No film review will be read more eagerly this week than Scott Foundas's piece for the cover of the September/October issue of Film Comment. Facebook, he writes — and he's not on it, by the way, nor does he tweet — "is very rich material for a movie on such timeless subjects as power and privilege, and such intrinsically 21st-century ones as the migration of society itself from the real to the virtual sphere — and David Fincher's The Social Network is big and brash and brilliant enough to encompass them all. It is nominally the story of the founding of Facebook, yes, and how something that began among friends quickly descended into acrimony and litigation once billions of dollars were at stake. But just as All the President's Men — a seminal film for Fincher and a huge influence on his Zodiac — was less interested by the Watergate case than by its zeitgeist-altering ripples, so too is The Social Network devoted to larger patterns of meaning. It is a movie that sees how any social microcosm, if viewed from the proper angle, is no different from another — thus the seemingly hermetic codes of Harvard University become the foundation for a global online community that is itself but a reflection of the all-encompassing high-school cafeteria from which we can never escape. And it owes something to The Great Gatsby, too, in its portrait of a self-made outsider marking his territory in the WASP jungle."
The Social Network will open this year's New York Film Festival on September 24 and the NYFF site is featuring another piece from that forthcoming Film Comment issue, Amy Taubin's on Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialism, rumored to be his last: "But if indeed this is an ending, it is not a summation."
Updates, 8/21: In the New York Times, Michael Cieply and Miguel Heft report on how Facebook is taking the prospect of this movie becoming "culturally defining, as it aspires to be." In short, not well. Perhaps the most interesting part of the story, though, is the background on how Fincher, writer Aaron Sorkin and producer Scott Rudin ended up working with Ben Mezrich's book, The Accidental Billionaires, rather than David Kirkpatrick's, The Facebook Effect. Now, of course, Kirkpatrick "says much of the film, including many of the details of [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg's personal life, are made up and 'horrifically unfair.' He said that Facebook might be forced to deliver a forceful rebuttal once the film has its premiere, especially if it turned out to be a hit."
Meantime, Deadline New York's Mike Fleming reports that "Michael London's Groundswell Productions has teamed with producer John Morris to acquire movie rights to the Ken Auletta book Googled: The End of the World As We Know It. They will use the book as the blueprint for a feature film that tells the story of Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and the fast rise of the juggernaut web business that made them billionaires."
"A peppery, 'tude-laden micro-indie out of the Virginia–DC lowlands, Zach Clark's Modern Love Is Automatic seems at first to be an 80s postpunk-indie throwback, complete with retro kitsch, a riding disdain for middle-class manners, hot-blooded thrash soundtrack, and an air of disaffected apathy," writes Michael Atkinson in the Voice. "But it gradually defects toward more subtle territories."
Justin Stewart in the L Magazine: "The startling quiet-loud ruptures might be an ostentatious attempt to dissociate Modern Love from mumbledom (Clark edited Aaron Katz's Dance Party, USA), but regardless of intent, the schizo theatrics, professionally assured performances, and a too-rare funniness here make for absorbing and refreshing viewing."
Yes, agrees Nick Schager in Slant, the film "superficially resembles scores of mumblecore (and post-mumblecore) indies in that it's about twentysomethings searching — aimlessly, clumsily, desperately — for purpose and direction, as well as features, via its dominatrix plotline, a marketable out-there conceit. Yet Clark never succumbs to insufferable solipsism nor to cheeky look-at-this! shock tactics."
Neil Genzlinger in the New York Times: "If nothing else, Modern Love Is Automatic leaves you curious to see what this filmmaker will do next." At the reRun Gastropub Theater in Brooklyn.
"After the we-are-the-world solemnity of Edge of Heaven, it's something of a relief to see Fatih Akin positing good grub and funky tunes rather than miserabilist diagrams as communal unifiers," begins Fernando F Croce in Slant. "In the affable, exhausting Soul Kitchen, the German-Turkish filmmaker's by-now familiar melting pot of multiethnic New Europe textures becomes a cauldron of hothouse appetites and scruffy slapstick."
