Previously on the Spiderman franchise, Emo Spidey. And like all emo kids turn into hipsters when they grow up, Emo Spidey is rebooted into hipster Spidey. I’ll explain later. But first, let me take you to a journey about my pre-conceptions about The Amazing Spiderman! The first preview clip looked like CGI crap! More preview clips showed that he’s funny! Then where were the blog entries about Spidey/Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) essence that were divisive. He’s a jerk! He’s Jewish! He’s a Jewish jerk, or for political correctness’ sake, a jerk who happens to be Jewish!
I can’t necessarily account for his relation to the biblical Jacob (or Rachel, to be more technical), but he’s probably not a jerk. I regretfully can’t remember how the Raimi Spiderman began, but director Marc Webb begins his with a sensitive portrayal of a boy who grows up too early. Cue a soundtrack that’s half Titanic and half Inception. Mad About You is playing in the background, so we must be in 1997. As much as young Peter wants to play hide and seek with his parents (his mother is played by fake British person Embeth Davidtz), they’re trying to scurry away and hiding him away from danger, leaving him with his Uncle Ben (Garfield’s fellow Sorkin alum Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). His father is one of the few paternal figures who will be unfortunately excised during the duration of this movie, helping Peter on his way from being an unlucky teenager into a morally centred young superhero. The high school scenes firmly sets the movie’s ambivalence towards labeling their characters as good or evil, because despite one bully, the schoolmates who piss Peter off inadvertently aren’t necessarily out to get him.
His transformation is rocky, even calling out the dated, if not troubled notions of being one. Let’s talk about the light stuff first. He clings to his hipster wardrobe until he gets inspiration from a lucha libre poster that came out of nowhere. He later notices that many athletes are wearing spandex and reluctantly embraces it. Spandex was never fashionable, and at one point I’m thinking that if new superheroes were being created today, none of them would be donning the skin-hugging material, despite the flexibility it can offer.
Now on to the heavier stuff. He first decides to become a superhero as a way to avenge Uncle Ben’s death caused by some stringy haired blonde dated version of a grunge villain. Mr. Stacy even calls him out on this personal vendetta, despite of how much Peter defends Spidey’s position as someone trying to help. If the original Spiderman movies were accounts on our collective adolescence fresh of the 9-11 era, this reboot is four our Tea Party/Occupy times, both movements quickly becoming relics of our time. Just like his real world counterparts, their status in the binary of good and evil are more shaded than he thinks, due to his early disregard for due process. The paternal figures, as ghost figures, run the risk of having their de facto descendant – Peter/Spidey – and his vigilante-ism running amok without and strategy. And despite of him being barely at home to be under May’s guidance, his father figures’ advice hopes to be impactful enough not to let him astray.
I was also wrong about the movie’s visual effects, because the movie is gorgeous, if not a little manicured. Every long shot is a nighttime version of a New York City postcard. Every dark room is a chance for dusty light to beautifully funnel itself in. Every visit to Oscorp, where his late father the latter’s very alive colleague, geneticist Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans), is a neon trip that leads Peter to knowledge or danger or both. The CGI is CGI, often successful at taking a dip into the uncanny valley, but it’s not that distracting anymore as a technology. And that I was watching this with my laptop and was still floored by its compositions is a feat in itself. I can only imagine the 3D lessening its aesthetic impact.
Speaking of manicured, and I guess I should be used to this by now, but TAS’ version of New York City is a bit whitewashed. The private school in Gossip Girl is more diverse than what I assume is Peter’s public high school, where everyone’s dressed like an H&M model and goes home to places arranged gay interior decorators. Peter’s classmate Gwen Stacy (model Emma Stone) is wearing a cream coloured wool trench and woolen thigh highs God. And everybody knows each other. Gwen becomes Peter’s love interest and is the police chief’s daughter and Curt’s intern. Mr. Stacy’s New York Police Force is equally white. There are people of colour peppered around the movie’s fringes. The interns at Oscorp, with Asians to the front and a Hispanic guy struggling because of Peter’s temporary identity switch – thank God I’m not over-thinking that. Peter’s F train ride turned fight club to Coney Island (there is no way the F train is that clean, by the way). The crane workers who help Spiderman get to Oscorp (speaking of workers, Aunt May wears a Bridgeworkers shirt, a close enough reference to Field’s Norma Rae). It’s curious that Peter adapts into a more New York accent as he turns into Spiderman, but I like that he sees himself as one of the people, giving the story a bit of locality. And despite of my nitpicks, the movie’s central figure is compelling and authentic enough to anchor its fantastical plot, making both enjoyable.
The portrayal of Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in the Aaron Sorkin–David Fincher production of The Social Network, is either that of a loser or someone cooler than everyone around him gives him credit for. I still don’t know which side I’m on. Let the debate begin.
The film begins with an unromantic date between Mark and ‘Erica Albright’ (Rooney Mara), where Mark prattles on about the final clubs, which ‘lead to a better life.’ Their words are speedy my now. Erica starting a sentence with ‘From a woman’s perspective,’ a phrase that from my experience a woman might only say when she gets cornered in a conversation by a group with at least two men in it. The date ends badly since Erica has no sense of humour about going to BU, but in fairness, he didn’t talk about her alma mater with a light joke neither.
