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
It Follows — Writer/director David Robert Mitchell proves himself a horror movie natural with It Follows, a terrifying “Sex = Death” thriller. The overwhelming sensory experience on display in this movie is enough to distract from the thinness of its premise, which revolves around a young woman named Jay (the excellent Maika Monroe) being inadvertently passed a curse that has a shape-shifting ghost stalk her. The curse is transmitted sexually, and whoever is the most recent recipient needs to pass it on before the ghost catches up with them. It’s the slowness of the specter that is truly chilling, especially when combined with Dissasterpeace’s relentless, pulsating score. The movie initially toys with misogynistic audience expectations, sacrificing a barely-clothed young woman after watching her being stalked and then having Jay’s date drug her and tie her up in her underwear after sex to “warn” her about the ghost. Predatory men may not be the culprits on screen this time around, but Mitchell’s camera still uncomfortably fetishizes the young female characters’ bodies in those scenes. Thankfully the movie moves past it, though, and unfolds in ways that are wickedly entertaining and genuinely scary. Grade: B-Insurgent — The second entry in the Divergent series feels more alive than the stale, uneven first one. Insurgent trades in the half-assed, uninteresting world-building of the series debut for a story that is often visceral and compelling, as teen messiah Tris (Shailene Woodley) continues to fight back against the totalitarian, Kate Winslet-led regime. It helps greatly that Winslet actually looks like she wants to be here this time around, and the distilled chill of her performance blends well with the raw energy Woodley brings to her own role. Much of this installment revolves around Tris assembling a rebel army and completing a self-sacrificing series of grueling challenges for the dictator’s benefit (don’t call them Hunger Games). Director Robert Schwentke brings an urgency to the action sequences that is more compelling than anything else I’ve seen in a recent teen dystopia movie, though Insurgent’s world ultimately feels just as generic and unimaginative as that of its predecessor and those in The Hunger Games and The Giver. Grade: C+Hard to Be a God — It is a great testament to this movie’s power to say that I now feel desensitized to the grossness of human body fluids. Hard to Be a God, a decades-long passion project of the late Russian director Aleksey German, is the filthiest feeling movie I’ve seen in years, maybe ever. Set on Araknar, a planet similar to Earth that is experiencing its own Middle Ages, Hard to Be a God tells the story of scientists from our planet who were sent there to study it and then become deities. If the movie had not explained that in its opening narration, I’m not sure I would have picked that all up, though. German’s camera is so embedded in the feelings of this world, of its eternal wetness and clogged sinuses, that narrative all but disappears. Araknar is in the midst of a violent rebellion where all intellectuals are being publicly executed. The movie’s black-and-white images are jaw-dropping and disgusting at the same time; from the get-go, German’s bizarre three-hour epic of depravity is thick with sludge, snot and shit. It captures human cruelty in a ferociously close proximity and with such an abundance of mind-twisting visual information that it’s exhausting to sit through and process in one viewing. I’d watch it again in a heartbeat, though. Grade: A-
The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Peter Parker is much more interesting than Spider-Man in this sequel to a reboot. In fact, Parker (Andrew Garfield) and his on-again, off-again soul mate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) seem to be acting out a completely different movie, a romance with genuine warmth and feeling. The rest of the movie is a straightforward superhero mash-up, with generically assembled fight sequences and standard villain templates (maniacal corporate brat, vengeful outcast, Russian gangster). It’s fairly easy to see where director Marc Webb’s heart was while making this mega-budget spectacle, but there are too many movies here trying to cram into one. Grade: C
Titanic Directed by: James Cameron Written by: James Cameron Starring: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Zane and Kathy Bates
Looking back 15 years to when Titanic first came out brings back nothing for me except being left with a babysitter while my parents went and saw it. That’s just it, though. In 1997, Titanic was the movie worth getting a babysitter for; a cultural touchstone that became almost as famous as the disaster it depicted. My first experience with the movie was on my first airplane flight, though the humor of showing a disaster movie in that scenario never struck me until a few years later.
One of the biggest box office cash-ins in Hollywood today is also one of the boldest talents. The career of Leonardo DiCaprio has had many growing pains, but now that he’s grown up and knows exactly what he wants out of his career, he appears unstoppable. His gift is to take us inside the often harrowing mind of the male psyche by manipulating and subverting the things that make people sympathize with it. He often yearns for connection in his films, whether it be from an unrequited love (Inception, Shutter Island) or just a human to be normal around (The Departed), he takes us to these places with ferocious skill and unbreakable humanity. Rarely does he crack a smile these days, but that makes them all the more meaningful when he does. If there is any hope that the art house can continue to have a big budget, it’s because stars like him appreciate the art they work in, and not just the huge salary it gives them.
Good movie moms often go unrecognized. The past two years, the Best Supporting Actress Oscar has gone to two mother monsters (not Lady Gaga) who give the role kind of a bad name. So, to celebrate Mother’s Day, we take a look at some moms who either kill their children with kindness, or literally kill for them.
The Bride (Kill Bill)- As played by Uma Thurman, The Bride spends all of the first Kill BIll movie thinking her daughter is dead. The second half of Volume 2 delves more into their relationship and adds some disarming humanity to the story. Here’s a mom who takes time out of finishing her revenge conquest to lay in bed and watch Shogun Assassin with her daughter. If that’s not a great mom, I don’t know what is.
