Saturday, March 12, 2011

THE SOCIAL NETWORK: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Rooney Mara, John Getz, Joseph Mazzello
Director: David Fincher
Scriptwriter: Aaron Sorkin
Runtime: 120 min.
Verdict: Let me borrow it from someplace else, who put it best, and give it my own spin – a movie about 2.0 people made by a bunch of beta versions.
Genre: Drama, Thriller

        The Social Network has everything a film has to for me to love it – much like say A Civil Action – where guys, and only guys, sit around tables and discuss the hell off each other. They talk, they snap, and the conversations are so hardboiled, you might even look out for good old Bogart somewhere in there. I mean, a glimpse of some sort. Like a poster on the wall. Or, in keeping with the zeitgeist, on the desktops on one of those laptops. That they speak fast is a point, because they think fast. Oh, but I might be misleading you here with my casual usage of pronouns causing criminal generalization, and you know, gross simplification. It is not that they speak fast as much as that only he speaks fast – Mark Zuckerberg. In most situations he is driving the conversations, talking while thinking ahead, and already ahead of the curve. And if he isn’t, if he faces resistance, if he faces opposition, he runs. If the conversation is too slow for him, his attention wanders. It is like a Ping pong match, you know, across the table, a conversational crossfire, and it feels like Superman is playing against a ragtag assortment. You see, some of these brains work like a computer processor, the random access memory so to speak, the processor built to achieve the most efficient usage of memory, and often some of these conversations and leave you a little impatient. Save the lawyers (whose duty it is to speak and rehearse and speak), almost everybody here has a whole lot of pauses. They have a whole lot of questions too, which they ask each other, so that exposition could be neatly inserted. They ask, they look around, they reiterate and sometimes speak the plot. They are a bunch of Pentium II processors dealing with an i-7 Extreme.
        Apart from of course, Sean Parker. He comes, he sees, he conquers. One might be easily reminded of Winston ‘The Wolf’ Wolfe, who covered thirty minutes in ten, and yet no one’s reminded. One might even be reminded of the uber-confident HAL, one who never errs, and yet no one’s reminded. Why would that be? Why does Sean Parker instead remind us of Chancellor Palpatine, or someone of that ilk (Aside: Mr. Eisenberg sure does bear some resemblance to Mr. Christensen, don’t you think?)? Ironic it is that Mr. Parker’s framing device is Eduardo Saverin, the guy who dumps his whiny bitching girlfriend.
        I do assume that you have noticed the italics, and I shall provide the answer a little later. But first, let me sum up The Social Network, and why a film that I might’ve loved is a film that I probably look down upon. As is always the case, the word we’re looking for is morality, and the film’s moral diction seems to be born out of those outdated cultural impositions thus undermining a narrative that might well be a typical Nietzschean affair. There’s a tug of war in there, sure, and if I were to describe that tug of war, you need to imagine There Will Be Blood not written and directed by an auteur, but remade by a script written by Mr. Paul Haggis and directed (mostly illustrated) by Mr. Francis Ford Coppola.
        The bullshit aside, before dwelling over the middlebrow morality. Mr. Fincher has not solved the problem of showing coding as cool. The Social Network is just as much as about coding as The Ghost Writer is about writing or The International is about banking. If showing around a handful of scenes involving folks pegged on to their laptops as they vigorously type is showing programming, then voila, the problem was probably solved circa 2007 in Die Hard 4. Or in countless movies before that showing stereotypical nerds hacking security systems. Remember Mission Impossible? Or The Matrix? Oh, you might say, the Brian De Palma film had readable signs and often moving dots just to visually explain. Good point. What does The Social Network do then? In between a whole lot of “MySQL” and “PERL” and “Apache”, which doesn’t really make much sense to you (I’m a programmer), apart from establishing the fact that these people are experts (that is how traditional narration establishes by asking the subject to hurl in great numbers terms that just mean one thing – expert), what the film does is layout in layman terms (your average Facebook user) the feature that is being coded into. Revolutionary? Probably, until you bring the visual-dialog explanation of The Matrix. Resourceful? Hell yes. That is how traditional Hollywood tells a story. The word we are looking for here is, well, exposition. The word which every critic of Inception ought to be aware of, even though he might really not be aware how relative its usage is, and how important exposition really is. Exposition, by definition, is supposed to be a lesser film technique, an element to be scoffed at, causing you to remove a star off your rating. Sigh, considering Sir Arthur Conan Doyle built a career around exposition. Or considering that a camera zoom could be just as much of an expositional element as a bunch of guys sitting around discussing the plot. Remember the match-the-following shots of Madeline and Carlotta Valdes?
        To see the benefits of exposition (beyond conveying the point across) to the narration in The Social Network, the sequence of the Winklevoss twins discovering the Harvard Law offers an example of immense wit. They discover the Student Handbook, which is quite enough, but they go beyond rummaging the pages and finding out a point, which to them is an article in the constitution. As a viewer we think the twins have a case, only to realize later, in a sequence of great condescension on the twins, that they have are the Elizabeth Swann here, who when invokes parley to Captain Barbarossa ridicules it to not a bunch of commandments but mere guidelines. Take out that exposition, cut straight to the scene with the President, and you have a bland little moment.
        I was in seventh grade, I suppose, when I watched A Few Good Men. My dad was in the defence forces, and in my defence, which I put forward even before somebody makes a case, I did spend a significant time at the National Defence Academy Khadakwasala, where my dad was posted, and where I would see a whole lot of cadets having a real tough time doing a zillion push ups, or rolls, or running with stone filled sacks all the way upto Sinhgadh (a 17km run I suppose), or standing under the high noon sun with their cycles raised over their head. I would be amazed and my dad would explain to me the significance of toughness, and more importantly of discipline. I’m glad. When I watched Mr. Sorkin’s A Few Good Men, and when I saw the Tom Cruise character, who was barely a defence personnel and more of a representative of the private sector way of life, gain a self righteous moral victory over the equally self righteous Jack Nicholson character, I just didn’t get it. I mean, I did get it plot-wise, but I just couldn’t understand emotionally how Nicholson was the villain. Let us agree that all the good men and women in the film, except for the Kevin Bacon character were a bunch of self righteous pricks. I set aside the Kevin Bacon character, Capt. Jack Ross, because to me he is the true moral reflection of the film, the unprejudiced rational character (much like the unflappable and spectacled Juror 4 in 12 Angry Men) through whose sound judgment a film’s morality finally finds an anchoring point. In The Social Network, that character is impinged upon Zuckerberg’s lawyer Sy (Mr. Getz), but thematically and by Darwin’s evolution should have been the responsibility of Dustin Moskovitz (Mr. Mazzello), who in turn is left to be the main attraction of the fuzzy background. I would’ve made a film on him, because he is, along with Eames (Mr. Tom Hardy, Inception), the year’s most capable and ideal choice for that reflection, only difference being the latter does indeed get that role.
        So yeah, I’ve never gathered how a code red was a punishable offence. Isn’t this supposed to be the military? Just as I couldn’t understand how the Bruce Willis character is supposed to be the villain in The Siege. Emotionally, I don’t get these rants. And here’s a sampling of the ridiculously doe-eyed reactions at The Social Network, which had me cringing deep into the recesses of my chair. I might be guilty of picking up the punch-lines out of context, but what amazes me is the very fact that these lines got written in the first place –

