Monthly Archives: February 2011

Review: The Social Network (2010)

Aren’t you proud of me? I managed to crowd in The Social Network before the Oscars tonight! I’m still really sad I didn’t manage to see The King’s Speech, but I’ll say this much: I have no doubt that whichever movie ends up winning the big prize will deserve it. Wow. What a slick, well-made piece of work. Kind of like Facebook itself, I’d imagine. David Fincher deserves (and will win) Best Director, and I really hope that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross win for Best Score as well (and not just because of my youthful love for NIN).

Seriously, The Social Network is a very good movie. I wasn’t really all that interested in it, but since it was such a huge deal this year, I figured I should watch it, and I’m glad I did. As I’ve already said, the directing and score were exceedingly well done, and the acting was, for the most part, excellent as well.

The story is that of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg, outstanding), the founder of Facebook. Looking for a way to stand out at Harvard (and impress the girl who dumped him), he allegedly steals an idea from the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer, really fun) to create a social networking website that will be exclusively for Harvard students. He enlists his best, and possible only friend, Eduardo Savarin (Andrew Garfield, excellent) to bankroll the project. As we all know, it takes off, spreads like wildfire, and eventually makes Zuckerberg a very, very rich man. Mainly, though, the movie deals with how he got there, and how he stepped on various people like the “Winklevii” (love that!) and Savarin to get there.

The structure of the film is the tiniest bit confusing, as we jump back and forth between two lawsuits, Zuckerberg v. Savarin and Zuckerberg v. Winklevoss(es), with the main action of the movie occurring in flashback as part of the proceeedings. Still, this doesn’t detract a great deal from the overall effect, and since most of the story focuses on the relationship between Zuckerberg and Savarin, it becomes less confusing about halfway through. The performances are all very, very good. Eisenberg as Zuckerberg plays one of those roles that basically means you will hate him forever, regardless of anything else you might see him in. I turned to my husband and said “Wow, we’re only about 5 minutes in, and I already hate that guy.” He looked at his watch and said “Two and a half minutes, actually.” There are moments, though, where my extreme dislike was tempered by pity, and that, to me, is what makes this such a good performance. Armie Hammer is enjoyable as both twins (CGI and a body double, I think?) and Andrew Garfield is very good as Savarin. The supporting cast, including Brenda Song as Savarin’s cute-but-crazy girlfriend, and Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker, all do an excellent job. As much as I’ve heard about this movie, I didn’t ever hear a whole lot about the performances, and that’s too bad, I think. It’s a very well-acted film.

I read some recently, I think by A.O. Scott, about the two main contenders for Best Picture at the Oscars. That’d be The Social Network and The King’s Speech, if you’ve missed that. Mr. Scott was saying that what the winner will boil down to is sort of “Old Hollywood” versus the new guard. The King’s Speech is very traditional, sort of your standard type of Oscar-winning fare, whereas The Social Network is something new and very contemporary. I think you really get that, watching the movie. The action and dialogue are fast-paced but not too fast, the cinematography, scene changes, and direction are very slick and minimal, but highly effective, and Reznor’s score accents everything so amazingly well; it’s just such a tight piece. The story is obviously very current and the leading cast were all very nearly under the age of 30 at the time of filming. The question, then, is whether or not the Academy will go traditional, and embrace the new. It’s anybody’s guess, really, but I wonder if, with the move to young and sexy hosts (James Franco and Anne Hathaway), the Academy is looking for a little bit of a makeover. We shall see.

Regardless, I’d recommend this film. It’s a really solid piece of work, it’s a topic that most of us know something about, and the viewpoint it has about socialization and relationships is a very intuitive one. Zuckerberg, as painted by Aaron Sorkin (who will most likely win Best Adapted Screenplay), knew what he was doing. He understood what people wanted, and how human interaction works, for the most part. With that understanding in place, the movie has it all, and I stand by my prediction that it will still somehow manage to eke out the Best Picture win tonight. Even if it doesn’t, I’d say you should still see it.

Thoughts on award season (plus Oscar predictions)

The Oscars are this weekend. What with life getting in the way, I’m not entirely as excited as I have been in years past. If we’re lucky, we’ll manage to see three of the Best Picture nominees before Sunday night, since The Social Network is supposed to arrive in my mailbox today. I really wanted to see The King’s Speech, but we were never brave enough to either go to the theater and hope our daughter would sleep through the movie, or to hand her over to a babysitter. Alas. In years past, three BP noms out of five wouldn’t have been that bad, but this year there’s ten. Supposedly ten, anyway … there’s really only a few major contenders. The rest are just happy to have been nominated. And that brings me to what I wanted to talk about.

