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Entries in Jesse Eisenberg (2)

Friday
Apr152011

Rio

Fair or not, I set a high standard for animated films because I adore animation. The format has given me some of my most memorable and magical trips to the cinema—Pixar, Studio Ghibli, DreamWorks, all have given me enough reasons to hold onto the child within me with their fantastical tales of adventure and wonder—so when I sit down to watch one, I expect something great. Unfortunately, not all movies are worth writing home about (including a few of the aforementioned DreamWorks films). Rio is one of those movies. If the audience reaction at my screening is indicative of how it is going to be received, Rio will be a smash hit at the box office, but for my money, it’s not quite worth the price of admission.

As the film begins, a baby Blue Macaw is being taken from its natural habitat in Brazil and shipped overseas to be sold in an American pet shop. However, its cage falls out of the truck it is riding in before reaching the shop and is picked up by Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann). She imaginatively names him Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and they spend the next 15 years living happily together. However, she soon finds out that Blu could very well be the last male of his species and to keep the Blue Macaw from going extinct, she is forced to take him back to his original home in Rio de Janeiro to mate with the last known female, Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway).

Of course, things don’t go as planned. The two birds naturally don’t like each other, but are forced to work together when they are birdnapped and chained by the feet by a man who plans to sell them for loads of money. Naturally, they escape and begin to find a fancy for each other as they go along their adventure. That’s obvious and shouldn’t be regarded as a spoiler. What matters in this case is whether or not it’s funny and, as sad as it is to say, it’s mostly not. Aside from a handful of passable chuckles, the jokes fall into one of two categories (and sometimes both). They’re either simpleminded (monkeys texting each other “Ooh ooh ahh ahh!” is far too easy) or they’re unoriginal. You’ve heard these jokes, or at least variations of them, before. Many, many times. It's so derivative, in fact, that it even replicates a joke from last week’s abysmal R rated stoner comedy, Your Highness, which itself had been used previously in many other earlier films. The joke in question is a person singing badly out of tune. It wasn’t funny in Your Highness (although to be fair, nothing was funny in Your Highness) and it’s not funny here either.

If there’s anything to squeeze out of the jokes, it’s the delivery. The voice actors do a relatively good job of bringing forth some enthusiasm, especially Jamie Foxx and will.i.am, who play two birds who just love to break out into song at every chance possible. The complication, however, is that the voices are so recognizable it becomes distracting. On top of those already mentioned, there’s Wanda Sykes, Jane Lynch, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan and more. All, especially Lopez and Morgan, are so familiar that it becomes nearly impossible to separate the characters from the voices behind them.

As should be expected at this point, Rio is in 3D, which only serves to detract from the experience even more. A few weeks ago, Rango, the first non-3D animated movie to come along in quite some time, proved once and for all that the extra dimension isn't needed. It was a wonderful movie, one of the best of the year so far actually, and it worked without resorting to the overused gimmick. Even when 3D works as intended by extending the depth of field, it comes at a price and dims the visuals due to the tinted glasses. And in a film about colorful animals set in as lively a place as the tropical Rio de Janeiro, stripping the brightness is the last thing you want to do. Usually, 3D is merely an annoyance, but in Rio, it’s a serious and unforgivable problem.

Still, I suppose the animation is good, but that’s hardly a compliment anymore given how much computer animation technology has progressed. Even smaller animation studios have to try pretty hard to look ugly. To put it simply, Rio is merely average, but if that must be noted, it should also be noted that it’s completely harmless. But consider this, if you will. The funniest part of this experience is the Ice Age short that comes before called Scrat’s Continental Crack-up (and it was even funnier the first time I saw it in front of last year’s Gulliver’s Travels). If the unrelated short at the beginning is more enjoyable than the feature length film that comes after, can Rio really be considered a success?

Rio receives 2.5/5

Friday
Oct012010

The Social Network

It’s a bold move to compare a movie to The Godfather or Citizen Kane, two of the most revered films in cinematic history. But that’s precisely what some critics have been doing with The Social Network and, surprisingly enough, they aren’t wrong in doing so. Simply put, The Social Network is a work of pure genius, impeccably crafted to tell a tale that defines a generation. It’s one of the most important works of art to emerge out of Hollywood in many years and, like The Godfather and Citizen Kane, I have no problem stating that The Social Network is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.

Known as “The Facebook movie,” The Social Network chronicles the rise of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), creator and co-founder of Facebook, as he creates and adapts his website into becoming one of society’s most used online tools. However, as the terrific tagline from the poster states, “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies,” and Mark soon finds himself wrapped in two simultaneous lawsuits, one accusing him of stealing the idea and the other, brought on by his best friend and partner, only asking to be treated fairly and receive his share of the wealth.

Although other social networking websites like MySpace and Friendster existed on the Internet prior to Zuckerberg's creation, there's no arguing that Facebook popularized it. Beginning as a site specifically for college students, it gradually branched out and is now available to everybody. Parents and grandparents now share the same virtual space as their children and grandchildren, much to the younger set’s dismay, I’m sure. Our society has become so overwhelmed with the site that when we meet new people and ask for their contact information, the reply is usually, “I’ll Facebook you.” We have even gotten to the point where a romantic relationship isn’t official until it’s “Facebook official.” Facebook rules our lives and the sad part is those of us who use it, know it.

The other recent Facebook movie, Catfish, effectively showed how people can falsify information online and become who they want to be, but The Social Network does much more. Future generations of film students will look back at this movie as a cinematic landmark, serving as the definitive example of how the Internet won, when our lives became consumed by status updates and our thoughts limited to 140 characters.

The Social Network is extremely relevant today and is guaranteed to be just as, if not more, relevant in the future. But it’s grandeur means nothing without solid production values and it’s as finely tuned a film as you’re likely to ever see. Director David Fincher, the man behind Se7en, Zodiac and Fight Club, has created a beautiful and cerebral, though almost certainly highly fictionalized, tale that takes every aspect of what makes a good film and slams them together effortlessly. The cinematography is dark and eerie, making monsters of all the characters. The score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is pounding and foreboding, perfectly setting the tone for the tale of betrayal and greed that followed. The script, which should and most likely will be nominated for an Oscar, is brilliant, with sharp, believable dialogue and a dry, sarcastic sense of humor.

And the acting is pitch perfect. Armie Hammer’s performance is award worthy, especially considering the fact that for the majority of the movie, he’s acting opposite himself, playing a dual role as twin brothers. Even Jesse Eisenberg, who has up to this point been typecast as the socially awkward, bumbling loser, breaks out here as the smart, fast talking, no nonsense protagonist. His fascinating portrayal of Zuckerberg as an emotionally empty man is riveting.

I suspect the actual Zuckerberg may disagree, however. The Social Network paints him in an unfavorable light and he’s not happy about it. Don’t think his recent decision to donate $100 million to the public school system in New Jersey is simply out of the kindness of his heart. He knows what this movie will do to his (some would argue already tarnished) reputation, but my concern isn’t with that. Fictionalized or not, The Social Network is an astounding feat that demands multiple viewings. If you pass up this film, you’ll be missing out on one of the best movies to be released in the last 40 years. It’s simply that good.

The Social Network receives 5/5