Rating: The Good – 66.8 Genre: Horror, Fantasy Duration: 108 mins Director: M. Night Shyamalan Stars: Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Joaquin Phoenix
An isolated old time village of people, hiding from the cruelty of the towns and cities, share an uneasy truce with a species of carnivorous creatures living in the surrounding woods. When one of the young folk breaches the border, the creatures begin entering the village to seemingly offer a fresh warning. However, when that same man is injured, his fiancée decides to cross those same woods in the hope of reaching a town and bringing back medicine, an action that challenges the village elders’ reasons for their isolation in the first place.
The Village is a deeply curious film that arguably defies its ultimate betrayal thanks to remarkably polished direction and a story that bears all the texture and resonance of a hardened mythology. First thing that needs to be said here is that M. Night Shyamalan initially concocts an elegant fairytale that comments on society and its traditions with the same grace and primal fear that has defined the classics. Strongly influenced by the folk tales of his Indian background, his creatures in this film are inspired devices in both conception and depiction. The sounds they make and the half glimpses that we are treated to all promise to add richly to the lexicon of horror, a genre in desperate need of new form lest we be left with the continued flogging of the vampire, werewolf, and zombie staples. Being savage and monstrous, yet possessing the outward trappings of a society or culture that has emerged in parallel to human culture, these creatures play so delicately on our archetypes of terror and so deeply in the recesses of our minds that they invigorate in a manner that recalls the chills of Harryhausen’s Medussa. All clicks and unbearable hideousness. The corners and bends to the mythos realised in striking colour contrasts upon Roger Deacons’ otherwise starkly painted canvas. In the haunting violins of James Newton Howard’s softly beautiful score. A remarkablly visceral piece of filmmaking.
The screenplay struggles (even contrives) to live up to the weight of this singular achievement but Shyamalan’s cast, the kind of that would normally bedeck a Spielberg epic, still manage to act their socks off. Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and Adrien Brody are all excellent, Howard and Brody especially. They are helped ably by the director’s extraordinary ability to capture subjectivity in dialogue not to mention frame significant moments or build to powerful crescendos. There are also more of those lovely moments of innocent humour that have marked Shyamalan’s previous movies.
Unfortunately, at the final hurdle this undeniably talented filmmaker falls victim to his reputation and quite literally undoes the entire fabric to his film. In the end, storytelling is paramount and he appears to betray that for no other reason than to add a fairly insipid twist. It’s feels like a body-blow to the audience, counting surely as one of the more disappointing reversals ever and if you’ve managed to avoid hearing of this twist, you’ll probably guess it far in advance.
Rating: The Good – 92.9 Genre: Drama Duration: 120 mins Director: David Fincher Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
“Creation myths need a devil.” The Social Network was hyped by some as one of the best films of all time on its release and actually, they just might have been right with this one. A master class in pacing and screenwriting, this story about the founding of Facebook and the man behind its creation is one of the most compelling films of the modern era. It may take dramatic license as it reconstructs the details of the personal and legal battles that followed the launch of the website but the result is as focused an examination of the digital generation as we’ve seen thus far.
Deeply sophisticated parallels are forensically drawn through the centre of this story as director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin intertwine Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to prominence with the traditional concept of social popularity while reflecting on the dynamic the latter shares with the new order. Characters and plot are richly conceived as the drama unfolds in Shakespearean proportions and by the time it’s all done, we feel we’ve been let in on something really special. Everyone involved acts their socks off but this film is built around the ever excellent Jesse Eisenberg’s sensational performance as Zuckerberg. It’s an intricate piece of work because much of the character’s thoughts and emotions occur very internally and are therefore left to the audience to infer. But thanks to an abundance of carefully orchestrated and delightfully timed micro-expressions, we do.
