By Daniel Greenwood

This review is eating breakfast, lol.

In The Social Network Jesse Eisenberg is Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard undergraduate whose first meaningful action is to be dumped by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) after a game of verbal volleyball over beers in a student bar. Mark is so busy speaking quickly and syphoning put-downs at Erica that he hasn’t the chance to realise he’s wronged her, and that their relationship’s over. ‘You’ll go through life thinking girls don’t like you because you’re a geek, but it’s because you’re an asshole,’ Erica bombs, and departs.

Some critics point to that event as the dawn of social-networking website Facebook, and the movie itself pushes the idea. Later in the film Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker tells Mark he invented Napster to get with a girl. Still eaten-up over Erica, Mark asks Sean if he ever thinks of that girl, but Sean is too busy with a lingerie model to mind. In any case, Mark’s early shoot-down inspires him to charge home, load up his pooters and blog via LiveJournal about his ex-girlfriend’s surname and her bra size. The student’s disdain is incomplete however, and, necking a few lagers, he develops a website called Face Mash. He pastes images of girls from different faculties that can be found on Intranet face books and pits two profile images against one another in the infamous ‘hot-or-not’ style. The film skips around locations of male students clicking right or left to choose who they find more attractive. Thus is the germ of Facebook founded on the misogynistic belittlement of women.

Representations of women in The Social Network are uneasy. One satisfactory profile of a female character is Erica, a young woman wronged and smart enough to stay away from Mark and his pals. She’s more likeable than anyone else. The film itself is about men and perhaps majors for men. Women are drunks who offer oral sex or bong hits, at least in the world of Facebook’s conception. Lads brew over who owns it, gents want to invest in it, and women want to be on it. Though the second sex is offered a late reprieve by Marylin (Rashida Jones), who carries with her a sense of reasonable moral judgement which she bestows on loner Mark at lunchtime and after the legal hearings over who owns Facebook cease. ‘You’re not a bad guy, Mark, you’re just trying really hard to be,’ she says. One gets the impression that a more macho depiction of the film might have included the male characters slapping their members on their glimmering mahogany tabletops and measuring to see who gets the rights. If Mary Ann Doane argues that cinema has predominantly masked the notion of men lacking anything, this is a movie which does the opposite. The men behind Facebook are desperately lacking.

All the aggression and intensity of The Social Network, written in a snappy and engaging style by Aaron Sorkin, is in stark contrast to the experience of Facebook itself, which can be mundane and merely an act of time-wasting. The final images of the movie offer a glimpse into what social networking is all about. Mark is alone in the board room on his laptop, he searches for Erica on Facebook and finds her profile. He pauses, contemplating whether to ‘send friend request’ and ultimately does so. The movie closes with a shot-reverse-shot of Mark refreshing Erica’s page with a keyboard shortcut as he waits to see if she has accepted. And perhaps this glint of truth mirrors something of the experience of being online and involved in social networking outreaches: it’s one of boredom and stagnating desire. In the case of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook as seen by David Fincher, Leslie Feist’s Let it Die rings true: ‘The saddest part of a broken heart isn’t the ending, so much as the start.’

By Daniel Greenwood

This review contains spoilers.

Eric Cantona was never so much a Leeds or Manchester United player, nor French international than he was an individual. His allegiance to different clubs or countries is as a composer to her string or brass sections. So it goes for the Frenchman’s emblazoning on billboards to promote Sky’s autumn sports programming, and Cantona’s famed flying-kick on a dark night in south London might be the perfect example: the man was more individualistic than he ever was concerned for others. The media, the fans, the people are the seagulls, he is the trawler. His goals were sardines, as are his appearances in Looking for Eric.

In Looking for Eric, Cantona claims that teammates are more important than individuality, in an attempt to cheer suicidal postman Eric Bishop (Steve Evets). Cantona appears to Eric as the Mancunian gets high on his wayward stepson’s (Ryan, played by Gerard Kearns) weed-stash. Ken Loach took steps to ensure that Cantona would be a surprise arrival on the set, so Eric’s astonishment is, to an extent, that of Steve Evets, also.

