Archive

Archive for January, 2011

February 2011 movies!

Which do you want to see?  Vote on the sidebar!

Sanctum – James Cameron and underwater caves.

Just Go With It – Jennifer Aniston + Adam Sandler?

Gnomeo and Juliet – what it sounds like.

I Am Number Four – three are dead, and he’s the fourth.

Unknown – Liam Neeson wakes up to a world without him.

Carbon Nation – documentary about climate change solutions.

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Categories: Polls, Previews

Bruce Willis with hair: “Surrogates”

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

In the mood for some science fiction fluff during this below-zero blustery weekend?  “Surrogates” is a relatively short action flick that came out in 2009, about a future where everyone has a robotic ‘surrogate’ that lives out day to day life, thus allowing the user to stay at home, safe from disease and violence.  Get this: Bruce Willis is in it, and since he has a younger, better-looking surrogate running around for him, he has hair.

The movie opens with a strange murder, where the son of the inventor of surrogates was murdered actually through his surrogate.  This defies the safety of surrogacy, and a panicked office sends FBI Agent Tom Greer (Willis) to investigate.  This is certainly an interesting setup, reminiscent of “Chobits” or “Ghost in the Shell”.  But while there are tons of interesting ideas here, as is always the case with android/robot stories, the fact of the matter is that none of them get played up in any satisfying way.

The futuristic look and feel of the movie, as well as the ideas of humans losing touch with their humanity (never even interacting with their regular bodies, only using surrogates) is fascinating.  There is one scene with soldiers, who sit in rows and rows of link-up pods, controlling skeletal, disposable robots.  When the robot dies, the soldier whips off his goggles and says, “I’m down”, before getting a new robot and going back into combat.  A classmate told me about a PBS episode he saw about soldiers controlling attack drones, basically piloting missiles from the safety of their workplaces, killing who knows how many people, and then going back home to their families.  I wonder what that does to a person.

Overall – 1/5; this movie has good ideas, but unfortunately, it is mediocre through and through.  Even the action scenes are bad.  I watched it simply because typing and searching through the Xbox system is a huge pain, and Netflix kept recommending it for me.

Best regards,

Apple

New theme!

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Theme shopping is hard to do, but it was time for a change, no?

Categories: Misc

The Social Network—A Made-up Story reviewed by Orion

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

There has been much huballoo about the factual accuracy of this particular film.  Being a movie reviewer, I’ve decided to avoid this controversy (sorry internet) by assuming the movie is 100% made-up.  This is, of course, a gross oversimplification.  It is far more likely that this movie is a distortion of events that have actual basis in history.  Luckily for me, it makes no difference for my review.

This film’s greatest strength is the way it manages to capture the raw intelligence and creativity of its characters.  The top notch cast (Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, most notably) interact in a way that feels wholly unscripted.  Every scene is emotionally believable, and the writing is such that every blisteringly sarcastic conversation from Eisenberg stings even the audience watching it.  Garfield plays his character perfectly, the charm and insecurity of his character shining through.

You’ll notice, however, that I mention only actors in the paragraph above.  Why is this?  Is it because none of the actresses in “The Social Network” were able to act?  Not at all. On the contrary, like all the characters the actresses did their jobs remarkable well.  The problem was the way those roles were written.  There have been several criticisms leveled at this film because of its supposed misogynist tilt, and I can see where they come from.  David Fincher, the director, has responded to critics by noting that the institutions that his film explores (including the famed final clubs of Harvard) are notoriously misogynist institutions, and that looking at these institutions from a particular viewpoint naturally push his film into certain territories.  I’m not sure I buy such an argument, for several reasons too long to explore in detail here, but it is certainly true that Fincher provides no positive roles for actresses in this film besides a lone role for a female associate in a major law firm.

Acting aside, however, the movie benefits from excellent technical details.  Fincher directs with flair, setting the story up in such a way that plays with the audience’s expectations.  Before, I said that whether the story is true or not has no relevance to my review.  Well that wasn’t true.  In fact, the director cleverly causes the audience to constantly question their assumptions about the story.  The film takes place during a deposition, with each character’s testimony or testimonies filling in the blanks of a story we know very little about.  We are forced to rely on the testimony of people who despise, dislike, and betray each other.  This is a genius move, because it sidesteps the issues of what is true and what is false, relying on conveying the turbulent emotions and necessities of the case instead of deciding what is true.

The great flaw of this movie is that despite the polished and well-told story, the characters themselves are incredibly simplified.  I say well-acted, yes, but despite capturing the intelligence and creativity of such giants as Sean Parker and Mark Zuckerberg, it fails to capture any actual character.  What person is only intelligence?  What person is only charm and brilliance?  Moreover, this simplicity of character undermines the overall believability of the film.  Are we to believe that the founder of Facebook, a man who gives speeches on a regular or semi-regular basis, has so little charm or warmth that he only has one friend?

This is a very good film, a very clever film, but ultimately, a very flawed film.  Factual accuracy is not a requirement for art.  But truth, resonance and emotional believability, is.

4/5 Waffles

-Orion

Oscar nominations for 2011!

