REVIEW: Steve Jobs

27 12 2015

I have no qualms in saying that, in high school, the discovery of Aaron Sorkin’s writing completely changed the way I thought about how people could talk in fiction. Here were characters that spoke with purpose in every line, both illuminating their inner thought process and highlighting the themes of the work. (If you doubt its influence, just read the play I wrote my senior year that falls somewhere between a love letter to and ripoff of Sorkin.)

The more I rewatch “The Social Network,” however, the more I realize that the heft of the content is the real star of that script. The delivery in “Sorkinese” – as many have come to call it – serves to enhance, not replace, that treasure trove of insights into class, status and social structure in contemporary America. The hyperexpressive dialogue feels justified practically by the bulk of commentary that the characters must convey – and, remarkably, tomes are still left unsaid.

Sorkin’s latest script, “Steve Jobs” (adapted from Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography of the same name), narrows its focus from the revolutionizing of society to a man with the vision to spark such revolutions. As the man whose inventions shook up telephones, personal computing, animation, publishing and music, Jobs feels like a natural subject for Sorkin given his obsession with grandiloquent geniuses. Even his work on the script for 2011’s “Moneyball,” which praised the empirically driven philosophy of Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane, evinces his fascination with people who innovate in spite of steep institutional pressure to maintain an inefficient status quo.

Yet, at the same time, choosing Jobs as someone to speak Sorkinese fluently smells a bit like a man trying to cast God in his own image – and not the other way around. The stylized dialogue flies rapidly in “Steve Jobs,” which is not entirely dissimilar from “The Social Network.” But here, the metaphors and arcane cultural references are delivered in a continual walk-and-talk, not in such visibly formal settings.

Sorkin chooses to stage his drama within the confines of a backstage drama (as opposed to the courtroom drama of Zuckerberg’s saga), a style which generally portrays characters with their guards down and speaking with their guards down. Jobs was undoubtedly smart enough to talk as Fassbender’s portrayal of him does, though it feels somewhat stilted and artificial.

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REVIEW: Trance

24 07 2013

TranceFor movies with labyrinthine plots, such as “Inception” or “Shutter Island,” rigorous structural complexities come with a necessary prerequisite: a desire to care and piece together a million-piece jigsaw moving at a mile per minute.  If we aren’t engaged in the story, the pieces will just sit on the coffee table forever.

That being said, the dots of Danny Boyle’s “Trance” will forever remain unconnected for me.  It’s a convoluted mess that seems to lack a lot of basic cohesiveness.  I was so unconvinced of its self-assuredness and basic integrity that I don’t want to take the effort to figure out if it’s even worth decrypting.

I’m surprised because I consider myself a big Danny Boyle fan, particularly “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours,” both of which moved me in profound ways.  He’s definitely still got it together stylistically, as “Trance” is an impressively edited trip of a film.  But a bunch of nice cuts don’t mean much if they don’t start creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

What’s ultimately assembled before our eyes is a brash bombardment of sound and fury, gaudy to the point of tastelessness.  As James McAvoy’s Simon undergoes hypnotherapy with Rosario Dawson’s Elizabeth, we’re flung down a rabbit hole of bent reality with no investment in the characters or the action.  Sound like a journey worth taking?

Boyle and screenwriter try to overcompensate with bombast, including a rather unnecessary and irrelevant flaunting of Dawson’s genitalia (and then they just throw in some James McAvoy nudity at the end just for fun).  The erotic skin show actually sums up so much of what’s wrong with “Trance” in the first place.  It’s an exclamation point to get your attention, which then reminds us that there was actually no sentence that preceded it.  While I’d like to trust Boyle, his film does not make a strong enough case for its audience to go in and clean up his mess themselves.  C2stars

REVIEW: 127 Hours

25 11 2010

If you think “127 Hours” is a melancholy movie because it involves self-mutilation to escape death, prepare to be proved wrong.  It is NOT a movie about the loss of an arm; it IS a movie about the gaining of perspective and an increased thankfulness for the importance of living.

Director Danny Boyle takes the true story of climber Aron Ralston, forced to cut off his arm when it was trapped under a boulder, and pulls out all the stops to make it an absolutely majestic cinematic tribute to the human spirit.  Together with James Franco at the top of his game, “127 Hours” has the power to turn hyperbolic praise into understatement.

