Things of note for the week ending April 25th, 2014.
1. The Dalai Lama’s Ski Trip
This, via Slate, is quite wonderful and easily the best thing I’ve read on the internet this month.
Just then, an expert skier entered from a higher slope, whipping along. The Dalai Lama saw him and said, “Look—too fast! He going to hit post!” He cupped his hands, shouting down to the oblivious skier, “Look out for post!” He waved frantically. “Look out for post!” –
The skier, who had no idea that the 14th incarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion was crying out to save his life, made a crisp little check as he approached the pylon, altering his line of descent, and continued expertly down the hill. –
With an expostulation of wonder, the Dalai Lama sat back and clasped his hands together. “You see? Ah! Ah! This skiing is wonderful sport!”
The image above, from a piece over at The Monkey Cage, is just one chart from a very interesting piece of research. Turns out, the further respondents were from getting it right, the more likely they were to want the US to intervene.
4. Minimalist Film Posters
James Whatley in ‘blogging about pretty cool film posters’ shocker, I know. This bunch are alright but not spectacular. The only one worth sharing is this rather cool take on Reservoir Dogs.
5. The Bradley Timepiece
This watch, designed for blind people and named after a Paralympian gold medallist who lost his sight in Afghanistan, is up for design of the year at London’s Design Museum.
It’s rather awesome, but it’s mostly being bought by sighted people.
I am a fan of David Fincher. I’ve seen everything since Alien3 and loved nearly all of it. When it was announced that he would be lensing ‘the facebook movie’; among the naysayers, I was not.
A few months back, the trailer hit.
Superb. This past Monday I was invited to a preview screening care of Sony Pictures and it left my brain buzzing.
First off; the film on its own is a fantastic watch. Although, and it is an odd comparison to draw, very much like Scott Pilgrim vs The World, the social network I think will only speak to people of a certain age. What is that certain age? I don’t know.
Actually, scratch that. it’s a generational thing. Fact.
Whatever way you look at it, the social network really is a great film; there is Fincher throughout, but quietly. Almost like he’s whispering in the background and steering gently from afar. His custom clean, dark-shaded visuals, of which he is a master, are there but the flights of camera-based fancy are almost non-existent (save for a set of stunning establishing shots at Henley on Thames; tilt-shifting never looked so good).
This is a Fincher film all over but he’s adult enough to step back and let it shine on its own. Good job.
For me, the title ‘the social network‘ itself is an interesting play on words, in that while it’s obvious that it refers to the software platform that our protagonists are squabbling over, it also resonates as a nod to the group of friends who started out on this journey together and furthermore, the ensemble cast that present them to us.
Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly believable as the nerdy but gifted Mark Zuckerberg character (a point to which I’ll come back later) and holds the film together well. For anyone that’s ever watched a single episode of The West Wing, the throwaway remarks and razor sharp dialogue will be distinctly Sorkin and, although the story is boldly told from different perspectives and narratives, it is clear that ‘Zuck’ is our hero; anti-, tragic or otherwise.
Justin Timberlake, as Napster founder ‘the evil Sean Parker’ is surprisingly very good. I’m not sure why I say ‘surprising’, I’ve always thought that he’d be quite a good actor however, there’s always something nudging at you when he’s on screen. That small voice in your head saying ‘Hey… Hey! That’s Justin Timberlake up there!’, but once you get past the first 10mins or so it settles down and you can enjoy his performance which, by the way, is as good as he is dislikeable. You want to punch him in the face. A lot.
Spider-Man-in-waiting, Andrew Garfield, is probably my favourite thing from the whole film. You feel his pain, his hurt, his lack of judgement, his anger.. All of it. He is a very talented actor and, for someone so young, brings immense gravitas to what could’ve quite easily have been just a one note role.
Fincher explains in the production notes that he’d never worked with such a young cast before (Aaron Sorkin also mentioning he’s never written so young either), so he pushed for take after take after take, sometimes up 80 or 90, just to make the language more casual
“If you’re not speaking at speed, then I won’t believe it”.
When Eduardo Saverin arrives late one night looking worn out from flying, it’s because Andrew Garfield had been shooting that scene for five hours and his exasperation shines through. It’s a punishing, yet fantastically rewarding technique. Love it.
