the plot stalls. In the end, who cares? And who cares if she’s dubbed? She’s a knockout. This is Rita, sex, noir, the movies. And Mame, of course…

Miss Sadie Thompson (U.S.: Curtis Bernhardt, 1953) Three Stars. Of the three famous movie versions of W. Somerset Maugham’s classic South Seas Island immorality play Rain — Raoul Walsh’s 1928 silent Sadie Thompson with Gloria Swanson, Lionel Barrymore and Walsh himself, as lusty hooker Sadie, the obsessed preacher and Sadie’s sailor-lover, Lewis Milestone’s 1932 Rain, with Joan Crawford, Walter Huston and William Gargan, and this one, with Rita, Jose Ferrer and Aldo Ray — this may be the least, although it’s robust, racy and entertaining. But the story always seems to play well, and it does once again.

Salome (U.S.: William Dieterle, 1952) Two Stars. Put the blame on Salome. As played by Rita, she’s a hip-swinging doll. Stewart Granger’s soldier is noble and Roman. Charles Laughton‘s Herod is horny and hammy old king. Judith Anderson as his wife, is a pit of evil. And Alan Badel as John the Baptist has a head for framing. You‘ll be surprised here at who finally demands that Herod give them the head of John the Baptist, or give head to John the Baptist or Salome, or whatever.

Somebody thought The Dance of the Seven Veils would be good Hayworth material (you won’t believe that when you see it, either), and the result was this biblical clunker. Don’t let the cast and director fool you. It’s truly bad.

Extras: Hayworth talks by Marty Scorsese (on Gilda), Baz Luhrmann (on Cover Girl and Gilda), and Patricia Clarkson (on Miss Sadie Thompson and Tonight and Every Night. All good. Nobody had guts enough to speak up for Salome, but I hear if you play it backwards, you’ll hear Charles Laughton saying “John the Baptist is dead.” .



LENNONYC (Three Stars)

U.S.: Michael Epstein, 2010 (American Masters/New Video)

John Lennon and Yoko Ono in New York City in the ’70s, and their fight to stay here, in the U. S., despite a government (the Nixon Administration and their heirs) that seemed hell-bent on booting them out. Very pro-John of course, but what‘s wrong with that? A sad story, well-told, from the breakup of the Beatles (a tragedy too, as far as I’m concerned) to the swan song of “Double Fantasy.”

The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story (Three Stars)

U.S.: Jeffrey C. Sherman, Gregory V. Sherman, 2010 (Walt Disney)

The strange family saga of Robert and Richard Sherman, two brothers who supplied words (Bob) and music (Dick) to some of the most joyous and well-liked family pop tunes ever, including the ebullient score (“Spoonful of Sugar,” “Jolly Holiday,” “Feed the Birds” and the Oscar-winning Chim-Chim-Cheree“) to Disney’s “Mary Poppins” — who were beloved pets of walt himself, but who throughout their lives, didn’t jell emotionally and often couldn’t get along — and were eased out by the Disney brass that immediately followed Walt’s death. Directed by two more Sherman boys, Jeff and Greg, it’s an oddly moving show, full of beguiling pop history.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (Three Stars)

U.S.: Byron Haskin, 1964 (Criterion).

The special effects are pretty cheesy — lovably so — but this engrossing, sometimes touching red planet translation of Daniel Defoe’s castaway classic, by director Byron (The War of the Worlds) Haskin and writer Ib (The Angry Red Planet) Melchoir, is one of the more science-savvy and smart of the pre-2001 science fiction epics.

Paul Mantee stalwartly plays Commander Kit Draper, who crash-lands on mars with Mona the monkey and faces worse problems than Crusoe, including the seeming lack of oxygen and water and the presence of marauding space ships. Adam (Batman) West has a scary scene as Kit’s co-pilot, Dan McReady, and Vic Lundin is this movie’s Friday, a space man slave who looks like an Inca warrior from the TV Star Trek. Shot in Death Valley and on soundstages, it nevertheless looks great — except for those damn attacking space ships.

Extras: Commentary by screenwriter Ib Melchoir, Mantee and others; audio interview with Haskin; featurettes, screenplay excerpts, music video, trailer.
(Criterion Collection)

The DVD Wrap: The Social Network, Army of Shadows, Dances with Wolves, Raging Bull … and more

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

The Social Network: Blu-ray

Depending upon whom one asks, Facebook is 1) 500 million friends and friends of friends who pretend to care desperately about their friends’ pets and bowel movements (or is that Twitter?), 2) a convenient way for parents to spy on their kids while they’re away at college, or 3) a massive data base of potential customers that can be sold to companies too cheap to create one of their own.

