The Social Network | You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger | Saw 3D

The Social Network | You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger | Saw 3D

The Social Network
Rating:

Directed by David Fincher. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer,  Max Minghella, David Selby, Rashida Jones, Denise Grayson, John Getz, Joseph Mazzello, Rooney Mara, Patrick Mapel, Bryan Barter, Shelby Young, Wallace Langham, Caitlin Gerard. Written by Aaron Sorkin, from the novel The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich.



David Fincher´s The Social Network, above all else, is an exceptionally well-made film. Beautifully written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), well-acted by an atypically young cast, and carefully composed by Fincher (Fight Club, Seven), it´s that rare kind of film where every last frame has meaning; at a brisk two hours, all the fat has been excised, leaving a surprisingly profound story that lives in the “now” and demands to be seen by contemporary audiences.

The source material isn´t sexy: taken from Ben Mezrich´s book The Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network is about Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg, and particularly the charges brought against him by former friend Eduardo Saverin, who claimed Zuckerberg screwed him out of the company, and fraternal twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, who claim Zuckerberg stole their idea.

But it´s also about so much more than that. It´s about what motivates us, how we make decisions, no less than how we operate as a societal whole. You need to see this film not because you may be interested in Facebook or Zuckerberg, those are just the specifics; you need to see this film because it represents and reflects upon the society we live in better than any other film has for this particular generation. It´s a revelatory experience to watch something so precise and exacting and yet contemporary – it´s as if we´re watching a historical document about the time we´re living in, and learning new things about the world that surrounds us.

Of course, it´s all about love: The Social Network opens with a five-minute scene between Harvard student Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) in which Zuckerberg – despite all his smarts and a 1600 SAT score – simply cannot navigate the social terrain. It´s a beautiful sequence with rat-a-tat dialogue that perfectly summarizes the film we are about to see.

Dumped by his girlfriend, Mark goes back to his dorm room, blogs about her, and creates a website: FaceMash.com, which grabs photos of girls from local colleges, pairs them up, and allows users to vote on who´s ‘hotter´. The instantly popular site crashes Harvard´s servers and leads to a formal reprimand. Word spreads, and soon Mark is approached by the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who ask him to help with the programming of their new social networking site for Harvard students.

Zuckerberg agrees to help them, but is more interested in developing his own social networking site, which they may or may not have inspired. So with the help of his roommates and friends Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Dustin Moskovitz (Joseph Mazello) and Chris Hughes (Patrick Mapel), Facebook is born. At first a Harvard-only site, popularity skyrockets as they roll it out to other campuses across the country. Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) takes notice and arranges a meeting.

There have been claims of misogyny against The Social Network, which are mostly true; almost all the women in the film are objects of desire rather than fully-dimensional characters. The problem, however, is not with the film (‘true story´ defense), but with the view of women in contemporary society. This is how these people see women; the film is just a reflection.

The cast here is extraordinary. Eisenberg and Garfield (and to a lesser extent, Timberlake) are known commodities, but they bring a conviction that allows them to disappear in their roles. The supporting cast really surprised me, especially Hammer as the Winklevoss twins (a stand-in was utilized for shots where they appear together, on which Hammer´s face was superimposed): he´s wonderful as the two three-dimensional bully-types who are often more sympathetic than our protagonist. Mara, a Natalie Portman type, is also impressive. Every role in the film seems to have been filled by a memorable face who speaks quotable dialogue.

On a technical level, the film is flawless. Cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth (working with Fincher for the first time since Fight Club) is exceptional, dark and rapturous yet familiarly collegiate. Music by Nine Inch Nails´ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross perfectly suits the material. Despite the potentially mundane series of events that the film documents, Fincher keeps finding new ways to tell his story, including a rowing scene that employs the first use of tilt shift cinematography that I can recall seeing in a feature film.

The Social Network opened to rave reviews stateside, including a remarkable 97% on the Tomatometer. Expectations were high. On an initial viewing, I was left dazzled and enlightened but also a bit cold. The experience wasn´t as enthralling as Fincher´s best (Zodiac), the subject matter doesn´t lend itself to being filmed, the ending tries to wrap things up too neatly. Upon a second viewing I was completely won over: this is this generation´s All the President´s Men, a Zodiac where the killer is still out there.