Finally, on the casting front at least, a hefty hat tip to Armie Hammer who to plays both the Winklewoss twins with an ease that is almost unnatural. I’ll admit, he’s the only one of the main cast I haven’t seen in anything else before, however if he can play two of himself with ease (I can’t imagine the line learning, shooting technique, SFX etc that were needed for that casting decision), then he definitely deserves some special attention.
Sounding like Xerses from the 300 and towering over Jesse Eisenberg like a pair of Grecian Gods, he embodies the Harvard final final club elites perfectly. Jeremy Irons would be proud.
So what of the film? Well, it’s a tough one. The different times I’ve talked about it with friends and colleagues since viewing have produced multiple responses;
“It’s an Aaron Sorkin script, with a Fincher wrapping.”
“It’s a modern day myth”
“It’s all still so fresh.”
I’ve said it a number of times already, the film is great… BUT you find yourself watching it all with a healthy pinch of salt. I’ve read interviews with Mark Zuckerberg. A lot of interviews. His views on privacy, sociology, business… all of them are there if you look hard enough and there are certain characteristics which don’t come through in the film. Yes, we’re six years on (just six years) and no doubt he’s changed a fair amount but still, some of it didn’t ring true for me.
Which actually, isn’t that surprising given that Zuckerberg was the only one who refused to meet with the film-makers before, during or after production. C’est la vie. When you watch this film, remember you’re watching the characterisation of a real person. One that has been drawn and painted, by others, without any approval from the source. That’s all.
Let’s put it this way; if you’re under 40 and you have a Facebook account, see this film. If you’ve been a part of (or worked within) a start-up culture, see this film. If you’re a fan of Fincher or Sorkin, see this film.
The aforementioned bold decision to not stick to one core narrative will leave you wanting more, reaching for those parts still left untold and somehow feeling that you weren’t given the full story…
But I guess that’s the point.
No matter if you end up seeing the the social network or not, the final word has to go to Zuckerberg himself:
“We build products that 500 million people see… …
…if 5 million people see a movie, it doesn’t really matter that much.”
This post has been a long time coming. Mostly coming out at parties over a particularly intense bout of drunken geekery, it’s a point that has niggled with me about Star Trek ever since I first saw it that day back in May.
Thing is, I’m a bit of a film buff. I’ve loved film for as long as I can remember. My Dad taking me to see Superman IV at the cinema when I was kid. Holding hands, walking around in the dark. THAT theme tune. It was amazing. Better yet, it was believable.
“You need to lighten up mate.” said the chap behind the counter. I laughed, said it was research for a new project (I was studying performing arts, specialising in directing for that particular term – I was soaking up everything I could get my hands on), he looked at me funny and it was only when walking away did I realise what I’d said.
The Matrix arrived. I remember thinking ‘THIS is the Star Wars of our generation.” Up to this point, in the history of film, no one had ever achieved anything like it. Neo and his acolytes were about to tear up the sci-fi genre and hand it back to Hollywood; “Thanks, we’re done.” But they didn’t. They went and released Matrix: Reloaded. While I’m a big fan of The Animatrix (the nine animated shorts released before the first sequel), the next two parts of the trilogy left me a bit empty. The effects are good, the story isn’t that bad. They just aren’t as good as the original. It happens.
However, Matrix Reloaded sticks out for me for one thing and one thing only. What am I talking about? The first 20 seconds of this…
See it? That bike stunt? Right. Stay with me on this one.
In a world that is governed by rules, how is it that this street bike is able to drive off the top of that truck, from a standing start, land and continue – at top speed – without the truck catching up and crumpling the rider(s) under its wheels?! It’s an impossibility defined by the laws of physics. Yes, the laws of the Matrix can be bent, even broken, but by people. NOT by machines. A bike is as much a bike in the Matrix as it is a bike out on the streets right now. When this happened on screen I snapped back into reality and was suddenly more concerned about my next helping of popcorn than I was about Trinity and her high-speed escape.
Which brings us back to Star Trek.
In the film (and if you’ve not seen it, you may as well stop reading right now), Spock jettisons Kirk off the Enterprise for insubordination and he finds himself wound up on an ice planet not too dissimilar from Hoth. The landing pod tells him to remain where he is (his escort will arrive shortly), but naturally, being James T. Kirk, he decides to get out and find his own way.
