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Short responses to things you must see

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First of seven parts

The Golden Globe Awards just unfolded last weekend–and thus, began another season of glitter and backpatting for the film world. And of course, we are its rapt audience, whether we like it or not.

Over the past few months, I have endeavored to see every single film which has been considered critically noteworthy, in an attempt to understand the film year that was 2010. In general, I thought it was a great harvest, give or take a turkey or two.

The following are my short knee-jerk responses to each one, spread over the next two months–and I do hope most of you will be able to catch these titles on the widescreen, with the hopes that the horrendous Dalaw is no longer hogging our theaters’ schedules. Enough of bad films. Let the good ones come in.

***

I honestly thought David Fincher’s The Social Network [2010] was a little underwhelming, given the rave reviews and the hype that was heaped on it even before opening day. When the lights came on in the movie theater at the Metreon, I stood up and walked home to my room in The Drake in San Francisco. It was very late, and it was off to bed I went, my only concern sleep. But I knew it was a well- made movie–the direction was that of a master at the top of his game, the editing was taut and spellbinding, the writing was scintillating, the score understated but effective, the cinematography sly and somehow expansive in intimate ways, the acting superb–but I found myself somehow underwhelmed, and maybe because I expected it to bludgeon me with its greatness. (But then again, like most great art, it’s really all about subtlety.) It does not have the gimmicky and overscored finish of the top spinning in Inception, just a soft petering off of an unfinished life, a subtle ending that brings in a reverse “asshole” bookend reference that began the movie, and a lonely Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly hitting refresh on someone’s Facebook page, just to see if that someone will accept his friend request.

I expected the usual Hollywood fireworks. I forgot I was watching a David Fincher movie. Then again, maybe it was also because I watched it in a midnight screening, and my body was a little tired from all the walking I had been doing all over San Francisco. Which should not sound like such a big deal, but remember, the city is all about hills–up, down, then up again, in boots I was trying to break in.

But God, this film has such staying power in your head. Because for many hours later, I kept thinking and thinking about it. I kept replaying certain scenes in my head. I kept going back, for example, to that lingering long shot of Mark walking across Harvard campus near the beginning of the film, after he got dumped and before spending an entire drunken night hacking and making code that would soon become his Internet revenge against all Harvard women. And I kept telling myself, it’s all there, in that lonely walk across campus. And I kept remembering certain snappy lines of dialogue, all of Aaron Sorkin’s zing like lightning in a bottle. And I kept hopping from one Internet article to the next, hoping for more insight into this film. And people like me are legions online.

It’s a great movie. The best movie I’ve seen this year. It crawls under your skin.

***

This is the other Facebook movie, the perfect bookend to Fincher’s The Social Network, the slow-burning but incredibly delicious film that has become this year’s uncanny mirror of the zeitgeist. (Most of us do live on Facebook now, right?) But while Fincher’s film is an intelligent myth-making re-imagination of Facebook’s troubled start-up, ostensibly recreating the days of Mark Zuckerberg’s life as he deals with the assorted drama of Facebook’s creation, Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman’s Catfish [2010] depicts the real- life repercussions of our online interactions. The documentary follows Nev, Mr. Schulman’s brother. Nev is a New York photographer who covers the dance world, and one day he receives a painting of one of his dance photographs by a girl named Abby from a little Michigan townA friendship takes root and soon comes to involve Abby’s family–a mother named Angela, a father named Vince, a brother, Abby’s friends, and finally, a beautiful half-sister named Megan, a veterinarian who models, paints, sings, and plays the piano. Online romance ensues. And then soon after, already smitten like a boy in a long-distance love affair, Nev starts discovering that some things … just don’t add up.

The film does start off as a kind of Facebook thriller (complemented by much use of YouTube, Gmail, GoogleMaps, iPhones, Google Earth, and the assorted online applications that have come to define our daily lives). But it ends with such quiet and devastating drama about alienation and hope, artistic manipulation, the allure of storytelling, and the slippery boundaries of identity that we use to navigate the unguarded highways of the Internet.

This reminds me of a post that I blogged (with a subsequent shorter 140-character version in Twitter) a few days ago : “Sometimes when I look at my own Facebook posts and pictures and videos and stuff, I cannot help but feel a little envy for the life that this online persona, this electronic version of me, seems to have. And of course, I feel weird feeling that.” It’s weird because the Ian Rosales Casocot online, in Facebook and elsewhere, is indeed “me”–and those are my thoughts, my photos, my videos, my life.

And yet, I am also aware that in many ways, what I am “creating” online is a persona a little removed from me–it’s the concentration of the best of who I am, the face I want to present to the world, having edited out the humdrum minutes where I just stare off into space, waiting for something to happen. It is from this acknowledgment of how we live our present-day reality that the film manages to appeal to me. This is happening. And then there is also the film’s quiet conclusion, its statement about artists. It broke my heart, and angered me a bit–but I also found a capacity for empathy. And when we finally get to the part about the catfish of the title, everything else that comes before it makes so much sense.

But of course the film did not make sense for a lot of people who came to screenings of Catfish and expected a twisty thriller in the vein of M. Night Shyamalan.

Reading ordinary moviegoers’ comments online about the film (or its trailer) is another reason why I have a certain urge to puke over the notion of “the wisdom of the masses,” the same mass of herd-thinking people whose idea of enlightenment is the dumbing explosions of Transformers and the saccharine inanities of Twilight.

The following comment, from somebody named jocybum in YouTube, is typical of the many online posts that have been coming out: “I just watched this last night, I was so unbelievably bored and disappointed by what happens after driving to the barn scene. It was so predictable. Plus the fact that they called it a documentary and some people believe this is lolworthy” [unedited]. (A quick look at jocybum’s YouTube profile shows that he or she is 21, from the United Kingdom, and likes the following videos: Father Christmas F*cked My Pussy (Christmas Pussy Song), He Bite me in my Vagina, and Fart Trek: The Next Flatulation. I rest my case.)

I look at that, and I feel pity. They don’t get it. Most people will not get this movie, and it’s sad. It reminds me of what the film critic Roger Ebert once wrote about similar people in his review of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968]: “Man is a curious animal. He is uneasy in the face of great experiences, and if he is forced to experience something profound, he starts immediately to cheapen it, to bring it down to his own level.” (Next: Black Swan and Howl in three weeks…)

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