The Muppets

Make way for the return of The Muppets, Disney’s attempt at reviving the wacky Jim Henson puppets that have laid dormant for many years.  The writers know it too as star Jason Segel helped pen this pet-project of his.  His infatuation with the clan is a little more than hinted at in the recent Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

The story focuses on Segel’s character’s brother, Walter, a puppet and die-hard fan of the Muppets which were hugely popular in the 1970s.  Now in 2011, the Muppets have disappeared and scattered across the states finding cheap venues to perform in.  When Walter tours the run-down Muppet studio, he discovers the maniacal plot of a wealthy investor (Chris Cooper) to turn the studio into rubble and drill for oil on the property.  Walter seeks out Kermit the Frog to regroup the old band once again and put a show together within a matter of days to save their contract by raising $10 million before they lose all rights to their studio.

Much of the film builds up to the clan reuniting, showcasing a slew of celebrity cameo appearances. Witty zingers bounce off the walls.  Outrageous musical numbers abound—chief among them Chris Cooper’s rapping and the chicken-ized version of Cee Lo Green’s ‘Forget You.’  This is all good fun.

However, I wanted The Muppets to return loud and proud, and despite an admirable effort on the part of everyone involved, I can’t shake a slight feeling of being… underwhelmed. However, I enjoyed the film more often than not. It’s witty and clever in most of the right places. The film simply lead me on the entire time, as though it hinted that something big and amazing was about to happen, but never actually surfaced. Still, this is good fun for what it is and a welcome return for the Muppets.

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The Social Network

Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in the world.  How did he do it?  Well, I think we all know full well what he did as most of you probably have your Facebook profile open as you read this.  The mere introduction of social networking changed the way people live their lives and communicate, in much the same way that the internet and e-mail changed communication in their fruition.

Today, hundreds of millions of lives are paraded to users and viewers of social networking sites, and Facebook stands out among crop.  I can remember the early days of MySpace until it became old news once Facebook hit the web.  When I joined Facebook, it was university-based, meant exclusively for college students.  Not long after, the site was opened up to high schools, and ultimately to anyone.  Now it has become a staple in society that anyone and their grandmother uses.

It is safe to say that Mark Zuckerberg has forever changed the world and our way of communication.  That is no small feat for a man in his 20s.  And while his story may be profound, I had my doubts that a feature film portraying his rise to success would be anything but a dull seminar of comuter mumbo-jumbo.  Even when the established director David Fincher came on board to helm the project, it is clear this makes for a striking departure from his previous thrillers Zodiac, Seven, and Fight Club.  How could the story of a young web page designer translate into an exciting drama?

Bringing in writer Aaron Sorkin changed things.  Responsible for A Few Good Men and Charlie Wilson’s War, Sorkin has a knack for biting, intelligent dialogue.  The Social Network survives because of two main ingredients: the fact that the subject couldn’t be more than timely, and the fact that Sorkin’s writing is nothing short of stunning.  Many viewers may be quick to dismiss this as what I feared it to be: a lot of techy computer babble.  The dialogue is so fresh, however, and so perfectly tuned that I became drawn to these actors simply speaking intelligently (which is rare for a Hollywood film these days, especially involving youth).  The characters, while most of them not likable (including Zuckerberg’s character), are sizzling without our approval.  Even when the script veers into instances of detailing uploading, downloading, hacking, lines of computer code, formulas, and so much more I wouldn’t even begin to comprehend, Sorkin doesn’t try to bring his audience to school.  He brings us into the lives of these characters, and David Fincher utilizes the talents of his actors to present the creation of a website as profound and impacting.

Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland) plays the socially awkward Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg.  Desperate for acceptance of his peers, he has trouble channeling his colliding intelligence and self-consciousness when in conversation.  This keeps him from enjoying intimate relationships (as evidenced in the film’s opening scene) and invisible to exclusive school clubs.  Even when his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), spends countless hours trying to get into these clubs through his own embarrassment, Mark mocks him out of jealousy.  The ‘day of Mark’ eventually arrives, as three Harvard club members, including the Winkelvoss brothers (Armie Hammer) “built of brawn” (as Ron Burgandy would say), recruit Zuckerberg to design a unique home page exclusive to Havard students.  Whether or not Mark’s creation would be an act of defiance and resentment against these club members remains a gray area, but eventually over many sleepless nights the design of “the facebook” comes to light with the help of Eduardo and his checkbook.  Ignoring the Winklevoss phone calls and e-mails, Zuckerberg launches the site and it becomes an instant hit with unseen potential.  Eduardo wants to find advertisers, but Mark wants to keep it clean and think bigger.  Enter former Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) to tempt Mark into eating the forbidden fruit and turn Facebook into the hottest thing the world has seen, while leaving Eduardo in the dust.  According to Parker: “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.”

These events ultimately lead Mark to a double lawsuit, one led by the Winklevoss brothers claiming Mark stole and capitalized on their idea.  The other lawsuit comes from Mark’s own best friend, Eduardo, seeking a pricey settlement after being sabotaged out of his original shares.  The movie cuts between deposition proceedings with this back story that leads up to Mark being the richest 24-year-old on the planet.  The material is handled extremely well as written by Sorkin.  He will be budding heads with the Nolan brothers for screenplay of the year.

Fincher applies a deft visual aid to Sorkin’s words.  The movie is gorgeously shot and continually exciting.  His four leads in Eisenberg, Garfield, Timberlake and Hammer deliver very distinct and engaging performances.  Eisenberg has sort of become the alternate-Michael Cera, but with the Zuckerberg role he has a chance to one-up his usual socially-awkward characters and make Mark a total jerk whose desires for friendship and status ultimately cost him the one friend he has.  Garfield is the heart of the film as the unknowing financial key to Mark’s early success in designing Facebook.  His performance details a sympathetic soul looking to share in the success he and his best friend collaborated on only to lose out to a fierce competitor: Mark’s jealousy and envy.  By the time Timberlake arrives, he gets to portray one of those juicy playboy roles that all actors dream of.  He’s like the Mark Wahlberg of The Departed, only Timberlake doesn’t need a running sarcastic mouth to be cool.  Each actor, big and small, complete this arresting movie.  However, as good as it is, it certainly isn’t for everyone.  If you haven’t been captured by the Facebook phenomenon, or have little interest in the digital landscape of society, then The Social Network may not seem like such a big deal.  Only once in a while does the film get lost in its information uploading.  That doesn’t keep it from being very good.  Is it the real story?  Is Mark Zuckerberg portrayed in a harsh light?  I really don’t know, but the lawsuits are real, and everyone has their side of a story.  Fincher and Sorkin attempt to capture multiple angles, and they do so quite successfully.  The Social Network is a writing and acting explosion of fine craftsmanship.

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