Film Review: The Social Network

11 10 2010

I was going to review Buried for you tonight, but since it’s been out for a while I’ll get stuck into The Social Network.

I will just say I found Buried entertaining enough although the best part of my evening occurred when some Scouse mouthbreather was reprimanded for using his normal speaking voice in the cinema, he got up, started shouting at Ryan Reynolds for being boring and then chastised everyone for not leaving with him. That’s no sleight on the film… he was just that extraordinarily morose. I often think it would be quite liberating if my brain was a pickled cabbage.

Anyway – The Social Network! Not going to lie, I went into this film with some apprehension; Facebook is the social behemoth of our times so I thought this would be some fawning tribute to the website’s creator – Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg). Around 5 minutes in, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that wasn’t the case.

I saw Eisenberg in Zombie Land, and funny as it was (and it was funny) he was doing his best Michael Cera impression. But in The Social Network he showed more depth, portraying a socially akward, sometimes funny, sometimes rude individual obsessed with increasing his status in a bid to make others like him as a person and perhaps more-so, make him feel better about himself. It was quite a frank performance and it certainly didn’t pander to the Facebook creator.

The first half of the film follows Zuckerberg around Harvard where he studied computer programming. Through a drunken, misogynistic computer programme that he created to reap revenge on his ex-girlfriend,  he captures the attention of a group of high-flying Harvard students: 2 future rowing Olympians (think Abercrombie & Fitch’s wet dream) and their friend. The group pitch an idea to Zuckerberg of a Harvard social networking site that would encourage girls to hook up with Harvard guys. Zuckerberg agrees to help but then proceeds to take the best bits of their idea, bank roll the project with the help of his friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and fob them off until the project goes live and snow-balls.

The rest is one crazy tale of lightning quick success and the audience are treated to a series of moral dilemmas which many of us will not be faced with. The relationship between Mark and Eduardo becomes strained as the site becomes more successful and this problem reaches it’s climax when Napster creator Shaun Parker (played by Justin Timberlake) charms Mark and muscles his way into the company. Also, regarding the Harvard golden boys who allegedly first came to Zuckerberg with the social networking idea, the question is raised as to whether it’s legitimate to feel wronged when someone takes your idea, refines it and then takes it further than you could ever hope to?

Eisenberg certainly steals the show; his conflicted, flawed portrayal of Zuckerberg certainly humanises the character and personally I wasn’t sure whether I pitied him, loved him or hated him. There’s a strong supporting performance from Garfield whose performance as Eduardo left me feeling incredibly sorry for the long suffering best friend – he really comes across as a guy who it was so hard not to like. Timberlake also does an excellent job of portraying Parker as a real opportunistic, charismatic, cowardly piece of shit! The long used plot device of a woman coming between two friends is employed here, except the trouble making beauty is a billion dollar business.

Getting an insight into one of the biggest cultural phenomenon’s of  our time was a real treat and regardless of whether the events were a hundred percent accurate, it was wonderfully entertaining, made me laugh and perhaps more disconcerting, made me think… shock.



Review: Cloud Atlas

26 09 2010

Right, trawling around Wilkinsons for a cutlery drainer  has made me realise that my life has just become a heady cocktail of excessive living. So for this afternoon only, I’ll take it down a notch and as promised, give you a review on my most recently read book: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (not that one).

Cloud Atlas is a tale of 6 characters, all of them in different parts of the world and periods of time, but they are all cosmically linked; Adam Ewing, is a 19th Century lawyer on a ocean voyage from Sydney to San Francisco, Robert Frobisher, a young composer in the 1930’s who, down on his luck decides to seek out one of his musical heros in Belgium in order to kick-start his own career, Luisa Rey, a 1970’s Californian journalist who is looking to uncover a massive conspiracy at the state nuclear plant after a scientist she meets in a chance encounter is later found dead.

The book also covers several other characters spanning the present day, a dystopian future city and a post apocalyptic island where the inhabitants are peaceful shepherds but they are surrounded by barbarians.

I was really surprised to read that the Sunday Telegraph disclosed it would not review ”Cloud Atlas” because its critic found the novel ”unreadable.” After reading through the milieu of protagonists that feature in the novel, it seems like it would be hard to read through, but I found it one of the easiest, most pleasureable reading experiences I’ve had for a long time. When a chapter closes on one character ready for a transition to the next, you are really disappointed that you are going to have to wait to find out what happens. I really felt that there was no way I would like the next character and their story as much as the previous but it really is a credit to the author that after the initial couple of pages I was hooked on the next story and quickly turning

the pages in anticipation.