The five days Ralston spends with his arm pinned underneath a boulder is reduced to about 90 minutes of claustrophobic discomfort for the audience as we anxiously await the inevitable.  But nonetheless, it’s still an enormously affecting watch, and it sure does know how to get your heart racing.  There’s never a dull or wasted moment to be found in the movie thanks to Franco’s sublime and enlightened performance.  While shooting on location, Boyle consistently had him act in character for 20 minutes straight and then relied on the editor to find 30 seconds to make it into the final cut.  This total immersion into Ralston’s desperation makes Franco all the more raw and moving.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (November 5, 2010)

5 11 2010

With Danny Boyle set to have the world eating out of his hand again with “127 Hours” opening in limited release today, I thought it would be wise to check out his full catalogue to see how this stylistically virtuoso director flew under my radar for so long.  I didn’t make it all the way through, so my judgement isn’t final.  However, I did conclude that the vibrant energy he brought to “Slumdog Millionaire” is nothing new; he has been perfecting it over the course of a decade.

In case the tacit implication wasn’t clear in that last paragraph, I still think that “Slumdog Millionaire” is Danny Boyle at his peak. Easily his most realized and lucid directorial work, it is clear that Boyle is a director worthy of Hollywood’s most coveted trophy.  However, I found that among his other films, “Sunshine” stuck out as another masterwork.  Set in 2057 when the universe is about to implode, the intelligent science-fiction movie is easily Boyle’s most underrated.

There’s a sense of claustrophobia not unlike that present in Ridley Scott’s “Alien” as the crew of the Icarus head towards potentially imminent demise on a mission to reignite the dying Sun.  The seven ethnically diverse crew members (because this is an international mission, after all) face immense psychological distress as the fate of the universe rides on their shoulders.  All seem ready for sacrifice – or are they?  As the ship moves closer towards the Sun, the astronauts begin to act more out of self-interest and less out of humanity’s interest.

The movie is more of a psychological journey than a visual one, although Boyle does a nice job of seamlessly integrating some very dazzling effects into the movie.  This journey is effective because of the movie’s authentic feel, accomplished through scientific consultation and the method acting procedures Boyle put his cast through.  “Sunshine” may not sound entirely original, and to a certain extent, it isn’t.  But imagined through Boyle’s eyes, it’s a blazing cinematic trek to the edge of space filled with excitement and suspense.

“127 Hours” Poll Results

5 11 2010

With Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” opening today in theaters, I figured it would be as good a time as ever to look at the results of the poll I attached to the Oscar Moment back in September.

It’s all but a shoo-in now for Best Picture.  If you don’t believe me, look at some of the glowing reviews that have been published this week.

A.O. Scott, The New York Times:

“There are scenes in ‘127 Hours’ that are hard to bear — the cracking of a bone, the severing of a nerve, the desperate consumption of a water bag filled with urine — but what these moments communicate is more than worth a jolt of discomfort or a spasm of revulsion. To say that this movie gets under your skin is only barely a figure of speech. It pins you down, shakes you up and leaves you glad to be alive.”

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly:

“How do you rivet an audience when your protagonist can’t even move? The answer is that there’s an awesome freedom to Danny Boyle’s filmmaking. And freedom, too, is the theme of the movie. Aron may be pinned, but his soul gets unlocked, and when he finally faces up to what he has to do, he’s not just cutting off his trapped appendage. He’s cutting off the part of himself that was only pretending to be alive. ‘127 Hours’ is a salute to do-it-yourself existential bravery, and an ingeniously crafted one, but what makes it cathartic is that it’s about a guy who gets high by taking the ultimate plunge.”

Boyle has gotten plenty of praise as well, but I dared to ask the question if two years post-Oscar victory was too soon for the “Slumdog Millionaire” director.

You didn’t seem to think so.  When asked if it was too soon, 75% said “no, he’s Danny Boyle!” as opposed to 25% who dared to say that two years would indeed be too soon.  I think I have to side with the majority here simply because from what I’m reading, the movie soars thanks to his kinetic directing style.

Random Factoid #444

15 10 2010

Bleh.  I’ve been watching a ton of cult favorites over the past week trying to bulk up my queue for the “F.I.L.M.” series, and I haven’t found ANYTHING.  I’m not dissing any of these movies or saying that they are bad, but they just didn’t meet the high expectations that I had for them.

Let me give you a run-through of what I watched this week with some quick thoughts, because I don’t think they are quite deserving of “F.I.L.M.” status but they don’t deserve “Save Yourself!” status either.

I started with the films of Edgar Wright because so many bloggers love him.  “Shaun of the Dead” was hilarious, but I didn’t really feel like it was any different or better than “Zombieland.”  The satire I had heard so much about was invisible to me.  “Hot Fuzz” was also pretty funny, but it just kind of devolved into madness at the end.  I get that it was kind of the point since it was a send-up of those beautifully corny ’90s action movies, yet I just lost interest in the end.

