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David Fincher

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Do Not Wake the Dragon.


So, David Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a well-made and suitably unpleasant experience, I suppose, and I expect it will send the very impressive Rooney Mara right to the top of the A-list. (Not to beat a dead horse, but the difference between her and Knightley on Monday was striking.) But I have to question why it was even necessary to make this movie in the first place.

For starters, with the exception of a Nine Inch Nails-y music video credit sequence (set to that ultra-catchy cover of “Immigrant Song” from the teaser), this film is no different in tone or content than, nor does it improve on, the Swedish version that came out all of two years ago. (Ironically, that film’s two stars, Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, are also on-screen this weekend in Sherlock and MI: Ghost Protocol respectively.) To be honest, I don’t even know why Fincher bothered to make this film, except for the paycheck: He already covered this sort of ground in Se7en, and went well beyond it with Zodiac. And even Matt Reeves’ Let Me In was further afield from Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In than this is to Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 film.

If anything, Oplev’s 2009 version was more elegant in many ways. You definitely don’t need to see them both. There, the clues snapped together better as the story progressed — Here, it’s occasionally unclear how our two intrepid investigators, Lizabeth Salander (Mara) and Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) have made the intuitive leaps they have. There, the post-case coda was briskly covered — Here, the extended ending approaches Return of the King-levels. And, perhaps most importantly, in the 2009 film, there was more than one bleedin’ suspect in the movie. Here, even without the obvious casting tell, the eventual murderer is pretty much the only person we meet over the course of the investigation. (Fincher should’ve paid Willem DaFoe and Christopher Walken just to show up and skulk around.)

Now, in my Let Me In review, I was rather tolerant of that film being a note-for-note remake of the Swedish version, while here, not so much. What’s the difference? Well, for me, it’s mainly because Let the Right One In was a novel take on the teenage vampire story, i.e. a story worth telling. But both versions of Dragon Tattoo are, in my humble opinion, puerile, sadistic trash. Honestly, what does it say about us that this brutal, rapey, not-particularly-interesting revenge-pr0n thriller was the #1 best-selling book in America for many moons? The only interesting subtext here is of buried secrets festering rot, which registers in both the national history of Sweden (who, as a neutral nation, had its share of Nazi sympathizers during the war) and the personal history of the author (who apparently wrote these books as penance for ignoring a horrible crime.) Otherwise, I find these films to be ultra-violent, serial-killer crapola.

And speaking of indications of how screwed up we are as a country, why was Steve McQueen’s Shame rated NC-17 if this movie got an R? Shame had a lot of consensual (if pained), not-very-appetizingly-filmed sex, and, ok, full-frontal nudity from Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. (Yes, Virginia, adults have mommy and daddy parts). Meanwhile, this movie has beatings, murder, rapes, torture, eviscerations, disembowelments, Stellan Skarsgard…oh, heck, let’s just give it an R. Honestly, the MPAA’s priorities are nothing short of bizarre. (I’m not advocating censorship of this film — Bring the kids if you’re so inclined. It’s the ridiculously messed-up priorities that rankle.)

I’ll concede that, in general, I find serial-killer movies to be abominably stupid. (They’re not even frightening. In that regard, I much prefer supernatural horror. Other than Silence of the Lambs, American Psycho, Zodiac, the original Vanishing, and, if you want to count it, A Clockwork Orange, I can’t even think of any films in the serial killer genre I like.) So if the Dragon Tattoo books were your cup of tea, but not so much so that you didn’t bother to catch the Swedish movie, then perhaps you’ll find The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo worthwhile. The movie is definitely competently directed and made — Fincher isn’t going to put out bad product. But I found this an unnecessary remake of a grotesque and ludicrous story in the first place, and I’m kinda annoyed with myself for spending money on it.

Oscar’s Eleven.

The King’s Speech led the field with 12 nominations, including nods for best picture and director, while True Grit galloped close behind with a healthy 10 nominations. The Social Network also landed its expected best picture nomination, along with seven other nods.” The 83rd Annual Oscar nominations are announced and they’re basically as expected. [Full list.]

I’ll make my official picks closer to the date, but for now, my own best of 2010 is here.(I’ve seen all the best picture nominees this year except 127 Hours.) As for the surprises, I’m glad to see John Hawkes get a Supporting Actor nod, even if I didn’t much like Winter’s Bone. And good to see Grit‘s Hailee Steinfeld get noticed too — but why is she in Supporting Actress? She’s in every single scene in the film.

As for the snubs, Daft Punk should’ve gotten some love for their Tron: Legacy score — they pretty much made the movie — and Christopher Nolan should have Tom Hooper’s spot in the Best Director category for Inception. But all in all, these aren’t bad choices at all, particularly given Oscar’s usual misfires.

The Golden Rumpus.

I’d like to quash this ridiculous rumor going around that the only reason ‘The Tourist‘ was nominated was so the Hollywood Foreign Press could hang out with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie,’ he continued. ‘That is rubbish. That is not the only reason. They also accepted bribes.’

