CUT TO CARE:
A COLLECTION OF LITTLE HURTS
by Aaron Dries, featuring an introduction by Mick GARRIS available here!
CUT TO CARE:
A COLLECTION OF LITTLE HURTS
by Aaron Dries, featuring an introduction by Mick GARRIS available here!
"These stories are as disturbing as they are emotionally authentic and devastating. Humanistic horror. Beautiful. Grotesque. And all too real."
— Paul Tremblay, author of The Cabin at the End of the World and The Pallbearers Club.
An agency that sends social workers into the homes of grieving families to impersonate dead loved ones... The kind old woman who saved a teenager's life but now finds herself haunted by the weight of a cheated suicide... And the daughter of a candlestick maker as she tries to survive a painful existence after her father's execution for making human chandeliers from drunken cowboys...
These stories and more -- ranging from supernatural to the frighteningly domestic, Splatterpunk to the weird and cosmic -- stain the pages of CUT TO CARE: A COLLECTION OF LITTLE HURTS by Aaron Dries. They serve as a timely reminder of the cost of caring too much. Or not caring enough. Of how we mask cruelties behind kindness. And of our willingness to rip ourselves apart in the hope of satisfying a world that doesn't always care for you back.
Featuring an exclusive introduction by Mick Garris, creator of Showtime's MASTERS OF HORROR and director of Stephen King's THE STAND, this unforgettable collection truly cuts deep. Available from IFWG Publishing.
"Dries dissects themes of mental health, memory, and momentary mistakes in this heart-wrenching collection excised from everyday life.”
— Lee Murray, USA Today Bestselling author, Shirley Jackson, and Bram Stoker Award® winner
"Dries writes with the confidence of someone who doesn't just know our universal truths, but our mostly deeply hidden secrets. This collection left me shaken."
— Paul Michael Anderson, author of Bones Are Made To Be Broken and Everything Will Be All Right In the End: Apocalypse Songs.
"Dries takes personal fears and moulds them into universal truths. And the truths he writes of most powerfully are those associated with the terror of simply being alive."
— Gary McMahon, British-Fantasy-Award-nominated author of Rough Cut and All Your Gods Are Dead
It's the blog that dripped blood.
A place of random thoughts, curiosities, reviews and ramblings.
|Posted by Aaron Dries on October 23, 2010 at 7:06 PM||comments ()|
The following is an excerpt from "House of Sighs" by Aaron Dries. None of the following text may be reproduced without permission of the author.
PROLOGUE: IT BEGINS
“There is only one Evil: Disunity”
-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
ONE HUNDRED AND FIVE
Suzie Marten was ten years old when she died.
Her passion was dancing. Spinning herself dizzy in search of rhythm, pirouetting until her toes hurt. Her father had bought her a pair of ballet shoes. They fit perfectly. Suzie loved those shoes with a pure love only children can feel for inanimate objects. She was wearing them when she was torn apart.
It was the ninth of November, 1995.
To Suzie, Sunday morning was the final stop between freedom and school. She both loved and hated Sundays. Suzie despised school and especially her teacher. When he got mad he threw things. She imagined he spent his Sundays alone, watching the clock, eager for Monday so he could overturn someone’s desk. He had done this to her best friend, books and pencils crashed to the floor, an eraser bounced up and clipped one boy’s ear. At recess Suzie hugged her friend. “It’s okay. I saw on the T.V that teachers can’t do that and we can sue him. He’s such a … dirty shit.”
They looked at each other, shocked. Dirty shit.
“Suzie Marten you can’t say that! If they hear you say that they’ll send a letter home to your mom and she’ll wash your mouth out with soap. I saw that one on the T.V too.”
“Na-uh she won’t. My mom’s too tired to do that. Always in bed. And besides, she says words like that! She works the dog watch at the hospital- whatever that means. She gets home from work when everyone else is getting up. I don’t know what a dog has to do with it. I once saw this boring black-and-white movie about a vampire who only ever came out at night. He could turn into a bat and flew around eating people- or something- and during the day he slept in a box. Did’ja ever see that one?”
Suzie once teased her mother’s mouth open with a spoon while she slept, to see if she had fangs. Donna Marten bolted awake, grabbed her daughter by the wrist and pulled her under the sheets. They laughed. That night they had Fruit Loops for dinner.