Eric lobbies Cantona for his favourite moment in his United career, and it happens to be a pass rather than any of the number of glorious goals he scored, many of which appear in the film in a highlights reel. Cantona’s most treasured memory is a chip over a line of baffled Coventry City defenders, which Dennis Irwin receives in his mutual clairvoyance, thrashing the ball into the roof of the net. But if Cantona was such a communist, why wasn’t his favourite moment one that had absolutely nothing to do with him, like Beckham’s halfway-line lob against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park, the arena for Cantona’s ninja attack. Beckham, of course, took Cantona’s number, and perhaps is the greater of the number 7′s.

The apparition of Cantona adds a philosophical depth to Eric’s ranting (“fookin’ ‘ell!”), albeit in the manner of mumbled proverbs in a medley of his first and second languages. Eric often loses his rag with the idol, not a million miles from the beleaguered Sean (Thomas Turgoose) of This is England ’86 (Shane Meadows, 2010). Eric’s plight is at first the lack of any relationship between himself and his first wife, Lily (Stephanie Bishop). Eric re-imagines their first meeting, a dance competition in 1979 – ‘zirty years ago’, whispers Cantona, staring into space – in which they were drawn and crowned together. ‘I love zis woman,’ the Frenchman enthuses.

Lily’s distance is a solvable issue for Eric, all it takes is a little courage, honesty and patience. Cantona meditates that the noblest are prone to forgiveness, and such is Lily’s gentility that she can only follow that path. The real problem for Eric is his troubled stepson Ryan. There’s no reference to his mother, other than when Eric accidentally calls Lily by a different name. ‘No, I’m your first wife,’ she retorts.

Ryan is rude and lazy, often sat in the front room boozing and watching TV. He’s fallen in with a thug who has him stealing cement mixers and pneumatic drills, but who also gives him a beating and forces a gun into his possession. The weapon is prime evidence in a shooting and Eric’s attempts to return the pistol to its owner leads to a humiliating episode for the postman. He is faced with a monster of a mutt and filmed by a happy-snapper in the process, tormented in the front seat of his own car and forced out onto his arse. The video is uploaded to the Internet and Eric’s humiliation is perpetuated.

If Eric or Ryan give the gun to the cops the gangsters will ‘get’ Jess (Stefan Gumbs), Eric’s second son, a black, presumably adopted teenager who spends most of his time in his room, or else dismayed by his father’s behaviour. Jess and some friends happen upon Eric’s imaginary encounter with Cantona, where the postman stands in the kitchen, pot in hand, shouting ‘non!’ over and over in an attempt to build self belief.

The issue of gang violence is given perhaps an unsatisfactory summing-up, and fans of David Simon’s The Wire might identify holes in the story. This feel-good film deals with the thuggish menace by staging a sort of Russian Revolution – the successful one, 1917. Cantona urges Eric to look to his teammates for salvation, ergo his postman mates including Meatballs, played by John Henshaw of actual Royal Mail fame. Meatballs tries to help Eric by reading Paul McKenna and a book called ‘Psychopaths’ for the gangster problem. ‘They don’t give a fook,’ he says.

Eric and co rally in the red of their United shirts and plan a ritual humiliation of the Kingpin. Three coaches-worth of United fans don Cantona masks and gain entry to the palace, spraying their foe and all he owns with red paint from supersoakers. They show him the gun and he finally ascents, in his pants, admitting that the gun is his own. The victorious proletariat board their buses, and so does Cantona, removing a mask of his own face and disappearing aboard.

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Eric Cantona was never so much a Leeds or Manchester United player, nor French international than he was an individual. His allegiance to different clubs or countries is as a composer to her string or brass sections. So it goes for the Frenchman’s emblazoning on billboards to promote Sky’s autumn sports programming, and Cantona’s famed flying-kick on a dark night in south London might be the perfect example: the man was more individualistic than he ever was concerned for others. The media, the fans, the people are the seagulls, he is the trawler. His goals were sardines, as are his appearances in Looking for Eric.

In Looking for Eric, Cantona claims that teammates are more important than individuality, in an attempt to cheer suicidal postman Eric Bishop (Steve Evets). Cantona appears to Eric as the Mancunian gets high on his wayward stepson’s (Ryan, played by Gerard Kearns) weed-stash. Ken Loach took steps to ensure that Cantona would be a surprise arrival on the set, so Eric’s astonishment is, to an extent, that of Steve Evets, also.