With a merciless (and very funny) Ricky Gervais at the helm, the Golden Globes were once again distributed to the worthy last Sunday, including The Social Network and David Fincher, Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Christian Bale and Melissa Leo (The Fighter), and, as Best Comedy, The Kids are All Right.) I’m actually fine with all of those picks — That’s a much better hit rate than usual for the Globes.

2010 in Film.

With Snooki set, and the earth embarking on another tour around the sun, it must be time for the 2010 movie round-up. As always, there are a few contender films I haven’t yet seen — Blue Valentine opens here next weekend, for example. But, as it happens, I did see quite a few more movies than usual this year — an added bonus to having a full-time, non-gradual school income again. In any case, without further ado, the…

Top 20 Films of 2010
[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2007/2008/2009/The Oughts]

1. Toy Story 3: I kept expecting some other movie to come along in the second half of 2010 and knock this lachrymose Pixar masterpiece out of the top spot. But, in a not particularly great year for movies, Lee Unkrich’s surprisingly sad and soulful Toy Story 3 held onto the crown. (As it turns out, the highest grossing film of the year was also the best.) Basically, this is the movie about fleeting youth and fading plastic that Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are wanted to be. And, while I’m still not sure if kids will vibe into the melancholy shenanigans here at all, it touched a chord in more than one aging man-child out there…just ask QT.

2. The Red Riding Trilogy: Amid the moors of the North, there is an evil that does not sleep. Originally a TV miniseries in Britain, the Red Riding trilogy — 1974, 1980 and 1983 — counted as full-fledged movies for those of us stateside. And, while perhaps too grim for some tastes, this three-part, nine-year inquiry into black deeds in Yorkshire was as immersive and transporting a movie experience as there was in 2010. (The problem was, you didn’t necessarily want to be where it transported you.) True, the third film was weaker than the first two installments. But taken as a whole, this was one gritty and impressive crime saga, with a number of memorable turns by Paddy Considine, Andrew Garfield, Mark Addy, Rebecca Hall, Peter Mullan and others.

3. The Secret in Their Eyes: Alas, you will find no respite from the Yorkshire darkness in the Argentina of the Dirty War. Earlier in the year, I had A Prophet ranked above this movie, the Best Foreign Film winner of 2009. (It was released here in 2010.) But Juan Jose Campanella’s haunting picture has grown in my memory in the months since. Like Red Riding, this is another wistful investigation into murder, missed opportunities, and the choices we make, one that sticks with you well after the theater lights come up.

4. True Grit: For the third time in four years, the Coens make the top five. (See also No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man.) And while I concede to being a bit of a Coen fanboy, I’m guessing this retelling of the John Wayne classic stands on its own merits. The occasional quirk aside, this is the brothers’ Straight Story, and, as I said in the original review, it feels like an unearthed and quintessentially American coming-of-age tale. The travails of Ree Dolly may have been the cat’s meow to many critics this year, but, when it comes to teenage girls facing a heap of adversity, I myself cottoned to the western adventures of Matty Ross.

5. The Social Network: With top-notch work from David Fincher, Trent Reznor, and the entire cast, The Social Network has a crisp, sleek, and entertaining interface to be sure. On an intellectual level, it’s definitely one of the most purely enjoyable movies of the year. But I still find this film somewhat dubious in terms of content. It works better as a Shakespearean tale of ambition and betrayal — Richard III by way of Revenge of the Nerds — than it does a legitimate recreation of the origins of Facebook. Still, given that much of the action takes place at a university whose motto is Veritas (“Truth”) and yet whose most prominent landmark is the “Statue of the Three Lies,” I guess I should probably forgive TSN its many factual screw-ups. Print the legend and all that.

6. A Prophet: Call it the Antisocial Network: Another 2009 foreign film that made it here in 2010, Jacques Audiard’s novelistic, keenly observed A Prophet — about a young prisoner learning to survive and thrive in the interstices of a cross-cultural jailyard — was another of the best films of the year. A Prophet can feel slow at times, and it’s not an experience I’m likely to revisit anytime soon. But it’s this film’s continual attention to the devastating detail that makes it a prison movie to remember.

7. Inception: Just as he did with The Prestige after Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan took a mental health break from Gotham City after The Dark Knight by crafting this mindbending sorbet, the best “summer movie thrillride” experience of 2010. (The only other ones that come close are #9 below and the first-half of Tron: Legacy.) I still wish Inception was a bit more ragged in its dreaming, and, like a dream, it makes more sense when you’re watching it than when you think back on it later. Nonetheless, Inception was great fun throughout, and if nothing else, it spawned one of my favorite new Internet memes.