On the morning of the ninth, Donna fell into bed after a ten-hour shift. Her knees ached, the smell of disinfectant and cigarettes sweating out of her pores. She was too tired to shower. Suzie pulled the blankets up to her mother’s chin.
“M-oom,” Suzie said, her voice drawn out and meek.
“What is it, Honey? I’m dead on my feet.”
“Come on, out with it. I’m two ticks away from dreaming.”
“Well, I was wondering. How come on television Moms don’t get old? How come Julia Roberts never gets wrinkles but you’re starting to look like an old lady?” Donna stared into her daughter’s innocent eyes.
“Think yourself lucky I love you, Suzie,” she said, wishing her daughter were old enough to start lying like everyone else. They kissed goodnight, all forgiven. She watched her daughter pull the door shut.
Suzie passed a cabinet full of her gymnastics trophies in the hallway, the glass planes shaking as she bounced. Her reflection twittered from one family photo to another. Leaping into the kitchen, she slid to the refrigerator in her socks. It was covered in drawings and magnets, school reports and shopping receipts.
Alone at last.
Her father was away on another business trip. Where he went she rarely knew, but was always glad to see him go because he never came back empty handed. Once he brought a packet of wind up crayons, another time, the ballet shoes.
She watched Sailor Moon over cereal. Afterwards, she pulled her hair into a ponytail and brushed her teeth, the bristles as frayed as corn stalks after a storm. A week later her mother found dried mint splashes on the mirror. She licked them off.
Suzie put on her headphones even though the padding itched her ears, slipped into a pink leotard and tu-tu. She pressed play on her Walkman and music filled her ears. She slammed the front door as she went into yard.
In the house a hum escaped the freezer, the grandfather clock ticked. Gentle draughts tickled a wind chime near the window. Donna snored.
Suzie danced to Mister Boombastic on the front lawn. In her opinion, she lived on the most boring street in all of James Bridge, maybe even all of Australia: a rarely travelled stretch of road on the outskirts of town. Suzie had no neighbours, but should a car come along she liked the idea of being seen.
Autumn was hot that year, the house surrounded by matchstick grass. The valley hissed when the wind blew through the dead trees, a desperate, lonely sound.
Suzie spun and curtsied. She laughed to herself. I could do this all day, she thought. And I will!
She loved watching her shadow on the lawn, the way it was a part of her. But when she leapt into the air they were separated. If only she could fly forever, but she would miss her shadow. That would be sad, like losing a friend.
Four hours after falling asleep, panic reached into the dark and ripped Donna from her bed. Her stomach knotted, brow flecked with dried sweat. It had not been the sounds of screeching tires, or the muted gunshot that woke her- fatigue had seen to that. It was simply that her mind had fled her body and her flesh had no choice but to follow.
She threw open the door and ran from room to room. Nothing.
“Suzie!” she yelled. Her voice was feral, unrecognisable as her own. Something inside fuelled her dread. The house was empty.
Donna stumbled outside, her eyes squinting against the sunlight. Pain thudded in her head and shot down her spine. Suzie was not in the backyard. As she rounded the house and neared the front gate, she felt heat waves coming off the brick wall to her right. She fumbled with the latch. Next to her were the trashcans. Their stench reached out for her. The latch opened and the gate swung wide.
Donna ran onto the front lawn and stopped.
The Walkman was shattered near the gutter, ribbons of grey tape fluttering in the wind.
Suzie Marten was strewn in pieces across the road.
Crows fluttered over intestines, disturbing the stillness. One hopped onto Suzie’s head, spread it’s bloodied wings and squawked. It lowered its beak and bit the child’s tongue, which had been cooking against the tar.
In front of her was her daughter’s ballet shoe, the foot still inside. Donna screamed.
Her breath came short as her nostrils filled with the smell; a mixture of burnt chemicals and sugarcane, shit and salt. She would never forget it. Darkness flittered over her vision. Donna ran to her child. She lashed out at the birds. They twirled and cawed, sprinkling blood drops over her face. “Get away from my baby!” she screamed, arms thrashing. But the beaks returned to meat, soft stabbings sounds at ankle height. One crow settled on her shoulder, feathers brushed against her cheek. Her world emptied. Colour drained from her face; she clambered over gravel. This isn’t happening, she thought. It can’t be. I’m dreaming- that’s it! I’m still sleeping, my baby isn’t torn to pieces. Donna started to laugh, short deep bleats. Parents were not equipped to see such sights; to smell such insane, bitter scents.
