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Archive for September, 2010

Movie Review by Matthew Schuchman-Three and a Half out of Five ‘Staches

Just to be clear, “The Social Network” is not a blow-by-blow tale of how Facebook was started.  Maybe storytelling wise, it does follow the sordid tale of how the site was created, but the movie is not trying to chronicle the rise of Facebook so that a civilization of superior apes in the future can see how it came to be that Dr. Zaius reached 100,000 friends.  Like any good movie based on fact or fiction, “The Social Network” uses its story to unveil a more intricate message.

In 2003, during a drunken night on his computer, Mark Zuckerberg created something that caused a stir amongst the campus of Harvard; which he was attending at the time.  From this incident he was approached by a pair of brothers who row crew and their business partner who wanted Mark’s help building their website that brings the Harvard elite together via the web.  A handful of unreturned emails and phone calls later, with the monetary aid of his friend Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg launched his own site which became, Facebook.  I don’t want to bog down this review with details about how it all happened since you will see it all when you watch the movie.  I should also mention, that somewhere in the story line Zuckerberg and Saverin cross paths with Sean Parker, the inventor of Napster, who really helped make Facebook reach the entire world, not just a few select schools.

For a lot of people, Facebook is a way of keeping in touch with others.  For me now, it is a way of promoting this site.  For a large amount of people though, it is about stature and vanity.  Zuckerberg wanted to be liked, to be known, to be feared.  Before Facebook, his goal was to be accepted into one of Harvard’s prestigious final clubs.  He wanted to be lauded like the well-known athletes in the school were.  He, like everyone else out there, wanted to be loved.  That tiny feeling you get in the pit of your stomach that says, I want people to think about me, I want to be needed by someone; that is a driving force in all of us.  Unfortunately for Zuckerberg,  his natural persona or the persona he wanted to be known by, drove more people away than towards him.

Even as things began to go well for him, Zuckerberg would just do something else to push those that helped him away.  His motives may have been created out of a deep-seated resentment for some people or they just could have been pure misguided fumbles.  In the end though, Zuckerberg just lives what he creates, at least in the film version.  I have no idea how the real Mark Zuckerberg lives.  He is a billionaire and may live the life he wanted, surrounded by loved ones or people  he pays to pretend to be loved ones, who knows.  As I stated when starting this review, the story is just a means to the moral.  Facebook has become another tool that makes the internet a place where we have tons of friends,  but no physical contact with them.  All we are left with is our thoughts on how those acquaintances may think of us, away from the computer screen.  This is the world in which the film version of Zuckerberg lives in.

What I enjoyed most about the film though, are the hints of overall paranoia it explored.  “Catfish” used the idea of people pretending to be what they are not, through Facebook as the main plot line.  “The Social Network” instead, explores the more human side of this internet paranoia.  Eduardo Saverin and Sean Parker both express their paranoid fears in the film, front and center.  Zuckerberg on the other hand, takes his fears and worries and uses them to put up that wall that keeps everyone else out, which gives him his flair of arrogance.  They are people dealing with their fears in different ways, but the outcome though different, is still gloomy for all of them.  I would not go as far as saying that their worries are not valid (though Sean Parker comes off as a real nutcase) but the way they all let these fears dictate their lives is scary.

The movie all around is well acted.  Jesse Eisenberg  is as unlikable as they come.  As well as he comes off as this very confident and pompous jerk, the real terror of the character’s feelings is so subtle and so well hidden.  The more I think about his performance, the more I feel he is award ceremony bound.  Andrew Garfield does his job well, but it is nothing spectacular and Justin Timberlake really just plays what I expect him to play.  The big surprise of the film comes from, Douglas Urbanski.  Urbanski is Gary Oldman’s manager in real life.  Here he turns in a side-splitting hilarious performance as the President of Harvard.

“The Social Network” is not the game changing movie that defines a generation that I have previously been led to believe it was.  The fact that it doesn’t actually try to define a generation is what makes it good.  Put the events of this movie in a world in the 1950’s without paper and make one of the students figure out a way to make a yearbook and you have the same thing.  You don’t have to use or understand Facebook, let alone the internet to know what these characters are feeling; you just need a heart.

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Movie Review by Matthew Schuchman- Two and a Half out of Five ‘Staches

Movie idea: Bury Ryan Reynolds alive and let the audience watch his demise; brilliant!  Seriously though, I harbor no ill will towards Ryan Reynolds, but you have to be a very special actor to carry a movie that is 90 minutes of one person trapped in a coffin.  While Reynolds handles the burden of carrying the film on his shoulders and doesn’t let it sink into the ground along with him, he doesn’t tear down new walls in the art of acting.

