By Marc S. Sanders

Power and knowledge can be a dangerous thing for a kid who is not necessarily as mature as his IQ would suggest. Mark Zuckerberg reinvented the way an entire planet functions from his Harvard dorm room. In the process, he couldn’t have cared less about the antagonism he was generating.

David Fincher’s The Social Network, with a brilliant screenplay by Aaron Sorkin captures kids with too much opportunity to seize, and the hubris they carry when they discover money, jealously, pride, and greed through a winning societal experiment.

The film features one of the best casts ever assembled, at least definitely within the confines of the 21st Century. Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake (should’ve been nominated), Armie Hammer (one of the best twin brothers’ portrayals in film), Rooney Mara, Brenda Song, and of course Jesse Eisenberg. Sorkin wrote the dialogue. It’s another thing to deliver it.

These people talk before they think, and it’s likely what caused them the aggravations of their own success and discovery. Watch the first scene between Eisenberg and Mara, as Zuckerberg and his girlfriend, Erica. Zuckerberg is already too smart for his own good. His failure with dating Erica is destined to be his undoing. He’ll never recover from this moment. Never! This is a kid with his hand on the nuclear button and he can’t stop pushing it. The other characters are all the same. Harvard geniuses with so much to gain, but how much will they lose?

Mark Zuckerberg, Cameron & Tyler Winklevoss (the self-absorbed twins of prestige and legacy), and Sean Parker (inventor of Napster) are prophets of a bigger picture. They foresaw the basic human desire for attention. People’s needs to be noticed are the commodities to monetarily profit from. These kids knew that better than anyone else. Ironically, Zuckerberg’s best friend and financial partner, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), didn’t know it until he realized he was a large step behind. It cost a lot of money. Ironically, in the process of creating a new means of connecting with friends, it suffered the cost of a friendship, as well.

The Social Network will always be one of my ten favorite films. (Talk about huge Oscar upsets…excuse me The King’s Speech for Best Picture????) I’m always amazed at these kids with power. The knowledge they possess is bigger than anything within the confines of our historical governments, and yet they bicker and steal and betray like toddlers in a sandbox. Switch out “Facebook” for a Nerf football or a Barbie doll, and you can still apply this fast-paced wit of words. Sorkin pounced on that dichotomy. We’ve seen civil lawsuits on film with grand disputes and long speeches in front of arbitrators. We had yet to see college students dominate tables full of lawyers with crackling dialogue exchanged to prove their worth over one another. Amazingly enough, Sorkin used much of the dialogue from recorded transcripts he accessed. These guys actually spoke like this with each other. These technological pioneers gave the planet’s people the attention they wanted. Yet, what ultimately mattered to them was the credit for what they felt entitled to.

I’ll never tire of watching The Social Network, even if listening to Mark Zuckerberg is as exhausting as talking with a stair master.

One of best films ever made.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Anna Paquin
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 92% Certified Fresh

PLOT: Two young brothers deal with the divorce of their parents in 1986 Brooklyn, specifically the Park Slope neighborhood.

I started writing this as a “conventional” review, and I found myself unable to make it more than a simple summary of the plot.  I have rarely seen a movie that has left me more inarticulate than this one.  I can tell you the movie works, and works extremely well, but I am unable to explain exactly why.

It’s a simple story of a husband and wife going through divorce, deciding on joint custody of their two sons, and the complications that ensue.  The husband, Bernard (Jeff Daniels), is a literature professor and a published novelist, but who hasn’t had anything published for some time.  The wife, Joan (Laura Linney), is in the final stages of getting her own first novel published.  This fact may or may not be one of the causes of the divorce, but Bernard is pretty sure it is.  Their sons, Walt (high school senior, played by Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (maybe 12 years old), deal with this news in a predictable manner: initial numb acceptance, then some acting out a little later.

Bernard, whose well-educated narcissism is impossible to miss, almost cheerfully informs the sons that he and Joan will share joint custody evenly during the week.  One of the sons asks, “How can you share us evenly?”

“I’ll have you every other Thursday,” Bernard explains helpfully.  This answers the question without making anything better.

Walt starts a relationship with a classmate whom he coldly describes as “cute, but not gorgeous.”  Bernard casually invites a female student to live in a vacant room in his new house.  Joan and Bernard fiercely protect their “days” with their sons.  Frank starts drinking beer and masturbating in public places (this is handled with much more discretion than that description would have you believe).

But the story itself is not what makes this movie such a pleasure.  It’s the movie’s style and editing that create a unique experience.  The movie clocks in at an unthinkable 81 minutes, WITH credits.  I learn from the bonus features on the Blu-Ray that it was shot on Super-16 film stock with a mostly hand-held camera, lending the film a low-budget, documentary look that enhances its “reality”.  Scenes last only long enough for us to get the point before a jump cut takes us to the next plot point.  Normally, this creates in me a sense of nervousness or anxiety, but for some reason it didn’t work that way.  I never felt cheated or short-changed.  It all just felt “right.”  It gave me the same sensation I get when I’m reading a really good short story with sharply-drawn characters and impeccable dialogue.

