Like: The Social Network

October 2, 2010

What elevates a film?

What takes it from “good” to “pretty good”, or from that to “best of the year” status?

Does it start with having an interesting idea and resonate simply from that? Does it take the mere humble execution of excellent script? Is it how you imbue the most simplistic of scenes with tone and mood? Is it hanging your hat on a great performer? Is it maybe is simply having an engaging score? Is it…

Okay you get it.

Filmmaking is a lot of things coming together and somehow working in harmony. Those who doubt how difficult it is, should really try it one day. You’d be shocked by just how much is out of your control. You’d be shocked by how hard it is to see what a movie is going to be until your done editing it. Things you worried about actually flourish and things you thought you nailed can easily fall flat. Filmmaking is alchemy. It’s instinctual. You just hope for some good aspects to carry the piece through….

Luckily, THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a near-flawless amalgamation of  many excellent aspects:

1. The idea – The founding of Facebook is a great story and not because there’s anything particular “movie-like” about it.  In fact, the movie engages the kinds of things we rarely see represented in culture these days: the base forms of genesis, inspiration, evolution of ideas, and even the surprising nature of our recent history.  It is largely a story about ego and how ego combines with the fear of rejection to invigorate change (both personal and cultural).

2. Aaron Sorkin – I give the man a lot of crap.  He’s obviously all sorts of brilliant, but his delight with himself often just seeps off the screen. This is not the ravings of someone who says things like that. That usually my least favorite comment in the world. The problem is in Sorkin’s case it’s just so obvious (he even admits it) that the man’s just typing with one hand. Worse, the way his characters converse as if they know what the next line is going to be sometimes means intelligence can come off *gulp* as twee(*). That’s not a good thing. It can so easily scream “manufactured!” But when he’s on point, he can soar. What works in this film is wonderfully he’s able to get into the mind of a character who is similarly solipsistic to himself: Sorkin’s found the perfect vehicle in Mark Zuckerberg. The young man is brilliant person who is more interested in being right, than being good. And Sorkin can write the shit out of righteousness. Better yet he shows that he not only understands Zuckerberg, but every character in this movie (more on that later). Sorkin beautifully uses the dialogue to excel every single character motive and never launches an off-topic diatribe. Now there are diatribes of course but they are all so inherently focused on the story/action at hand that really there was no better person to write this script. It’s the most focused work we’ve seen from him.

3. Naturally, David Fincher helps with all of that. The man is yet another absurdly talented figure in this production.  I tend to waffle around on my feelings with Fincher and readily admit that FIGHT CLUB is  his most definitive work. It tapped into the zeitgeist in a way many thought impossible at the time. Heck you could argue that movie went on to define the zeitgiest. My only problem with it is that even with its mature “grow the fuck” endgame, the majority of the hardcore fanbase didn’t’ get the movie whatsover. It was stunningly counterproductive and I can outright blame it on Fincher’s romanticizing of nihilism. But nowadays I think my favorite work of Fincher is ZODIAC. The movie is such a careful examination of journalism and the nature of truth. I love it wholly. Everything else he did? Technically audacious but they all have major, major problems at script level. Well, we already talked about THE SOCIAL NETWORK’s script from Sorkin and I can think of no one more suited for executing it. The tweeness gives way to Fincher’s unblinking, dour reality. His dark atmospheres. His sense of irony. A line that may be just” smart,” comes off as brutal in his hands. He raises the stakes. He makes Sorkin’s work cut to the bone. I walked out of the film still having a litany of perfect lines rattling around my brain: “If you want to stand on my shoulders…”

4. Then there is the matter of the score. There was a lot of curiosity regarding the hire of Trent Reznor, meaning there was also a lot of suspicion too. I imagine that many of these doubters were worried about it sounding like Reznor’s more popular industrial Nine Inch Nails tracks. I doubt that many of them had heard his work from  “Still,” which features haunting, ethereal tones mixed with piano, classical instrumentation and subtle percussive rhythm. “Still” is actually one of my favorite albums, period. As such, I have been aching for Reznor to get a real shot at a film score. And his work in THE SOCIAL NETWORK is absolute homerun. While perhaps being rather overt in some sections, it knows exactly how to walk up to the line of not-overwhelming-the-narrative without actually going over. I think everyone can point to the first “facemash” sequence as the part that stands out.