This being Star Trek, of course things don’t run smoothly. Within a few minutes Kirk’s being chased by a snowy-white sabretooth tiger-esque creature [UPDATE: turns out this is a ‘Drakoulias‘] who clearly fancies him for lunch. Kirk runs. The ground rumbles and said feline bear gets picked and hurled into a nearby mountain… by something much bigger.
This thing –
A bright red, prolapsed rectum-based ‘Hengrauggi‘. The design story behind this particular creature is pretty awesome; the way chief concept designer Neville Page finds inspiration from animals that already live and breathe in our world today is quite extraordinary. Everything from the way the jaws work, the positioning of its joints, all the way through to which way the cameras will be pointing when ‘Big Red’ finally erupts onto our screens.
The work of a truly talented artist.
But there’s just one issue I have with it – Evolution.
In what universe would evolution create such a creature? And I’m not talking about the size of the Hengrauggi or in fact the scarily fast oral appendages that it uses to capture its food (completely unlike anything I’ve ever seen before).
No. I’m talking about the colour of the damn thing.
This is an ICE planet. How would a huge creature such as the above get away with being BRIGHT RED on a planet that seems to spend the majority of its time covered in a blanket of white snow? You can’t be a hard-ass predator if your prey can see you coming from bloody miles away!
Dark on top, white underneath. Why? They’re predators. One of nature’s oldest and most perfect of killing machines. Swim above and look down, you’ll struggle to see it. Swim underneath and look up? The same. Not being seen (until it’s too late at least), is a defining feature of any decent-sized hunter. Yes the Hengrauggi starts off underground, perhaps burrowed under the surface awaiting its prey in the same vein as a trapdoor spider. Even so, surely then this would create a darker, more naturally-coloured creature. One that blends in with its surroundings, not stick out like a sore thumb.
Look, I know this isn’t a massive point and overall Star Trek was by far and away one of the best (and most successful) films of 2009, but still. If you’re intent on keeping the world and universe that your characters exist in believable, then being mindful of the rules that you’ve created (or those that already exist) will go a long way to keeping it real.
From the IMAX I was transported into the Star Trek universe and there I stayed. Until Delta Vega. From there I was thrown back to my seat with a bump. Damn you Hengrauggi. Damn you to hell.
‘Out of service’ the machine stares silently… ‘The other side!’ he thinks, knowing there is only minutes to spare.
Can he make it to platform 2, use the (seemingly empty) machine over there and then get back in time for departure at 07:29:00?
Too late, his legs are already moving; two, five, eight steps up. Rucksack strapped tight he bounds over the footbridge… ‘Must be quick, must be quick!’.
These ticket machines are not new to him, in fact he knows exactly what parts of their screens to touch and when: Mid-bottom left, Zones 1-6 travel card. Confirm selection, bottom right. Card in, PIN number, payment and Print! The whole process should take no more than fifteen seconds. He notes (as he dashes past fellow commuters, oblivious to his challenge), the merits of majoring in something so seemingly minor could be a point of amusement later today, but this is lost on him now, all he can hear is the train, there, already arrived on the now opposite platform.
‘Must be quick, must be quick’, he repeats his speedy refrain, ‘I must be quick, I must be fast. I mustn’t miss my train!’
Button, confirm, card. It’s so simple, he simply can’t complain.
‘I must be quick, I must be fast. I mustn’t miss my train!’
Alas, he can. ‘Coins and notes only’ the wretched contraption says ‘No payment cards today’. He has the cash, there’s a twenty in his wallet, he saw it there this morning. ‘£14.80’ the machine says, ‘Coins only, no payment cards today’. Time creeps forward, slowly ticking by. The purple note, it shines and glistens in this early morning Sun. Cash in, ticket out – ching ching sounds his change, now go – GO GO! You’re going to miss your train!
Three, six, nine steps up – swiftly swerving the elderly woman, as he reaches the top – race fast, quick now –
He laughs, loudly when at the start of his descent he hears the high pitch beep of the doors. Still grinning when he reaches the bottom, the train pulls away.
Damn thing left early.
Today is Friday August 21st, it’s now 12:59 and I’m sat at The Tuttle Club typing this all up. This morning I was a brief guest at Likemind, good chat and new people too. Then I was a guest of my new best friend, Dan Light at London’s IMAX for the ‘experiment in social marketing’ known as ‘Avatar Day’, (more on this later).