Posted in Film Commentary

Review: The Social Network

Sorry for the late post! I just want to say upfront that I am reviewing this strictly as a movie and will not be comparing it to or assuming that it directly correlates to anything Mark Zuckerberg has actually said or done. With that being said, I think this is movie is visually beautiful and has a pretty good soundtrack but the story is problematic and petty. That’s a pretty hefty statement to make, I’m aware, so I’ll get right into it.

I’m not going to lie, I’m a feminist. Not one of those “men are evil and women will triumph the day man falls” type of feminists, but I tend to notice things in our culture and media that treat women either as objects or simply don’t portray them with the same level of respect (or even realism) as men. This movie has an absolutely abysmal portrayal of women. There are three female characters that actually do anything worthwhile in this film that I can think of off the top of my head: Gretchen (Eduardo Saverin’s lawyer), Marylin Delpy (the jury specialist), and Erica Albright. All the other women in this film are portrayed as being crazy, slutty, or really into partying.

Now, I understand that this is supposed to be the story of Mark Zuckerberg and all the other men who were involved in the founding of Facebook, and thus it’s going to be a very male-centric storyline. However, this does not mean that the women who do appear in the film need to be so shallow and poorly presented. On this note, I really enjoyed Erica Albright as a character, but I find it odd that the movie tried to make it seem like she was the reason Mark created Facebook. I think her character was perfectly justified in the way she responded to him in the two scenes they interact with each other, but I still couldn’t get over how contrived it was to say that one of the reasons Mark created Facebook was to prove to Erica that he was a good guy.

Moving on, I want to talk a bit about the interesting uses of lighting and color grading. This film is visually very calming and beautiful, as the lighting has been dimmed down to mostly the essentials and not much extra and everything has been color-graded to have a yellow or green tint to it.

I’m mostly pointing this out because the story itself revolves around two different lawsuits, which are tense and uncomfortable. By making the lighting dimmer than average and giving everything a green or yellow hue amidst sets that are rich browns and reds, the movie becomes visually relaxing despite the nature of the story. The film feels mildly unrealistic despite being loosely based on true events, and the scenes that take place at Harvard feel oddly nostalgic.

Another thing I liked about this film was the way the story was structured. I thought it was interesting to see the lawsuits and the story itself pan out at the same time. Introducing some of the scenes as discussion points for the lawsuits gave much-needed background for why these scenes were important and helped give the audience a sense of how they should feel about these scenes. For instance, the Caribbean party at the Jewish fraternity would not have been nearly as intense had it not been framed as the beginning of a betrayal.

Lastly, I want to talk for a brief second about the music. I am a sucker for music in films that doesn’t call attention to itself unnecessarily. There are plenty of films with grandiose soundtracks that don’t fit the genre of the work as a whole, and seeing a movie with music that simply highlights the scene is very refreshing. I think Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross balanced the music well with what was going on in the film and made sure not to drown out the film with the score. The music is simplistically beautiful and I feel the Best Original Score Academy Award was well deserved.

I honestly don’t care much for the story in this film, as it highlights just how petty college life can be, and how that attitude doesn’t always leave once you’ve graduated or dropped out. All the characters are so bitter and angry with each other that I can’t help but feel apathetic toward all of them. However, I think this film is a great example of where cinema can go visually and musically and deserves to be praised for the aesthetics.

Favorite Scene:

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: A Scanner Darkly

It really saddens me to know that this movie was technically a flop. I remember seeing it in theaters when it came out and it was really confusing, but I was still in high school at the time. Re-watching it this week has reminded me just how good this movie is and how unfortunate it is that it didn’t get more attention. There are so many things at work here (animation, literary themes, cinematography, etc) that make this film good that did not get the full attention they deserve.

The first thing you notice about this film, of course, is the animation. The use of cell-shading on live footage gives this film a surreal feeling that matches the storyline perfectly. The animation makes the movie feel like a comic book, while at the same time revealing the harsh truth about the real world. This helps the story significantly, as Bob (Keanu Reeves) spends a large portion of the movie questioning what is real, whether he is a good person in a bad world or if the bad world has made him bad, etc.

By giving the viewer something to recognize as real while altering it to seem drawn on or “fake”, the viewer is eased into the mindset that this is just a story, while at the same time realizing the eeriness that everything is just a bit too familiar. Another reason this type of animation works so well is simply due to the nature of the scramble suit and the hallucinations experienced by some of the characters. While these could be pulled off in live-action using CGI, they would not have blended in as well. By using the cell-shaded animation over live-action, the hallucinations and the scramble suits seem just as real as the characters themselves.

