Friday, October 22, 2010

Love the Beatles?

Well, who doesn't.  Yet, even if the dulcet tones of the harmonies on "If I Fell," "Ticket to Ride," or "Norwegian Wood" don't move you, this film, that opened in the US the day before what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday, will. 

"Nowhere Boy", directed by Sam Taylor-Wood and co-written by Julia Baird, who is John's half-sister, and Matt Greenhalgh, is the story of John Lennon's life before the Beatles, as a young man growing up in Liverpool.  It is largely based upon Julia Baird's book, Imagine This: Growing Up With My Brother John Lennon. As I sat in the theatre anxiously waiting for the film to start, I was transported back to that day as a very young fan (I was 7 when they first appeared on Ed Sullivan and I had already stolen all of my sister's albums and knew every word) sitting on my parent's bed staring at the black and white TV in anticipation of seeing them perform for the first time, and crying when they came on.  My mom had to comfort me and hold me through the whole show.  So, as this film started, it was like going home for me, especially when the first sound I heard was the opening chord for "Hard Day's Night."  From there, the film moves into setting up what his life was like as a teenager in Liverpool during the late 50's and early 60's, as well as the beginnings of rock and roll and where and when John (played by Aaron Johnson, who just catapulted his career) first heard Elvis and many other rockers of that era.  We meet John's Aunt Mimi (played by the perfectly cast Kristin Scott Thomas) and Uncle George (played by David Threlfall), with whom he is living, and we find out how his Uncle George died and what an impact that had upon him.  We are then introduced to his mother, Julia (played by Anne-Marie Duff.)  The story behind why he is living with his aunt and uncle and not his mother is explained later in the film but when we first see John reunited with his mother, we get a glimpse into the tragedies of his life that shaped him.  Julia is the first person to introduce John to the bango and Mimi is the first person to buy John a guitar.  John is in and out of school and eventually starts his own band, the Quarrymen.  At one of their first gigs, he is introduced to a skinny kid named Paul, who plays the guitar backwards.  John and Paul bond over Paul's admission that his mother died a year before but there is always a slight bit of jealousy coming from John when it becomes apparent that Paul is as talented and sought after as John.  The real story of John's birth, where his father is and what caused his mother to let her sister, Mimi, have custody of him comes out towards the end of the film and it provides some really tender and agonizing scenes that will leave you with a much clearer idea of the man who was John Lennon.  The acting in this film is superb, as well as the ambiance of the time.  John's wit is showcased at times, especially near the end, as well as his deep-seeded anguish and longing for approval and love.  Also throughout the film, there are references thrown in to future songs that John will write, as when he bicycles past Strawberry Fields, or is doodling in his school book and the poem above it is something about a walrus.  The film ends with John telling Mimi that he has a new gig in Hamburg and will be gone for several months.  She asks him, "Is it with that new band of yours, oh, what's the name?  I can never remember." 

We will never forget.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Almost Makes You Want to Give Up Facebook

Just kidding.  I could never do that. 

"The Social Network" is the story of how the most popular social networking site in the world came to be, and it's not pretty.  It was co-written by Aaron Sorkin ("A Few Good Men" "West Wing") and Ben Mezrich (who wrote the book "The Accidental Billionaires" upon which the movie is based) and was directed by David Fincher ("Fight Club" "Seven" "Zodiac" "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button".)  

The film begins with a date gone wrong, where we see Mark Zuckerberg (played with aplomb by Jesse Eisenberg "Solitary Man" "Adventureland" ) saying and doing all the wrong things and losing the girl.  From there he goes on an intellectual rampage creating a website called "FaceMash" where pictures of actual girls on campus are used and compared as to who is the hottest.  This site crashes the Harvard network in about two hours, getting the attention of two Harvard brothers (who just happen to be wealthy, very good looking, very popular and very athletic) who are looking for someone to help them write the code for a networking site on the Harvard campus. Mark and his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (a very good Andrew Garfield "Red Riding" series, "Never Let Me Go") have already begun work on a similar site so Mark agrees to help the brothers and builds his site, called The Facebook, using their connections and Eduardo's money.  Mark is someone who is so intellectually superior to everyone around him that he has trouble controlling his actions and he continues on a path of making a mockery of those cooler, hipper and more popular than he is without stopping to weigh the consequences. "The Facebook" morphs into just "Facebook" and becomes an international sensation, while Mark shuts out the Harvard brothers and eventually shuts out Eduardo as well, mostly due to the influence of Sean Parker, the founder of Napster.  Sean Parker (played by an underrated Justin Timberlake.  This guy can act, people!) is the ultimate salesperson, slimy, charming, name-dropping, lying, whatever it takes to get people to do what he wants.  He finagles some investors for Mark and Facebook, with the end result of Eduardo being forced out because Mark no longer feels he needs him.  Lawsuits reign all around and in the end....well, everyone knows who got rich.  Everybody.  

The film goes back and forth between depositions being held for the various lawsuits and what actually happened (with some creative license, I'm sure) and the tension built using this device is marvelous.  For a story that happened mostly on paper and in cyberspace, it's a darn good edge of your seat kind of film.  I highly recommend it.  

I'm Glad I Don't Live in This Town

Well, as the critics have said, Ben Affleck has flexed his movie muscles and lifted up a winner.  "The Town" is a gritty, well-paced, thought-provoking, well-acted and very well written film.  Not only does Ben star in it, he also directed and co-wrote the film with Peter Craig, Aaron Stockard and Chuck Hogan.  

It is set in Boston (where Ben grew up) and takes place mostly in the neighborhood of Charlestown, the bank robbery capital of the world. The story revolves around Doug (Ben Affleck), James (Jeremy Renner "The Hurt Locker") and Claire (Rebecca Hall "Vicky Cristina Barcelona".) Doug and James are career criminals who come from a long line of Boston gangsters.  However, Doug is looking to get out.  During the heist that Doug hopes is his last, they end up taking Claire as a hostage.  They let her go but not before they take her driver's license and Doug discovers that Claire lives nearby.  He begins a relationship with her (she never saw her captors) and Doug's struggle to end his life of crime truly begins.  There are moments in this film that are truly stunning to watch and the actors bring such a gritty realism to the film.  Ben Affleck shows a maturity I haven't seen before, and Jeremy Renner is as tense and tortured as he was in the "Hurt Locker", only with a more evil and sinister core.  Rebecca Hall gives us the average girl thrown into a horrible situation with such life and courage, you will feel as if you've always known her.  And then there's Blake Lively ("Gossip Girl") as James' sister, Krista, a drug addict who is in love with Doug.  Her chameleon performance should make producers and casting directors take notice.  This woman can act.  

The ending sequence of the film takes place at Fenway Park, which is a total bonus to an otherwise great crime film.  Go see it!