Review: The Social Network

There’s something I really love about calling the film The Social Network. I can’t really explain it well, and I won’t, because it would be like trying to explain a joke that failed. But it works in a lot of ways, because this is really not just Facebook: The Movie.

I don’t know if I was supposed to find it as hilarious as I did. There were a number of moments where I was the only one laughing. And I was laughing hard. Not because it was bad funny, where I laugh at the crap-ness or how terrible it was. I really found all the geeky humour absolutely brilliant, as well as Mark Zuckerberg’s borderline autistic tendencies. Or at least the Jesse Eisenberg version. Oh, and President Summers (Douglas Urbanski) was brilliant. My favorite line was accusing the Winklevoss brothers (or Winklevi) of “trying to sell me a Brook Brothers franchise”.

Aaron Sorkin’s writing is the best thing about The Social Network. Of course all the other aspects of the film contribute to its brilliance, but the without it, it would definitely not be the same movie. I loved how the narrative jumps around the timeline of events so much. It was kind of testing the attention of the audience without being too difficult to follow. I’ll admit I liked it better before it starts to become like a courtroom flashback drama (I know it wasn’t really a courtroom), but in a way it works better than filling in between the major scenes with pointless ones to make it flow.

I know there have been loads of biopics and movies featuring characters based on real people, but it feels weird that these people are very much still around, and all the events took place less than a decade about. Most biopics are about dead people. I don’t know how close all the characters were to their real life counterparts, but I thought all the performances were excellent. Particularly Justin Timberlake, I mean he did do The Love Guru. And I’ve decided I really like Andrew Garfield after seeing him in this and Never Let Me Go. I don’t know if he’s the right Spiderman, but the guy can act. I was hoping Rooney Mara’s role would give me a chance to see whether she really can be Lisbeth Salander, but she was barely in it, and not that much was expected of her in terms of acting.

Due to a number of factors, I’ve had to wait two weeks to see this. And I was worried all the waiting and hoping and hype and expectations would mean I would be disappointed. I wasn’t. Even though I would really like to believe that’s exactly how things happened, I’m sure it wasn’t quite that exciting. However, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t think Aaron Sorkin or David Fincher meant The Social Network to be the E! True Hollywood Story of Facebook. They took the story (and Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires), and made a brilliant drama from it. And for the Facebook generation, it’s the best version of the history we have. For now. 


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LFF Review: Udaan

As father-son issues go, Rohan (Rajat Barmecha) definitely has his fair share. After the death of his mother when he was 9 years old, he was sent to boarding school by his strict father. Now at 17, he returns home to a very angry and disappointed father, who is hasn’t seen in 8 years, to find out he got remarried (and divorced), and had another son. His problems with his father escalate on his first night back when his dreams of becoming a writer are completely dismissed. (major understatement of how it goes down)

Amongst all the drama with his father, and the rebellious side of him that just comes with being a teenager, there’s a small but important, and very effective, part of the film that focuses on his relationship with his half brother. Though his initial reaction is to hate him, they bond, and he starts feeling protective towards him against their father. Without this strand to the plot, Rohan could have possibly come across as a bit of a brat, but having a focus on his relationship with his brother shows that he is a good guy, and a lot of what he does is more of a reaction to his father. 

Newcomer Rajat Barmecha is good as troubled Rohan. There’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of his acting, but he has the potential and he will get better as he does more films. Ronit Roy is worryingly good as the authoritarian father, and he’s a great contrast to the loving uncle, played by Ram Kapoor. There are a lot of potential points of discussion over the two roles, and how different the two brothers were. They were both brought up by a strict father, and yet they turned out nothing alike. I would like to believe it was intentional rather than a flaw in the script and in their performances playing brothers. 

The film looked good, however there were some lighting issues. It was either a weird choice, or someone’s inexperience with cameras showed when light from a window pretty much blacked out what was happening in the scene. The action wasn’t that important, and you could tell what was happening, but it was a little frustrating to watch. 

I know a lot of people find it difficult to enjoy a film if the content hits very close to home, but somehow I find myself appreciating it more for that reason. I think some moments will definitely hit those spots in a lot of people who have had issues with their parents, or were forced to give up their dreams, particularly desi folk (people from the Indian sub-continent). 

Udaan (pronounced Urr-aan) was selected to compete in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, and screened at the London Film Festival. Its so good to see the smaller films India is producing getting the recognition they deserve. 

