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The (Anti)Social Network

October 15, 2010

It’s bandwagon time. That’s right. I’m one of those people. As the title of this post may suggest, I’m writing about the current media attention that has been garnered by Fincher’s latest directorial effort, The Social Network.  If you’re reading this, I hope I needn’t point out the movie’s bulging portfolio of accolades and hosannas from the greater part of the critical crème de la crème, aside from a minority of grouchy dissenters (among them, Armond White, who has as much insight into film as does a blind person into the color purple).  I also admit, I’m a little late to the party, as articles on Zuckerberg/Facebook (in relation to the film) have been anything but sparse.

One note, before I begin this mini-manifesto: I’m not usually a  bandwagon kind of bloke (just ask any of my closest friends).  Now, as a means of disclosure vis-a-vis a probable bias, I admit that I do not have, nor have ever had, a Facebook account.  It is due, in part, to my general disinterest in social media, or perhaps some other phobia toward the emerging reality of constant connectedness.

Or maybe I’m just a xenophobe. Who knows?

After watching the film, however, I became rabidly curious to know more about the creation story of Facebook, even though I have often had a slightly contemptuous reaction to the service. I happened upon a piece in the New Yorker that was published prior to the release of the film, written by Jose Antonio Vargas (entitled, “The Face of Facebook”).  I  was glad to find such an article because I had already known that neither Aaron Sorkin (writer of the screenplay) nor Ben Mezrich (author of The Accidental Billionaires) had the opportunity to interview Mark Zuckerberg for the film. In the article, Vargas spends time with Zuckerberg and attempts to demystify some of the perceptions about him. He is shown to be somewhat penitent for his youthful brashness (particularly in response to some IMs that were uncovered during the investigation to one of the lawsuits) and an overall pleasant person. Vargas also interviews Sorkin, and in a way predicts some of the back-and-forth that has appeared following the release of the film.

For the sake of full disclosure: I enjoyed the article.

A couple days ago, however, I ran into another article by Vargas, this time published in The Huffington Post. Here, Vargas comments on the backlash that is being received by the film.  In the article, he writes:

Hollywood’s stereotypical portrait of the introverted uber-geek has already gotten some in the tech community — even those critical of Zuckerberg — all riled up.

Okay, pause right there.

Doesn’t anyone else find this a bit humorous?

The film neither purports to be or ever feels like a documentary. Vargas even admits this in his article. But then he goes on to criticize the film in its inability to paint a fair picture of who Zuckerberg is, of his true motivations behind the creation of Facebook, and of the vibrant community that now exists because of the infiltration of social media into the public mainstream.

Ultimately, Vargas’ main complaint is that Hollywood misses the mark concerning the medium of social networking:

The Social Network is a Hollywood movie about a topic that Hollywood fails to understand.

I would like to refute that nugget of wisdom with my own:

The Social Network is a Hollywood movie, and no one in their right mind should fail to understand that.

Funnily enough, the film’s more fervent dissenters know this, but they continue to preach fire and brimstone against the film for its inability to document or meticulously recreate the facts behind Zuckerberg or the world of social networking — almost willingly ignoring it as a work of fiction; as a work of art.

Seriously: it’s not rocket science.

Another article on Fast Company, written by Ellen McGirt, has this to say:

After all the fretting about online privacy and reputation management, two of the slowest, least nimble and most expensive media—a paper book and a feature film—have left the biggest scar. A lasting impression of Zuckerberg and the early Facebookers that is largely unfair. it is also unfair to shareholders, partners, and Facebook users.

Who is McGirt kidding with this victual of failed logic?  Is she trying to start a revolution of roughly 500,000,000 Facebook users?  A fictionalized depiction of Zuckerberg can potentially be unfair to Zuckerberg, sure.  But unfair to Facebook users? How is that possible?

In the article, McGirt asserts that the motivations to create Facebook, as exemplified in the movie, are shallow and untrue. She states that it is a “revenge quest” of a dejected and lonely nerd who is seeking to get laid.

The premise of her argument lies in her inability to experience the film for what it is: a pinprick of deeper, human emotions that are much larger (and much more important) than an attempt to retell events as they happened. The viewer has about 10 – 15 minutes of character development to sift through before the Zuckerberg character (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is sitting in his dorm room, writing code for the Facemash website. Are we (as the audience) supposed to believe that the single action of his girlfriend breaking up with him is the reason that Facebook is later created?

This viewpoint is a bit naive and lazy. To really understand why Facebook was created, one would need much more back story, such as Zuckerberg’s early obsession with coding, or his father’s gentle and constructive encouragement during his youth (much of this can be found in the aforementioned New Yorker article). I’m sure there are many, many other factors. But to throw all of that into a film that already feels condensed would be artistic murder.

In short, the film is not attempting to answer the question: Why was Facebook created?

