Sunday, October 31, 2010

Inside Job

Charles Ferguson's "Inside Job" is edifying and revealing, to be sure, about the 2008 economic crash. However, it sprawls too far and is too long (even at 120 minutes) to be more than a mild success. I doubt, however, that it will disappoint its core audience, who are uninterested in structural flaws and who come for a barrage against Wall Street. They'll definitely get that, just as those hoping to see Bush's Iraq War tactics get trashed did with Ferguson's "No End in Sight." This guy picks the zeitgeist topic of the moment and gets as far as he can with it. And, considering this film's reign at Cannes this year (reaching the top of the Indiewire Critics Poll), that's pretty far.

Enough of my docu-cynic routine. Some of what is displayed here is appalling. Consider how the financial "food chain" was expanded and complicated with the introduction of CPO loans. It got to the point where banks were selling weak loans and simultaneously betting against them. That's worse than Pete Rose, folks, and you saw what happened to him. As the film repeatedly tells us, there will be no such luck for the amoral bankers.

Or look at Frederic Mishkin, who for some reason allowed himself to be interviewed (unlike many, many people, a fact that is repetitively announced to the audience). He wrote a paper called "Financial Stability in Iceland," just before the country's economy went to pieces. Look at his CV now and you'll only see a paper entitled "Financial Instability in Iceland." Yes, this apparently respected man is actually corrupt enough to change the title of his report to look better.

Going into much more detail about the movie would be essentially ruining it for you. The power of these sorts of films is the filmmaker channeling their findings to you, not me. I will say that the film is pretty educational, as I know a lot more about the economy than I did before. Maybe now it's because I was actually paying attention to a source about it.

Ferguson is a man of facts, not technique. The film is pretty much cobbled together, shifting tones constantly and bizarrely, with an ending that's utterly preachy. More importantly, the film front-loads most of its incendiary material, and while the Mishkin idiocy comes later on, its in a less provocative section. And am I the only one who found the section on the actual crisis a bit thin? It's tackled from only a CNN-level perspective, which is unfortunate.

To rank this film above "Certified Copy," as the polled critics did, is ridiculous. But it would be correct to say that this film is to some degree effective in exposing the vices and dishonorable "inside jobs" performed by members of Wall Street, who get richer and buy more while everyone else flounders. B-

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Screaming Man (Philadelphia Film Festival)

"A Screaming Man" has a heartrending plot, but the execution isn't entirely successful. The two things that send it most off-course are a disconnect and a lack of focus. A film like "Tokyo Sonata" worked on me because it knew what it was trying to do and did it well. There are parts of this film that are ambiguous when they shouldn't be, and as a result, some of the directness needed for an impact isn't there.

However, there are definitely good facets to this film, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes this year. It is nicely set-up and orchestrated by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, the writer-director. He follows Adam (Youssef Djaoro), a hotel pool attendant much respected and often referred to as Champ. He works alongside his son Abdel (Diouc Kama), a charmer who carries around a digital camera and takes enough pictures to fill a Facebook page in no time. (Their introductory scene, also the film's opener, is excellent.) This is a working arrangement liked by Adam, but apparently seen as frivolous by the manager (Heling Li, who has a pretty interesting scene towards the end), who eventually demotes him to gatekeeper, leaving Abdel. Adam cannot believe it, even though people around him (such as the cook) have been fired completely. His new job is a drag and, in his opinion, way below him. This is illustrated most effectively in two instances: a long and exaggerated shot of Adam running between the enter and exit gates, trying to let cars in faster and a spread that zooms in to a close up on his face that fills the entire screen.

This scenario is coupled with Chad's rebel conflict, which throughout the film escalates and escalates. A friend of Adam's and apparently the section chief of the neighborhood (Emile Abossolo M'bo) is constantly urging him to give to the war effort, which Adam is reluctant to do. And what happens as a result of his lack of action (or perhaps a sudden burst of action; such is unclear) is catastrophic. (You may want to stop reading now if you want the full effect of the film.)

