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Everybody Wants to be Us

Graduate Student at Loyola University Chicago. Check out the blog for what I'm currently obsessed with in film and culture. Michael Fassbender, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Winslet, Christian Bale, Jesse Eisenberg, David Lynch, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, and Daniel Radcliffe are regulars here.

#100 Days Movies

"Welcome to Facebook"

Speaking of Facebook, here’s my review of “The Social Network”

You can tell immediately this part of campus is completely foreign to him. Bare walls, florescent lighting, none of the wall hangings and plaques of the other hallowed, historical halls of Harvard University. In this place, it only matters what you see on screens and what you cannot see. Sure, Eduardo Savurin knew how people connected online- sending emails, moving money, sharing music- all in short bursts, interruptions in normative social life. His friend, Mark Zuckerburg is about to change all that.

Now a familiar sight, a binge drinking party in the CS lab designed by Mark to test the mettle of potential interns. Mockingly, Eduardo says, “Which part of the interns job will they have to do drunk?.” Mark snaps back, “I guess a more accurate test is whether they can keep a chicken alive for a week.” Eduardo’s membership in the Phoenix stopped mattering after he forked over their emails to launch the site.

The commotion stops and Mark walks purposefully over to the monitors. Everyone sits poised for Mark to make a move. Without letting on, he turns to one programmer, thrusts his hand saying, “Welcome to Facebook.” The crowd erupts. Mark just became 12 ft tall and as Eduardo stands in the shadows, cheering with the rest for the creator and president of the biggest final club in the world, it’s clear these two friends are on completely different planets.

David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin will have the last laugh. They made a film about how we live and tricked us into thinking it was all about social media. Except for hacking scenes and montages of Zuckerberg creating the initial site, the film takes place off-line, face-to-face, and person-to-person. With Sorkin’s writing, the film makes talking into a contact sport. Take the scene with the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) in Larry Summers’ office. Summers, played by Douglas Urbanski, in a few words cuts through to their core beliefs of entitlement and tramples them to our viewing delight. 

The most transfixing element of THE SOCIAL NETWORK remains for me Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Mark Zuckerberg. He is in nearly every scene or the specter of Zuckerberg hangs over the other characters in his absence. Eisenberg, I feel, uses his fictional Zuckerberg to characterize our cultural obsession with greatness. In the film, Zuckerberg’s ambitions reach beyond impressing girls or even making money. The scene I described above is probably his happiest moment in the film- surrounded by people celebrating his creation. He’s grown beyond the student who wanted recognition among his peers through a final club, he has soared above his peers to be an arbiter of their talent and creator of their enjoyment.  

Mark’s focus on and commitment to Facebook has been read as destructive and malicious, but I never totally agreed.  I didn’t know how to describe his performance until the Jesuit at America podcasted on the film.  Fr. James Martin, a writer I respect on all things religious and cultural, described the Zuckerberg of the film as amoral.  I think Mark is so myopic and so young that he cannot fathom other people would be hurt by his actions.  In the first meeting with the Winklevoss Twins, I could see how little he esteems Harvard Connection. The one kernel of value resides in exclusivity, the dating aspect means nothing to him. With Eduardo, played by Andrew Garfield, you never see Mark relate to him as a business partner or equal in this enterprise. Mark envisages something greater for Facebook and can never communicate that to his friend. Facebook eclipses Eduardo and the betrayal is harsh, yet Mark’s blinders are on full blast and keep him from seeing what is happening. Lastly, with Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) Mark seems to have found someone who understands the potential scale of his idea.  Yet, Sean’s recklessness and flash never rubs off on Mark, who remains rigiously focused on the tasks at hand.  

Eisenberg conveys this with such power, that I was incredibly drawn to his level of concentration and steadfastness.  For someone whose emotions rarely get beyond him, Eisenberg brings a lot of nuance to this character.  Sly smirks while hacking and cold glances under interrogation have this magnetism behind them that kept me invested in his character.  When he does explode, it’s completely earned because of the character’s belief in his goal and obsession with it.

 

I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall they have a right to give it a try. But there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention—you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?

