Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Social Network

Year 5, Day 250 - 9/7/13 - Movie #1,532

BEFORE:  I'm finally getting to one of the most prominent films of 2010 - that's progress, I guess.  Looking back though, I think I have been hitting the more recent films from 2011-2013 pretty hard lately - it was just a real challenge to work my thematic chain in this direction.  Linking from "Project X", Thomas Mann was also in "Fun Size" with Barry Livingston.

THE PLOT:  Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg creates the social networking site that would become known as Facebook, but is later sued by two brothers who claimed he stole their idea, and the cofounder who was later squeezed out of the business.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Flash of Genius" (Movie #624)

AFTER: I don't have a dog in this fight, as they say - I'm not on the Facebook and I have little interest in Facebook.  I don't have much interest in the things that "everyone" is doing, because I want to be sure that I do the things I do because I really want to do them.  So without the Facebook angle, I'm left with a film about people suing each other over who created a thing, and that thing could be anything from a new car to a movie idea to a new snack cake.

To me the question becomes, can one copyright an idea?  Zuckerberg's character draws an analogy to a chair - once somebody invented the chair, he didn't sue the next guy who made a chair, or a slightly different chair, or a better chair.  The hottest food trend right now seems to be the cronut - that's a croissant mixed with a doughnut - and after somebody made one and found it to be tasty and pleasant, other bakers had to figure out how it was made, and then make one with a slightly different name.  Or look at pretzel rolls, one fast food chain made a burger or sandwich with a pretzel roll, and then suddenly every chain had to have one on their menu. 

My point is - the average person doesn't always care who was first on the market with something, they care who puts out the best product - and who markets it best, but that's another issue.  Which is why we have copyrights and intellectual property lawsuits, to prevent bigger, better marketers from screwing the little guys.  But again, you can't copyright an idea, only an exact method for enabling or delivering that idea.

So if I have to side with someone in this case, it looks like I'm siding with Zuckerberg - based purely on the details of the case, assuming he didn't use any of the Winkelvoss code when he made "The Facebook", and assuming that the decisions he made were motivated by good business, and not personal vendettas.  But how does one prove THAT?

I still hate time-jumping (sorry, non-linear editing), but at least it had a point this time - the court cases were interspersed with flashbacks that either proved or disproved the legal points being made.  And of course nobody wants to watch a dry, boring court case play out in real time, so the flashbacks served to perk up the proceedings - I understand WHY it was done, but I still don't have to approve of it.

The irony of the story is quite obvious - a guy creates a web-site that gets him millions of "friends", but can't seem to form lasting friendships or relationships in the real world.  But by extension, isn't it better to have a few solid, dependable friendships in real life than to have a bunch of half-friends connected to you by arbitrary "likes" and invisible connections?  Is it truly better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven?

Also starring Jesse Eisenberg (last heard in "Rio"), Andrew Garfield (last seen in "The Amazing Spider-Man"), Justin Timberlake (last seen in "Trouble With the Curve"), Armie Hammer (last seen in "J. Edgar"), Rooney Mara (last seen in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), Max Minghella (last seen in "The Ides of March"), Rashida Jones (last seen in "Our Idiot Brother"), Dakota Johnson (last seen in "21 Jump Street"), Brenda Song, with a cameo from Wallace Langham (last seen in "The Great Buck Howard").

RATING: 5 out of 10 stock options

Friday, September 6, 2013

Project X

Year 5, Day 249 - 9/6/13 - Movie #1,531

BEFORE: I'm throwing one last high-school party before summer ends.  Let's hope things don't get too crazy...   Linking from "Never Been Kissed", Michael Vartan was also in "One Hour Photo" with Peter Mackenzie.

THE PLOT:  3 high school seniors throw a birthday party to make a name for themselves. As the night progresses, things spiral out of control as word of the party spreads.

AFTER:  This is the stuff of which high-school legends are made.  Is it worth trashing your parents' house with a blowout drunken bash, just to get some credibility at your school? 

Like "Cloverfield", this story is told with the "single camera" process, but that camera seems to be everywhere it needs to be, capturing every key moment.  That camera is behind a guy knocking on the front door, and then teleports somehow to be also behind the person answering the door - how is that possible? 

OK, so there must have been multiple cameras, but then who edited the footage together?  How can this possibly be made up of "found footage" if the night's events are so well-detailed and non-overlapping?  And then we've got a party that's so epic that it defies all rational convention - which then goes further toward shooting down its believability. 