LFF Review: Abel

For a film about a family issues, revolving around a child with mental health issues, ‘Abel’ was quite light hearted at times. While it doesn’t make light of the issues, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which makes it more enjoyable, than a full-on heavy drama.

Abel (played brilliantly by the incredibly cute child Christopher Ruiz-Esparza) is a mentally disturbed kid, who doesn’t speak, or at least hasn’t in the past two years. After spending two years in a hospital, he returns home, and is soon acted like a father to his older sister and younger brother. A lot of these sequences are hilarious, seeing this little kid act fatherly towards a teenage girl, and his younger brother who isn’t that much younger than him. With his mother, he thinks she’s his wife, and its a little more uncomfortable to watch, because you’re not sure on how far that will go. While its all quite odd for the family, considering how he is acting, and because they had got used to life without him for the last two years, they eventually start getting used to the whole idea. Enter the real father.

What seems to set out to be a tale of an unusual little boy, slowly becomes a family drama making a statement on deadbeat dads. Abel, though having his mental issues, kind of adapts himself to represent what is missing in their family.

Diego Luna does well in directing his first feature film. He found the balance between keeping things light but taking the necessary things seriously. Christopher, who plays Abel, is so good, as is his brother who plays his brother, Paul. Its quite an emotional film, and definitely worth seeing.

Review: Brighton Rock (LFF Surprise Screening)

The Members Surprise Screening was actually the same, as everyone had said, to the Surprise Screening the previous night, and the film was Brighton Rock, the “re-evisioning” of the 1947 film which was an adaptation of the novel by Graham Greene. I should mention I have not read the book, or seen the ‘47 film, so my view on this film is purely based on itself. 

Going in, I was aware that the film the previous night was Brighton Rock, and was completely prepared to see it, even though most people on twitter had bad things to say about it. Having low expectations probably helped a little, because I didn’t think it was terrible, but it wasn’t nearly as good as it was trying to be. The only thing, really, that kept me going was Helen Mirren. Even though her hair was dyed a ridiculous color, I enjoyed watching her, and the scenes with her in it. Except, writer and director Rowan Joffe had to go and ruin it all with her final scene, the second to last scene of the movie. What was that? Completely ruined the whole mood off the ending. 

The movie really should have ended with Pinky (Sam Riley) on the beach. I would have thought a lot more of this movie if that is where they ended it. I know there’s the ending of the other movie and the book they had to think about, but if they going to “re-evision”, why not end it at a high point? Why drag it out further with scenes that change nothing? (think LOTR: Return of the King but on a smaller scale, and less extra scenes) At the very least, don’t add a little bit of humor- keep going with the drama, and go straight to Rose. The Helen Mirren/John Hurt scene was a massive mistake! 

The two main performances, Sam Riley as Pinky and Andrea Riseborough as Rose, were quite painful to watch. Riseborough was that slight bit better, but Riley was so dull. The dialogue was rather unexciting anyway, which I think was the point, and would have worked if delivered better, but he had no emotion what so ever. His face and voice were just blank. Even though he’s a “bad guy”, as the central character, the audience need to feel something for him to connect with the film. Maybe they were trying to dothat with his father figure being killed in the opening scene, but it did not come across that way. 

Had I not seen it for free, I probably would have been horribly pissed off by this movie, however the free ticket, and Helen Mirren kinda saved it. But I wouldn’t tell anyone to see this. That’d just be rude. 

Brighton Rock - Sam Riley and Andrea Riseborough

Bollywood Review: Jhootha Hi Sahi

JHS WP

I had a lot of expectations from Abbas Tyrewala for his second film, Jhootha Hi Sahi. His first was Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, which was a fun film, with a lot of heart, and was very impressive given the first time director, and many new actors in the ensemble cast. Jhootha Hi Sahi is also sort of an ensemble movie, but it only gets half way in making the audience love the characters. There is a lot of focus of John Abraham’s character, Sid/Siddharth, and Pakhi’s character, Mishka, which is fine. But either make it about just those two, or use the other characters properly as well. Jhootha Hi Sahi is stuck in the middle somewhere.

The characters of the friends, though funny, are a little distracting, and don’t give the audience enough of a reason to want to give them the attention they’re demanding. It was nice to see the two female friends from the Jaane Tu… ensemble in this as well. And the gay friend bit, though unnecessary, had its funny moments, and I guess it was refreshing to see it just as accepted. Most films still treat it as either a taboo or a joke.