Here, he’s agitated by people both questioning the work he’s done to create the site and hindering him from taking it even further.  Eisenberg couples this speech with a strong physical performance.  His posture before this scene is detached, but as he drops this hammer, he takes an almost predatory stance, staring right through his challengers. Sometimes, his eyes obfuscate his true thoughts.  For instance at the close of the film, he refreshes a friend request to Erica (Rooney Mara) who sparked Mark to create Face Mash. Does Mark want reconciliation with her, or recognition from her for what he’s created, or to simply test how she views him years later.  Eisenberg never lets on and gives us something to ponder after the film ends.  

THE SOCIAL NETWORK serves as a great film portrait of what we believe about greatness.  We regard individual effort, singular inspiration, and solitary wealth as the ideal of success.  The film takes that idea, translates it through this creation story of Facebook, injects it with incredibly fierce characters played by talented and nimble actors and dares us to deny our own beliefs.  In the person of Mark Zuckerberg played by Jesse Eisenberg we find the extreme version of this idea and see it’s not so outrageous to what we would want to find in an entrepreneur of today, even if we don’t like it.  Eisenberg’s performance should force us to rethink this cultural obsession and seek to celebrate teamwork, collaboration, and sharing credit even if his character shuns it.  THE SOCIAL NETWORK will remain, I proffer, one of the greatest films of its time.  My hope is in the future it will serve as a recollection of this time and not a predictor of a future that could use a little less Zuckerberg at the top.

Happy Birthday to Me

My favorite party scene in film comes from “BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S.”   Holly Golightly’s classy, raucous soiree begins with her in a toga.  Paul Varjak her new neighbor comes down, gets renamed “Fred-Baby” by Hollywood agent OJ Berman, and quickly becomes inducted into Holly’s madhouse.  The party fills up and there’s something to see, amuse, and relate to in every corner of Holly’s apartment.

Paul: Who are all these people?

Holly: Who knows?  The word gets out!

Starting with the almost fire in a woman’s hat put out by a drink tipped over, Blake Edwards choreographs funny, quick scenes that spark your attention.

Next, Paul dives to the ground to answer the phone which is in a suitcase.  Even the booze delivery guy joins in the fun, bringing a new case, not getting paid and staying for the party.  One of my favorite touches is the woman drinking and laughing with herself in the mirror one minute and crying a minute later. We have all been there, right?

In comes Mag Wildwood, the tallest woman ever, with the “fifth richest man under 50.” Holly focuses her attention and charms on the big ticket guest, Rusty Trawler,  while Mag gets trashed.   She says memorably:

“You know what’s gonna happen to you? I am gonna march you over to the zoo and feed you to the yak. 

Right after I finish this drink…”

Audrey Hepburn gives the most adorable yet callous line, “TIMBER”, as Mag goes crashing to the ground.  The police raid the party as Holly and Rusty walk out.  Holly helpfully tells the cop which apartment is responsible for the noise and makes a cool escape.  What a way to party!

DOWNTON ABBEY: Emmy Winner →

Congratulations to Downton Abbey.   I thought this show was my secret love, but apparently there’s a lot of love for this drama on this side of the pond. 

myfilmhabit:

The Masterpiece Classics seven part miniseries DOWTON ABBEY thrives by showing the interconnectedness of servants and masters at an English estate before the upheaval of World War I, women’s rights, and technological advances. The scenes of dinners, letter reading, and whispers in corridors…

Particular Proclivity for Pyrotechnics: BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK *Day 92* →

I recently went back to see this film and I still adore it completely

cine-a-day:

Intro: BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK is the most moving film I’ve seen this year. Here follows a great deal of gushing.

The people doing the most important work in this world are too busy for recognition. Each day they perform their duties with excellence and have no time for petty pursuits of…

Some films from the Cine-A-Day Project.

100 films in 100 Days

Some films from the Cine-A-Day Project.

100 films in 100 Days

"Do or Do Not. There is no Try" - Yoda

Cine-A-Day is finished.

