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The Social Network, Let Me In, Case 39 

THE SOCIAL NETWORK

***1/2

Like the screwball comedies and film noir staples of yore, The Social Network exhibits an extraordinary gift for gab. Words fly like machine gun strafes, and arguments generally end with the more verbally adroit speaker standing over the other person like a wave that's managed to tumble a surfer. If screenwriting was considered a sport, Aaron Sorkin's script wouldn't just be competing for year-end movie awards but for Olympic gold as well.

One of the best films of the year, The Social Network is the fascinating (though factually sketchy) story of how a Harvard nerd by the name of Mark Zuckerberg (superbly played by Jesse Eisenberg) created Facebook and in the process became the world's youngest billionaire. Yet this isn't an inspiring movie about an underdog beating the odds as much as it's a prickly mishmash of how one person's insecurities led to material gains even as his personality remained stuck in an arrogant, off-putting zone.

As depicted here, Zuckerberg is frightfully brilliant, yet brains don't compensate for the manner in which he screws over people, particularly his only friend (Andrew Garfield, much better here than in the upcoming Never Let Me Go). And when Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake, impressively playing sleazy) worms his way into the game, the fledgling company really takes off, but at what cost to Zuckerberg's already blackened soul?

Coming off the overrated slog The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, director David Fincher keeps the proceedings -- two separate lawsuits on top of the Facebook genesis material -- moving at a rapid clip, a task made easier by Sorkin's breezy, biting dialogue and animated performances by a well-chosen cast. But a quick pace isn't the same as a hurried one, and The Social Network takes its time in showing how one loner was able to unite 500 million friends, even as he remained perpetually hidden on the other side of the cold, glaring screen.

LET ME IN

***

The world needed an immediate remake of Sweden's 2008 Let the Right One In about as much as it needed another vampire flick, yet the good news is that Let Me In can hardly be construed as a shoddy, cash-in-quick product. Crafted with extreme care by writer-director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), this is that rare retelling that pays the utmost respect to its predecessor -- I'd be hard-pressed to single out even one frame that cheapens the memory of the original.

As before, the setting is an apartment complex in a frozen environment (here, Los Alamos, NM), where lonely young Owen (The Road's Kodi Smit-McPhee) notices he has new neighbors in the form of Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz of Kick-Ass) and a man he assumes is her father (Richard Jenkins). Picked on by bullies and exhibiting some disturbing character traits himself, Owen is happy to become friends with this strange girl who doesn't like candy and can only hang out with him at night.

Reeves largely sticks close to the look and tone of the first film, but not in the annoying manner of Gus Van Sant's atrocious Psycho remake. Reeves is clearly thinking for himself, and while his slight altercations result in a picture not quite as powerful as its predecessor (particularly during the climax, a mesmerizing piece of filmmaking in the '08 take), he's to be commended for creating a film that ably stands on its own.

Still, for all of Reeves' accomplishments, the most thrilling aspect of Let Me In is that it's the first movie in 31 years from Hammer Film Productions, the studio responsible for many of the horror classics of the 1950s and '60s. With Let Me In, the revived company has risen from the grave in impressive fashion.

CASE 39

*1/2

Case 39 is one of those unwanted Hollywood bastards, a production that was completed years ago and has even been released in other territories but is only now making its stateside debut. Just how old is this picture? Let's just say that when filming began, David O. Selznick was still combing the country for the perfect Scarlett O'Hara.

OK, so I exaggerate by a decade or seven, but the point is that for this to have had a shot at succeeding, it probably needed to predate Orphan, The Omen and perhaps even The Bad Seed in the "evil that kids do" mini-genre. As it stands, its thudding familiarity is only compounded by its narratively limp and technically humdrum presentation.

Renee Zellweger stars as a social worker who saves 10-year-old Lilith (Jodelle Ferland) from execution by her seemingly religious-wacko parents, only to eventually figure out that the adults were only trying to save the world from their demonic daughter. Along the way, cop Ian McShane demonstrates remarkably poor aim when it comes to firearms, child psychiatrist Bradley Cooper discovers hornets crawling out of every bodily orifice, and Zellweger manages to make a horror film that isn't even one-tenth as terrifying as her romantic comedy New In Town.

 

 

 

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