5. But even with all these stalwart aspects, the weight of the film ultimately rests on the shoulders of Jesse Eisenberg.  In some ways he’s the perfect mouthpiece for Sorkin: dry, matter of fact, fast-tongued. But what makes it him so much better than that is that Eisenberg has this wonderful ability to take Zuckerberg’s deeply introverted nature and make it appropriately ranged and functional. The Zuckerberg of the film is a terse young man, someone who constantly just have to frustratingly explain his own (and far more advanced) thought process. The frustration of being that bright makes him an inherently solitary creature. Eisenberg conveys it beautifully. He’s someone who barely wants to waste his words on things that aren’t worthy or interesting. Yes, he sympathizes and emotes with others, but often he’s speaking another language. What is amazing is how Eisenberg imbues that static detachment with a subtle emotional range. He uses the slightest change in inflection to show guilt (think of his hollow first attempt at apology to Erika in the opening scene), or to show enamor (his quiet delight when cool kid Sean Parker seconds his opinions).  It is not only a joy to watch, but I can’t wait to watch the performance a second time. It’s the work of the year so far.

6. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that every other actor in the film is a delight. Andrew Garfield plays his partner Eduardo as that guy who is at once the voice of reason and yet out of his league.  It’s heartbreaking and the emotional arc of the movie depends on his ability to be wounded and weary. Thankfully he nails it. Joseph Mazello continues his foray into older roles (check out his work in The Pacific) and he is a subtle joy in this film as the “I’m lucky to be here” guy. The biggest surprise is undoubtedly Justin Timberlake. What at first seems like obtuse casting is ultimately perfect; Sean Parker is the celebrity of their programming world and their revering of him completely works with Timberlake’s celebrity status. Beyond that, Timberlake really does play the role with such a great mix of nerdy-but-earned bravado, fear, and deeply rooted insecurity. I loved him and honestly believe this will change his career.   I also think it’s safe to say that the Winklevoss Twins are going to be a lot of people’s favorite part of the movie. They are hilarious, both intentionally and unintentionally. As for the interest in the actors who play them, I won’t necessarily spoil it, but let’s just say that Armie Hammer has big things in his future. Lastly, I have to mention Rooney Mara’s brief portrayal of Erika, which works as a convincing lynch pin of the film.

So…

THE SOCIAL NETWORK is not a flawless film. It runs out of steam before sweeping in with a poignant stopping point, but it never outright collapses either.

What really is important about the film is how it really manages to define a decade that has seen it’s society flock to the internet and recreate an idealized social representation of their own life.  It never goes into any of this as outright discussion of course. But it’s all there. It’s in details and moments that we extrapolate into a bigger meaning about why people drive to go on the internet. We look at Zuckerberg’s long, lonesome walks on the wintery campus. His dissatisfied contempt of social structures and people who “have it easy.” His belief in his own ability. His concern for what is right over what is kind (Okay, fuck being kind, he’s more concerned with being right than not being a total asshole). His jealousy of friends. His secrecy and duplicity. His desire to show who are and what we want right on our sleeves. To penetrate the difficulties of real society. These are all things we all deal with, but admittedly it is the plight of some more than others. The internet makes it easier to both engage and retreat. For the tepid person in all of us it is a revelation. One that will inexorably change us forever. But we can never forget that it has also made even the nicest of us be callous jerks (ahem.. i may have once right a feature about 5 people I’d like to punch). We iunwittingly become like Zuckerman just as he has unwittingly became the voice of the internet.

We are all Zuckerman.

And we are legion.

Endnote.

* Old timey movies are written like this, but I tend to be more accepting. In fact I often love sharp, unrealistic dialogue. The key is just to have characters who don’t seem to be aware they’re engaging in witty reparte. It’s what makes the first Ocean’s movie work. It’s what makes Sorkin’s CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR work. And it’s what makes THE SOCIAL NETWORK work.


