REVIEW: Steve Jobs

27 12 2015

I have no qualms in saying that, in high school, the discovery of Aaron Sorkin’s writing completely changed the way I thought about how people could talk in fiction. Here were characters that spoke with purpose in every line, both illuminating their inner thought process and highlighting the themes of the work. (If you doubt its influence, just read the play I wrote my senior year that falls somewhere between a love letter to and ripoff of Sorkin.)

The more I rewatch “The Social Network,” however, the more I realize that the heft of the content is the real star of that script. The delivery in “Sorkinese” – as many have come to call it – serves to enhance, not replace, that treasure trove of insights into class, status and social structure in contemporary America. The hyperexpressive dialogue feels justified practically by the bulk of commentary that the characters must convey – and, remarkably, tomes are still left unsaid.

Sorkin’s latest script, “Steve Jobs” (adapted from Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography of the same name), narrows its focus from the revolutionizing of society to a man with the vision to spark such revolutions. As the man whose inventions shook up telephones, personal computing, animation, publishing and music, Jobs feels like a natural subject for Sorkin given his obsession with grandiloquent geniuses. Even his work on the script for 2011’s “Moneyball,” which praised the empirically driven philosophy of Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane, evinces his fascination with people who innovate in spite of steep institutional pressure to maintain an inefficient status quo.

Yet, at the same time, choosing Jobs as someone to speak Sorkinese fluently smells a bit like a man trying to cast God in his own image – and not the other way around. The stylized dialogue flies rapidly in “Steve Jobs,” which is not entirely dissimilar from “The Social Network.” But here, the metaphors and arcane cultural references are delivered in a continual walk-and-talk, not in such visibly formal settings.

Sorkin chooses to stage his drama within the confines of a backstage drama (as opposed to the courtroom drama of Zuckerberg’s saga), a style which generally portrays characters with their guards down and speaking with their guards down. Jobs was undoubtedly smart enough to talk as Fassbender’s portrayal of him does, though it feels somewhat stilted and artificial.

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REVIEW: Moneyball

10 10 2011

The sports movie is in a rut, I’ll just go ahead and say it.  When movies like “Warrior” receives almost unanimous acclaim and “The Blind Side” can get a Best Picture nomination, the genre is in need of an influx of creativity and ingenuity.  And what better movie to do that than Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball,” a movie that is actually about creativity and ingenuity?

Miller, along with screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, pulls off a feat not unlike that accomplished by Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s: working within the framework of a failing system, they employ clever cinematic maneuvering and ingenuous thinking to create a fantastic societal and self-examination.  Michael Lewis’ non-fiction tome is about putting the brains back in the business of sports; Miller’s film is about one man trying to find his heart again in sports by using math as a means to achieve his long-sought satisfaction.  It may be that “Moneyball” uses sports only as a backdrop for its deeper, probing questions, something that wouldn’t be entirely uncharacteristic of Sorkin, who just last year won an Oscar for using the rise of Facebook in “The Social Network” as a setting for an exploration of modern power, greed, and friendship.

So while sports fans may be disappointed that “Moneyball” is not a sports movie but rather a movie about sports, Hollywood will no doubt continue to spit out run-of-the-mill, color-by-numbers inspirational movies for them.  Everyone else, on the other hand, can marvel at a movie about athletic competition that doesn’t teach us the hackneyed values of the triumph of individual will over adversity.  While glorifying impressive human achievement makes us feel good, Sorkin doesn’t indulge us in such escapism.  In 2011, we must face the fact that we don’t always win, the system may overpower even the most brilliant of ideas, and satisfaction isn’t just a win or a loss away.

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Random Factoid #442

13 10 2010

There have been many interesting debates brought up in the wake of the release of “The Social Network,” but an unexpected one that has risen to the top of the heap is the discussion of misogyny in Aaron Sorkin’s script.  Just to give you an idea of the wide range of accusations leveled against the movie, I’ll excerpt from the plethora of articles written on the topic.

Jenni Miller, Cinematical:

“Could Sorkin and Fincher have come up with a better way to portray women? Of course they could have. Is the depiction of Asian women as sexed-up, one-note, batsh*t women ridiculous and unnecessary? Of course. These are not points I’d disagree with. It is lazy to fall back on these stereotypes, and beneath Sorkin and Fincher’s talent.”

Jennifer Armstrong, Entertainment Weekly:

“But the way the women who do exist in the film are depicted is horrendous, like, ’50s-level sexist — if this were fiction, the snubs would be inexcusable … women in the movie are reduced to set pieces, gyrating, nearly naked scenery at parties, bimbo potheads, and mini-skirt-wearing interns meant to denote how far Zuckerberg has risen from his dorky beginnings. At one point, his mentor, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) brings a Victoria’s Secret model along as his date, and her major function is to demand shots if the boys insist on talking about icky business stuff. Perhaps the most nuanced female character in the film is the object of Sean’s one-night-stand who happens to first introduce him to Facebook. At least she seemed to give him a run for his wits as she questioned whether he remembered her name or not — even if she was ultimately blown away to find out he’d founded Napster.”

