Movie Guy, at Your Service: The Social Network (Plus, Which Actors are Jewish)

Why this movie guy proclaims it to be “Movie of the Year”.

I am extremely picky when it comes to movies.  Extremely. Very seldom do I finish seeing a movie and say, “There’s nothing they could have done to make that any better.  It was perfect.”  But that’s what I said to my wife as I left the cinema on Saturday afternoon after seeing The Social Network.

For a person who hasn’t seen The Social Network yet, and especially for a person who hasn’t even seen a preview for it either, it would be easy to think of it as Facebook: The Movie, some light-hearted movie about how facebook got started.  Fortunately, the movie’s title doesn’t contain the word “facebook” in it.  “The Social Network” is the best possible title because the film retraces all of the random people it took to invent, expand, sustain, and make a confirmed success out of the website.

I always assumed that Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg himself was the responsible for it all.  Played by Jesse Eisenberg, facebook creator Zuckerberg comes across as an obsessed college student with Aspergers (he’s just extremely intelligent, instead), so consumed with his website idea that despite making facebook about socializing with people, that his last concern in the world is actually having real friends.

It’s interesting to see how Zuckerberg journeys through the entire movie, constantly finding ways to improve facebook, plowing through real-life friends along the way, collecting and adding their ideas to his growing snowball of a website.  I had no idea that Napster creator Sean Parker, cleverly portrayed by Justin Timberlake, at one time played an important part in it all.

A key factor in The Social Network‘s success is its dark and sophisticated tone. It’s not just Trent Reznor’s musical contributions going on in the background.  I can confidently state that the movie can’t be described as “fun” or “trendy”.  It’s not quirky in the ways that made Garden State a comedy as well as a drama.  The Social Network is simply just a drama, but an infectiously interesting one.  I was impressed how they could fit the coolness of an R-rated movie into the limitations of a PG-13 rating.

When the movie ended, I came to terms with the fact there was no real climax or truly resolvable plot… just like facebook.  In the movie, Zuckerberg compares facebook to fashion, in that it never ends.  The Social Network, from start to finish, is an ongoing, constantly evolving entity.  For me, the whole movie was a continual plot line and climax. This offbeat formula captures the idea of facebook so well.

For me to say that The Social Network is the movie of the year is to say that it’s better than Inception.  So just to be clear, for me, it was better than Inception. My guess is that most people who have seen both movies will disagree with me. But the cultural relevance, perfectly executed acting, and snappy pace of The Social Network kept my mind from ever wandering.  And in age where things like facebook only encourage ADHD behavior, a movie that can keep my attention for a solid two hours and one minute deserves a prize for that alone.

Ethnic Backgrounds of the Main Cast

The Real Mark Zuckerberg

 

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Movie Guy, at Your Service: My Top Ten Favorites

With great power comes great responsibility.

I have accepted the fact that I am a “movie guy”.  Sure, everyone loves movies.  Just like everyone loves music, and food, and oxygen.  But some people are so intuitive (extremely picky) when it comes to movies, that casual movie watchers learn to go to these “movie guys” to ask about how good a certain movie is that just came out.

I have literally heard this sentence more times than I can remember in recent years: “Hey, you’re a big movie guy.  What did you think of (names a movie)?”

Of course I am always happy to help out a friend or family member in choosing how to spend 90 minutes of their time.  But part of being a Movie Guy is knowing which movies not to watch in the first place. 

Basic “Do Not Watch” Criteria:

1)     The movie is rated G or PG but is not a cartoon.

2)     The word “heartwarming” has been used to describe this movie.  Or the word “movie” is part of the title of the movie.

3)     Stars of the movie include, but are not limited to, any Country Music star, Dane Cook, Jessica Simpson, or Larry the Cable Guy.

4)     In the trailer for the movie, the last scene shows a muscular man with an angry and serious look on his face, walking away from a building or car that blows up, while the man just keeps walking towards the camera, unaffected and unconcerned.

5)     Simply by watching the trailer for the movie, you fully understand the plot and possibly the resolution.

