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Rating History

Panic Room
Panic Room (2002)
9 years ago via Flixster

The last thing I was told about this movie was to spare myself and not watch it. I took this with a pinch of salt large enough it fit my hand--after all, this is the work of David Fincher, operating on a script from David Koepp. And yes, Koepp wrote the clumsy script for The Lost World, but he also wrote the one for the original Jurassic Park and wrote and directed an adaptation of Richard Matheson's A Stir of Echoes. I'm actually not sure what it says one way or the other, but the previews included on the DVD are for Taxi Driver, Close Encounters, Midnight Express, Lawrence of Arabia, and Dr. Strangelove. I've got to say--what a weird set of movies to pair this with--though good ones.

Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) are looking for a new home in the midst of Meg's divorce from her husband Stephen (Patrick Bauchau). They are introduced to a four floor home in Manhattan with hardwood floors, multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, a working elevator, and even a yard--certainly a rarity in Manhattan. Of course, it also has a panic room: multiple inches of steel surround the entire room, which has its own ventilation, monitors linked to cameras throughout the house, its own land phoneline, and an automated steel door that uses hydraulics and motion sensors for security in rapid closure as well as protection from closing when it oughtn't. As they settle in for their first night, a man begins to peruse the front windows and door of the home, checking each and every door and window until settling on an entrance in the roof. He comes in down a ladder there, and begins to move through the house. When he finds Sarah sleeping, there's shock on his face. He moves more quietly, and begins to check each room as he goes, and later finds Meg. After this, he moves back to the door we first saw him at, and he lets in two more men: Junior (Jared Leto) and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam). They argue quietly but angry about the fact that there are people present, with the first man, Burnham (Forest Whitaker) insisting that they cancel their plans, but being talked down by Junior--who has brought Raoul without telling Burnham. The promise of $3 million keeps them interested, but the chance witnessing of their presence on the safe room monitors leads Meg to run for Sarah and bring her into the safe room. Unfortunately, the money the men are after is in that safe room, and they have to figure out now how to get the Altmans out.

In the pantheon of respected directors, Fincher is closest to Kubrick, if anything--though he very definitely covers a different kind of territory. Both, though, treat (or, in Kubrick's case, treated) film as a craft. There's rarely any moment in the works of either that feels overly spontaneous or unplanned. It's a kind of art that resembles bland construction in description, but in practice tends to be breathtaking visually: it's not about the fact that the visuals are accurate or clean, it's that they all work in the correct order and spaces. It's the beauty of expert clockwork instead of emotive sculpting. It's a method, and it's the kind that is tight and suspends disbelief if you aren't paying attention, but approaches jaw-dropping when carefully examined. There are some absolutely amazing shots throughout the movie, but none go to the trouble to announce themselves or insist on acknowledgment of their presence. The house is believably placed in Manhattan, but is actually a complicated, fully constructed set. It has the aged feeling of an established building, but the freedom of a constructed set. This isn't one of those movies where "the house is a character", but there's a certain feeling it promotes in spite of that. Space is the order of the day in all moments outside the panic room, space above and around everything--and the feeling of a kind of cold, alien age to the house that keeps it very separate from the family that has only just moved into it. It's helped, of course, by the fact that their recent move means they have not yet fully unpacked and decorated it. A lot of the motion shots imply a passive, impartial observer--unnoticed, yet still almost an sentient entity. It knows what's going on but has no investment in it whatsoever: when Burnham walks to Meg's room and into the doorway, the camera turns to frame him just behind Meg's head, unnoticed and never a focal point. It is actually the "character" that shows us Meg going to sleep and moves into Burnham's original entrance into the house.

One of the most interesting factors is that the attitudes of both the men breaking in and the women in the panic room leave us without any particular feeling of threat--there's a real menace in Howard Shore's score, a serious darkness, but Junior's goofy cornrows (which, knowing Leto's way of dealing with his appearance and hair, especially as vocalist for Thirty Seconds to Mars, where a movie doesn't require him to look any certain way, might have been his idea) and the interactions of the three men leave us not overly concerned for the actual safety of Meg and Sarah. Burnham is insistent that no one be harmed, Junior is a terrible criminal who makes assumptions and is determined to prove his control. Raoul is a mystery, but comes off as someone trying harder to be a badass than his history might actually bear out. Meg and Sarah have a moment when they decide to use the intercom to scare the men off that keeps us similarly relaxed. But when an idea to force them out of the panic room begins to go wrong, Raoul becomes something less of a question mark, and things rapidly slide into actual tension, concern, and fear. The shift of control and power, the continued goofs of Junior and the visible compassion of Burnham.

