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: Neighbors

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Neighbors
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller
Written by: Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien
Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron and Dave Franco

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are disarmingly excellent in Neighbors.  Their performances are so fluid and in sync that they take what would otherwise be an amusing, sometimes audacious series of physical gags and ground it with their portrait of a convincing young marriage. The poster sells a macho showdown between a millennial frat boy (Zac Efron) and a pothead-turned-dad (Rogen), and while that feud is very much at the core of the movie Byrne’s character is in on the raunchy scheming, too.

Andrew J. Coehn and Brendan O’Brien’s script switches effortlessly between the two worlds next door to each other.  Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) are a younger couple who moved to suburbia to “grow up.”  Not long after they move in, Teddy Sanders (Efron) and his frat brothers turn the house next door into a non-stop rave.  The movie leans heavily on their somewhat elaborate frat party set pieces, with a blacklight rave and Robert DeNiro-themed mixers.

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REVIEW: This Is the End

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This Is the End
Directed by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
Written by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg (screenplay), Jason Stone (short film)
Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel

This Is the End rotates between being one of the funniest mainstream comedies in recent memory and one of the sloppiest.  If the budget had been hacked in half and forced directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to go without all the CGI demons, it would have been ten times as good.

As it stands, though, it’s hard to argue with a movie where some of the funniest Hollywood actors play themselves during the apocalypse.  Every actor is at the top of their self-mocking form, and when the movie doesn’t detour into much weaker action territory, it’s hilarious.

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REVIEW: Take This Waltz

Take This Waltz
Directed by: Sarah Polley
Written by: Sarah Polley (screenplay)
Starring: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby and Sarah Silverman

One of the first things we see Margot (Michelle Williams) do in Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz is gently flog an adulterer while visiting an old fashioned theme park.  Waves of anxiety and embarrassment wash over her face as the other people in the crowd laugh at both her and the obnoxiously over-the-top characters performing the ritual.

This scene sets up a convenient Meet Cute for Margot and Daniel (Luke Kirby), but it also brings to light the stigma attached to adulterers, though in modern times the flogging is more verbal.  The dual purposes of this scene are important because Margot is married, and even loves Lou (Seth Rogen), her husband of five years.

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REVIEW: 50/50

50/50
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Written by: Will Reiser (screenplay)
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Huston

As you may have guessed, 50/50 has a series of choices with two possible outcomes, the most prominent of which is whether the young cancer patient played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt will live or die.  The movie also presents a choice that is unexpected given the subject matter: will it lean more heavily on comedy or drama?

The latter choice is more interesting because an audience will have to grapple with it. Once you get to know Adam (Gordon-Levitt), you’ll want him to live, and Will Reiser’s screenplay assures that you will never have mixed feelings about that.  You will about the comedy, though.  Should a movie about this be funny?  Showtime’s The Big C has proven that it is indeed possible, as long as there is a distinct human element. Thanks to the well-cast ensemble, 50/50 is mostly successful at walking the tightrope.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Superbad

Superbad
Directed by: Greg Mottola
Written by: Evan Goldberg
Starring: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Emma Stone, Seth Rogen

For the sake of our generation and the half-baked high school sex comedies that work (or won’t) to define it, there is an artist who is making sure that our comedies won’t be remembered by sex with pie, hangovers, ogres or those Sex and the City girls.

In Superbad he is only credited as a producer, but the film is loaded with a posse of writing partners, actors and talent who’ve all hitched their wagons to his success. It also resonates the style of the writer/director/producer in terms of narrative aesthetics, vulgar content, sentiment, male ego and penis jokes which he has vowed in every one his projects.

Judd Apatow, soon after finding endless success as a producer for Will Ferrell filth and once-roommate Adam Sandler, began rewriting Hollywood’s biggest scripts and becoming a critically adored creator of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, started a brand for himself in comedy which now rivals John Hughes or Ben Stiller. Up until Superbad it’s all been for grown-ups (thankfully not with that latest Sandler hit, Grown Ups).

With Superbad, the Apatow market finally starting serving minors. Continue reading