Don’t Like: This Evian Baby Commercial (It’s Terrifying)

August 26, 2010

TERRIFYING


Like: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

August 14, 2010

For those of you who have not read the Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O’Malley, do yourself a favor and run (don’t walk) to your nearest store to purchase them. All read up? Okay good.

What you may have noticed in reading is that the books are surprisingly good. Not just fun, or funny, or inventive, but outright good. They’re about maturity in a decidedly immature zeitgeist; one largely dependent on style, imagery, and desperate attempts to stay young and (ir)relevant. It’s about our fleeting fascination with posture and accepting the kinds of difficult gray areas below the surface. Stuff like  personal, financial, and emotional responsibilities. In other words, heavy stuff but in a perfectly digestible context. In that regard, I think the books are transcendent.

What’s hilarious about that proclamation is that the Scott Pilgrim property gets a ton of crap from people who think it’s nothing but crappy “hipster stuff.” The irony of that is that Scott Pilgrim is essentially a careful annihilation of hipsterism.  Scott Pilgrim is not a hipster, honestly he lacks the kind of self-awareness needed to pull that off. Scott Pilgrim’s issues are deeply basic: love, insecurity, money, responsibility. He’s way more Homer Simpson than someone who’s too cool for school. Even more revealing is that the most obvious hipsters in the books are actually the bad guys. The evil ex boyfriends run the gamut of fame obsessed narcissism, pretentious dietary snobbery, militant life choices, and most of all, simply “looking cool.”  Even one of the bad guys has a horde of “evil hipster chicks.” It’s actually kind of obvious what O’Malley is going for here.

It’s not just about the outright rejection either. One of the reasons Scott Pilgrim is mistaken for being nothing more than hipster stuff is that the main characters largely wrestle with their own desires to be cool (and regardless of form, jock, rock star, hipster, etc. being cool is one of the universal goals of the immature). “Do we rock or do we suck?” is a question repeated through the series. And naturally the answered learned is that it doesn’t matter. Life amounts to everything below the surface. Besides, to lambaste hipsterism you need to outright engage it. Sure, people can toss their snarky hand grenades from afar, but they’re doing so simply as a reaction to the surface details… and thus they are essentially engaging in the same kind of surface evaluation that they decry hipsters for doing in the first place. How’s that for irony?

Okay, enough semantics. Now let’s talk about the movie.

Edgar Wright was the perfect person to handle the film. SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ are both modern classics. He’s so adept at propulsive filmmaking and genre bending. SCOTT PILGRIM continues to the trend and even manages to push the envelope in terms of story construction. Inventive transitions abound and not in a distracting way, but designed for story telling and establishing tone. The action is surprisingly well articulated. Each fight feels unique. The references (save for one or two) are not distracting in any sense whatsoever. He’s created a wholly valid world here. But what makes Edgar Wright actually good is not just the quality of work and references (something that sets him apart from contemporary filmmakers like, I dunno, McG? or something?) but how he balances them with a nicely observed emotional moments and arcs. It’s top-flight filmmaking, genre-intensive or not.

Part of Wright’s ability to weave resonance into a stylistic narrative is his seemingly innate ability to extract perfectly observed performances from all parties involved. This is an ensemble cast in the truest sense. We have our two leads of course, but the supporting figures are so richly weaved into tapestry and plot of the film that it simply would not work if anyone did not carry their respective scenes. This is largely because Wright slightly skews the of tone the books in favor of making the supporting cast be the driving force of the narrative. Seriously they are all fantastic. In order of my favorites:

Wallace Wells – Keiran Culkin balances the art of caring and supporting a friend and giving them a right proper kick in the ass (and often doing both at the same time). His deadpan lines just slay.

T0dd – Brandon Routh rocks the self entitled asshole rockstar and holier than thou lifestyle with such a nice sense of focus: meaning he goes broad, but it doesn’t feel broad. His bravado has a casualness. Tricky stuff. I loved it.

Stephen Stills – Stills always felt a little flat in the comic (or at least I wasn’t sure how to read him) and Mark Webber really makes him shine in the movie.

Knives Chau – Her story was really focused on in the movie (well, that makes more sense given the original ending) but I was originally worried that she would come off as pure slapstick (like she does in the trailers) but nope, Ellen Wong perfectly captures the shyness and soft-spoken 17  year insecurities beautifully.