Instead, it seems to propose a set of circumstances that could have triggered the multi-billion dollar enterprise.

When it comes down to it, many important motivations in life are driven by a very basic subset of human emotions. Who is not to say that Zuckerberg was driven by jealousy, envy, regret or loneliness? It may be that he truly wasn’t. But these emotions are like triggers. They can be the spark needed for an explosion. Whether or not these feelings comprise the true seedlings that grew into Zuckerberg’s Facemash (which yes, I know, included both males and females, unlike what the movie depicts) is a variable only Zuckerberg can identify (something I doubt he’s willing to do in the public domain).

As a film, however, Fincher’s The Social Network succeeds in allowing us to connect with the character.

There is no demonizing of Zuckerberg in the film. Is it unflattering? Most likely so. But the film is using his story as a vehicle to questions about life that are far more interesting than trying to decipher what is or isn’t true in the film. Some can watch the film and see Zuckerberg as a true, American entrepreneur. Others can watch it and see him as a total asshole.

Your reaction to this film will mostly be informed by your personal demons. By what we see reflecting back at us as we contemplate on the story that is unfolding.

McGirt claims that Zuckerberg is a truly compelling person, but that “what we have instead [in the film] is a poorly sourced non-cautionary tale that turns real businesspeople into nerd Flat Stanleys for no good purpose than mild entertainment (sic).”

Mild entertainment? Really? What passes as real entertainment for you? Spreadsheets and annual reports? Critical reception, as well as public perception/reception of the film clearly shows that it provides much more than just mild entertainment.

Throughout her article, McGirt is seriously peeved that the movie does not accurately portray any of the players in the Facebook game. She even ends her piece with a laughable attempt at satire by making up an unfunny (and unwitty) story about how Sorkin “shanked” the lead of a school play by planting weed in his own locker, using the spotlight to carry his way to fame.  She writes:

[It isn’t all true] but, I mean, it sounds like something he could do. It’s a better story that way, right?

No, actually, it isn’t. Which explains why McGirt is a businessperson, and Sorkin is a writer.

A couple of articles in Slate — one written by Luke O’Brien and another by Nathan Heller — provide a more intelligent, yet critical view on Sorkin/Fincher’s tale. Heller concedes that “The Social Network is openly built according to the laws of narrative fiction, not documentary,” but states that Fincher still misses the mark in giving depth to the setting (Harvard) and the social circumstances behind Facebook’s inception.

O’Brien writes:

Let’s accept petty deceptions like these [denoted in the article] as a necessary ingredient in a dramatized story. The problem is that Sorkin doesn’t gloss over facts to get at any truths about Facebook’s founding. He is trafficking in dramaturgy.

Hallelujah, at least he concedes that The Social Network makes for a good story.

Because, well, it does.

There are various other examples of writers/bloggers who are finding similar issues of contention with the film and its portrayal of Facebook’s inception. Most, if not all, insert the disclaimer stating their awareness that the movie is a fictionalized story; yet they go on to criticize how terrible of a job it does to portray the facts.

Talk about incongruous reasoning.

As I was conversing with a friend a couple days ago, I mused at how interesting it would be if some unknown stranger crafted a story about my life, taking into account all my peccadilloes of youthful negligence, or moments of less-than-stellar behavior. I’m fairly sure that it would be easy to demonize me, or at least to insinuate that my motivations for success are less than heroic. It might make me feel a bit uneasy. But it also just might make my life sound a little bit more interesting than it actually is. Not that this alone is a reason for a misconstrued depiction of my life. I’m merely illustrating that a better story could be told about me if it were, in fact, untrue.

Movies, and to a greater extent, art in all its forms, are a way to inspect, reflect and comment on the world around us. These works have their own narrative–their own rules. It is hard to imagine a world where every movie would be inspected with such hard-pressed scrutiny, such as to ascertain reliability or truthfulness.

Do we hear complaints germane to Shakespeare’s creative liberties in crafting a story about Julius Caesar? Of course we don’t, because we acknowledge that Shakespeare really wasn’t writing about the Roman emperor, but about the themes of ambition, envy and betrayal.

Personally, I believe a significant part of the backlash toward Sorkin’s screenplay is due to the mental real estate that is occupied and dominated by Facebook, or perhaps more importantly, the wonderful, wide (and wild) world of social media. Most of the people whom I’ve referenced above have met with and spoken to Mark Zuckerberg. They have had an opportunity to know the man behind the face(book). They work in a field of technology and social media. Most of us do not have any of those luxuries. We will go into the movie, perhaps with absolutely no idea about who this person is, and leave with what may be a false impression of what he is like.

Is this a reason to criticize The Social Network as failing to live up to some fabricated standard alluded to by journalists, bloggers, businesspeople, and so on?