Reynolds was obviously chosen for this role because the film makers believed he could bring an air of lightness to a film that really should have none at all.  “Buried” is very tense at times and terrorizes the audience with a feeling of unease, but it plays the comedy card a little too much for my taste.  Anyone who watches “Buried” will automatically say to themselves during and after the film, “I would have handled the situation differently”.  Right there is the actual point the movie tries to illustrate; what would you do if you were in this situation?  Would you call the same people?  So you know, the character of Paul Conroy is provided with a Blackberry that can get a signal, but has its menu set to read in Arabic.  Would you keep lighting the lighter provided to you also, using up more oxygen?  I could keep going, but I will leave some things untold for everyone to experience.

As much as I wanted to think that everything I witnessed on-screen could happen in real life, I just found myself questioning everything.  Everyone he reaches on the phone just sounds so disingenuous.  Personally, I think this is intentional.  The idea that it is tough to connect with people so far away, that you don’t know, trying to convince them you are trapped in a coffin in Iraq; how would you expect them to sound?  But the character of Paul Conroy does nothing to aid his cause by acting snide and snotty to anyone he contacts.  I know it is tough to keep your cool if you are in that situation, I know he was scared and anxious, but really, the character did too much to keep himself from being found at times.  This all pulls us back to the fact that you are supposed to imagine what you would do, which is what makes the movie work.

The deeper the movie goes, the more it raises questions that do uncover certain plot holes.  At one point, Paul figures out the number to the cell phone he was left with.  The only person he gives that number to is his wife, yet someone else seems to find a way to call his phone and I am not talking about the people who put him in there, though I am sure I will find some people who will want to argue that point.  I do not deny that until someone is in that exact situation, you cannot truly guess how you would act.  I can sit all day and think about what I would do if someone came up to me on the street trying to rob me, but the chance it would come out the way I imagine it would be very unlikely.  I hope I or anyone else reading this never has to find out firsthand how they would deal with any unfortunate situation.  But, since I am just watching a movie,  I can only react to what I think I would do.

After it is all over, “Buried” does do what it intends to do.  It makes you uncomfortable and makes you wonder.  For all of the lighter parts that I did not enjoy, there is plenty of suspense to keep you glued to your seat and in the last 15 minutes or so, keep your hand over your mouth in shock and or awe.  Like Reynolds’ acting job, the movie has not done much to revolutionize film-making or storytelling, it just makes sure it gets under your skin.

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Day two of the film screenings was cut short for me as I had to leave early due to prior engagements. Here again are some short reviews of the day’s films. Keep your eyes open this weekend as I have a screening of “Buried” tonight and press screenings on Friday for, “The Social Network” and “Film Socialisme” which is the new film from Jean-Luc Goddard.

Lennon NYC- This new documentary chronicles not only the time John Lennon spent living in New York and his love for the city, but his struggle fighting Nixon and the FBI who wanted to deport Lennon as an illegal immigrant. The film contains some never before heard outtakes and studio chatter from the Double Fantasy sessions that I am sure fans would love to hear. As a whole, the documentary seems to draw its focus away from its main point at times and falls into just another chronicle of John and Yoko and how their ups and downs affected their music, more than how his struggle to stay in the city and country he had come to love affected it. If you stick to what the film is trying to say, then you do have a very interesting comparison to what illegal immigrants may feel. People who are just trying to do something better for themselves. And all of them are in no way going to get the support John Lennon ever did. “Lennon NYC” was produced as part of the American Masters series for PBS and will air on the station this November. If you want an advance look at the film though, I will post links to purchase tickets for the NYFF screenings that are coming up at the end of these reviews.

A Letter to Elia- If you are unaware of who Elia Kazan is, he was one of the greatest film directors hollywood ever had. Due to one unfortunate circumstance, he was shunned by a large number of people in hollywood and to some, his name is still a matter of blasphemy. His films include, “On The Waterfront”, “East of Eden” and “A Face In The Crowd”. All amazing films, all well-known and well-loved classics. This hour-long documentary was made by Martin Scorsese, who credits Kazan with planting the film making bug into his life. Using his own image and voiceover, Scorsese tells the audience how his life changed after seeing, “On The Waterfront” and how from that day forward, he followed Kazan’s career, even to the point where Scorsese botched a chance at being an assistant on a Kazan film by showing up late for a meeting with Kazan himself. Later in life, Scorsese became friends with Kazan as Scorsese himself started to make a name for himself, but through that friendship, Scorsese never mentioned how much Kazan had changed his life. Their friendship was more about the men in their present state and things were left at that, Scorsese did not want to burden their friendship with a boyish fandom overtone. “A Letter To Elia” is Scorsese’s deeply heartfelt farewell message of love and admiration to his now passed friend. This is not a documentary, it is one man declaring his sorrow over losing someone who was like a father to him and he is sharing it with the world. More moving than any film you will see this year, next year and then some, do not miss “A Letter To Elia”.