Rebecca Davis O’Brien, The Daily Beast:

“Women in the movie—apart from the lawyer and Erica, who sets the stage and disappears—are less prizes than they are props, buxom extras literally bussed in to fill the roles of doting groupies, vengeful sluts, or dumpy, feminist killjoys. They are foils for the male characters, who in turn are cruel or indifferent to them. (In a somewhat ironic turn of events, former Harvard President Larry Summers is perhaps the only man in the movie portrayed both as solicitous and respectful of a woman’s opinion.)”

Irin Carmon, Jezebel:

“He lived, and lives, in a world where, even if women were scarce in computer science classes, they were achieving as brilliantly as the men around them, in a Harvard that was driven more by extracurricular accomplishment than it was by the old-boy network, even if the old boys haven’t had their last gasp.”

Needless to say, the ladies are upset.  In a way, I understand.  The movie doesn’t exactly portray many strong women other than the two that manage to put Mark Zuckerberg in his place.  The movie argues that a woman’s rage is exactly what drove him to start Facebook, and this sets him up to have a fairly demeaning view of women from then on.

This is not real life; this Aaron Sorkin’s take on events.  In order to fully breath life into his character of Zuckerberg, I believe that he decided to make him a fairly unrepenting misogynist.  Throughout the movie, our reaction is always supposed to be, “Yes, Zuckerberg is brilliant … but look at the way he does this!  Look at the way he treats this friend!  Look at the way he treats that woman!”  How Zuckerberg acts is meant to undermine the brilliant things that Zuckerberg does.

The portrayal of women is, in my mind, not at all representative of how Sorkin wants us to view them.  Just because the main character does something does not mean that it’s what the entire work stands for.  Does anyone think that the creators of “The Office” support sexual harassment because Steve Carell’s Michael Scott does it every episode?

For all those who happened to be offended, Aaron Sorkin has apologized by commenting on a blog.  Here’s some of what he said:

“It’s not hard to understand how bright women could be appalled by what they saw in the movie but you have to understand that that was the very specific world I was writing about. Women are both prizes an equal. Mark’s blogging that we hear in voiceover as he drinks, hacks, creates Facemash and dreams of the kind of party he’s sure he’s missing, came directly from Mark’s blog. With the exception of doing some cuts and tightening (and I can promise you that nothing that I cut would have changed your perception of the people or the trajectory of the story by even an inch) I used Mark’s blog verbatim …  Facebook was born during a night of incredible misogyny. The idea of comparing women to farm animals, and then to each other, based on their looks and then publicly ranking them. It was a revenge stunt, aimed first at the woman who’d most recently broke his heart (who should get some kind of medal for not breaking his head) and then at the entire female population of Harvard.

More generally, I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren’t the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80’s. They’re very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now. The women they surround themselves with aren’t women who challenge them…”

So the misogyny is there, I’m not denying it or belittling it.  But if this is of great concern to you, Aaron Sorkin and “The Social Network” should be the last places you direct your anger.  Direct at the society that spawned the movie because there are real people out there who act like film Zuckerberg to women.  Yelling at a movie doesn’t get read of the real problem.





REVIEW: The Social Network

9 10 2010

Has Facebook made us more connected to our friends?  Or does hopelessly staring at their pictures, their moments, their lives only increase our feeling of isolation?  Such has been the question for the past five years as the Silicon Valley start-up has all but taken over the world.  We have been forced to ponder how much we want people to know about who we are, using our profile pages as a façade to cover the person hiding deep inside.  We can sculpt social perfection on the site, and perhaps that is why we pour so much time into it.

That’s the story of us in the Facebook age.  However, anyone not willing to closely scrutinize “The Social Network” might have the mistaken notion that the movie is only about the founders of the site.  While Aaron Sorkin’s script concerns itself entirely with the Facebook’s early years, the perspective is not limited merely to those intimately involved in creating the predominant social networking site of our time.

If Sorkin and director David Fincher had been interested in doing that, they would have made a documentary on the birth of Facebook.  Instead, their fictionalized account is meant to challenge our conceptions of communication and friendship in the digital era, as well as the changing nature of innovation.  As the face of human interaction becomes increasingly digital, this commentary will be an important work to consult.  “The Social Network” could very well be the movie that future generations will watch to get an idea of the millenials (or whatever history will call us).  The movie now puts the pressure on us to decide how to interpret its message: do we go polish our Facebook profiles or become disillusioned with the site?

Since creator Mark Zuckerberg refused to participate with the production, Sorkin and Fincher present him as they see him: a visionary with his fair share of vices who winds being torn asunder by two people with different ideas for the future of his creation.  Jesse Eisenberg hardly makes him sympathetic, but the ultimate interpretation of Zuckerberg is left to the viewer.  Is he a hero, a villain, or an antihero?  Whatever mold he fits, it cannot be denied that he is a figure of huge importance to the digital age.  Take his social idiosyncrasies out of the picture, and his journey is not too different than our journey with Facebook.