This isn't an utterly unique plot, but few things are. You're certainly left thinking of Wait Until Dark if you've ever seen it, but this is a quality set of actors we're working with all around--Whitaker is a personal favourite, Jared carries a strong history as well as the charisma that lets him front a band--interestingly shared by solo country artist Yoakam, Foster has no need to defend or explain her credibility, and Stewart turns in a solid performance as the vaguely conflicted, slightly sullen, but otherwise reasonable teenaged girl. There's no stretch into absolute clichés, even if the compassionate criminal is not an overly new idea either. The end result is, as is usually the case (always, in my current experience) with Fincher, a tight and engaging film. It's not the best movie, nor is it his best--probably not near the top at all. Still, it comes together exactly as you can only imagine it was intended to, being a thriller based heavily on suspense. There was one moment featuring Andrew Kevin Walker (author of the Se7en screenplay) in a cameo that was relatively predictable--but, in a sense, this wasn't surprising, as it relied on something that you would not as readily expect from the average person, even if some of the characters do--or at least hope for it.

The Social Network
9 years ago via Flixster

There are two overriding passions in my life: music and movies. Of late, the former has taken precedent over the latter. I'm not even entirely sure this review will come to anything; the thought has been less than motivating of late. Still, the thing that often drives me is the conflict surrounding a film. Not controversy necessarily, as it tends to relate more to how a conflict exists in film interpretation or reflection. Here, that comes in with the idea of a biopic so convoluted in its aim. It's not a movie about an enormous figure that we all see regularly who speaks to us via interviews on talkshows and performance in movies or recorded music or in government. Sure, Mark Zuckerberg is in the periphery for most or many in that Facebook is and his name is closely tied to it. But it's not a face and personality and idea that we identify so clearly. There are other instances of this, but let's lay the basic groundwork here first.

Opening to find future Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) speaking to a girl, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), and going down in flames. Going home angry, the idea of degrading women in general passes between Mark and a roommate, and he manages to destroy Harvard's network with a brand new website. This snowballs into the interest of the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler (Armie Hammer for both), who have been working with Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) to create the Harvard Connection, another iteration of internet socialization that gains primarily from its exclusivity. Mark takes the idea and brings it back to his friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and they run with it. They quickly bring up The Facebook, and begin to take the world by storm, eventually flashing forward to Zuckerberg being sued by both Saverin and the Winklevoss twins as the story of the website unfolds, in its effects on these people, and the people who wander in from outside--like Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), alleged co-founder of Napster, who brings flash and world-changing, big picture ideas to the whole thing.

There are, of course, people who circled the film, sniffed it and turned their nose up as they walked away because the film does not represent the real Mark Zuckerberg, Saverin or Parker. Zuckerberg in particular is naturally singled out as the lead character in the film and the most public of all of these figures. Hell, I heard Sean Parker and thought, "Huh? I thought it was Sean something else..."¹ So, with even some more familiar public figures attesting to Mark's personality and the positive qualities thereof, it becomes relevant to some that the film is not particularly flattering to Mark. Well, this isn't strictly true. Allegedly² it mis-characterizes his motivations, and changes all kinds of things, but this comes to the heart of all of it. Ask screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, or director David Fincher, even Eisenberg who plays him--that's not the point. The beginning of behind-the-scenes documentary How Did They Make a Movie of Facebook? is composed of cast and crew noting that it's not "about Facebook." Hammer refers to it as "#5 or #6" on the list of points or ideas the movie is about. And it isn't. This is Aaron Sorkin, he of Sports Night and The West Wing, Fincher of Se7en and Fight Club. Both of them, as pedantic, specific and perfectionist as they can be, are about their art. There is basically no chance they will sacrifice story or art for 'truth' or 'accuracy.' It's not the object for them, and it's not really the object for viewers--unless we're looking at a documentary.³

As entertainment the film is unsurprisingly brilliant. Of course it's not really about the invention of Facebook as a website, it's about the people around it and the ideas of it, and the contrast in the nature of socialization in the world before it and after it, the way it affected the world, the rules, values and injustices of exclusive social circles and systems. It's about isolation, oddly, in particular for Zuckerberg. It's about never learning the social mores, about not understanding the rights and the wrongs of most interactions until seen in hindsight, or misappropriating values from one circle to another, which never works. And Sorkin and Fincher put together a script and film that does all of these things successfully. This isn't a shock from either of them, and Fincher has clearly not lost his most notorious tendencies toward perfectionism: everyone refers to the number of takes for given scenes--often in the high double and near-triple digits. The final effect is fantastic, as he always comes out with movies that feel finely crafted but natural. There is no moment of stilted construction, nor of loose and sloppy film-making. The number of takes manages to bring a familiarity to the actors and an insane level of refinement that simultaneously perfects it.

