Monday, 11 October 2010

Review: Mr Nice

Year: 2010
Director: Bernard Rose
Screenplay: Bernard Rose
Starring: Rhys Ifans, Chole Sevigny, David Thewlis, Crispin Glover, Omid Djalili, Christian McKay

This should have been a given to me. A British film, written and directed by a director I admire, with a cast I like. The trailer looked fun, and it was about an interesting man in Howard Marks how could I lose?

Well you can lose if you expect something more than what Mr Nice is, which is quite a bog standard biopic with a lead character who is kept at quite a remarkable distance. There are intermittent moments of humor and the performances are watchable. However, for me, I found it strange to how boring the everything is.

The problem for me is Rose, a director whose films have always had a wonderful uniqueness and presence, tries nothing too abstract here. The film follows the typical rise and falls of the biopic at a lethargic pace with a character that is hard to root for. Not because he peddles drugs, that not a problem with a film like this, it's more the fact that it's hard to warm to the Marks character in anyway.

The film is all so matter of fact, with no real quirks in style other than an odd placement of these modern characters into old style movie. This unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb and once again keeps us at an arms length, unlike recent biopics (Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Bronson) which use their style to create effect to create a visual mindscape that helps gain a better grip of the character. Here, it's the slow lulling tones of Rhys Ifans' narration that try and warm the audience. Unfortunately, it's far too assuming to really enjoy. 

Like I said, there are good performances within the film.  David Thewlis, Crispin Glover, Omid Djalili, Christian McKay make the most out of their flat caricatures and while Chole Sevigny struggles with the London accent she still remains an engaging presence. Rhys Ifans was clearly born for a role like this and fits into it snugly.

The problem is that there's really nothing that make you need to watch this film. It's competently made (it IS Rose) but when the film wants to talk about things such as drug legalization or the curious fact that a man from a tiny mining town in Wales becomes FBI's most wanted criminal, there are other films that have more interesting things to say.

Review: The Social Network

Year: 2010
Director: David Fincher
Screenplay: Arron Sorkin
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara, Rashida Jones

Facebook has become a massive influence on many peoples ability to connect with others. How many of people's conversations these days start with a line such as "I was on facebook the other day" or "I posted this on my wall" or one of many other dialogs that are thrown out daily? It sneaked up on us, but now, many use facebook as THE social tool. Lost your phone? Find a laptop and facebook your contacts. Got something to share with your friends quickly? You will almost definitely facebook it. Many of my friends who read me will read my reviews on facebook because I've set up a feed. It's a very interesting and conflicting way to maintain a certain amount of social status in our daily lives.

What makes this so interesting to me is that David Fincher's new film; The Social Network, is a film heavily involves about the break up of real human connections. In fact the most intriguing thing about the film is that the bigger the facebook juggernaut pushes forward, the tougher the strain on the relationships within the movies become. The film starts with a a break up between Mark Zuckerberg (a never better Essinberg) and his girlfriend Erica Albright (a neatly cast Rooney Mira). Zuckerberg's condescending manner, smarts and delusional assumptions of what attracts women causes the destruction of the relationship and set the ball rolling. Albright; the voice of reason, is then set up as Zuckerberg's Rosebud; a symbol of hope and counter balance. Like Kane's sled, once that symbol is lost so is he as he starts off with facemash and then "steals" the idea behind Harvard Connection to create thefacebook.

This is Fincher territory that I remember from films like Fight Club and The Game, as Fincher's direction and Sorkin's script tell a story of relationships fractured by territorial masculinity which spins into overdrive due to assumed views on image and status. While the aforementioned movies talk about the rejection of materialistic and jumped up gender values, The Social Network has fun with having these characters embrace such notions. After receiving oral sex from a couple of girls who find out that Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin (an emotional but slightly ott Andrew Garfield)  are the creators of thefacebook, the two giggle at the fact that "they have groupies". Another amusing moment show one of the brothers Winklevoss constantly rejecting the idea of suing Zuckerberg for stealing the idea of facebook as it's "not what Harvard men do". It's the ridiculous sense of pride that the characters hold about such aspects that separates and divides them. It's also what makes the film so entertaining to watch.

It also helps that Sorkin's rat-a-rat dialogue is so droll and well paced. Like a game of ping pong these characters riff at such a rhythm it could leave one breathless. Many times I missed a one liner because I was still laughing at another. The dialogue is zippy but you never feel lost with the material, the screenplay (with it's Rashomon style structure) rushes through tech talk and law speak but like it's lead character, you always feel aware. Never lost or talked down to, always with the moment.

The idea of  "the moment" is clearly important to Fincher as once again like Fight Club, he's managed to tap into the zeitgeist of our society; the fast flow of information we absorb, the deconstruction of how we view people and ourselves is fantastically pinpointed throughout the film with it's tight pace and emotionally broken characters. These days facebook can be used to create another you, a more substantial you something you would struggle with in reality but something these people wish to do constantly with each other. Some have argued that the portrayal of women in the film is negative, however, we are looking through the eyes of people so immensely fractured, proud and blinded by belief of machismo that of course their view is skewered. The films last shots are telling that throughout all of this the underlying aspect is "how will I look to her". Despite the surface shots of drunken co-eds and girls who go to Standfords backsides, we are always reminded that these weak men will constantly need validation.

There's some great performances from young actors in this movie. From Eisenberg's darting eyes and oddball tics, to a brilliantly weaselly display from Justin Timberlake whose rock and roll, cocksure attitude hides a paranoid and scared hanger on. There's also an extremely comical double performance from Armie Hammer, which not only shows the amusing timing of the film, but shows off a fancy digital display (Hammer's face is digitally grafted onto Josh Pence but many won't notice until told).

The Social Network is a fascinating watch, with bold performances, sniper accurate direction and a wonderful screenplay. It doesn't matter how much of it is true as it's damn fine fiction. Who would think the "facebook" movie would be so enjoyable.