Lennon NYC- Saturday Sept. 25th 9:00pm Saturday Sept. 25th 10:30pm

A Letter To Elia- Monday Sept. 27th 6:15pm (This screening will be followed by a screening of Kazan’s, “America, America”)

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     On September 21st I started my first day of press screenings for the 48th annual New York Film Festival.  I have been and will be viewing multiple films a day.  Here are some short rundowns/reviews for each film seen in a day.  Please enjoy and feel free to ask me to expand on any of them.

Robinson in Ruins- A collection of very gorgeous and methodically chosen images accompanied by the guiding voice of narrator Vanessa Redgrave, piece together the journey of the mysteriously unknown character Robinson.  A statement about the history of the displacement of cultures in human history and in nature, “Robinson in Ruins” plays more as a statement on the circle of life.  Where one field was torn apart to build a missile testing facility or  a runway during World War I;  it is now home to grassy fields again with grazing sheep and monument markers of what was once there.  One day in the future, those markers will be gone and something else will have replaced it.  A little too long for its own good, “Robinson in Ruins” is worth viewing for anyone interested in the striking visuals and a lot of history.  If you want to understand the type of film you will see if you have the chance, you can find a DVD of director Patrick Keiller’s previous Robinson film, “Robinson in Space” (1997).

Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Part Lives- This years winner of the Cannes’ Palme d’Or, “Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives” is the story of, you guessed it, Boonme.  Dying of acute kidney failure, he chooses to spend his final days in the countryside on his farm with his sister-in-law and his nephew.  During their first night there, they are visited by the ghost of Boonme’s wife and the sudden reappearance of his long-lost son, who has changed, drastically.  More of an art project than a story trying to say much as far as a moral would go, “Uncle Boonme” is a fantastic looking film and interesting to experience.  However, the out of left field peculiar situations may be a turn-off for the average movie goer.  After viewing the film, I could not imagine myself voting for the film to win one of the most important film awards given out in festival history, but then again, this is only my opinion.  With its prestigious win at Cannes, you can be sure a U.S. distributor will release the film if you miss it at the Film Festival.

Certified Copy- A British author spends the day with the owner of an antiques gallery, following his participation in a lecture for his new book, “Certified Copy”.   They spend time in a village in Tuscany in a story  that already sounds very familiar.  What starts out seeming to be an exploration of art history and idea of what a copy could bring to the world that an original cannot, “Certified Copy” turns instead  into the exploration  of how each person defines their relationships to each other.  Juliette Binoche won the award for best actress at this years Cannes Film Festival for her work in “Certified Copy”.  While she is very good in the film, I find I was more impressed with her counterpart, William Shimell who is making his feature film debut here.  A famous operatic baritone in England, Shimell has to play a much more restrained character to the over emotional Binoche, which to me is more difficult to portray.  The film plays a lot like a traveling, “My Dinner With Andre”, which does take its toll on the viewer a bit, but overall “Certified Copy” was actually quite a pleasure to experience.

     Public viewings of all of the New York Film Festival pictures can be purchased on their website.  The opening night is this Friday, Sept. 24th.  Below are links to the dates these films will be showing.  If no tickets are still available for any film, do not forget you can go and stand on the rush lines before each screening.  If someone does not show up, you will be let in to make sure the theater is at full capacity.  Rush tickets are $10 and are put up for sale an hour before listed show times.

Robinson in Ruins- Sunday September 26th 12:00pm

Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives- Saturday September 25th 3:00pm Sunday September 26th 9:00pm

Certified Copy- Friday October 1st 9:15pm Sunday October 3rd 11:30am

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Movie Review by Matthew Schuchman- One and a Half out of Five ‘Staches.

Information about owls that I learned from watching, “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole: Owls use snakes as wet nurses.  Owls can be rendered not only flightless, but completely immobile by a pile of tiny pieces of metal.  A flight that takes two or more days by an owl, can be made in twenty minutes by the same owl, if said owl is trying to save its friends.  Owls with no beak can speak just like any other owl (given that they can speak at all).  If you are a bad owl, bats will do your bidding.