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Oscar Moment: “The Social Network”

13 08 2010

Are we just a month and a half away from the release of 2010’s Best Picture?  Ask some Oscar pundits today and they might say just that.  No one has seen “The Social Network,” which hits theaters October 1, in its entirety, but people have sky-high expectations based on the brilliant marketing campaign.

The buzz started with the release of some tantalizing teaser trailers and an intriguingly mysterious poster.  When we saw the full trailer playing before “Inception,” it was a wowing experience (that would still pale in comparison to the two and a half hours afterwards).  The trailer’s opening minute is very unique as it has nothing to do with the movie at all.  Rather, we watch people interacting on Facebook, a reminder of how much it has enhanced our connections to our friends.  Then we pixelate to Mark Zuckerberg, and the history begins.

From just the trailer alone, “The Social Network” looked like a movie for our time, more clearly zeitgeist-tapping than any movie in recent memory.  It takes a dramatic look the founding of Facebook, one of the defining inventions of our time, but also seems to tackle the subject of how the social networking site has affected the way humans communicate with each other.

How much of a judgement call, though, can we make on the movie based on the trailer?

When I thought about the Oscar contenders with the best trailers over the past few years, a few names stuck out in my mind.  “Brothers.”  No nominations.  “Revolutionary Road.”  One major nomination, no Best Picture nomination.  “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”  13 nominations including Best Picture.  It’s a mixed bag of results.  Trailers can be a sign of great things to come or merely disguise the lackluster by showing everything good to offer in two minutes.  So I don’t think we can call it a sure bet just because of the trailer.

And is being the presumed frontrunner the best thing for “The Social Network?”  I analyzed some movies in the same position last year in my Oscar Moment on “Invictus,” and here’s what I found:

The only real conclusion that can be drawn from those results is that having sky-high expectations can often yield unfavorable results.  If people expect something amazing, it is all the easier to underwhelm.

There’s a more in-depth look at the fates of these movies on that posting, but there has been a definite tendency for these movies to underperform in awards season.  This isn’t your traditional awards candidate – at least it isn’t being sold like one.

Sony is selling the movie mainly on the subject.  I bet the average American knows “The Social Network” as “The Facebook movie,” which is certainly good for drawing in an audience.  I think the premise alone draws in $80 million in revenue, but the fact that it’s going to be really good will increase its total take to somewhere in the range of $120-150 million.  I’m hardly a box office analyst, I know, yet I feel pretty confident making this financial prediction.  Judging from the amount of trailer parodies hitting the web, it’s definitely reaching the younger crowd, the most volatile demographic for movies like this.

When it comes to awards, though, money isn’t everything.  “The Social Network” has a lot working in its corner, namely director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.  Fincher is a well-respected figure, earning his first Oscar nomination in 2008 for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”  Before that, he directed cult favorites like “Seven” and “Fight Club.”  I didn’t think that his prior resumé qualified him for a project like this, but Fincher has proven himself at being versatile in the past.

While Sorkin doesn’t have an Academy Award nomination to his name, he has earned a great deal of acclaim for his work in writing for movies, television, and the stage.  His style is greatly admired, and he is one of very few writers whose name could sell a product.  Sorkin adapted “The Social Network” from last year’s book “The Accidental Billionaires,” but Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has written off the movie as pure fiction.  The fact that he has so vehemently denied the movie being factual only increase the intrigue around the movie.  Could there be some parts so true he doesn’t want us to know?

Those are the big names of “The Social Network,” and I think most of the praise will fall on the two of them.  Will there be any love for the actors?  Could Jesse Eisenberg, at 27, gain any heat in the Best Actor race?  If the movie winds up being the talk of the town, he could easily find himself in heavy consideration.  If he were to win, Eisenberg would be the youngest Best Actor winner ever.

Best Supporting Actor could get interesting, too.  I don’t think people can take Justin Timberlake seriously enough for a nomination, although anything can happen if the movie is huge.  The first Academy Award nominated boy band member … wouldn’t that be something.

The more likely candidate, it seems, is Andrew Garfield.  Seen him recently?  He was just cast as the new Spider-Man.  The trailer sure makes his performance seem like the kind the Academy loves, lots of screaming and shouting to be found.  Garfield also stars in awards hopeful “Never Let Me Go,” so he could receive a nomination in “The Social Network” as a reward for a great year of work from such a new actor on the scene.  Plus, how cool would it be to have an Oscar winner playing a superhero?

The first time the world gets a glimpse of the movie is at the New York Film Festival.  Until then, we wait.  And watch the trailer again … and again … and again …

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor (Garfield), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actor (Timberlake), Best Original Score