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Archive for June, 2010

The social network…We’re all a part of it. Now, thanks to adored director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac), we’ll get a chance to see it at its inception.

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network takes a personal look at the life of Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook. Release is set for October 1, 2010.

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The silver screen is not a dividing median that separates the moviegoer from the moviemaker. It’s a collaborative and reflective device that merges the two together. Filmmakers create ideas based off their own experiences, and the degree to which we enjoy them is based off ours. In a way, it’s therapy. We take a great deal of our personality to the theaters, and we leave an hour and a half later evolved, engaged, and affected. This interactive achievement is what some people refer to as “movie magic.”

In a year of disappointing movies, Pixar manages to once again capture that magic perfectly in Toy Story 3. To this film, we bring everything we’ve endured since the last installment’s release 11 years ago. Since then, I’m sure we’ve all gone through triumph, death, and heartbreak; whatever the results were from those moments, they are what brought us to wherever we are right now.

So the remaining question is: where are our favorite Pixar characters right now? Well, Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang are in a toy box, ignored. Andy-he is now making preparations for college, and playtime with the toys is expectedly absent. His intentions are to stock them in the attic, but through a series of mishaps, they are mistakenly placed in the donation box destined for Sunnyside Daycare Center.

Upon their arrival, the toys are cordially greeted by the daycare’s senior members. At the helm are Lots-O’, a huggable teddy bear that smells of strawberries, and Ken, the renowned counterpart to Barbie. The illusion that Sunnyside is a sweet sort of retirement home is immediately shattered when the gang becomes treated like jailbirds. What follows is an epic prison break.

Right away, Toy Story 3 makes it clear what the story is all about. We know where the inevitable point B is for Woody, Buzz and Jesse, and the narrative’s various beats lead us right to it. The time spent following these characters to their bittersweet conclusion doesn’t necessarily feel like anything new. Specifically, our heroes don’t grow or change perception, and the newly introduced characters merely act as roadblocks. There aren’t any emotional arcs for our characters to discover. Simply put, they reach a point that signifies the end of the trilogy.

In no way is this a fault. Rather, I think it’s the point, and it’s a poignant one at that. As Buzz says early in the film, “Our mission with Andy is over.” For these toys, their purpose isn’t of much use to Andy, and similarly, Andy’s purpose as owner is no longer effective. They are both obsolete to one another, and because of that, the next logical step is to separate. This becomes the hardest thing for our protagonists to do, but their understanding of why it must be done is perfect.

Similar to the way we get out of touch with people, perhaps it happens because there’s nothing more to be gained from them. I don’t mean to pontificate this point with pessimism although it might seem so, but what I’m trying to say is: when we break up, when we are fired, when we move on…maybe it is because we are supposed to, maybe we gave all we had to give, and maybe we learned all we had to learn from the experience. It’s not an existential crisis; it’s an existential understanding, and for Woody and the gang, this understanding is the last lesson to be learned. In doing so, they simply have to get to the previously mentioned Point B and say goodbye to Andy.

As they always are, farewells are difficult. Our lives have been invested in this franchise, and the glory of nostalgia can sometimes be insurmountable. Pixar beautifully sends off its characters by allowing Andy to give each of them a nice little description. Some might say this curtain call is too on the nose, but I say it’s absolutely necessary. It’s necessary for Andy; the acknowledgment of his childhood is the perfect way to cap off his character. It’s necessary for the toys; one last time with Andy is all they wanted, and hearing him explain why he loves each and everyone of them allows them to fully realize their importance. Finally, it’s necessary for us; outwardly expressing inner thoughts is that therapeutic motion that leads to closure and acceptance.

I understand that this is more of a contextual analysis rather than a movie review. As I said before, much of our response to film is subjective, and right now, my relationship with Toy Story is triggered by emotion. For those looking for objective critiques, I do have some. I do believe Lots-O’s characterization is fairly weak, and the infrastructure of the prison-like Sunnyside Daycare Center needs more development. The writing and the comedy are less witty, having to refer to obvious jokes (Ken’s masculinity, Buzz’s Spanish malfunction) to extract laughter.

I’d like to close with a quote that my Differential Equations professor once shared. “It’s most important to know when you don’t know.” Transitively, I think one of the hardest things to learn is the fact that you may have nothing left to learn-whether it’s from a parent, or a friend, or a significant other. Moving on can be difficult when it most often seems hopeless, but Toy Story 3’s understated advice is comforting.