My favorite thing about this film is not so much the plot itself, but the themes that are at play within the story. There are of course the “drugs are bad, corporations are bad, government is bad” overtones, but I’ll get to that in a minute. What I really love about this film is the warning against societal extremes. At one point, Bob has a flashback to his life before living with Barris and Luckman where he remembers having two daughters and a wife, showing the house as a clean and picture-perfect suburban setting. By describing his realization that he hated his life and showing the house as the run down drug-house it is now, it becomes clear that Bob traded one extreme for another. He traded being the poster boy perfect suburban father for being the poster boy drug addict. Later in the film, he complains again about how messed up the house is and how there should be a family there. Bob’s failure to see past the extremes society pigeonholes us into is a large part of what causes his unhappiness.  He does not fit either stereotypical role very well, nor is he happy trying to do so, but can’t seem to decide what would really make him happy.

Now of course, we go back to the “drugs are bad, corporations are bad, government is bad” overtones. Drugs are bad, as shown in this film, because it is too easy to get addicted and you become unable to control yourself. That seems fairly straight-forward, and it is at least one of the main intentions by Philip K. Dick (author of the novel this film is based on). This is made obvious by just how quickly Substance D takes over Bob’s life, but also by the epilogue shown just before the credits, listing casualties of drug abuse and a hope for a better future.

Government and corporations are bad in this film for pretty obvious reasons. The drug epidemic is so pervasive that the government has absolutely no idea how to stop it, and thus they have taken to spying on their citizens to try to catch anyone even remotely interested in Substance D. This is what makes Bob end up getting addicted in the first place, as he is assigned under cover to spy on himself. The corporations are bad because the organization that claims to help keep Substance D off the streets and treats people who are addicted to Substance D is actually the same group that is putting the drug on the market in the first place. I kind of like to think of it in the same terms as McDonald’s being a major supporter of the Olympics despite their food being ridiculously unhealthy. They understand the problem, they acknowledge the problem, but they don’t actually help stop the problem because it would be bad for business.

As for the actual plot, this movie is extremely depressing. Donna turning out to be an undercover officer named Audrey who plants Bob in these situations to get him checked into New Path’s rehab center on purpose is heartbreaking. The fact that the society has gotten so bad that sacrificing someone for the sake of possibly exposing New Path is the only way to even attempt solving the problem just goes to show how dire the situation really is. It reveals that the corporation pretty much runs the society, leaving the government and law enforcement practically defenseless.

While I regretfully can’t say I’ve read the book, this movie makes me want to run out and find a copy immediately. I think this story kept a lot of deep literary themes that the book is very likely to have, and that is unusual for film these days. If anyone reading this has read the book, leave a comment and let me know what you think of this interpretation. Anyway, that’s all for now and I hope this harsh view of our society doesn’t spoil your weekend!

Favorite Scene:

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Office Space

This film has become a cult classic over the years and it is easy to see why. It is relatable, entertaining, enlightening, and just fun. It’s so common these days to see movies that think they need to be over the top to be funny, but I absolutely love the humor in this movie for the subtlety and honesty that only requires a small suspension of disbelief.

This movie does a great job of telling the story without too much explanation or unnecessary dialogue. The character development in this film is superb, as you feel like you get the general idea of who these people are before they even get to work in the first scene.

A lot of people rely on excessive dialogue or voiceovers to introduce their characters, but this movie introduces them simply by showing us how they act on the way to work. The only time a character deviates from this portrayal is after Peter undergoes hypnotherapy, and even by then we’ve learned from his conversations with Samir, Michael, and Lawrence that he’s doing what he’s wanted to do all along: nothing. It is so refreshing to watch a film that is not bogged down by excessive talking and has nailed the characters down so well that they don’t NEED to tell us about themselves in order for us to understand what kind of people they are.

Great character development doesn’t mean anything though if the story isn’t good. Luckily, Office Space is relatable and interesting. The story is one we often tell to our own friends: how upper management will rue the day they thought they could just walk all over us! Peter, Michael, and Samir attempt something almost everyone has dreamt of, but the movie still keeps the subtle realism in check when everything goes wrong and Peter has to confess.

This story is great because of it’s simplicity and how it stays down to earth despite the grandiose schemes and ideas of the characters. It reminds us that we can dream big but still have to deal with the real world when attempting to execute those dreams. This is a film saying “hey, we’ve all been there, and everything will be ok”.

