Monday, October 25, 2010


Originally distributed in 1992, Sally Potter's film Orlando was re-released last summer. Ms. Potter adapted the screenplay from Virginia Woolf's 1928 novel Orlando: A Biography about an individual who changes genders halfway through her over four-hundred year long life. The movie is divided into seven sections: Death, Love, Poetry, Politics, Society, Sex, and Birth.

Excruciatingly slow and cryptic, Orlando is nonetheless a gorgeous work of art. Its enthralling music, mostly composed by Ms. Potter and David Motion, contributes to the film's dreamlike ambiance. Orlando's color palette is also extraordinary. Cinematographer Aleksei Rodionov shoots the Rococo period's pastel blues and pinks in muted light. Candles illuminate the Renaissance's bold outfits and elaborate rituals.

Tilda Swinton looks the part of the androgynous Orlando, but the movie's acting and writing are stilted and bizarre. Amongst the film's many unsubtle messages, its most powerful theme is that of identity. Though difficult to get through, Orlando has an entrancing originality.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Social Network

The Social Network is a classical tale of power and revenge. It begins in 2003 at Harvard, where undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg invents the vast social networking website Facebook. Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) intersperses Mark’s upward trajectory with scenes from two lawsuits against him, one from his friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin and one from classmates Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss.

Aaron Sorkin, also a playwright, adapted this outstanding script from Ben Mezrich’s mostly true book The Accidental Billionares. Language is as central to this film as it is to any play. Conversations are the equivalent of car chases. In spite of its cleverness, the dialogue remains remarkably natural.

The fast talk is aided by snappy editing and pumping music, which sometimes turns as ominous as the darkly lit Harvard campus. Even glamorized scenes of elite parties are shot in somber tones. Further visual ingenuity is evinced in one scene in which the camera makes the world of a rowing race look like a perfect toyland. This athletic struggle mimics the characters’ overarching business battles.

Impeccably cast, The Social Network is also a fascinating character study. Played by Jesse Eisenberg, Mark’s intelligence and drive dominate the story. So brilliant he occasionally comes across as an evil genius, Mark is lonely, self-centered, and contemptuous. (His outfits consist of hoodies and sandals.) This protagonist’s tragic flaws allow him everything but friendship.

The film is tilted towards Mark’s former friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield). While his decency and victimization are overemphasized, the character is quite believable and certainly sympathetic.

Also interesting are the amusing Winklevoss twins, played by Armie Hammer (thanks to incredible special effects). Tall and gorgeous, these Olympic class rowers resemble Olympians. They may be entitled, but their plight is understandable.

Even Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the creator of Napster and the man who seduces Mark into a larger life, comes across as more pathetic than villainous. Sean has surface charm and appreciates Facebook’s potential, but he is at best unreliable and sophomoric.

Smaller parts are likewise well acted, including Mark’s level headed and thus brief girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and the twins’ furious friend Divya Narendra (Max Minghella). The only misstep is Rashida Jones as a (gorgeous) lawyer who is bizarrely compassionate to Mark, in an apparent attempt to make him more likable.

Certain aspects of the story are sexed up and simplified. Only the exclusive side of Harvard is explored. Most disturbing is that the characters on which The Social Network is based are still alive. Though mixing fact and fiction can be dubious, the creators of the film performed extensive research and invited everyone to give their input. Understandably, Mark Zuckerberg declined to participate.

Fast paced, hilarious, and parabolic, The Social Network will ensnare many into its world of competition and self-destruction. It is an excellent portrayal of Internet and youth culture in all its innovation, imagination, selfishness, and insolence. Amongst questions of class and control, we watch Mark and others chase after a sense of happiness that is ultimately hollow.