Our current culture is one dominated by new forms of media and communication. We no longer live in an era where a majority of everyone’s voice is a silent murmur. Our infatuations with celebrity are now being lived out in our own bedrooms, with access to means of communication that would have been unthinkable just a decade or two ago.

Facebook has come to represent a virtual community of people who are screaming for attention, or connection, or both. I am not denying the power and the benefits provided by the service. But what I mostly notice is a community that is carefully fabricated, delicately crafted to portray elements of ourselves which are, for the most part, fictional. A Facebook profile is now a gateway to a projection of the self, which, ironically, dissipates the impact of what a person truly is.

It seems like the era of social media has created a society of people who are far more powerful than they used to be. Information is literally at our fingertips (particularly when you’re using finger-less gloves in a cafe, like I do.  I’m so cool). Things we would have never had the opportunity to access, people we would have never found, products we may have never heard of.

If you went (or are going) to watch The Social Network with an intent to see how this newfound power affects our lives, then you will likely be disappointed. You’d probably be better off watching a film that more directly deals with this theme (e.g., Catfish).

It is unfortunate that we live in a society whose opinions will be shaped by forms of media which are less than accurate. But lets face it, that’s how things are. Does that mean we shouldn’t use real circumstances, people, and events in order to craft new stories? Should Cleopatra have been made? How about The Aviator? Or Kinsey? Or W.? Or any of a number of biopics? Are they meant to educate a public so starved for cheap information that they can’t pick up a history book, or type a couple lines in a search engine?

After I watched The Social Network, I was interested to learn more about the origins of Facebook, not because I felt the film misled me, but because I already knew it was a piece of fiction. I would have known this even without being told ahead of time. The movie isn’t trying to mislead anyone.

The truth behind the movie is not in an accurate retelling of events, but rather, the bevy of emotions that undulate from scene to scene. It is in the dialogue, so cleverly and meticulously written. It is in the acting, in the cinematography, in Trent Reznor’s excellent soundtrack. These elements combine masterfully, creating a catharsis that is often lacking from your typical Hollywood production.

O’Brien writes in his piece concerning the film:

It’s an abdication of responsibility for a story that pantomimes Zuckerberg and is poised to transform Mezrich and Sorkin’s version of reality into whatever passes for truth these days.

Was it Mezrich or Sorkin’s intention and/or duty to educate the public about the true origins of Facebook? Even if they had attempted to do this, wouldn’t there be someone out there who would have cried foul? Listening to political speeches, reading/watching news reports, and even watching documentaries usually tells me one thing. Namely, the truth is a polarizing notion, based on which side of the fence you are standing on.

Try to get this. The Social Network is not a movie that informs us about Zuckerberg and the reason(s) he created Facebook. It is a movie that informs us about ourselves, our biases, our definitions of friendship, loyalty, jealousy, and betrayal. Zuckerberg’s story is used as a vehicle for these themes. It is not impossible to see how they could have played a part in the creation of Facebook. But it would also be asinine to believe that Zuckerberg’s true identity is identical to what is depicted on film.

The film does little to demystify society’s obsession with the new forms of media. Everything needs to be instant, concise, and precise. If anything, I believe that social media has made us lazy.

Consider this humorous, satirical, albeit poignant scene from Season 1 of Californication, where the protagonist (Hank Moody) is being interviewed on a radio show about his blog. This conversation is as follows:

Radio show host: What’s your latest obsession?

Hank Moody: Just the fact that people seem to be getting dumber and dumber. You know, I mean we have all this amazing technology and yet computers have turned into basically four figure wank machines. The Internet was supposed to set us free, democratize us, but all it’s really given us is Howard Dean’s aborted candidacy and 24 hour-a-day access to kiddie porn. People… they don’t write anymore, they blog. Instead of talking, they text, no punctuation, no grammar: LOL this and LMFAO that. You know, it just seems [like] a bunch of stupid people pseudo-communicating with a bunch of other stupid people at a proto-language that resembles more what cavemen used to speak than the King’s English.

Radio show host: Yet you’re part of the problem, I mean you’re out there blogging with the best of them.

Hank Moody: Hence my self-loathing.

Isn’t it funny how most of society, with this new power of interconnectedness and instant access to information, can do no better than that?

I may smell of an Internet-hating caveman, but it is not so.  As stated heretofore: there are good and powerful things that can be achieved through the means of social networking, and yes, through the power of something like Facebook. But the dangers of becoming disconnected, of regressing rather than progressing, are very real and very pressing.

Relationships are more than staying connected by wall posts and self-indulgent pictures. When interviewed on The View, Sorkin stated:

It’s [social networking] a device that’s meant to connect us, to bring us closer together. I think, and I know I’m in the minority, at minimum there are 500 million people who disagree with me, I think it’s pushing us further apart. I think socializing on the Internet is to socializing what reality TV is to reality.