“The great irony is that the biggest player in the social networking boom proved to be someone so socially retarded he borders on sociopathic at times.”
- Matt Neal (The Standard)

“A timeless story of friendship and betrayal which illustrates how our appetite for more can become insatiable, regardless of the consequences.”
- Graham Young (Birmingham Post)

“The scariest screen villain in a half century, since Psycho's Norman Bates, given that this inscrutable creep actually exists in real life.”
- Kam Williams (TheLoop21.com)

This whole review by Matt Zoller Seitz, embarrassing in its kitschy display of humanity. Facepalm it is.

“As great as the film is, you can't overlook the fact that if you knew these people in real life you would block them on Facebook.”
Jim Vejvoda (IGN Movies)


        I just refer to some, but the initial word on the film was that Zuckerberg is a sociopathic monster much like Daniel Plainview. Which of course is a whole lot of horse-dung considering it wasn’t even remotely accepted that way, rather selling Zuckerberg as a cool inspirational dude. Oh, that could be the commentary on our generation, or as I say that diction borne out of those outdated cultural impositions. What’s fascinating here is that our “immoral embrace of Zuckerberg” that Mr. Sorkin’s has drawn has a parallel (or an opponent) caused by Mr. Fincher, where a single’s ping-pong game becomes a doubles’ match. As we invariably side with Mark, the audience inside the film (the lawyers, and often the plaintiff) reacts to Mark’s statements, and their winks, their sighs, and their headshakes tend to highlight their complacency regarding morality too. Nobody here is rational, and everybody here is judgmental. Consider Mr. Sorkin’s script and consider these reaction shots that Mr. Fincher leaves behind, further making Zuckerberg a sorry figure rather than a cool one (which Mr. Sorkin’s script does).
        Allow me to elaborate. The word(s) we’re looking for is punch line, and a writer generally uses it to score a point for him. It is the writer’s style of using the internet term pwnage, and it is usually employed before the scene cuts. Consider some of these lines, all from the script, and all lines preceding a “CUT TO:”, or an implicit shift within the scene itself.

“Then I guess that would be the first time somebody’s lied under oath.”

“Ma’am, I know you’ve done your homework and so you know that money isn’t a big part of my life, but at the moment I could buy Mount Auburn Street, take the Phoenix Club and turn it into my ping pong room.”