Facebook’s unlikely evolution from brainchild of an amoral Ivy League dweeb to multibillion-dollar phenomenon is the focus of Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher’s wonderfully entertaining movie, The Social Network. In a rare Hollywood trifecta, the film is sitting on top of most year-end critics’ polls; odds-on favorite to win a bushel basket full of Academy Awards; and already in the black. While it’s true Social Network has yet to pass the $100-million barrier at the box office, it cost half that to make and stands to make a killing in DVD and Blu-ray.

Apart from the presence of Sorkin and Fincher’s names in the credits, it was nearly impossible six months ago to imagine that anyone could make a film about Facebook that was even remotely amusing … interesting, sure; entertaining, no. As stories regarding addictions go, networking is about as provocative as caffeine and a million times less stimulating. After all, Facebook’s bedrock appeal was to collegians desperate for a tool that would allow them to separate the wheat from the chaff of Boston’s dating pool. It spread like wildfire from one Ivy League school to another and, nearly as fast, to all manner of public and private institutions.

Eventually, the network would be co-opted by large corporations and Boomer parents, but that’s another story altogether. Sorkin chose to forgo all the boring “likes” and cutesy photos of dogs and babies, in favor of sex, drugs and cutthroat litigation. It allowed Fincher to re-imagine dusty old Harvard as a breeding ground for potential Fight Club franchisees and, perhaps, the odd serial killer. At other times, Social Network resembles Wall Street in a beanie.

As drawn here, Faceback founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is the kind of exceedingly bright, if socially inept kid who craves acceptance by the cool guys, but on his own merits. He’s not worldly enough to appreciate the fact that, at Harvard, the game is fixed from Day One and the only way dweebs can escape their caste is to provide the sons of privilege with something they value: money, prestige or a hard-on. Math-wiz Zuckerberg caught the attention of the BMOC Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer), whose idea for an Internet-based date-screening service required the algorithms only he could provide.

When Zuckerberg’s hopes for advancement in the college’s social whirl are dashed, he decides to forge ahead on his own with Facebook, ignoring any legal niceties. By the time the full weight of the American judicial system begins falling on Zuckerberg’s shoulders, Sorkin and Fincher already have the audience hooked. The movie’s second half is dominated by the presence of former Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), a force as dark and charismatic as Gordon Gekko. It’s only in comparison to the haughtiness of the twins and ruthlessness behavior of Parker that we sympathize with Zuckerberg, whose own bad behavior we’d like to blame on naiveté … but can’t.

The Blu-ray edition of The Social Network benefits from Fincher’s decision to shoot digitally. It looks and sounds great, and the making-of material in the two-disc set is generous. On the first disc are two separate commentary tracks, one with Fincher alone and the second with Sorkin and cast members. The second disc adds the four-part “How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook?; discussions with Fincher and DP Jeff Cronenweth, editors Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter and Ren Klyce, and musicians Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross; a comparison of music that was scrapped from the soundtrack with the piece that made the final cut; “Swarmatron,” in which Reznor introduces viewers to one of the unique instruments that played a critical role in the film’s soundtrack; and a multi-angle breakdown of shots used in the Ruby Skye VIP Room sequence.


Army of Shadows: Blu-ray: Criterion Collection

Lots of people thought critics were up to their usual high-brow tricks when they anointed Jean-Pierre Melville’s 37-year-old wartime thriller, Army of Shadows, one of the top films of 2006. That was it was French, subtitled and shot in black-and-white only made readers that much more suspicious. When the fully restored adaptation of Joseph Kessel’s 1943 novel finally made the rounds of American arthouses and debuted months later on DVD, Army of Shadows was widely acknowledged as the masterpiece critics claimed it to be. Now that it’s arrived in Blu-ray from Criterion Collection, there’s no reason for mainstream audiences not to embrace it, as well.

The “shadows” refer to the French Resistance fighters who, in 1942, were seriously outmanned by Vichy stooges and Gestapo thugs. The movement had yet to develop to the point where anyone outside a very small circle of like-minded people could be trusted with knowledge of their underground activities. It explains why the portrait painted Melville, himself a Resistance fighter, was so dark and devoid of broad heroic gestures. Unlike other World War II movies, in which partisans are shown blowing up railroad tracks and outfoxing stupid Nazis, Army of Shadows is far more a psychological thriller.