She fought the birds again, kicked out, punching. She didn’t comprehend what she was doing until she held one in her hand. Its scream mingled with her own, formed a single high-pitched mewl that echoed across the fields. Donna let it drop, its wings broken.
Donna fell to her knees and attempted to scoop up as much of her daughter as she could. Her arms swept wide in manic, possessive hugs, pulling the larger chunks close to her chest. Tears slipped down her face. She gave in and settled on the largest intact fragment: Suzie’s head, neck, collarbone and left arm, which hung on by a thread. The birds were hungry and would not let their bounty escape without a fight. They swooped, their black eyes empty.
The chunk of Suzie was only a quarter of the corpse, but Donna thought it was heavier than her daughter had ever been intact. She turned her back to the crows, deflecting swoops and scratches. Without warning the weight in her arms lessened and Donna felt something slap against her shins. Something warm and wet.
Donna was a nurse and assisted doctors in surgery. What she saw sitting on her shins, was unlike anything she had ever seen at work. It was small and childlike. A healthy heart that still had many years of beating left to do.
Donna collapsed amid a flurry of dark wings, dark shadows.
|Posted by Aaron Dries on October 23, 2010 at 6:28 PM||comments ()|
House of Sighs
It's the summer of 1995 in James Bridge, Australia and the passengers of the Sunday bus into town have been kidnapped by their driver, Liz Frost. Liz began that day planning to kill herself. Many would go on to believe it would have been better if she had. The gun she intended to use on herself is now pointed at her hostages and out of fear, she plans to take them home with her.
To meet the family.
There are seven passengers, and pitted against them is Liz and her deranged kin; a troupe who do not look kindly upon strangers. But as the death toll rises a painful realization forms: where does the greater danger lie? In The House of Sighs, or among the passengers themselves?
INTRODUCING THE FROST FAMILY
Liz Frost is a bus driver from the west part of James Bridge. She has suffered at the hands of her overbearing and often-violent father since she was a child, and has long gone ignored by her apathetic mother. She suffers from severe depression and has attempted suicide multiple times. As a little girl she became adept at hiding her bruises from the prying eyes of teachers and fellow students. She longs for love and although she wants to end her life, she clings to the hope of being saved and is terrified by the realities of death.
Wes Frost has a heavy conscience. His guilt over being such an abusive father and non-existent husband has come to define him. He wants to change his life and the way his family view him, but is too ashamed to admit that he has done wrong. There has always been great anger within him but over the past few years he has managed to subdue it by listening to music from his adolescence and by tending to his garden. Wes is loyal to his family, even though he rarely communicates with them. He longs for redemption but does not know how to achieve it.
Reggie Frost has grown tired of being a wife and mother. Over the years she has grown increasingly apathetic to those around her, and numb to the abusive nature of her husband. There are however, little sparks of life left in her ... but these usually take the form of short-lived bursts of anger over small things, like the Christmas decorations outside the house, or the unwashed dishes in the kitchen sink. She loves her children but has forgotten how to show it.
Jed Frost is a part-time shelf stacker and part time drug dealer. He has many clients but none are more loyal than his sister, Liz. He respects her deeply, she having fought for him against their father many times over the years. Jed still lives at home and spends the majority of his day tinkering with the broken down car in the shed, or ploughing into the punching bag for hours on end. Jed is loyal to his family, who serve as both a barometer for what he does not want to become and crutch of unspoken support.
INTRODUCING THE PASSENGERS
Diana Savage is a twenty-six year old American from Oregon who now calls Australia home. When she was a teenager her mother was killed in a car accident and her father later remarried an Australian tourist. Her relocation to the opposite hemisphere was initially met with anger, but the relationship with her step-sister Julia, helped her come to terms with many of the changes in her life. Diana is a little up-tight, but she is a wonderful sister. She longs to return to both Oregon and The Greek Islands, the two places that helped define who she is and all that she stands for.