I quite liked the story, but the script, written by Pakhi, could have been better, and ditto for the directing. It feels a little like Abbas Tyrewala has actually taken a step back in his second film. If there wasn’t Jaane Tu… as a reference point, he would have come off as a decent enough director, but he’s definitely capable of better. Possibly directing his wife in the heroine role has something to do with it. Or just casting her is the problem. She wasn’t right for the role. She’s not a bad actress, but it just seemed wrong. She looked too old, and often a bit pregnant. She also made John Abraham look really good with loose clothing, and glasses. Basically, she reversed the effect of John’s new look for the film.

The cinematography was mostly good, London looked wonderful, especially the scenes on the Thames. However in the song Maiyya Yashoda (so glad they used the Thames Mix), there were some odd lighting and camera angle choices. It may have been the projection of the print, or something happened to the actually film they shot on, but all the people were slightly bluer than usual. And all the awkwardly positioned close ups, and medium shots made the set look very small. Why do that? Why?

The choreography was awful in Maiyya Yashoda and Pam Para. Or Pakhi just can’t dance. But just was just all wrong.

So the film has its flaws, I haven’t even started on how disappointing the soundtrack is coming from A. R. Rahman, or the ridiculous role of Madhavan, and the pointless moment of action thrown in for no good reason. It was still sweet, and was a few changes from being good. Quite far from being anything better than just good, but its average… like a “meh” and a shoulder shrug. Hopefully Abbas Tyrewala will do something amazing to redeem himself with his next feature (and I pray it doesn’t involve his wife). 

LFF Review: Black Swan

Even though it has been categorized as a psychological thriller, but Black Swan is much scarier than your regular thriller. As well as good old-fashioned ‘jump’ moments (moments that make you jump, in case that wasn’t obvious enough), some images in the film were gruesome enough to scare. Thankfully those moments don’t cross over to gore-porn territory, but they are disturbing. I have to say, the film really isn’t for the faint hearted.

The film follows ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman), as she struggles with the role of Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake, and her rivalry with new girl, Lily (Mila Kunis).  Both Portman and Kunis are brilliant in their roles. It’s amazing what make-up and lighting can do to make them look so similar at times. But Mila Kunis’ performance was quite unexpectedly good (especially since all I know her as is Jackie in That 70s Show, and the voice of Meg in Family Guy), without giving any spoilers, when you see her in the film, she seems perfect for what she eventually represents in relation to the development of Natalie Portman’s character. Vincent Cassel’s character also plays an important part in that, and he as well is very good as the director of the production, though his accent seemed a little all over the place, whether or not he was trying to do an accent I do not know. If that’s what he really sounds like when he speaks English, then he should probably try putting on a French accent. It will be a little more believable.

The split personality, Jekyll & Hyde thing has been done many times before, and Darren Aronofsky doesn’t attempt to anything drastically new, and I think its better that way. It’s also not very complicated; there’s nothing to distract you from the main focus of Nina, and her exploration and the evolution of her ‘Black Swan’.

Visually it’s a stunning film. The ballet scenes are beautifully shot, especially the longer tracking shots. They must have been so difficult to shoot. The effects are also really good, although my favorite effects moment would be a complete spoiler. But it happens towards the end. It is so disturbing, and yet so amazing at the same time. There were so many mirrors in the film! I’m not really sure what entirely to make of that, but there were way too many to have, just because. Obviously, there are scenes were the mirror is extremely important to the drama and suspense, and sometimes the horror. But mirrors are sometimes just there, and nothing happens in them. But there is some significance to them… and I will figure out.

Black Swan has actually made me want to go see the ballet. Well, not just any, but Swan Lake, even though I know I will be disappointed that the Swan Queen ballerina isn’t going through some serious psychological problems. It has also made me really want to watch Aronofsky’s other work, which I have seen none of. That’s probably more likely.

I’ve read a few bad things about Black Swan, and while I don’t expect everyone to love it, it will be a shame if people don’t give it a chance based on what they read. I loved it, and even though I may be scarred for life.


3 Quick Reviews from the Festival

So I’m falling a little behind on my LFF reviewing… Cos I’m a little lazy. And also it takes time, which I haven’t been giving myself to write them. So here are three short and snappy reviews of the last three films I’ve seen at the London Film Festival.