However, there is the other side of the token:

Basic “Do Watch” Criteria:

1)     The movie is rated “PG-13” or “R”.

2)     The words “clever”, “groundbreaking”, and “genre defying”, have been used to describe this movie.

3)     Stars of the movie include, but are not limited to, Paul Giamatti, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, or any Jewish comedian (besides Gilbert Gottfried or Pauly Shore).

4)     In the trailer of the movie, the words “Rolling Stone”, “4 stars”, “brilliant”,  and “Peter Traverse” are all flashed on the screen.

5)     After watching the trailer for the movie which includes a song clip by Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, Simon and Garfunkel, Tom Petty, or Pete Yorn, you don’t fully understand what the movie is about, but are still intrigued.

Of course, no basic formula can absolutely predict whether a movie will be good, or even more importantly, whether or not I will like the movie.  Because who cares what Siskel and Roper say.  The question is, how worth my time was the movie?  Time I’ll never get back.

I know I was supposed to like it, but The Blind Side just really didn’t do it for me.  The previews showed everything that happened in the movie.  It didn’t make me feel all warm inside.  The movie was predictable, familiar, and too long.  The kid annoyed me.  And both the acting (except for Sandra Bullock) and the writing came across to me like a straight-to-DVD Christian movie.  Sorry, rest of the world, The Blind Side wasn’t for me.

It would be an overwhelming, intimidating, and daunting task to officially conjure up which movies are truly my top 10 favorite movies of all time.  And most likely, only a few of them would match most other peoples’ favorites.  But just off the top of my head, just because I’m curious,  I’m surprisingly going to give it a shot…

#1) I Love You, Man

#2) Trains, Planes, and Automobiles

#3) Garden State

#4) Sideways

#5) Vanilla Sky

#6) Fight Club

#7) 500 Days of Summer

#8) Forrest Gump

#9) Castaway

#10) Rocky 3

Yes, it’s true.  In the likeness of how a connoisseur often is with wine, I am a movie snob.  For what it’s worth, I can help others by giving them my self-proclaimed professional opinion about any movie I’ve seen.  But what if I’ve never seen the movie before?

Then, chances are, it’s probably not worth my time to watch it.  Or it hasn’t arrived yet from Netflix.

Life’s Too Short: The Sad Truth that the Past is an Imaginary Place We Can Never Return To

About a year ago I was watching American Idol and Simon was interrogating one of the male contestants on why he wants to become a professional singer. The man explained he has a wife and a kid and he wants to be sure they’re taken care of financially. Simon asked the man again, “I get that, but WHY do you want to be a singer?” The man again explained it was because he has a wife and a kid… then Simon (who was obviously looking for an answer involving the man’s passion for music, etc.) cut him off with, “I get that, just sing for us.”

We focus so much on “right now”. Chances are, you’re never going to have enough money. Because once you do, you’re going to buy a bigger house or find a new way to get yourself in debt. Money is never enough.

Chances are, you’re never going to have enough time. America has set so much pressure on its people to be thin and in shape, yet it remains one of the most overweight countries in the world. We’re too busy to eat the right foods and to exercise, so instead of making time to be healthy, 74% of the population is overweight but carries the heavy burden of wanting to look like Jennifer Anniston or Brad Pitt, two people who are paid to make time to live healthy lifestyles. So obviously if we as a nation don’t have enough time to be healthy, we’re never going to have enough time.

Maybe I’m weird for not questioning the meaning life, but it’s never really been an issue for me. I’ve just always kind of known. I’ve understood since the age of six that this life is barely a speck of dust in comparison to the life after this. I’ve understood that God has blessed us with friends and family and we need to value them like the precious a gift they are. I’ve understood, more importantly, that God loves us and what it really comes down to our relationship with Him.  Even that goes back to loving people.

