In 2010 I saw 100 different movies in 100 different theaters. Here are the details.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

81. The Social Network

Vogue Theatre

Built in 1910, and just a few blocks from the Presidio, the Vogue Theatre is San Francisco's third oldest theater, after the Victoria Theatre (1908) and Roxie Theater (1909) (the Clay Theatre was also built in 1910). The Vogue is operated by the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation and CinemaSF, non-profits who together also run the Balboa Theater.

With the closing of the Red Vic Movie House in 2011 and the Bridge Theatre in 2012, the Vogue is now one of only four surviving single-screen theaters in San Francisco, along with the Victoria, Clay, and Castro theaters. (There are only twenty-six single-screen theaters left in the Bay Area, fewer than twenty of which are showing movies on a regular basis.)

The Vogue feels like an old neighborhood theater, with art deco elements in the lobby, and etched glass windows set into the auditorium doors. And there's fresh popcorn for the first showing of the day.

The theater seats just 315, small for a single-screen theater, but larger than the largest screen at twenty multi-screen Bay Area theaters today. The Vogue exhibited an impressive ~69 different films in 2010 (bolstered by some film festivals and Oscars programming), the 6th most for a single-screen theater in the Bay Area, and more than did twenty-one multi-screen theaters in the Bay Area. A far cry from its seventy consecutive weeks of The Gods Must Be Crazy beginning in 1984 (source).

This was my first visit to the Vogue, despite riding past it on the bus for years while living in San Francisco.




Love & Other Drugs

Jake Gyllenhaal is a charismatic pharmaceuticals rep poised to unleash Viagra on the world. He can have any woman he wants, but doesn’t know the true meaning of Christmas until he sees the enormous eyes of Brokeback Mountain co-star Anne Hathaway. With Oliver Platt, Judy Greer, and Hank Azaria in supporting roles, I would much rather see this same cast in a dark comedy, not the predictable romance suggested here. Gyllenhaal will be forced to transition from shallow womanizer who has only ever dated shallow women, to a man inspired to chase after a bus to get Hathaway back. Hathaway meanwhile has Ali MacGraw’s Disease, which is what female characters contract when screenwriters don’t know what to do with them. 128 cuts.


(Previously reviewed)


A former psychic with piercing blue eyes (Matt Damon) tries to live a normal life, but is constantly called upon by friends and neighbors to reach out to lost loved ones. (He utters the comic book cliché: “It’s not a gift; it’s a curse.” Remind me not to say that when I get superpowers.) A woman (Cécile De France) survives a tsunami, and questions what it means to die. A young boy (Frankie McLaren) loses his twin brother in a car accident and must adjust to solitude. All three are searching for answers, and somehow their stories will intersect. Great cast, and could be an unusually sedate role for Damon. The supernatural element takes a back seat to the journey of the living. Though it’s overkill to have the woman survive a tsunami (an event worthy of its own film, not just as a sub-plot), her survival among such great loss will contrast to the tiny drama of the boy losing his brother. 78 cuts.

How Do You Know?

At one point in my life I was blonde, so don’t take this the wrong way. As progressive as it is, is Hollywood really ready for two blondes in one movie? Doesn’t that violate the unwritten rule that no more than one member of a movie couple may be a non-brunette? It’s confusing to movie goers, because when we say “The Blonde”, it won’t be obvious who we mean. Reese Witherspoon is kinda maybe sorta into Owen Wilson, and he’s sorta maybe kinda into her as well. She bumps into old friend Paul Rudd; Witherspoon and Wilson have a fight about Rudd; and Witherspoon spends a day over at Rudd’s place spilling her guts. He’s kinda maybe sorta into her as well, but he and his dad (Jack Nicholson) are being indicted on a federal charge, so his plate is full. In movies like this, each character is afforded but a single arc. Rudd needs to use the trial to bond with his dad. Wilson needs to watch Love & Other Drugs and realize it’s okay to settle down with just one woman. And Witherspoon needs better options. The movie looks bad, but the trailer is filled with Owen Wilson’s smooth humor. 80 cuts.

The Social Network

A young Harvard student, real-life Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), creates an obnoxiously viral rating system, FaceMash, that pits female students' head shots against each other in a beauty contest. Having caught the eye of three student entrepreneurs (Max Minghella, Armie Hammer x2), Zuckerberg is recruited to build a social network for the school. Zuckerberg accepts the job, but instead builds a social network for the entire world. The movie chronicles the rise of Facebook, and the increasingly piddly-seeming lawsuit that lingers in its shadow.

Zuckerberg's abrasive personality is firmly established in the opening scene. He sits opposite a young woman in a bar, speaking quickly, changing conversation topics manically, and never pausing long enough for her to get a word in. This pick-up isn't going well, I thought; but then it's revealed that they are already dating. By the conversation's end, though, she has broken up with him, and it's not clear whether that was her intent all along, and perhaps he sensed it and was trying to steer clear of the topic, or if his verbal vomit pushed her over the edge. Later, at a school disciplinary hearing regarding his FaceMash site, rather than show contrition Zuckerberg has the gall to ask for some recognition of his efforts. Startled by his ego, the panel's moderator says, "I'm sorry?" But Zuckerberg, with his sociopathic inability to understand verbal cues, thinks it's the beginning of an apology, and invites her to continue, "Yes?".

What is the source of the film's omniscient perspective? Zuckerberg didn't authorize it, and the other central characters, as a consequence of the legal battle, are bound by non-disclosure agreements. Are we meant to damn all these characters (few are portrayed favorably) based on tangential observation? Two characters are decent: Andrew Garfield as Zuckerberg's only friend and CFO, and Rashida Jones as his attorney. Yet neither is able to divert his self-destructive course. (Not all that destructive, actually; despite the unflattering portrayal of Zuckerberg, Facebook's membership has more than doubled since the film's release.) One of Hammer's Winklevoss twins is willing to drop the dispute, rather than drag his family's name into the muck, but his brother and Minghella are unrelenting. Zuckerberg befriends Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), and appears cordial in Parker's slimebag shadow.

The film's editing is a bit uneven. In one scene, it expertly weaves together angles from a crew race, set to Gynt's "In the Hall of the Mountain King", and compels me to root for the Winklevoss twins despite their otherwise adversarial role. On a more macroscopic level, the movie constantly interrupts its narrative by jumping ahead to preparations for the trial. A movie needs a big ace up its sleeve to keep my interest despite reminding me over and over how it all ends.

This biopic is unusual in that the protagonist is widely known, but his story is as yet incomplete. Fascinated with the clashing egos of its central characters, the movie is disinterested in examining Facebook's evolving role in the cultural landscape. At the time of the film's release, 7% of the world's population had an account (that number has now doubled), and the website was already purposing itself as an entire operating system. What happens when the masses can use social media to rally against oppressive governments, or when teenagers wield it to bully and exploit individuals? Do status updates and photos of delicious lunches make us hate our friends just a little bit? Zuckerberg's off-putting personality might make for good theater, but the real story, as the film's title suggests, is Facebook.

(Every year around Oscar season a few 'good' movies get swept up in the frenzy and are elevated to 'great' status. Had The Social Network been released six months earlier, I doubt it would have been an Oscar contender. I was happily surprised, though, that Trent Reznor won for his unusually subtle score to the film. I'm an avid Nine Inch Nails fan, and have often fantasized about Reznor contributing a full score. I look forward to more.)

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