Tag Archives: The Social Network

Living On The Autism Spectrum

I think it’s time I made a confession, although I consider it less of a confession and more of a confirmation. I have Asperger’s syndrome.

“What’s that?” you might ask. Asperger’s is a mental disorder that has extreme irregularities with social development and nonverbal communication. Think of Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network, Steve Jobs or Michael Burry from The Big Short, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the disease is like. It’s a condition that exists on the Autism spectrum, and many doctors consider it a high-functioning form of Autism.

In a way, I guess you could say I’m half Autistic.

I’ve known this for a long time. In many ways, I’ve always known. Ever since I was a child, I struggled to understand my peers and to talk and communicate with them. I couldn’t read facial expressions. I couldn’t interpret sarcasm. I couldn’t tell whether someone liked me or if they were afraid of me. I said things in the wrong way, or used the wrong tone of voice. I hurt people’s feelings and I didn’t even know I was doing it. I’ve always felt like an alien inside of my own body, and I sometimes wondered if everyone else was clued in on some big secret that they were all intentionally hiding from me. It was a very lonely, confusing experience, and most of the time, I didn’t know what was happening with myself or the people around me.

When I was 12 years old, my dad pulled me aside and told me that I had Asperger’s syndrome. Like you, I didn’t know what it was at first. Then my dad read to me all of the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome. That kids displaying traits of Asperger’s were socially inept. They couldn’t read nonverbal cues. They were hypersensitive. They could spend hours over subjects or tasks they found interesting. They could hyper-analyze on anything they wanted to focus on, even to the point where it hurt them to keep thinking about it.

I had listened to all of these symptoms, and wondered if they were writing about Asperger’s or if they were writing about me.

Over time, I’ve learned to live with the both the good and bad of Asperger’s. On one hand, thanks to my intense interest in certain subjects (like movies), I’ve become very knowledgable on the ins and outs of certain fields. I don’t know many people that can recall most best picture, director, screenplay, and acting winners at most awards ceremonies. I can, and that’s a small thing about myself that I’m proud of.

On the other hand, the negative effects of Asperger’s has been obviously detrimental to say the least. In terms of building relationships, it is a never-ending battle of interpretation and understanding, and usually, I’m always on the losing end.

I’ve recently had the motivation to publish an opinion column on The Dallas Morning News about my struggles with Asperger’s. There was no particular reason behind this. I’ve just felt that the disease has been something that I’ve been unintentionally hiding for some time, and it wasn’t something that needed to be hidden. Like most kids with Autism, they don’t have a choice in hiding what they have to the people around them, and it subjects them to insults and cruelty. Since they don’t have a choice in being Autistic, why should I have a choice in having Asperger’s?

Yet, I’ve learned to cope with my illness not in negativity, but in practicality. In one of my favorite stories I’ve ever reported on, I profiled a college student that had dyslexia, dysgraphia, auditory processing disorder, and attention deficit disorder. I don’t know how he does it. Asperger’s has been enough of a struggle for me. How does he deal with struggling to read, hear, write, and keep up with daily tasks?

The thing that had the most profound effect on me while interviewing him was how casually he saw his illness. He often laughed about it and smiled about the funny things he did, not drowning himself in sadness over what he could or couldn’t do.

He didn’t see his dyslexia. He saw himself.

“Someone with dyslexia is no better or worse than someone without it,” I remember him saying. “They’re just different.”

I listened to this statement, and pretended “dyslexia” was replaced with “Asperger’s.” I have since chosen to see myself in this same light, and I encourage other people to do the same. We all have struggles in one way, shape, or form. Mine just comes with a diagnosis. In realizing that disability does not define, I give power to the fact that I am David Dunn and I am not Asperger’s syndrome. I hope others choose to pursue their identities over their illness as well.

To read my piece in The Dallas Morning News, click here

 David Dunn 

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A Meeting With Aaron Sorkin

I can now say two things about my journalism career: that I have interviewed two Academy Award winners, and I have met the man responsible for me even writing in the first place.

Last week, I got to interview screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for his upcoming film Steve Jobs. He’s also been behind a lot of Hollywood’s more intelligent and well-crafted films, including A Few Good Men, Moneyball, and The Social Network, of which he won an Oscar for.

The Social Network in particular is special to me. It was my senior year in high school the year it came out, and I knew almost nothing about which direction I wanted to go with my life. I knew two things: that I had a creative mind, and that I enjoyed reading and writing.