Mark then goes to his dorm room, goes on livejournal and implies something about Erica’s last name being Anglicized from ‘Albrecht,’ an implication that short-sighted people resort to in hurting times. That won’t be the last time he makes a ‘Hitler youth‘ implication. God knows I would have done worse. Eisenberg narrates Zuckerberg’s lj with dignity, which is difficult since we’re talking about lj here. He also creates Facemash.com. As well as being proud of having better productivity while drunk and forgetting that drinking Beck’s while making a sexist website, like most things you do drunk, have heavy consequences. He gets called out by the ad board, gives them a telling off that doesn’t make the board sympathize with him in any way and gets an academic probation.
What ensues is the body of the film – two separate lawsuits against Mark from the Winklevi (Arnie Hammer and Josh Pence) and from his co-founder and former CFO, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). The three wear suits, are mannered, respectful. Mark, sporting hoodies or uncomfortable dress shirts, pays no deference to the legal process and tries to interrupt the testimonies with snide comments. However, the binaries between the plaintiffs and Mark are hazier than that.
The first scene with Erica shows Mark’s clear stance on the final clubs, but he gets less vocal about them as the time line of the film progresses. He does voice his resentment to the Winklevi by rebutting that he was only allowed in the Porcellian house’s bike room, but that speaks more of the twins’ lack of hospitality that it does his wish for inclusion.
Mark drags both the Winklevi Eduardo down, both having to expose their insecurities of exclusion and daddy issues and thinking he’s going through the same. He tells Eduardo that ‘he wasn’t gonna get in anyway,’ and from personal experience, nerds can be hurtful towards normal people. His remarks get a stranger reaction, as Eduardo starts looking for Mark’s approval, routinely updating him about his final club, the Phoenix. When their partnership really sours, Eduardo freezes the $19000 account to get Mark’s attention. Again, Mark has said zip to confirm that his reasons for betraying the three boys is partly because of his exclusion and their inclusion. What happened? Does having a billion dollars make Mark indifferent to these clubs? Did he grow up? Or are the three still right about him, feeling the same resentment that they’ve carried for years?
The film also makes Mark resort to proud begging, never having neither to plead nor apologize to anyone he’s ever hurt. In trying to appease Eduardo after the account freezing business, Mark tells him that he would love for Eduardo to come down to Palo Alto and resume his work as the website’s CFO. This proud begging specifically applies to his treatment of Erica after his harsh words to her in a bar. He never has the chance to apologize about her or to any of his new enemies, really. Neither does he, thankfully, have an Erica shrine to moon over – he has her Facebook page for that. Instead he asks to get food with her, a private conversation, a friend request. Usually for the latter, when bad break-ups are involved, a friend request follows a message for the other person. Yes, he incessantly clicks refresh instead checking it later like the rest of us cool kids might do. I might sound like I’m over-reading but justifying what others see as an obsession, but it’s as if she has to add him first before she gets to hear what he has to say. Or his friend request is a way to meet her face to face, hopefully. It’s both childish and fair at the same time.
The Social Network isn’t the movie of a generation. Thankfully the movie wasn’t like two Judge Mathis episodes. And sure, the characters here are the most layered ones I’ve seen this year. Its rendition of some ideas, like how to introduce an idea to the public, are greatly done. Yet the film limits itself. It also allows no room for believable emotional eruptions nor awakenings and comes off as cold and distant, and this is from a guy who likes ‘subtle.’ The pacing is off, like a symphony that darts you with violins, only letting us rest when the rain comes. Sorkin needs to slow down once in a while. The women, although some have argued as a stand-in for the audience, have the best lines but also the least dimensions. It doesn’t have the same visual punch as a classic film it’s been compared to, Citizen Kane. Despite of those things, we have Mark, a boy who covets, a performance and character that many more will write about.
- Mark Zuckerberg gets portrayed as a joyless dweeb in The Social Network. (slate.com)
- A story that’s hard not to like (washingtonpost.com)
Kazuo Ishiguro‘s novel Never Let Me Go, about young adult clones slightly obsessed about their Cytherean childhoods, is now a feature film. Director Mark Romanek uses a linear approach to the story instead of the impressionistic one in the novel, and like any adaptation, it could go either way.
And sure Romanek mixes up a few things from the source material, a small grievance. And there’s many holes in the script that makes all interactions feel set-up and less organic, a bigger grievance. There’s also a lot of details, beautifully shot, that enhances the object-obsessed part of the story Romanek wants to tell.
But who can resist watching Keira Knightley as Ruth transforming from a histrionic, control freak of a girl into a worn down defeatist, needing a walker, giving a performance that’s the best in her career so far? Or Andrew Garfield as Tommy D., the awkward, gentle, brave boy we can’t help but reach out to?
Charlotte Rampling plays an icy Miss Emily. The script could have also given better justice to Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) and to Kathy (Carey Mulligan). The film unfortunately turns Kathy from the sane one into the less than pretty virgin. Though Mulligan could have been better, I like her better here than in An Education. I also like the girl who plays the younger Ruth, being able to change emotions so subtly. Despite of its flaws, the film does pull on your heartstrings, and in Cythera, that should suffice. My rating – 3/5.