“No shit.”

“I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall they have a right to give it a try. But there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention--you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?”


        These lines, when delivered by a character invariably affect us form-trumps-over-content audience in only one way – high-fives. Consider how Howard Hughes (The Aviator) delivers the punch line and walks out of the senate meeting to a thundering applause, and is punctuated by a sequence of the mammoth Hercules soaring into a crescendo. Mark Zuckerberg is in that same very position against the establishment, and these lines which would merely have been obligatory punch-lines are turned 180-degrees into an implication of his delusions, of his morally bankruptcy, by these reaction shots. (I place the frames in the same order as the quotes above).

A sigh and a mocking smile.



“What the hell”, “I’m not here”, and an “oh boy!”




Helpless, and “Your client is helping us.”




“Who are we fighting?”, and a Gotcha!



        And this is the tug of war. Not at a moral level, but at a reactionary emotional level. The second wave of commentary, which is stating that Mr. Fincher’s sensibilities are conflicting with Mr. Sorkin’s, might not be true. Rather Mr. Fincher is further implicating the stance and ironing out any potential conflict. Thing is, these reaction shots cause a certain confusion within the more politically honest rational viewer, making him wonder as to how that cool line that just owned the entire room ended up mocking Zuckerberg himself. Zuckerberg, rather than becoming a Daniel Plainview, ends up shifting more towards the John Nash end of the genius spectrum. Delusional, and in need of help. Not that this face helps too much.


        But then, that’s alright. The Mark versus Middlebrow morality is easy, and between Mr. Sorkin and Mr. Fincher The Social Network doesn’t have that much of a problem concealing its archaic sensibilities. Where it truly gives the game away, about its hypocrisy, and where its stance is endlessly ambiguous to me, is the handling of the Eduardo Saverin versus Sean Parker case.
        Here’s the important question. Why does Saverin invest in The Facebook? And why does Sean Parker show an interest in The Facebook? To Saverin, as goes well with the traditional edible morality, and one which I figure Mr. Fincher is probably against (“why?” in a little while), he does it because it is for a friend. His interests are emotional, and it might well be argued that he has no idea what The Facebook is. Of course, not even Zuckerberg knows much. The interesting thing here is that Sean Parker does, and that is what makes him intellectually tower above the others in the room. He needs merely a glance (the introductory sequence) and he is already smitten.
        In the Darwinian world of creativity and enterprise, Eduardo is a weakling. He has little interest or understanding in The Facebook apart from his role, and his struggle with Mark might be a Fincher nod to the classic director-studio (financer) conflict. One might even be interested to draw parallels with the psychology of Barbara Covett in Zoë Heller’s Notes on a Scandal, and his whiny behavior once Sean Parker enters the scenery is reminiscent of another character within the film – Christy, his girlfriend. And here’s the “why?”. In a stunner, The Social Network juxtaposes his whiny possessive girlfriend with his own attempt at grabbing Mark’s attention – freezing the bank account. That is the ironical part. His earlier framing of the Sean-a-thon takes an about turn and frames him.
        This is as finely crafted a film as has been in a while. Its rat-a-tat-tat conversations lure us into the form and away from the content. The choreography of the sequences and our attention is phenomenally masterful, showcasing some of the finest focus shifts of recent times. The shifts in any given scene are so spectacularly subtle (almost like our eye) and so efficient in guiding our eyes (sort of like David Bordwell's study on There Will Be Blood), that it would be a fantastic subject for analysis. I might be inclined to feel that the different planes of focus within the frame have less to do with thematic commentary (Mark’s alienation, everybody’s operating from a bubble) and more to do with guiding our eyes to the source of dialog. It might be an interesting justification, but the reason I say that the alienation argument might not hold true is because virtually any person in any given scene is in focus while the others are out of focus. Even the Winklevoss' are in different planes of focus when they first meet Mark. As far as I remember, during the Angel investment scene, the executive who first greets Mark and Sean, is in the same field of focus as Mark himself, while the other guy speaks (Sean is in a different plane of focus here though).
        Where is Sean in all this? He is the visionary, the businessman, the professional. He is smart and impersonal, without any weakness, the master to his apprentice and yet the film goes out of its way to establish his weakness and his crookedness. Why does the film do that? When Eduardo mocks at punch at him, why does the film so falsely score a point for Eduardo? It is this forced moral judgment, not letting the morality to come out of the narrative, but the morality decide the narrative that makes The Social Network a most horribly didactic film.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Best Movies of 2010, and your Best Picture

The Grumbach Awards 2010

Best Picture







The Nominees Are (In alphanumeric order):

Note: Click on the Titles for the Reviews.




