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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Short Takes: The Skeleton Twins, The Drop & The Hundred-Foot Journey

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The Skeleton Twins- Any enthusiasm I have for Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s dramatic and comedic chemistry in The Skeleton Twins is drowned out by the rest of this unrelentingly sloppy movie.  Hader plays Milo, who returns home to live with his unhappily married sister Maggie (Wiig) after attempting suicide.  There are, of course, dark family secrets, vast pools of resentment, a dead parent, a shitty parent and plenty of other dysfunctional family cliches.  The script, co-written by Mark Heyman and the director Craig Johnson, shifts tone so abruptly that it’s impossible to be invested in the story they’re trying to tell.

Hader and Wiig have undeniable chemistry and cast a wide net of emotions to try and make this script work.  A couple of times they are successful.  There’s an absolutely hysterical scene where Milo goes to the dentist’s office where Maggie works and they get high on laughing gas and ramble.  It’s also one of the few times where the movie’s deep undercurrent of sadness actually contributes something to the story and doesn’t seem overdone. When they talk to each other in this scene, their problems seem unforced because Johnson lets it unfold organically.  The other conflicts largely stem from sex, which Milo has with his old high school English teacher and Maggie has with her scuba instructor.  It’s aggressive, unearned, empty misery.  Grade: C-

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REVIEW: Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids
Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig (screenplay)
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, and Melissa McCarthy

Behold something new in Bridesmaids.  It’s possible that such an innovation, which is buried beneath a mound of plot cliches and character types, will go unnoticed by the masses.  It is simply this: Bridesmaids takes pieces of the old genres and makes them new.  It is the successful merging of the male-targeted buddy comedy with the female-targeted romantic comedy.

When two genres merge, the film either tends to lean hard on one element or another, but Bridesmaids carefully walks the tightrope between both in an effective, hilarious mix.

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REVIEW: MacGruber

MacGruber
Directed by: Jorma Taccone
Written by: Will Forte and John Solomon
Starring: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe and Val Kilmer

It’s important to know the context a movie was made in before you begin examining it.  Some films are made to provoke thought, others to send a message.  There are many (many!) movies made today, though, that were made purely as an entertainment and nothing else.  When you look at MacGruber that way (and only that way), it’s decent.

The star of this show is not it’s director, in fact quite the opposite.  This 90 minute feature based on a recurring 90 second sketch on Saturday Night Live is all about the script and the actors.  In fact, director Jorma Taccone over compensates immensely with what should have been a cut-and-dry directing job.  This movie is supposed to be a send-up of all things bad in 80’s action movies, and he’s given it a visual style that unintentionally mocks itself at times.  A movie such as this needs a director who can back off and let his actors fly with a script, not use artsy lighting techniques that destroy the mood.

That complaint aside, the ensemble cast is by far the highlight of this film.  I was skeptical of Will Forte’s ability to hold the screen for longer than the length of the original sketch, but he does a decent job.  There are times when you will be sitting there going “Should I laugh?” and others where you won’t be able to stop doing so.  It’s a roller coaster with a few jerks, but a welcome break from the latest Will Ferrell disaster.

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