Saturday, October 24, 2015

"Steve Jobs" Review

With Steve Jobs, Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 127 Hours) directs a script from Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) based on Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography

The drama here centers around the events backstage at three product launches which signify three distinct eras in Jobs' life and career. Thus, the entire movie is really just three extended scenes.

1984 - the Macintosh represents the culmination of Jobs' misguided, unchecked hubris leading to his firing from Apple. For you cinematography nerds, this section of the film was shot on 16mm film stock. Grain levels are high, and you can see the scratches and burns in the image itself. 

1988 - the NeXT Black Cube is Jobs' independed project that serves as a mere stunt in order to win back Apple's good graces. Shot on 35mm film stock.

1998 - the original iMac serves as the climax of Jobs' aspirations in personal computing. His relationships with other characters such as Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), and his daughter Lisa (in this era, Perla Haney-Jardine) come to a head as well. Shot on the latest digital cameras.

Though deliberately and rather uniquely structured for a biopic, this is one of Sorkin's weakest screenplays. He seems content to let the dialogue be little more than quips for the characters to shout at one another. As for the direction, this feels like Danny Boyle directing a David Fincher film. The material doesn't suit Boyle's stylistic proclivities as well as it does Fincher's. In fact I couldn't even tell I was watching a Boyle movie until the last five minutes.

Still, at least it's less vanilla than the Ashton Kutcher version.

What keeps the film watchable are the incredible acting performances. Fassbender is as good as, if not better than, he's ever been despite the fact he looks nothing at all like Jobs. Winslet and Katherine Waterston (playing Jobs' muse Chrisann Brennan) are wonderful in meaty roles as the only females who can stand up to Jobs' domineering, boorish personality. Rogen gives the dramatic performance of his life as Wozniak. Many of the film's strongest moments are when he is on screen trading barbs with Fassbender. One of the best scenes comes in 1988 where they meet in the pit of the San Francisco orchestra for a private conversation about their individual contributions to personal computing.

I think my favorite part though is also during the '88 section where Steve finds himself in an empty room with John Scully (Jeff Daniels), Apple's CEO. Their meet-cute is pretty corny. Scully is sitting in a chair at the end of this long, empty room as if planning for the random chance that Jobs might wander in and see him. From there, the next 5-7 minutes are a master class in elliptical editing and narrative economy. Boyle uses these tools to build tension and deliver character development at the same time. The conversation eventually devolves into quip-shouting, but at least here it makes sense. This is as tense a scene as I've witnessed in any film this year.

At the time of this posting, Steve Jobs is projected to put up only $7.5 million in its first weekend of nationwide release. That's sad because I think this film is worthy of attention, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a big Oscar campaign built around it. However it is neither the best movie of the year nor does it live up to the full potential of a dream Boyle-Sorkin team-up.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Weekend Report (October 16-18)

Bridge of Spies

Steven Spielberg directs this Cold War espionage thriller about insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) who is selected by the CIA to represent a Soviet spy in American court. After an American spy plane is shot down over Soviet air space, Donovan is called on again to negotiate a trade - one spy for another.

The story is so riveting and the script so well written by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers that the narrative seems to move at a gingerly pace. Hanks turns in another bravura performance, but who really impressed me was Mark Rylance as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. Rylance turns in a nuanced, understated performance that makes me want to seek out more of his work. He's slated to play the title character in Spielberg's upcoming Roald Dahl adaptation The BFG, and after seeing Bridge of Spies, I think Rylance is a marvelous choice. The film is also very well lit and shot by DP Janusz Kaminski. Figures don't seem to glow as they have in some of Kaminski's previous work. Rather this film seems to be an exercise in visual economy. The viewer always sees what he/she needs to see, and the atmosphere appears clean, clear and cool. My only major gripe is that this is one of two movies this weekend in which actress Amy Ryan is limited to a wifely/motherly role with little to no agency.


Where Bridge of Spies displays visual economy, Goosebumps demonstrates narrative economy. It moves at a breakneck pace in which just about every moment services the plot or character development.

The story follows a kid named Zach (Dylan Minnette) who moves to a sleepy Delaware town with his mother (Amy Ryan) who's taken a job as the vice principal at her son's new high school. Talk about awkward. Zach befriends his next door neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush), the daughter of children's book author R.L. Stine (Jack Black). Stine is adamant that Zach and Hannah are not to see each other, but things go awry when Zach tries to save Hannah from what he mistakenly believes is a domestic dispute with her father. He breaks into their home and accidentally opens one of the transcripts in Stine's office, unleashing every manner of monsters, ghouls and creepy crawlies from the Goosebumps canon.

I had tons of fun with this. While the fast pacing and visual effects may overwhelm some, Goosebumps features several genuinely hilarious moments and pitch-perfect performances. The cast fully commits to the silliness. Black especially shows a dark edge that makes the experience so much more interesting than just early Halloween eye candy. This is a good horror comedy for the whole family.

Crimson Peak

Following a mysterious family tragedy, a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) from New York is whisked away to a mansion in the English countryside after she falls for an outsider (Tom Hiddleston). 

Guillermo Del Toro's unique visual style is on full display. The costume and production designers deserve Oscars. The film isn't especially scary in the traditional "horror movie" sense, but Crimson Peak revels in the macabre and nods to several hallmarks of Gothic cinema/literature. You'll notice specks of Jane Eyre, Rebecca, The Innocents, and The Uninvited among other influences. I've never particularly cared for Wasikowska as an actress but Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain, who plays his sister, are both terrific.