Award season is the time of year when everyone who thinks they know anything about movies kind of becomes really obnoxious. We grumble about who got nominated for what, we grumble more over who didn’t get nominated, and we usually fall into one of two categories: those who sneer at the Academy (and the Screen Actors Guild, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., etc, etc.) for being “too mainstream,” and those who think all of those bodies are out of touch with actual filmgoers. First of all, the truth lies somewhere in between. Second of all, the whole thing is completely and utterly subjective. I don’t care how many people read your blog, your declaration of which movie is the best thing ever and which one sucked is still only your opinion. And the movie that winds up winning is also a matter of opinion … it’s just that the largest number of individuals voting happened to share that opinion. It doesn’t make it a fact. It doesn’t make it the best movie ever. It doesn’t make it a crap movie, either. It’s just what people think.

The other side to this is that it’s all really political. I appreciate if you saw a movie that just totally blew you away, and you think it’s the best piece of film-making you’ve seen this year, and you declare with absolute certainty that it will most definitely win Best Picture at the Oscars. However, if you have not stopped to take into account the fact that it has not won any of the other major prizes this year … you’re missing half the story. And that half isn’t about artistry, or performances, or script-writing. It’s about history and precedent. Should it be? Maybe not. But that’s how it goes. The people who vote for all these different awards probably overlap quite a bit, and so it stands to reason that nine times out of ten, the film that wins Best Drama at the Golden Globes or Best Ensemble Cast at the SAGs is likely the front-runner to win Best Picture at the Oscars.

My point is that there are multiple sides to the whole game. And that’s what it is: a game. So remember that while you’re watching that interminable telecast. Pick your winners. Pick ’em however you want. Root for your favorite. What matters is that YOU thought it was the best movie you saw this year, or that the individual performance was meaningful to YOU.

I remember 2001, when Gladiator picked up most of the awards. I personally think that was a bit of a triumph over the people who think the Oscars are too snooty to really understand what the average film-goer likes. Is it a brilliant movie? Maybe not. I think it’s very good, but it’s not some transcendent piece of film-making or anything. When Best Actor was being announced, I really didn’t think Russell Crowe had much of a chance, and so I was muttering “Anyone but Tom Hanks, anyone but Tom Hanks” under my breath, because I hated Castaway, and because everyone loves Tom Hanks. And then Crowe won, and since then, I’ve seen Quills (for which Geoffrey Rush was nominated) and Before Night Falls (ditto Javier Bardem) and I think either of those performances was superior. But there you go. Politics. A game. For whatever reason, Gladiator was just the big deal that year.

Back to my point, though. Whether or not your film wins an Oscar doesn’t make it any less great if you thought it was amazing. It doesn’t mean a thing that you think some random indie film was totally awesome and that the Academy is stupid for not even recognizing it. Or that your favorite guy didn’t get the nod. It just means that’s not how the Academy works (and also that there are a finite number of spots: maybe your director *cough*Chris Nolan*cough* was a close #6). It’s all just groups of people getting together and talking about what they think was good this year. Kind of like on a blog, except they get to get all dressed up and stuff. Bottom line, I guess? Don’t take it personally.

Having said that, I will offer you my predictions for the major awards to be handed out on Sunday. They are not really based on my rather limited viewing experiences this year so much as on the precedent of previous awards and on my understanding of how the machine works.

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo for The Fighter. A lot of people think she won’t win on the big night, despite having won the rest of the season, but I’m not so sure. Runner-up: Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit.
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale for The Fighter. Pretty much a lock. It’s a great performance among many, and he’s just so dedicated to his roles. It’s time. Runner-up: Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech.
Best Actress: Natalie Portman for Black Swan. Another one who has paid her dues. Runner-up: Annette Bening for The Kids are All Right. She’s also very much due, but Portman’s performance is a juggernaut.
Best Actor: Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. Again, this is about awarding someone who’s been around for a while and hasn’t been recognized yet. By all accounts the performance is tremendous as well. I will see it SOON, I swear. Runner-up: Pick one. There isn’t a clear second place, as far as I know.
Best Director: David Fincher for The Social Network. Runner-up: I would say Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan, but The King’s Speech has gained a lot of traction lately, so maybe Tom Hooper is more likely at this point.
Best Picture: And here we have an interesting discussion. I still think that The Social Network is the frontrunner, but a lot of people are now betting on The King’s Speech. It is my understanding that TSN (which has still won most of the major awards) is a really strong movie overall, whereas TKS is moving mostly on the power of the performances, hence the reason it won the SAG Awards’ version of Best Picture. The BAFTAs aren’t entirely a good indicator here, IMO, since it’s such a British film. I’m still going with The Social Network for the win, although I think it’s really, really close.