I tend to agree with him. We now live in a world where our real life is being informed by what we see on TV. We are imitating a parody of ourselves. The same thing is happening within the digital domain. Our real relationships are virtual, and vice versa. Moreover, this disconnect is leading toward an unusual hegemony that is fueled by Internet groupthink.  Again, I would like to stress that all of this is not strictly negative.  There are many useful things emerging out of new media. Yet the trends are taking us toward a more disconnected world.

What Sorkin’s screenplay shows us is that, behind this extremely well-crafted site we call Facebook, there are deeper, human emotions that cannot be deracinated from the people behind the scenes. It isn’t just Zuckerberg, but all of us who live in this new, digital domain. We are all under scrutiny. If there is one thing that this new, digital age does well is that it allows us to hide behind a series of veils, profiles and pics.  How do we face this new age with all these digital defense mechanisms evolving around us? I don’t have an answer for that.

Neither does Sorkin.

Film Commentary

Armond White gives The Social Network a negative review: Surprise surprise

October 5, 2010

A synecdoche of White’s review:

Like one of those fake-smart, middlebrow TV shows, the speciousness of The Social Network is disguised by topicality. It’s really a movie excusing Hollywood ruthlessness. That’s why it evades Zuckerberg’s background timidity and the mess that the Internet has made of cultural discourse. In interviews, Sorkin brags about the multiple narrative and Fincher has even invoked Citizen Kane—both are grandstanding excuses for Zuckerberg’s repeated masturbatory request for friendship—a mawkish George Clooney ending. Here’s the truth: Kane was not about a brat’s betrayal, but about a sensitive braggart’s psychological and philosophical shift inward. The Social Network is more like Hollywood’s classic film industry selfromance The Bad and the Beautiful. Yet that Kane-lite film never excused its bad-boy protagonist’s sins and ended magnanimously by converging his three injured parties’ points of view into one beautifully clarifying narrative. It admitted our cultural compromises; this is TV-trite. In The Social Network, creepiness is heroized. Continue Reading…

Film Commentary, Film Reviews

Quasi-Review: Ben Affleck’s ‘The Town’

September 22, 2010

Ben Affleck‘s The Town leaves quite a ruminant residue long after the credits roll, particularly how you slowly converge with the substance and narrative subtext that seemingly eke out of a deceptively simplistic script. Affleck’s latest has a striking pantheonic air to it and deserves canonization amidst the vintage crime dramas and neo-noir heist flicks of contemporary cinema (French Connection, Thief, Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects, Heist, Heat, Ronin, The Departed, etcetera).  The film also succeeds as its own idiosyncrasy, however, by adding a pleasantly unexpected and beautifully photographed character: the ever-curious Charlestown.

There’s nothing like a director’s intimate relationship with the geography and culture of his-or-her hometurf that really brings a script to life.  The personal touches, the affection, even the bittersweet loathing. Nothing that CGI, multimillion-dollar studios or cold research could ever accomplish on their own.

A.O. Scott of the New York Times says it astutely:

Long ago, in the American popular imagination, Boston was the home of the bean and the cod, a genteel stomping ground of Brahmins and bluestockings and Ivy League nitwits. Nowadays, perhaps owing to tax incentives that encourage local film production, it has become a paradise for dialect coaches and a cinematic stronghold of the kind of white, ethnic, blue-collar tribalism that used to flourish in movies about places like Philadelphia, Chicago and, of course, New York.

A sober introductory text informs us that one particular area of the city — Charlestown, where tourists can follow the Freedom Trail to the Bunker Hill Monument — is home to more armored car and bank robbers than anywhere else in America. One of them is Doug MacRay (Mr. Affleck), whose crew is first seen knocking over a bank in Cambridge. That sequence, like most of the other action set pieces in the film, is lean, brutal and efficient, and evidence of Mr. Affleck’s skill and self-confidence as a director.

You owe it to yourself to watch it.  That is, if you don’t have ADHD and are fond of good movies. They really don’t make crime dramas much like this anymore (where action sequences aren’t cut like your younger sister’s favorite The Fast and the Furious inspired music video on dextromethamphetamine).  Many will compare this to Affleck’s previous Boston-based mystery yarn, Gone Baby Gone, which I hear is a definite must-watch, as well (next on my Netflix fix-list).  Let’s just not forget where we were all originally introduced to Affleck’s affinity to Boston: Good Will Hunting (1997), another incredible piece of filmdom co-written with then-co-conspirator Matt Damon.

Stay in New England, Ben.  I think this marks an era in your life that no longer caters to a blockbuster role for Michael Bay’s short bus version of a war epic or a romantic film collaboration with an ex-girlfriend.