I subscribe to a magazine called Details. The thing I like most about it is its unique, random, and yet relevant articles. I realize as someone who earned a degree in English that quotes are only supposed to be a few lines, but for this I will cheat:

“…I climbed eagerly abroad this one-way rocket to Death in Adulthood and left the planet of my childhood forever in starry wake. I know this. My grandparents, my boyhood bedroom furniture… I will never see those or a million things again. And yet, lurking somewhere in the back of my mind is the unshakable, even foundational knowledge- for which certainty is too conscious a term- that at some unspecified future date, by unspecified means, I will return to those people and those locales. That I am going back. No, that’s false. The delusion is not really that I believe, or trust, that I will be returning one day to the planet of childhood…”
– an excerpt from “Time Bandits” by Michael Chabon

my Italian grandfather, Albert Metallo

Only a few weeks after I got married last July, my Italian grandfather died. He is the only one of my grandparents I have lost. Only second to my dad, he had the most influence on me as far as what it means to be a man. I know a lot of the reason I randomly talk to strangers in public is because of him. He always did it. I learned from him that much heaven can be found in spending hours working in a garden and then being able to enjoy the beauty of it. (Even though I don’t yet have a house with a yard.) It was because of his decision to move from Buffalo, NY to Fort Payne, AL in 1973 that I am alive. Otherwise my parents wouldn’t have met.

Like that article reminds me, all those weekends I spent at his house in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s as a kid are only now a memory. He would push me and my sister down the hill in his front yard in barrels. Then when we got too dizzy, he would get in the barrel and make us push him down the hill. We would do that for hours it seemed.

Then he would take us to Burger King for lunch. We would sit next to the window right by the drive-thru and he would make funny faces at the people waiting in the drive-thru. It was hilarious to see a man in his sixties being so goofy in public.

We would go back to his house and he would watch taped professional wrestling from the night before (WWF- Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Vince McMahon… the whole gang) and we would get out the toys (which were Styrofoam blocks). After about 15 minutes of my sister and me playing, and him watching wrestling, he pick up some of our Styrofoam blocks and throw them at our heads. Which would start an all out war in the living room. Then we would sneeze for 15 minutes afterwards from all the dust in the air from those blocks.

He had a bathroom closet full of nothing but bars of soap. And a freezer full of freezer-burnt TV dinners and ice cream bars, which were a treat to us. He wore a flannel shirt, navy pants, and black shoes no matter the occasion. Except for my sister’s wedding, which he wore a tux and sunglasses. He really looked like he was part of the mafia.

And all these strange and funny memories make up who he was to me. There is a major importance to “showing up to life”. He definitely did that. He was always there for every family get-together and would look for an excuse to visit our family, like bringing over a junky knick-knack he bought at a yard sale the weekend before. He knew what life was really about.

I was watching my favorite movie, Garden State, recently and though I’ve seen it probably at least ten times, I heard (and finally processed) what is one of the major themes of the movie:

“You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of the sudden even though you have some where you can put your stuff that idea of home is gone.
…It just sort of happens one day one day and it’s just gone. And you can never get it back. It’s like you get homesick for a place that doesn’t exist. I mean it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Y2snCNXT2k

I’ll always have that sense of “home” when I think of my grandfather. I still have a lot of family and friends whom I still have that sense of home with. Despite whatever shortage of money or time, despite whatever amount of stress or chaos calls for, life is too short to worry. And if you feel you must worry, pray instead.

Classic song…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6xMqo3wFxw

Would You Define Your Life as a Comedy or a Tragedy?

The same question goes for the movie Garden State.

I have struggled for a solid ten years trying to figure out what makes things funny. Universally, seeing someone fall down (who doesn’t get hurt) is always funny, but I don’t know why. Defining what humor is, is almost impossible to simply and briefly put into words. What I can do is make a judgment call on whether something as a whole is a comedy or a drama.

One of my college professors taught me there is a clear way to distinguish between the two: Comedy involves a protagonist who in the beginning of the story is standing outside the borders of his society and by the end of the story is accepted into it. Therefore a tragedy is when the protagonist in the beginning is accepted as part of the society but by the end is expelled from it.

To test this theory on comedies, I will take Adam Sandler for example: Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Water Boy, The Wedding Singer, and Big Daddy all involve a character who starts out as one or more of the following: incompetent, poor, lonely, selfish. By the end of the movie, Adam Sandler’s character is accepted into the fold as these previous attributes are resolved. So I can see how the definition of a comedy works here.