Day 100: THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)

Day 99: SUPER 8 (2011)

Day 98: BEGINNERS (2011)

Day 97: HUNGER (2088)

Day 96: Best of 2011 so far

Day 95: FISH TANK (2009)

Day 94: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011)

Day 93: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011)

Day 92: BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK (2011)

Day 91: MASTERPIECE CLASSICS: DOWNTON ABBEY (2011)

Day 90: THE HANGOVER PART II (2011)

Day 88: BRIDESMAIDS (2011)

Day 87: LOUDER THAN A BOMB (2010)

Day 86: BABETTE’S FEAST (1987)

Day 85: ONLY YOU (1994)

DAY 83: SOMETHING BORROWED (2011)

DAY 82: GOSSIP GIRL AT TIFFANY’S

DAY 81: DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975)

Day 80: GIRLS TOWN (1996)

Day 79: BANG BANG CLUB (2010)

Day 78: CINEMA VERITE (2011)

Day 77: TABLOID (2011)

Day 76: SCREAM 4 (2011)

Day 75: THE BEAVER (2011)

Day 74: Opening Scenes of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Day 73: HANNA (2011)

Day 72: SOURCE CODE (2011)

Day 71: WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988)

Day 70: LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997)

Day 69: ABSENCE OF MAD MEN FILMS

  • THE APARTMENT (1960)
  • REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008)
  • THE LOST WEEKEND (1945)
  • A SINGLE MAN (2009)

Day 68: TRUST (2010)

Day 67: EUROPEAN UNION FILM FESTIVAL

DAY 66: NOTHING PERSONAL (2009)

Day 65: CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1958)

Day 65: LILA, LILA (2011)

Day 64: SIN NOMBRE (2009)

Day 63: JANE EYRE (2011)

Day 62: IN THE LOOP (2009)

Day 61: STARTER FOR 10 (2006)

Day 60: QUEEN TO PLAY (2011)

Day 59: MISSING BIG LOVE MOVIES

  • A SIMPLE PLAN (1998)
  • SLIDING DOORS (1998)
  • AMERICAN PSYHCO (2000)
  • HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU (2009)
  • PRETTY IN PINK

Day 58: OF GODS AND MEN (2011)

Day 57: MORNING GLORY (2010)

Day 56: MOVIE BOARDING SCHOOLS

  • CRACKS (2009)
  • NEVER LET ME GO (2009)
  • HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005)
  • DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989)

Day 55: DESERT FLOWER (2009)

Day 54: CRACKS (2009)

Day 53: NEVER LET ME GO (2009)

Day 52: JANE EYRE (2011)

Day 51: GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)

Day 50: THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (2011)

Day 49: ORGASM INC (2011)

Day 48: CEDAR RAPIDS (2011)

Day 47: OSCAR 2011 WINNERS

Day 46: OSCAR NIGHT

Day 45: EUROPEAN UNION FILM FESTIVAL PREVIEW

Day 44: LOVE LETTER TO BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S PART III

Day 43: MY FAVORITE OSCAR MOMMENTS

Day 42: LOVE LETTER TO BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S PART II

Day 41: FAVORITE POLITICAL MOVIES

  • MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939)
  • THE CONTENDER (2000)
  • DAVE (1993)
  • THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995)

Day 40: KABOOM (2010)

Day 39: LOVE LETTER TO BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S PART I

Day 38: MOVIE CRUSHES

  • George Peppard
  • Christian Bale
  • Matt Damon
  • Denzel Washington
  • Ralph Fiennes

Day 37: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (199?)

Day 36: BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY

Day 35: AN EDUCATION (2009)

Day 34: SABRINA (1995)

Day 33: COLIN FIRTH-ING

Day 32: FEARLESS (1993)

Day 31: EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

Day 30: VALMONT (1989)

Day 29: REPULSION (1965)

Day 28: WINSTON CHRUCHILL WALKING WITH DESTINY (2011)

Day 27: BODY OF LIES

Day 26: OSCAR NOMINATIONS 2011

Day 25: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME: BEST PARTY SCENE

Day 23: NO STRINGS ATTACHED (2011)

Day 22: THE COMPANY MEN (2010)