Eric lobbies Cantona for his favourite moment in his United career, and it happens to be a pass rather than any of the number of glorious goals he scored, many of which appear in the film in a highlights reel. Cantona’s most treasured memory is a chip over a line of baffled Coventry City defenders, which Dennis Irwin receives in his mutual clairvoyance, thrashing the ball into the roof of the net. But if Cantona was such a communist, why wasn’t his favourite moment one that had absolutely nothing to do with him, like Beckham’s halfway-line lob against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park, the arena for Cantona’s ninja attack. Beckham, of course, took Cantona’s number, and perhaps is the greater of the number 7s.

The apparition of Cantona adds a philosophical depth to Eric’s ranting (“fookin’ ‘ell!”), albeit in the manner of mumbled proverbs in a medley of his first and second languages. Eric often loses his rag with the idol, not a million miles from the beleaguered Sean (Thomas Turgoose) of This is England ’86 (Shane Meadows, 2010). Eric’s plight is at first the lack of any relationship between himself and his first wife, Lily (Stephanie Bishop). Eric re-imagines their first meeting, a dance competition in 1979 – ‘zirty years ago’, whispers Cantona, staring into space – in which they were drawn and crowned together. ‘I love zis woman,’ the Frenchman enthuses.

Lily’s distance is a solvable issue for Eric, all it takes is a little courage, honesty and patience. Cantona meditates that the noblest are prone to forgiveness, and such is Lily’s gentility that she can only follow such a path. The real problem for Eric is his troubled stepson Ryan. There’s no reference to his mother, other than when Eric accidentally calls Lily by a different name. ‘No, I’m your first wife,’ she retorts. Ryan is rude and lazy, often sat in the front room boozing and watching TV. He’s fallen in with a thug who has him stealing cement mixers and pneumatic drills, but who also gives him a beating and forces a gun into his possession. The weapon is prime evidence in a shooting and Eric’s attempts to return the pistol to its owner leads to a humiliating episode for the postman. He is faced with a monster of a mutt and filmed by a happy-snapper in the process, tormented in the front seat of his own car and forced out onto his arse. The video is uploaded to the Internet and Eric’s humiliation is perpetuated.

If Eric or Ryan give the gun to the cops the gangsters will ‘get’ Jess (Stefan Gumbs), Eric’s second son, a black, presumably adopted teenager who spends most of his time in his room, or else dismayed by his father’s behaviour. Jess and some friends happen upon Eric’s imaginary encounter with Cantona, where the postman stands in the kitchen, pot in hand, shouting ‘non!’ over and over in an attempt to build self belief.

The issue of gang violence is given perhaps an unsatisfactory summing-up, and fans of David Simon’s The Wire might identify holes in the story. This feel-good film deals with the thuggish menace by staging a sort of Russian Revolution – the successful one, 1917. Cantona urges Eric to look to his teammates for salvation, ergo his postman mates including Meatballs, played by John Henshaw of actual Royal Mail fame. Meatballs tries to help Eric by reading Paul McKenna and a book called ‘Psychopaths’ for the gangster problem. ‘They don’t give a fook,’ he says.

Eric and co rally in the red of their United shirts and plan a ritual humiliation of the Kingpin. Three coaches-worth of United fans don Cantona masks and gain entry to the palace, spraying their foe and all he owns with red paint from supersoakers. They show him the gun and he finally ascents, in his pants, admitting that the gun is his own.

The victorious proletariat board their buses, and so does Cantona, too, removing a mask of his own face and disappearing aboard.

By Daniel Greenwood

This review contains tree surgery.

I saw Avatar a few days after Christmas, at a time when I found it difficult to be in confined spaces such as cinemas. But what better way to overcome fears of claustrophobia by sitting through an ‘eagerly-anticipated’ Hollywood epic. This is the time of year of course when The Lord of the Rings-esque behemoths  pummel audiences into a phantasmagorical stupor. Never has a film been so ‘talked about’ or never so many people talking about how much this film is ‘talked about’. It’s gone so far now for the need to ask, what do you want from me? Personally, I’ve paid my £9 and donned the special glasses. I’ve sat through the film. I’ve left the cinema amidst an orderly stream of bodies. I’ve recycled the specs and gestured to friends and fans, ‘It was fine.’