Kim Pine – Alison Pill’s a force of sarcastic nature.

Lucas Lee – Chris Evans does go cartoonishly broad and STILL slays.

Stacy Pilgrim – Anna Kendrick nails a role I essentially forgot about. Her comic timing is just effortless isn’t it?

Comeau- The guy who plays the guy who knows everyone and he has to convey his character entirely in, like, three well-delivered lines. He nails it and propels even one of the better meta jokes in the movie.

And then there’s the leads. As Ramona Flowers Mary Elizabeth Winstead gets the opportunity to play something other than “pretty girl.” (Seriously, in Death Proof she is just objectification objectified… which was on purpose and all but you don’t get to show range). And she’s acquits herself admirably. It’s alluring without trying to be. Sarcastic without being cold. Distancing while not shutting off. Bitchiness without being a Bitch. Like I said, most of these performances are about balancing the way we we act in real life with the raging obtuse qualities of the characters and narrative. And Winstead knows who Ramona is and how to convey her. Bravo.

And lastly there’s Michael Cera himself. He was my biggest worry going in. Not because I don’t love Cera (I do) but because I wasn’t sure what he could do with the Scott Pilgrim character. Scott is unlike most of Cera’s other characters. He wears his heart on his sleeve, talks before he thinks, voices all insecurities aloud, and is constantly unaware of his situation (instead of being painfully aware).  I’ve always wanted to see Cera show his range and hoped nothing but the best for him… but this was beloved Scott Pilgrim. People just freaking love this character (as they should, he’s sort of like a young Homer Simpson)… The stakes just seemed too high… But Cera freaking did it. He’s really does figure a way to make Scott Pilgrim work with his style and timing. He’s hilarious. Sometimes he goes subdued, sometimes he goes exasperated, but it’s always measured  while still being organic.

I obviously really like this movie.

Which is funny because walking out of it I wasn’t as enthused. I thought about how if I had my druthers I would want a lot more of the “down time” parts of the books. I wished there were some more details of how Scott was poor and siphoned off others and always needed money. I would want to see him learning about getting jobs (“It’s like a job system?) but I recognize the inherent problems of their inclusion. There is a narrative to uphold here and I was amazed how coherent it all felt. It’s part of the propulsion and maybe Scott getting a job is fittingly on the cutting room.

The more and more I thought about it the more I realized that I really loved it.

Edgar Wright.

One of the best filmmakers around.

Bryan Lee O’Malley.

One of the best comic book writers around.

Here’s to a rousing success. They’ve made something really progressive.

And to think I was once worried.


Like: Natalie Wood (1961)

August 5, 2010

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

The problem with dying under mysterious circumstances is that often people forget how you lived.

Natalie Wood is not regarded as one of our great actresses. In some ways I understand this as when compared to the heavy weights (Hepburn, Kelly, Monroe, etc) she just wasn’t quite on that level… but in another way, this makes no sense whatsoever. That’s because Natalie Wood was in some damn good movies.

We constantly think about how hr life was cut short, but in reality her career bridged three decades. She was a child star, a teen star, and finally an Adult Star (not that kind of adult, get your mind out of the gutter). And she made absolutely classic films at every stage. Seriously, why does no one talk about her more? She was in five bonafide classics: MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET(1947) [she was the young girl!] REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) [opposite Dean in his defining film] THE SEARCHERS (1956) [Ford’s best film!]. WEST SIDE STORY(1961) [She was Maria for god’s sake!]  SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS(1961) [her sultry performance was lauded across the board and began the last stage of her glory years]. From there she took what she did in … IN THE GRASS and used that persona to string together some really good performances: GYPSY(1962) LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER(1963) INSIDE DAISY CLOVER(1965) THE PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED(1966) All great work.

You could make a joke that she was one of the first stars who “had talent, but an even more talented agent” and I can’t exactly argue with her luck. She was cast in movies that transcended generations. These are seminal movies that are still with us. I can remember seeing WEST SIDE STORY as a kid and then being shocked when I sat down to watch it a theater for film school. The cinematography in that film was off the charts good. Revolutionary even. But still, she was good. She got these parts for a reason. Perhaps Sydney Pollack said it best: “When she was right for the part, there was no one better. She was a damn good actress.” The whole key being when she’s right for the part but isn’t that everyone. We get so few true chameleons in our movie stars (streep, day lewis, etc) that you have to recognize the ability of someone who merely “casts well.” Believe me, it’s a talent.