8. The Fighter: I just saw this one over the weekend, so it has no review up yet. Suffice to say, I was pleasantly surprised by David O’Russell’s chronicle of the comeback of welterweight “Irish” Micky Ward, the pride of Lowell, Massachusetts. In fact, I had the opposite experience here that I had with The King’s Speech. There was a potentially interesting story told extremely conventionally, while this is a tried and tested sports movie formula — a boxer with one last shot at a title — that still felt fresh and invigorating. True, the seven Ward sisters were a bit much — They were the only time this boxing movie veered toward the egregious cartoon rednecks of Million Dollar Baby. But otherwise, solid performances by Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams and especially Christian Bale give this could’ve-been-by-the-numbers film a much-needed heart.

9. Kick-Ass: Capitalizing on the promise he showed in Layer Cake, director Matthew Vaughn brought to life the most engaging comic book reverie of 2010 with Kick-Ass, his warmer, more colorful take on the Mark Millar comic. This film saw Nicolas Cage continue his Bad Lieutenant mini-revival, Mark Strong continue to hone his talent for instant Big-Bad gravitas (see also: Sherlock Holmes, 2011′s Green Lantern), and, like a bat out of Hell (or New Mexico, for that matter), 13-year-old Chloe Moretz become an out-and-out, foul-mouthed, ass-kicking action star. Few films this year were as fun as this one.

10. Exit Through the Gift Shop: As this potentially faux-documentary explains: Before he exposed the sweatshops under Springfield, British provocateur Banksy set the world of street art careening over the shark by encouraging Thierry Guetta, a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash, to get in the graffiti game. It’s still an open question whether Banksy’s disastrous creation of MBW was inadvertent or just his latest well-crafted skewering of the powers-that-be. Either way, Exit Through the Gift Shop, about the rise and fall of street art, is a merry prank indeed.

11. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: While the Harry Potter books grew distended and clumsy in the home stretch, the movie series continues to gain steam along that last low road to Hogwarts. In bringing to life the first half of Hallows, David Yates has made arguably the best Potter film yet, and not just because he has the good sense to riff on Brazil therein. The danger feels more palpable, the hopping around the countryside feels less episodic, and, after a decade of doing this, the Big Three wear their characters naturally now. Here’s hoping Harry Potter and the Battalion of Thespians manage to close things out as smoothly this summer.

12. Inside Job: You think Banksy got away with a grift? Check this one out. Pinning its high-profile subject to the mat much more successfully than did Alex Gibney’s Casino Jack documentary, Inside Job impressively lays out the causes and (lack of) consequences of the Great Wall Street meltdown of 2008. Those would be a swollen, rapacious, and unregulated financial services sector, and a government that, even after the Big Bust, still bends over backward to appease it. The only real problem with Inside Job is the feedback loop — The only folks likely to see this film are the same ones who already know the story and are enraged by it. Still, I’m glad it’s there, and at least it’s encouraging economists to clean up their act.

13. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Like I said back in August, Scott Pilgrim seems to have gone the way of the much-maligned Speed Racer. As visually inventive as it was, Pilgrim didn’t make much of a splash at the box office. But even if its fanboy fan service tendencies still rankle, Edgar Wright’s ode to geek crushes and the g4m3r life deserved more love than it got on the first play, so hopefully it enjoys several more lives on Blu Ray and beyond.

14. The Town: Admittedly, Boston is getting a bit peaked as Hollywood’s go-to destination for white working-class crime stories of late (Mystic River, The Departed, Gone Baby Gone.) That being said, Ben Affleck’s “Beantown Heat” was a strong, well-made, and entertaining ensemble film with a good sense of place and charisma to burn. Everyone from Jon Hamm and Rebecca Hall to Chris Cooper and the late Pete Postlethwaite bring their A-game here, with special kudos to Jeremy Renner as Affleck’s crazy-like-a-fox pahtnuh-in-crime.

15. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers: After watching Inside Job, you might wonder why our government is in such a furor over Julian Assange and Wikileaks when crimes like constructing an illegal torture regime and, oh, causing an worldwide global economic meltdown seem to go unpunished. And after watching Ellsberg, you might think we’ve seen this movie before anyway. (Just take it from the man himself.) Constructed like a conspiracy thriller, Ellsberg is a testament to the notion that sometimes whistle-blowing — the only “misdeed” our current administration can seem to get angry about these days — may in fact be a higher form of patriotism. However you feel about Ellsberg and Wikileaks, this is a compelling documentary about tough choices in contentious times.

16. Never Let Me Go: Like The Secret In Their Eyes, this quiet, elegiac sci-fi film has risen in my estimation in the months since I saw it. Keira Knightley is still a drag on the production, and all of the characters a bit too locked-in for my taste — If they were so invested in one plan to avoid their fate, they should’ve been more willing to contemplate other avenues of escape as well. Still, also like The Secret In Their Eyes, this is a movie whose mood of reticent mourning lingers on.