Day 21: Oscar Hopes

Day 20: CLIENT 9, THE RISE AND FALL OF ELIOT SPITZER

Day 19: Book to Film: ATONEMENT

Day 18: THE SOCIAL NETWORK Score

Day 17: ANOTHER YEAR (2010)

Day 15: BLUE VALENTINE (2010)

Day 14: THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (1989)

Day 13: SHUTTER ISLAND (2010)

Day 12:Bleeping Golden (Globes)

Day 11: CYRUS (2010)

Day 10: MADE IN DAGENHAM (2010)

Day 9: THE KING’S SPEECH (2010)

Day 8: THE FIGHTER (2010)

DAY 7: COUNTRY STRONG (2010)

Day 6: WAITING FOR SUPERMAN (2010)

Day 5: CACHE

Day 4: Top 15 Films of 2010

Day 3: ALL GOOD THINGS (2010)

Day 2: TRUE GRIT (2010)

Day 1: NIGHT CATCHES US (2010)

"Welcome to Facebook" : THE SOCIAL NETWORK *Day 100*

You can tell immediately this part of campus is completely foreign to him. Bare walls, florescent lighting, none of the wall hangings and plaques of the other hallowed, historical halls of Harvard University. In this place, it only matters what you see on screens and what you cannot see. Sure, Eduardo Savurin knew how people connected online- sending emails, moving money, sharing music- all in short bursts, interruptions in normative social life. His friend, Mark Zuckerburg is about to change all that.

Now a familiar sight, a binge drinking party in the CS lab designed by Mark to test the mettle of potential interns. Mockingly, Eduardo says, “Which part of the interns job will they have to do drunk?.” Mark snaps back, “I guess a more accurate test is whether they can keep a chicken alive for a week.” Eduardo’s membership in the Phoenix stopped mattering after he forked over their emails to launch the site.

The commotion stops and Mark walks purposefully over to the monitors. Everyone sits poised for Mark to make a move. Without letting on, he turns to one programmer, thrusts his hand saying, “Welcome to Facebook.” The crowd erupts. Mark just became 12 ft tall and as Eduardo stands in the shadows, cheering with the rest for the creator and president of the biggest final club in the world, it’s clear these two friends are on completely different planets.

David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin will have the last laugh. They made a film about how we live and tricked us into thinking it was all about social media. Except for hacking scenes and montages of Zuckerberg creating the initial site, the film takes place off-line, face-to-face, and person-to-person. With Sorkin’s writing, the film makes talking into a contact sport. Take the scene with the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) in Larry Summers’ office. Summers, played by Douglas Urbanski, in a few words cuts through to their core beliefs of entitlement and tramples them to our viewing delight. 

The most transfixing element of THE SOCIAL NETWORK remains for me Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Mark Zuckerberg. He is in nearly every scene or the specter of Zuckerberg hangs over the other characters in his absence. Eisenberg, I feel, uses his fictional Zuckerberg to characterize our cultural obsession with greatness. In the film, Zuckerberg’s ambitions reach beyond impressing girls or even making money. The scene I described above is probably his happiest moment in the film- surrounded by people celebrating his creation. He’s grown beyond the student who wanted recognition among his peers through a final club, he has soared above his peers to be an arbiter of their talent and creator of their enjoyment.  

Mark’s focus on and commitment to Facebook has been read as destructive and malicious, but I never totally agreed.  I didn’t know how to describe his performance until the Jesuit at America podcasted on the film.  Fr. James Martin, a writer I respect on all things religious and cultural, described the Zuckerberg of the film as amoral.  I think Mark is so myopic and so young that he cannot fathom other people would be hurt by his actions.  In the first meeting with the Winklevoss Twins, I could see how little he esteems Harvard Connection. The one kernel of value resides in exclusivity, the dating aspect means nothing to him. With Eduardo, played by Andrew Garfield, you never see Mark relate to him as a business partner or equal in this enterprise. Mark envisages something greater for Facebook and can never communicate that to his friend. Facebook eclipses Eduardo and the betrayal is harsh, yet Mark’s blinders are on full blast and keep him from seeing what is happening. Lastly, with Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) Mark seems to have found someone who understands the potential scale of his idea.  Yet, Sean’s recklessness and flash never rubs off on Mark, who remains rigiously focused on the tasks at hand.  