So here’s to Natalie Wood. Who cares how she died?

She’s a part of three decades of movie history and an integral part of some of the best films of all time.

That’s reason enough to care.

By the way, welcome to the 60’s.


Like: Sophia Loren (1955)

July 20, 2010

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

I believe they call it “Va Va Voom”

It bears mentioning that I’m not one of those who is gaga over Sophia Loren. There’s this weird thing that doesn’t translate to modernity about her (or at least for me), but believe me I get it. Folks have been obsessed with her for a good long while and I’m not going to argue with it.

For a whole heckuva lot of people, Sophia Loren was exotic, beautiful, curvaceous, but the word I’m actually going highlight is “intrinsic.” See there is something very special about Sophia Loren coming around in the 50s that makes the love of her something inherent. I don’t think it really has to do with acting necessarily (that career seems sort of incidental to me, academy award and all). Part of it taps into the “exotic” angle because there really was just no one else like her in the limelight (was there? Maybe I’m wrong). But there’s something more, something that translates beyond that. An allure that seems to have a great deal to do with Sophia’s amazing and well-documented confidence.

What is that allure in totality? I’m not really sure.

I’m also not sure how the gender lines break on this one. I know both men and women loved Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. But is Sophia Loren one of those guy’s girls?… I don’t really know. This also brings up issues of sexism and whether or not it’s entirely healthy for any icon to be valued solely by one sex (it implies more one-dimensionality to said like rather than something more rounded).

Since I’m unsure about so much of this, consider this post an invitation. What is it about Sophia Loren that you like?

… Honestly, for a bunch of you, it probably has something to do with this:

… or this

Or these…


Love: INCEPTION

July 17, 2010

First a non spoiler review:

INCEPTION may be one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Now, this is just a first reaction mind you, but I saw the midnight show last night and I felt this way the second I walked out of the theater.  I was on an emotional and intellectual high… It has continued all day long.

Important things to know:  I am not a “Nolan Guy.” I very much like THE DARK KNIGHT and found it to be entertaining and interesting. I only like a few parts of BATMAN BEGINS. I thought MEMENTO was rather clever, but not too much else. I thought INSOMNIA was a step backward from there. My favorite Nolan film is actually THE PRESTIGE because it’s a straightforward puzzle that relied on laying actually clues in the groundwork rather than being an nonsensical stupid “twist movie.” I hate the nonsensical twist (unlike the logical twist, which is a wonderful thing when done right) and thankfully Nolan seems to hate the nonsensical twist as well. For this alone I will always appreciate Nolan in some way. But while I embrace the intellectual puzzle-building nature of his work I think he too often slides into unemotional arcs and formalism over content.

So please understand, this is the opinion of someone who is not predisposed to gush.

INCEPTION satisfies on all levels.

First off, it is an enthralling heist film. I honestly cannot remember a movie where I was on the edge of my seat so long let alone the entire last hour and 45 minutes. The tension is immense and every time you think it has to let up, it manages to go deeper down the rabbit hole.  One of the things I loved about the film is that it’s actually pretty straight forward. Everything is perfectly explained so you’re rarely wondering “what’s going on.” (The key is just not to miss anything. If you don’t know what’s going on, you missed something and it’s your fault. I realize this sounds really esoteric, but the entire film takes its time to set up it’s layers and be deliberate… so really there’s no excuse). In this regard, from pure entertainment standpoint, it is one of the best popcorn movies I’ve ever seen.

But it’s not just a popcorn movie is it? Secondly, INCEPTION is incredibly satisfying on an intellectual level and not just in the typical Nolan puzzle sense. There’s honest to god thematics going on here. Ones that aren’t hammered over and over again like THE PRESTIGE and its issues of control, but ones that run the gamut: love, marriage, death, father issues, propagation, and the nature of reality. The film is about the rich textures psychoanalysis. These themes are not window dressing either but somehow the driving force of the film.

