22 October 2010

Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Urban: Another Oliver Stone piece about the recent past, the acting is good, the directing misses the mark, and the story is good, but simply too long.

Oliver Stone returns to his seminal character, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), in order to trace the events involved in the recession of 2008. As Gekko emerges from prison he attempts to re-unite with his daughter and rebuild his financial empire in a land where many of the old rules don't apply.

Urban: This is a pretty good film. Whatever else I may say, this is something that you should watch, and should enjoy/think about. The events and themes that tell the story behind the 2008 recession are fully on display in all their tawdry glory.

At the same time, this film really misses the mark by attempting to make the story fuller. While this may seem odd, most Stone films tend to be preachy. In this one, Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is the same character as Bud Fox in the original Wall Street, in the same way that he is also Chris Taylor from Platoon. In Stone's moral universe, everyone has two father figures as options. In this film, Gordon Gekko competes with Bretton James (Josh Brolin) as the right to guide Moore (and by metaphorical extension the American public) out of the recession. Taking time to develop both of these options moves the viewer to highs and lows, but mostly includes lows (just like the economy) because both options are pretty lousy.

Instead of developing the downward spiral to its fullest extent, Stone attempts to build a story of hope (Obama?) into this film. However, from the vantage point of the viewer, this story isn't finished and to many, the hope that may have reached it's epoch when things were still at their darkest during the 2008 presidential election hasn't delivered relief for very many. Stone went too far with this story considering the recent history of this event. Having Gekko reform, return the money to the green power initiative, and letting Moore reunite with his fiance; as well as allowing justice to have it's way with James just wraps things up way too neatly for anyone to feel good about this happy ending.

Artistically, this film has some good moments. The shots that occur organically within the storyline - the busy trading floor, Miss Moore showing a gaudy (empty) mini-mansion, the deathly seriousness of the major banks around the table negotiating for their lives, and Gekko lording over his empire sitting behind his massive desk with hands folded. These shots are well-put together and effectively communicate the mood of the film and please us by meeting our expectations. The film does a decent job of maintaining continuity by showing the peaks and valleys of the market imposed upon the New York City skyline. It also comes close to achieving symmetry by including two different instances of voice-over from LaBouef that do a tremendous job of explaining the larger consequences of entire groups playing out the morality play by our characters.

In another way though, Stone tries to go beyond our expectations by adding a number of stylish shots that all disappoint. Of these overreaches, very few compare to the miss-step in the opening credits when the look at the New York City streets attempts to climb a building and enter a board-room meeting. The CGI is apparent and looks very amateurish. Throughout the film, small attempts to do things like this really mar the finish of what would have been a pretty decent looking movie. The most unforgivable offense though, is extending the movie beyond the final voiceover from LaBeouf. This second instance occurs right after Gekko has turned back to the dark side, betraying his friends and family, and perfectly hits the tone of our nation at the time. Instead, Stone fits poor form onto poor content when he tries to give this sad story a happy ending.
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14 October 2010

Review: The Social Network

Urban: The Zeitgeist that everyone remembers, told in a smart way and directed with all of the momentousness that it deserves.

Urban: He's not a bad guy. Even though this film literally has to tell us this, it's still hard to walk away from this movie feeling this way. It's probably because it is largely based upon The Accidental Billionaires, a book told from the perspective of Eduardo Saverin, the Facebook founder who was pushed out of the business by Mark Zukcerberg. Despite this, writer Aaron Sorkin and Director David Fincher do an excellent job of creating the most realized film of recent memory. By this I simply mean to say that the film manages to avoid any reference to any other film/cultural epoch/war story. It doesn't stand for anything but itself, which (and I liked these films): W., The Hurt Locker, Avatar, all were unable to do, as they were somehow all pulled into larger stories within political/social groups.

In order to do so, the film focuses on it's self referential qualities. In many ways, the term "friend", with all of the connotations that it carries within Facebook, is the prism through which any, and especially this, social network must be viewed. The beauty of the term on the website and within this film is that it carries no distinction; between frenemy and best friend or being used as a verb or an adjective.

A friend is a person that you know, that you don't necessarily keep in touch with regularly due to the presiding social strata (Winklevoss Twins). A friend could also be someone you have a crush on, no matter how destructive of an influence that they are (Sean Parker, Christy Lee) A friend, as the movie also shows us, can be a person with whom you have serious disagreements (Eduardo Saverin). Nowhere is this rendered more artfully than in the courtroom deposition sequences, when Saverin and Zuckerberg speak to each other through their lawyers even though they are sitting across the table from one another - their lawyers are functioning as their facebook wall - they are communicating, but not on the level that they are capable of attaining.

Even further, the film's attention to detail with regard to these issues can also be seen in the amount of parallels that the story contains. This is apparent not only in some of the symmetrical life experiences that Saverin and Zuckerberg face, but also within the way that each storyline that is produced is completed within the course of the film. I know that some reviews noted that the crew racing scene in England seemed to be 'extra', but I contend that this scene functioned beautifully to construct the logical completion of the Sean Parker upward arc within the film, while also tying up the plot-line regarding the Winklevi.

As a sort of an aside, the Trent Reznor score really punctuates the film without ever taking away from it. He might have a future in the music business.

When viewed in total, the film was a complete success at telling a momentous story in a beautiful way. For doing so, the film will become a future classic.

Urban: Strongly Recommended
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