Eisenberg conveys this with such power, that I was incredibly drawn to his level of concentration and steadfastness.  For someone whose emotions rarely get beyond him, Eisenberg brings a lot of nuance to this character.  Sly smirks while hacking and cold glances under interrogation have this magnetism behind them that kept me invested in his character.  When he does explode, it’s completely earned because of the character’s belief in his goal and obsession with it.

 

I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall they have a right to give it a try. But there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention—you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?

Here, he’s agitated by people both questioning the work he’s done to create the site and hindering him from taking it even further.  Eisenberg couples this speech with a strong physical performance.  His posture before this scene is detached, but as he drops this hammer, he takes an almost predatory stance, staring right through his challengers. Sometimes, his eyes obfuscate his true thoughts.  For instance at the close of the film, he refreshes a friend request to Erica (Rooney Mara) who sparked Mark to create Face Mash. Does Mark want reconciliation with her, or recognition from her for what he’s created, or to simply test how she views him years later.  Eisenberg never lets on and gives us something to ponder after the film ends.  

THE SOCIAL NETWORK serves as a great film portrait of what we believe about greatness.  We regard individual effort, singular inspiration, and solitary wealth as the ideal of success.  The film takes that idea, translates it through this creation story of Facebook, injects it with incredibly fierce characters played by talented and nimble actors and dares us to deny our own beliefs.  In the person of Mark Zuckerberg played by Jesse Eisenberg we find the extreme version of this idea and see it’s not so outrageous to what we would want to find in an entrepreneur of today, even if we don’t like it.  Eisenberg’s performance should force us to rethink this cultural obsession and seek to celebrate teamwork, collaboration, and sharing credit even if his character shuns it.  THE SOCIAL NETWORK will remain, I proffer, one of the greatest films of its time.  My hope is in the future it will serve as a recollection of this time and not a predictor of a future that could use a little less Zuckerberg at the top.

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BEGINNERS (2011) *Day 98*

While watching BEGINNERS I felt competing the impulses to both jump right into the screen to play among the characters and leave the theater to approach my own life with the same curiosity and ferocity as the people onscreen.  Mike Mills’ film charmed and touched me.  He mixes a potent elixir of memory, self-discovery, romance, and loss.  The scenes marry poignant drama with whimsical and off beat humor.  Mills’ also weaves in clever photo montages that punctuate the story.  The soulful soundtrack plays like a soft lullaby whisking you away to the picturesque Los Angeles.  

In BEGINNERS, Ewan McGregor’s character Oliver finds the recent memory of his father Hal (Christopher Plummer) coming out at 75 years old, then dying 4 years later of cancer strangely reminiscent of his own struggle to find happiness with the enigmatic woman he’s dating in the present played by Melanie Laurent.  After a long marriage and his wife death, Oliver’s father announced he was gay and knew it before he married Oliver’s mother. Now out and living in a more accepting society, Hal immerses himself in all things gay pride, culture, and activism. Just as Hal’s life becomes what he always wanted, he’s dealt a blow: terminal lung cancer.  

In caring for his father, Oliver and Hal form a friendship and family bond that eluded them in Oliver’s childhood.  When Oliver remembers his boyhood, its his mother Georgia (Mary Kay Keller) that dominates.  His father is a shadowy figure walking briskly by his room on the way to work.  Much of Oliver’s quirks and reservations about love and relationships come from his mother.  As he gets to know his father, as he really is, Oliver discovers a more daring and resilient person in himself. Hal will not be deterred by cancer and redoubles his social life and commitment to his boyfriend Andy (Goran Visnjic) while keeping his illness a secret.  

In the present, Oliver has met Anna, a beautiful French actress, who possess a similar wit and sadness.  They meet at a costume party with Oliver dressed as Freud and Anna communicating by notepad because of Laryngitis.  Laurent and McGregor have a wonderful chemistry in these silent scenes.  Laurent in particular, transfixes the audience and lovable McGregor with her refulgent eyes. I fell in love with them as a couple as well. 