Maybe it's because I'm on the other side of 40 now, but I just don't see the point in a celebration that has the potential for such wanton destruction.  My idea of a good birthday is to maybe go to a good BBQ restaurant, or maybe get some people together for beer floats.  This is not my scene...

In the end, I'm not sure which is more shameful - the acts shown taking place in the party, or making a film that glorifies those acts, making sure that future partygoers will try to replicate them, insuring that someone's going to get hurt.  Wait, I know what's most shameful - basically remaking "Superbad", which wasn't released that long ago, with a more annoying Seth Rogen type - all they really changed was to make the McLovin-like nerd also the fat kid. 

Also starring Thomas Mann (last seen in "It's Kind of a Funny Story"), Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Dax Flame (last seen in "The Watch"), Miles Teller, Alexis Knapp (last seen in "Pitch Perfect"), Kirby Bliss Blanton, Martin Klebba, with cameos from Big Boy, Jimmy Kimmel.

RATING: 3 out of 10 blow-up dolls 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Never Been Kissed

Year 5, Day 248 - 9/5/13 - Movie #1,530

BEFORE: Just a few more school-related films before I move on to another topic, but like a lot of topics so far this year, this one's about to take a dark turn in a few days.  Linking from "Tape", Uma Thurman was also in "Beautiful Girls" with David Arquette (last seen in "Muppets From Space").

THE PLOT:  A journalist enrolls in high school as part of her research for a story.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "21 Jump Street" (Movie #1,379)

AFTER: We've all said it - I've said it myself a few times here in these missives:  "If I could do it over, man, things would be different."  And by different we all hope they'd be better, but there are no guarantees.  We'd like to think that the knowledge we got in college and after, would have helped us navigate the tricky social politics of teendom, but what if it didn't?  What if we ended up back in the same roles, the same patterns, where we found ourselves before?  A true nightmare, right?

That's what happens in this film to our reporter character - note to IMDB, she does not go back to her "old school", she goes to a different school.  Wouldn't want to run into any tenured teachers you knew the first time around, right?  The whole "fish out of water" concept works well with these high-school films - a girl moves to town from Africa, a teacher moves to London from Africa, and now this.  This is probably a screenwriting short-cut, the main character's finding his/her way in a new school, which symbolizes the outsider status that many of us felt.

At first glance, the main character here, Josie, seems to be all over the place.  She works as a copy editor for a newspaper, which means she gets to correct everyone's grammar, and I can appreciate that.  (Jesus, am I that annoying when I correct people's grammar?) But if she's so smart, why does she get so stupid when she goes back to school?  Is she smart, or stupid?  Ah, what the movie failed to make clear at first is that she's book-smart, but socially inept - and sending her back to high-school is like throwing a lame gazelle in front of a pack of cheetahs.

So, though she manages to avoid her old nickname of "Grossie Josie", she still ends up at the bottom of the social order, befriended by nerds and joining the math team - but just as in "Mean Girls", when she gets the chance to transition to a higher social circle, she takes it.  Can't anyone just be happy doing well on the math team?  I'd rather be king of the nerds than one of the popular kids - better to rule in hell than serve in heaven, right?

The other problem I had was that she didn't get to change her social status until her brother also re-enrolled in school and spread some cool rumors about her - then she didn't really accomplish it on her own, did she?  True change should come from within, no? Not some outside influence.  Again, I'm probably overthinking things, because I've clearly already given this more thought than the screenwriter ever did.  Again, it's all about shortcuts - let's get to some cathartic moment the easy way.

There were other inconsistencies - Josie is attracted to a popular student, but also to her English teacher.  Which is it?  Pick a horse and run with it, but you can't move the story in BOTH directions.  Why did the promiscuous best friend character suddenly decide that's not who she really wanted to be, what motivated THAT change?  And did the brother really think that he could play high-school ball again and get another chance at the minor leagues?  Because they (apparently) never check your age when they start paying you a minor-league salary. 

What have we really learned here - that it's OK to toy with people's lives for a newspaper article?  It's OK to lie to get a baseball contract?  That it's all right for a teacher to be attracted to a student, provided she knows the Latin origin of a few words?  That some writer doesn't know the difference between the prom and a Halloween costume contest?  (Or he couldn't decide which one he wanted in this story...) 