So there you go. That’s what I think. I’m usually pretty good at predicting … I did win my Oscar pool last year, although that was my first ever, and it was really close. I’m not looking to offend anyone with my choices; I’m working off of facts rather than opinions, and overall, I don’t really have any personal feelings about this year’s crop of nominees. Best movie I saw this year? Inception. However, it would be completely unrealistic to think that it will win, regardless of what all of us movie bloggers think. So remember, boys and girls: It’s all a game. Grab a beverage, sit down, relax, and watch the fun.

100th post!! (Capsule reviews)

Wow, this will be my 100th post! Thanks for tagging along, loyal readers! I apologize for being a little less prolific lately, but the young lady now living in our house takes up a lot of time, as you might imagine. Fortunately, she usually sleeps for the night after about 7:30 or 8 pm, so we do manage to watch a movie every now and then, mostly on the weekends. Here are a few we’ve enjoyed recently …

Darling Lili, 1970
This spy comedy, directed by Blake Edwards and starring Julie Andrews (the missus) and Rock Hudson is really cute, and worth watching if you’re a Julie Andrews fan. She plays Lili Smith, a British entertainer who is really a German agent, tasked with getting to know Major Larrabee (Hudson). While she’s passing on his secrets, they’re falling in love. Features an excellent performance by Ms. Andrews, and Mr. Edwards signature physical comedy. I was somewhat unimpressed with Rock Hudson, but not so much that it took away from the picture. He wasn’t as dashing as he perhaps should have been, but he did have great chemistry with Andrews. Set during WWI, the costumes are great, the French countryside is lovely, and several scenes featuring the biplanes flown by Major Larrabee and The Red Baron are very well done.

Camp, 2003
Teenagers at a performing arts camp find strength in themselves and each other, and bring meaning back to the life of a washed-up composer in this rather odd little film, which features a very young Anna Kendrick in her film debut. If you know anything at all about theater, you’ll be amused by the stereotypes and treatment of that world, but you’ll also be touched by the struggles of some of the teens as they learn to embrace their sexuality and stand up to their parents. The subplot with the composer gets short shrift, and it’s hard to say that it would have been particularly necessary in the first place. The musical performances are pretty fun to watch. In the final reckoning, afterward I looked at my husband and said “So, in order for a kid to really get into the arts, etc., they pretty much have to be really screwed up? Hmmm.”

The Nanny Diaries, 2007
I know, I know. My husband was a long-time Scarlett Johansson fan, but recently he’s become less interested, because let’s face it: she’s not really that great an actress. We decided to go ahead with The Nanny Diaries, though, and overall I’d say it was a reasonably enjoyable movie. This is mostly due to the fact that ScarJo is backed up by Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti as the awful Upper East Side parents for whom she becomes the titular nanny. Linney in particular is utterly fabulous. The rest of the supporting cast, Chris Evans as the love interest, Alicia Keys as the sassy best friend, Donna Murphy as the mom, and Nicholas Art as the young charge, all acquit themselves tolerably. It’s a cute movie, very nice to look at, and the framework of the narrative as an anthropological field diary makes for a nice touch. There are worse ways to spend an evening.

Musical Moment

So, it’s Valentine’s Day. And nearly every musical you could think of has to do with love, so I tried to think of the mother of all musical numbers about love … and this is what I came up with.

The musical: Moulin Rouge! (2001)
The song: Elephant Love Medley

Epic! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Trailer: X-Men First Class

What do you want me to say about this? X-Men! James McAvoy! Michael Fassbender! Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence! Be there or be square!!

James Bond Wrap-Up

I somehow never got into James Bond. The first Bond movie I ever saw was Goldeneye. I would often flip past a Connery-era movie on television, but never stopped to watch. My dad is a big fan of the Ian Fleming novels, and liked the earlier movies, but I guess Bond was voted down in my household due to the violent/sex-related content (yes, even though none of it’s that bad.) Whatever the reason, I understood Bond to be something of a movie icon, but I remained only vaguely interested. But then, all the noise about Daniel Craig being cast started, and my husband and I went out to see Casino Royale. And suddenly, a light got switched on. The action, the characters … Casino Royale clicked.