17. Terribly Happy: How do you say “Blood Simple” in Danish? This weird Coenesque ditty about a sheriff with a troubled past investigating Something Rotten in Denmark was yet another late arrival to these shores — It premiered in Europe in 2008. And yet, once again, it was among the best 2010 had to offer. Let’s hope the pattern holds and right now, some of the best films of this year are already kicking around other continents, ready to be unleashed.

18. The King’s Speech: I wrote about this one rather recently, so my views on it haven’t changed much. This is a undeniably well-made, well-written, and well-performed film, but I found its sports-movie structure and Merchant-Ivory bromance all a bit pat. Still, Colin Firth in particular is excellent here — With this and A Single Man, he’s aging into a more interesting actor than he was before. Consider it his Baldwinning.

19. The Ghost Writer: As he pieces together the memoirs of England’s ex-PM, boilerplate and boredom are the least of Ewan MacGregor’s worries — He also has surveillance men and femmes fatale to contend with. Ghost, welcome to the Machine! This conspiratorial yarn isn’t a particularly deep film — more just a cheeky throwback to 70′s paranoia thrillers and an extended screw-you to the departed Tony Blair. Still, whatever his other sins, Roman Polanski fashioned a brisk and entertaining cloak-and-dagger flick here.

20. The Kids Are All Right: I thought about Get Him to the Greek, Greenberg, and Shutter Island for this last spot. But, in the end, I gave the nod to this, Lisa Cholodenko’s well-observed slice of family life in 21st century California. This is a small and unassuming film, but one that does what it does quite well — It takes a number of well-drawn characters and lets them breathe and bounce off each other.

Most Disappointing: Alice in Wonderland: An embarrassment to the Carroll book: Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have never seemed so uninspired together.

Worth Netflixing: 44-Inch Chest, The American, A Single Man (2009), Crazy Heart (2009), Daybreakers, The Eclipse, Get Him to the Greek, Greenberg, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009), Knight and Day, Let Me In, Life During Wartime, The Lovely Bones (2009), Shutter Island, Splice, The Square, Tron: Legacy, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Winter’s Bone, Youth in Revolt

Don’t Bother: The Art of the Steal, Black Swan, The Book of Eli, Brooklyn’s Finest, Casino Jack and the USM, Catfish, Clash of the Titans, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Green Zone, Hot Tub Time Machine, Invictus (2009), Iron Man 2, Jonah Hex, Legion, The Losers, Machete, Red, Robin Hood, Salt, Sweetgrass, The Tourist, The Werewolf, The White Ribbon

Best Actor: Ricardo Darin, The Secret In Their Eyes, Tahar Rahim, A Prophet; Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan; Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone, Haylee Steinfeld, True Grit
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter; Jeremy Renner, The Town; Andrew Garfield, The Social Network/Never Let Me Go
Best Supporting Actress: Chloe Moretz, Kick-Ass, Amy Adams, The Fighter; Charlotte Rampling, Life During Wartime

Unseen: 127 Hours, The A-Team, All Good Things, Animal Kingdom, Another Year, Blue Valentine, Buried, Burlesque, Carlos, Casino Jack, Centurion, Chloe, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, Conviction, Cop Out, Country Strong, The Crazies, Creation, Date Night, Despicable Me, Devil, Dinner for Schmucks, Easy A, Eat, Pray, Love, Edge of Darkness, The Expendables, Extraordinary Measures, Fair Game, Fish Tank, Four Lions, From Paris with Love, Get Low, The Good, The Bad, and the Weird, Gulliver’s Travels, Harry Brown, Hereafter, How Do You Know?, Howl, I am Love, The Illusionist, I Love You, Phillip Morris, I’m Still Here, Jackass 3D, Jack Goes Boating, The Karate Kid, The Killer Inside Me, The Last Exorcism, The Last Station, Leap Year, Little Fockers, MacGruber, Made in Dagenham, Micmacs, Monsters, Mother, The Next Three Days, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Other Guys, Paranormal Activity 2, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Please Give, Predators, The Prince of Persia, Rabbit Hole, Rare Exports, Repo Men, Secretariat, Shrek Forever After, Skyline, Somewhere, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Step Up 3D, Survival of the Dead, Takers, Tangled, The Tempest, Tiny Furniture, Twilight: Eclipse, Unstoppable, Valentine’s Day, Vincere, When In Rome, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

    A Good Year For:

  • Abduction as Seduction (Knight & Day, Red, The Tourist)
  • Andrew Garfield (Red Riding, The Social Network, Never Let Me Go)
  • Aussie Noir (The Square, Animal Kingdom)
  • Charlotte Rampling (Life During Wartime, Never Let Me Go)
  • Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass, Let Me In)
  • Ghostly Ex’s (Life During Wartime, The Eclipse)
  • The Dude’s Paternal Side (Tron: Legacy, True Grit)
  • Working-class Bay Staters (The Town, The Fighter)

    A Bad Year For:

  • Angelina Jolie (Salt, The Tourist)
  • Art Museums (Exit Through the Gift Shop, Art of the Steal)
  • B-level DC Heroes (Jonah Hex, The Losers)
  • Eighties Remakes (Karate Kid, Nightmare on Elm Street)
  • Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist)
  • Leo’s Sanity (Inception, Shutter Island)
  • The Street (Inside Job, Wall Street 2)

2011: 5 Days in August, 30 Minutes or Less, The Adjustment Bureau, Albert Nobbs, Amigo, Anonymous, Arthur, Arthur Christmas, Bad Teacher, Barney’s Version, Battle: Los Angeles, The Beaver, Beginners, Bernie, The Big Year, Black Gold, Brighton Rock, Caesar: Rise of the Apes, Captain America: The First Avenger, Cars 2, Cedar Rapids, Colombiana, Conan the Barbarian, The Conspirator, Contagion, Coriolanus, Cowboys and Aliens, Damsels in Distress, A Dangerous Method, The Darkest Hour, The Debt, The Deep Blue Sea, The Descendants, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Drive Angry, The Eagle, The Factory, The Fields, Friends with Benefits, Fright Night, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Green Hornet, Green Lantern, The Guard, The Hangover Part 2, Hanna, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Haywire, I am Number Four, Jane Eyre, Larry Crowne, Limitless, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, The Muppets, Paul, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Priest, Rango, Sanctum, Scream 4, Season of the Witch, Sherlock Holmes 2, Source Code, Straw Dogs, Sucker Punch, Super 8, The Thing, Thor, The Tree of Life, The Way Back, X-Men: First Class, Your Highness, and…

Thundering Son of a Sea-Gherkin! It’s Tintin!

10,000 Megs of Harvard


As the post-Inception zeitgeist film of the fall, David Fincher’s moody, ambitious, and entertaining The Social Network, a.k.a. the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook, has already been pretty well dissected by now — I wish I’d had time to get to this flick earlier.

Suffice to say, this movie is a lot like its protagonist — fast-talking, occasionally irritating, oftentimes more clever than it is smart, and ultimately endearing despite itself. In all honesty, The Social Network irked me quite a bit in the early going, but it also managed to win me back by the closing credits. The highest praise I can give Fincher’s film in the end is that I enjoyed it, would recommend it, and look forward to seeing it again, even despite the fact that, when it came to any aspect of the story I actually knew anything about, the movie was often aggravatingly, woefully wrong.

First, the story. The Social Network begins with a very Aaron Sorkin-y dispute at a bar between Erica, an attractive young BU co-ed (Rooney Mara, soon to be Fincher’s Lisabeth Salander), and Mark, her geeky-arrogant Harvard boyfriend (Jesse Eisenberg, here making a bold move to outflank his actorly nemesis, Michael Cera). For some reason, Mark is seriously sweating what Finals Club — a.k.a. the old-school, Harvard version of the fraternity scene — he might end up in, so much so that he eventually lets his disdain for his girlfriend slip out. (“Why do you keep saying I don’t need to study?” “You go to BU!“) And so Erica wisely walks out of the picture, leaving Mark stewing in the cauldron of feminine slight, status anxiety, and nerd-rage from which, presumably, world-conquering social websites are eventually born.

Having introduced Mr. Zuckerberg and his general unpleasantness, The Social Network proceeds to tell his story. How, after bad-mouthing Erica on his blog (First rule of blogging: Don’t drink and blog), he embarks on a plan of revenge against all of womanhood by coding up a Harvard “Hot or Not” knockoff called Facemash. How this stunt gains him both notoriety on campus and the attention of Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (both Armie Hammer), a pair of Old Money, Olympian-class rowing twins — and members of the Porcellian! — who need a coder for their website idea, “The Harvard Connection.” And how Mark, along with his kind-hearted (and wealthier) best friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield, the heart of the film), may or may not steal their idea to create his own social portal, “The Facebook”– which, as we all know, eventually leads to mo’ money, mo’ problems, as a wise man once put it.

This origin story is smoothly told throughout — remarkably so, in fact. The action cuts back and forth between the shenanigans taking place at Harvard and, eventually, Silicon Valley (Enter Justin Timberlake, playing an outsized, Faustian version of Napster’s Sean Parker) and, after the millions have been made, two grim depositions: Mark is being sued separately by Eduardo and the Winklevoss twins, who he memorably dubs the “Winklevi.” And throughout, it’s hard not to appreciate how relentlessly smart the movie is. In the early going, to establish Mark’s coding prowess, there’s even an admirable attempt to explain the basics of how he puts together Facesmash: “First up is Kirkland. They keep everything open and allow indexes in their Apache configuration, so a little WGET magic is all that’s necessary to download the entire Kirkland facebook. Kids’ stuff.