Abdel is drafted and taken away by the authorities. Adam is viewed in this scene, and if I read it correctly, he's caught between horror and relief. On the one hand he gets his job back, but on the other he loses his only son. It's pretty amazingly and chillingly done by Djaoro and Haroun. This sets the stage for the introduction of the final character, Djeneba (Djeneba Kone), Abdel's singer girlfriend. She is the source of a moment of revelation, although exactly what it entirely means is uncertain.

The ending makes sense to me as a juxtaposition of the contained world (the pool) vs. the real world (the river), although it does kind of rip off Jim Sheridan's "The Field." The problem with it is that it feels minor. It's alluring, but it will result in the film not staying with the viewer.

The film does pretty well in terms of music and cinematography. Wasis Diop's swelling score (although it feels familiar) really suits the movie well, and Laurent Brunet's camerawork is quality. The problem with this film is the disjointed editing by Marie-Helene Dozo. Here's a case where big flaws in the make of a movie can really detract from it overall.

There have been movies recently where the events in the first half are innocuous before a descent into tragedy in the second. These films can only really be appreciated on the second viewing, because the first time through the set-up looks like the filmmaker is wasting time or unsure of what to do. Such films include "The Kids Are All Right" and "Animal Kingdom" (with Noe's "Irreversible" working in the exact opposite). "A Screaming Man" I think could be construed as one of these, perhaps improving with repeats. At this moment, though, I find it working at times, but, due to the uncoordinated direction of Haroun, not as a whole. B-

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tender Son - The Frankenstein Project (Philadelphia Film Festival)

Kornel Mundruczo's "Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project" is a powerful film, but that for me is largely due to its mise-en-scene. The film is shot as a sort of filmed play (which is befitting since this film apparently started that way). By choosing this style (reminiscent of Tarkovsky's "The Sacrifice"), the film gains a large amount of presence. We are embedded into every scene as a result. The cinematography by Matyas Erdely has earned a lot of praise and it definitely deserves it. He lays down such masterfully oriented compositions that they are at times a little too orchestrated, and a bit of a show-off. But the camera is essential to the film's minor degree of success.

The film feels pretty confused. I was expecting that the narrative would be divided evenly between The Director ("Tender Son's" director Mundruczo, acting pretty mediocre) and Rudolf Nagy (Rudolf Frecska), but Nagy ends up getting the lion's share, Mundruczo keeping himself offscreen. It seemed that The Director was too big of a character to let go of for as long as he is here, but Mundruczo would disagree.

Anyways, The Director is casting the lead actor for a new film that he's making (he also writes plays, so I'd agree with the speculation that this is a semi-autobiographical part for Mundruczo). He's taking a Mike Leigh strategy, perhaps, in auditioning the actors before he has a good idea of what the part is. Or at least that's what I assume, because the candidates for the lead actor include an old widow, two best friends, and some weird guy. His only criteria for the role are that (1) "the camera must be able to make them act" and (2) they must be able to cry. Everyone who auditions seemingly botches (2), including the old lady, who cries so hard that the scene sort of falls apart. Rudolf Nagy, who we see stumbling along, who carries along white "mourning" flowers for no particular reason other than that he likes them, who comes to audition marking only his name on the sheet, impresses the director so much that even though he's awful at (2) and even though he's antagonistic to the casting process, the director continues to test him.

He even tests him with an out-of-work actress, who is told to make advances on Rudolf. He's completely resistant and even violent. I can only deduce that the director is complete idiot from how he deals with this situation, putting the two in a closed room and telling Rudolf to film it. You can guess the result: Rudolf strangles her. However, the way this scene is handled (revealing what happens through the video camera's transmission to a computer monitor) is strangely captivating (perhaps one of a couple references to Michael Haneke's "Cache." Also referenced: "Gerry" by Gus Van Sant, supposedly via Bela Tarr).