***


 

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Rating:

Written & directed by Woody Allen. Starring Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas, Pauline Collins, Lucy Punch, Freida Pinto, Ewen Bremner, Alex MacQueen, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Anna Friel, Theo James, Neil Jackson, Lynda Baron, Fenella Woolgar, narrated by Zak Orth.

Another year, another Woody Allen movie: since 1982, the prolific filmmaker has churned out precisely one film a year. 41 features (as director) since 1969. And at age 75 he shows no signs of slowing down, as evidenced by the loose, breezy You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, an unusually light comedy that recalls some of the director´s 1970s output.

The titular Tall Dark Stranger is a metaphor what we´re all looking for: something better than what we have. As described by an unseen narrator (Zak Orth), quoting Shakespeare, this is a “story of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Characters scuttle about searching for answers to their problems, ending up in a different place than where they started, no better or worse. Scratch that: sometimes worse.

Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) has just left his lovely wife Helena (Gemma Jones) for young ‘actress´ Charmaine (Lucy Punch). As Alfie lavishes gifts upon his new young bride, Helena finds solace in psychic Cristal (Pauline Collins), who promises her that better things are on the horizon. Meanwhile, Alfie and Helena´s daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) is having her own set of problems. Her unemployed husband Roy (Josh Brolin) struggles to finish his new novel when he´s not ogling the woman in red (Freida Pinto) across the courtyard. Sally is unsatisfied in her marriage, and might be falling for her new boss Greg (Antonio Banderas).

Each of these characters goes through life-changing events during the course of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, but they all end up more or less the same as they started; not in the same place in life, but they´re the same people, that´s what´s important. It´s a comforting theme, and Allen´s films have become a form of comfort food during the past 10-20 years.

What has surprised me the most about his work during this time is the consistency of quality. While the plot and tone can differ wildly through the genres he´s covered – comedies, romances, dramas, thrillers, even a musical – each feels about as good as the last; the ones I admire most (Deconstructing Harry, Match Point) aren´t that far off from the ones I admire least (Scoop, Cassandra´s Dream). That´s not necessarily a compliment; Woody´s best years are clearly behind him, and I don´t think he´s made a great film since Crimes and Misdemeanors.

But every year, each seems good enough, and Tall Dark Stranger is no exception. The film always maintains interest despite a meandering plot that announces its own irrelevance (a great cast helps – Brolin, in particular, shines), the mood is agreeable, and there are some chuckles to be had. Afterwards, however, I felt somewhat unfulfilled; it´s a pleasant-enough film, but lacking in substance.

Woody is still a talented writer, but he´s lost a step as a director, and his storytelling has suffered in recent years; Tall Dark Stranger showcases an over-reliance on the narrator to tell the story rather than what we actually see on the screen (this was also my chief gripe with Vicki Christina Barcelona).

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger can be recommended chiefly to fans of the director; still, I´d comfortably rank it as a lesser item on Woody´s filmography.

***


 

Saw 3D
Rating:

Directed by Kevin Greutert. Starring Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Cary Elwes, Sean Patrick Flanery, Chad Donella, Gina Holden, Laurence Anthony, Dean Armstrong, Naomi Snieckus, Rebecca Marshall, James Van Patten, Sebastian Pigott, Jon Cor, Anne Lee Greene. Written by Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan.

 

If there´s one thing I can give the Saw franchise credit for, it´s the consistency in sequel titling. First came Saw, then II, III, IV, V, and VI: always a roman numeral, never a subtitle or any other extraneous info. Now we have Saw 3D, which might indicate the third film in the series, or the first in the series re-issued in 3D, but in no way conveys that this is actually the seventh Saw movie. (What´s the worst example of sequel titling? My vote goes to the Rambo series, which went First Blood (1982), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Rambo III (1988), and then Rambo (2008).)