That may sound like more details than I had promised at the beginning, but it’s really just a clinical description.  Words can’t express how the film’s brevity, atmosphere, dialogue, and characters all combined to produce one of the most touching films about family and/or divorce that I’ve ever seen.

(No, I HAVEN’T seen Marriage Story by this same director, Noah Baumbach, but I will get around to it one day.  Today is not that day, though.)


By Marc S. Sanders

The first time I saw Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel, I was disappointed.  Very disappointed.  It was only after a second viewing about a year later that I realized I was simply biased and unfair with my perception of the film.  I grew up with the Richards’, Donner and Lester, films that featured Christopher Reeve in the role of Superman/Clark Kent.  Nothing could violate what was done in those films from the ’70s and ’80s. 

My impression of Man Of Steel now is that it is a marvelous film.  It’s an exploration of a stranger in a strange land questioning how to adapt to a living environment that he is not from, nor where anyone around him is genetically built like him either.  Henry Cavill fills the role of the title character.  What’s especially important is that he is not attempting to do what Reeve memorably did before him.  Actually, David S Goyer’s script really doesn’t allow for the hijinks of the prior films.  Clark Kent is not portrayed as a goofy and lovable klutz this time around.  Instead, the boy from Smallville, Kansas is challenged to limit his abilities at the behest of his Earthling father, Jonathan (Kevin Costner).  It’s dangerous for Clark to show all that he is capable of from his super strength to his heat vision.  Clark’s Earth mother, Martha (Diane Lane), is more protective of her son.  A really powerful scene occurs when young Clark is in the classroom and he has a bout with sensory overload of super hearing and super x-ray vision.  He can’t get the encompassing sounds and sights out of his head.  One of many CGI effects in the film come with Snyder showing the skeletal insides of Clark’s classmates and teachers.  It’s frightening; even to an innocent alien boy from another world.  This is good conflict.  Does the world need Clark Kent?  Would Clark Kent be better off someplace else?  Can he manage to live with daily life drowning out his sensibilities?

Another dilemma opens the film on Clark’s home planet of Krypton where he was born with the name Kal-el.  His father, Jor-el (Russell Crowe) has insisted to the governing body that the planet is expected to self destruct soon, and civilization needs to be relocated to another planet.  The politicians refuse to accept his theory.  Jor-el’s friend, the military leader General Zod (Michael Shannon) sides with his opinion.  Though his approach is violent insurrection of the Kryptonians.  Zod is punished for his crimes and sentenced to an eternal prison known as The Phantom Zone before baby Kal-el is shipped away, and the planet implodes with all its inhabitants.

Following this opening, Snyder cuts his film with flashbacks and forwards showing Clark in various different roles as either a fishing boat crewman or a bartender trying his best to remain undercover even when the temptation for use of his powers repeatedly shows itself.  Clark reflects on moments from his childhood when he and his Earth parents questioned how to present himself.  

Superman’s known love interest eventually shows herself, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Daily Planet, Lois Lane (Amy Adams).  She’s following up on an alien ship that has been discovered in the arctic after 20,000 years.  Clark and Lois connect at this moment.  Of all the Superman angles that are familiar to so many of us, this is where Goyer and Snyder perhaps do not focus enough.  Man Of Steel is a satisfyingly long film, but there’s a lot of material and drawn out action to cover as well.  So the Lois and Clark relationship is somewhat sacrificed and not as nuanced as we have experienced in other iterations.

Zod arrives on Earth requesting that Kal-el reveal himself along with the intent to destructively turn Earth into a new Krypton at the sacrifice of the planet’s human population.  Naturally, a city wide battle will ensue. and lemme tell you reader you wanna talk about destroying the village just to save it….well…that’s what happens here.  When New York got destroyed in Marvel’s The Avengers or Ghostbusters, those pictures looked like spilled milk compared to what Superman and Zod do here.

Man Of Steel is the best film of the new Warner Bros/DC universe.  It might be Zack Snyder’s best film as well.  The assembly of the picture is masterful.  Hans Zimmer’s score has these great build ups as Clark discovers more of his capabilities.  It especially lends to when the character dons the cape and costume for the first time ready to leap in the sky and fly.  Snyder shows the efforts needed for Superman to carry out this talent.  The flying doesn’t come easy.  It looks like work on the super hero.  Zimmer’s score starts out quiet and then advances to these powerful notes as Superman soars higher and higher.  The boy from Kansas is making himself into something greater that he has no familiarity with.