For James Cameron and his band of marketeers that would not seem to be enough. You get the sense that Cameron and co want you to see this film more than once. I know a few people who’ve seen it in 2D and 3D, and have stayed up to enjoy the 2am IMAX screenings. But is Avatar so thrilling that you would want to see it so many times in so many different ways. Everyone is different. And in my own way I cannot help but react to this movie, post-screening, with disdain. Graham Greene, novelist-cum-film critic, reasoned that one should not detest popularity in cinema, but he lived in a different time. The films Greene contended with would be predominantly better than the plethora of awfulness now available to us in this consumerist, apolitical mainstream

There is an argument that Cameron’s film carries a political message. I would argue that it carries an economic message. It bludgeons you with its images, well away from the cinema, these images are purely of the technological ‘successes’ of the filmmakers. To be political in Hollywood is to spit in the priest’s hand at Holy Communion. The status quo remains firmly unaffected by Cameron, if not lovingly embraced. The setting of Avatar in a grand, primitive land named Pandora is the crux of any environmental message. This planet is inhabited by tall, cat-like smurfs called Na’vi. The destruction of the planet by visiting humans is reminiscent of perhaps Americans invading Iraq on the bloody oil trail or the colonialists slaughtering Native Americans in the 17th and 18th centuries. But it’s all a bit Disney. Though the sight of beautifully rendered woodland bulldozed is a harrowing image. The holy symbol of the Na’vi, a humongous tree, is destroyed by the humans in a scene that recalls Cameron’s sinking Titanic. The humans are on the trail of ‘unobtainium’, a resource to fuel their dying planet – Earth. Perhaps any offhand critique of the reason for going to war in Iraq are a little late for any pertinence here. Heavy casualties aside The Na’vi win out, and the lines are well drawn between good and evil. That just cannot translate to anything beyond the screen.

I feel that this film inhibits any ecological revolution in the wider scheme of things. It is set in the distant future and is enacted violently rather than thoughtfully. Whatever your stance on the global pollution debate, you would surely agree that the only way to reverse human destruction of the natural world is to act differently in the moment. The wool gathering inherent in Avatar will not change anything. By this I mean that this film asks us, wills us, to marvel at the beauty of its reimagining of nature. But the world on show is a fantasy. I just hope that this is not the closest that a child or teen can come to the resplendence of the green earth in the distant future recreated here.

Films such as Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, 2006) and Wendy and Lucy (Reichardt, 2008) do more to concern us about the damage man does to his environment. The trash in the woods in Old Joy, for example, in its simple and frank metaphor – the woodland is in the city (trees) and the city’s is in the woodland (garbage) – highlights a problem I can understand. Avatar spells a greater confusion for the ‘green’ revolution adopted by supermarkets and automobile adverts. I cannot rely on these grandiose, hyper-capitalists establishments to do either the thinking or the hard work for me. I must see that Avatar is a well-made visual spectacle, but its politics is purely bandwagon stuff. James Cameron could have made a film about a twenty-something who rejects the automobile lifestyle and walks an hour a day to work or one about a mother having to turn the washing machine down to 30. Then he would have made a ‘green’ film. Avatar is a movie about machines by machines that posits us firmly within the economic machine. If its financial success tells us anything it’s that the common cinemagoer is ever more disillusioned with the real world around them.

By Jo Bowers

The lost simplicity of the children’s film.

It seems a long, long time ago since children’s films involved performances by living, breathing, human children. It also seems a long time since a children’s film really could be just that, a children’s film without some half hearted reference to boring classics like The Godfather aimed to go over the child’s head and give the parent something to snigger about. With Hollywood creating this current onslaught of fast paced animations that teach children absolutely nothing except how to be void of an attention span, it is surely time to have a renaissance for the little mites. Or is it too late?  I am sure the answer lies within Agnieszka Holland’s secret garden.