After this scene, however, the movie-within-the-movie is abandoned completely, more evidence that Mundruczo threw this movie together with little coherence. The film goes on to see Rudolf through the corners of the house that most of the movie is set in, where he's hiding out from the authorities and where the director is shooting the film. It's Rudolf's mother's house, which explains why he auditioned for the movie there. I found the film from here on out sort of underwhelming (even more so than the beginning), perhaps due to the fact that I saw production shots that were supposedly from the film but make no appearance (maybe this is a different cut than the one from Cannes?). I do admire the foreshadowing in these scenes. The film styles itself so dramatically that see what will happen before it does. It's a nice effect, and, for me, a welcome predictability.

I can see why this film has no distributor: it has very little grip on the viewer beyond the grand aesthetic. That's not to say that it's boring. But it's extremely forgettable and only mildly cathartic. Plus, it has an ending that I doubt anyone will entirely appreciate. Maybe Mundruczo should've spent a little more time revising that part of the project. C

Update (December 17, 2010): I conducted an interview with Mundruczo, which can be found here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Secret Screening: Everything Must Go (Philadephia Film Festival)

As the credits roll at the end of Dan Rush's "Everything Must Go," there's a frankly embarrassing mistake made that should be corrected before this film goes into wide release. That's mistaking the main character's last name, which is Halsey, for Porter. When the character's name is displayed as prominently as it is in this film, it's kind of inexcusable. The reason that this is most important, though, is that it shows up a big problem with the film: we as the audience know the main character better than the crew of the film does.

We know Nick Halsey (Will Farrell) well enough to know that his backstory (shown in his recounting of the moment he relapsed) doesn't really fit with him. He would not do these things. They're too... alien. It's not really one of those situations in which the character does something shocking and we have our entire perception of them changed. No, this is simply a matter of the director really not getting the character, not knowing how to portray them and what to associate with them.

Halsey is an extremely intense alcoholic (which is not much of a surprise considering that this is based on a Raymond Carver story). In the film's opening stages, we follow him as his job, wife, and company car leave him, and as he returns home to find the fixtures of his house (that's no longer his, by the way) strewn across his lawn like flotsam. This is shown with a refreshing change in technique: a lack of narrative breaks, meaning that time elapses closer to the way it actually does in reality. The film would have been altogether more piercing if it had kept this throughout, but instead it completely abandons this idea about an hour in and makes absolutely no chronological sense afterwards (does someone wake up in the morning twice in the same day?). The film's choice to switch to a more conventional method of time perhaps frees the film from being overly somber (and makes it more enjoyable), but an interesting idea is indeed scrapped. (Note: even if it had kept that sort of focus, it still would not compare to this immensely powerful video for "Crystal Ball" by Keane, which parallels a lot of what happens, albeit not for the same reasons). And, by the way, these problems with realism are the director's own mistakes, not to be construed as Paul-Thomas-Anderson-esque attempts to tackle the problem of the main character.

Anyways, Halsey takes up residence on his lawn (as he doesn't want to break into the house) in an easy chair and draws some unpleasant feedback: it's illegal. His detective friend and apparent former alcohol advisor (played by Michael Pena in a lousy performance that makes you wonder why this guy keeps getting cast) covers his ass by calling his excursion on the lawn a "lawn sale" and suggesting that he sell most of his stuff to get back on his feet. Halsey is at first resistant, but he decides to go through with it.

He hires a kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace) whose life consists of riding his bike around the block to help him out with watching and making signs for the stuff. The kid, oddly named Kenny Loftus (bizarre reference to the former MLB player?), wants to learn to play baseball (like all kids in this type of movie want to do). (Halsey agrees. They don't get really that far, though.) They form a business partnership that has a lot of sharing of those business tips like "Rule #1" and "Rule #18." This is a film cliche that's beyond tired out, and although Jordan Wallace makes it bearable, I wish Rush had resisted the temptation to use it.