9.5 out of 10

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Nothing is more delightful than seeing someone else succeed. Through their accomplishments, you feel proud, ecstatic, and extremely inspired. After watching Full Measure, the finale of Breaking Bad’s third season, I harbor those exact sentiments. The cast and crew have come a very long way since their first season-a strong yet short string of only seven episodes-and now, they are responsible for creating some of the best television ever.

So what do we have here? Well, after last week’s tragic Half Measures, our two protagonists, Walt and Jesse, once again find themselves in the deep end of the pool. This time, they have no one to save them-no more divine intervention, no more Deus ex Machina-and what’s causing them to sink rapidly is their own psychological trauma. Beyond that, their boss, Gus, is no longer the friendly manager but the tactically vicious kingpin we’ve seen bits and pieces of throughout this season.

One step ahead is Walt, now in full Heisenberg mode, who seems to have erased any memory of killing one of Gus’ meth dealers in cold blood to save his partner. Jesse, who began this season with the notion that he was the bad guy, has slowly come to realize that he isn’t so evil after all. Sure, he’s done some bad things, but his heart has ultimately been in the right place. We, the audience, have made note of his sincerity since the very beginning, and because of that, we’ve rooted for him; so seeing him slowly come to this peaceful conclusion on his own these past few episodes has been a cathartic and intense joy.

And so, when Jesse unwillingly loses his last bit of innocence, the tragedy cannot be more painful. Seeing him tear up as he pulls the trigger on Gale, an ambiguously innocent character, is unforgettably sad. Walt, whose immoral actions in the past two seasons were triggered by the selfless will to support his family, now engineers decisions with selfishness and desperation. Sometimes, these decisions mean having to bring others down to his level.

Surprisingly, the effects of Walt’s decisions haven’t typically put him in a position of power, but at the end of Full Measure, he gains a staggering amount of leverage. Seeing him yank the rug from underneath Mike, the show’s most seemingly poised character, is one of the most terrifying and discomforting moments of the entire series. In fact, the composure of characters such as Gus and now Mike, slowly started cracking during last week’s Half Measures, and by the end of the finale, everyone is in the deep end. Everyone’s playing almost entirely submerged in high stakes, anxiety, and uncertainty.

No one is in complete control, and everyone’s breaking bad.

Once again, Breaking Bad has produced a beautifully unpredictable season. The show’s characters have evolved in unexpected ways, and the direction has become more panoramic, thus raising the stakes. We were blessed with insane episodes such as Sunset and One Minute, and we were glad to see the return of slower, more ponderous “bottle” episodes such as Fly. Overall, season three was near perfect, and Full Measure was a fantastic and devastating way to cap it off.

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Of all the characters in 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Russell Brand’s raunchy and downright sexy Aldous Snow is the most intriguing. Without question, his charming flamboyancy makes him the perfect candidate to be featured in a spin-off, and there is no better sidekick to have than, of course, Jonah Hill. Together, they are able to produce a fairly strong comedy– Get Him to the Greek— but it doesn’t have that resonance that almost every other Apatow-produced film does.

Simplistic in nature, Get Him to the Greek captures Aaron Green’s (Jonah Hill) quest to bring esteemed yet broken down rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) from England to play a 10 year anniversary show in Los Angeles. Along the way, expected hijinks ensue, and both characters learn a little bit about themselves in a frenzied process.

Much like last year’s The Hangover, this film goes from one crazy subplot to the next. To say these narrative points are random isn’t necessarily true, seeing as that they frustratingly advance the film. It’s cleverly characteristic of Aldous Snow, himself. However, several scenes do overstay their welcome, and the funniness decreases with every vomit-joke and/or scene of drunken debauchery. This necessarily isn’t a problem (The Hangover is successful in that regard), but the film tacks on levels of emotion that don’t quite fit the film. Giving Aldous Snow and Aaron Green personalized arcs seems great on paper, but when the execution feels compulsory, I’m left with the question, “Why bother?”

Get Him to the Greek never gets the chance to earn its emotional scenes towards the end. By that point, the film is far too muddled in threesomes, parties, and drugs to ever get me to care about the subtext behind the characters’ actions.