The Secret Garden begins in India in the 1800’s. Mary Lennox is a young girl who has been born into wealth but is neglected by her frivolous parents. When a major earthquake kills both of them, she is sent to Yorkshire into the care of her estranged reclusive Uncle, Lord Craven (John Lynch) and his odd staff in a bleakly situated mansion on the Moors. Forced by the sharp tongued head of house Ms Medlock (Maggie Smith) to spend time outside, Mary begins exploring. With the help of a friendly robin Mary soon discovers the door to a walled garden, locked up for ten years on the orders of her Uncle after his wife, Mary’s Aunt, died from falling off the garden’s swing.  Overgrown and long neglected, the garden becomes her proud secret and she attempts to find life among the dead branches. She befriends the local Moors boy Dickon (Andrew Knott) who’s following of foxes, lambs and rabbits enchant her and with his knowledge and love of nature they begin to restore the garden as best they can. Mary learns that giving time and care to the earth in the garden brings beautiful rewards.

Agnieskza Holland’s camera and direction also reaps beautiful rewards. The imagery is without doubt the winning feature of the film and the children give astounding performances. The garden becomes a lot more than a garden, for a start it is massive, the first discovery shot pans to reveal sky high branches, ruins of a church with an old swing swaying in the archway, a sudden swirling of leaves around a forlorn statue. Holland captures perfectly that enduring theme of time having stood completely still. Without taking away from Agnieskza’s camera work, the magic of the garden scenes is also made mesmerizing by Zbigniew Priesner’s score. The gentle choir melodies and haunting violins and flutes are a direct expression of the themes and images, complimenting them perfectly. Mary also discovers that the ghostly crying she has been hearing is actually her estranged cousin Colin, a frail sickly boy who has never left his bed. Mary and Dickon tell him about the garden that his mother loved so much and what they plan to do with it.

What continues to strike me about this film is the characterization. Remaining unfalteringly true to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book written in nineteen eleven, all the children have baggage; they are far from perfect, orphaned and undisciplined. Mary is bitter and lacks any empathetic tendency. Colin, as second master of the house, is self pitying and rude. It is the character of Dickon who seems to have the upper hand, surrounded by nature and a golden patience learnt through nurturing orphaned animals. It is he who I believe to be the quiet hero of both book and film. In the endearing scenes where he teaches Mary how to plant tulips and to trust animals, we see her face brighten and she smiles for the first time. It is a treat to be presented with real time shots of Mary and Dickon’s plants coming to life, the leaves turning from bleak winter colours to spring, the lilies popping and the lambs frolicking on the Moors. There is something wildly unique about the mystical Victorian imagery of the film, summed up in the beautiful simplicity of Dickon’s line ‘‘the rain will help our flowers grow’’. Nothing is rushed and there is not an abundance of sudden cuts, it is fluidly edited which emphasizes the message of the film; things take time so we must be patient.

When the garden is finally restored to glory, it flourishes with every kind of life but this vitality runs deeper and into the souls of all the characters. Mary and Dickon teach Colin how to walk, and he realizes he is not ill; he lies in the long meadow grasses with the sun on his face, surrounded by rabbits and lambs. ‘‘Yes, I imagined this’’, he says. They have bonded together as, what today we could call, a team of child eco warriors and the lessons they have learnt are incredibly valuable, especially today. The life they have nurtured into a neglected garden has revived and inspired new life in all the sadder and ailing parts of themselves. The sense of fulfillment and family they find has taken time, it has grown with every seed and animal they helped to grow and their rewards are great.

I do not know what the reaction would be if the film were released today with its complete un-reliance on any type of CGI and graceful editing style. I only hope that this fable of nature and nurture, of the important in taking time with the earth and the creatures around you may still resonate for children today.

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,000 times in 2010. That’s about 7 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 3 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 123 posts.

The busiest day of the year was February 8th with 47 views. The most popular post that day was The Toronto International Film Festival: Chloe (Atom Egoyan, 2009).

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were en.wordpress.com, twitter.com, orange-review.blogspot.com, cult-labs.com, and en.search.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for caligula uncut, caligula uncut version, caligula uncut scenes, atlas film, and tinto brass caligula.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

The Toronto International Film Festival: Chloe (Atom Egoyan, 2009) September 2009

2

Review: Caligula – The Uncut Version (Tinto Brass, 1979) September 2008

3

Interiors (Woody Allen, 1978) February 2009
1 comment

4

Dear Zachary (Kurt Kuenne, 2008) March 2009
2 comments

5

Margot at the Wedding (Noah Baumbach, 2007) June 2009

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