He similarly fails to resist the temptations to include S&M and "Yo Momma" jokes, and to leave nice setpieces unexplained. He also sets a lot of the film to one of those overused "losing control" scores; you know what I'm talking about. The man follows indie cliches as prodigiously as the characters in the film follow the "Sales Bible." I must admit, though, that although the direction in this film is not impeccable, it does something right, as the film is undeniably enjoyable. On these grounds, I had a good enough time to recommend it. One, however, would not get much out of the film, as it is mostly not that inventive.

I think Will Farrell does a solid job, although I'm not sure if he's really the best choice for the main character. He's decent and works pretty well, but someone else might have fit better in. (Someone who may have made the backstory seem a little more plausible, perhaps?) It's not really a landmark in his career. I like his work in Marc Forster's insanely underrated "Stranger Than Fiction" better.

As far as the other performances go, they're for the most part below average, ranging from Rebecca Hall (who is not convincing at making "photography teacher" seem anything more than just a label), to Pena, to Glenn Howerton (startlingly bad and way overracted as Halsey's boss), to Stephen Root (poorly used and a long, long way from "Office Space"). Christopher Jordan Wallace is solid in supporting Farrell, but he himself cannot fully transcend the mold of the Indie Kid (much like Mia Wasikowska in "That Evening Sun"). And, as I learned with Wasikowska after her very good turn in "The Kids Are All Right," to paraphrase one of my commenters, it's the part, not the actor. (To tell you the truth, the character in that other film was much worse; Jordan Wallace's role is actually not too bad and he does it well.) Oddly enough, we also have Laura Dern in the film as a high school friend of Halsey's who he chases down after she wrote a nice thing in his yearbook. Her scene does some bizarre things, painting Halsey first as a loser, then dramatically overplaying him as the hero who made a nice gesture in high school. It's a weird (though nicely awkward) component that goes away as fast as it came.

This film was adapted from a story called "Why Don't You Dance?" by Ray Carver. Apparently it's a pretty loose retelling (a friend of mine notes that only the setting of the lawn is reprised from the original). It has some of the feel of a Carver story in its opening and it uses some Carveresque techniques like keeping the wife entirely out of the film, but, according to the friend who's read the story, this is not Carver.

The film has little value other than as an entertainment. There are no great performances (Farrell does nothing Oscar-worthy, if you were wondering) and there is no talented filmmaking (Rush is not a huge discovery, at least at the moment). However, it is diverting and I'm glad I saw it. You may have fun, taking pleasure in what's good (it's funny sometimes) and what's bad (when not taken seriously, Pena and Howerton are kind of a scream). C+

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Certified Copy (Philadelphia Film Festival)

There is a painting shown in "Certified Copy" that was called an "original copy" because it wasn't found out for 50 years that it was a forgery. This is to say that at a certain point, it doesn't matter whether or not the object your staring at is fake or genuine, to you, it is what it is. Consider now the relationship at the center of the film, between James Miller (William Shimell) and "She" (Juliette Binoche, being the second Cannes Best Actress in a row to win for playing a nameless female character after Charlotte Gainsbourg in "Antichrist," which I was actually reminded of watching this film). At a certain point in this film, the two stop for coffee and the barista makes the assumption that the two are married. The viewer at this point assumed that they were not married.

All of this is part of the topic of perception, brilliantly and relevantly explored by writer/director Abbas Kiarostami in this film, a standout of the Cannes 2010 competition (and, from what I've seen, better than both the Palme d'Or and Gran Prix). This is a sensationally shot (by Luca Bigazzi) and composed film on nearly all levels; it has a spectacular mise-en-scene. It is also helped by Kiarostami's great ideas.

The film has been compared to "Before Sunset" by Richard Linklater, and the beginning and ending especially heavily reflect that. But they are birds of entirely different colors, though one could call "Certified Copy" "cynical 'Before Sunset'." Think of it this way: you know how when you see a film and you always want another that will give you a similar feeling? Then this will for lovers of the other film and its predecessor "Before Sunrise" (including myself).

