Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Nowhere Boy

In the late '50s John Lennon (Aaron Johnson, "Kick-Ass") was not yet "the" John Lennon. But according to the new film from Sam Taylor-Wood, he already was in his own mind. A teenager with little interest in school, John was raised by his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Uncle George (David Threlfall). With George's death, John is left solely in Mimi's hands but he also wishes to finally get to know his real mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff). While Julia is married with two daughters and lives close by, she has been estranged from John for most of his life and he doesn't understand why.
John and Julia finally do connect but it's quite clear that Julia has some mental troubles that make some of her interactions with John a bit creepy and inappropriate. Still, she passes her love of modern music on to John and even gives him his first guitar lessons while he's suspended from school. The film isn't so much about John becoming Lennon as it is about him coming to adulthood and the two women who have their own ideas about who he is and who he should aspire to be. This is what makes the movie interesting and keeps it from feeling like yet another music biopic in the "Ray"/"Walk the Line"/"Control" vein.
That said, "Nowhere Boy" does fall in to some of those trappings. Of course Mimi has to shout, "Don't lie to me, John Lennon!" to remind us just who she's scalding. And there have to be multiple visual references to walruses just to drive home that he already had some of his Beatles ideas very early on. Taylor-Wood does have a few of these typical biopic missteps but thankfully the movie isn't overwhelmed with them. John's first meeting with a 15 year old Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster, the awesome kid from "Love Actually") feels like a natural meeting scene rather than somebody nudging our ribs saying, "OH! It's when John met Paul." I also liked that neither Johnson nor Sangster play the personas or fall into doing imitations. They're just characters in this movie which goes further in separating "Nowhere Boy" from other movies about famous musicians.
Johnson's performance drives the film and he makes us forget all about his role as Kick-Ass. Here he's just John and from moment to moment we find ourselves debating about whether we like him or not. Johnson plays very well off of Thomas and Duff. John's difficulty in determining who truly has his best interest at heart, his aunt or his mother, is explored fully and neither is painted as being 100 percent right or wrong. A lot of movies would pick a side for us early on but this one doesn't and is all the more interesting for it.
I liked a lot about "Nowhere Boy" but it all adds up to a movie that's pretty good, not great. There's something missing that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Whatever it is it keeps "Nowhere Boy" from being the movie that it could have been. Worth checking out but you don't need to put it at the top of your list.
"Nowhere Boy" is currently in limited release. In the Seattle area it is playing at Thornton Place and the Alderwood Mall. It's sharing a screen with another movie at both theaters so base your moviegoing on convenience of time rather than location. 7/10.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Social Network

"We've lived on farms! We've lived in cities! Now we're going to live on the internet!" Despite being the coke-fuelled ravings of a paranoid egomaniac, these words spoken by a character in "The Social Network" are undeniably true.
In 2003, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg, "Adventureland") is a Harvard student desperately seeking something big "to get the attention of the clubs. Because they're exclusive. And fun. And they lead to a better life." Believing himself to be smarter than most and to also be destined for something great, he can't help but condescend to his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) about the people she'll be able to meet because of him. When Erica promptly breaks up with him, Mark returns to his dorm room, drunk and inspired. The result is the instantly popular but deeply hurtful, a site which allows his classmates to vote on pictures of Harvard girls.
What's notable is not the site itself, nor the controversy it causes. What's notable is how Mark created it and what its success signifies. Knowing he's tapped into something, three fellow students with an idea for a site to connect all of Harvard approach him. What Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), and twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Josh Pence and Armie Hammer) have in mind is something that offers exclusivity. Unlike sites such as Friendster and Myspace, HarvardConnection would only be for Harvard students. It would be a place where the intellectually and culturally elite could create personal profiles and keep up with friends.
Enlisted to write the code for HarvardConnection, Mark takes the idea and runs with it, leaving Divya, Tyler, and Cameron out when he launches, a site that is exactly what they had proposed. Mark's classmate, benefactor, and only friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, the next Spider-Man) is unaware of Mark's questionable ethics in creating the site. The majority of the film is shown in flashbacks during two separate legal proceedings. One is the suit filed by the "Winklevi," which we clearly understand the source of. The other is the suit filed against Mark by Eduardo, the cause of which is slowly revealed to us in detail. Amongst other things this movie is about the irony of how Mark Zuckerberg lost his only real friend as a result developing Facebook.
"The Social Network" is directed by one of the great auteurs of our time, David Fincher ("Se7en," "Fight Club," "Zodiac," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"). Unlike most of his previous work, his touch is less pronounced. It still looks like a David Fincher film, but it sure sounds like Aaron Sorkin. The creator of "The West Wing" and writer of the outstanding "Charlie Wilson's War," Sorkin is famous for writing very intelligent characters delivering dialogue that borders on the literary. Sorkin can be hit and miss for me but when he's on he's really on and thankfully that is the case here. Realizing this, Fincher wisely doesn't feel the need to overdirect, not that it's a crime he's been guilty of before.
In the build up to this film's release, many vocal skeptics decried the idea of a "Facebook movie" that was going to take itself far too seriously. However, like Sorkin's better work it has a strong sense of humor blended with believable drama and excellent character development. Also, in case anyone actually thought it was going to be, it's not about Facebook itself. It's about the way that the internet has irrevocably changed the way we live our lives, which includes how we go about making friends and maintaining those friendships. This is also a movie that shows how once something is created and put out into the world for people to utilize there is no telling how far it can go and what direction it will go in.
One of the keys to making Aaron Sorkin dialogue work is getting the casting just right. It's always important but probably even more so when working with dialogue that sounds decidedly written. Eisenberg does a terrific job as Zuckerberg, playing the creator of Facebook as a man who is more oblivious to the feelings of others than he is malicious. As Eduardo, the most sympathetic character in the film, Garfield delivers a performance that would deserve to be remembered come Oscar time. It probably won't though as it isn't showy enough for Academy voters. He makes Eduardo an everyman who simply cannot comprehend how big this little website he funded with its first $1000 is becoming. Also very impressive is Justin Timberlake as Napster creator Sean Fanning, er, Parker. He brings the right mixture of charm, self-importance, and paranoia to the man who helps Mark understand just how to make Facebook as big as it can be.
"The Social Network's" historical accuracy may be questionable but there's no denying this: Whether you use it or not, and whether it's a good thing or not, Facebook has made the world a far different place than it was just seven years ago. This is a version of the story of how it happened. Where Facebook, the internet itself, and our way of life go from here is uncertain. What is certain is that these three things are entwined. Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher have made a movie that understands that. 9/10.