Julia Belfry is being crushed under the weight of a secret. The walls of her bedroom are lined with music posters for artists none of her friends recognise, bands like Jellyfish and singers like Grant Lee Buffalo. Music is her escape and she has become increasingly reliant upon it. She also finds comfort in her step-sister Diana’s ongoing support. On the day she met Liz Frost, Julia had been planning on going to the movies to see the Robin Williams film Jumanji. She is sixteen years old.
Sarah Carr is sixty-three, but she will be the first to proclaim that she doesn’t look a day over forty-five. She has always considered herself as a 'Hip Nanna'. Sarah never leaves the house without her over sized, garish crucifix- despite her recent lapse in faith. She looks after her cancer-ridden husband seven days a week, but often needs time to herself, whether it be sitting alone in her house for a minute or two, or by taking the bus into town and browsing through the book stores. Sarah’s tough and foul-mouthed veneer masks her regrets and ongoing fears.
Nineteen-year-old Michael Delaney used to be fat. But now that he has lost the weight, new insecurities have taken hold of his life. He is struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality, and the haunting memories of an embarrassing event that occurred in Thailand a few years prior. Michael is on the threshold of manhood but his diffidence holds him back from being the person he really wants to be. Although he has little affinity for the beach, Michael will often day dream of the ocean.
Peter Ditton is eighteen-years-old and lives with his overbearing mother in James Bridge. The most recent conflict with his guardian involves skipping Sunday church services to go to a poetry writing class with a friend. When Peter grows up he would like to be a writer, although he has reservations about his limited talent. His teacher is unimpressed with his output thus far and has challenged him to write about something real and personal; to find the truth in the things he observes and experiences. Peter takes his notepad with him everywhere he goes just in case he feels inspired.
Jack Barker was born and raised in James Bridge, but his mind is relative to the size of the town: small and narrow. He does not like people who are not like him. He struggles with those who lack self-confidence and people who are not from traditional, Anglo-Saxon backgrounds. During school and the majority of his adult life, Jack has been a wingman and has been looking for a reason to step centre stage. His hands are covered in small white scars, which serve as reminders of his childhood.
Steve Brown is having troubles at home. He adores his wife Bev, but she has been driving him mad. She is always harping at him to get a job and is particularly unimpressed that Steve planned an outing with mates at the Maitland Golf Club, when funds are so low. Steve will never be found without his 'second skin', the Newcastle Knights football jersey he wears all year ‘round regardless of the weather. Although he has been known to tell the occasional white-lie, Steve is genuine and warm-hearted.
All text and illustrations by Aaron Dries, 2010
|Posted by Aaron Dries on October 7, 2010 at 7:50 PM||comments ()|
This is such an easy film to retell, but such a hard one to review.
The plot concerns Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), two American tourists travelling presumably alone through an unspecified part of Germany, not too far from the reputable Autobahn. Through some contrived plotting they end up stranded in the woods with a broken down car and a non-functional mobile phone. It’s Whales’s The Old Dark House story playing out all over again; they end up knocking on the wrong door. The very wrong door. But then again, don’t they all? A minor struggle and two drug-spiked glass of water later, Lindsay and Jenny are at the mercies of mad-scientist Dr. Heiter (effectively played by Dieter Laser), a man with a God complex who wants to create a “human-centipede”. We all know how, and yes, it’s 100% medically accurate. Add to this “sequence”, Japanese man Katsuro (Askihiro Kitamura), who too has been captured and awaits the same fate.
At the core of this film is an implicitly evil conceit. And that’s why it is scary. Does the material match the heights of the conceit though? No way and that’s a shame. It is however, stylishly made, understated and serious. It’s a thin concept stretched over too wide a canvas but it’s still effective. This is a sucker-punch of an experience that most people will want to hate. And a lot of people simply will. But it’s hard to deny that the idea has a way of worming into your subconscious, of disturbing you and shaking you up. Bodily modification is a horrific notion. Just the thought of it is enough to turn your stomach. Sensitive viewers are not encouraged, although like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Midnight Meat Train, The Human Centipede: First Sequence is the kind of film with a title that weeds the horror aficionado/viewer of controversial content from your casual remote flicker.