Anyways, for some strange reason that's not I didn't entirely catch, the bulk of the film follows art critic/theorist Miller as he decides to take a day trip with Binoche out to Lucignano (an Italian middle ground for the French and the English), which is a famous place for artistic as well as matrimonial reasons. Along the way, he reveals himself as conceited and as somewhat undervaluing of and jaded about art, not being able to really see it in a human way anymore, not being able to feel "simple." I can relate. That's sometimes how I feel about watching films, sometimes not being able to connect to the popular feeling about a movie.

The two arrive and walk around before encountering the barista at the coffee shop, whose arrival (as people have said) triggers a shift toward the surreal, as the two begin to talk of their romantic past together. It's unclear whether or not this is supposed or true, although there are some clues along the way that could be construed as pointing one way or the other. I personally think this argument is beside the point. If, as another person has noted, they've been "certified," and if they are "married" long enough, it's as if they are. It doesn't matter if they really are. A good example of Kiarostami's wealth of food-for-thought. He brings the film to a sublime and perfect close which calls back an earlier topic of the film (framing the mundane) in a wonderful way.

In terms of the acting, it seemed as if Binoche faltered a bit in the "driving scene," though Kiarostami could have directed her that way on purpose. Otherwise, she's very good. Shimell is fabulous as well (in his transition from opera to film), doing extremely underrated work here. Going back to the subject of Kiarostami's direction, that's bit I'm least sure of, and I think it may stumble towards the beginning (with the lecture and the conversation between Binoche and her son, who's played by a so-so actor). But all into consideration, this is an astounding film, one that staggered and stimulated me. A-

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Carlos (Sundance Channel Cut)

Despite an enjoyable soundtrack and very good cinematography by Denis Lenoir and Yorick Le Saux, "Carlos" by Olivier Assayas is never more than a solid film. And, in its almost entirely unnecessary final third, it can be disastrous. I'm almost positive that the 165-minute version of this film will work better than the 5.5-hour original that I (and festival critics) saw.

The comparisons to Steven Spielberg's "Munich" that have been drawn are completely ludicrous. That film had a hotel scene that's not often cited which is one of the most effective scenes to ever depict a terrorist attack. The film takes it head-on, and it is brutal for the viewer. Assayas' film for the most part failed to rattle me. It has some good scenes in it, including one where the lead is cornered at a party at his girlfriend's apartment, but few if any that actually affect you. This may be due to the structuring and editing by Luc Barnier and Marion Monnier, which involves way too many fade outs and a lot of really erratic scene changes.

The film centers on the Marxist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (Edgar Ramirez), who works his way into the operations of Wadie Haddad (Ahmad Kaabour) and builds up a good reputation under the name Carlos. This is covered in Part 1 (which has been called "immersive" for a good reason), the film's strongest portion, when Carlos is still held in high regard. As he started to lose everyone's support in Parts 2 and 3, he and the film lost my support.

The biggest happening in his life was the one that lifted him up and ended putting him down. That was the "OPEC raid," in which he started off a hostage crisis in the way he was supposed to and, as things started to not fall into place, he made a wrong decision that defined his life and the way he was perceived by his boss, among others.

On a social scale, Carlos is somewhat of a wreck. He's simply not built to stay with a woman for longer than a little while, but he does every time. As a partner, he's extremely hypocritical. Look at a scene he has in Part 3 with his wife Magdalena Kopp (Nora von Waldstratten), where he expounds on the power that he has over her every action. Not the progressive revolutionary spirit talking there.

Carlos is played by Ramirez in a performance many have called incredible. I think it's a decent performance (with some good presence to be sure) that can be awfully stilted at times. I think overall Benecio Del Toro and Eric Bana, in "Che" and "Munich," respectively, did better work.

