Mike at the Movies

“The Social Network” (PG-13) *****

Mark Zuckerberg is told by one of his lawyers: “You’re not an a**hole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be.” That Mark, played with relentless energy and complexity by Jesse Eisenberg, is the hero and one of the villains of the film is one reason for its success.

Zuckerberg, now only 26 and the youngest billionaire ever, is the founder of Facebook, the largest and most successful of the Net-based social networks. It pits the middle class, 1600 SAT-scoring Zuckerberg against the “to the manor born” Winklevoss twins who claim ownership of the Facebook idea. What they had in mind was a small-scale, all-Harvard network called Harvard Connection. There is no evidence in the film that either had enough computer skills to frame their idea into what Facebook became, but Zuckerberg doesn’t come across as terrifically likeable either.

The real villain of the piece, played by Justin Timberlake, is Sean Parker, founder of Napster, the free music source that was shut down by the industry after helping to ruin the record business and, indirectly, leading to iTunes and other music sources that have almost relegated the CD to the museum. Parker eventually became president of Facebook, but his tenure was short-lived due to a cocaine conviction.

As Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant script indicates, both Napster and Facebook were begun in attempts to get even with or attract a girl. This fact is only one of many that underscores a vital part of understanding and relating to this film: All the main characters were only college kids when this all took place.

It’s also a story of class warfare. Part of Zuckerberg’s inner turmoil is caused by his failure to get into the better final clubs at Harvard while his CFO, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) does. The Winklevosses are naturally members of perhaps the most prestigious club at Harvard, the Porcellian Club. Saverin is the worst done by as Zuckerberg falls under the spell of Parker and moves to California, where Facebook is still housed in the Stanford Research Park. There the site starts to realize its full commercial potential — now estimated at over $30 billion.

Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about computers; Saverin himself is found to be unable to change his status on Facebook and the dialogue about coding and framework and design goes by so fast that even computer wizards will not be able to follow it. What you can follow is a rip-roaring, great story, told with relentless intensity, about the dark side of youthful entrepreneurship and human character when faced with greed. All the real-life characters except the Winklevosses have staunchly maintained that the movie is fiction; something to keep in mind as you watch this astounding film.

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (PG-13) ****

Oliver Stone is not a writer-director of great subtlety. He is, however, a master of film technique, and he uses all his tools in the sequel to the great 1987 hit, “Wall Street.” This time the story is even more involved, but Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is still the embodiment of greed only, as he points out: “Greed is good. Now it’s legal.”

He’s speaking after eight years in the slammer for various violations of the law. Has Gordon gone straight? Is a gecko with a paint job not still a gecko, selling car insurance?

Josh Brolin, as Bretton James, an even more evil genius than Gekko, looks evil and, like Gekko, smokes a mean symbolic cigar. Carey Mulligan as Winnie Gekko, Gordon’s disillusioned daughter, almost steals the picture with her innocence and sense of despair, and Shia LaBeouf is excellent as Jake Moore, Winnie’s potential husband and employee of both James and Gekko.

The time is 2008 and the place is, of course, Wall Street. Gekko tells a rapt audience how the economy is going to collapse and why — “greed” again — and in a relatively short scene, makes it almost understandable. Everybody in the film seems to want revenge on somebody else. But some of them forget that, as Gekko says: “Money is the bitch that never sleeps.” As Gekko also says: “Idealism kills every idea,” yet it is idealism that turns out to be his major enemy.

It is left to Winnie the idealist to deliver the most devastating line in the film as she tells Jake, “You’re just like him.” There were and are a lot of financial types “just like him,” and just as many who want to be Gordon Gekko. That may be why the happy scenes in the end titles may be ironic. Judge for yourself.

“Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” (PG) **

A case of missed opportunities is this film. Ostensibly a children’s tale, it is filled with horrific scenes and dark characters, a plot that is so complex that it is impossible to follow in any other than its broadest details, and a basic difficulty of trying to follow all the Good Owls and the Bad Owls and keep them straight.

Lovely 3-D effects and a lush musical score only obscure the problems of the plot. Owlets are being kidnapped by “The Pure Ones,” racist owls with world domination as their goal. Soren, an owlet who escapes, is the hero and relatively easy to recognize. His brother, Kludd, portrayed as weak, joins The Pure Ones, headed by their evil queen, Nyra and her husband.

Part of the problem is the names of the characters: Jutt, Strix Struma, Eglantine, Mirella and of course, the aforementioned Kludd. The other problem is that owls fly off at a moment’s notice for unclear destinations at utter peril, but from what we’re not sure until the battle scenes that conclude the film.

I wanted to like this film. Australian-produced, it is clearly Australian in inspiration. As Soren says at one point: “I need to trust my gizzard.” Trust mine; this movie won’t reach yours.

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