So what’s the problem? Well, I’m not a coder by any means, and I definitely wasn’t present at the birth of Facebook. But I did go to Harvard, spent more than a few hours in the crew tanks, own and have rocked the Henley jacket, and have cooled my heels in the Porc’s bike room before. And when it comes to the alma mater, the film is severely off by at least three or four decades. The Harvard of The Social Network is pre-meritocratic — It looks right but feels totally wrong. Really, who cares about Finals Clubs anymore? Slate‘s Nathan Heller already eviscerated the movie on his front, and he’s absolutely right: “I recognized their Harvard, but only from Love Story and The Paper Chase, not my experience. To get the university this wrong in this movie is no small matter.

And so a lot of the The Social Network just felt ludicrous to me. Early on, they try to portray a party at the Phoenix, one of the Finals Clubs (in my day, probably the most ethnically diverse and least douchey of them, to boot), as the very pinnacle of exclusivity, where the beautiful people party. In the film, attractive, revealingly-dressed women bus in from all over Boston to see if they can get past the rope line. In reality, parties at the Phoenix were…well, college frat parties. The very fact that I got drunk at them occasionally doesn’t speak highly of either their exclusivity or their beautifulness. In other words, Finals Clubs are kinda sad and desiccated these days. They were glorified frats, and nobody took them at all seriously — not even the private school kids who might have a vested interest in keeping up the old appearances.

That is just one example, but it happens over and over again in The Social Network. That aforementioned sinister-seeming bus of farmed-in party girls — well, Cambridge folk know that’s the “F**k Truck”, and it was just a bus route, no more, no less. I was a regular on it for months when dating a woman out in Wellesley. But it seems like Sorkin heard the nickname and went wild with it. There’s another scene where Eduardo and others are hazed about “the Statue of the Three Lies, and some frosh flubs it wildly. But the three lies are Firstyear 101. Everyone knows ‘em, and there’s no way a kid, however wasted, would blank out like that. The whole scene just seems inserted in to show off Sorkin’s Harvard research.

And don’t get me started on the crew stuff. On one hand, it’s a real kick to see the sport get some props here — One scene, set to a Reznorized version of “Hall of the Mountain King”, even shows the Winklevi competing at Henley. (Not much love for coxswains, alas.) But then the Wonder Twins meet “His Royal Highness,” the Prince of Monaco (as a friend pointed out, it’s His Serene Highness.”) And, when said prince says it’s the closest race he’s seen in 30 years, Tyler replies: “[M]ile and a half races are more commonly won by a boat length or two.” Uh, no, races come to within a few seats, or even a few bowballs, all the time. And Henley is actually a 1.3 mile race, and one that rowers would normally talk about in meters — here, 2112 — in any case.

FWIW, this inattention to detail is a recurring problem I have with Aaron Sorkin’s output — The West Wing, a show which I know is much-beloved, also had more than its fair share of aggravating errors. (To take just one example, I remember President Martin Sheen complaining in the last episode about the Founders picking the cold month of January for inauguration day. They didn’t.) And in both The West Wing and here in The Social Network, every single character speaks in exactly the same hyper-clever, overwritten voice, and that over-writing, to my mind, generally tends to be fast and sloppy (Or, to be uncharitable about it, coked out.)

Are these quibbles? Well, maybe, but they add up, and I eventually thought the minor-but-accumulating errors of truth hamstrung the overall truthiness of the project. If Harvard isn’t actually a citadel reigned over by bluebloods and subdivided into all-important Finals Club fiefdoms (and it isn’t), then the Match Point-esque status anxiety driving Zuckerberg here isn’t at all convincing.

Or, to take another problem: At the time this story begins, in the fall of 2003, I was in New York and dating someone I’d met on Friendster. But you don’t get any sense from this story that Friendster, or MySpace, or even the Columbia Campus Network were already well-established by the time Facebook was concocted.

The point being, the entire movie is constructed as if Zuckerberg et al are fighting over this ground-breaking and wonderful new idea. But, as Larry Lessig pointed out in TNR: By 2003, the idea of a social network was really nothing new at all. The origin of Facebook is really a story about execution: As Lessig writes, “In interviews given after making the film, Sorkin boasts about his ignorance of the Internet. That ignorance shows.

In an effort to make the Facebook idea seem unique, Sorkin & Fincher argue here that it’s the site’s exclusivity that makes it something altogether new. Really? I don’t buy that, particularly when the worries about exclusivity theoretically driving Zuckerberg here ring so false. Don’t get me wrong — I liked The Social Network, and I had a lot of fun watching it. But, while Fincher’s film may be a very entertaining whirlwind tour through the stately pleasure domes of Harvard and the Bay, it’s also aggravatingly lacking in veritas in ways both great and small. I’d friend The Social Network, sure, but unfortunately it’s not the all-time classic that the online hype suggested.

10,000 Page Hits of Harvard.

After a few audio-only teasers, David Fincher releases a wonderfully melancholy trailer for The Social Network, with Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Joseph Mazzello, Armie Hammer, and Rashida Jones.