While I had these skills, however, I didn’t know how I could translate that into a career. Yes I was writing my own short stories and poems, but I saw those more as hobbies than I did as a means of sustainment.

That is, until I saw The Social Network.

I saw the film in November. It was a cold, chilly day, and I walked up to the movie theater in my sweats and hoodie like I was Mark Zuckerberg walking across his campus. Sitting in the theater, watching the film, I felt like Zuckerberg did when he realized the potential of his future creation of Facebook. The genius of the idea came rushing into his head all at once, like lightning when it struck Ben Franklin’s kite. So too did the craftsmanship of the film hit me all at once like I was flying my own kite in the movie theater.

The movie played out like a Greek tragedy of sorts. You had this character embodied with a mortal flaw (in this case, Zuckerberg’s social anxiety) which eventually leads to his downfall and, ultimately, his undoing. With the character of Mark Zuckerberg, however, his undoing is not the loss of his life, like it is in those old Shakespeare plays. His undoing comes in the form of social seclusion: with him being alone with only his genius and his ego to keep him company.

Oh, I had seen great movies before, but this one was different. It wasn’t great in the contemporary sense of going from plot point A to plot point B. This showed craftsmanship in which I hadn’t seen before. It’s uniqueness didn’t come from its premise or its ideas, but in how it told and expressed its premise and ideas. The intricate, witty dialogue. The complex and interesting characters. The closeness of its shots and the tightness in its editing. I had come to love and appreciate The Social Network in a way that I hadn’t appreciated even the most exciting and action-packed blockbusters.

It showed me that true excitement didn’t come from special effects. It came from interesting and compelling characters.

After watching the movie, I had one thought in my head: “I have to write about this.” So I went home, created a Facebook account (which is ironic, because the movie was clearly critical of social media) and wrote and published my first reviews online.

I didn’t know the first thing about film criticism. In fact, to this day, I attest the one that was written the worst was The Social Network (And also The Shawshank Redemption, which I had published previous to The Social Network for practice). But the quality of those reviews almost doesn’t matter. I had found a reason to write, and I initiated that ambition myself. I can always rewrite my reviews for The Shawshank Redemption and The Social Network, but my first experience at writing and publishing my own work is something I will never get to experience again. It is one of my greatest memories of being a writer.

Enter 2015, and I’m sitting down across from the man who more or less takes credit for being the writer who inspired me to become one myself. His most recent film, Steve Jobs, sports a lot of similarities to The Social Network. Both center on geniuses in their respective crafts. Both have character with social discomforts that make them seem more like aliens than human beings. But both go through these brilliant arcs in the film that shows changes to their characters and to their relationships with the supporting cast. The only difference is Steve Jobs ends on a more lighthearted note. The Social Network does not.

So there we were, Aaron Sorkin and myself, talking about the film and his processes in researching and writing the picture. The most interesting thing he said to me was that he wasn’t interested in telling Steve Jobs’ biography: he was interested in telling his story, and to do that required making inferences to the facts rather than writing just the facts themselves.

“It’s not a piece of journalism,” he said. “It’s a piece of art.”

While talking, I don’t think it dawned on him at how much of an influence he’s been on me, on how much his writing inspired me to write myself, or even that his screenplay had gotten me interested in writing about movies in the first place. Then again, maybe he didn’t need to know. He was an artist talking about his art, and we might have had a different conversation if he realized he was talking to a fan instead of a journalist.

Sorkin probably will never read this post, and it’s just as well. He revealed his brilliant mind to me, and that was a gift in itself. Maybe one day some young, aimless artist will read one of my reviews or stories and realize that they want to write their own reviews and stories too.

One day, but until then, I’m going to keep enjoying perfecting my craft. Just like Sorkin is perfecting his.

– David Dunn

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“STEVE JOBS” Review (✫✫✫)

Creator. Entrepreneur. Father.

Steve Jobs is defined by three years of his life: 1984, 1988 and 1998.

The movie, Steve Jobs, covers these years of his life. So will this review.

1984

Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is on edge. The Macintosh is malfunctioning. He is told by his technicians that the computer won’t say “Hello” to him. It’s 40 minutes before the product launches. His ex-girlfriend is waiting in the other room with her daughter, who Jobs insists isn’t his, wondering why they are both living on welfare while he is making millions. He paces back and forth in between his professional and personal problems. He tells his technician to fix it and walks off stage.