Sure, there will be plenty of crap released this year just like any other. We all have another delightful Transformers installment to look forward to in the summer, and the coming winter months are when Hollywood dumps its crap that wouldn’t make money during prime Christmas season. So, while the award contenders from last year and the buzz-kills duke it out in January and February, here are our picks for what to watch for the rest of the year.
The Tree of Life (May 27)– Terrence Malick has made some of the most visually stunning movies ever to grace the screen. Film-wise, he hasn’t made as many as other auteurs his age, but his mark is no less indelible. With The Tree of Life, he will most likely twist audience expectation for what a “summer blockbuster” with A-list stars is. Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are headlining in this tale about a young boy in the 50s who “witnesses the loss of innocence.” The hypnotic trailer is almost as vague as that description, but infinitely more beautiful. It draws you in without ruining it.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (December 21)- Fresh off his hot streak with The Social Network, David Fincher attempts to Americanize the already explosively popular book series and its Swedish film adaptations. It will be hard for him to do worse than the original Dragon Tattoo movie, which captured the atmosphere but gutted the story of Stieg Larssonn’s original. The story, about a hacker and a disgraced journalist teaming up to hunt down a serial killer, is the perfect fit for Fincher. Here’s hoping Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are also up for the dark twists and brooding revelations.
Finding Neverland Directed by: Marc Forster Written by: David Magee (screenplay) Allen Knee (play) Starring: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman, Julie Christie, Freddie Highmore
Finding Neverland isthe Jonny Depp film Tim Burton has attempted to make time over and time over, and has failed to create despite all his creative savvy.
It is the fairy re-tale of the classic Peter Pan story. What makes Neverland so brilliant is that it doesn’t attempt to retell and spit out the same story with a teeny-tiny twist or different color palette like Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Instead the film looks at the story with a whole new scope, depreciating no magic or thematic value, and instead enhancing it and recreating it into a marvelous, heartwarming story worth remembering like the original. Continue reading →
1. Bjork- Dancer in the Dark– It was already a complicated role to step into; a lower class immigrant who must work in a factory to support her son and save up for his surgery to save him from the same blindness that was dooming her. She then runs into serious threats when capitalist America comes into the picture. Add in musical fantasies, tension from the sadist Lars Von Trier and impossible songs written by Bjork herself, and the role of Selma is just as doomed as the character. But Bjork takes this tragic story, gives it the proper life, glimmer for hope and our sympathy to prolong the inevitable as long as possible, making it even that much more difficult to take. It’s a pure work of devastation to watch Bjork melt right down into the role, with her far-off eyes, that reckoning, hopeless smile and perfectly broken down English that match every last theme in the movie. Key Scene- Selma is in a jail cell broken down and alone and once again turns to music to take her away. Moving to the ventilator, she begins singing Julie Andrews’ “Favorite Things” to calm herself from one of the lowest points in her life. It’s a sad setting but a bright song, and then it gets even more disturbing when Bjork throws in the deep lumps in the back of her throat and tears matched with her revealing smile and dancing around. It’s heartbreaking to watch.
2. Ellen Burstyn- Requiem for a Dream- Her role as an aging widow hooked on caffeine pills in an attempt to get on her favorite television show is also one of the most heart-wrenching performances you’re ever likely to see. Burstyn may have lost the Oscar, but her performance will live on longer than any of the nominees from that year. Key Scene– Her monologue to her son Harry. It’s here that her character’s drug use is humanized, tragically. Burstyn doesn’t go full-on with her grief, she restrains herself to devastating effect. The close-up shot catches every nuance of a performance with many dazzling ones.
3. Naomi Watts- Mulholland Drive– Watts’ performance(s) in David Lynch’s mind-boggling neo-noir catapulted her to the ranks of Hollywood’s finest young actresses. Without her perky smile and willingness to bear her body and soul, Lynch’s vision would’ve been less convincing. Key Scene– As Betty auditions for a part in a movie, Watts makes the audition seem like reality thanks to a close-up of the two actors and her smoldering intensity and eroticism. It’s unlike anything you’ll see in any other movie. Continue reading →
Revolutionary Road Directed by: Sam Mendes Written by: Justin Haythe (screenplay), Richard Yates (novel) Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon, and Kathy Bates
The way cinema portrays it, I’m led to believe absolutely no marriages of the 1950’s ended well. With all of these shattered dreams and repressed rage foaming to the surface, it’s difficult to see how these people have time for mowing the lawn or raising the kids.
In fact, the children hardly make an appearance in Sam Mendes’ adaptation of Revolutionary Road, originally a cult novel written by Richard Yates. They are alluded to, yes, but their most prominent function is to make Leonardo DiCaprio’s Frank Wheeler feel guilty about cheating on his wife April (Kate Winslet) on his birthday. There he is walking into his own house, and here comes a birthday cake, a happy wife, and two smiling kids right after he got done staring ominously at the steering wheel of his car and feeling dreadful.
It’s this dreary mood of hidden secrets and suburban angst that drives much of Revolutionary Road. And though the children rarely appear, the adults do enough childish dreaming of their own. April and Frank decide to move to Paris, an aspiration they remembered and want to achieve.