Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hereafter

Director Clint Eastwood doesn’t waste a single bullet in the production of Hereafter. In fact, bullets aren’t even a part of the script. But that doesn’t mean people don’t die or leave others behind to deal with the aftereffect of their demise. Death, when depicted in this film’s natural disaster, an accident and supposed terrorist attack, is often sudden and startlingly realistic. But in comparison to those brief intense scenes, the rest of the storyline ambles along at an unhurried pace introducing the movie’s main characters. Though they live in different parts of the world, we know they will eventually find one another—even if we haven’t seen the trailer. Yet it takes most of the movie to make that happen.

On the San Francisco docks, George Lonegan (Matt Damon) works in a sugar factory. After hours, his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) badgers him to reopen an office and cash in on his gift as a psychic. Billy even goes so far as to show up at George’s apartment with the occasional client (Richard Kind).

However George recognizes that knowing everything about a person weighs heavily on him and hampers the ability to build a long-term relationship. (Still, George is not opposed to trying to do so with his cooking class partner played Bryce Dallas Howard.)

Meanwhile Marie LeLay (C├ęcile De France), a French journalist, deals with the posttraumatic symptoms of being caught in the crushing waves of a tsunami while on vacation at an idyllic tropical resort. Her experience with seeing shadows of the afterlife has left her grasping for a deeper understanding about what happens when a person passes.

Finally, a young London schoolboy (Frankie and George McLaren) searches for consolation after the death of a close family member. But his succession of visits to psychics, who use mirror gazing, high frequency microphones and other measures to contact the dead, leaves him disillusioned and often unresponsive to the compassionate gestures of living people around him.

In the final minutes of the film, Eastwood manages to bring the trio together through a series of coincidences that even feel somewhat believable. Yet it appears to be all for naught. After building up some strong sexual tension in a kitchen scene and coaxing out convincing, emotional performances from many of his actors, Eastwood doesn’t seem to capitalize on what could have been a powerful climatic conclusion to the story.

While many of his other productions (among them Million Dollar Baby, Changeling, and Gran Torino) have given audiences plenty of opportunity to debate his characters’ actions, this script fails to justify the instant connection between individuals or the film’s seemingly abrupt ending. Still the possibility of life after death is an idea that will likely spark discussion among viewers once again. And with only a single strong sexual expletive and a handful of other profanities, the death scenes offer the most concerns for parents who may be considering an outing with their older teens to see this ammunition-free movie.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Social Network Review

In The Social Network, the character of Mark Zuckerburg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is an academically brilliant, but socially inept, Harvard undergrad. When his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) breaks off their relationship, Mark retaliates by posting his unedited thoughts about her on his blog. (The same lack of personal censorship has come back to sting other social network users who hit post before reconsidering their comments.) Mark then hacks into the school’s directory, steals information and sets up a website where his fellow classmates can rate the girls on campus.

While the site doesn’t do anything to endear him to the female population, it catches on immediately with the male students. The stunt also comes to the attention of the faculty when it brings down the school’s server. The result is academic probation for the computer whiz. Yet despite that, Mark convinces his friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) to help him create an even bigger version of a social networking site. In exchange for a thousand dollars seed money and a mathematical algorithm to make the program work, Eduardo becomes the business manager for the fledgling company that ultimately becomes Facebook.

Meanwhile Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) approach Mark with their own idea for a social website and ask him to help them write the computer code necessary to launch it. But accusations and lawsuits fly when Mark unveils his own version of the concept after repeatedly ignoring the twins’ attempts to communicate with him.

As the popularity of the original thefacebook.com explodes, NAPSTER creator Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) approaches Mark and convinces him and his programmers to relocate to sunny California (where it appears the group lives solely on licorice and liquor). The move tears a rift between Mark and Eduardo who have different ideas about the company’s direction and initiates yet another court case aimed at the young entrepreneur.

During scenes of the hearings, Mark remains indifferent to the allegations and insolent toward the plaintiffs and their lawyers. Though he has all the smarts needed to found a world-changing phenomenon, his lack of social skills and maturity fuels hurt feelings and threatens the company’s reputation. Consequently, it may be difficult for some audience members to warm up to this character that can hardly maintain a face-to-face relationship and yet is the guru behind the largest social site to date.

Putting in strong performances, the actors in this film bring believable versions of the multi-billionaires to the big screen. Unfortunately, these newly minted moneymakers use some strong expletives to express themselves. They also get involved in plenty of sexual exploits and parties that include smoking, drinking and the recreational use of illegal drugs.

While Facebook now boasts a net worth in the billions and over 500 million active users, this production gives a new face to the story behind its beginning—one that is often more acrimonious than friendly.