If writer/director Tom Six’s title doesn’t warn you enough, then hear it from me. There are no excuses because this film will offer no appologies. This is the joy of cinema and of being human. We are mature enough to make our own decisions and to see what we do and do not want to.
Now where were we? The film, that’s right! Look, it’s not perfect. Far from it. But it does have a lot of butts (ahem) to Six’s credit. And yes, I apologize for that terrible pun.
Let’s discuss how it could have been better. I would have recommended Six bring in a co-writer, someone with a better palate for dialogue, to flesh out the earlier scenes among the two girls. I’m not saying give us some sort of contrived back-story, but give us something at the very least. As a viewer we need a reason to empathise with the girls. They are presented as unsophisticated, unadventurous, ditsy and inarticulate. They are screechy caricatures that insist on making all the wrong mistakes- constantly, who are not smart enough to check to see if their rental car would have a spare tire, and if it did, to have the smarts or the ability to change it.
As a result the entire first act simply does not work. Why? Because there is no empathy and a film like this needs it. It’s very cold and calculated, both in content and visual design, so you can’t look for that emotional affection via those technical means. It’s all going to be through the characters and we get less than zero motivation.
For example, there is a brief conversation when the girls talk to an un-named friend on the telephone in their hotel room. Here is a prime place for some exposition. Instead of talking to an equally cold twenty-something, for whom the girls have bought a gift, why not have one of the girls talking to their parents? The effect of this change: instantly she has a family, someone who loves her and who would be worried about her if they were to miss a call. Through some very simple lines we could have found out something –anything- about these girls. Instead we get superficial annoyances that do nothing to enhance the story.Second mistake: the contrived capture. To be fair things do pick up once the girls are inside the house of the mad scientist, but prior to this we are subjected to an embarrassing car-break down sequence. The girls fumble and bicker and then embark upon a silly forest trek.
What was Six thinking?
It’s these structural mistakes that undermine the seriousness of what he was embarking upon. The girls look for help in a rainy, dark forest… Wouldn’t it make more sense to look along the road, or to turn back and go in the direction from which they came? How it should have gone down: home invasion. They are kidnapped. Simple and effective. Had six done this he would have eliminated the awkward and obligatory “the mobile phone isn’t working” scene and the stupid decision to run up the “figurative staircase instead of running out the door clichés.” Hasn’t Six seen Scream?
These initial flaws aside, the character empathy is redeemed via an act of courage by one of the girls during an attempted escape in which she makes some commendable choices. We almost get a strong heroine who you want to live. This act does gain your sympathy, but not quite enough. In all honesty it is the viewers own fears and insecurities about body mutation that carry the rest of the film. If Six had made these structural changes and then simply let his film play out as it did ... we would have a small, humble and disturbing satire. I’m not kidding. It’s not particularly explicit by horror movie standards; our minds do the majority of the slicing and dicing.
Six obviously understands the conventions of terror, but he’s yet to show the talent of a young Cronenberg, to whom this film does owe a debt. The difference between Cronenberg and Six is that Cronenberg, even at his most remote and frigid, still had back-up ideas to his primary concerns. Those films (think Rabid, Shivers and The Brood) all were three-tiered experiences; there was character, ideas and fear. This has two out of three, and one part of that (the fear) is lessened significantly due to the lack of the other. The concept of the centipede is fitting, without one segment it all will fall apart.
The central performance by Dieter Laser as Dr. Heiter is chilling and effective, if again under-developed. There is a perfunctory opening sequence which does nothing for the story at all, in which prior to shooting a trucker preparing to shit in the woods, Dr. Heiter is looking over photographs of a dog-centipede. I can guarantee you this: had he been looking at anything else, the film would be better. A) it blows the idea too quickly, the central image has been cemented in our minds and thus detracts from the impact of the human centipede reveal, and B) he should have been looking at photos of something that fuelled his motivation. Anything!
Come on people, we’re playing with simple screenwriting principles here.
Even better, get rid of the opening scene, cut all references to his prior medical history and just have the monster run free, unmotivated completely- like the shark in Jaws. You can have it one way or the other. Pick one and stick to it and make that choice work.