"[I]t's about the relaunching of a restaurant — more of a bohemian hangout," explains Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. The owner, "thick-maned Zinos ([Adam] Bousdoukos, also a cowriter), is a Greek-born entrepreneur.... After his Skype relationship with a Shanghai-based girlfriend gets difficult, he throws himself into the rehabilitation of his criminal brother, Illias ([Moritz] Bleibtreu), who needs a job to justify his prison day-leaves. Their bond is the heart of the film — even as Zinos is reduced to a bent-over wreck (he throws out his back early on), you feel the character is somehow growing in stature."
"I found myself at a bit of a remove for the first two-thirds," tumbls Matt Noller, but "from the moment our hero takes a pratfall and the camera goes with him in an extreme cant that rates among the silliest camera movements I've ever seen, Soul Kitchen had me."
It's "an exuberant trifle," decides Alison Willmore at IFC.com. More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), Marcy Dermansky, Stephen Holden (New York Times), Michael Koresky (Reverse Shot), Nicolas Rapold (Voice), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), Dana Stevens (Slate), Scott Tobias (AV Club), James van Maanen and Stephanie Zackarek (Movieline). Interviews with Akin: Sam Adams (AV Club), David Fear (TONY) and Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix).
"Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals safety who enlisted in the Army Rangers eight months after September 11, read Emerson, Chomsky, and, though an atheist, the Bible," writes Melissa Anderson in the Voice. "Resembling a beefier Seann William Scott, he shunned cell phones, cars, and professional-athlete megalomania. A fiercely private (and principled) person, his death in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, during his second tour of duty, was spun by the Bush II administration into a recruiting tool. In the appalling exploitation of his corpse, Tillman was said to have died while protecting his comrades from a Taliban ambush; the bullets that felled him, however, came from his own platoon. Amir Bar-Lev's assiduous, furious documentary (a significant improvement over his last nonfiction film, 2007's middling My Kid Could Paint That) on the Army's craven cover-up and the Tillman family's determination to find out the truth is a withering assessment of US military culture."
"By all rights The Tillman Story should be depressing as hell," writes Bob Cashill at Popdose. "The truth hurts, and from the gross irresponsibility of the soldiers all the way up to the waffling and dissembling of the top brass it's hard not to recoil. For allowing a credulous media to spoon-feed us what we want to hear we're not let off the hook, either. Yet it's also inspiring. The expressions on his survivors' faces as a statue is erected in Tillman's honor are complicated, and watching the film we understand why. He died twice, once senselessly, and again as a sacrifice to the government's interest in peddling its war, the one whose damage they were determined to keep offscreen. All they can do to return him to life size is to speak truth to power, and in that they're succeeding remarkably well."
More from Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com), David Fear (TONY), Stephen Holden (NYT), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Noel Murray (AV Club), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Nick Schager (Slant), Stephen Saito (IFC), Anna Thorngate (Reverse Shot), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Armond White (New York Press) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline).
Michael Ordoña in the Los Angeles Times: "The Tillman Story recently received an R rating from the Motion Picture Assn of America for the rough language often uttered on screen, a designation that doesn't sit easy with the director. 'It's part and parcel of this unwillingness we have as a society to face what our soldiers do for us. The idea that we're embarrassed in some way or it's inappropriate for kids to know how soldiers talk when they're being fired at, or how people talk when they're grieving. It's a slap in the face.'" More interviews with Bar-Lev: Jason Guerrasio (Filmmaker) and Aaron Hillis (IFC); Ari Karpel has a backgrounder in the NYT.
"Christophe Honoré has a remarkable sense of movement," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Though his camera rarely moves, his compositions seethe with emotional and physical exuberance. At the start of his new film, Making Plans for Lena, the filmmaker voluptuously reflects his main character's perpetual sense of anxiety in his explosive use of space. From a mall jam-packed with people who seemingly exist for no other reason than to stand in the way of her comfort and the safety of her two young children, Lena (Chiara Mastroianni) emerges, like Jessica Harper's Suzy at the start of Dario Argento's Suspiria, as if in a spell — on the brink of tripping and falling through a rabbit hole."