You see, INCEPTION manages to use psychoanalysis as actual plot points. How a character feels, their catharsis, their arcs, their emotional states… these are god damn macguffins folks. It’s sounds like it would be obtuse, but it’s so seemless and not clunky. It’s dramatic, emotional, real, and damn suspenseful. I honestly cannot believe that a movie managed to achieve all this.

In a way, Nolan has finally managed to “go emotional.” He has turned the soft-hearted and tender emotions of repression into the engine for one of his brilliant narratives. I said that he always has problems with formalism over content, but what if the formalism is the content? The action of  INCEPTION not only reinforces the arc, it is an arc.

The performances are stellar across the board. Dicaprio delivers his best work to date. I very much like his performance in THE DEPARTED, but that role is mostly a sort of one-dimensional projection of paranoia, angst, and affectation. His role in INCEPTION, meanwhile, is the most rounded and interesting one we’ve gotten from Nolan yet. His character motives are so emotional and what at first seems slightly one note, is revealed to be so textured and beautiful. I couldn’t believe it. Much of this is due to the enchanting and haunting work of Marion Cotiallard who provides such weight and organic tone. She is the absolute crux of his arc. But against her, Dicaprio toes the line between focused and unhinged so beautifully. He really the perfect carrion for the film’s lead character.

The rest of the cast isn’t given the same showcase, but Nolan does a wonderful job of giving them little moments, glimpses even to reveal their characters and motivations.  Joseph Gordon Levitt is fantastic; one of the smoothest badasses we’ve seen on screen in a while. Have we forgotten about making characters like this? Badasses that aren’t “bad” in any sense, but smooth operators who astound us. I’m hoping this film elevates his profile out of the indie scene because he has the potential to be amazing. Especially, because he easily delivers in one of the most thrilling scenes I have ever seen. Ellen Page provides a real emotional anchor for the film by grounding Dicaprio’s character and operating as the audience surrogate in the film’s first half.  Tom Hardy, fresh of his tour de force in BRONSON, gets to shine as the most vivacious and theatrical character of the group (but of course, this is Nolan so never, ever does it even approach anything camp or unrealistic feeling). At this point it seems like I’m just trying to name everyone in the film, but I have to mention Cillian Murphy who does a somewhat thankless job so beautifully. Really, his emotional work and inner turmoil is the engine of the entire film; meaning without his performance, the film doesn’t work. And of course Michael Caine lends his perfect skills of being fatherly Michael Caine.

There have been three times where I have sat down and watched something and realized “In my entire life, I will never ever be able to do something anywhere near as good as this.” It’s depressing in a small way, but largely you’re awed by the work you’ve witnessed.

The first time for me was ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. In someways it feels like the off-beat comedic version of this same film and that Gondry-Kauffman cinematic marriage was the best film of that decade.  The second time for me was THE WIRE, whose depth and novelistic tapestry was the perfect amalgamation of profoundity, characterization, and plotting.

The third time was INCEPTION. The film is a big budget brilliant idea, perfectly executed. I am literally in awe of it.

INCEPTION is a flat out masterpiece.

And now….

Point by Point Spoiler Review:

-The hotel hallway fight scene…. Unreal. My biggest bone to pick with Nolan is he often films his action poorly (his best being the joker’s chase of the armored car). But this was absolutely hands down one of the best filmed action scenes I have ever seen. Nevermind the fact that he has merely pulled back the camera, but the movement is fluid and well-defined, not to mention that the action itself completely totally jaw dropping.

-How badass was Joseph Gordon Levitt in that hotel scene? Just unreal. So freaking good. I can’t stop gushing about it.

-Cillian Murphy’s arc and the moment of “inception” was so spectacularly well done. They way they built the layers falls exactly in line with what we know about psychoanalysis. And it managed to be emotional in a way that I never thought Nolan could be (he certainly had to dress it up though didn’t he?) Brilliant. Goddamn brilliant.

-The entire Marion Cotillard relationship was haunting and the end reveal was so surprisingly cathartic. It’s the kind of reveal that doesn’t make you go “huh!? What!?” but instead makes you go “YES! THAT MAKES PERFECT SENSE!” and helps explain the motivations of the movie. Just brilliant.