Yes, I know this is a kids movie, but even a five-year old could point out all the problems with this film.  They can also point out all the drivel that is wholly unoriginal about “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole”.  Of course, I hope no one minds from this point forward, if I only call this movie by a truncated name, since the real one is too long for its own good.  Maybe I am off base and children will love this film.  In fact, I know they will because kids love anything that is marketed to them.  But “Legend of the Guardians” is very violent and very dark and I am amazed it gets away with a PG rating.  There were a few kids crying during the screening and one was taken out about thirty minutes in; possibly murdered. There is no reason to be surprised over how violent some of the visuals are as the film was directed by Zack Snyder.  If you don’t know, Zack Snyder is the man behind the remake of “Dawn of the Dead” (his only decent film), the  sweaty man fest “300” and the film adaptation of “The Watchmen”.  Besides the fact that the film was violent beyond necessity, it should be obvious that if Snyder couldn’t turn in a three-hour long film that made any sense, then why should one believe this  hour and a half misfire could have a nice bow tied around it.  I mean, the man can’t even make an animated kids film without turning everything into a slow motion bash fest.

This film is just a mess.  It starts off promising.  The characters are super adorable, there are some decent laughs and it looks pretty.  All in all, “Legend of the Guardians” turns into a massive comedy of errs that makes absolutely no sense.  As far as I can tell, there is a slight mention of bad owls wanting to be the rulers of the world, but in actuality, there is no real reason given as to the motives of either side of the conflict.  The bad guy ends up really just wanting revenge because the good guys kicked his butt in the past.  Like a James Bond villain, he just gives everyone too much time to mess up his plans.

It is sad when a film gets one and a half ‘staches based purely on the fact that the characters are cute.  There is nothing else worth mentioning about “Legend of the Guardians” except that is it unintentionally one of the funniest movies I have seen since “Star Wars: Episode III”.  I could not stop laughing on the way home about how ridiculous this movie is.  The saddest fact is though, the movie will bring in a decent box office, where good films like, “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” get passed over in the mind of the ticket buyer.

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   So some of you may be wondering, “Wasn’t the ‘Stache supposed to have some new reviews up by now?”  Well do to some unfortunate circumstances, including this:

…we were forced to miss two screenings.  But don’t worry, starting next week we have more screenings and the first of our New York Film Festival Coverage.  So stay tuned.

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Movie Review by Matthew Schuchman- Three out of Five ‘Staches

Well color me surprised.  I will admit it; I walked into “Easy A” under the impression I was sitting down for another high school teen comedy that is no different from the last twenty released.  While the film does borrow bits and pieces from its predecessors, it really does a good job of keeping the audience engaged and doesn’t dip too much into already traveled territory.

It seems that every five years or so, Hollywood churns out a decent high school comedy that doesn’t change the genre, but does enough to stand out on its own.  In 1995, they gave us “Clueless”,  “10 things I Hate About you” hit the theaters in 1999 and in 2005 we were treated to “Sky High”.  “Easy A” tries to play off a little more like a John Hughes film (and there is a pretty big homage in the movie to the late Mr. Hughes) but like “Clueless” and “10 Things I Hate About You”, the film’s origins lie in a classic piece of literature.  Where the aforementioned movies were adaptations of their source material, “Easy A” just borrows aspects of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”.  In fact, the book is directly referenced in the film, so don’t think you can rent “Easy A” in the future kids and pass off the situations for your book report.

Besides being genuinely funny, “Easy A” does a good job of not trying to get caught up that much in high school politics and class room hierarchies, like a lot of similar films do.  This is especially hard since the movie does technically deal with, high school politics.  As a viewer, I don’t have to sit through a long explanation of character backgrounds, learn about who the cool kids are and where the outcasts go to sit during lunch.  Like many movies, there is some back story you have to go through, because if there wasn’t, how would you have a story at all?  The process and speed of the revelation of these aspects this time around do not bog the film down and work well in their delivery.

This is the first lead role of Emma Stone’s career and while she still plays the sly and sarcastic character we have seen her do before, she does a good job of carrying the film.   It may be nothing new performance wise, but you have to give credit to someone who has to be on-screen 95% of the time.  It is easy to tank a whole film if you are not ready to help it move along, at all times.  Of course though, like Larry Miller in “10 Things I Hate About You”, the scene stealing kudos in this film go to  Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson who play Emma Stone’s very liberal parents.  They are fun-loving and sublime and you find yourself waiting and hoping for them to have more scenes to keep you smiling.  Great fun is also to be had by the other members of this surprisingly expansive cast including, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow and Malcolm McDowell.

It is official, no matter how young or old you are, you have no reason to feel ashamed if you want to check out “Easy A” when it hits theaters this Friday, September 17th.  It will deliver you laughs and lighten your mood, this I promise.  I must give credit to director Will Gluck, who made a big leap from his first feature, “Fired Up”, which did fall into all the pit falls I thought “Easy A” would.  It goes to show you, it is never wrong to judge carefully.

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