The fault is not at the hands of Jonah Hill or Russell Brand though. The two play their parts fantastically, and the emotional scenes do give the actors opportunities to explore new territories. They succeed in practically every way; their chemistry, be it comedic or serious, is pleasant throughout, and a sense of realism is achieved by both their jaunty connections and their life-threatening disconnections.

Yes, Get Him to the Greek is pretty funny. The jokes come at a fast pace, and the addition of Puff Daddy makes the humor even more charming. However, it surprisingly lacks the quotability that Apatow’s other hits have. Minutes after seeing it, my friends and I struggled to remember moments we laughed at. That’s pretty strange…

6 out of 10

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Based off the trailer, Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere bears a striking resemblance to her most popular film, Lost in Translation. Yet, this new project seems to more consistently clasp a level of hope and wholesomeness, two things her predecessor often combated. Gone is the loathsomeness that comes with an estranged city and unfamiliar people, and in comes the intimacy of two somewhat close people getting even closer. Lost in Translation is quite subdued, and this looks no different; however, Coppola always manages to find excitement amidst a world of loneliness, and the lessons that she shares are undoubtedly heartfelt.

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***This review contains spoilers***

Any disturbing part of a film–plot point, twist, image, character revelation– should serve a logical purpose for the betterment of the narrative. Making the audience uncomfortable with disquieting moments can be effective and creative, but when our discomfort arises from haphazard filmmaking and questionable characterization, that’s when you know something has been poorly done. Vincenzo Natali’s latest Splice contains several instances of severe alarm, but they all regrettably fail to enhance the film.

Splice is a contemporary retelling of Frankenstein. Two geneticists, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), splice together bits of DNA from animals and humans to hybridize a new species. This creature, who is later named Dren, becomes too much for them to handle, and their once docile pet mutates into a horrendous creature that brings them to their demise.

The film’s premise is seemingly relevant to our scientifically controversial world, but the moral complexity behind splicing DNA of humans and animals (without consent from the company that’s funding them) is barely addressed. At best, Splice touches upon ethical issues by simply saying they exist, but never does the movie delve any farther. It’s unrealistic (and almost disrespectful) to see how easy it is for these two geneticists to create Dren without any friction. Additionally, their resulting issues with Dren don’t come from a backlash from the scientific community. Rather, their problems come from their own inherent stupidity.

Clive and Elsa are poor characters that go from tragic to psychotic. At first, we are presented with two people who are uncertain about the promise of parenthood. Whether it’s because Elsa was tormented as child or because Clive simply wants to maintain his hipster/trendy ensemble, they are both inflicted with the struggle to grow up. Dren helps them figure themselves out. This part of Splice is quite touching–seeing Elsa be the mother she never had, seeing Clive become more accepting of this very human-like creature, seeing the two of them develop their parental persona. However, these moments are all rendered useless when the film takes a disturbing turn for the worse.

This turn that I speak of is the infamous sex scene between Dren and Clive. As disconcerting as the scene is, it fails to expound any purpose. Clive’s compliance is random and contrived, and the effect it has on his relationship with Elsa is completely empty. Elsa’s once interesting arc becomes frustrating when she becomes the psychotic, overbearing mother she swore she would never be, only to revert back to a carefree, almost zombie-like person at the very end. She hopscotches from “Let’s not kill Dren” to “Let’s kill her!” to “What’s the worse that could happen?” with such illogical and uneven movement. These characters’ increasingly poor decisions drive me to question their credibility as actual scientists and as real people, and by the end of the film, their hope for survival means just about nothing to me.

The last act is filled with obligatory action/horror tropes that conflict with the tone of the first two thirds of the film. Splice evolves from somewhat ponderous sci-fi to typical action, and several narrative and thematic questions are left lingering. How does Clive’s brother know about the farm they were keeping Dren? What is the point of everyone finally finding out about Dren when they pose no threat whatsoever to her? How do Dren’s “parents” affect her evolution? This last question is the most important. In the final moments, Dren transforms from female to male, and he consequently destroys all the male characters, leaving himself as the only available suitor to mate with Elsa. Ultimately, Dren’s psychological and emotional growth throughout the course of the movie has no impact because his actions at the end are driven by her/his biology.

Yes, Splice, is pretty good for a while; however, it becomes a tonal clusterfuck with no regard for consequence, and character relations and motivations become just as scatterbrained. Also, I’m really sorry, but “What’s the worse that could happen?” is not strong reasoning to do something, especially when that something can kill you.

4 out of 10

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