Everything you never wanted to know about the advent of Facebook, where “friends” gather on the Internet, will be revealed in The Social Network. That’s not to say you will understand it. Structured as an amorphous series of flashbacks from the depositions of two separate lawsuits, it takes you through the steps by which a socially inept (how ironic!) Harvard computer nerd stumbled upon “a once-in-a-generation holy-shit idea” and transformed himself into the world’s youngest billionaire, making more enemies than friends (how more ironic!) along the way. Of necessity, it is filled with references, jargon, proper names, which will be familiar to some and unfamiliar to others. The former will be in a better position not just to understand but to identify and to envy — and possibly, paradoxically, to feel superior. The others are apt to be left out in the cold or simply left cold.
Regardless, the film engineers a remarkably smooth experience, even when pressing the accelerator to the floor. The compulsive rapid patter (Aaron Sorkin, logorrheic screenwriter) is well handled by all, but especially in the lead role by Jesse Eisenberg, the pretentious high-schooler of The Squid and the Whale grown now into a pretentious collegian, adding the essential ingredients of detachment, abstraction, and arrogance to complete the character’s charmlessness. The busy churning industrious background music sweeps you into the excitement whether or not you can see it or comprehend it. And director David Fincher bathes the eye with the muted dark harmonious color schemes of Whistler’s Nocturnes. Despite the pieciness of the narrative, the film gives a good impression of being all of a piece, all of a tone. Altogether, it glides, it slides, and it never really grips. Resistance to the subject matter, however stout, must be weakened if not quite broken.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger takes Woody Allen back to England, where he plugs away in the manner of his endless autumn: unpretentious, unpressured, unpolished, just a kernel of an idea, thin on jokes and one-liners, fortunate still to find funding, free to do and to be. With little deliberation, he choreographs a dance of discontent and delusion for seven (or eight, nine, ten) featured dancers, the new divorcée who after a forty-year marriage falls under the spell of a fake fortune-teller, the liberated lonely old ex-husband who tumbles for a paid escort, the blocked novelist who gazes longingly past his wife at the Boccherini-playing guitarist in the window across the way, the wife who in her new job at a posh art gallery gazes longingly at her unhappily married boss. (Pithy visual: the restive novelist, moving in with his new flame, now sees his wife from the opposite tantalizing viewpoint, the woman in the window.) The immutable pattern of the dance overrides its arbitrary details, although Lucy Punch, the gaudiest detail, with a racehorse’s flaring nostrils, steals the show in the same way that Mira Sorvino in a similar role stole Mighty Aphrodite. Gemma Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts, Freida Pinto, Antonio Banderas, and Pauline Collins, all playing perfectly straight, give more than they’re asked.
Were it not for the old-timey, good-timey jazz accompaniment and the labor-saving waggish narrator (“Okay now, let’s go back and take another look...”), a comic tone, a comic intent, would have been harder to detect. The occultism, taken with utmost unseriousness, adds perhaps a new dimension of discontent and delusion, or a new angle on them, but it could have added, with a little extra effort, a lot more. Vilmos Zsigmond’s buttered and honeyed cinematography creates its own kind of monotony. And yet the familiarity of the entire enterprise, beginning and ending with the changeless typeface of the opening and closing credits, brings a level of comfort that can only come with time, a level of expectation easily met and not likely exceeded. Somewhere the grass is sure to be greener, and Allen, as his film makes perfectly plain, is serenely resigned to it. Wander if you will.
Let Me In, for those allergic to subtitles, provides an American revamping and retitling of the overpraised Swedish horror show, Let the Right One In, a tender, tentative, prepubescent love story between a bullied schoolboy and the next-door vampire (“twelve, more or less”), snail-paced, whisper-soft, like the original. Matt Reeves, dropping the pardonably sloppy digital camcorder of Cloverfield, directing this one “straight,” does a lot of fooling around with the focus in order to feel creative, and he contributes an amusing sequence of a blood-hunt gone bad, the hunter hidden behind the front seat of a car when the targeted driver stops to pick up an unanticipated passenger, that I don’t recall from the earlier version. But he mostly follows the inherited blueprint all the way into boredom. Chloë Grace Moretz, the delightful Kick-Ass girl, is thoroughly grounded, for all her flying ability, in a characterization bent on converting her into a junior Kristen Stewart. No added luster accrues from the aegis of Hammer studios. All connection to the Brit specialty house responsible for the Christopher Lee series of Dracula portraits — not to mention the jewel in the crown, Five Million Years to Earth a/k/a Quatermass and the Pit a/k/a (to my wife alone) Grasshoppers in the Subway — has been irreparably severed.
Zen, one of the exclusives at the Reading Gaslamp, is a slow, solemn, reverent biopic, or perhaps hagio-pic, on the 13th-century Japanese monk, Dogen Zenji, who imported from China the “authentic” Buddhism founded on the central tenet of a sitting meditation, Zazen. The ingenuousness of director Banmei Takahashi, not to be mistaken for ingenuity, comes through steadily in his balanced and uncluttered images, and most disarmingly in bits of fantasy and lyricism fit for New Age-y greeting cards. The teachings of the master, passed along through the poker-faced actor, Kantaro Nakamura, will naturally be less familiar to Western viewers than the standard repertoire of Bible stories, though no less challenging. (The lesson imparted to a Mary Magdalene figure, a prostitute with a dying baby, packs a wallop.) Enlightenment, even for those able to stay awake throughout, lies beyond the film’s reach, but it makes a start.
All of the above open on Friday the First. ■