Film Commentary, Literature

The Dark Tower gets a pinkish hue (hopefully not too pink)

September 9, 2010

Adam Quigley of SlashFilm.com with some unsettling news:

A movie version of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series has been in the works for a few years now, and for most of that time, it was expected that J.J. Abrams would be directing. Those plans fell through though, and the rights to the project were handed off to Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Akiva Goldsman.
Say what?  Opie is going to direct the film adaptation of Stephen King’s grand opus, seven-book The Dark Tower series?  What happened to J.J. Abrams’ involvement?
[Reality check, folks:  Lost as a series in of itself is essentially a six-season homage amalgamating Stephen King’s best storytelling motifs (beginning with King’s The Langoliers)].
Abrams, why hath thou forsaken us?
The last film Opie directed that catered to a bleaker style was The Missing (2003), and I actually respected Howard’s malleability of approach and subject matter here.  It was a decided shift in tone for the director as a whole.  He is somewhat of a chameleon, after all, considering the sweeping diapason of themes he’s tackled in the macrocosm of his filmography thus far.
I’m actually more excited to see what comes of the TV series mentioned in Quigley’s coverage that is planned to follow the debut feature film.  Smart move, considering the almost uncontainable breath of material King has crafted since the master storyteller wrote and published The Gunslinger in 1982.
Film Commentary

Film adaptation for Preacher gets a new (and mysterious) director

September 3, 2010

Peter Sciretta of SlashFilm reports:

It has been a while since we’ve gotten a solid update on the big screen adaptation of the beloved Vertigo comic book series Preacher. A couple years back, Columbia Pictures picked up the rights and hired American Beauty/Road to Perdition director Sam Mendes to helm the project, but the filmmaker dropped out to pursue Bond. John August (Go, Big Fish) penned the script which producer Neil Moretz has said will be the first of a series of films.

In the latest issue of Total Film Magazine, they talk with producer Moretz about the project, and gives a couple tidbits. First off, the film adaptation will be rated R.   Secondly, August’s script is “a really faithful adaptation but made it probably more accessible to a broader audience.” And thirdly, Total Film mentions that “Another unnamed director has apparently signed on.” But who could that filmmaker be?

Being that Preacher — a Steve Dillon-illustrated 75-issue graphic novel series written betwixt 1995 and 2000 by brilliant Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis — is a nasty, neo-Western universe that takes after my own bleak heart, I am especially curmudgeonly about the who and how and why behind any live action adaptation of the series.  Honestly, it’s more important an endeavor than Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s critically acclaimed film adaptation of Sin City.

[Before reading on, please take a brief, peripatetic sabbatical to consider reading the debutante volume of Preacher, subtitled Gone to Texas.

It just might make you a better person.]

Alright, let’s get on with it, or in the words of Billy Bob Thorton’s Karl Childers in Sling Blade, “alright then”:

Thus far, I really don’t care much for how the project is developing, particularly because, as Mr. Sciretta’s coverage denotes, fans of the series have always felt that a hypothetical HBO miniserial adoption of Preacher was (and is, in my plebian opinion) an exponentially more suitable format capable of embracing not only the delectable appeal of its blatant, sacrilegious perversity; but also the biting satire that openly antagonizes the oppressive dogmas of organized religion (and the corrupt false prophets that perpetuate them).  In a sliver, the moral bone-and-marrow the series has always been anatomically structured around.

Firstly

My biggest fear is that, as a Hollywood exercise, the Preacher series’ aforementioned ethical fiber and often-heartbreaking humanity will take a backseat to its lucrative buckets of gore, Southern Goth caricatures, rattling Voodoo tropes and faux-atheistic obscenities.  The latter of which has always been, merely, a satirical layer of cachinnatory paint, rather than the thick Dixie Fried substance that defines the very series for what it truly is: the existential doubt in all of us that (ironically) propels one’s faith in God, or, from a secular standpoint, a “higher plane of consciousness.”

A familiar juxtaposition might be Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball‘s True Blood, a simmering, groundbreaking vampire series that deliberately parts from the pussification of the eons-olde lore found in the thoroughly asinine, tweentastic Twilight books-cum-films.  As such, True Blood would precisely not work as a standalone movie (or even as a twain).

For all its gory and bacchanalian posturing, True Blood would lose its core humanity as a Hollywood beast, and we all know this.  Rendered as trivial and short-lived as a Six Flags Halloween rollercoaster.  Similarly, effectively retelling the Preacher series as one or two (or even three) roughly two-hour films lacquered to mainstream appeal is impossible and would deracinate its underlying motif: the gray intersection between moral responsibility and blind Christian faith (in philosophical hubris: The Problem of Evil).  Which is to say, the unexamined, Kierkegaardian doubt that many progressive Christians carry, curating their understanding of God’s role in everyday affairs.

