Dinner for Schmucks (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Tim (Paul Rudd) wanted to be a more powerful executive in the company he worked for. But in order to become one of them, his boss (Bruce Greenwood) invited Tim to attend a dinner party in which the company men were required to bring an idiot with whom they could make fun of as they enjoyed their meal. Plagued by thoughts about why his girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak) wouldn’t accept his marriage proposal, Tim accidentally ran over Barry (Steve Carell), an IRS agent who had a penchant for collecting dead mice and putting them in a box for display. Desperate to impress his girlfriend, he invited Barry to attend the mean-spirited dinner. Based on Francis Veber’s “Le dîner de cons,” “Dinner for Schmucks” committed an unforgivable sin: It was a comedy that was devoid of humor. Forty minutes into the picture, I stopped and wondered why not once did I laugh at the craziness that was happening on screen. There was a lot of yelling, particularly between Tim and Barry, but Jay Roach, the director, had mistaken screaming for energy. Instead of exploring the relationship between the pathetic Barry and the even more pathetic Tim, the movie spent more time with unnecessary distractions. Worse, the distractions were supposed to be amusing. There was Lucy Punch as Tim’s insane one night stand from a few years ago. Her character was taken out of a horrible pornographic film. Jemaine Clement as the vain French artist made me feel uncomfortable and seeing him made me wish he put on a shirt. Even Ron Livingston and Zach Galifianakis’ appearances as Tim and Barry’s rivals, respectively, were uninspired. Each scene was like watching a bad sitcom that lasted for almost two hours. I kept waiting for the film to slow down and take the time for Tim to realize that what he was doing to Barry was not only wrong, that his actions said a lot about himself. In an early scene, he told his girlfriend that there was a version of him that she didn’t know and she should find a way to deal with it. But maybe there was a version of him that he himself wasn’t aware of. There were times when I thought Rudd was miscast. When he was supposed to summon a bit of darkness and malicious intent, it didn’t quite work. He remained harmless and adorable. The lack of focus in terms of the relationship between Tim and Barry ultimately felt forced when Tim’s conscience was finally at the forefront. I couldn’t help but feel that “Dinner for Schmucks” was supposed to be a man and his blind ambition to further his career so that he could live the so-called American Dream. The gags should have been secondary and, more importantly, the humor should have had range.
Boogie Woogie (2009)
★ / ★★★★
“Boogie Woogie,” based on the novel by Danny Moynihan, attempted to explore the many personalities of the London art scene. There was Gillian Anderson and Stellan Skarsgård as a couple addicted to purchasing art, Heather Graham as an ambitious blonde who wanted to run her own museum one day, Joanna Lumley as an older woman who was struggling to keep up with the bills so she decided to sell Christopher Lee’s valuable collection, Jaime Winstone who believed her video self-portrait was art, and Jack Huston who used his artistic persona to seduce women. Despite the many things happening in the film, Duncan Ward, the director, failed to balance the characters in a meaningful way and to convince me why it was worth investing my time to observe these colorful bunch of people. All of them were self-centered, lacked a sense of what was right or wrong, and they were proud of being predators. They were always out to outsmart each other in hopes of filling a void inside of them. They found themselves exhausted day in and day out but they couldn’t take a moment, do a bit of introspection, and perhaps to attempt to make an actual change. They left a bitter taste in my mouth and the distaste never went away. I hoped that as the film went on, my opinions of them would change but there was no redeeming factor in any of them. There was no element of surprise and I felt like there was a wall between me and the characters. Perhaps the most harmless was the girl who loved to rollerblade played by Amanda Seyfried. But even then I had no idea who she was and what she was doing in the film. Was she even interested in art? There were too many characters and not one character was fully explored, so in the end I pondered what the point of it was and couldn’t come up with any. As for the movie’s title, it referred to Piet Mondrian’s painting. The painting was rarely shown and we only saw about four characters (out of fifteen to twenty) to actually see it. And when they did comment on it, it was very shallow and their words felt meaningless. I thought the painting was the main element that could help to place the many personalities in the same room but it didn’t. In a nutshell, sitting through “Boogie Woogie” was a maddening and painful experience. It glorified money, sex, and drugs instead of attempting to explore why depending solely on these these things make up a life not worth living.
