Sunday, September 26, 2010

"All Creation Myths Need a Devil" : Nog Sees The Social Network!

As The Social Network begins, The Facebook (as it's originally called) is born out of drunken bitterness as Mark Zuckerberg, reeling from an unexpected break-up, brainstorms an outlet for his frustrations that will allow like-minded Harvard students to rate and keep tabs on their classmates. According to Aaron Sorkin's script, that self-absorption continues, ironically, to drive the business mentality behind a site built around community. The tale itself is a standard one--the young up-and-comer increasingly willing to betray his friends for fame and fortune--but its well told in Fincher's new film, with an efficient structure that bounces (sometimes too quickly, for my taste) between key moments of Facebook's formation and a pending lawsuit involving Zuckerman and his former friend and business partner. Fincher's cast is as sharp as Sorkin's script. Eisenberg is sometimes criticized for playing the same, stammery, neurotic in different films, but here he combines those familiar mannerisms with something more subtle that gets us further into Zuckerberg's ego: notice how he tunes out, almost narcoleptically, when the world isn't centered around his particular vision. Andrew Garfield (soon to be Spiderman) proves he's got star power as Eduardo, Zuckerberg's initially close friend and business partner, the film's most sympathic character. And Justin Timberlake, playing flashy Napster founder Sean Parker, is a scene-stealer. The line in my title is delivered late in the film by a lawyer played by Rashida Jones, who goes on to tell Zuckerberg that's he's not really an asshole, just a guy who works very hard to be thought of that way. But I'm not quite sure that line fits meshes with what the previous two hours have told us. Zuckerberg, as he's presented here, comes off looking pretty bad indeed. Whereas Fincher's last film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, led us further away from the issues of obsession and paranoia that seem to define his earlier films, we're back in familiar Fincher territory here. It's not my favorite film of the year, but I'd bet money on it claiming one of the ten slots on Oscar night.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nog Visits Affleck's The Town!

I'm not ready to call Ben Affleck a great new American writer/director just yet, but he's certainly made two sharply written, sharply acted, crisply directed Boston crime films. I'd give his first, Gone, Baby, Gone, the edge. It might be more uneven, but it's a little darker, a little more character-driven. The Town seems designed to be a more mainstream crowd-pleaser, but the complexity of its characters is head and shoulders above most multiplex actioners. Affleck's style is never showy. He wisely makes no effort to mimic any of Scorsese's gangster-pic stylistic techniques, though one can't help think of Marty in the way his two films lead us through Boston's mean streets and the wide array of interesting characters who inhabit them. Here we're treated to memorable performances from Affleck himself (confidently taking center stage this time after turning Gone over to his brother), from Jeremy Renner (following up Hurt Lucker with another volatile performance that's arguably a little too similar to the last but still never less than riveting), from Rebecca Hall (after Vicky Christina Barcelona and Please Give, I'll watch her in almost anything), and Pete Postlethwaite (scary as hell as a criminal mastermind running his gang out of a florist shop). Faring not quite as well are Jon Hamm as an FBI agent (Affleck's good guys are a little dull) and Blake Lively as Affleck's ex (her performance exists in the shadow of Amy Ryan's ferocious bad mother from Gone: nothing can compare). Sure, some of the film's heists are fairly routine, but in between you're treated to some well-crafted dialogue in scenes such as a wonderfully tense restaurant encounter between Affleck, Hall, and Renner. Go see it and remind yourself of a time when multiplex films were actually entertaining without making you feel like an idiot.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Nog Joins The Revolution With Machete and Gets Existential with The American!

After a few late-summer films that should have been great fun but didn't fully deliver (The Expendables, Piranha 3D), Machete finally arrives and shows us how it's done (spoiler alert: it's done by ripping out your fucking intestines and using them as a rope to escape from buildings!). Rodriguez's expansion of his awesome "fake trailer" into a full-length exploitation (Mexsploitation!) flick is arguably even more successful than either his or Tarantino's Grindhouse features (Planet Terror and Death Proof, respectively), as it feels less like a gimmick and more like a true 70's exploitation flick, complete with those films' in-your-face social message of challenging "the Man" (in this case, the conservative, anti-immigration Right Wing). One could waste time (and some critics are) by pointing out its obvious Mexican stereotyping, but that too is in keeping with the genre's tendency to embrace stereotypes in the service of empowerment (have you critics never seen a Blaxsploitation picture?). For film geeks, this is pure pleasure as long as you're capable of embracing non-stop bloody mayhem. The cast is obviously having a blast: Jeff Fahey (playing it straight and awesome!); Lohan, transforming from naked druggie to pistol-packin,' ass-kickin' nun; Cheech the priest; "introducing Don Johnson" the vicious Von Jackson; and of course Danny Trejo, who WILL fuck you up, and hopefully return to do so again in Machete Kills!


The American is sort of glacially paced, relying little on dialogue, and if you see it with a full house (which you won't, after this weekend, because word-of-mouth won't be great) you will hear people sigh during the silent stretches and possibly complain when it's over. A man two rows below me: "I slept through most of it and the ending stinks." Let's discount that opinion, however, and offer another. The American is pretty good, but not great. There are better--very similar in plot if very different tone--hitman movies (In Bruges, The Hit, to name two). But this is confident film-making (by Anton Corbijn, who directed the excellent, gorgeous black-and-white Joy Division film Control). It's beautifully shot, and a rare thriller that knows how to create suspense without hyper-edited action sequences. As much as I like Clooney's recent film choices, I remain unconvinced of any particular acting range. A lot of the roles he's played lately (Michael Clayton, Up in the Air, this one) are men whose careers require them to express little in the way of human emotion. He's good at that. You'll totally buy him as a hitman having a bit of an existential crisis. Is the movie a little too proud of its "artsy" pacing? Probably. Some of the slower-than-slow patches are misleading, in that there is more going on that meets the eye at first, but there are patches of the film where I'm pretty sure it's just slow and moody as a sort of rebellion against anti-Hollywood action films. And I'm okay with that. But the guy two rows below me was most definitely not.