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By Christopher Stipp

The Archives, Right Here

Check out my other column, This Week In Trailers, at SlashFilm.com and follow me on TWITTER under the name: Stipp

The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger - Review

cow-postcardInstead of piling on two reviews for Bill Plympton’s work last week I decided to split this one up, his latest short film, The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger.

Why this short, clocking in at less than six minutes, is notable and deserved a little ink was how much of a departure it might seem to those who have been used to Plympton’s work for the past couple of decades.

While you’re used to images that look sketched out on paper, filled in with colored pencils, and animated in the back and forth motion that is all Bill’s this one is a sight to behold. Using vibrant hues that seem pure as the name Crayola, the greens and the blues and reds just bursting with eye-popping flair, Bill takes a detour from a production like Idiots and Angels insofar that this is a story that is tightly packed in order to hit the post within the few minutes we have with these characters. These characters being cows.

Not in any way your normal cows, this is a Bill Plympton short after all, one of these bovines starts the story by suckling at his mom’s teat and happens to catch a billboard out of the corner of his eye. The billboard is showcasing a luscious hamburger and this calf is inspired. The calf wants to be that hamburger. His mother, wise heifer she is, knows this is absolutely unacceptable but is powerless to try and sway her son to think that wanting to become a burger means certain death.

The short then shows how focused this young cow becomes on being strong, on becoming fattened enough, worthy enough, to be slaughtered.

Without giving anything away about where the path eventually takes this cow the short raises quick, poignant questions about advertising, the ethical questions surrounding slaughter of these animals, and, also, what a mother’s love is capable of in world like this. Yes, there is no real time for long rumination about the implications for these things but that’s the beauty of this short, it sets up a story, raises a question, and gives a resolution. Like a wonderful short story that makes you wonder what would happen if it was turned into a longer version of its former self, this is a perfect example of how Plympton can take something short form or long form and make it just the right length. The man is still at the top of his game and this short was an utter delight.

The Highly UNsocial Network by Ray Schillaci

facebook-film-460_1668713cWith all the praise heaped on Fincher and Sorkin’s “the social network,” coupled with one of the most emotionally charged trailers I have seen in years, the studio appeared to tout the film as an amazing experience.  It suggested a representation of a timely and impactful moment that has made a tremendous change in so many lives.  But that is not what the film is about.  Instead it proves to be as detached (allegedly), as the lead character himself, Mark Zuckerberg co-founder of facebook.  This is not to say that director, David Fincher and writer, Aaron Sorkin’s latest opus is anything less than an exercise in fine filmmaking.  But they have missed a very important mark that the trailers merely touched upon…how facebook affected so many (and still does) of us in so little time.  Yes, the trailer did tease us with, “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”  Interesting premise, but is there any cost if we don’t give a shit about that person?

Maybe the powers that be felt the unique and harmonious affect that facebook created was not as intriguing as a socially inept person, craving recognition, inventing the greatest social network in the history of the web just because he felt wrongfully scorned and in turn, learns how to be an ultimate (albeit reluctant) asshole.  Not only does he gain billions of dollars, but much like “Citizen Kane,” has no one to share it with.  He started off as a sad pathetic young man and turned into a sadder more pathetic rich man who’s learned very little about himself and those he affected.

I have no problem with this road taken, except I can’t help feel that the studio sold us a bill of goods with those great trailers.  In no way shape or form do the trailers match the mood or theme of the picture itself.  In fact, this film is very reminiscent in theme and character study to “Citizen Kane” and “There Will Be Blood,” except that this story is belabored with a lead character that has all the emotional interest of white bread.

We open with the scene that everybody seems to be enamored with; the one between, the struggling to be recognized, Zuckerberg and his long suffering girlfriend.  The dialogue is quick, snappy and almost lost.  I’m not sure if it was the theater sound, but the background was nearly as amped up as the dialogue itself.  In a way, it was trying to make out a conversation in one of those bars or coffeehouses where the acoustics are purposely bad for the appearance of making the place a happening spot.  If this was the intention of director, Fincher, then he captured it successfully, but it was also distracting and annoying.  This is the very beginning of the detached viewing experience and we are slowly pulled away from each and every character as the film continues and that is where the problem lies.

There is no champion to root for, no emotional base, just annoying and sad individuals caught up in a superficial world of haves and have-nots.  The film is told through a series of depositions that reflect on those involved with the creation of facebook.  Zuckerberg is a wunderkind with computer programming, but dense when it comes to human contact.  After railing against his girlfriend via the internet, he decides to hack into several college websites and create a site where everyone is able to compare the women of the campuses and Zuckerberg manages to create not only a social phenomenon but get labeled as the biggest ass on campus.

the-social-network-2010-006But his antics do not go unrecognized.  He is quickly approached by some fellow Harvard students (wonderfully underplayed by Armie Hammer) regarding an elitist type social network.  Zuckerberg is aware that he is about to be used.  After all, these guys come from a more affluent background and are not only juniors, but the lacrosse stars of the school.  They have the germ of an idea, but no clue as to how to bring it in to fruition.  Zuckerberg on the other hand sees the potential and seizes the day by getting a sixteen week head start and uses (literally) his best friend to finance the project with the upfront promise of an uneven partnership (70/30).  He later enlists the aid of Napster founder, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake in a very juicy role), to develop facebook with his own vision and everyone else be damned.  And, they are, as the facebook social network grows with lightening fast speed catching the attention of f**kable groupies, big investors and A-hole lawyers.

The irony of it all is that we witness the growing and nurturing of this amazing social web tool while every character in the film, except for Zuckerberg’s original girlfriend, remains stunted and just a tool…a dick.  Is anybody wrong with their accusations against the brainchild?  Perhaps the lacrosse twins are (in this viewers opinion), but they appear as a mere stumbling block rather than a true threat.

The closest to sympathy we ever have for a character is Zuckerberg’s long suffering partner, Eduardo Saverin.  Andrew Garfield is saddled with this thankless whiny role and does the best he can to bring likability to his character while his co-star Jesse Eisenberg plays the title character in a rather cool and subdued manner.  He also brings with him a true sense of detachment which we have not seen in his other performances.  There is no likability factor here.  In the past, we have been able to relate to Eisenberg’s disenchanted or comically troubled youth pictures the same way we have with actor, Michael Cera.  In fact, some say they are practically interchangeable in their roles.  But I would have to disagree when it comes to this film.  Eisenberg delivers a far more dimensional performance that could give him a lead in future casting.

Fincher and Sorkin capture the upper crust college set beautifully.  Sorkin’s script is tight and clever while Fincher continues to wow us with his pacing and obvious style that puts him alongside some of the great directors of our time.  Once again, the only problem with the film is its publicity machine and its lack of repeatable viewing factor.  At least with “There Will Be Blood” we were given fair warning as to what we were in for and the character study was fascinating.

The trailers to “the social network” present a warm fuzzy feeling with a hint of irony.  This film is a cold heartless bitch that presents itself proudly and says watch me flex my Oscar muscles and live with it.  This is a well made film, but it does not deserve to be in a race to the Oscar.  It has the same cold detached feeling that we received from Fincher’s “Panic Room” that went virtually ignored.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of David Fincher.  I championed “Fight Club” “Se7en” “…Benjamin Button” and even “Alien3”.    Other David Fincher films have been better executed, including the underappreciated “Zodiac”.  “the social network” is one of the slicker films out this year, but lacks the heart of what makes us enjoy the social experience of watching movies with others.

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