The Social Network (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★
The first thing I did after watching David Fincher’s “The Social Network” was log on Facebook to check if I had any notifications. Whether one’s feeling toward Facebook and other social networking sites be love or hate, no one can deny the fact that such simple inventions changed how people communicate. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) desperately wanted to fit in Harvard when he was an undergraduate. He wanted to get into a private club but he didn’t have the means. He was smart but he wasn’t likable. In fact, he was far from likable. When his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) broke up with him, he went up to his dorm room and posted insults about her body and her family on LiveJournal. His only real friend was Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) who also wanted to belong. Eduardo’s emotional intelligence was higher than his friend’s. Eventually, the two became partners in creating Facebook but when it was launched, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) claimed that their idea was stolen. Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), founder of Napster, came into the picture in order to bring Facebook to an international level. The film benefited from very strong performances from Eisenberg, Garfield, and Timberlake. I was delighted with Eisenberg’s performance because even though I’ve seen him play nerd-chic multiple times prior (with relative ease), I felt like this was his most complete and challenging performance yet. I hated him, I rooted for him, I hated him some more, and I felt sorry for him. The final shot of him refreshing a certain someone’s Facebook page was pitch-perfect because it showed that despite all the money and the acclaim, he had nobody so his life felt empty. Garfield, who’s been doing fantastic independent work for a while, is finally given the spotlight past overdue. He had a lot on his plate because he was the heart of the picture. He was David who had to face multiple Goliaths equipped with brains. We all knew it would take more than a slingshot and some pebbles for him to, not necessarily succeed because we all knew what would ultimately happen, but to take what he deserved. I was invested in his character because he struggled to remain loyal to his friend even though his friend had no sense of loyalty to him. Lastly, Timberlake did a wonderful job playing Parker, a fierce and forward-thinking businessman who knew exactly he wanted and wasn’t afraid to grab whatever he desired even if it was on someone’s else plate. His ego was probably as big as his ambition to be relevant again. Fincher’s confident direction mixed with Aaron Sorkin’s intelligent script made a wonderful film that highlighted not just the story of college students lives’ being broadcasted over the internet or the drama of the creation of Facebook, but also the highly ambitious, although sometimes misguided, natures of young adults today.
The Informant! (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) had it all: a stable job that paid well, a loving family, a huge home, and absolutely no drama in his life. But his ambition and greed got the best of him and decided that he was going to accuse his company of embezzlement. He just didn’t want to be near the top of the pyramid, he wanted to be at the peak. Somehow, in his mind, he had this idea that if he could take down everyone who was in a higher position than him in the company, he would end up running the whole place. He was logical on the surface but his logic’s core was seriously flawed so he was a fascinating specimen for me to observe from a psychological point of view. “The Informant!,” based on a book by Kurt Eichenwald and directed by Steven Soderbergh, was a hilarious look at a man who was drowning in his lies and delusions, but even funnier was he had no idea when to quit and seek help. I think Damon should have been nominated for an Oscar for his acting in this film because even though he got everyone trapped in his tornado of lies for five years or more, like his wife (Melanie Lynskey) and the two FBI agents (Scott Bakula, Joel McHale) who recruited him as a spy, I had to admit that I ended up rooting for him because his charisma was as powerful as his lies. The desperation that Damon infused in his character made me feel bad for him not just as a character but as a person. In other words, he successfully made a pathological liar look like the good guy. I loved the way Soderbergh helmed the picture. Instead of telling the story in a typical crime drama, it was nicely balanced with dark humor, especially the scenes when the lead character would narrate for a bit so we could hear the many random (sometimes insightful) thoughts and what was really going on inside of his head. Just when I thought I had the movie all figured out, it surprised me because it actually became darker and more amusing as it went on. The director had a way of playing with tones at just the right amount so it didn’t feel jarring when it shifted. Considering the movie covered a span of ten years, the pacing was superb and I actually wanted it to run longer because I was having such a great time. The progression of a confident and obviously smart man who slowly lost all the good things in his life (including his mind) was sad but at the same the journey was quite a ride. I loved that most of the movie’s humor was in the dialogue and situations instead of playing on the obvious. I’ve read reviews from regular folks who claimed that it was stupid. I think those people just need to think for a bit and realize the fact that there’s a Mark Whitacre in all of us (narcissism and all)–the way we lie to people and sometimes how we eventually get tangled up in our own lies to the point where we end up betraying our own ideals.