Yesterday I read an article of recollections in response to a new Springsteen biography, written by someone who was in a fledgling Jersey band at the time, but also interviewed Bruce for his campus newspaper.  He wrote something about the part he might have played in influencing Springsteen's career, since his article found its way to Bruce's record label, alerting them to the fact that he was unhappy with their management.  That's all well and good, but the new article was completely self-indulgent, toggling between idol worship and self-promotion.  The goal of a reporter should be to disappear, and find a way to NOT make the article all about oneself.  When the reporter becomes the story, objectivity goes out the window, and unfortunately I think that's what happened to Josie.

NITPICK POINT: For a woman to complain about how she's never had that grand romantic first-kiss experience.  Excuse me, but isn't she PART of that equation - one half of the kiss?  Why can't she go out and make it happen for herself?  Yeah, OK, she's socially awkward, but there's a key out there for every lock - isn't that what the equal rights movement was all about?  Depicting a modern woman as so passive about it just seems like an antiquated notion.  

Also starring Drew Barrymore (last seen in "50 First Dates"), Michael Vartan (last seen in "One Hour Photo"), John C. Reilly (last seen in "The River Wild"), Molly Shannon (last seen in "The Five-Year Engagement"), Garry Marshall, Octavia Spencer (last seen in "Seven Pounds"), Jessica Alba (last seen in "Little Fockers"), Marley Shelton, Leelee Sobieski (last seen in "Public Enemies"), Jeremy Jordan, with a cameo from James Franco (last seen in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes").

RATING: 4 out of 10 bananas

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Year 5, Day 247 - 9/4/13 - Movie #1,529

BEFORE:  As long as we're all feeling nostalgic for our high-school years, I'll watch this one next.  I figured this film would be difficult to link to, since it only has three actors - however, two of them are high-profile actors, so I figured there would be a way to get from Peter O'Toole to one of them.  Imagine my surprise when that road seemed blocked - however, salvation came.  Sian Phillips from "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" was also in "The Age of Innocence" with Robert Sean Leonard (last seen in "Dead Poets Society"), which is sort of astounding.

THE PLOT: Three old high school friends pass the time in a Michigan motel room dissecting the painful memories of their high school years.

AFTER: Recently I've been seeing a lot of the Jean-Paul Sartre quote "Hell is other people", which people love to use when someone cuts them off in traffic, or walks down the street ahead of them much too slowly, or has their headphone volume turned up much too loud.  Just because someone is pissing you off, that doesn't mean you are in hell.  Not the literal fire-and-brimstone hell, I know you're over-exaggerating to make a point, but let's not drag Sartre into this if you can't quote him correctly.

Sartre wrote a very famous play called "No Exit" (the French title actually means something closer to "Behind Closed Doors") in which the afterlife is depicted as a locked room, surprisingly without fire or any torture devices, but with three people carefully selected to drive each other crazy.  They confess their various crimes to each other, and conclude that they're stuck with each other for all eternity - see, it's quite literal, hell is other people.

There's a certain set of films that are confined, Sartre-like, to just one location - some succeed, some don't.  Within the genre you've got films like "Clerks", "Phone Booth", "Twelve Angry Men", and a whole host of prison films.  Then there's "Rear Window", "The Breakfast Club",  "Moon", "Alien", and I'm sure I must be missing a bunch.

This brings me to "Tape", which is a conversation between two high-school friends (and later in the film, three) who have the uncanny ability to get under each other's skin, pick at the old wounds from high-school, and after a while we start to wonder if they really are friends, or if one has set a trap for the other.  And when the third character is introduced, everything shifts once more and we just don't know who's going to end up in control of the situation.

Which makes me wonder why these friends would all stick around and take these accusations and abuses from each other - why don't any of them leave?  OK, one leaves, but he comes right back.  Wait, wait, I've got it - the motel room is hell, right?  And they're stuck there tormenting each other for all eternity, right?  Well, I guess if this had been an episode of "The Twilight Zone" it could easily have gone in that direction...instead we get to hear these three people verbally beat each other up for 86 minutes.  