"Viewed as a valentine to a talent dogged by two large parental shadows (dad Marcello and mom Catherine Deneuve), Making Plans for Lena works like gangbusters," writes TONY's David Fear. "Treat the movie as anything else — a family drama, an everyfemme portrait, the film that finally proves that the potential Honoré showed in 2004's Ma mère wasn't a fluke — and it's like watching a shaky house of cards tumble."
More from Stephen Holden (NYT), Karina Longworth (Voice) and James van Maanen. And for Reverse Shot, Eric Hynes goes on a five-minute stroll through Central Park with Mastroianni.
"Army of Crime may suffer from the usual inadequacies and questionable strategies of WWII-era films (an over-reliance on elements of conventional melodrama, a brownish, nostalgic color scheme) which serve to normalize the historical situation and make it seem, well, historical," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant, "but unlike Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, objectively superior from a cinematic standpoint, Robert Guédiguian's French resistance drama evinces some interest in assessing the ethical compromises required of those opposing Nazi rule."
"Each character feels interchangeable, given a single defining trait — the defiant one ([Robinson] Stévenin); the hothead ([Grégoire] Leprince-Ringuet) — that they then brandish like one of those HELLO MY NAME IS badges." Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York: "Imagine Jean-Pierre Melville's similar resistance drama Army of Shadows, only populated by slightly differentiated stick figures instead of flesh-and-blood humans, and you'll have an idea of the effect."
More from Richard Brody (New Yorker), Stephen Holden (NYT), Michelle Orange (Voice) and James van Maanen.
"Inspired by a recent, virtually undocumented tragedy that befell a small Peruvian village that simply had the misfortune to be located next to a gold mine, Altiplano hypnotically braids strands of Incan mythology, Catholic voodoo, and campesino outrage to style a sympathetic outsider's portrait of South American mysticism." Joseph Jon Lanthier for Slant: "Recounting the alternately somber and butterfly-stomached rituals that precede the marriage of town beauty Saturnina (Magaly Solier), and their disruption by the subtly alarming effects of an unnoticed mercury spill, directors Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth delve into the oneiric peculiarities of local culture; we're surrounded, and at times suffocated, by deadpan masks with demonically humanoid features and quotidian totems (maize, textiles, iron pendants) with glinting puissance."
But for Aaron Hillis, writing in the Voice, "Altiplano falls in the genre of films that tell, with heavy-handed overreach and humorless platitudes, ambitious stories of how invisibly, fatalistically connected we are in this tiny global village of ours — here's looking at you, Babel and Mammoth."
More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Michael Koresky (Reverse Shot), Lisa Rosman (TONY), Henry Stewart (L) and James van Maanen.
"Mao's Last Dancer is historical ballet camp," writes Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe. "The movie tells the story of Li Cunxin, but portraits of Mao get as many close-ups as the actors. Li was plucked from his family as a boy and arduously turned into a star, courtesy of Madame Mao's Beijing Dance Academy. He was plucked again from China and placed in the Houston Ballet as an exchange student. The movie jerks back and forth between Li's childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, which is spent in 1980s Texas. The film is based on Li's memoir and was directed by the Australian Bruce Beresford, and it's been given the kind of bland professionalism you'd expect from a movie based on an uplifting life."
"Rather than explore Cunxin's self-realization as an artist, Beresford and screenwriter Jan Sardi are more interested in retreading clichés of culture shock and immigrant angst," writes Andrew Chan in Reverse Shot. "Reminiscent of the culture clashes in Beresford's African-themed Mister Johnson and A Good Man in Africa, the film's central East-West collision is telegraphed through an often hilarious assortment of caricatures. Since there's nothing about this biopic that strikes one as remotely serious, well-researched, or attentive to realistic detail, a viewer begins to hope for a strong lead character or two to spice things up. Instead, Cunxin maintains the kind of quiet, empty-headed stoicism with which the vast majority of Chinese male heroes in Western filmmaking have routinely been endowed."