-Some people see the ending moment as a mind-fuck and tease. I strongly do not agree. On one hand the fact that the fact that the spinning wheel even falters a bit is indication that it is very much real so we can give up on feeling like “none of it mattered it was all fake!” And more importantly it doesn’t matter, Nolan’s deliberate choice to cut is not a tease or a forced withholding, but a brilliant way of telling us to embrace the ambiguity (and not in that shitty didactic LOST way either). And what’s more it’s a brilliant little wink. Want to know why that last layer is “not” real?

Nolan’s acknowledging that INCEPTION isn’t really because it’s a damn movie.

A little meta, but how is that not perfect?


Love: Audrey Hepburn (1953/1961 [tie])

June 22, 2010

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

Hoo boy.

Where to start… I’m not sure. I’m sort of nervous just writing about her. There’s a lot to live up to. For all the noble dames of classic Hollywood, she’s the one that is held in the highest regard. The Nobleiest Dame if you will. I mean, people adore this woman. You want to live up to that. You have to live up to that.

Where to start… This was sorta inevitable right? I mean there was no way in hell that Audrey Hepburn wouldn’t be included in this series, right? She has to be here. Heck, her and Rita Hayworth will be elected captains and then they’ll just pick the rest.

Where to start… Maybe a transition? Some of the same things that make Grace Kelly awesome are the same things that make Audrey Hepburn awesome. The key difference is a matter of affectation. Audrey had the same quality of being austere, only she was somehow more accessible. Maybe it was just her inherent “cuteness.” Maybe it was how so many of her films were about the austere girl falling for the gruff regular Joe. Maybe it’s because there was something so effortless kind about her. Maybe it’s that she was approachable.

Where to start… Well, she’s gorgeous. Yeah that’s for sure. She’s not Grace Kelly, with the pristine model looks, but unquestionably beautiful. Sure, it seems there’s a little bit of Elf in the DNA there, but unquestionably beautiful. So that helps right? Or is that too obvious…

Where to start… How about the mission statement? When would I want to meet her? How about 1953? ROMAN HOLIDAY(1953) made her a star and for good reason. She’s simply charming in it. She’s delightful. She’s the life and integrity of the film and she’s playing of Gregory Peck for chrissakes. She’d win an oscar and become and instant icon.  It would have to be 1953…

Where to start… No, actually I have to say 1961. Yeah that’s the ticket, I mean BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S(1961)… what other choice is there? It might be one of the most iconic performances in anyone’s career let alone hers.  Even the image of her Audrey in character is seminal enough. Google “Audrey Hepburn” images and 95% of them are from that movie. The film is fantastic to boot: incredible source material from Capote, Blake Edwards making his mark as a director, just stunning quality all around. And perhaps what’s best is Hepburn’s complete inversion on her image, albeit done in the most graceful way possible. In many ways, Holly Golightly is the  same demure princess that we always consider Audrey to be, only she’s fallen from grace. It’s not abashed or sordid mind you, she’s just a small-town girl whose efforts to make it in the big city fell flat so she became just another playgirl trying to land a big whale. She’s just so damn alluring. Hepburn’s Holly is the complete characterization of the the oft-chased wild girl with a heart of gold. And coming from Capote’s novel, they do an incredible job both indulging in that stereotype (though it wasn’t really so much a stereotype at the time) and transcending it. It’s a perfect movie/role/performance. But that’s not really a place to start is it? More like the climax?

Where to start… I feel like I always had a deep connection with Hepburn. It honestly started with the famous Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster and for some reason I just abstractly decided she was one of my favorites. We often forget that we do this sort of thing when we’re kids: you like something for some silly reason, like a baseball player having the same name as you, or you like the logo on the front of something, or some other weak connection. So that’s why I started liking Audrey Hepburn. But like anything you keep up with, that circumstantial “like” turned into something tangible and genuine; a lifelong affinity for a timeless actress. And let’s be honest that poster is just fantastic.

Where to start… I don’t know. There’s so much to say, but nothing feels like it fully captures what makes Audrey Hepburn, well,  Audrey Hepburn.

Where to start…