The problem is, the actual heart of the matter would have been, for anyone else, a 10-minute conversation.  Did you do this?  No?  OK, I believe you.  What about that?  And they would each, of course, know what they were referring to when they say "this" and "that".  But our actors here seemed to have been tasked with making this 10-minute conversation feature-length, so there's a lot of repetition, and a lot of confusion about THE THING they were JUST TALKING ABOUT, which of course drives me nuts.  Everyone has some form of selective amnesia and feels the need to repeat the same story points over and over - were they not given any others?  Or did they just get a loose framework of plot points that they had to keep going back to, like constantly re-dipping a quill pen?

Unless, wait, wait, I've got it - these characters were designed to drive ME crazy!  But that would mean that I'M in hell...oh, that's not good.

NITPICK POINT: Why would anyone open two beers, and drink one while letting the other one drain into the sink?  I've seen many, many variations on shotgunning, but I can't imagine someone choosing to consume AND waste beer at the same time, for any reason.

Also starring Ethan Hawke (last seen in "Taking Lives"), Uma Thurman (last seen in "Paycheck").

RATING:  3 out of 10 cans of Rolling Rock

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)

Year 5, Day 246 - 9/3/13 - Movie #1,528

BEFORE: Carrying the theme over again, this is another film about a teacher - but not one in London's seediest neighborhood, tonight it's a teacher in one of England's most prestigious prep schools (boarding schools?).  I didn't realize there were multiple versions of this film when I recorded it, so I ended up with the 1969 version, I hope that's all right.  Linking from "To Sir, With Love", Sidney Poitier was also in the documentary "Sing Your Song" with Petula Clark.

THE PLOT: A shy, withdrawn English schoolteacher falls for a flashy showgirl.

AFTER: My mother was an elementary school music teacher for over 40 years, so I do think this portrait film rang true.  Sometimes my family would be out at a restaurant and someone would approach the table after recognizing her, and they would need to re-introduce themselves, because the last time my Mom saw them they were only 10 or 11 years old.  One of her students even grew up and married my cousin, then found out his old music teacher was now his wife's aunt.

My Dad worked as a truck driver, which only shows that people from different worlds can fall for each other, which this film also demonstrates by matching the schoolteacher with a stage actress, who has something of a checkered past.  She could have any man in London, but she longs for the quiet life that being a headmaster's wife could provide.  He doesn't seem to fit in anyway with her wild, rambunctious, sexually open theater friends, anyway.  I guess pre-war Berlin wasn't the only place they were letting it all hang out, pre-war London was apparently pretty hip too.

By making one of the characters a stage actress, this was a sneaky way of staging a musical - her on-stage performances acting as the "play within a play".  But also, from time to the time the lead characters got all sentimental and broke into song, which seemed a little out of place.  But when you've got a great singer like Petula Clark, it makes sense to use her vocal talent whenever you can.  Peter O'Toole, not so much, but they tried anyway.

Like the teacher in "To Sir, With Love", the schoolmaster here prides himself on discipline - perhaps that's just the British way, and that's what all those angry youth ended up rebelling against in the Pink Floyd videos.  But the emphasis here is on the schoolwork, the Latin translations (because THAT came in handy later in life...) and putting in that extra hour of class every day, even if it meant the kids missed their sports.

The implication is that something softened in Mr. Chips when his soon-to-be wife broke down that wall in his stodgy English character, and though he was still a disciplinarian, suddenly the kids didn't regard him as being so dull once he had an attractive younger wife.   Once she got to know the boys and got involved with the school talent show and such, Chips probably began to seem more human.  Remember when you found out your grade-school teachers were just regular people, and had personal lives and such?      

This got a bit maudlin as Mr. Chips got older and more reflective about his place in the school and society in general, and he wondered if he made any difference, where a few thousand boys would probably chime in to say that he did.  And once he started teaching the sons and then grandsons of his original students - as I told my Mom, that's probably the point you should consider packing it in.

Also starring Peter O'Toole (last seen in "How to Steal a Million"), Michael Redgrave, George Baker (last seen in "The Spy Who Loved Me"), Sian Philipps (the real-life Mrs. Peter O'Toole at the time), Michael Culver (hey, it's Captain Needa from "The Empire Strikes Back", cool!)

RATING: 5 out of 10 Roman ruins

Monday, September 2, 2013

To Sir, With Love

Year 5, Day 245 - 9/2/13 - Movie #1,527

BEFORE: This Labor Day, let's take a moment to appreciate the importance of hard-working teachers (if you can read this, thank a teacher).  Especially since I don't know when Teachers' Day is.  I had too many great teachers to list here, plus a couple duds, and then I had teachers who put me right to sleep.  Literally.  What the heck, shout-outs to all of them.