January 25, 2011 Leave a comment
Categories: Misc

Because we are gentlemen of Harvard! – “The Social Network”

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ll admit it: I love the romance surrounding Harvard.  However, through a series of chances, Orion and I missed out on seeing “The Social Network” when it came out.  Now that it has finally debuted on DVD, we’ve finally filled in this blank.  It took a while though, and in the meanwhile, the film won Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Score at the 68th Golden Globes.   I hope my score doesn’t come across as a surprise, because I really thought the movie was well done and polished.

“The Social Network” is the story of how the now ubiquitous Facebook was founded.  It comes as a series of flashbacks during two lawsuits against Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook.  This is certainly an interesting story, and it is extremely well organized; there are no sloppy moments, although there are quite a few questionable ones.  The dorm room planning and coding was great, although I’m not so sure how I felt about Harvard’s finals club parties.

There are always issues with making a movie about people who are still active and alive.  The film portrays Zuckerberg as a genius, but a big jerk, and this certainly can’t reflect too positively on the real Mark.  But that doesn’t really matter, does it?  I’m pretty sure I am old enough to understand that everything I see on the screen doesn’t have to be real.  And besides, it makes a damn good story.  Facebook is so huge – Zuckerberg is the world’s youngest billionaire – and the murky circumstances of the website’s birth were just begging to be told.

The actors in this movie do a great job.  Jesse Eisenberg does an excellent job as Zuckerberg, talking quickly, jumping from thought to thought unceasingly, and most of all, portraying him as a believable college student and inventor.   I had previously read an article in Time, who named Zuckerberg as Person of the Year (see article here: http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2036683_2037183_2037185,00.html).  The article portrayed him extremely positively, though Orion remarked on a lack of quotes from Zuckerberg, implying him difficult to interview.  Eisenberg’s Mark certainly seems so.  Similarly, I thought Justin Timberlake did an excellent job with Sean Parker, the charming though possibly paranoid inventor of Napster.  I loved the way that Parker and Zuckerberg clicked, and the way that Parker talked his way into so many things.  Armie Hammer played both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the giant crew-rowing twins who sued Zuckerberg for ‘stealing’ their idea for Harvard Connection.

A few side notes – one friend who recommended the movie to me, Stephanie Chang, remarked that the movie treated women as objects.  This is definitely true – each girl in the movie is a bitch, a slut, or even both.  I’m still not sure how I feel about this, but in lieu of the movie’s overall polish, I’m going to let it slide. Also,  I stared at the actor for Eduardo Saverin for a long time before I realized he was Andrew Garfield, Tommy from “Never Let Me Go”.  And then I looked at the actress for Erica Albright for a long time before realizing she was Rooney Mara, our upcoming girl with the dragon tattoo, starring opposite Daniel Craig.  I must be getting old.

Overall – 5/5; I thought everything about this movie was well planned and well executed.  A Best Picture well-deserved.

Best regards,

Apple

You fight like a hamster! – “No Strings Attached” – 2.5/5

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanks to Resident Connections for providing us residents with free movie screening passes!  We got to see “No Strings Attached” an entire five hours before the rest of Chicago, and the theater was super packed.  This made for a lively audience, which is always a great thing to have during a romantic comedy.

“No Strings Attached” stars recent Golden Globe Best Actress Natalie Portman as Emma, in a role that diverges a ton from “Black Swan”.  Opposite her is Ashton Kutcher as Adam, in a not-too-surprising cute/quirky role.  They meet in a series of serendipitous, random, rather nonsensical series of events, and quickly decide to have a unique relationship setup: one that is purely physical, devoid of romance, and of course, has no strings attached.

I think this movie just proves how versatile an actress Portman is.  Coming straight from psychotic “Black Swan”, Portman is easily able to slip into the goofy, sweet character of Emma.  (I liked how Emma was a doctor, pulling 80-hour weeks, by the way.)  The rest of the movie unfolds in prime chick-flick style (our movie audience was maybe 80-20 girls to guys), with a good measure of humor and raunchiness thrown in.

Unfortunately, while this movie has a cute, almost original premise, nothing too deep goes down; the ending is especially bland. This kind of romantic comedy is already overdone, so much so that even the ‘original’ ideas have been overdone.  The original romantic comedy goes like this: boy and girl meet, fall in love, and then something goes bad and someone runs away and the other person chases them to the airport.  Even stories with a little twist, like “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days” or “Hitch”, feel overdone by now.

At least “No Strings Attached” tries for cleverness, and its script is not bad.  The audience laughed at almost every joke, and Portman and Kutcher were both naturals.  There are lots of cute secondary characters, including a dog named Freckles, but that’s all they are, secondary characters.  Emma and Adam each have their own circle of friends, and they are all at least well set up with solid (if shallow) personalities.

A side note that bothered me – the trailer made this seem like Emma and Adam were best friends for a long time, who didn’t want to “worry about their friendship being ruined” (Wikipedia).  But that’s not the case at all – they spend one summer at camp together, meet briefly during college, and then again when the movie starts.  This makes it feel like a lot less is at stake, and was rather disappointing.

Overall – 2.5/5; you’ll have fun and laughs during the ride, but the film makes little impression.

Best regards,

Apple