So, after greatly enjoying the movie, and understanding it to be Bond’s “origin story,” in a way, we left the theater curious, and decided to embark upon a second movie-viewing project as a sort of a counterpoint to the AFI list: we’d watch all the James Bond films. And now, nearly 5 years later, I’ve seen all of them. And you know what? I’ve got to say, most of them are not great movies. Oh, I know. They’re just supposed to be fun romps for the most part. And I’m cool with that. I like the action and the implausible plot points, and the ridiculous villains with their equally ridiculous plots. I don’t feel like talking about the offensive stereotyping of women or racial groups, or the sexism, or any of that. But seriously? There are some lousy movies in there.

Since it would bore you, and irritate me to try to run back through all of them, I’m just going to recap what were, to me, the highlights of our James Bond viewing experience. It’ll be like an award show! Let’s get started … ladies first!

Best “Bond Girl”

I’m really starting with this one because for me, it’s a total no-brainer. The absolute, hands-down, best woman in a Bond movie is the character of Xenia Onatopp, played by Famke Janssen and appearing in Goldeneye. I love this woman. She’s an evil henchperson who is very nearly Bond’s match in terms of ability and sex appeal. She’s a crack pilot and a trigger-happy psychopath. Killing gets her off – literally. Janssen obviously has so much fun playing her because she’s totally over the top, complete with ridiculous Eastern European accent. It was a breakthrough role for her, and deservedly so. What I like best about Onatopp, though, is that she’s possibly the only character that fits into the category of “Bond Girl” (not counting, say, Moneypenny) who doesn’t really fall for Bond’s charms. They have their moments of sexual tension, yes, but they never actually sleep together, and she certainly doesn’t ever breathe the words “Oh, James …” and melt into his arms. She’s too busy trying to kill him. And for that, she rocks.

Runners-up: Pussy Galore (Goldfinger), Melina Havelock (For Your Eyes Only), Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale).

Best Villain

I mean, really. How can you compete with Christopher Lee? Scaramanga, the titular “Man with the golden gun,” sort of covers all of the Bond villain stereotypes while still being effective, even if he does lose in the end. He’s a mysterious assassin who has a secret island hideaway, a weird right-hand man, Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize), and a mistress he would just as soon kill as make love to (whom Bond naturally seduces). But, in addition, he’s very,very good at what he does, and he’s definitely got a very suave menace going on. I dig menace. A lot of the villains ended up being much more comedic than evil, and as we moved into the twenty-first century, they have become less villainous, in some ways: computer gurus, media moguls, businessmen. Scaramanga, though, was a match for Bond. He was smart and ruthless, but cultured. Like I said. He’s Christopher Lee!

Runners-up: Goldfinger, Max Zorin (A View to a Kill), Alec Trevalyan (Goldeneye).

Best Henchperson

In this category I had one of the more difficult decisions. Everyone’s fond of either Jaws or Oddjob. I’m going with Oddjob here, though, and I’ll tell you why. First of all, because I pretty much hated all of the Roger Moore movies, mostly because they went too far over into the silly side of Bond, and I didn’t enjoy it. I do appreciate the absurdity of a good action flick, but I think that you can’t embrace that too much, or it just becomes ridiculous. Anyway, I think that Jaws sort of personified that, and he became laughable instead of scary. SO, Oddjob. Again, he’s a sterotypical baddie: ridiculous name, mysterious air, and all that. However, unlike a lot of the henchpersons, he was pretty much a bad-ass. Obviously, the bad guys end up losing to Bond, and Oddjob was no exception, but he was fun to watch, what with his hat-throwing, his uncommon strength, and his quiet ruthlessness. He was superior to Bond in skill, if not in cunning.

Runners-up: Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker), Rosa Klebb (From Russia With Love), Zao (Die Another Day).

Best Chase/Fight Scene

This one was hard, but I’m going with the “Madagascar” chase scene from Casino Royale. As an introduction to a new Bond, I thought it was incredible because it really showed off Daniel Craig’s physicality. Additionally, it was visually interesting and set the tone for the whole movie. I liked that it was so stripped-down: no gadgets, no vehicles, and also that it was in a sort of a “realistic” setting. You know, as opposed to a nuclear reactor or a secret weapons facility, or whatever. Again, it really set up the movie, and the newest incarnation of Bond, perfectly.