The fire and drive of the film is in Katsuro, the Japanese man with some fight to him. He literally saves the film. You sense his shame as his bowels release into the mouth of the woman behind him. You suddenly understand the implications and consequences of what is happening. And there is distinct power in these scenes. You understand that Katsuro refuses to be made into an animal, that he refuses to let go of his humanity and be degraded. I’m unconsciously impelled to like films which feature culturally unexpected heroes; he is not your average, white, male, hero-type. This was a wise and non-discriminatory decision. It pays off because it keeps in tune with Six’s cold, unprejudiced depiction of violence and it’s implied consequences.
The cinematography is controlled and elegant. The color palate reeks of antiseptic and bile. It’s not gritty, it’s very sleek, without being over stylized, as so many modern horror films are. The music is not overpowering and the performances of the two girls are actually quite good, once their mouths have been sewn shut. You see the fear in their eyes. That’s what counts.
Look, this is as hard a film to review, just as it’s a hard film to watch. It reminded me of early Rolf DeHeer. This film, like DeHeer’s, is paint-stripper … but it could have been acid. It’s got the concept driving it and a building reputation. Is that enough to get by? Apparently yes, as it’s doing quite well for such a stridently independent film. Added to this the sequel is already in the can.
I hope that Six has learned from his mistakes, because he displays enough talent here to make me want to see more films by him. Just get a co-writer, listen to the criticisms this film is getting, improve and grow as a storyteller. Continue to disturb us and don’t back down and compromise. There are few voices doing it today.
RATING: Officially- 2.5/5, but I'm inflating it to 3/5 because I think Six shows promise.
|Posted by Aaron Dries on October 7, 2010 at 1:31 PM||comments ()|
Promising Wall Street trader Jake (Shia LeBeouf) partners with the epitome of greed and corruption Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) - who has recently been released from his eight year stretch in prison for insider trading. The reason for their teaming is two-tiered revenge on Bretton James (Josh Brolin). Why? Well, the mischievous, speed hungry James incarcerated Gekko way back when via illegal means and unwillingly signed the financial and literal death warrant of Jake’s father figure, fellow trader and depressed mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella). Among the Wall Street daggers there is an emotional backbone in the storylines of Winnie (Carey Mulligan), Gekko’s only surviving child and Jake’s Mother (played by a scene stealing Susan Surrandon). These interweaving plots are set against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crash.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is not a fantastic film. It’s good ... but not extraordinary by any means, nor is it as fine as its 1987 predecessor. And why? See, that’s what’s interesting. The elements are the same. There are enough storyline deviations to stop the film from being a simple rehash. The context and setting seem perfectly suited and integrated to the plot; the financial crash is a very suited metaphor to the personal lives of these brokers and broke men. All of the performances work and the cinematography is stunning.
So where does it go wrong?
Well, honestly, it doesn’t really. It’s just that Gekko, like Stone, has gotten older. And as a result, they’ve gotten softer. Is this necessarily a bad thing? No, of course not. We all get older. But when a film is based around a pre-existing central character who is reputed as being as cold and evil as it gets ... it’s naturally disappointing when those same descriptions cannot be applied to the same character the second time ‘round.
I understand why the tone is different. And I also understand that I have to be careful what I reveal in order to not give away any spoilers. But trust me when I say this, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, is softer. It’s not the cutting-edge expose the original was and it’s not as sharply written. The claws have been filed down.
This said, Stone directs with panache, utilizing a lot of digital effects and split screens. Here is a director who is not afraid to take a visual motif and splurge it over the screen with the tenacity and vibrancy of a director one third his age. There is gimmickry galore on display, but the tenacity of the tech is not reflected in the plot. And that’s a shame. The vile greed and cynicism of the first film is diluted by new themes: age, legacy and family integrity- all of which are fine and commendable traits for a screenplay to hold. But it does come at a cost. There is vague sentimentality to the piece that put my off. Why? Because if money never sleeps, then why is it fading? It’s not green any more. It’s grey. The bill has passed through too many hands.
Michael Douglas is good. But due to the script he is not able to utilize the character to the degree he did in the first film. Once the twists rise to the surface you realize that it is actually a far better performance than you first imagined. But even this is undermined by a final scene that sugar-coats the bitterness in a manner that feels contrived albeit warranted.
Greed is good, and yeah, I’m sorry. I wanted the greed. If it’s so good then why deny it to the audience?