Usually I don’t talk about how old a movie is, but I want to mention it because I actually remember this movie coming out and I can tell from experience just how much things have changed. Honestly, I love how this movie is a time capsule for the late 90s, in that everyone is a bit jaded, they still use floppy disks, and Joanna wears a bucket hat to a party (and rocks it, might I add). There are some movies that don’t seem to age at all and others that show their age a little too much, and perhaps I’ll change my mind in another decade or so but I think this movie is aging gracefully. The plot is still relevant, interesting, and relatable (I know, I’m using that word a lot), and there are only a few tell-tale signs that this movie is from the 90s.

Speaking of age, the music used in this movie is minimal but still perfect. I can’t say I’m an expert on gangsta rap, but it was fairly popular at the time. Using songs like “Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta” was both a sign of the times as well as a great comedic juxtaposition. Being nerdy hadn’t become mainstream yet and associating programmers with rappers was a little unusual and yet a flawless choice. On one hand the songs they chose had lyrics that reflected what the guys were doing (for the most part), and on the other it showed that programmers and other “geeks” were a part of regular culture, too. In fact, I would not be surprised if someone came up and told me that this movie was a primary influence in the rise of nerd popularity.

Overall, this movie has cult status for a reason. Everyone can relate to it, it’s subtle but still funny, and sometimes it helps to just watch a movie so we can live vicariously through the characters as they steal from their bosses and destroy the broken printer like we’ve all wanted to do.  Normally I include my favorite scene, but YouTube clips for this movie are almost exclusively parodies of the printer scene. Instead, here’s the trailer!

Trailer:

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Moon

Science Fiction has evolved quite a bit in the last sixty years or so, and Moon is a very good representation of where science fiction has been and where it is going. While the movie does not explicitly state when it takes place, Moon is a film about a man who has a three-year contract to harvest helium-3 from the moon to use for energy back on Earth. That is about as normal as this movie gets.

It is very clear that this movie takes influence from sci-fi of all sorts. T.S. Eliot once wrote an essay discussing literary tradition and how new works of literature work within that tradition, not separate from it. This film does exactly that by taking influence from movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and building something new out of that tradition. Moon is reminiscent of great sci-fi of the past but still feels new and exciting.

In most of my reviews, I talk about the plot and the other elements shamelessly without much regard to spoilers. However, since this is an indie film produced in the UK and there is a chance that many of you have not seen it, I will not be discussing the plot in detail. What I will say is that I felt the timeline was a little bit off. The amount of time the characters are given to make the realizations they come to, devise a plan, and execute said plan seems far too limited for the types of decisions that are made.

While I won’t say how the movie does this, I love the way the film explores the idea of what it means to be human. Is it our memories or emotions? Is it simply that we are flesh and blood? One thing that is also great about this is the movie doesn’t claim to have come up with one solid answer to this question, and it is very clear that the answer the characters come up with is simply the right answer for them. No one can pin down the exact thing that makes us human, but the movie does a great job of exploring how important it is to be treated humanely and with respect.

This is an indie film that only had a budget of $5 million. Considering that, the scenery and set designs for this film were great. The base was very well designed and helps invest the audience in the claustrophobic feeling of being stuck on the moon with nowhere to go. Once again, this film is reminiscent of sci-fi films of the past by designing the base with lots of angles and white walls. However, the natural wear and tear from Sam working and living there so long gives the base an almost abandoned feeling, like looking at pictures of Chernobyl.  While the indoor scenes feel relatively hostile, the scenes that take place on the surface of the moon are breathtaking and magical. The scenery accents the romantic idea of what it would be like to be in space while still adding to the mystery of the story.

The music also serves a huge purpose in this film, accenting the scenes with perfect subtlety. The score itself might seem repetitive to some, but that fits the idea of this film perfectly. Sam Bell has spent all of this time on the moon with no companion other than GERTY. With the same theme playing on and off throughout the film, we are immersed in Sam’s mindset. There are variations on the theme depending on severity of the situation of course, but this still helps to emphasize the monotony of being on the moon and the emotional troubles to come.

Finally, this movie would not be the gem it is without the excellent performance of Sam Rockwell. It is hard to believe that he is the same actor who played Zaphod Beeblebrox in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Guy Fleegman (or “the red shirt”) in Galaxy Quest. Sam Rockwell has come a long way from being the comic relief we’re so used to and proves in this film that he is capable of carrying a movie on his own. He is under-appreciated as an actor and deserves more credit for this role than he has gotten. Had this film gotten more publication following its release three and a half years ago, I can imagine we would have seen much more of Sam Rockwell.

Normally I end my reviews with a favorite scene, but I have good news and bad news. Bad news is there aren’t very many clips from this movie online. Good news, the entire film is on Youtube!  Feel free to watch the movie and comment if you want to discuss the plot in further detail! Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

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