For tragedies, I will take some horror movies for example: The Blair Witch Project, Skeleton Key, The Strangers, Quarantine, and Carrie. The protagonists end up either dead or in a really bad situation by the time the credits roll. So I can see how the definition of a tragedy works here, as death or loss of freedom is a way of being ousted from a society that the protagonists were once a part of.

The end of a movie ultimately defines it as a comedy or tragedy. Garden State, which is more a drama than anything, ends with Zach Braff’s character being able to overcome his dependence on his doctor’s/father’s misdiagnosed prescription of anti-depressants and feel alive for the first time as he moves back home to New Jersey, making new friends and finding love: That’s a comedy.

Using this theory, these other genre-vague movies would also be considered comedy: Fight Club, Forrest Gump, and Elizabethtown. And these would be tragedy: Into the Wild, Vanilla Sky, and One Hour Photo.

Life is comprised of rotating moments of comedy and tragedy. Times where I’m on the outside looking in and I get in (comedy) and times where I’m inside but am pushed out (tragedy). In ways big and small. But a person’s general perspective will cause him or her to see it ultimately as one or the other:

If life is comedy-in-progress, then life is me trying to figure out how to be normal enough to succeed in being accepted by my immediate society, eventually dying satisfied, knowing I’m surrounded by those who love me.

If life is tragedy-in-progress, then life is me already having everything I need and want in life but having it all taken away from me in the end, eventually dying sad and alone.

Big decisions, big decisions. I’ll go with comedy-in-progress.

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Mixed Reviews

Being a movie critic would be a fun job, but it would be the epitome of the phrase “you can’t please everyone”. Reviewers of movies ultimately are bias to a certain degree. Professional critics base their judgments more on artistic values, along with production quality and script. Whereas when random Joe’s like me write up a review, it’s based more on the factors of likeability, “re-watchability”, characterization, and comedic elements.

And then there’s that intangible element of “offensiveness”, which transcends both my reviews and professional ones as well. A few months ago my friend Jake sent me a link to this article that referred to the concept of the “Christian disclaimer” that is commonly given by Christian movie reviewers. Here’s one I’ve heard several times: “The Wrestler is great movie, focusing on the depravity of man, loneliness, and not giving up on your dreams, but there is a lot of bad language and his girlfriend is a stripper so there are some scenes you may need to close your eyes and cover your ears.” What it comes down to is the ability to separate the counter-Christian content from what makes a good movie. And for many people, understandably, that’s not easy.
http://stufffchristianslike.blogspot.com/2009/05/543-throwing-out-disclaimers-before-you.html

In recent years I’ve had several people half-jokingly tell me that I only like movies with a lot of swearing and nudity. I do admit that R-rated movies typically have more depth to them and speak to me more than the typical PG-13 movie. Among my personal favorites are Trains, Planes, and Automobiles, Garden State, I Love You, Man (obviously), Fight Club, Vanilla Sky, Lost in Translation, and Pineapple Express. All of which are rated R and most of which contain some nudity.

My ability to separate what many Christians find offensive in R-rated movies comes from my inability to blacklist PG and PG-13 entertainment that goes against my spiritual beliefs to the same or worse degree, as I would feel I would be using a double standard to judge entertainment based on the obvious offenses versus the subtle offenses. Most of my favorite sitcoms, like Friends, have a constant occurrence of casual sex. I strongly disapprove of the way the writers and actors make it seem normal, guiltless, and… well, casual. And I strongly disapprove of the phrase “oh my God” that is constantly used in dialogue.

Part of me actually thinks it’s worse to be exposed to a daily stream of the more family friendly sitcoms which subconsciously tell us these things are okay as we overlook the “smaller stuff”. Because they are more easily accessible, less offensive, and such a staple of everyday American culture. They’re not as blatant as an intentionally crude R-rated movie by Judd Apatow. But I see the real threats to our spiritual lives being the quiet, common subtleties, not the obvious threats that we are already distancing ourselves from.

rated R