As one of the formative musical artists of my life, nevermind my aforementioned love of music, it must be noted that Trent Reznor and his frequent collaborator/producer Atticus Ross (who also produced the last album Coheed and Cambria released, which I have to note as they can readily be referred to as my favourite band) produced an Academy Award-winning score for the film. It fits in with Reznor's work for the last two decades, and even easier with the work the two of them have done in the past one. It's a brilliant stroke, which is unsurprising in a Fincher movie, as he almost seemed to single-handedly inform half the public of the existence of the Pixies by either choosing "Where Is My Mind?" as the closer for Fight Club, or at least bringing in the people who chose it. Reznor and Atticus' work has been deeply cynical, dystopian and subtly menacing, and that is exactly what the movie demands. Not because it's humourless, or truly dark and nihilistic, but because of the sense of isolation, the ideas of crumbling relationships and intruding collapse of integrity as Parker brings in the ideas of money and fame and standing over others--"anarchy" in the words of Fincher himself--being the ones behind revolution. Innocence removed, lost or forgotten, trampled in the desire for money and credit and ego. It's carried out but the music makes it clearer, gives us that anticipation and dread the dialogue should not in this context. It's brilliant, and deserving of its award.

The film overall deserves it's accolades, there is no doubt about this. I realize I'm one of the last to see it, but there it is. See it if you would be even more last than me. Make it someone else--and make them get someone else behind them.

¹Shawn Fanning, publicly the equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg if we speak of Napster. To my understanding, anyway.
²I don't know, do I? So, rather than claim that I can either confirm or deny the movie, I leave all of it as alleged for me.
³Debatably, of course. The question rages as to whether the object of documentaries is to be objective or to convey a point of view. Still, people look to those more for the actuality. One hopes more are looking there, at least.

The Chumscrubber
9 years ago via Flixster

The first thought everyone levels at this movie is the one you'd expect from most synopses, the tagline, the cover art--most things: "Suburbia is a joke." The idea has been covered many times before (most notably, perhaps, in American Beauty), but that's true of most thoughts and ideas in film (or music, television, books...). It's used, like many simplistic arguments, as a way of completely depriving a work of any kind of value, without bothering to first experience it. I'm not going to confidently assert that I haven't been guilty of the same. I probably have, in fact. But, when it does occur, I do my best to try to see and justify how this is a specific and actual failure, showing or explaining why it is that the work brings us nothing new or useful or interesting. It doesn't help anything that, like many movies that address this topic, this is black comedy and at least half-satirical. That works against it in two ways, of course: one, the fact that it's familiar, and two, the fact that it's something that doesn't always work for everyone.

In a small suburban town, the high school is supplied with drugs by Troy Johnson (Joshua Janowicz), who passes them to Billy (Justin Chatwin), Lee (Lou Taylor Pucci), and Crystal (Camilla Belle) to distribute directly. When Dean (Jamie Bell) goes to see Troy one day, he is asked by Troy's mother (Glenn Close) to have Troy turn down his stereo. Dean finds, then, that Troy has hanged himself. When Dean fails to notify anyone else as he backs away and leaves, his parents (William Fichtner and Allison Janney) are unsure what to do with him. Billy and Lee are unsure what to do with their business without a supplier, and their paths begin to cross when their plan to force the assistance of Dean in acquiring whatever remained of Troy's stash goes awry. Eventually, they've embroiled the unwitting involvement of Officer Lou Bratley (John Heard), his ex-wife Terri (Rita Wilson), their son Charlie (Thomas Curtis), her new fiance Mayor Michael Ebbs (Ralph Fiennes), Lee's parents (Jason Isaacs and Caroline Goodall), and Crystal's mother Jerri (Carrie-Anne Moss). Everyone wanders around in their worlds, oblivious to the interactions occuring around them. Dean's father Bill (Fichtner) is devoted to his career as book-writing psychiatrist who has already used his son as subject for previous writing, his wife is devoted to a business selling vitamin supplements and trying to be a family, Lou is lost in the marriage he won't acknowledge the end of, Jerri is trying her best to be her daughter's age, Terri is focused on her upcoming second marriage, Mrs. Johnson is trying to deal with the loss of her son and the absolute lack of attention anyone is paying to her loss, and Ebbs is lost in a spiritual epiphany brought on by Bill's book, The Happy Accident--which is only the start of their interactions.