BEGINNERS is an incredibly touching and inspiring film that balances quirky indie qualities with great humor and drama.  I was completely involved in the film and affected by many scenes.  There is so much to love about this specific slice of life.  I think by getting the details so right of these people and their conversations, Mills makes an emotionally accessible and enchanting film.

★ ★ ★ ★ 

HUNGER (2008) *Day 97*

He was a poet and a soldier, he died courageously
And we gave him 30,000 votes while in captivity.

-“The People’s Own MP”

Directed by renowned British visual artist Steve McQueen, HUNGER puts you in the Maze prison with Bobby Sands and Irish Republican prisoners during the height of their protests.  Not a biopic or history lesson, McQueen and Michael Fassbender playing Sands agitate, horrify, and captivate.  HUNGER is full of strong, sometimes revolting images that linger on screen combined with jolts of violence. A 22 minute conversation between Fassbender’s Sands and Liam Cunningham as Fr. Dominic Moran, a sounding board for Sands, anchors and prepares you for the devastating end: Bobby Sands’ slow, painful, yet defiant death on hunger strike.  

McQueen sets a subdued tone early in the piece, taking us into the prison with a guard played by Stuart Graham.  The little details of the guard’s day- him checking under his car, soaking his hands in water, taking his smoke break with bloody knuckles- are displayed unceremoniously and force us to get involved with both sides.  McQueen traces the protest progression through small wordless scenes, focusing on the acts of preparation and execution.  You really feel the unity and ingenuity of the prisoners. Out of silence and stillness comes violent beatings and forced washing where McQueen’s camera get dangerously close. You cannot look away.

Michael Fassbender gives a magnificent performance that is unvarnished, bloody, and heartbreaking to watch.  He commits to the part physically, dropping to skin and bones in later scenes of Sands’ hunger strike.  He also draws you in, through his fixed, burning stare and commanding expression.  In every room, he’s the most fascinating thing to watch.  

In one scene, the guards form a line with SWAT team shields and clubs, striking each prisoner down for a prolonged brutal beating. Sands gets thrown into his room, bruised, bleeding from the head, and spitting blood as he turns to face the camera.  Fassbender’s eyes are something out of another world, beaming with a combination of glee, victory, and strength.  He looks unstoppable.  Even as Fassbender undergoes a drastic physical deterioration, his eyes retain that vigor.  HUNGER is a must see film for McQueen’s stirring visuals and Fassbender’s fierce performance.  After seeing it, the images stayed with me flashing across my mind’s eye.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Best of the Year… So Far *Day 96*

Movie-wise I cannot believe its only June. I’ve seen about 70 movies, 30 of them 2011 releases. With films still to come from Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and Steven Soderberg along with the mega releases of SUPER 8, Deathly Hallows 7.2, and The Muppets, this seems like a good point to highlight the best I’ve seen at the cinema. I hope that viewers and critics will remember these gems come year end, because they have each exhilarated and enchanted me these last six months.

1) JANE EYRE: Dir. Cary Fukunaga. Stars Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, and Judi Dench.

I’ve praised Cary Fukunaga’s film twice on the blog, seen it three times in theaters, and often recall the vibrant images and beautiful dialogue lifted from Bronte’s masterpiece. Wasikowska and Fassbender are marvelously adept with language and even more masterful at translating the passion, longing, and demons of these characters.

2) BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK: Dir. Richard Press. Stars Bill Cunningham

This documentary opens up a life committed to beauty, integrity, and the city. Bill Cunningham has been photographing the changing street fashions in New York for 50 years and has managed to maintain his dignity and freedom by not accepting money for his work or putting himself before his passion.

3) BRIDESMAIDS: Dir. Paul Feig Stars Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Rose Byrne

A relentlessly true and incredibly funny story of friendship and trying to get your life back on track. Kristen Wiig is incredible as Annie, the hapless maid of honor to her best friend Lillian. Melissa McCarthy makes a breakout performance as the crude, yet loyal Megan.