Don’t take it from me; take it from the graphic novel series’ official plot synopsis (as excerpted by Mr. Sciretta):

Here’s a book guaranteed to offend a bunch of people, not only because of its profuse profanity and graphic violence, but because it’s the epitome of iconoclasm. Like a brutal accident, you can’t watch but you can’t turn away. The story follows an ex-preacher man, Jesse, who has become disgusted with God’s abandoning of His responsibilities. So Jesse starts off into the wilds of Texas with his hitman girlfriend and new best friend (a vampire) to find God so that he can give Him a piece of his mind. Despite its superficial perversity, this book contains what may be the most moral character in mainstream comics.
Clearly, your bespectacled narrator treats the subject as vastly more than your hero-o’-the-week, boilerplate, middling comic book series.  It’s a redefining synecdoche of contemporary graphic novel literature that shares DNA with the likes of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan or even Mike Carey’s Lucifer. In short, subjects of postmodern, hand-drawn fiction that shan’t be taken lightly.
Secondly
Preacher as a film or a premium channel (ergo uncensored) miniseries would only benefit from the faithful, proudly irreverent and genre-adherent attention that neo-grindhouse vanguards Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino are famous for — a signature pulpy milieu of themes and over-the-top characters given life through panel illustrated pages, thought boxes and bubbled dialogue (it is here where Steve Dillon’s artwork unsurprisingly lends brilliantly to a cinematic feel and look — in fact, the storyboards are practically done).
As far as I’m concerned, no other two filmmakers this side of the Occident are better qualified for the grisly nature of this material.
It’s the very reason why the live-action version of Sin City worked and Frank Miller’s live-action take on The Spirit didn’t — trust me.  It’s fundamentally all about characterization, particularly as it enriches the style, rather than style as character.
Now, if Preacher really needs to be a standalone narrative that trash-compacts 75 issues of characterization into roughly two hours of pulp entertainment, then Joe Carnahan (who is mentioned in Sciretta’s post as expressing deep interest to helm the project) is not your man.
In fact, it would require his complete antithesis.
I mean, have you seen the A-Team?  Sure, it’s entertaining (in a big-explosions, nostalgic sort of way), but a Preacher director it does not make, no matter how loyal a fan of its nine volumes he testifies to be.
Honestly, before Sam Mendes left the project, I was a little less worried, but I was never exactly convinced of his willingness for uncompromising grit vis-à-vis his live action rendition of Max Allan Collins‘ graphic novel, Road to Perdition, which was (as a good friend of mine once noted) “a period gangster piece for the entire family.”

The summation of all this drivel?

Well, from one man’s proletariat sandbox to another, either the studios in question hand the project off to HBO or Showtime, or leave well enough alone.

Film Commentary

Darren Aronofsky reveals that The Wrestler and Black Swan were originally conceived as one film

August 31, 2010

From an MTV exclusive interview with the filmmaker himself:

I’ve always considered the two films companion pieces. They are really connected and people will see the connections. It’s funny, because wrestling some consider the lowest art — if they would even call it art — and ballet some people consider the highest art. But what was amazing to me was how similar the performers in both of these worlds are. They both make incredible use of their bodies to express themselves. They’re both performers. At one point, way before I made “The Wrestler,” I was actually developing a project that was about a love affair between a ballet dancer and a wrestler, and then it kind of split off into two movies. So I guess my dream is that some art theater will play the films as a double feature some day.

Starting December 1st, Black Swan will be to The Wrestler what Deerhunter’s Weird Era Cont. was to their companion album, Microcastle. Two inextricable halves that small “indieplexes” across the nation will, shortly after Swan’s release, presciently deem a double feature (that is to say, if they know better than to show them apart for too long), strung together by a rampant theme concerning athletes so consumed by their dissociative passions for performance that they willingly part with reality and self-preservation.

Regionally speaking, I also envision a not-so distant future where the AFI in downtown Silver Spring, Md., does just that, a theater and cultural center with a penchant for cinephilic “themes” and filmographies.

Aronofsky is my hero.

Film Commentary, Literature

Rufus Wilmot Griswold

August 30, 2010

Portrait engraving of an 18th century dick.

Anthologist, critic, poet, editor and the very asshole that tried to ruin Edgar Allan Poe’s reputation for eight years since he published a cyclopean obituary (under the pseudonym, “Ludwig”) suffused with falsified accounts of Poe as an evil, unscrupulous and depraved lunatic.

The good news is that, following his death on August 27, 1857, Griswold’s smear campaign was discredited as a fantastic collection of forgeries.

Even his surname begs the acrid aura of “super villain,” doesn’t it?  Comic book stink lines rise from his grave as we speak.

Good riddance.

Now, onto more relatively good news from SlashFilm.com:

The info comes from a tweet by Cusack, which said ‘official — will play edgar allan poe in fall-a-film called the raven, send any poe- gold – my way as i begin this journey into the abyss’ […]

The Raven is a fictionalized account of the final five “mysterious” days of Edgar Allan Poe’s life. Apparently the famous writer joins the hunt for a serial killer whose murders are inspired by his stories.