While even the most basic operations carry with them the threat of torture, at least, Melville also makes palpable the sense of isolation and despair that comes from being forced into employing the same tactics against traitors as the Nazis would use against them. As bleak as it sometimes feels, though, Army of Shadows is as exciting as it is illuminating.

The leader of the resistance fighters, Phillipe Gerbier, is portrayed by Lino Ventura, who looks more like an accountant or lawyer than a soldier. Certainly, he doesn’t resemble a man nimble enough to escape capture several times. Simone Signoret is unforgettable as Mathilde, a woman who can sneak into places a man couldn’t and knows she would face the same torture if arrested. Army of Shadows wasn’t shown in American and many other markets until 2006. In fact, a controversy in France over the favorable portrayal of the exiled Charles De Gaulle helped derail the film’s success upon its release in turbulent 1969.

The pristine Criterion Blu-ray adds commentary by film historian Ginette Vincendeau; interviews with cinematographer Pierre Lhomme and editor Francoise Bonnot; a restoration demonstration by Lhomme; on-set footage and excerpts from archival interviews; a profile of Melville, “L’armee des ombres”; the 1944 documentary “Le journal de la Resistance”; an interview with Simone Signoret and Lucie Aubrac, who was an inspiration for Mathilde; “Ouvrez les guillemets,” excerpts from an episode of the popular French television series in which former members of the Resistance recall their activities; theatrical trailers; and a booklet featuring essays and an interview with Melville.


Dances with Wolves: 20th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
Raging Bull: 30th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray

For all the abuse heaped upon Kevin Costner, there’s no questioning his willingness to take great chances as an actor, director and producer. At a time when his handlers would have been content to see him reprise romantic lead roles in thrillers and comedies about over-the-hill jocks, Costner elected to throw the dice on a three-hour epic western. Apart from the odd “revisionist” or Brat Pack oater, the genre was dead. In addition to telling a remarkable story, though, the actor/producer/star of Dances With Wolves endeavored to create something in which Native American actors could inhabit key roles and 25 percent of the dialogue would be in Lakota, a language not even co-star Graham Greene understood.

Costner’s future projects would be greeted with bouquets and brickbats almost in equal measure, but Dances stood alone as a gamble that paid off for everyone. Within the western genre, he would go to appear as the title character in Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp; star in, co-produce and direct the splendid Open Range; and produce the expansive multi-part documentary on Native Americans, 500 Nations. There’s a sequel to Dances With Wolves on the drawing boards, but John Dunbar reportedly will be played by Viggo Mortensen.

The “20th Anniversary Edition” presents the extended cut, with 50 minutes of extra footage, in hi-def and 7.1 audio; commentaries by Costner and producer Jim Wilson, and director of photography Dean Semler and editor Neil Travis; the “in-feature experiences,” “Military Rank and Social Hierarchy Guide” and “Real History or Movie Make-Believe?”; backgrounders “A Day in the Life on the Western Frontier,” the original “Making of ‘Dances With Wolves’” and “The Creation of an Epic: A Retrospective Documentary”; the original music video, featuring music by John Barry; a photo montage with introduction by Ben Glass; poster gallery; theatrical trailer; and TV spots.

Unlike westerns, boxing movies have never gone out of favor with audiences or Oscar voters, and Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull is arguably the greatest of them all. In one of his signature roles, Robert De Niro played the brilliant, if self-destructive pugilist Jake LaMotta in the ring, at home and into retirement. Shot in crystalline black-and-white, Scorsese’s cameras put us in the ring with LaMotta and his opponents, demanding we experience the brutality of the sport at close range and with a clear understanding of the fighter’s primal motivations, including jealousy and blind rage.

Already released once on Blu-ray, the “30th Anniversary Edition” adds the featurettes “Marty & Bobby,” “Raging Bull: Reflections on a Classic,” “Remembering Jake,” “Marty on Film” and Cathy Moriarty’s appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” in 1981. It retains “Raging Bull: Fight Night,” “The Bronx Bull,” “DeNiro vs. LaMotta,” “LaMotta Defends Title” and the commentaries.


The Narnia Code

If anyone’s terribly disappointed that box-office tallies for the second and third chapters of the on-going Chronicles of Narnia series haven’t matched those for the 2005 original, it’s probably limited to producers who shelled out more than $150 million on each picture. The kids who comprise the target audience for the fantasy/adventure series – adapted from C.S. Lewis’ seven novels for children – certainly haven’t minded returning to the magical kingdom. The budgets didn’t seem unreasonable at the time, I suppose.