Fassbender is mesmerizing as Jobs. He’s ecstatic, energetic, passionate. He’s tense, egotistical, confrontational. He’s at peace when thinking about how many people’s lives this new computer will impact. He’s angry at people who come up to him, trying to stop him from completing his mission. His expression shows that they’ll fail. He’s too determined to let his ambitions die.

The filming in this sequence is enclosed, personal. It uses tracking shots to follow Jobs as he paces back and forth, looking at TIME Magazines, drinking his sparkling water, his mind racing with everything that needs to get done. The reel itself has a texture to it that I couldn’t quite point out until it hit me: this sequence is shot on celluloid film, reminiscent of the decade that it’s reflecting. A great choice of stylistic direction from Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours), but just like the time period we’re in, we know that it won’t last long.

Jobs handles his personal issues. The technical issues are resolved. He steps out onto the stage and introduces the Apple Macintosh.

1988

The Macintosh underperformed in sales. Jobs is let go by Apple, the company that he helped start. He feels betrayed by his closest friends, alone in his struggle for significance.

He meets a few of his former colleagues who want to wish him well. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) starts acting friendly to him, but then confronts him on not giving him enough credit on the launch of the Macintosh. He asks him what he does.

“I play the orchestra, and you’re a good musician,” Jobs says. “You sit right there and you’re the best in your row.”

The scene switches to another where Jobs is confronting a former confidant. The editing is off, choppy. It’s cross-cutting between this scene and a flashback so rapidly it’s hard to keep track of the two conversations. I don’t know what Boyle was trying to do here. Maybe he thought he was adding tension to the scene. I thought he was adding confusion.

Jobs visits his daughter in the next room, who is skipping class to come and see him. She’s in middle school. He tells her she needs to go to school before she rushes up to him and hugs his legs.

“I want to live with you, daddy,” she whispers to him.

She and her mother leave. Jobs is shaken. He steps out onto the stage.

1998

This is it: the launch that has come to define both Apple and Jobs for years to come. This is the most important act of the film, and the one I will talk less about for the sake of spoilers.

Jobs looks different. He looks older. His hair is whiter. He’s sporting the iconic glasses and turtleneck that most people recognize Jobs in. Fassbender is no longer just acting like Steve Jobs. He has become Steve Jobs.

The framing of shots is similar to the beginning. It tracks Jobs while he walks from one place to another. He’s more sure of himself in relationship to Apple, less sure of himself in relationship to his daughter. Boyle captures the panic on his face, the fear recognizing his failings as a person and as a father.

It’s nearing the end of the film, and I realize the thing that I love most about the movie is its screenplay. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin captures both the genius and fragility of Jobs, the sharpness in his words and the intimacy of his emotions. This is a good change of pace for Sorkin. From a filmography of lightning-quick, witty characters and dialogue from A Few Good Men to The Social Network, this is his most emotive work yet. It makes you feel more than it makes you think.

I exit the theater. I call my dad on my iPhone and tell him I love him. Steve Jobs too realizes that the greatest thing he ever made wasn’t an Apple product. It was his daughter.

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“GONE GIRL” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

Gone Girl

What happened to Amy Dunne?

When I started watching Gone Girl, I had no idea what happened between Nick Dunne and his wife Amy. Now I have finished the movie, and I still have no idea what happened between the two of them.

Gone Girl is a very strong psychological thriller, packaging the essential elements of tension, grit, and confusion to make an extremely fascinating, yet equally frustrating, watch. Imagine you’re driving on a highway, except you take a wrong turn. Then you take another wrong turn. Then you take another, then another, and then another after that. Gone Girl is that highway, taking you through so many twists and turns that you don’t know which way you’re going anymore. The only problem is that there’s no end destination when you get off of the highway.

Based on the book of the same name by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl starts with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) coming home to see his living room torn apart and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing. There are a few details that disturb him upon this discovery. The glass table is smashed in. Chairs are overturned. A blood splatter can be spotted above the stove in the kitchen. Suddenly, Nick finds himself swept into a media frenzy as everyone everywhere cries out “Where’s Amy?” as he and Amy’s parents work to find Amy and bring her back home.

