Friday, October 1, 2010


A couple of good ones open here in Phoenix this week:

Buried— The hero of this thriller is Ryan Reynolds, as an American contractor in Iraq—a truck driver—who wakes up to find himself in a wooden coffin. The movie stays in this freakin’ box with him for its entire length. He has a cell phone (with remarkable reception!) & he soon learns that the kidnappers who have interred him are demanding a million dollars ransom.

This was hardship duty for Your Humble Narrator, the title state being a phobia of mine. For the first twenty heart-pounding minutes or so, I seriously considered leaving the theatre; I didn’t, but at one point I found I had to change seats—I had to exercise my liberty to move around. So I doubt that this one will become a beloved favorite of mine, but I must say, it’s an impressive accomplishment.

The director, Rodrigo Cortes, doesn’t allow himself any flashbacks, he doesn’t cut to the people Reynolds talks to on the phone. The closest he comes to a “cheat” are some cut-away views of the box, bordered by darkness, & one psychic image of Reynolds seemingly at the bottom of a very deep coffin, representing his sense of abandonment. We also watch a video with Reynolds on his cell phone screen. Other than that, Cortes uses only shifts in illumination from the various sources (cell phone, lighter, etc) ingenious angling, & the sustained, moving performance of Reynolds to keep the film from visual monotony, & he succeeds entirely.

There’s a big scare scene about midpoint—an attempt to compound the horror by adding another classic phobia—that seemed contrived & corny to me. Apart from that one misstep, Buried strikes me as a triumph. The desire to see this man liberated becomes almost a physical sensation. The script, by Chris Sparling, manages one inventive gambit after another to keep the confined situation dynamic, & the dialogue is accomplished—the hero’s conversation, near the end, with a representative (voiced by Stephen Tobolowsky) of his employer is a masterstroke of pitch-black comedy.

Buried has a rich, Bernard Herrmann-style musical score, & a graphically flamboyant opening title sequence in the style of Saul Bass. It's clear that Cortes meant these in homage to Hitchcock, who loved to challenge himself with proscribed situations like this, as in Rope or Lifeboat. I would guess that if Hitchcock could see this movie, he would nod with approval, & maybe even with a pang of envy.

The Social Network—Almost two years ago, a friend of mine suggested that I sign on to Facebook. Within a couple of days, I had reconnected with dozens of people from my high school & college years & other earlier chapters of my life, many of whom I hadn’t heard from in decades, some of whom I barely knew even back then. It never occurred to me to wonder who I had to thank for this heady experience, or who (apart from myself) I had to blame for the countless hours I spent surfing & staring & e-gabbing with this sudden virtual circle.

Turns out it was a certain Mark Zuckerberg, a computer geek from White Plains who developed the site at Harvard after being tapped by two identical twin BMOCs, Cameron & Tyler Winklevoss (could you make this stuff up?), to work up a social network for the Ivy League set. While stringing these lads along, Zuckerberg took the exclusivity on which their idea was based a step further for his own site—he made each individual user an arbiter of access to their own page. When this inspiration took off, the enraged Winklevoss brothers—the “Winklevii,” as Zuckerberg calls them—took him to federal court for intellectual property theft. As Facebook begins to quickly take over the universe, Zuckerberg, now in cahoots with Napster bad boy Sean Parker, manages to alienate his initial investor & only true friend, Eduardo Saverin.

That, at least, is this film’s take. The trailer made it look like the tale of an Everynerd & the Big Bad Bluebloods who want to steal his brilliant invention from him, & superficially that’s what the movie is, but director David Fincher & screenwriter Aaron Sorkin had the marvelous tactical sense not to take the Frank Capra route. They present Zuckerberg, crisply played by Jesse Eisenberg, as a miserable, bitter asshole, a seething mass of sullen horniness & Jewish WASP-envy, & Parker, excellently played by Justin Timberlake, as an even bigger douchebag who brought out the worst in him. They even make the Winklevoss brothers a little bit likable.

Somehow this allows us to accept Zuckerberg as a genius, & the brothers as pissed-off spoiled rich boys, without feeling played by the movie. This doesn’t mean, of course, that the movie isn’t playing us—I can’t speak to how accurate or slanted an account it is. But the trademark self-deprecating wit of Sorkin’s surgical dialogue & Fincher’s smooth direction create at least the illusion of even-handedness. In any case, it’s a swift, entertaining, well-acted picture. The standout in the cast is the charming Andrew Garfield as Saverin (I understand he’s also the new Spider-Man, & he seems a great choice to me—he’s a ringer for Peter Parker as he was drawn in the comics).

A fond farewell to Tony Curtis, who has passed on at 85. Sometimes he was a kitschy Hollywood hack, & sometimes a truly top-notch actor, but he was never less than lovable in either case.

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