I was definitely catching this film anyway. But, I gotta say, this clip really brought to mind in a visceral way the old college days, and not just due to that mournful, nostalgia-inducing Radiohead cover and the presence of my old ’97 classmate Rashida. The crew tank, the Henley jackets, the Weeks footbridge, the Finals Club prepsters, the scullers, the dorm fireplaces, low ceilings, and cruddy furniture, that muted, wintry, wood-panelly palette…Even more than movies like Love Story or the egregious With Honors, this clip just looks and feels like those Cambridge days of yore (even if, in my era, we were still well on the far side of Friendster.)

(500,000,000) Friends of Mark.

What would you do if Mark sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on him? Heavy is the head that wears the Facebook crown in this minimalist teaser for David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network, with Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, and Rashida Jones. Great pedigree, great cast, looking forward to it.

(500) Days of Gwen.

“Webb said, ‘This is a dream come true and I couldn’t be more aware of the challenge, responsibility, or opportunity. Sam Raimi’s virtuoso rendering of Spider-Man is a humbling precedent to follow and build upon. The first three films are beloved for good reason.’” Well, actually, not many care much for Spidey 3. In any event, the post-Raimi reboot of Spiderman at Sony has found its director in Marc Webb, previously of (500) Days of Summer.

A solid choice, although two things give me pause: 1) It’s hard to escape the sense that Webb was picked mainly because the studio suits think that, unlike Raimi, he’ll be more malleable than a lot of the A-list names floating around (Fincher, Cameron). 2) The ramifications of the following sentence might just end up being terrible: “The touchstone for the new movie will not be the 1960s comics…but rather this past decade’s ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ comics by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley where the villain-fighting took a back seat to the high school angst.”

The Curious Case of Benjamin’s Oscar Love.

The powers-that-be announce the nominees for the 81st Academy Awards, with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button garnering 13 nominations (it helps when your Oscar Bait is FX-heavy), Slumdog Millionaire grabbing ten, and Milk and The Dark Knight notching eight apiece. (That being said, TDK was frozen out of the main awards, Ledger’s inevitable Supporting Actor bid notwithtanding.)

Also in the running for major stuff: The Reader (picture, actress, director), The Wrestler (actor, supporting actress), Doubt (actor, screenplay, actress, supporting actress), Frost/Nixon (director, actor, screenplay), and WALL-E (screenplay, animated film). And the happy semi-surprises: Richard Jenkins for The Visitor and Robert Downey, Jr. for Tropic Thunder.

I’ll make my picks with the GitM 2008 list, which should be coming up within the next week or two. (The movies I’ve been waiting for — Frost/Nixon, Revolutionary Road, and The Wrestler — all open here tomorrow.) And, don’t worry, 2009 isn’t being slighted all that much: I highly doubt Paul Blart: Mall Cop was going to make the cut anyway.

The Gold Night.

The nominees for the 2008 Golden Globes are announced, with David Fincher’s Benjamin Button, John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, and Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon leading the pack with five nods each. I’ve been feeling way behind on my moviegoing all year, so I’m glad to see that all of the best drama nominees (Button, Revolutionary Road, Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Reader), as well as some of the closer also-rans (Milk, Doubt, The Wrestler) are films that aren’t out yet here. So, since i can’t as yet speak knowledgably about any of the contenders, i’ll hold off on my picks until closer to the big night.

Going into the awards stretch, my favorite film of the year is probably still The Dark Knight (with WALL-E running at 2nd), so I was also glad to see Heath Ledger get his due today. Would that he were around to see it.

Sign of the Beast.

More a straightforward police procedural than the type of visually kinetic extravaganza one might expect from the director of Se7en and Fight Club, David Fincher’s Zodiac, which I saw on Friday, is a slow-moving but generally effective film. I confess to having very little interest in the story of the Zodiac killer, or in serial killer movies in general. Still, I found Zodiac to be a somber and engaging character study of the cops, journalists, and suspects caught up in the hunt for San Francisco’s most famous murderer, and a moody meditation on how, as months yield to years without a definitive answer, the long, tiring search for truth comes to haunt and drain their lives away. It may basically play like a seventies throwback Law and Order for most of its run, with occasional flourishes from The Wire, but Zodiac is still a worthwhile film, and one that marks a welcome rebound for Fincher after the relatively uninspired Panic Room. It’s good to see his sign rising once again.