Runners-up: Ski chase (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), remote-control car (Tomorrow Never Dies), boat chase (Live and Let Die).

Best Song

My absolute favorite Bond theme song is actually from what is possibly one of the worst Bond films: The World is Not Enough. Definitely the weakest of the Brosnan films, at any rate. I have to admit to being a Garbage fan, and I remember hearing this one on the radio a lot. Additionally, one of my favorite music videos ever. I like how it’s rather Bond-esque without actually being related in any way. Check it out!

Runners-up: Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney and Wings), Diamonds are Forever (Shirley Bassey), The Living Daylights (a-Ha).

And the big ones …

Best Film
This was an agonizing choice. As previously mentioned, I hated Roger Moore and thought all of his were pretty ridiculous. Connery had some good ones, I’m partial to Goldeneye since it’s the first one I saw, and Casino Royale is really, really first-rate. However, and I realize that this is blasphemous to a lot of fans, both my husband and myself thought that the most solid movie was actually the one-shot On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s unusual in a lot of ways: George Lazenby only appeared as Bond once, and he actually falls in love and gets married! But it is also one of the stronger stories, the emotional elements are enjoyable and not as incongruous as you would think, Lazenby was actually really good, and it had all of the important characteristics, like that ski-chase scene. Plus, I looove Diana Rigg. Seriously, though, we enjoyed this one most of all, and were disappointed that Lazenby didn’t continue in the role. Alas.

Runners-up: From Russia with Love (Connery), Goldeneye (Brosnan), Casino Royale (Craig).

And finally …

Best Bond

I thought about ranking the Bonds, but that kind of got sticky for me. I would really consider all of the actors who’ve portrayed Bond to have done a fine job, with one exception: yeah, I really disliked Roger Moore. Otherwise, though, they all do a great job and I think they sort of fit into similar categories. Sean Connery, Daniel Craig, and Timothy Dalton (who I want to say was very under-appreciated in the role) all have the sort of “thug in a tux” characterization going, and I definitely enjoy that, and think it’s most appropriate. Dalton again, George Lazenby, and Pierce Brosnan were more suave, and a little bit more soulful. Daniel Craig also fits a bit into the soulful category, mostly because of the storyline to Casino Royale. It’s hard to rank them without getting knotted up, so I ended up just choosing a favorite. I have to say that having seen only Brosnan films, and the random clip of Connery or Moore every now and then, I never got the true sense of Bond: the toughness, the sexiness, all of that. The moment that became clear to me and I really felt that I understood the character was in Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the newly licensed-to-kill Bond in Casino Royale. So, I will state for the record that Daniel Craig is “My Bond”.

Connery, Lazenby, Dalton, and Brosnan are all pretty evenly-matched and not far behind for me. It’s been a game of inches, I promise.

And there you have it! James Bond, all wrapped up. It was a fun project, and it’s exciting to have more or less reached the end of it. We’ve actually still got a couple more to go, but Tomorrow Never Dies was the last one that I hadn’t seen, and so the rest will be re-views. It’s interesting to have watched them all, and to be able to see pieces of the Bond construct in other action films like the Bourne movies. I am looking forward to Bond 23, which will see the return of Daniel Craig, and will this time be directed by Sam Mendes. Casino Royale had such promise as a “reboot” of sorts, and then Quantum of Solace was rather disappointing, but I am holding out hope that the next installment will bounce back. I hope that Judi Dench is returning as M, and the other names attached to the film thus far have promise indeed: both Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes are said to be considering roles.

And you, dear readers? Who’s “your” Bond? Are you looking forward to 23, or do you think this franchise has been played out? Tell me what you think of my wrap up!

Trailer: Beginners

This year, I have decided that I’m going to pay more attention to upcoming movies. I usually just keep track of people I like, and as a result I don’t see much in theater, and I sometimes miss the boat on great stuff. Plus, I end up playing catch-up during award season when I think “Oh, I guess I should probably see that then, huh?”.

As such, I have a trailer for you! Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer is pretty exciting, right? And Christopher Plummer playing gay! Add to that a cute dog, and what looks like, from the trailer at least, some pretty serious whimsy, and I’m totally sold. I realized the other day (watching The Kids are All Right) that Focus Features makes some pretty awesome stuff. This definitely feels like the same kind of movie to me, just something small and intimate, also like Away We Go (also Focus) or Up in the Air, or The Brothers Bloom. So anyway, check it out. Does it look like something you’ll want to go see?