The 2009 BBC documentary, The Narnia Code, argues that Lewis’ books were informed not only by his embracing of Christianity and desire to entertain young readers, but also his research into medieval astrology. The key to Dr. Michael Ward’s theory is Lewis’ poem, “The Planets,” in which references to themes in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are echoed. The DVD adds 45 minutes of related material.


Soul Kittens Cabaret

Tyler Perry became famous for making the leap from producing broadly comic and deliberately heart-tugging stage productions for niche “urban audiences,” to successfully repackaging film adaptations of the same shows for the same audience. In the face of uniformly negative reviews and intellectual condemnation, Perry guessed correctly that fans of Madea and other, more spiritually challenged characters, would be welcomed as much on the silver screen as the boards of the “chitlin’ circuit.”

His first two films – Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Madea’s Family Reunion — grossed a stunning $50 million and $65 million respectively. Soul Kittens Cabaret won’t do nearly as well, if only because Nicci Gilbert’s musical is going straight from the stage to DVD, and it’s nowhere near as a polished an entertainment. Indeed, it often looks as if someone pointed a video camera at the stage from various angles and left it at that. It needed to be edited down to movie length and the performances are far too stage-bound.

That said, targeted viewers might not mind the 147-minute experience, considering the presence of “American Idol” veteran Fantasia Barrino; the Notorious B.I.G.’s baby-mama, Faith Evans; and Gilbert, former lead singer of Brownstone.

Soul Kittens Cabaret chronicles the journeys of seven women as they attempt to come to grips with the problems usually associated with life in the spotlight. Here, the healing plays out at a Detroit nightclub on the rebound. Barrino plays the women’s Good Conscience, while Evans is her polar opposite. The musical, dance and acting skills of the women entertainers are complemented by the talents of a chorus of handsome young men.


The Hessen Conspiracy

Billy Zane, who makes movies like Carter used to make Little Liver Pills, gets to look dapper in both an army uniform and tuxedo in The Hessen Conspiracy (a.k.a., The Hessen Affair).

In the wake of the Allied victory in World War II, Zane’s Col. Jack Durant is an American colonel, who, while bivouacked in a German castle, stumbles upon a cache of jewels that once belonged to the royal family. Durant conspires with a beautiful American lieutenant, Kathleen Nash (Lynn Renee), to smuggle the crown jewels into the United States, and, then, decides to steal them back from the mobsters with whom they were entrusted.

The scheme might have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for the intercession of a German princess, who needs the gems for the wedding of her brother to another royal personage. Because the prince had supported the Allied cause, American authorities are anxious to return the jewels to their rightful owner. The post-war setting allows director Paul Breuls to frame the action as a noir thriller. Nicholas Meyer’s name on the screenplay adds luster to the straight-to-DVD story.


Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey
Masterpiece Contemporary: Framed
Great Performances: Macbeth
Nature: A Murder of Crows

Lovers of Upstairs, Downstairs will be ecstatic to find Downton Abbey playing on their local PBS station or on the new-releases shelves in video stores. As scripted and produced by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, The Young Victoria), the seven-part “Masterpiece Classic” mini-series chronicles the affairs of the Dowager Countess of Grantham (played with imperious precision by Maggie Smith), her privileged family and a dozen of their servants, who range from impeccably loyal to downright frightening.

As World War I approaches, the matriarch’s son, Lord Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) and American daughter-in-law (Elizabeth McGovern) face the prospect of having their vast wealth and property re-distributed to a distant cousin, the only male heir in the family. The Crawleys’ son was killed aboard the Titanic, leaving a gap that couldn’t legally be filled by one of his three feuding daughters. Meanwhile, the servants are unsettled by the surprise appearance of a valet hired from outside the clan by Crawley.

The daughters could hardly be any more different from each other. One is sexually adventurous, another snooty and the third, a suffragette. Their troubles wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans if it weren’t for the fine ensemble cast and their ability to make us care about family squabbles and back-stabbing employees. Many viewers will conclude that the real star of the series is the mansion itself, magnificent Highclere Castle, in Hampshire. If something like that isn’t worth fighting to keep, nothing is. The DVD represents the original un-edited UK version of the program. It includes a pair of background features.

