DID YOU READ

“The Social Network,” Reviewed

“The Social Network,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 New York Film Festival.

When I was intern at Wired in 2002, I haphazardly pitched an editor on a recently launched website called Friendster, on which you could create a profile and then link it to those of your, you know, friends. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I just can’t imagine people ever actually wanting to use something like that.” In “The Social Network,” a similar sentiment’s expressed by the president of Harvard when confronted in 2004 by two students claiming that Mark Zuckerberg stole their site idea, one they say could be worth millions of dollars: “You might be letting your imagination run away with you.”

Now it’s 2010, and time has proved them both wrong — many people want to use a site like that, though it didn’t turn out to be Friendster, and it’s worth more than millions. It’s confounding, but also seems to sum up our time, that a billion dollar business worth more (at least on paper) than Starbucks can be built on such a seemingly frivolous concept with no initial monetization plan. And it’s incredibly appropriate that “The Social Network,” a film about that business, is a great, zeitgeisty thing built, improbably, on the squabbles of undergraduates turned entrepreneurs who talk big but are really just driven by spite, competition and a desire to be popular.

Just how much director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin are able to wring out of the story of the founding of Facebook is astounding. In this tale of asthmatic overachievers and entitled princelings trying to litigate each other to the death over a site based on showing off how many people you know is a microcosm of class, of ethics, and of the warped, weird thing that’s become of the American Dream. The film rings like a boxing bell, but it’s also uncommonly entertaining.

09212010_socialnetwork3.jpgOur story begins in the hallowed halls of Harvard University, where 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), just dumped, drunk and curled over a laptop, is consoling himself by downloading pictures of girls and… coding them into a novelty website. With the help of a friend’s algorithm, he whips up Facemash.com, which pulls photos of coeds hacked from the sites of the school’s various individual residential houses and places two side by side. You click on the one you think is better looking, and it adds the results toward an overall ranking and offers you a new pair to choose between. It enrages much of the female undergrad population. It’s so popular it crashes Harvard’s network. And from that embittered evening of romantic rejection and online revenge, a multibillion dollar company was born.

But on the way, there are hearts to be broken. There’s that of Zuckerberg’s best friend and Facebook’s first CFO Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who lends first that algorithm, then start-up funds to the nascent company, only to get pushed out as things picked up. There are those of Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) and identical twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (played primarily by Armie Hammer, with digitally altered help from Josh Pence), moneyed upperclassmen who hire Zuckerberg to code a Harvard-only dating site that he deems mostly unworthy of his time and talent. Then there’s Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the wheeling, dealing Napster cofounder who doesn’t seem to have a heart to break, who latches onto the company as it rises, and who’s the only one who doesn’t end up suing Zuckerberg, though he might have also gotten the boot from him indirectly.

09212010_socialnetwork6.jpgAnd there’s Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), the one who got away, or rather did the relationship equivalent of a jump and roll out of a moving car. The role that girls play in the film is apparently one of the points of contention from the real life Zuckerberg and others who’ve protested how their story is portrayed. But sex and love, like popularity, like friends, come across as intangibles that Zuckerberg the character wants but has no idea has to obtain except as some inevitable consequence of success and power. If he can’t make people gravitate to him, at least he can get them all to use his website.

Played by Eisenberg as a perpetually hoodied, tightly wound prodigy most comfortable, despite his final club aspirations, in a room full of fellow nerds, Zuckerberg comes across as a dick, there is no question — he’s arrogant, impatient with and intolerant of anyone who doesn’t share his vision or can’t keep up with up. But there’s also something twistingly tragic in the sacrifices he feels he needs to make, the relationships he ends up shedding in favor of counting down to Facebook’s one millionth user. At Harvard, which “The Social Network” portrays as a claustrophobic, wintry environment of dark wood paneling and harsh fluorescent classroom lighting, there are always reminders that no matter how smart you are, it won’t open the same doors that being rich (like Saverin) or being from a prominent background (the Winklevoss twins) will. In the sunny, white-walled suburbs of Palo Alto, Zuckerberg is free to concoct a geek paradise in which he sets the rules, with Parker at his side like a devil on his shoulder.