4) NOTHING PERSONAL: Dir. Urszula Antoniak Stars Lotte Verbeck and Stephen Rea

A slow, spare, and engrossing love story between two misfits: a female hitchhiker escaping a tragic past and a hermetic widower. Lotte Verbeck and Stephen Rea go from being at odds, to friends, to family, to a kind of love that breaks their isolation and opens them up to life again.

5) TRUST:Dir. David Schwimmer. Stars Liana Liberato, Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, and Viola Davis

I could have easily exchanged this 5th spot with three other films, but when I think of a movie that impacted me emotionally while respecting its audience and its characters, David Schwimmer’s TRUST deserves a mention. Liana Liberato stars as Annie, a bright, energetic teen who gets taken in by an Internet predator calling himself “Charlie”. Annie and her parents, played by Clive Owen and Catherine Keener must find a path to heeling after Annie is sexually assaulted.

FISH TANK (2009) *Day 95*

Andrea Arnold’s FISH TANK follows Mia Williams, a volatile adolescent living with her hard drinking mother and equally foul mouthed little sister Tyler.  Early on we see Mia having this verbal exchange with her friend’s father,

Mia: Can you give Keeley a message for me?

Keeley’s Dad: What?

Mia: Tell her I think her old man’s a cunt!. 

Mia’s exploits have convinced her mother to send her away to a school for troubled youth, which she is determined to avoid.  Obsessed with hip-hop and dance, Mia hopes to find something on her own terms.  In comes her mother’s new boyfriend Connor, who sometimes fills the father role these women want and other times stokes the bad influences flying around the tiny apartment.  

Mia and Connor are drawn to each other.  Connor sees Mia’s outbursts as cries for the care and attention she rarely gets from her mom.  Mia is intrigued by him and frequently goes to him for help or advice, but her moods turn on a dime.  Mia seems to be growing a different part of herself when Connor’s around; a part that can trust, a part that can be calm and imaginative.  

Arnold’s film is a rare experience of discovery on many levels.  She filmed it in Academy ratio using the full height of the screen canvas and while narrowing the edges to almost feel like a cage. Young Katie Jarvis makes full use of the tighter space, trashing at every corner of the frame. Unconventional directing tactics like filming the movie chronologically and withholding the full script from the actors until the scene was to be filmed give the film a pulsing energy throughout.  Arnold never tipping her hand or releases the tension around the nature of Connor and Mia’s relationship. Each time I watch the film, which must be a dozen by now, I find myself considering the characters’ in different ways.  Their words and actions take new meanings and spark different questions after each viewing.

Katie Jarvis gives a gnarling first time (hopefully not the last) performance, bringing a spontaneity and vulnerability needed for this teenage powder keg. Michael Fassbender imbues Connor with a magnetism that draws us and Mia in (it doesn’t hurt that he’s shirtless A LOT).  He keeps Connor’s mood pretty even and light, a great contrast to Mia.  Fassbender neutralizes and softens Jarvis with his humor and care, until she fires back with vitriol.

Arnold keeps our suspicions sharp, but stretches hope for these characters until the last possible moment. The climax is extremely problematic and at times feels outside of the film.  Yet, the narrative recovers quickly with a fitting conclusion of a small reconciliation between Mia and her mother and the escape she may be looking for.  

FISH TANK is available on Netflix Instant View. 

Urbanophilia: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011) *Day 94*

When you go to Paris with Woody Allen you are bound to see all the sights, even ones from the 1920’s.  

Plot: Restless Hollywood scribe Gil (Owen Wilson) and his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams) find their travel interests diverging during a trip to Paris.  Inez is more interested in dining, shopping, and listening to dull American friends while Gil wants to absorb the whole city and inject that magical energy into his first novel.  A little drunk and alone on the streets at night, Gil is intrigued by a vintage car stopping to take him for a ride.  The car becomes Gil’s portal to a Paris of the past where he can drink with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, discuss writing with Ernest Hemingway, and complain about his love life to Salvador Dalí while Cole Porter jams in the background.  Gil meets the enchanting Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a Parisian paramour of artists, and dreams for being a bohemian genius to win her.