As director, Assayas does (as said before) move through the dense material well in the first part, but it catches up with him later on and the drags are felt. I prefer this film to his soporific and tired "Summer Hours" (the only other film of his that I've seen, if you don't count the 15 minutes I saw from "Clean"), but in the end it's not a whole lot better. C+

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Film Socialisme, Meek's Cutoff, and missing Old Cats (New York Film Festival)

My final day at the New York Film Festival was a serious overload. Last time was hard enough, but imagine starting the day in the 3:00 slot and continuing with not only 2 other features (6:00 and 9:15) but also two 10-minute-plus shorts in between. Add to that the fact that I was pretty sick, which didn't do me any favors for the last film that I saw. That was the world premiere of "Old Cats." I felt pretty much like I was going to faint, so I had to leave the film early. I hadn't seen enough of it to make a real judgement, but I was intrigued by it, and if I had been at full strength I would have stuck around.

Anyways, on to the films that I did actually see. Jean-Luc Godard's "Film Socialisme" does some interesting things with sound and image conventions, such as juxtaposing supposedly "meaningful" music with stuff you wouldn't particularly associate with it, recording a blasting club scene with a digital camera with poor audio, flashing a blank screen, and making some jarringly unexpected cuts on the tracks. Godard also does some nice compositions and has a beautiful shot of waves crashing against each other in slow motion.

But he makes some tiresome choices that make the film pretty hard to tolerate. The most prominent would be making the film have "Navajo subtitles," which means a faulty and erratic readout that blends words together and sometimes doesn't even give them. This is a middle finger thrown by Godard, and it irritated me. (To tell you the truth, a lot of things irritated me about this movie. I'm guessing that was entirely intentional on Godard's part.) However, it's not as if what the (irritating) actors are saying is particularly profound. In fact, it seems like it's the same sort of rhetoric that populates all of his work.

There's not a lot one will gain from seeing this film. I personally wish I'd walked out or just seen something different. I understand Godard's tactics, and they had some effect on me. And it's interesting to see his presumable swan song. But the film has already pretty much decayed in my mind. C

After a movie like that one, I was ready to be astonished by Kelly Reichardt's "Meek's Cutoff," but that simply didn't happen. Maybe it was the short that came before it (the somewhat needless "Day Trip" by Zoe McIntosh) that shook me from the right mood. Maybe it was the fact that it was slotted second. Maybe it was all of the people who came in late and who were escorted around with blaring flashlights. In any event, this overrated film failed to grip or engage me. (I feel very similarly to Joshua Rothkopf, who articulated this feeling in this piece.)

I really wanted to like it a lot, but I was faced with a smartly-written but monotonous and underwhelming film with nothing more than a couple of good moments. The film has an unrecognizable Bruce Greenwood in what could be considered either an excellent or massively hammy performance as Stephen Meek, who is taking a brood of 7 people on a tortuous and possibly aimless trip in 19th century Oregon. As my friend noted, we have no clue who these people are, where they've been, or where exactly they're going. Among them we have Emily and Soloman Tetherow (Reichardt regulars Michelle Williams and Will Patton), Thomas and Millie Gately (Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan), and Glory and Jimmy White (Shirley Henderson and Tommy Nelson) with their son William (Neal Huff).

Emily sees a recurrent figure: a horseman who disappears on the horizon, who she later sees up close. This "heathen" (Rod Rondeaux) the group eventually assimilates, desperately asking him for water and being afraid that he'll lead them into an ambush.

A huge mistake the film makes in my opinion is going the "classical" way and confining the aspect ratio to a box. Joshua Rothkopf calls this an "ugly western" and I totally agree when it comes to this "screen-fitting." The colors of Chris Blauvelt's good cinematography can also be a bit sickening as well, although I'm not exactly sure why. Another thing I'm unsure of is Michelle Williams' performance. It seems muddled between afraid and sure, and it's unclear whether that is intentional or not. Also on the subject of acting, famously plaintive Shirley Henderson seems rather oddly cast here after her work in Solondz's "Life During Wartime."

Many consider the film to be an exceptionally towering achievement. I understand their sympathies, but I don't really share them. Even in terms of Reichardt, I like "Wendy and Lucy" much better. C

As noted before, I had to leave "Old Cats" early due to feeling sick. I did catch the short film that opened for it, "Protect the Nation" by C.R. Reisser, which is energetic in that "Slumdog Millionaire"/"City of God"/3rd-world-country type way, but ultimately unresolved and sometimes a bit idiotic.