Linking from "O", Martin Sheen was also in the 2004 documentary "Tell Them Who You Are" with Sidney Poitier (last seen in "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner").

THE PLOT:  Idealistic engineer-trainee and his experiences in teaching a group of rambunctious white high school students from the slums of London's East End.
AFTER:  It's one thing to have an unruly student, but a whole class full of them?  I suppose it must happen from time to time.  The "unteachable" students are about as much of a trope as the incompetent Little League team or the hockey kids who can't skate very well.  But the unteachable class is perhaps just waiting for the perfect teacher, the one who can get into their heads and take the time to care.

Mr. Thackeray arrives from Africa (he must have been home-schooled...) and takes a teaching job because there are no engineering positions available.  If you're not a "people person", maybe teaching isn't for you.  But after losing his cool a few times, he hits on the magic formula - treating the teens with the respect that they don't deserve.  Plus, he's down with their rebellion, pointing out that every generation before has done some variation of the same thing.

He also turns the class time over to discussing whatever the teens what, which sort of seems like letting the inmates run the asylum.  But I guess if that's what it takes to win their trust - but what if a few years later they find themselves wishing they'd studied math and science? 

It's a bit of a bumpy road, but eventually he gets them to act respectably and they earn a trip to a museum, where they touch a lot of priceless wonders in a still-frame montage, and somehow manage to not get booted out.  But even though he said he wasn't going to become friends with the kids and let them get under his skin, darn it all if that isn't exactly what happened. 

Also starring Judy Geeson, Christian Roberts, Lulu

RATING:  5 out of 10 health insurance forms

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Year 5, Day 244 - 9/1/13 - Movie #1,526

BEFORE:  A last-minute addition to the list, this is the OTHER film based on a Shakespeare play that's set in a high-school and stars Julia Stiles, who carries over from "10 Things I Hate About You".  When I reordered the list a few weeks ago, I found I had 10 empty slots for 2013, but I figured I'd find a way to fill them.  I've since found 5 more films that were relevant to already-planned topics, and I'm saving the others for films like "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty", which should be premiering on cable soon.  It seems like a solid plan, I should have no trouble filling those last five spaces.

THE PLOT:  An update of Shakespeare's 'Othello' with a young cast, set in a high school and centered around basketball player Odin.

AFTER: Admittedly I should probably have learned a bit more about "Othello" before watching this, but I think I know the rough outline.  Still, I found this film to be very confusing, it was hard to often hard for me to figure out what each character's motivations were for doing what they did.  I get that Hugo (Iago) was jealous of Odin (Othello), but just because Hugo's father, the basketball coach, named Odin player of the year, that didn't seem like enough motivation for Hugo to seek such a strong revenge.  Even if I add in the envy over Odin having a beautiful girlfriend, and feeling ignored by his father, it still doesn't seem to add up.

That's where the team sports angle starts to feel like a bit of a mistake - you don't expect to see such competition among teammates who are playing for the same school.  (What do they think this is, an a cappella sing-off or something?) If the team is doing well, does it really matter who gets the MVP award?  I mean, these are GUYS.  I expect jealousy and cattiness from the girls - bros are more supportive of each other, right?

Then again, I never competed for an athletic scholarship, so what do I know?  But I'd think that someone who was looking at the possibility of playing college basketball would be a little more aware of his actions - Hugo, that is, not Odin.  Hugo's using steroids and playing mind-games with everyone - but Odin's secretly dating the dean's daughter, so he's not entirely blameless, either.  There's nothing wrong with inter-racial dating, but if that's the case, why be so secretive about it?

It's possible that I erred by watching this on Fox Movies - it may have been edited for content, and there's some chatter online about a graphic sex scene that some people equated with rape.  Even so, I doubt this film would have made much more sense if I had seen the unedited version.  It's just kind of all over the place, and the other female characters feel sort of like afterthoughts, like somebody didn't know what to do with them. 

Also starring Mekhi Phifer (last seen in "Imposter"), Josh Hartnett (last seen in "Hollywood Homicide"), Andrew Keegan, Martin Sheen (last seen in "The Amazing Spider-Man"), John Heard, Elden Henson (last seen in "The Mighty Ducks"), Rain Phoenix.

RATING: 3 out of 10 white doves