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: Prometheus

Prometheus
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts (screenplay)
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender

Shortly after making his break into the film industry Ridley Scott came across a film titled Star Wars that would rouse him to make Alien, an iconic, genre-defining sci-fi film of his own. Thirty years passed while Scott ventured into mastering other genres—his only other trip to the future being Blade Runner— until he saw another revolutionary sci-fi film that inspired him to take on the genre once again: Avatar.

Three years and dimensions later we have Prometheus, one of the most immersive and gleaming 3D sagas since Cameron’s Avatar set the bar (it’s a fun fact to note that Cameron’s breakout film was Aliens, the sequel to Scott’s original). In what will continue to be feverously debated as his prequel to Alien, Scott pools talents and ideas from various great modern sci-fi to amass an intense, hardwired summer blunder that doesn’t take itself serious enough at times to become as classic as it should.

Prometheus takes place in 2089, a few decades before Alien, when archeologists Shaw (Rapace) and Holloway (Marshall-Green) discover prehistoric wall paintings that suggest an interaction between early civilizations and other worldly life. Left with a hieroglyphic road map to outer space, they are joined by a J.J. Abrams rag tag team with bad accents and poor judgment, a sinisterly adorable robot named David (Fassbender) and the heir (Theron) to the Weyland Corporation that funded the trillion-dollar exploration to seek answers to the universe’s greatest question: how did we get here?

In a genre where everyone seems to be taking influences from everyone (including themselves), Prometheus proves itself a pioneer in atmosphere, aesthetic and marvel while other elements like pathos and consistency weigh down its potential. But that’s not to say Prometheus is by any means a weak film.

Exploring themes of creationism, religion and humanity give the creature feature purpose and prose, but it never lives up to the intensity created technically in the film.

Much of the blame for the film’s lackluster script goes to its co-author Damon Lindelof, who penned and produced similar cryptic mythologies and philosophical puzzles brilliantly on TV’s Lost. Just like the show, the film is interested in posing grand questions and answering each with two more questions— it’s deep and clever without ever being intelligent. Luckily the visuals and acting hide the audible cheese uttered by “first to die” team used to pander to universal audiences.

The script wants to have fun, but it’s at its best when it’s not. Its highlights include its most intense moments and gore. Rapace, Theron and Fassbender all make an undeniably all-star cast of expert focus plunging in and out of Scott’s beautifully crafted set pieces that never leave you at ease. And while we may not have gotten the answers we wanted, we’ll just have to enjoy the film for what it is now and wait for what the future may behold… sequels.

Grade: B-

REVIEW: Carlos

Carlos
Directed by: Olivier Assayas
Written by: Olivier Assayas & Dan Franck (screenplay)
Starring: Edgar Ramírez, Nora von Waldstätten, Alexander Scheer, and Ahmad Kaabour

Five-and-a-half hours in the shoes of a terrorist that most people have forgotten about isn’t somewhere most people would want to spend their time.  Yet Carlos, the expansive epic from French director Olivier Assayas, moves through its unheard of length with enough energy to fuel five American action classics.  That fuel isn’t powered by explosions and gunfire, but by the sheer intrigue of the story and the mythic figure being deconstructed at its center.

Carlos The Jackal, a native Venezuelan, began as Ilich Ramírez Sánchez before he decided to revolt against Israel as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).  He moves from minor assassinations to bombings to bossing rather quickly.

One big surprise in Carlos is how the director shows us how many of these terrorist attacks were botched.  It becomes clear early on, when the murders are up close and more complicated than a gunshot, that Assayas isn’t idolizing his criminal.  Carlos may think he’s Scarface, clutching his testicles in front of a mirror after pulling off an attack, but his constant failures and the desperate way Edgar Ramirez portrays him show otherwise.

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Our (Belated) List of Favorite Movie Directors

1. Martin Scorsese- It may seem unimaginable that nearly three years ago director Martin Scorsese had yet to hold an Academy Award in his hands, but it is the disappointing truth. The once would-be Catholic priest entered the film making world with hits like Boxcar Bertha and Mean Streets which put him at the forefront of New Hollywood with his violent, audience-specific films. Though Francis Ford Coppola felt he was unfit to helm The Godfather: Part III, Scorsese quickly overshadowed Coppola to become an icon of his own, creating films filled with themes related to violence, machismo, Italian-American identity, immigration, Catholicism and New York City. Five decades of classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed, Scorsese set a style of quick editing, rock and roll soundtrack and frequent collaboration with actors and editors who claim Scorsese to be a living encyclopedia of film history. The film that did it for us: Though he’s created modern epics including a personal favorite, Gangs of New York, Scorsese’s talents are most apparent in Taxi Driver, a film with some of the most carefully constructed technical detail and powerful themes of isolation, violence, sex and how they are related and lead to destruction.

2. Stanley Kubrick– One of the unprecedented visual artists in all of cinema, it’s hard to not love movies when Stanley Kubrick makes them.  His gift for telling a compelling story is aided by those infamous distant shots, able to encompass the idiocy in The War Room (Dr. Strangelove) or gravity-defying in the great beyond (2001: A Space Odyssey).  He never told the same story twice, but each film carries with it his distinct visual flair,  helping him to create some of the most fully realized worlds the movies have ever seen.  Kubrick is one of the biggest influences on American cinema not only because of his artistic genius, though.  His ruthless dedication to his vision of the material led to feuds with his actors and the writers of the source material (both on The Shining.)  Perfectionism is costly, but with it he created many things that are, in fact, perfect.  The film that did it for us: There’s never been a more beautifully filmed comedy than Dr. Strangelove, and there are few as horrific.

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REVIEW: Robin Hood

Robin Hood
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Russel Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, William Hurt

This happens just about every time an Academy Award winning team gets together to update a classic story into a big commercial success. It was the same sort of thing that happened with Alice in Wonderland earlier this year and the same sort of thing that will continue to happen when our favorite directors and actors take on a familiar unoriginal project. Disappointment. Continue reading