More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Cliff Doerksen (Time Out Chicago), Mike Hale (NYT), Eric Hynes (TONY), Kaori Shoji (Japan Times), Sheri Linden (LAT), Brian Miller (Voice), Charles Mudede (Stranger), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Ella Taylor (NPR) and Michael Wilmington (Movie City News). David Ng has a backgrounder in the LAT.
"An ineluctable cloud of melancholy hangs over The Switch, directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck from a New Yorker short story by Jeffrey Eugenides," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "This isn't because the story is particularly sad — in fact, the rough edges of the original story (the social satire, the presence of abortion as a plot element) have all been smoothed away. No, the sadness comes from the audience's sense that inside this slick, conventional romantic comedy there's a tender, scruffy little movie struggling to get out."
Listing "17 Other Happy Rom-Coms That Are Actually Horrible and Cruel," Vulture runs through a plot outline: "[A]n intoxicated Jason Bateman accidentally spills the contents of his best friend Jennifer Aniston's thoughtfully obtained sperm vial, and, unwilling to admit his mistake, fills the vial back up with his own sperm. She gets pregnant and has the baby, and it takes seven years for him to tell her his secret. Although the movie is presented as the merry story of two old friends figuring out love, it could just as easily be the story of a deceitful drunk who tricks a lonely woman into bearing his child and who then spends seven years as deadbeat dad."
It's "a better-than-you-feared example of the recent comedies revolving around reproduction," notes James Rocchi at MSN Movies, "and if it isn't as good as Judd Apatow's Knocked Up, it is, at the very least, far better than that three-wheeled baby buggy of a Jennifer Lopez vehicle, The Back-up Plan, based on roughly the same concerns."
More from William Goss (Cinematical), Stephen Holden (NYT), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Karina Longworth (Voice), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Hank Sartin (Time Out Chicago), Marc Savlov (Austin Chronicle), Nick Schager (Slant), Betsy Sharkey (LAT) and Scott Tobias (NPR). Cliff Doerksen talks with Juliette Lewis for Time Out Chicago.
You've seen Piranha 3D: For Your Consideration at Funny or Die, right? Fine. On to the movie and Nigel Floyd in Time Out London: "Alexandre Aja says his 3D re-working of Joe Dante's 1978 original is an attempt to recreate the 'guilty pleasure movies' of his youth. So here, in the best/worst traditions of 70s exploitation cinema, are flesh-eating fishy gore, lip-smacking nudity and lots of laugh-out-loud silliness." More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Peter Hall (Cinematical), Paul Matwychuk, Drew McWeeney (Hitfix), Nathan Rabin (AV Club), Nick Schager (Slant), AO Scott (NYT), Betsy Sharkey (LAT) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). Interviews with Aja: Sean Fennessey (Vulture) and Stephen Saito (IFC). Todd VanDerWerff talks with Elisabeth Shue for the AV Club. And the Atlantic Wire has a roundup, too: "Why Is Piranha 3D Getting Good Reviews?"
"When Emma Thompson donned a bulbous nose and a protruding snaggletooth to play the title character in 2005's charming family fantasy Nanny McPhee, she was seen as playing a kind of anti-Mary Poppins, using a magical walking stick instead of a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down." Glenn Whipp in the LAT: "Watching Thompson settle again into the taciturn character in Nanny McPhee Returns, it's clear the actress absolutely loves channeling her inner Shane, playing a calm, authoritative enforcer who arrives, unbidden, to clean up a mess and then rides off into the sunset when her work is done." The AV Club's Scott Tobias notes that "she's aided and abetted this time out by Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maggie Smith, Rhys Ifans, and a pair of heavyweight cameos. On balance, more dignity is lost than gained." His grade: D+. More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Marjorie Baumgarten (Austin Chronicle), Cliff Doerksen (Time Out Chicago), Robert Horton (Herald), Kat Murphy (MSN Movies), Nick Schager (Voice), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and Joe Utichi (Cinematical). Susan King talks with Thompson for the LAT.