Director Arie Posin and screenwriter Zac Stanford put together the original idea with each other, and framed it around the central concept of The Chumscrubber, a background fiction that runs throughout the youth of the movie. Dean's younger brother (played by Rory Culkin) and the Bratleys' son Charlie are both seen playing the game based on it, Charlie is seen reading a comic, and more than one of them has a poster for the character hanging in their rooms. The Chumscrubber is from a world that strongly resembles their own suburb, but blown up in a nuclear explosion and left filled with zombies, and he is a teenager himself--but one who woke up without his head attached any longer. But, he took this not as a sign to roll over, but to continue and do what he needs to to survive. I will admit this frame is imperfect, but it's only that it doesn't quite gel and fall into place, not that it feels overly clumsy or forced--the latter being an especially large relief. The shifts between humour and moments of serious tension or emotional understanding are very well executed, as you aren't left disoriented when they occur, instead carried along into each with the proper frame of mind. Of course, the moments of shock and the more sudden laughs are also successful. The inevitable exaggerations and hyperbolic moments of this kind of comedy are noticeably just that, but don't end up crossing the line and ruining the suspension of disbelief so long as you accept the fact that this movie is what it is.

The essential sensibility of the movie is that of failure to connect or interact, visible in everyone and everything, even those attempting to get past those limitations. Bill is beyond narcissistic beyond all reckoning--when he confronts Dean about the death of his best friend, he quickly begins jotting down notes. It begins to lock Dean down in his emotional confusion and pain over the loss of his friend--loss we see on the slow, focused shot that follows him away from Troy's body. Crystal's confused attempts to connect to Dean--which very much mirror Bill's--also force him further away from everyone else. Both of them seem to be legitimately interested in Dean's well-being, but both are poor at hiding their secondary (or, more likely: primary) motivations from him. And we see every character constantly passing by Dean, and Dean passing them, no one noticing. Terri is so invested in her wedding she can't keep track of her own son, or even the man she's planning to marry. Bill fails as a father in his interest in his career. Jerri is lost in trying to be the better teenaged girl than her daughter. Billy is lost in trying to be different from his father. None of them finds the places where those motivations are parts of the lives of others. Dean has long since learned that having no friends is the best approach--not because he's not interested in others, but because he's been betrayed like we see he was by his father, even though he's still trying and willing, for a moment, to think maybe a connection is possible. But these two betrayals renew his decision to avoid connections to others, even as Crystal circles him and they both try to read each other and understand, catching glimmers of truth and flashes of acting.

The movie is like a lot of first time features: Arie and Zac have had their whole lives to put together a script and the ideas for the movie to come from it. They've worked the Chumscrubber in everywhere, even if it's not perfect, it manages to feel natural--and you start to realize it's actually more ubiquitous than you noticed previously. And there are moments where you realize just how interconnected all of these characters are, even though none of them ever realize: other than Dean. It's somewhat ironic, of course: the most emotionally shutdown is the one most aware of others. It's also a neat trick of Stanford's script and Bell's acting that he gains the sympathy of the viewer. There are a number of clever shots--from the one following Dean from Troy's body to others than manage to invert expectations and live by reactions instead of showing us what they are reacting to. There's a moment with Billy that you think will go in a certain direction, and it goes that way--but it stops short. We see how Crystal and Lee react to it, and the point is made. There's a sense, for some viewers, that we're denied the "pay-off" or the confirmation of our expectation--but, truth be told, it's readily apparent. There's no question as to what happens, and it draws your attention to the fact that the important element here is the characters, not the plot itself. The first moment, without a doubt, is where Ralph Fiennes begins his enlightenment. We do see what he is beginning to piece together, but we see it first in his face, and focus on it longer than is usual.

This is a wonderfully quirky movie, but a lot darker and more dramatic than that word might accurately imply. Still, it's worthwhile, if nothing else for the interesting choice to have a huge cast in the parents, and smaller stars for the teens--of course, that follows logically in a sense: an older actor is more likely to have more experience anyway. Still, it means that the teens all look less like stars jammed into roles and more like the characters they're playing.