After the first of many impressive establishing shots of San Francisco, set to some spooky post-psychedelic pop ditty of the era, Zodiac begins on July 4th, 1969, with what feels like both a classic urban legend and a recipe for disaster — two young people flirting and fumbling at a dark and abandoned Lover’s Lane. Only this story is true, and soon enough, the Zodiac has struck for the second time, leaving one dead and another terribly wounded in his wake. Showing a penchant for publicity that will make him a household name in the Bay Area over the next few years, the Zodiac sends both boastful and encoded message to several major newspapers. These pique the interest of — among others — a hard-drinking, hard-living writer on the cop beat (Robert Downey, Jr.), a nebbishy cartoonist with a knack for puzzles (Jake Gyllenhaal, playing the author of the book on which the film is based), and two peace officers (Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards) assigned to track down this preening sociopath before he strikes again. For the next few years, we follow each of these fellows as they attempt to pin down the identity of the elusive killer: negotiating bureaucratic snafus, parsing encrypted texts, and, yes, hitting the archives like good, little researchers. But the trail of the Zodiac exacts a heavy toll, and as the Age of Aquarius fades into the Reagan era, each of these men leave the decade scarred by their quest, some irreparably. And still, somewhere out there, the Zodiac lurks…

Its opening moments notwithstanding, most of Zodiac is concerned not with nasty serial killer exploits (although there are a few, such as a jarring afternoon picnic at the lake) but the ugly mechanics of the cops and journalists’ search, with all its circumstantial theorizing and bureaucratic gear-grinding. Some of this stuff, such as the memory-holes that arise between overlapping jurisdictions of various Bay Area law enforcement bureaus, would probably seem fresher if you’ve never watched The Wire, where police mismanagement and careerism is a central staple. (That being said, likable character actors like Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, and Zach Grenier spice up these scenes considerably.) But, other facets of the hunt still resonate, such as how multiple explanations pile up for a given clue with no real way to determine the correct one. The Zodiac’s symbol…is it a cross-hair, or was it stolen from a watch company, or is it the countdown from the opening of a film reel? Each answer seems like it must be the definitive one at different times, and, for the participants in this haunted search, the shifting interpretations grow increasingly maddening. The film is kind enough to give the audience something of a sense of closure at the end, but Zodiac is most intriguing when it leaves all doors open, and lets its characters get thrown about in the bruising wind that ensues.

The Straits of Balboa | The Rage of Aquarius

More trailers: Sly tries to go fifteen more rounds in the surprisingly effective second trailer for Rocky Balboa (It’s the music, for sure), and Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr., Chloe Sevigny, Donal Logue, Elias Koteas, and Brian Cox venture into Se7en territory in the preview for David Fincher’s Zodiac. (Panic Room was sorta dull and by-the-numbers, but Fincher still has a lot of goodwill in this corner for Fight Club.)

Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

Another director update: Steven Soderbergh, late of The Good German, talks Che and Ocean’s 13, and David Fincher, currently completing Zodiac, has picked up, yes, still another serial killer flick, Torso, about the latter days of Elliot Ness as a crimefighter in Cleveland.

Two Finches, One Fury.

In fanboy cinema news, Alien 3, Fight Club and Se7en director David Fincher picks up two new projects: Zodiac, yet another serial-killer flick starring Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey, Jr., and Anthony Edwards, and Benjamin Button, which concerns Brad Pitt aging backward from the age of fifty (while romancing Cate Blanchett.) Elsewhere, Bruce Willis as Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D? Beats Hasselhoff, I suppose. Update: Gary Oldman joins Zodiac.

Shaolin Tiger Style.

I can’t get married – I’m a thirty-year-old boy.” By way of The Late Adopter, Fight Club is finally explained to everyone’s satisfaction — it was meant to be a sequel to Calvin & Hobbes.

Bring in Da’ Noise, Bring in Da’ Funk.

Two fanboy icons get the Remix treatment…First, Tyler Durden gets all Tekken up in here with Fight Club: The Game. (Hmm, sadly, it looks Ikea-Nesting-Instinct-lame.) Meanwhile, Kirk & co. get their funk on in this strange ad for the Star Trek Original Series DVD. Well, it’s definitely more fun than an Odd-numbered Trek.

Tyler and Benny.

In related news, David Fincher has also picked a new project, and it’s F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Benjamin Button, about a man who begins aging backwards at the age of 50. Well, I haven’t seen a second of it, and it’s already more interesting than Panic Room.

Catching Up.

Speaking of cinema, making my top 20 films list the other day has encouraged me to get back in the habit of renting (the lousy weather the past four days has helped.) Over the past few days, I’ve perused Bill Paxton’s Frailty (Interesting, but I think The Rapture does this better), Guillermo Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone (I quite liked it, although the Spanish Civil War allegory gets a bit heavy), Wes Andersons’ The Royal Tenenbaums (I liked this as well. It’s a bit too self-consciously quirky, perhaps, but Gene Hackman is great, and there are sight gags aplenty. Far better than anything by the other Anderson.) and David Fincher’s Panic Room (Disappointing and strangely dull. The floating camera shots, which worked so well when used sparingly in Fight Club, seem unnecessary and distracting here. And Jared Leto seems out of his depth.) K-19: The Widowmaker will be this evening’s presentation, and if it ever comes back in I’d like to see Donnie Darko sometime this weekend as well.

Superman lives?

With Superman v. Batman falling by the wayside, WB looks to move a Superman feature instead. The good news is they’re trying to replace McG with David Fincher, Michael Mann, or Steven Soderbergh. The bad news is the screenwriter (J.J. Abrams, of Alias) wants McG.

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