Short takes: Steve Jobs, Bridge of Spies & The Martian

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs — I was pleasantly surprised that Steve Jobs was honed in on three specific product launches in the late Apple prodigy’s life rather than a straightforward biopic.  There are flashbacks to key moments in his past, but they come in at spontaneous and fitting moments.  Each launch captures the personal and professional turmoil in Jobs’ life, and their pacing is unrelenting. The movie doesn’t shy away from how much of an asshole he was, though it does give him an overly sappy, redeeming conclusion.  Michael Fassbender captures his opportunism and arrogance, and the movie is able to make him sympathetic by focusing largely on his failures.

Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay, a rapid-fire burst of bitterness, denial and outright cruelty, is the true star of the movie.  This is both a good and a bad thing; the dialogue is brilliant, and delivered at such a breakneck pace that it’s often overwhelming, especially with Daniel Pemberton’s feverish score.  However, this also means Steve Jobs never really leaps off the page.  Sorkin, Fassbender and director Danny Boyle tap into Jobs’ magnetism, but it feels too calculated.  The dialogue sparkles, but other than a board meeting during a rain storm or a feverish crowd waiting for Jobs to take the stage, the images almost never do.   Grade: C

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REVIEW: Crimson Peak

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Crimson Peak
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain and Charlie Hunnam

Warning: Spoilers throughout

Don’t worry, it’s just clay.  Red clay.  Seeping up through the ground.  They’re trying to mine it for some reason, this tall, pale, handsome man and his quiet, pale, sharp sister.  Almost as quickly as Edith (Mia Wasikowska) arrives at their English estate, before she can grow accustomed to their decaying mansion and its many time-frozen rooms, winter comes.  All of the sudden there is snow everywhere, outside and coming in through a hole in the ceiling and collecting by the main staircase. The red clay keeps seeping and mixing with it.  There’s a morbid sight outside now, probably the best way imaginable to keep kids off your lawn.

Edith goes there out of love and desperation. She’s whisked away from America by Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) almost immediately after her father’s murder.  She gets upset when a doctor friend (Charlie Hunnam) tries to examine her dad’s caved in skull for signs of foul play.  She’ll be thankful for his inquisitiveness later, but during her father’s funeral she all but ignores him, staring into the distance with her head pressed into Sharpe’s chest.  His sister is already back in England, waiting for them.

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REVIEW: Interstellar

Interstellar

Interstellar
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Bill Irwin

It was only a matter of time before Christopher Nolan made a space epic. In Interstellar, he treats the universe in a similar way he treated dream-space in Inception; that is, he plays boundless absurdity with such straight-faced showmanship and serious sense of purpose that the movie feels much bigger and more important than it actually is.

Interstellar is about Matthew McConaughey saving humanity from the dry near-apocalypse of climate change.  He plays Cooper, a widower engineer-turned-farmer who lives in the Dust Bowl of the future with his father-in-law (John Lithgow) and two children.   It’s easy to tell that Cooper’s daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) is his favorite, though we’re not with her or her brother Tom (Timothée Chalamet) as children long enough to really understand their relationship.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Zero Dark Thirty

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Zero Dark Thirty
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal (screenplay)
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle and Joel Edgerton

In 2008’s The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal created a searingly suspenseful modern war movie about a bomb diffuser addicted to the rush of potential detonation, which became a history-making Oscar and critical darling in the process. It was a grimy and unsanitized piece of work, more obsessed with masculinity on the edge than serving up an overt political agenda.

Zero Dark Thirty is almost clinical by comparison, if no less nerve-wracking.  In chronicling the obsessive decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden, Boal and Bigelow re-examine the American psyche on a much broader scope.  Again they try to keep an agenda out of it and simply dramatize the facts, but the sensitivity and  weight of those findings make it impossible to avoid controversy.

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REVIEW: Take Shelter

Take Shelter
Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Written by: Jeff Nichols (screenplay)
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart and Shea Whigham

Madness and the movies have an unprecedented history in front of and behind the camera, from the institutional insanity of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to Francis Ford Coppola’s infamous filming nightmare during Apocalypse Now.  Madness inhabited the whole of both of those productions, but the writer/director Jeff Nichols takes an individual approach with his new film Take Shelter.

Take Shelter has much more in common with Melancholia (another apocalyptic vision from 2011) than it does with either of those 70s hysteria classics, though.  Its focus is individual madness by way of the apocalypse.  Pairing the two together, however, makes the madness justified.  Curtis (Michael Shannon) is plagued with frightening nightmares in his sleep and in reality; his dog attacks him, zombie-like strangers abduct his deaf daughter and a menacing swarm of birds zip around the cloudy sky.

Nichols restrains those visions though, holding back on gore in favor of mood and tension. Take Shelter is a fairly basic “Why doesn’t anybody believe me?!” story on the surface, but Nichols throws a wrench in those proceedings by alienating the audience from Curtis as well.  Not only do his wife (Jessica Chastain) and co-workers slowly drift away from him, but the audience privy to his disturbing hallucinations do as well.  Depending on how you read the ending, though, Curtis may have the last wicked laugh.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, and Sean Penn

You always look at nature a little differently after you see a Terrence Malick film.  This is a man that you suspect has spent a great deal of time wandering through its various forms, envisioning ways to capture its essence.  Of course, all of us outside his friends, family and colleagues can ever do is suspect.  Malick creates his films, and then stays out of the spotlight.

The Tree of Life, his latest meditation on nature by way of the Big Bang, won the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and the one who was there promoting it was Brad Pitt.  In a way this is fitting since he and Sean Penn are all the marketing team behind this movie will have to promote it with.  It’s likely that countless Americans will attend this film to see Pitt and then be outraged.

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Summer Movie Awards 2011

The Most Ambitious: The Tree of Life The goal of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life is no less than to funnel the creation of the universe through a child.  That that child and his family closely resembles the director’s own makes this his most personal film to date as well.  With some of the most stunning cinematography you’ll ever see in a movie, Malick captures something elemental in this movie.  You may not have liked it, but you’ll never forget it.

The Most Laughs: Bridesmaids With one of the best comedic ensembles in recent memory, writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumalo paired up with director Paul Feig and producer Judd Apatow to create this hilarious, raunchy comedy about the bond among women.  Bridesmaids proves that an ensemble of females can spit vomit and shit just as well as men, which is something Hollywood needed to be force-fed.

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