The charming romantic comedy, Framed, is a co-production of the BBC and PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre Contemporary series. It imagines what might happen if a flood caused by obsolete plumbing threatened the treasures being housed in the National Gallery. Instead of panicking, curator Quentin Lester (Trevor Eve) borrows a page from World War II history books for a solution.

To escape the Blitz, dozens of valuable paintings were boxed and shipped by truck to a slate mine in Wales. It worked once, so why not? Given the possibility of terrorist action during the transfer, security officials are put on high alert. On television, there’s nothing quite as insecure as a secret being kept from the residents of a tiny village. In Framed, it’s the remote Welsh town of Manod. Before the curator is free to breathe a sigh of relief over the successful transfer, though, locals deduce there’s art in them thar’ hills.

Before long, teacher Angharad Stannard (Eve Myles) has Lester hosting art-history lessons for her students and adults in the community. Normally, this sort of a scenario wouldn’t offer enough entertainment to fill the average British sitcom, let alone a movie. Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, a frequent collaborator with Michael Winterbottom, introduces storylines involving an amusing heist and celebration the community’s naïve artists. There’s nothing here the whole family couldn’t enjoy together.

Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood star in Rupert Goold’s updating of Macbeth under the BBC/PBS “Great Performances” banner. This time around, the setting is post-World War II Eastern Europe, where treachery and paranoia have reached epidemic levels. The period and place lend themselves well to the “Scottish Play,” whose bleak tone matches the emotional climate of most countries trapped behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. Lady Macbeth could stand her own against Stalin, certainly. Both of the lead actors are terrific. Stewart has been nominated for a 2011 SAG Award for his portrayal of the overly ambitious king.

It would be difficult to imagine a timelier documentary than A Murder of Crows, part of PBS’ “Nature” series. At a time, when flocks of birds literally are falling from the skies in Arkansas and other places, it’s important to understand just how fragile is the environment for crows, even in the best of times. In fact, only 40 percent of hatchlings born in the wild make it to their first year, while 50 percent of the survivors don’t last a second year. The research is provided by ornithologists from the University of Washington in Seattle and Austria’s Konrad Lorenze Institut. That crows are among the most evolved of birds makes the death rate only that much more alarming.

Other fascinating new releases from PBS: “Secrets of the Dead: Silver Pharaoh”; “Frontline: Death by Fire” and “Frontline: the Spill”; “Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of WWII”; and “Slave Ship Mutiny.”


Love Hurts
The Freebie

Among the handful of stock male characters available for middle-age actors to play these days is the recently divorced father too emotionally damaged to do anything but feel sorry for himself. In Love Hurts, Richard Grant plays the grieving father and Carrie-Anne Moss the former wife. (And, yes, you’d grieve, too, in the absence of Moss.)

Fortunately for Ben, he has a 17-year-old son willing to arrange a makeover for his dear old dad, who takes to it like a duck to water. Suddenly, Ben is overflowing with vim and vitality, while everyone else struggles to make sense of his nutty behavior. It’s an old story, far better told in previous versions. Besides Moss, the familiar cast includes Jenna Elfman, Julia Voth, Yvonne Zima, Camryn Mannheim, Janeane Garofalo and a bunch of Pretty Young Things.

As the title implies, The Freebie describes what happens when a bored yuppie couple decides to spice up their non-existent sex lives by setting aside a night in which cheating not only is permitted, but it’s also encouraged. Despite the scarcity of orgasms, Annie (Katie Aselton) and Darren (Dax Shepard) seem to be perfectly compatible. A couple’s special at a Nevada brothel probably would have been a better investment than wasting time on a couple of fitful hookups, but that would have been too smart and easy. Ecstasy might have worked the same miracle, without involving innocent bystanders.

What Aselton, who also directed and co-wrote The Freebie, is doing with a self-absorbed dweeb like Shepard is a mystery to me. Knowing that she has ties to the mumblecore crowd explains why the largely improvised dialogue feels so limp and unstructured. Sometimes, a script is just what a picture needs to be successful.


Funny or Die Presents: Season One
Top Shot: The Complete Season One
Universe: Complete Season 5: Blu-ray
Criss Angel: Mindfreak: Season 6
Greek: Chapter Five: The Complete Third Season
ER: The Complete Fourteenth Season

HBO raided the Internet for its sketch-comedy series, Funny or Die Presents. In its interactive version, followers submit short comic sketches to be graded by other followers. If the bit isn’t deemed funny, it’s killed … simple as that. The good ones are allowed to live for future consumption by browsers. The HBO iteration doesn’t allow for voting, one way or the other. I assume, perhaps incorrectly, the bits that made Funny or Die Presents are the cream of the crop.