Raise your hand if your glad that John Cusack nabbed this role and Ewan McGregor didn’t.  What a miscast that would have been.  Albeit, cause for concern is slated filmmaker James McTeigue, who, under the auspices of the Wachowski siblings, directed the underwhelming V for Vendetta.

I’ll be satiated enough if McTeigue’s The Raven is sans any bullet time sequences of Poe dodging cooping agents.  Prior to McTeigue’s involvement, it was rumored that Machinist and Session 9 director Brad Anderson was developing the project, which would have been an ineffably superior pairing.

Still, when it comes to cinematic interpretations of Poe’s last living and breathing days on earth, beggars can’t be choosers.

Now if only the “serial killer” in McTeigue’s version of Poe’s last five days was Griswold himself … it’d be a nice little revenge fantasy — in bullet time.

Film Commentary

M. Night Shyamalan's Escalation (To a Slightly Better Place)

August 27, 2010

From Peter Sciretta of SlashFilm.com:

When the trailer for the M Night Shyamalan-scripted/produced movie Devil was screened at Comic-Con, people began laughing and booing when M Night’s name appeared on screen. I’ve seen the same thing happen to a much lesser extent at a normal Friday night screening in at the Hollywood Arclight. The M Night backlash seems to be in full effect.

M Night seems to have a sense of humor after all, and has recorded a faux movie trailer for a new thriller called Escalation (basically Devil but on a normal office Escalator which suddenly comes to a stop). The spoof trailer stars Shyalaman, Penthouse Pet Ryan Keely, one of the stars of Avatar, and MTV News correspondent Josh Horowitz. Watch the trailer now, embedded after the jump.

Earlier this month, I was a little hard on M. Night for acting like a world-class prick at the Last Airbender Mexico City press conference.  But I have to hand it to the Shyashter for having a sporty sense of humor in relation to the tsunamic media backlash he’s been nautically steering through vis-à-vis his recent crop of poorly critiqued films and the wilting (if not wilted) respect of audiences in the U.S.

To me, the humor is implicit of a “fresh start,” a place where an artist (not as a big-budget director) has reached purgatory (despite what the box-office returns might be for a critically pooh-poohed blockbuster-hopeful).

I’m rooting for the comeback of M. Night as just that … an artist.

Nothing else.

Update: Thanks to a tip from an informant codenamed The Rower of Boats, Shyamalan’s Escalation is a blatant rip of this short film.

Anime, Film Commentary

Award-Winning Visionary Anime Director Satoshi Kon Died Yesterday

August 24, 2010

Today on AnimeNewsNetwork:

Jim Vowles, a member of the Otakorp Board of Directors for the Otakon convention, has announced on Tuesday that director Satoshi Kon has passed away […]

Kon first drew worldwide attention with his feature film directorial debut, the psychological suspense film Perfect Blue, in 1997. He would follow that with a string of critically acclaimed anime projects: Millennium Actress (2001), Tokyo Godfathers (2003), Paranoia Agent (2004), and Paprika (2006). At the time of his passing, Kon was working at MADHOUSE on a new feature film called Yume-Miru Kikai.

ANN interviewed Kon in 2008 as he was beginning work on Yume-Miru Kikai.

He was only 47.

The industry has lost one of its vanguards.

Film Commentary

Box Office Blues for Scott Pilgrim

August 23, 2010

Adam Quigley’s insightful theories on why indie-lean Scott Pilgrim is getting his hipster geek-chic ass kicked by Rambo:

It’s possible that this is a result, however subconscious, of a contrasting appreciation for the way the films choose to define its men, with the reverence for the long-lost form of the burly ’80s action hero speaking more to people than the modern promotion of the geek hero. In this way, The Expendables and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World are on opposite sides of a cultural rift. Scott is a character whose manhood is not impugned by his scrawniness, awkwardness or geekiness, making him the sort of “badass” hero that could only exist in a post-Internet world. The characters in The Expendables, meanwhile, can essentially be seen as a plea to return to the male image as it was once celebrated, when masculinity was defined by muscles, scars, motorcycles, booze, tattoos and mindless acts of violence.

If this is indeed the case, the takeaway here is simple: The men of today are gay; long live the six packs and mullets of yesterday.

Sigh.

Latent Reaganomics perhaps?

Simply put, a majority of thirty-to-forty somethings still spend their recreational cash-or-credit on stuff that celebrates this:

Me have big gun good to blow up stuff big explosion so tasty let's eat at McDonald's afterwards then play Duke Nukem then have sex.