Yet, in the midst of all of this media attention, people start to recognize strange things about Nick. He’s behaving oddly for someone who has just lost his wife. A woman outside of a press conference takes a selfie with him and posts it online. He smiles at the conference when people take his picture. And as police discover Amy’s diary and uncover incriminating evidence about Nick’s marriage with Amy, people start to ask one question: did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

Let me start by saying this: there’s no way to expect anything from this film. The minute you think Gone Girl is going in a specific direction, it does a reversal and goes in the complete opposite direction, setting you on another prediction track until it does another reversal. There are many factors contributing to these twists, the biggest one being the writing contributions of Gillian Flynn. Flynn, who wrote the original book, was adamant about being involved in writing the screenplay for David Fincher’s adaptation, and she’s a good sport as far as working with him. Even though there are a few differences conceptually from the book, the work remains a whole emotionally, and lets off this gnawing paranoia on both characters as we question who is the victim and who is the perpetrator. This movie is like a game of cat and mouse, except no one really knows who is the cat or mouse.

The writing is ingenious, but the real star of this show is David Fincher. Fincher, who is no stranger to mind-bending plots (1997’s The Game, 1999’s Fight Club, and 2007’s Zodiac), incorporates elements from all of his movies into this one mind-bending thriller. It has plot twists as big as those in The Game, the pseudo/suicidal/mind trickery in Fight Club, the dark, disturbing realism in Zodiac, and the broad, expressive shots, angles, and edits from The Social Network. I like this about Fincher films, that they’re so distinct in visual style that you can almost instantly tell that it’s a David Fincher film.

Example: In the opening sequence of The Social Network, we capture the essence of the scenery as a lonely Mark Zuckerberg trots back to his dorm. We get a sense of the campus he’s on, the bridges, the buildings, the sidewalks, the trees. We not only feel the physical surroundings around him, but also the life that’s in it, almost like the scenery is breathing around him. Fincher did the same thing during The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and he did it again with Gone Girl. When he’s not filming a scene where there’s a tense exchange of dialogue between characters, he’s quietly viewing the scenery all around him, telling a story with silent images just as much as he does with outspoken characters.

More than what he does shot-wise though, I’m impressed with how he handles his cast. Look at the names associated with this film. Ben Affleck. Rosamund Pike. Tyler Perry. Neil Patrick Harris. Are any of these names what you’d expect to see in an intricate crime-thriller, let alone give a decent performance? I mean, the last memorable role Perry had since dressing up in drag as Madea is Alex Cross, and that was about as complacent as an action movie can get. Neil Patrick Harris’ most serious movie role is as himself in Harold and Kumar. Rosamund Pike is most known as a Bond girl. Affleck’s acting career is self-explanatory. I looked at all of these actors cast in these roles, and I couldn’t help but wonder what they were doing in a Fincher film.

Then I saw what he did with them, and I couldn’t see anyone else in their roles. Perry played Dunne’s attorney Tanner Bolt, and he was so smug and straightforward that he could lend Robert Downey Jr. a few tips for The Judge. Harris steps so wonderfully into a role he’s never played before, and Pike is exemplary too, though I won’t exactly specify how. Affleck to me was the most interesting. He uses awkward lulls, blank expressions, and his sterile voice just like he did during some of his bad performances in past movies. It’s not a bad performance though. Fincher is just using Affleck’s natural reactions to lend details to Nick Dunne’s character, like how he could be smiling in pictures while his wife is missing, or why he sounds so unconvincing when he gives a speech about how he loves his wife to ongoing listeners. Fincher uses both Affleck’s strengths and weaknesses as an actor to the film’s advantage, and that goes the same for everyone else in the film.

I liked many things from this film. The cinematography, the editing, the thought-provoking plot, Fincher’s masterful direction of the film and it’s cast all culminated into a jaw-dropping experience. My only regret about this film is it’s ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that it ends in the same way that it begins, posing questions and vague thoughts so that the audience may fill it with their wild imaginations. I realize Fincher and Flynn did not intend to have a straightforward, clear-cut ending, but I have a stubborn need for closure. Films are supposed to provide answers to the questions they’ve already posed to you. Gone Girl does not provide an answer. It provides a question.

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“NOW YOU SEE ME” Review (✫✫✫)

And now you don’t.  

We open on a black screen, similar to how a magician opens up his show behind the secrecy of a red curtain.  A deck of cards can be heard flipping through the background with the presence of a calm, cool, and serene voice to accompany them.  “Pick a card”, he says.  “Any card”.  But before his volunteer can pick a card, he is quick to remind her “But look closely.  Because the closer you look, the less you will actually see”.