09212010_socialnetwork4.jpg“The Social Network” is less showily Fincheresque than the director’s other work, though montages like the one juxtaposing Zuckerberg’s creation of Facemash.com with an exclusive Phoenix S.K. party to which a bus full of pretty girls is delivered are rich enough to eat with a spoon. Instead, the film wisely lets Sorkin’s clever, clever script, which bounces from the litigation hearings back to the past and around to different characters’ experiences, take the lead, along with the fine performances. Eisenberg makes Zuckerberg an aspiring android trying to shed his human heart, while Timberlake plays Parker as a glorious douchebag who when the going gets tough still needs to reach for his inhaler. Hammer is infinitely amusing in his dual role, exuding privilege and looking like something grown in a vat of J. Crew catalogs and Aryan race propaganda. And Garfield is here, as in “Never Let Me Go,” an affecting vulnerable sacrificial lamb.

For all that it’s “the Facebook movie,” “The Social Network” isn’t terribly concerned with the mechanics of the site itself — the addition of the field of relationship status and the creation of the Wall take place in the background of the personal maneuvers that are the focus. But that ends up emphasizing the odd, only semi-meaningful signifier that connecting with someone on Facebook has. Real life relationships are messy, complicated and sometimes hurtful. On Facebook, everyone’s your friend, and your life is as neat as the details you choose to reveal. And for Zuckerberg, allowing people that makes him the world’s youngest billionaire, which is entry into a very exclusive club indeed. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still just a guy sitting by himself with his laptop.

“The Social Network” opens on October 1st.

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

“Let Me In,” Reviewed

“Let Me In,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2010.

Maybe vampire movies are so popular because going to the movies is a slightly vampiric activity. We, the audience, feed off the creativity of the filmmakers and the vicarious pleasure of watching other people’s lives, but whatever satisfaction we get doesn’t last. Pretty soon we need to feed again.

Hollywood’s the same way: they’re just as thirsty for our dollars as we are for their product. But they’re like some kind of vampire-cannibal hybrid, since they also eat their own to survive. Which is how you get a film like “Let Me In,” a remake of a Swedish vampire picture called “Let the Right One In.” The original film, from director Tomas Alfredson, is only three years old and is widely available on DVD (you can even stream the film right now if you’re a Netflix subscriber). The only reason for this admittedly very watchable American version is cinematic vampirism.

At least it’s well-made. Its director is Matt Reeves, who is emerging as a significant craftsman of modern horror movies. His skill lies not in inventing but refining, in taking familiar ideas and presenting them with uncommon care and ingenuity. There were fake found footage horror movies before Reeves’ “Cloverfield,” but few with its scale and sheer visual audacity. I guess in our ongoing metaphor he’d be Dr. Frankenstein, collecting bits and pieces of the dead, reassembling them in a new way, and shocking them into vibrant, terrifying life.

The characters are essentially unchanged from the Swedish iteration. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Owen, the picked-upon teen who strikes up a friendship with Abby, the twelve-year-old girl who’s just moved next door to him in a Los Alamos, New Mexico apartment complex. Or at least Abby looks twelve years old and looks like a girl; we understand long before Owen does that Abby is a vampire, one far older than her physical age suggests. She needs blood to live, and she’s assisted in her nightly searches for it by a nameless middle-aged man (Richard Jenkins) who dutifully murders strangers and then hides the evidence in order to keep Abby fed and safe.

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Directors as Swoopers and Bashers

Directors as Swoopers and Bashers (photo)

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This week sees the release of this year’s Woody Allen movie, “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.” Inspired by a description of writers given by Kurt Vonnegut in “Timequake,” not to mention Allen’s prolific career, in this week’s IFC News podcast we try dividing some of our favorite filmmakers into two categories — swoopers (like Allen, who tend to work quickly and seem driven by the urge to be continually creating) and bashers (like Terrence Malick, who appear to linger over their work, staying with it until it’s exactly as they want it).

This week’s keyword game giveaway is a pair of Romanian movies on DVD — “12:08 East of Bucharest” and “California Dreamin’.”

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