Verdict: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is a love story for urbanists like me who believe in the majesty of cities.  Owen Wilson’s Gil expounds on the city’s ability to express beauty, tell history, and explore the human condition over anything in art, music, or literature. The wonders of Paris get displayed in an extended opening scene and through Gil’s nightly walks. Even at night, the city and characters seem to be glowing with the energy of Paris.

The film also explores the wistful desire to live in another age and imagine the better person you could be among your idols.  Gil worships Paris in the 1920’s and gets to convene with famous thinkers and writers on his book.  The parade of famous intellectuals and artists made for great erudite humor.  The laughs arise from the performances which keeps the film open to people with even a cursory knowledge of Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, and Dalí.  Gil behaves as most of us would in the presence of an intellectual hero; not asking them about their artistic inspirations, but imploring each to weigh in on his book and love life.  All this makes the film fun and rich.  

★ ★ ★ ★

Magneto Rising: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS *Day 93*

Intro: In X-MEN: FIRST CLASS we discover Magneto’s second mutant power: the ability to be the most dynamic character in an adaptation no matter who plays him. The choice to structure X-MEN: FIRST CLASS around Magneto/ Erik Lehnsherr’s developing his political ideology makes the re-boot a vital venture. Also watching Michael Fassbender take on the role originated by Sir Ian McKellen is a wonderful expansion of the character. Here we delve into the origins of his anger and find a compelling emotional core to the eventual villain.

Plot: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS opens exactly like the 2008 film with young Erik Lehnsherr bending a metal fence after being separated from his parents at a Nazi concentration camp in 1944. Yet, FIRST CLASS goes further by introducing the maniacal Sebastian Shaw(Kevin Bacon) a Nazi doctor who experiments and tortures young Erik to discover the source of his power. Twenty years later, Erik is on the hunt for Shaw and every Nazi in his path.

Also investigating Shaw is Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) using his telepathy and insight of mutants to help the FBI. Shaw, a mutant flanked by the alluring telepath Emma Frost (January Jones) wants to start nuclear war to make mutants the dominant beings on Earth. He intimidates US and Russian officials to position themselves for mutual destruction, orchestrating the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Erik and Charles cross paths on the hunt for Shaw and become tenuous allies. Charles sees great potential in Erik and coaches him to harness his abilities, while trying to appeal to his better nature and cease his plot for vengeance. Erik, a loner motivated by anger, is at times grateful for Charles’ friendship and resentful of his preaching. They share a deep bond, yet have divergent goals. Charles sees the opportunity for mutant acceptance in saving the world from Shaw’s plot, while Erik only wants revenge.

Verdict: Everything that feels fresh and vital about X-MEN FIRST CLASS revolves around Michael Fassbender. His quest for revenge and evolving ideology add depth to this introductory film. James McAvoy compliments and contrasts Fassbender well as Charles Xavier. McAvoy and Fassebnder lay a firm foundation for a strained friendship and exciting rivalry. Through telepathy, Charles can access parts of Erik even he’s forgotten and tries to remind him who he was before Shaw and the camps. McAvoy wonderfully translates Charles’ empathy for Erik. Another standout performance is January Jones as Emma Frost. The character allows Jones to take her Betty Draper strengths of feigned charm and ice cold bitchiness to new heights.

X-MEN FIRST CLASS takes on several social issues explored in the source material and succeeds by tying these questions to the characters. Erik and Charles battle out questions of destroying enemies in the name of self defense over seeking cooperation for mutual understanding. Erik, a Holocaust survivor, broods with hatred and contempt for humans. Charles, a product of privilege and academia, extols higher ideals and is an inspiring leader to the young mutants. Charles’ message of non-violence has the subtle, but powerful edge. He tells Erik that anger can only take his powers so far, but if he used other parts of himself- memories of family, their love, and his heritage- he could be the most powerful mutant of all. In the X-Men series, the baddies are so much more fun, but FIRST CLASS draws out the strengths of good guys too. I’m looking forward to seeing this tension explored in future films between these two great actors.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

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