Michael Shannon plays another of many kinds of villains and antagonists on his resume.  I’m not sick of this guy’s antics yet.  It’s time he become a James Bond villain.  He plays Zod with an uncompromising determination and disregard for anything else but to rule.  It’s all very sci fi like but I love how unforgiving he is with the role.  Much less Shakespearean than when Terrance Stamp played the part so well with Reeve as the hero.  Shannon is more direct and bloodthirsty.  Michael Shannon just knows how to be scary on film. This kind of personality would work great in a silly comedy from the Farrelly brothers as well.

Amy Adams is fine as Lois, but there’s not much here to work with honestly.  More details of her relationship with Superman come through in later films.  However, this story development soured me on my initial viewing.  The iconic irony of Superman pathos is that as sharp a reporter as Lois Lane is, she can not realize that the guy wearing the glasses who is working right next to her is actually Clark Kent?!?!?! Readers and viewers were always thankfully in on the joke.  On follow up viewings of Man Of Steel, I understand that Goyer and Snyder were never aiming for irony.  Lois knows who Clark really is from the get go. What was once an unforgivable departure for me, no longer is a concern.  There are deeper angles to question in Man Of Steel, like a purpose to others and the freedom to force a change because it can be done.

Snyder and Goyer broach on the well known Christ allegory with Superman.  The film takes place in Clark’s thirty third Earth year.  Jor-el is slain with with a stabbing to his rib.  There’s also the crucifixion  pose on a number of occasions.  I must admit, as a Jew raised conservatively with just the Old Testament, I am not very educated on the texts of Jesus Christ.  However, the basics are explored in Man Of Steel.  Is Superman a savior?  Snyder wisely even has Clark visit with his Smallville priest to question his obligations to Earth and to Zod’s calling, with window artwork of Christ in the background.  

One vice I have with Snyder’s picture is the shameless plugging.  How overt must signage from Sears, U-Haul, 7-Eleven and IHop be?  Granted, all of these summer blockbuster films have the inserts of brand labels going all the way back to the original Superman films.  Here though, the corporate advertising is a true eyesore.  Superman being thrown into the dining area of an IHop is not as memorably funny as when Zod’s underling, Non, crashed into New York’s famed Coca-Cola sign back in 1981.

The seemingly endless battle consuming about forty five minutes of the third act of the film are over the top outrageous.  I might normally be saying I’ve seen enough while casualties are never considered as buildings literally topple over into mushroom clouds of concrete dust.  Still, the cast keeps these moments alive.  Shannon and Cavill, along with Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, the Daily Planet editor, and Amy Adams, actually show risk and fear amid all of this bombastic action.  Still, Snyder is insistent on his freedom to go crazy with CGI effects.  It’s more than a bit much, but the characters up to this point keep me engaged with the film all the way through.  Later DC films in this franchise don’t do it so much for me, but that’s another column altogether.  

Again, what I especially like about Man Of Steel is how Snyder cuts back and forth with the film.  Heroic moments occur and then are reflected back to times in Clark’s childhood with Jonathan and Martha.  With Zimmer’s score, it seems to allow Clark to consider conversations and moments from his past as meaningful to what he is experiencing in the present.  When Zack Snyder stays on this trajectory it makes Man Of Steel more than just another comic book movie for summer box office.  There’s depth from Goyer’s script that Snyder wisely does not disregard.  

Man Of Steel is a new and unfamiliar kind of Superman, but its a very welcome Superman too.


By Marc S. Sanders

Zack Snyder may have been indulging in too many cookies from the jar when he made Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice.  I can not deny how ambitious this film is, but did it ever need to be this ambitious?  There are too many storylines, too many characters, and not enough thought provoking dialogue to really make any sense of the gobblety gook that’s splattered all over the screen.

Reader, my favorite super hero of all time is Batman.  Nearly any variation of Batman (including moments from the dreadful Joel Schumacher films) contains an element that I just love about the character.  Ben Affleck is cast as The Dark Knight here.  He’s fine in the role.  I knew since he had done Daredevil, that he could pull off this part.  He might be too long in the tooth, and too busy an actor/director, for a new series of super hero films, but I digress.  That being said, the movies have gone into overkill on the Batman character.  It’s time the Gotham crusader hide in his cave for a little while and let some of the other super heroes out to play.  Snyder’s film proves my theory.  After all, the true highlight is neither title character in this movie.  

Actually Wonder Woman (Gal Godot) making her big screen debut is the draw above anything else here.  Even that is problematic, though.  I’ve seen this film twice now.  Can anyone tell me why Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince even makes an appearance in this film?  From a story perspective, what justifies Diana creeping into this film, other than to plaster her picture on DVD covers and merchandise a new action figure?