The words of a true magician, and the fact that he flipped this deck and actually picked the card I choose impressed me even more.  This character is named Atlas, who is played by Jesse Eisenberg, and he is a street magician on such a skill level to where he can make skyscrapers light up in the night.  As he impresses a crowd of ongoing viewers, one stands in the audience with a hood over his head quietly observing Atlas.  We can’t see his face and we don’t know who he is, but he carries a card in his pocket, and leaves it for Mr. Atlas at the end of the performance.

Atlas isn’t the only magician to receive special treatment: three other magicians have also been observed by this strange visitor and have been left cards for each of them.  There is the mentalist Meritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), the pickpocket Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and the escape artist Henly Reeves (Isla Fisher).  All four of these talented magicians have been recruited by a secret cult called “The Eye” to carry out a secret mission for them.  One year later, they come together in their first show as “The Four Horsemen”: and during their show, they rob a bank all the way in Paris while still performing in Las Vegas.

The FBI are called in to investigate, and they bring in Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) to arrest and interrogate the four horsemen.  Pressing as he is, the horsemen are equally as clever and deceptive.  Henly is spinning chairs, McKinney keeps reading his mind, and Atlas ends the interrogation by taking off his handcuffs and snapping them onto Rhodes.  The rest of the film shows Rhodes chasing the four horsemen, trying to figure out their plot, and to stop them before they succeed.

This film is all about style over substance, a movie that is more concerned with tricks and showcase over character depth and dimension.  Do I care about dimension, however, if the film is more than fun enough to take it over?  The success of movies do not just come from how deep or complex they are.  They also come from how well-made the picture is, how sharply the cut is edited, and how cleverly the narrative is structured.

And boy, if Now You See Me is anything, its definitely clever.  Directed by Lois Letterier (Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk) and written by screenwriters Ed Solomon (Men In Black) and Boaz Yakin (Remember The Titans), Now You See Me is a movie driven to the brim with its cleverness, its wit, deceit, and effervescent charm in its characters, in what they do, and how they do it.  In many ways, this movie reminds me of caper films such as Oceans Eleven and The Italian Job: its a movie where characters cleverly trick and deceive their pursuers and expose them to their traps and their decisive plans.  They don’t use muscle, brawn, or big guys with guns to get what they want: they use their wits, their brains, and their thievingly cunning plans to accomplish their goals in the plot.

Of course, these plans weren’t inherently inspired by the four horsemen in themselves: someone from the shadows has helped them with this plan, and is always monitoring these horsemen from shadows of secrecy.  Tonally, the film achieves what it desires, and throughout the conniving plot we’re always wondering a key mystery: who is the fifth horseman?  Why did he enlist in the help of these four?  Who could it possibly be?  Is it one of the FBI or Interpol, pretending to be on one side while coyly playing for the other?  Or is it another mystery card player, one who has hidden behind a long-aged myth and has hidden himself from all cards in the field?

This isn’t just a caper film: it is a complex and fascinating mystery, and the cast of characters is all the rogues gallery in this police questioning.   Mark Ruffallo does well as Dylan Rhodes, and in small moments of intimate revealings he shows a man who was once a boy who will always hate those in higher power oppressing the helpless underdogs.  Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman make great cameos, and each play a role we don’t normally see from them, Caine being an antagonistic money monger and Freeman being an observant expose’ of schemes.  Eisenberg, as always, is a knockout in anything he does.  Here his character combines both the social awkward and invertedness of The Social Network, and the coy, cool, sleek confidence of Brad Pitt from Oceans Eleven.  Don’t ask me how he does it, okay?  He just does.

And this is a film that has been bombasted by critics.  For what?  A few quotes I pulled from Rottentomatoes:  “Overcooked, overcomplicated and underinteresting, this heist caper turns into a mess”, one critic said. “Complicated nonsense”, and “…a flimsy plot whose logic disappears faster than a rabbit in a hat”.

There is some truth here.  Yes, the film is overcomplicated.  Yes, it is elaborate and sometimes distracting.  Yes the characters are one-note and thinly written.  And yes, the twist ending is dangerous enough to make the entire narrative collapse on itself, let alone offering the threat of plot holes.

In other words, I’ll admit I don’t understand everything by the end of the picture.  And that’s precisely the point.  There isn’t any fun with a trick that has been exposed: the fun comes in with those trying to figure it out.

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