For a film which was largely built around an emotionally reserved protagonist, the score was always going to be important and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross respond to the challenge in resolute fashion with what could arguably be referred to as one of the best scores of the decade. Their subtly balanced electro-rock compositions are perfectly weighted to the different segments of the film and wonderfully carry the audience through the complex social worlds the characters inhabit. As they do in the script, the parallels present in the different compositions help to tie them together into one overarching score that feels as comprehensively part of the film as the cinematography or production design (which by the way were also just about the best we’ve seen in the last decade).
However, the final words of praise should be saved for Sorkin and in particular Fincher who craft this complex, multi-tiered tale into an astute study of the struggle for acceptance in the modern world. In the streamlined focus of the latter’s direction, the former’s writing found its perfect outlet as Sorkin’s potentially wearing indulgences are shorn away in favour of properly individuated character conceptions. Fincher doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to edit scripts but one look at the “behinds the scenes” footage of his writing meetings with Sorkin quickly reveals how he steered Sorkin’s lush script away from the pretentious self-glorification of something like The Newsroom.
But it’s Fincher’s overall command of the project that makes The Social Network such a magnificent experience. A low hum of anticipation builds through the picture, particularly during the early scenes, giving the audience a genuine feel for the magnitude of the project Zuckerberg was embarking on. It’s an implicit but irresistible feeling engineered through structure and Fincher’s impeccable understanding of how much distance to keep between his actors and the camera at all times. In those moments of revelation and/or accomplishment when this sensation actualises, we are witnessing the consolidation of truly mesmerising direction. The ultimate example being the arresting sequence in which Fincher parallels Zuckerberg’s facemash assault with the Phoenix Club’s first party of the fall semester in their mutual misogynistic glory. As a scene of pure drama, it is a peerless piece of impossibly sleek film-making and damn near the best sequence in modern cinema.
Rating: The Good – 67.8 Genre: Drama, Comedy, Romance Duration: 107 mins Director: Greg Mottola Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds
Quietly endearing comedy set in the 1980′s about a grad student (Jesse Eisenberg) who takes a summer job at the local amusement park called Adventureland to pay for his tuition. Nothing about this film is in your face and that’s exactly what’s so refreshing about it. The comedy, the romance, the drama all unfold naturally giving the audience a legitimate sense that we’re following Eisenberg’s character throughout his summer. Even the retro setting seems incidental. Any other film set in the 80′s would be hitting you over the head with references to the era but in this film it’s just part of the background. If anything this approach actually heightens the nostalgia, the drama, and the comedy leaving us with a film that’s very easy to like. Eisenberg is terrific as usual and in playing yet another geeky college kid it’s a testament to his acting ability that he gives this character a distinctly different personality to all the others.
Rating: The Good – 77 Genre: Drama Duration: 106 mins Director: Dylan Kidd Stars: Campbell Scott, Jesse Eisenberg, Isabella Rossellini
“You drink that drink. Alcohol has been a social lubricant for thousands of years. What’d you think, you’re going to sit here tonight and reinvent the wheel?” Writer/director Dylan Kidd’s incisive indie drama about a cynical advertising executive who agrees to teach his young naive nephew to pick up women in the midst of his own personal crisis. The film opens with Roger dominating a conversation with his friends and colleagues by waxing lyrical about man’s encroaching obsolescence, a concern which quickly comes to symbolise his own perceived loss of utility. Roger is a self-motivated manipulator of people and while he talks a good game and is quick to point out other people’s failings he is simply recognising his own insecurities and weaknesses in those he targets. Campbell Scott gives a searing performance as the articulate, cruel, but not altogether heartless uncle. Jesse Eisenberg shows early on how good he is by simply managing to hold his own alongside Scott’s tour de force. Kidd’s script is intelligent and quietly cutting as it reveals a personality that is all too real. His hand-held camera and quick editing style gives the audience the sense that they’re peering in on the strange dynamic. However, the standout strengths of Roger Dodger are the clever script and in particular the acting which combine to make this a very unique and fascinating film.