Events begin right after Snyder’s stellar Superman film, Man Of Steel.  An older and experienced Bruce Wayne is dubious of the benefits that Superman (Henry Cavill) can serve on Earth.  After all, his bout with the Krypton villain, General Zod, practically leveled Metropolis.  Heaven forbid if one day this powerful alien with the red cape goes out of control.  Bruce, as well as politicians led by Holly Hunter, ask a wise question.  Who on earth could ever stop him?  So Bruce, with assistance from Alfred (Jeremy Irons playing the well known sidekick more as a strategist, than a polite butler) begin preparing for a seemingly inevitable battle to eliminate the Kryptonian. 

Meanwhile, a young, brainy Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is planning for his own undoing of both of these super heroes by living up to the film’s title; pitting the Bat of Gotham against the God of Metropolis; mano y mano.  Like most iterations, Luthor plays with defying the odds of nature.  In this case, he is experimenting with a green element sourced from Krypton which we all know is Kryptonite, as well as extracting blood from the corpse of Zod to create his own monster movie.  That last part feels like a side gig for the supposedly genius villain.

In addition, a mysteriously exotic and beautiful woman is turning up on various occasions.  Somehow, only Bruce seems to take notice of her.  Why?  I don’t know.  There’s really no purpose for him to scope out this person amid a sea of other extras attending a Luthor gala. 

There’s also Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane).  There’s a retread of Bruce Wayne’s origin story that we’ve seen countless times before.  There’s a bitter and disabled former employee of Wayne Enterprises.  There’s a dream sequence showing vague plague like foreshadowing to come.  There’s an arms dealer/terrorist sequence in the desert for Lois to investigate, and another figure for Bruce to track.  There’s the eventual gladiator battle between the two heroes, and then there’s another battle thereafter for the two guys to team up with the the woman who carries a magic lasso to defeat a Doomsday monster; likely rejected sketches from the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchises.  Oh yeah.  There’s also some teaser material for what’s yet to come in the DC cinematic universe.

Do you see where I am going with all of this?  There’s just too much stuff here.  Eventually it all gets tedious.  A laundry list of storylines with little to no connection with one another feels burdensome.  I wish the screenwriters, Chris Terrio and David S Goyer, finished writing a script before starting another script.  As lengthy as all of these stories feel, they also seem unfinished, and, I can’t understand why.  

Forgive me.  It’s easy to compare the DC Comics film adaptations to the Marvel Comics films that Disney now owns.  The latter franchise seems well structured and outlined.  The former franchise helmed by Snyder seems rushed to catch up to everything that Marvel has already accomplished.  If the intent was to have a huge franchise of films, then why smash all of your material together in one sitting?

That gets back to my viewpoint on Batman.  Why Batman, all over again?  Snyder and the producers really aced it with the casting of Gal Godot.  She is Wonder Woman.  Snyder also struck gold on Man Of Steel with Cavill as Superman.  I wanted more exploration of that guy.  So why make this a Superman and Batman film?  We’ve seen enough Batman through the last thirty years.  Let’s give someone else a chance.  Much could have been accomplished had this installment been a Superman and Wonder Woman team up with maybe a teaser ending of a new Batman yet to come.  This Batman shows me nothing I hadn’t already seen.  There’s a new car and gadgets and cables to swing from.  It’s all been done before.  Lemme see some of what this Wonder Woman can do.  As well, if Wonder Woman is here, then tell me why she is here.  Again, she just comes out of nowhere and never explains why she’s there.  My wife and daughter tried to explain it to me.  Apparently, she wants to acquire a photograph of her with her war comrades from the first World War, and Lex Luthor is in possession of it.  Really?  That’s it?  She just needs to get a sentimental photograph back?  By the way, why does Lex have this photo, and how did she know he has it anyway?

Good stories always answer questions with more questions until it’s eventually tied off at the end.  Moments in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice seem to begin in the middle of their stories with questions that did not answer questions that likely came before, and by the end of the picture, there’s no ending or answers in sight.

I had already reviewed Wonder Woman, and in that column I specifically noted that DC films with Warner Bros always seems to come close, but never gets it completely right.  This film boasts an impressive cast, and all are good in their respective roles.  My approach to this Lex Luthor from Eisenberg might have been different if I were in charge; make him more like a Steve Jobs kinda guy rather than a slight variation of the actor’s other famous role as Mark Zuckerberg.  Still, it’s not good enough and it’s hardly forgivable for what the filmmakers churned out with this picture.  The writers have an infinite wealth of source material to select from.  Pick up a comic book, guys!!!!  They have the funds and opportunity to divide up the best moments of these outstanding characters for the next ten years of film installments.  Nevertheless, they don’t take the time to think strategically, and flesh out the environments and the characters that inhabit these settings.  

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice is just a sloppy mountain of peas, carrots, corn and green beans, with lumpy mashed potatoes and covered in lots of over seasoned gravy.