127 Hours: As I have said before, and I shall say again – this here is the American Movie of the Year. The performance that is James Franco quite coolly blends with the performance that is Aron Ralston which quite triumphantly performs the glorious American feat that is this film. It is at once a post-modern film that is not cynical but one of supreme faith in humanity. And then we have the academics of a schizophrenic filmmaker and a meta-performer provide for the most thrilling director-actor combo. This film is the reason why Hollywood is the biggest American cultural export.





Ajeossi (The Man from Nowhere): Quite simply the action movie of the year. Enough said.





Alle Anderen (Everyone Else): A relationship that cuts perilously close, so close that it borders on being unwatchable. Insecurities hide behind coolness, rather deliberately hidden behind a performance of coolness. Here is a couple who take pride in being different from everyone else, and that pride is a façade, a performance so difficult to maintain. The most closely observed, and least directed of all films this year.





Akmareul Boatda (I Saw The Devil): The beast of the year. Revenge not cold, not poetic, but down and dirty. The middlebrow preoccupation with revenge is taken to the cleaners here. Much like The Prestige the ego that is associated with revenge longs usurps love, and most correctly (politically incorrectly) the film condones that. A brilliant formal exercise, and a plundering of the slasher genre not merely to nod but to serve a thematic concern.





Copie Conforme (Certified Copy): What’s the difference between a Werner Herzog and a David Fincher? What’s the difference between Manhunter and Miami Vice? Why do we so instinctively respond to on-location filmmaking? Why does Quentin Tarantino obsess on film, and claim that he would never opt for digital? Why does Pixar obsess over the strangely paradoxical realistic looking animation? What is validity of urban India, or for that matter urban everywhere? Did Aron Ralston inspire 127 Hours or did 127 Hours inspire Aron Ralston? Kiarostami’s masterpiece might provide for some answers, but many more such questions.





Inception: The authoritarian movie of the year, in its structure and in its theme, which by definition makes it one of the greatest blockbusters. Here is a film that makes it impossible to watch it in any other way than its own terms, arresting us and instructing. It is awesome, magnificent and often redundant, and yet it is the film that the inner Melville in me responds to. In its attention to exposition, and its unwavering preoccupation with plot, the film brings together a most subtle way of character development – only through action. Did Nolan miss a Melvillian trick by constantly explaining his heist? I think he did, and I cannot stop fantasying how thrilling it would’ve been had we merely been a witness to this most elaborate mind-game. Remember The Brothers Bloom? A great film.





Kynodontas (Dogtooth): Here is the most liberal movie of the year. We might never have another Bruno on the screen, but if he were to make a film, here it is. If the Romanian masterpiece below was implicating its character, this film here implicates the viewer, and compels us to question our reactions and hence the hypocrisy of our morality. Quite undeniably the political allegory of the year.





Les Herbes Folles (Wild Grass): Resnais has always been ad-libbing and as always been discovering his films. A radical then, and still a radical. With images, with memory, with cinema. Resnais strives on cliché, on kitsch, on melodrama and here he spreads wildness around a stereotypical romance. It is like Resnais channeling a Norman Bates via Calvin, and the result is another Resnais masterwork.





Marţi, După Crăciun (Tuesday, After Christmas): The most moral camera of the year. In a film as this, the cool friend with no personal stakes somehow becomes a judge of sorts, and that is the role the camera assumes here. It is kind but it is implicating. This implication makes it the most gripping thrilling film of the year, so brilliantly orchestrated that a study like Tim Smith’s research on David Bordwell’s blog would yield greater more insightful results. In its choreography of action and its supreme craftsmanship of leading our gaze this film has no parallel. The rarest of rarities.





Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives: There is magic, there is fantasy and there is this film. Yes it is a dream, yes it is cinema, yes it is a monk, but then there is a resistance in it that doesn’t sit well with me. If Uncle Boonmee had a brother, it would have to be Dostoevsky’s Uncle Zosima.





You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger: As smart a film as Mr. Allen has ever made. Viewed purely from an architectural perspective, it is fascinating how Mr. Allen deftly handles the various players in a non-functional family, none of them feeling like supporting players, and still gives them the treatment of one of those multiple-story hyperlink movies. There’re supporting players of course, the ones who interact with each member of the family, each of those players feeling nothing but caricatures. Or maybe I get it wrong. Maybe, they are devices of fate, events draped as people and thrown at this family by the one sitting upstairs. It is strange how a cynical non-conformist like Mr. Allen might actually be giving into the workings and illusions of his fate and even suggesting that it might be the right choice. In many ways the spiritual parent to Christopher Nolan’s Inception, without of course all the pyrokinetics.



And the winner of the First Grumbach Best Picture Award is:



Alle Anderen (Everyone Else): Tell you what, I have only ever watched 43 min. of this film, and the vulnerability and observation inside of it is enough to tell me that this here is a masterpiece. It is immediate, and feels like almost looking inside of a mirror. Probably the most complicated and challenging movie of the year.