The recurring titles include “Space Baby,” in which a toddler mows down bad guys on a space shuttle; “Designated Driver,” which demonstrates the downside of sobriety; “Playground Politics,” in which playgrounds serve as mini-UN’s; and “Drunk History,” in which a boozehound narrates a chapter in American history and familiar stars dramatize it. The others range from bizarre to stultifying.

Just when you think that all of the ideas for new reality shows have been exhausted, one comes along that almost curls your toes. Cable’s Top Shot combines weaponry with history, by pitting teams of sharpshooters against each in such events as shooting a lit fuse from an explosive device; knife-throwing; obstacle courses; and accuracy from various distances. The contestants use all sorts of weapons, from muskets and Berretas, to longbows and slingshots. It’s simultaneously nuts and completely normal … at least for red-blooded American males. The set arrives with additional footage, contestant bios and elimination interviews.

The fifth season of The Universe focuses on the discovery process, whether through telescopes or seeing what happens when a space probe hits a comet or asteroid. Among the chapters are, “7 Wonders of the Solar System,” “Mars: The New Evidence,” “Magnetic Storm,” “Time Travel,” “Secrets of the Space Probes,” “Asteroid Attack,” “Total Eclipse” and “Dark Future of the Sun.” The hi-def photography makes the CGI effects pop, while the interviews with scientists make astrophysics sound routine.

In the sixth season of Mindfreak, Criss Angel demonstrates his ability to jump across the Grand Canyon on a space-age motorcycle; make a crowd of 100 people disappear; levitate 400 feet in the air; and escape while hanging thousands of feet above the ground. In an amazing feat of cross-promotion, Angel attempts to walk up the side of Las Vegas’ Luxor Hotel, where his show with Cirque du Soleil is headquartered. The DVD adds “The Secrets Behind Criss Angel’s Tricks.”

There’s an internal contradiction in the title, Greek: Chapter Five: The Complete Third Season, but the good news comes in knowing that this installment is a full season and not a halfsie. Besides the party-hardy shenanigans and endless quests for passing grades, the DVD package includes “A Study Break With Nora Kirkpatrick,” cast and crew commentaries, a gag reel and “Gotcha!” featurette.

The strike-shortened 14th season of ER started out with a bang – an explosion – and ends with the departure of Stanley Tucci’s officious Dr. Moretti. In between, too much time was wasted on Abby and Luka’s dysfunctional relationship. It seemed as if everyone was anticipating getting lost during the star-studded 15th and final season. The DVD includes unaired scenes and material from a Paley Festival panel discussion.


Comedy Central Roast of David Hasselhoff
Louis C.K: Hilarious

If anyone ever deserved to be roasted by a small army of take-no-prisoners comedians it’s David Hasselhoff. In fact, the world’s most famous TV lifeguard (male) provided them with too easy a target. He proved to be beyond embarrassment, even with his daughters sitting in the audience. Naturally, the bulk of the insults were inspired by Hasselhoff’s much publicized drunken behavior and inexplicable popularity outside the U.S. Roastmaster Seth MacFarlane really doesn’t add much to the proceedings, but the Hoff proves a juicy target for Baywatch vets Pamela Anderson, Traci Bingham, Nicole Eggert and Gena Lee Nolin, and such roast regulars as Greg Giraldo, Gilbert Gottfried, Lisa Lampanelli and Jeffrey Ross. I’m not quite sure what Hulk Hogan and George Hamilton have in common with the guest of honor, but their presence is welcome.

At the ripe old age of 43, Louis C.K. may finally be ready for stardom. His FX sitcom, Louie, is his most accomplished TV project yet, while his standup material, including the material in Hilarious, is of a consistently high level. The balance between the personal and political also was honed to near-perfection.

No DGA Nod for Coens … Really?

Monday, January 10th, 2011


Who’s absent from this list? Joel and Ethan Coen. Who would I have booted out to make room for them? Probably Russell. I liked The Fighter fine, for what it is, but it remains a story where the main character is less interesting than his brother or his sister, and that was a directorial choice. I certainly can’t argue with Nolan or Aronofsky, and wouldn’t argue with Fincher given that I seem to be the only person on the planet who isn’t head-over-hells for The Social Network.