Carey Mulligan shines, she’s so radiant on screen, with a presence that many actors of her generation don’t have. The film also features LeBeouf’s best acting to date. Generally speaking, he makes me want to pull out my hair. There is a smugness to his prior performances that I find distancing and unappealing (think Disturbia and Transformers; agreed his smugness suited Indiana Jones and The Crystal Skull). This was the great revelation of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: LeBeouf can act- and well. But the film is owned by Frank Langella, who is in it for too short a period of time and once he is gone the film suffers. His sequences carry a gravitas that is unmatched by anyone else in the cast, except for supporting actor, 95 year old Eli Wallach, a literal scene-stealer, just as he was in Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer. Hell, give the guy an Oscar.
There are some definite artistic flourishes and Stone, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and production designer Kristi Zea instil disturbing, renaissance-style elegance to the scenes in which the dinosaur stockbrokers sit in their high-backed chairs in semi darkness, their faces emerging into light and surrounded by gold picture frames. It’s stunning. It was in these far less flashy sequences that reminded me of Stone’s consummate ability as a director as opposed to his over-stylized moments. The score by the usually distinguished Craig Armstrong is ... well, undistinguished. As a result the film lacks some needed momentum and some suspense falls flat. You can’t help feeling that the stock market crash of 2008 is under felt and that this somehow has to do with the music choice. I loved Byrne and Eno’s original song compositions, but they did lend to the softening effect. All of the elements work individually, but when added up they counter-act the film in significant ways. On top of this is the inflated running time.
This isn’t a bad trip to the movies. It’s just disappointing. It’s good to see Stone flexing his arm again instead of beating his chest. Douglas is always good on screen. It’s gorgeous to look at and Stone again manages to convey the incomprehensible stock market to a wide audience via understandable visual motifs without pandering (and yet he underestimates the audience by including a clichéd “twist” flashback sequence that everyone understands and saw coming??).
This isn’t Oscar material, it’s fodder. But it’s well made fodder, albeit frustrating.
Rating: 3 / 5
|Posted by Aaron Dries on October 3, 2010 at 10:13 PM||comments ()|
You can un-tag your soul, right?
It’s 2003 at Harvard University and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Adam Eisenberg) has just become an overnight sensation. On that night, drunk and bitter after being dumped by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara), the seeds of Facebook were sown. His online juvenile prank catches the attention of elite school-mate entrepreneurs who snap Zuckerberg up to co-pioneer an exclusive social network for fellow students. But Mark is only half of the deal; financing the sync-up is his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfiled). What grew out of this development deal was an unmitigated lawsuit as naïve and justifiably self-absorbed as the people it involved.
Did Mark Zuckerberg breach intellectual property laws (among others) by taking the “exclusive social networking” module and redefining it as Facebook on his own- with an eye for seeing it go as wide as it possibly could? Is Zuckerberg guilty, and if so, what of? Is this even about copyright and corrupt contracts … or is it about the things not written in ink? Is it about friendship and the weight of betrayal?
Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wisely cast no judgement. Instead they deliver evidence bag sequences strung together by fast rat-a-tat dialogue and controlled, solid direction. The purpose of the film is for the viewer to cast the judgement that the filmmakers refuse to make. It is fitting that the film is constructed against the backdrop of a judicial inquiry. Unlike a lot of films employing such a structure, The Social Network is anything but dry. It has an immediate vitality to it, and constantly re-routes the viewer towards sympathy- yet at no point does the film wallow in it. Also, the success of Facebook was due to its cool-factor. Interestingly, Fincher keeps his filmmaking gimmick free. There are very few digital flourishes like those found in his earlier works (recall the scene in Fighclub where Edward Norton walks among a plethora of floating 3D advertisements); we don’t even get the token “Fincher” credit sequence- a former directorial stamp (remember Se7en or Panic Room?). As a result the film feels controlled and important- not cool. To have done otherwise would have cheapened and undersold the content. It was a wise move.
I came home from my screening today, sat down at my computer and hesitated before jumping onto Facebook. The network sat there at my disposal, as it always does, inert until I fuel it with my mindless intent. And I hesitated. This social network wasn’t as social as it had been hours before. It was now infused with a history I had no idea existed. And that history lives on through this film, through Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires (the source material) and hell, even through this review. We feed into it, we click, we like, and eventually we forget the betrayal and personal soul crushing that went into mapping out the universe so many people live through today.