LWL poster

LITTLE WHITE LIES: Guillaume Canet’s (Tell No One) film about a group of friends, and the little white lies they tell each other. It starts off with one of the group having an accident, and the rest of them decided whether or not to go on their annual vacation. It takes a moment to figure out the relationship between all of them, but maybe that’s because I just assumed they were all friends. Which, as it turns out they were. Its not clear how they became friends either, because some of them are older, some are girlfriends who don’t seem so attached to the group but know everyone well. Its a bit like a psychotic family, but rather a psychotic group of friends. And I love psychotic family stuff. So it was pretty good. And it had Marion Cotillard in it. It was mainly a comedy, or I found a lot of it funny, but it gets quite intense towards the end, which you could see coming. Its good to watch if you don’t mind subtitles. Or, you know French. Its a little long for its genre, at 154 minutes, but it doesn’t get boring.

Miral  

MIRAL: Based on an autobiographical novel by Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian journalist who grew up in an orphanage in Jerusalem, its directed by Julien Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) plays the title character, and she’s alright, but she honestly is not that great of an actor. She does look a bit like Rula Jebreal though, which is convenient. Also, not to be superficial but she’s a bit too dark skinned to play a Palestinian, I thought. (I’m South Asian as well, I’m not being racist by calling her dark.) Hiam Abbas, who plays Hind al-Husseini – the woman who began the orphanage after the partition of Palestine in ‘48 – was brilliant, as was Alexander Siddig, who plays Miral’s father. Those two really made the film much more watchable. For a autobiographical story, it does not feel like you’re watching a story through one main character; there is a lot of focus on the other women who are significant parts to the story, and it wouldn’t make sense without it. However, the film lacks that sense of it being personal. The score was good, but I felt like I had heard almost all of it before. I definitely noticed some recycled A. R. Rahman pieces. 

West Is West Om Puri

WEST IS WEST: As sequels go, this feels quite unnecessary, before and after you’ve seen the film. But, whether or not people really care 11 years later, its pretty good. It has its fair share of flaws, but it has a lot of the same humour and heart as the original did, which people may still find enjoyable. Set roughly 5 years on, all the main cast are the same, with the exception of the boy who plays George/Jahangir Khan’s (Om Puri) youngest son, Sajid. Aqib Khan is pretty decent, better in his comedy then in the dramatic moments, which there were a lot more of then I remember there being in part one. We are introduced to the original Mrs. Khan (Ila Arun) in Pakistan, who has struggled but got on with her life without her husband for 30 years, who suddenly shows up with his troubled son from his other wife. Om Puri’s English was terrible, and though it was intentional, he had been in England for 30 years, living with an English wife, and all his children speak English. Surely it would have improved. It sounded too deliberate, and became quite distracting in serious scenes. The movie is predictable, and yet very sweet. Like I said, if you like East, you’ll like West. 

“Money’s The Bitch That Never Sleeps”: A Review of Wall Street 2

‘Money’s the bitch that never sleeps.’ The subtitle of the movie is from that Gordon Gekko line. Such a shame they didn’t keep it that way for promoting the movie. It’s longer than the 3 key words, but its more exciting.

I should say that I haven’t seen the original. I wanted to, but not by paying £10 for the DVD.

I was expecting a lot more banking and finance drama than family drama with this… It turned out to become all about Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) who doesn’t speak to him anymore. Which is all fine in terms of a story… But it wasn’t really about Wall Street, was it?

Ok so it was, kind of.

I found myself bored in many places. And in the ones I wasn’t, I wasn’t that excited or surprised or enjoying it. There was no really drama or tension in the film. Except for when Louie Zabel (Frank Langella) does what he does (trying to avoid spoilers). That was shocking. But that peak of drama came way too early. It was like a catalyst with a very disappointing reaction.

I wish they had gone the completely fictional way. Using the recent economic crisis was a great opportunity but it was wasted. If Oliver Stone had made it all up they would have had so much more they could do.

The film looked great. There were some really good tracking and steadicam shots. The one in Gordon’s apartment sticks out in my mind. I also loved the shot of the New York skyscraper when Shia LaBoeuf gets to his office the first time. Shame about him though. He really could not get anyway close to the screen presence Michael Douglas or Carey Mulligan have. Looking like a kid also does not work in his favour. It’ll be a while before he is proper big time drama material.