99 Homes

A man (Andrew Garfield) and his mother and son (Laura Dern, Noah Lomax) are evicted from their home in Orlando, Florida. In order to get it back, he begins working for the shady real estate broker that took everything from him (Michael Shannon).

Shannon gives another great performance as the real estate magnate, but Garfield turns in his finest work to date as the desperate Dennis Nash. There was some talk of Oscar potential for the two lead actors, but I don't think this movie has it. As great as their performances are, I don't think Broad Green or Noruz Films have the money to put together an Oscar campaign for this film. It's destined to be overlooked like Drive and so many other deserving indies over the past several years. Aside from that, 99 Homes tells a riveting story that would've been perfect had it come out at the height of the housing collapse a few years ago. Now it feels something like old news.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Legendary & WB are re-teaming for an all-new cinematic universe with Godzilla, King Kong and other famous monsters

News doesn't get any bigger than this.

Today, Legendary and Warner Bros. Pictures announced a limited partnership to produce and distribute films for a "kaiju" cinematic universe. This comes on the heels of Godzilla's worldwide success for the studios last year. Legendary plans to cross over Gareth Edwards' latest incarnation of Godzilla with an upcoming King Kong, as well as Toho's other popular monsters King Gidorah, Mothra and Rodan eventually.

According to the press release from Legendary, these films will be linked by Monarch, the human organization that David Strathairn led in the 2014 film, as they continue missions around the globe. It is unconfirmed if Strathairn will reprise his role as Admiral Stentz in these upcoming films.

The next film in this new franchise, Kong: Skull Island, will be in theaters on March 10, 2017.

Gareth Edwards' Godzilla 2 will be out June 8, 2018.

Things will come to a head in Godzilla Vs. Kong, which bows at a date to be determined for 2020.

Personally, I think all of this sounds awesome. But this new Godzilla is nearly the height of a skyscraper, and King Kong isn't even as tall as the spire on the Empire State Building. The "8th wonder of the world" might be at a slight disadvantage...

I guess we'll see.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Marvel Studios announces "Ant-Man" sequel and new Phase 3 release dates

by Levi Hill (@Levi_Hill15)

Marvel Studios have shaken up their Phase 3 lineup once again.

This time they’ve added a sequel to this summer’s surprise hit Ant-Man with Ant-Man and the Wasp, which will debut on July 6, 2018. This marks the first time a Marvel Studios film has used its heroine’s name in the title. Ant-Man has earned $410 million dollars so far at the worldwide box-office, $178.5 million coming from the United States.

Over the summer, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige said that we would see Hope Van Dyne on screen as the Wasp before Phase 3 was over, so this is confirmation of that promise. Paul Rudd, who played the titular hero in Ant-Man, is set to appear next in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Whether he will join the Avengers for 2018’s Infinity War – Part 1 has yet to be announced.

Marvel Studios also moved the release dates for Black Panther and Captain Marvel. Black Panther will now release on February 16, 2018, and Captain Marvel will hit theaters on March 8, 2019.

This will be the first time that Marvel releases movies in the months of February and March.

The studio also announced three untitled films for 2020 – releasing May 1, July 10 and November 6. This adheres to the three-movie-per-year model they are starting in 2017. It’s safe to say that these films will be a mix of sequels and new characters, but it’s impossible to predict who the films will be about until we get closer to their releases.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Fall Break 2015 Extravaganza (Pocket Reviews for THE WALK, SICARIO, THE MARTIAN)


Director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Cast Away) harnesses the full power of IMAX 3D with The Walk, a true story about Philippe Petit who crossed a high wire between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. The movie itself is good, but it would've been better as a French foreign language film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt just didn't quite cut it for me this time. The Walk feels too mainstream and suffers from that sappy, Disney "you can achieve all your impossible dreams" diatribe despite being a Sony release. However, the visual and 3D effects are a sight to behold. I nearly cried seeing the World Trade Center so vividly realized at the beginning of the film. I've heard that the documentary about this same exact subject, Man on Wire, is better, so I think I'll give that a shot before I ever revisit The Walk.


Sicario is a fascinating exercise in morality that asks us to contemplate which lengths we would go in order to find truth. Much of the film plays like your standard police procedural; thus it may drag for those expecting nonstop action. However, performances from Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro are particularly excellent, and Roger Deakins' cinematography is gorgeous. There are also plenty of narrative twists and turns to set this one apart from your usual "law & order" fare. I enjoyed catching The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal and The Avengers's Maximiliano Hernandez in substantial bit parts. Sicario is what the second season of True Detective wants to be when it grows up. Highly recommended. 


I'll be honest. The Martian was much better than I expected. It doesn't reach the lofty philosophical or artistic heights of, say, Gravity, but I found this to be the most wholly accessible and satisfying outer space movie I've seen since probably Apollo 13. Matt Damon leads a terrific ensemble cast in director Ridley Scott's best movie in years. That said, the film editing proves to be a major chink in the hull. Several sequences play out as if important actions/reactions are cut off too soon. Keep in mind also that Drew Goddard's script is loaded with quips for Watney (Damon) to spout off even at times of heightened drama. Personally I appreciate the fact that Watney recognizes the humor in his grave situation, but I can see how his making light of the circumstances may upset some viewers looking for dense character drama. This isn't Cast Away or Gravity, but it paints a broader picture with lots of wonderful supporting characters. Recommended.