The Social Network does not preach. It does what good cinema should do: it tells a story and it tells it well. But underneath it all is the uneasiness. This uneasiness is Fincher’s greatest directorial triumph. This is a film where the tone drives the theme- beneath the computer screen there are personal lives, just as beneath the ocean surface there are sharks. Swim with them and eventually you’ll get bitten. Everything comes at a price. And nothing is infallible. Just look at Napster founder Sean Parker (played with wonderful zest by Justin Timberlake), a man who has the style and the smarts to see potential in Zuckerberg’s conceit- but who fails to tell the difference between a child and a legal-aged consenting adult.
On a technical note, Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography is sublime; proving again that you can shoot digital without it screaming digital if it’s shot well and with care. Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) and Atticus Ross’s score is intense and fitting, invoking the dread inherent in Paul Thomas Anderson films and the bass-jubilation of mid-career Danny Boyle. All of the performances are great and even though many of the characters are pretentious, unsympathetic assholes, the film is very easy to like and relate to. After all, how many of us have been screwed over by ex-friends or financers? How many of us have been plagiarized and disrespected? This is the timeless merit of The Universal Theme. Fincher knows this. Now can someone tell him to kindly drop The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake and to get behind the lens of a Bret Easton Ellis adaptation, pronto!
This is a great and important film. It goes for Generation Y what Alex Garland’s The Beach did for X. It turns our pop sensibilities into suspense. In a nutshell: The Social Network delivers. The entire movie feels like a shaken-up can of soda, threatening to explode when punctured- and there are very few moments when it does (once, during a rowing sequence wherein Fincher indulges in some visual wizardry, and again in a character driven confrontation in the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California).
The film wraps up to the sounds of The Beatles’s Baby You’re a Rich Man, in which Lennon and McCartney sing: “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people? Now that you know who you are.” It made me smile. It was like the use of Imagine at the end of The Killing Fields; obvious but perfect.
This is a film about commodity and what you sacrifice in lieu for it. Despite its tech-sensibilities, it is an old fashioned tale. What did you sell for your fiddle of gold? And at the end of the day, as you’re counting your billions, is there happiness in your life?
How many friends do you really have?
David Fincher is coming close to being a modern day Stanley Kubrick. This is at once a small and gigantic film, and yes, it is both minor masterpiece and one of, if not THE BEST film of 2010 thus far. I am hungry for whatever Fincher may throw at us next. He's the real deal- and that's worth getting very, very excited about.
5 / 5
|Posted by Aaron Dries on October 3, 2010 at 10:06 PM||comments ()|
And thus the blog was born.
It sits here, one among billions.
Feel free to swing by and check it out whenever the urge arises. I can’t promise that it will be updated daily. In fact, I won’t promise that at all. Let’s hope for a weekly engagement, shall we? Between the site, my day job, travel, writing and small clutches of nano-sleep, my priorities have got to settle somewhere. I’m sure you understand.
That said, when I do update this blog, I promise to make my entries as interesting as possible.
So what can we expect? As I said before, my wee blog is but a star (and a dimly lit one at that) in a sky of much brighter suns. Sound like a load of gas? That’s because it is. Come by, play, communicate and listen to me ramble. If you can survive this diatribe than you can stand the worst of what might come. In between there will be film and book reviews, musings, interviews, life updates and typo-ridden travel literature.
But that’s what’s exciting about the birth of your blog. You never know what to expect from it. Sure, like any other parent I do have a future in mind. I guess at the end of the day, I want it to survive and to find friends. But life can pull the rug out from under you at any moment, as we all know. Who can tell what’s in store? My blog might end up sexually confused! It might be depressed. On the flip-side, it might be a total blog-whore, or end up a preacher. Is prison time in store for my blog? That’s the exciting part of being a parent. The unknown. You can only hope and support. I invite you to help develop my wee blog; be friends with him (yeah, it’s a boy, I’ve got the balloons and congratulations cards to prove it) and more than anything, stand by him.
He’ll do right by you.
So without further ado, join me in wishing my baby blog a prosperous future.
Hell, come for the party. The drinks are on me.