Carey Mulligan was good, as she usually is. But I wish had seen this before Never Let Me Go. She was nowhere near as brilliant in this, and ‘Winnie’ is going to be my memory of her till I see something else with her in it.

The cinema (Vue Islington) was surprisingly packed. Didn’t think so many people would want to see it on a Sunday afternoon.

As I said I haven’t seen number one, but this felt like such an unnecessary sequel. Oliver Stone can do so much better, so its a shame to see him do a film that just seems like a money making scheme.

LFF Review: Dhobi Ghat

My first and main thought throughout watching Dhobi Ghat was how much it reminded me of Slumdog Millionaire. I don’t think it was what they were attempting at all, but the Mumbai it showed was similar, and yet much more intimate. Kiran Rao’s deep knowledge and love of the city is very evident in this sort of love-portrait of Mumbai and its people.

The decision to use (almost all) unknown actors was good, particularly in the roles of Shai, played by Monica Dogra, and Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra). I think the usefulness of using new faces is something Indian filmmakers are started to take advantage more recently than other film industries around the world, rather than before having them just for a “fresh” look or launching children of stars. Its a lot easier to get engrossed into the life of someone you know nothing about, than a familiar face doing something unfamiliar. The only well known face is Aamir Khan (director Kiran Rao’s husband) who plays Arun, the painter. Some people may recognize Prateik, who plays Munna, as Genelia D’Souza’s brother in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. Its good to see him get a major role, and not starting off as most bollywood actors typically do in popcorn/masala films.

 

 Dhobi Ghat is a little peek  at life in the different  social classes in Mumbai:  Arun the painter, and his  upper class world; Shai the  NRI, on her sabbatical;  Munna, the ‘dhobi’ (laundry guy) and rat  killer; and Yasmin, the middle class housewife who moved to Mumbai when she got married. Yasmin’s story is actually set before the movie starts, and is only shown through a series of home videos she makes as letters to her brother, which Arun discovers in his new apartment. The center of it all is the inter-class relationships, mainly between Shai and Munna, but also the connection that Arun begins to feel with Yasmin as he watches her videos. Aamir Khan does very well in conveying the evolution of this unusual one way relationship he builds. He is, as usual, at his best in this role.

Shoot on 16mm, which is rare for an Indian film, it looks good. A lot of it is shot on location in various parts of the city, and for someone who doesn’t know Mumbai at all, it was interesting to see things that are not usually show in movies. The score by Oscar-winning Argentine composer, Gustavo Santaolalla, is wonderful. He used a lot of live sounds from the locations (Kiran said this herself the the Q&A that followed the film), and with what he composed, the music really brings the stories of these characters alive.

Amongst all the new age Indian directors that had released films recently, Kiran Rao definitely has an edge over them with Dhobi Ghat, which really is quite refreshing. However, I worry that its too different for an Indian audience. I think it can to extremely well internationally and at festivals with the right promotion, but it doesn’t have much, with the exception of Aamir Khan, that appeals to the masses in India. Especially with a lot of English dialogue. Which is a shame, because its a wonderful film, and Mumbaites are the ones who can truly appreciate it the most.

Review: Another Year

Mike Leigh is known for his different style of filmmaking, and while it must work well for a lot of his films, (I have only seen Secret & Lies many years ago), I’m not really a fan of the feeling it gives his films. Maybe its because I haven’t seen enough of his works, and therefore can’t call myself a fan. Or maybe Another Year really just wasn’t all that.

The lack of script translates into things just unravelling in its own sweet time, which is realistic but incredibly boring to watch. Especially for a film the runs for over two hours. It probably sounds like I hated it, but I didn’t. It had its funny moments, and its powerful moments, which is what I imagine Mike Leigh’s films are really about and what his admirers go to see. I really liked the story he was telling but I just wish it got on with it a little quicker.

All the performances, with the exception of Ruth Sheen, who plays Gerri, were brilliant. Especially the actress playing Mary. The character was so irritating and flawed yet you can’t help but sympathize with her. Ruth Sheen irritated me. Mainly because I thought the delivery of her lines was so mechanical. Had she sounded more natural, I may have liked the film more.

And I just have to say, I loved that Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen were Tom and Gerri. I don’t know if it was intentional but it was so sweet.

The screening was followed by a Q&A with Mike Leigh, mainly for the benefit of the students there (it was supposed to be an educational screening). He seemed really nice, and it just made me feel bad for not liking the movie more.