The very slightly superior of 2010's two rubbishy Greek myth movies replaces Sean Bean as Zeus with Liam Neeson: a definite upgrade. Sean Bean is suitably ancient and crafty and all that, but he's no Liam Neeson. What is Zeus, after all, but a god with a very particular set of skills, skills he has acquired over a very long career?
To be fair, his chief and perhaps solitary skill in this film lies in the sea monster-discharge department, but that doesn't make it any less formidable. My nominees for the most potent three word cinematic phrases of 2010 would include "My sweet girl!" (Black Swan) and "Biggest Loser time!" (Get Him To The Greek), but none of them can really compare to Liam and his new pet.
Damn, the fun stuff is over. Only #19 and we've already reached our first overserious Oscar contender.
I don't hate this movie, but I do hate the overwhelming critical chorus that has gathered around, like a proud Ivy League a cappella act, to sing its praises in the reediest possible tones. I hate partly because I do not understand. Why, critics, why? The collective swooning for The Social Network may be the most mysterious film judgment since Someone In America decided that The Shawshank Redemption was not merely an absorbing-if-manipulative prison flick, but in fact the Greatest Movie of All Time. I just don't get it.
I don't mean to deny that this film is generally entertaining, that it works as a kind of fun class satire, or that there aren't small moments of genius, mostly involving the Winklevii: "I'm 6'5, 220, and there are two of me!" But there are too many problems.
There's the Sorkin-on-steriods script, for one, which mechanically converts every human conversation into an arrogant display of polished patter, overwhelming in its falseness. There's Jesse Eisenberg, whose absent non-performance perhaps reflects the fact that he's the kind of actor who boasts both about not watching movies and taking film lessons from Fred Durst. (Really!)
Most of all, The Social Network fails because it takes a potentially fascinating story, a story of great complexity and real importance to our time, and reduces it to the level of television cliche. The problem isn't that the film "got the facts wrong" about Mark Zuckerberg, or misrepresented "the truth" about Facebook: I'm well aware that great art creates its own kind of truth, often one that speaks more profoundly than the bare "facts" themselves. But The Social Network's great truth seems to be that Facebook's strange creator is, comfortingly, a familiar Hollywood type -- the autistic nerd-genius-asshole -- and that his great social network is (WHOA, the "irony"!) actually the product of anti-social loser who's angry at girls who won't date him and "popular kids" who who leave him out of their club. That the real Zuckerberg shared neither of these stock motivations matters here only because it shows how far afield Sorkin et al had to stretch the very interesting truth to produce their very banal lie.
Bah! If only David Fincher could have directed an entire movie based on that Oxford crew race.
Italy Is Love.
So basically, Tilda Swinton is a grotesquely wealthy Italian lady (of Russian descent, for no reason in particular) who strikes up an affair, in a desultory kind of way, with a bearded, taciturn chef. He cuts her hair off, making her look more like the Tilda Swinton we know; a death occurs via tragic poolside tripping accident; lesbians are involved, or at least invoked; class and custom are betrayed; and love reigns supreme.
If this all sounds a bit silly, it should be noted that the film's settings --from Milanese parlors to Ligurian hillsides -- are sumptuous to look at from beginning to end, and that all these dramatic goings-on are draped in classical music of the most impassioned kind. This visual and auditory intensity make up, in part, for the awkwardness of the plot, but on the whole I was less stirred than I might have hoped.
Roman Polanski is pretty obviously the Ben Roethlisberger of film: gritty, serious figures who share a dark moral vision, they both overcame horrible traumas (the Holocaust, an idiotic motorcycle pile-up) to achieve stunning early career success (Rosemary's Baby, Super Bowl XL) and lasting fame. That's really it right there, no? Yep, case closed.
Regardless: in this film, hack scribe Ewan McGregor is hurriedly assigned the mission of ghostwriting the memoirs of Pierce Brosnan, whose scandal-ridden ex-Prime Minister strongly resembles Tony Blair. Brosnan's take on Blair is one of the best things here -- everything down to his rangy body language (as Manhola Dargis has observed) is imbued with the charms and corruptions of power. Polanski's lens, too, is strikingly painted in shades of distant and forbidding gray. Forgive me for being a stick in the mud, though, but underneath all this subtlety are a series of plot revelations so implausible as to undermine and even invalidate the movie's somber tone. Tom Wilkinson's turn as the Yale Professor Who Secretly Controls The Country may be the worst of it, but there's other silliness besides. If only the tragic case of Tony Blair could be explained with such sinister simplicity.
"I declare him, from this day forth, to be AN OUTLAW!"
Yet another movie with a trailer catch-phrase that was probably greater than the whole of the film. But for all its obvious flaws, I'm going to enter a few significant points of evidence in defense of this Robin Hood.
1. Newfoundland rocker Alan Doyle is far and away the best Alan-a-Dale to star in a major screen adaptation of Robin Hood (except, perhaps, when during one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the crew of the Enterprise is forced to act as the Merry Men, and Geordi LaForge/LeVar Burton becomes Alan-a-Dale). No, but seriously: Doyle's folky bard-music toes the line perfectly between modern and archaic, and lends the whole of the movie, despite all its bloodshed, an oddly gentle heartiness that suits it well.
2. Damn you, I like Russell Crowe.
3. Damn you again, I like Robin Hood movies.
4. I believe that is all.