"The 1995 hit Friday signaled a profound change in Ice Cube's life, career, and image, as the scowling provocateur of NWA and Amerikkka's Most Wanted became an unlikely straight man who anchored slice-of-life comedies like the Friday sequels and BarberShop movies with his agreeably gruff persona." Nathan Rabin at the AV Club: "The winning new comedy-drama Lottery Ticket, from Cube's production company Cube Vision, echoes Friday and BarberShop in its leisurely pacing and colorful tale of a neighborhood that develops money fever when one of its own gains possession of a winning lottery ticket worth $370 million. Only this time, charming young upstart Bow Wow inhabits the Ice Cube role of the straight man reacting to a world of larger-than-life characters and free-floating mayhem, and Cube takes a character role as a mysterious hermit." For Cliff Doerksen, writing in Time Out Chicago, "Screenwriters [Erik] White and Abdul Williams strain to keep it real with all the latest street slang and hip-hop nomenclature; everything else is pretty rote, and the whole mess eventually collapses into soothing chitlin-circuit moralism left over from a Tyler Perry movie." More from Fernando F Croce (Slant), Robert Horton (Herald), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies), Dan Kois (Voice), Peter Martin (Cinematical), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Andy Webster (NYT) and Armond White (NYP).
Adam Keleman in Slant: "Starting off as an innocuous, passably engaging take on the coming-of-age baseball tale, director Gary Lundgren's Calvin Marshall eventually falls flat in its heavy-handed efforts to score an emotional homerun, as the would-be, handsomely persistent baseball player Calvin Marshall (Alex Frost) lies his way to a girl's heart." More from Simon Abrams (TONY), Mike Hale (NYT), Michelle Orange (Voice) and Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail).
"The independent film Hiding Divya wants to shine a light on a social problem," notes Rachel Saltz in the NYT: "the covering up or ignoring of mental illness among South Asians. And while the movie has its heart in the right place, the first-time writer-director Rehana Mirza doesn't yet have the skills to shape the narrative into something moving or revealing." More from Diego Costa (Slant) and Aaron Hillis (Voice).
"It is never pretty to see the movie industry devour its young, but Vampires Suck, a limp lampoon of the Twilight series, seems especially redundant," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. More from Simon Abrams (Slant) and John Gholson (Cinematical).
IN THE UK
Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist is "a miraculous gem from a master animator, and the fruit of an amazingly felicitous artistic pairing," writes Tim Robey in the Telegraph. "Tati, it's said, thought his own screenplay too personal and sad to be produced in his lifetime. There's no more dexterous set of hands it could possibly have fallen into."
"It looks absolutely beautiful," writes Anton Bitel in Sight & Sound, "and while Tatischeff and Alice may both end up disenchanted, Chomet paints in plenty of subtle optical trickery to keep viewers, at least, believing in magic." More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman), David Jenkins (Time Out London) and Anthony Quinn (Independent).
"Pianomania, a delicate Austrian documentary about the painstaking work of a master piano-tuner, has spent the last six months scooping up international awards," notes Jude Rogers, introducing her interview for the Guardian with directors Robert Cibis and Lilian Franck and their subject, Stefan Knüpfer, a piano technician for Steinway who "works on the instruments of the world's greatest virtuosos." High grades from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Trevor Johnston (Time Out London) and Anthony Quinn (Independent).
"Bong Joon-ho's Mother is a suspense thriller, a gripping psychological study and, like his 2003 movie Memories of Murder, a witty subversion of the forensic-procedural genre." Peter Bradshaw: "It is also a great showcase for 59-year-old South Korean star Kim Hye-ja, excellent as a middle-aged single woman eking out a living as a herbalist and unlicensed acupuncturist." More from Edward Copeland and Tom Huddleston (Time Out London).
For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow The Daily Notebook on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.