Another brilliant facet of Cloud Atlas is the language; An easy trap to fall into would have been  to create multiple characters, come up with excellent original story-lines for each one, but then not have the depth as an author to assign a unique “voice” to all of them. Mitchell does this brilliantly and I never felt like I was hearing shades of another character coming through when they shouldn’t. All the characters really did have their own sense of individuality which is why the book was so wonderfully diverse.

Without getting too deep, I found that the philosophical messages in the story quite poignant  too and not too heavy handed. For instance, the protagonist living in Hawaii after the fall of civilisation is speaking to Meronym, a visitor to the island from a land where technology still exists. The two are speaking about human nature and the good and evil that we commit:

“List’n, savages an’ Civilized ain’t divvied by tribes or b’liefs or the mountain ranges nay, ev’ry human is both, yay. Old’uns’d got the smart (technology) o’gods but the savagery o’jackals an’ that’s what tripped the Fall (of civilisation)”.

As you can see, the language can look a little daunting at first but you get used to it. I thought it was a nice touch that Mitchell showed the evolution of language to give the effect of time passing as it really works. Zachry’s story and Adam Ewings, although furthest away chronologically, both come down to the same message which is quoted at the end of Ewings tale when he speaks about becoming an abolitionist after a black man saved his life:

“He who must do battle with the many headed Hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life accounted for no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!

Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”

The title Cloud Atlas is a paradox as you cannot navigate using clouds due to their constantly changing nature. Mitchell does however, navigating time and space with consummate ease.

A really powerful, entertaining book which you can buy from Alibris for a steal with a 20% discount code if you click the link.

Hope you enjoy it!

Film Review: The Other Guys

24 09 2010

In my never-ending quest to write about all lifestyle subjects that you’d be interested in, I’m experimenting with reviewing films that I go to see hopefully on a weekly basis. I’ll tag them under music and film so you can read them by subject if that’s what you’re into.

I will be opening this segment by reviewing The Other Guys, which is the latest offering from Will Ferrell and Anchorman director Adam Mackay. The movie tells the story of an unlikely partnership between Ferrell’s character, Allan Gamble and Mark Wahlberg who plays Terry Hoitz. Gamble is the risk-avoiding desk monkey who specialises in forensic accounting and Hoitz is an edgy livewire who is trying to overcome wrecking his career prospects since he shot a much-loved New York sports star.

The two are at odds until they stumble upon a fraud case that implicates the upper echlons of New York society. Not only have they got to get to the bottom of the case but they’ve got to work against their own department who think that the duo are on course for another embarrassment.

The Other Guys can be viewed as a partial return to form for Ferrell as it is a big improvement on his more recent offerings. I was torn between whether his movies have been getting progressively worse since Anchorman or if it is the random improvisations of Ferrell himself that has become stale. The Other Guys has a lot of moments where Ferrell is amusing and the chemistry with Wahlberg, albeit very offbeat, provides laughs for the audience. However, there are still shades of Ferrell’s laboured improvisations in the movie where it brought a polite smile to my face but it was more in appreciation of his efforts than the jokes themselves. There is a whole thread of the story, where Gamble confesses to being a pimp at college which was strange as I felt like the film was insisting was an absolutely hilarious concept, and it was for the first two minutes, but the more the movie went into it, the evident it became that it was a clumsy add on to the movie that Ferrell probably found funny.

As I said, this is only one side to a film. Wahlberg in my opinion, propped up the movie to a large extent and was very funny as Ferrell’s straight man. Anyone who saw him play Sergeant Dignam in The Departed knows that the man can pull off a kind of comedy that makes you laugh and a bit scared at the same time. There is an excellent part of the movie where Hoitz shamelessly hit’s on Gambles inexplicably attractive wife, played by Eva Mendez which was a great facet of the movie and a nice touch.

Cameo appearances by Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson are brilliant, it was just a shame that there wasn’t more of them in the movie. Michael Keaton plays the beleaguered police chief, for the most part to good effect (although there’s a TLC joke in there with him that I couldn’t help think was another one of Ferrell’s whimsical set-pieces that don’t quite come off). Steve Coogan plays the Bernie Madoff style character which is fine, but I judge Steve Coogan by harsh standards as I’ve never seen him in a Hollywood film where he is funny but it’s frustrating from an individual who gave the world Alan Partridge – same problem with Ricky Gervais!

Overall the film has regular laughs and there is enough of a story in there to provide entertainment. The script doesn’t flow as well as it should and I think it’s because Ferrell’s improv get’s crowbarred into places where it’s not necessarily needed. It’s a much better offering than Step Brothers or Talladega Nights but I don’t think Anchorman fans should break out their jazz flutes just yet.

2.5 stars