There´s probably a good reason for the title: after six movies in six years of more-of-the-same torture entertainment, producers might be a little embarrassed to promote a seventh. So this time we get more-of-the-same – in 3D! The trailer for the film goes out of its way to promote the 3D aspect, throwing debris towards the viewer and claiming “the last piece of the puzzle…is you!”

During the movie, however, the 3D is a non-event. It´s surprisingly bright, crisp, and clean (*see footnote), and, I´m sure, technically proficient. It´s also – outside of a couple very brief shots of intestines and blood spurting out towards the camera – so underutilized (and not just in terms of objects flying at the camera – the added depth is always there but barely noticeable throughout) that after a few minutes I had forgotten I was watching a 3D feature. While this is great for purists who never want to be distracted by 3D while watching a film, your average viewer, paying a 50% premium for the benefit of 3D, is likely to leave disappointed.

Fans of the Saw films, on the other hand, should be pleased with this outing. It´s easily the most violent entry in the series (yet), and I was often shocked at what they were able to get away with to receive an R rating (the film was purportedly sent back to the MPAA six times after originally receiving an NC-17). Most notable (and efficient) is a junkyard scene featuring an automobile, some chains, and superglue; four irrelevant characters are quickly disposed of via a crushed head, a jaw torn from the face, a back ripped from the rest of the body, and a car crash. It´s revolting stuff that has been included in the film purely for shock value; of course, that description can be also be applied to most of the rest of the film and the previous six. Fans rejoice.

Saw 3D picks up right where VI left off: Jigsaw´s protégé Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) tracks down Jigsaw´s wife Jill (Betsey Russell), who attempted to kill him in the previous film. Jill, on the other hand, turns to internal affairs detective Gibson (Chad Gonella) and promises to reveal all. Meanwhile, Jigsaw survivor Bobby (Sean Patrick Flanery) is re-captured and put to the test, making his way through a series of traps to save his friends, just like we´ve seen in every other entry in the series after part II. And Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes), unseen since the first movie, makes a welcome return.

There are two distinct movies fighting for screen time here. Saw VI worked (to the extent that it did) by focusing on its own internal storyline; VII devotes only half the running time to Bobby´s story, and it ultimately lacks impact. The other half of the film is devoted to what has become a serial killer soap opera: characters switch sides, die, come back, and so on as new ‘twists’ are introduced with each new movie.

Director Kevin Greutert, who also filmed the previous entry, is a skilled technician and most of Saw 3D looks good; too good, in fact, for a Saw movie – gone is the gritty, grimy style established by Darren Lynn Bousman from part II. The sterile look fit the previous film, which was set more in the corporate world, but feels out-of-place here in junkyards and abandoned buildings. Too often it felt like I was watching an episode of CSI, with the added benefit of more explicit death scenes.

Promotional materials promise that this is ‘the final chapter.´ Nonsense – the ending swings the door open for at least a few more sequels.

*While the 3D adds very little here, it´s some of the best-looking 3D I´ve seen yet. However, I suspect this may have less to do with the movie itself and more to do with the (superior?) equipment at Kino Atlas, where I saw the film. I´ll usually see 3D films at a multiplex, where I´ve always noticed a slight ‘ghosting´ effect: 2D remnants of the 3D image lingering in the background. This is most noticeable when reading subtitles, where you can sometimes see 3D text and faintly, in the background, see the same text on the 2D background. This wasn´t the case at all during my viewing of Saw 3D: every last detail was surprisingly crisp.

***

Also opening: Surviving Life (Theory and Practice) (showtimes | IMDb), the latest film from master animator Jan Švankmajer. Screening in Czech; catch it with English subtitles at Kino Světozor. An English-subtitled copy was expected to screen at Kino Světozor, but didn’t make it (yet).


Jason Pirodsky

Hailing from Syracuse, New York, Jason Pirodsky made his way to Prague via Miami and has stuck around, for better and worse, since 2004. A member of the Online Film Critics Society (www.ofcs.org), some of his favorite movies include O Lucky Man!, El Topo, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Hellzapoppin'. Follow him on Twitter for some (slightly) more concise reviews.

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