So that marks the end of an overwhelming NYFF 2010 for me. 5 1/4 features, 2 shorts, and no big discoveries, sadly (the best film I saw being the B- rated "Uncle Boonmee"). However, I will be seeing Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's "A Screaming Man" and Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy" in the next few weeks as a part of the Philadelphia Film Festival, so there may be a favorable review around the corner ;).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Social Network

David Fincher's "The Social Network" is definitely an exciting film. It uses montage-style pacing throughout the entire film, and that's where its drive comes from. The film finds Jesse Eisenberg turning in the absolute best work of his career to date, where he takes a big step forward from "Zombieland" and "Adventureland." He plays Mark Zuckerberg, an amazing computer programmer who's at Harvard. After he crashes the networks of the school with a website that compares Harvard girls (stemming from being jilted by his girlfriend, played by Rooney Mara), he gets the notice of three elite club members (Max Minghella as Divya Narendra and Armie Hammer, who pulls off a double-role, as Olympic crew member twins Cameron and Tyler Winkevoss), who want to start a Harvard-based social network called The Harvard Connection and want Mark to be the programmer. What Mark does is take the idea, give the three the cold shoulder, and start making his own version of the site, which he thinks is "cooler," called ("putting the whole social experience of college online"). He justifies this plagiarism by pleading "I didn't use their code!" Pretty desperate, eh?

He pulls in his buddy Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) as CFO, as Saverin is very good at finances. He then goes about designing the features that all Facebook users (including myself) are familiar with, like Relationship Status (which is the icing on the cake), and finally, putting it on the internet. With a little help from Eduardo's membership in the Phoenix club (thus having the email addresses of all the members to send the site to), the site outperforms what anyone thought it would, expanding across campuses and eventually reaching the eyes of ex-Napster founder and current paranoid creep Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who wants to get himself involved.

Imagine this already pretty complex plot (as Scott Foundas noted) funneled through 3 different narrative levels: (1) Mark's hearing when he's sued by the Winklevoss twins, (2) Mark's hearing when he's sued by Saverin, and (3) the time of Facebook's creation and inception into the culture. It must be said that however clunkily this first works, the film irons itself out and does this narrative structure pretty well.

This flashback/flashforward device is one of many ways that this film is similar to Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire." Another would be their good technical qualities ("Social"'s consisting of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's score and the tinted photography by Jeff Cronenweth). The most important, though, would be that these films would be very hard to continuously rewatch (just like, as Ebert said, Fincher's own "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which also has a similar build). "The Social Network" will also get pretty dated, which is a risk run by Fincher: to make it the "movie of the moment" (as I believe Peter Travers called it) or to make it a film that can outlast its release.

The film is well-acted, with Eisenberg possibly deserving a Best Actor nomination. Garfield also turns in some interesting work, as he goes from angry to scared surprisingly in an instance over the course of two scenes. Timberlake is pretty good as well, but his performance (as the man who may have somewhat screwed him over early into his music career) sometimes drifts into that "Justin zone" that works on Saturday Night Live but not here. I do appreciate moments of the club scene, where he describes the birth of Victoria's Secret (as well as Napster), while Zuckerberg sits puzzled. The film's sort of under-treatment of Parker's womanizing of the underaged is disturbingly offhand.

The screenplay, by Aaron Sorkin, is witty almost to a fault. Every line is a zinger, and although most of them are funny, when they don't work, they really don't work. And just about every character in the film has a dramatic exit, which is a little annoying. The film also ends in a somewhat disappointing way, although I perfectly understand it. I just was so captivated by the film that the sort of minor ending that they chose didn't help. On another note, it's an interesting thing to see the levels at which Ben Mezrich's books are adapted. Consider this film and Robert Luketic's "21." Similar subject matter and source material, yet one goes to the Oscars while the other one counts its cards. B