Instead of obvious and culturally relevant cult-classics-to-be like this:

Don’t get me wrong, as a 31-year-old, I still adore the famous old actioners of 80s/90s yore, and all the lumpy superstar heroes that evaded impossible explosions in slow motion while suspended in midair; but another part of me would like to ask all you fellas to put your G.I. Joe figurines away for just a little while, and embrace a new and smarter era with your wallet to support director Edgar Wright — if only because he’s brilliant.

Trust me, you’ll have as good a time as the critics are.

Film Commentary

M. Night Shyamalan is Jaded

August 9, 2010

Has M. Night become a self-important prick?  This YouTube video seems to think so.

I myself had no idea.  If you thought mirrors never lie, neither does YouTube, apparently.

OK, three observations:

Firstly: What, in part, arguably differentiates a good artist from a bad one?  The grace at which he or she can responsibly process all manner of feedback from the media, particularly when your current big-ticket offering is almost unanimously met with widespread disapproval and bewilderment.  Yeah, it really blows when your work is being received with abject criticism.  It hurts the cojones.  It aches, throbs, palpitates.

But don’t tell a journalist that, if you were her, you would “kill yourself” for asking a question that was unfavorable to a blockbuster-hopeful you’re trying to promote.  Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the press conference?

For that, M. Night’s publicist should have committed suicide for not sitting next to him during the press conference to kick his over-inflated testicles underneath the table every time he was about to say something remarkably stupid.

Secondly, M. Night’s befuddling response to the reporter at the Mexico City press conference only proves indicative of the marrow-deep insecurities that have accrued within the disturbed artist (an increasingly discredited one) ever since his work began faltering in 2004’s The Village.   I can understand M. Night’s frustration.  The critical elite can be as uplifting a gospel choir of hosannas as they can be damning — banishing you into soulless obscurity (where Jerry Bruckheimer lives).  But, in the end (as a mainstream artist), you have to be ready for critical dissonance and negative feedback; and you must (must must) remain cucumber cool, collected and reasonable.  You have to be willing to consider different perspectives — perhaps different alternatives to the execution of your work.

In fact, it’s not that M. Night’s style is coming into question (or that critics are asking that he change it), it’s the competency at which he facilitates his desired technique that is being put into question.  This technique was successful before; there is no reason (barring his recalcitrance and pride) that it could not work again, given that the writing is solid.

The execution of a work of art is in constant flux, and it should forever stay that way.

It’s how you grow as an artist.

There is nothing wrong with being immovably proud of your own product (considering all the hard, back-breaking work and money that goes into creating a film in the first place, which most critics are inept at doing anyway [which might explain their career decisions]). And there is nothing wrong with noting its critical successes overseas either (that is, outside of North America).

But (come on, you knew the “but” was coming), when your M. Night, the last thing you want to do for yourself is generate more vitriolic publicity.

Just consider SlashFilm’s Russ Fischer and his experience of how the previews for Devil are being met by audiences:

From Empire comes the poster for Devil, produced by M. Night Shyamalan from his own story idea and directed by the Dowdle Brothers. I like this poster a lot, but the movie faces a serious uphill climb. The three times I’ve seen the trailer in theaters, the appearances of Night’s name have caused groans, then laughter. Anne Thompson even demands that Universal and MRC take Shyamalan’s name off the trailer, based on the uproarious response it got in Hall H at Comic Con.

Ouch.

Thirdly, Jackson Rathbone might as well have performed anilingus on Shyamalan, because (in this video) M. Night’s salad was being tossed.  Look, it’s Rathbone, the ventriloquist doll.

Now a confession: I never liked The Sixth Sense (never never never), for a variety of reasons.  The only one I’ll iterate here is that I predicted the twist before it happened, and as a result, the experience was quite the yawn of a ghost story by the campfire.

Yet, 2,000 marked the year that I became an M. Night enthusiast, when he released his remarkable opus de escapism, Unbreakable (his best and most unique film, in my opinion), and consequently, Signs (a thrilling and heartfelt homage to War of the Worlds).  This was M. Night at the peak of his abilities.  The problem that arose with The Village was Shyamalan’s obsessive-compulsive fixation on hairpin plot twists near or during a denouement, a device that soon resembled a heaving, wheezy one-trick pony — one that only seemed forced by 2004.  This favored trope became an obligation to signature over the operative purpose it truly served to bolster the impact of the story.  And, by The Village, the pretzel-warp twists were increasingly becoming rote, less-subtle and painfully unbelievable (to a point where a suspension of disbelief was nigh on impossible).

My admiration for Unbreakable remains evergreen, however, and I still cherish the collector’s edition DVD.  I look at this film and fondly recall better, humbler times for M. Night Shyamalan.

(Let’s just pretend The Happening never happened, OK?  Shhh.  Shhh.  It was just a bad dream, Haley Joel Osment.  Shhh.)

I miss the “unbreakable” M. Night.  Where did that guy go?