Then I went onto “Down to the Bone” because I love Vera Farmiga after “Up in the Air.”  Despite the acclaim she received for the role that put her on the map, I couldn’t help but feel a precarious emotional distance from her save a few powerful moments.  Rehab has been much scarier and much more real than it is here.

Then it was onto the movies of Danny Boyle.  First came “Millions,” which had an interesting premise and a great moral conflict at its core, but all the intrigue in the storyline was finished in the first 20 minutes.  Then was “Trainspotting,” which was visually stunning but lacking in plot.

Isn’t it frustrating when you don’t see something in a movie that everyone else sees?  I think it’s more nerve-wracking that just seeing a bad movie.

Oscar Moment: “127 Hours”

23 09 2010

Two years ago, Danny Boyle was atop the world, winning Best Director for “Slumdog Millionaire,” a movie that won eight Oscars, the second-biggest haul for any movie of the decade.  And now, he may be poised to stand there again.  His follow-up feature, “127 Hours,” is generating a whole lot of positive awards buzz.

But is it too soon?  Two years is hardly any time to be back in the awards hunt.  And usually, winners come back pretty under the radar.  Boyle is back with all pistons firing.

Is it possible for a director to be back in the hunt for their follow-up movie to the one that won them Best Director?  It has happened once in the past twenty years.  Guess who did?  James Cameron, although the nominations came 12 years apart for “Titanic” and “Avatar.”

The list of Best Director winners over the past two decades is hardly shabby (look for yourself if you don’t believe me), so we can reasonably assume that back-to-back nominations is something hard to come by.  Danny Boyle is very well-respected and certainly very loved, but he doesn’t seem like quite enough of an Academy favorite to make him a sure bet to defy the odds.  Before “Slumdog,” his movies were mostly cult favorites with niche audiences.

Then again, “127 Hours” isn’t your conventional movie.  Its success will be mainly because of Boyle’s directorial skills as the movie requires a firm hand behind the camera.  The movie tells the story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), a camper who winds up stuck in a canyon for over five days, ultimately leading to … well, you know.  It gets rough, and Boyle said he wants the movie to be a challenge to moviegoers.  The premise doesn’t seem very translatable to the big screen, and making it work is surely a directorial triumph.

The movie is also highly dependent on Franco’s performance, since he’s the only person we will get to watch for most of the movie.  Early reviews from Telluride and Toronto say he pulls it off marvelously, and a Best Actor nomination seems all but inevitable.  Franco nearly got one in 2008 for “Milk,” but he’s been doing quality work for quite some time now that a nomination seems like it’s a long time coming.

The movie also has hopes in technical categories as Boyle’s vibrant style often leads to flashy displays of editing, cinematography, and sound.  Not to mention that the score is being done by AR Rahman, the Oscar-winning composer of “Slumdog Millionaire.”   I’d sure love to hear some “Jai Ho” cranking from those canyons.

Writing might be a little bit more of a stretch as the movie may be thin on dialogue, but with Boyle penning the script with the Oscar-winning writer of “Slumdog Millionaire,” Simon Beaufouy, it could happen.

As for Best Picture, I’d say that “127 Hours” has a very good chance.  I hate to say it’s sure because some people have called it “too hard to watch.”  But others have called it “life reaffirming,” and it’s people like that who will drive the film down the path to glory.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Score

Random Factoid #405

6 09 2010

Can a movie be too intense?  After premiering at the Telluride Film Festival this weekend, medics have labeled Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” just that.  According to a rep from Fox Searchlight, this is precisely what led to the label:

From what I understand, an older gentleman was light-headed at the first screening (Galaxy) and the medics helped him calm down. Second screening at the Palm was a young woman (maybe 19 or 20) who had a panic attack. Paramedics attended to both people. I didn’t even know about the second incident until after the screening was over and someone told me (I was sitting in the first half of the theater).

The movie is the story of climber Aron Ralston, played by James Franco, who was trapped under a boulder for over 5 days.  He wound up having to take drastic measures to escape, but seeing as he is still alive, it’s hardly a spoiler to say that he was successful.  I won’t ruin how he escapes for those that may not know; however, he didn’t walk out of the canyon unscathed.  Boyle has stated that he wants the movie to be “a challenge for moviegoers.”  I’m very curious to see how he turns being trapped for 5 days into a good movie.  According to the reviews, he uses his typical energetic directing style to do it.

Is there really a need to label a movie “too intense?”  There has been discussion recently to change ratings for 3D movies, which I understand because it can freak little kids out when something comes flying at them from the screen unexpectedly.  But for a hard-hitting, 2D drama film?  Some people can’t handle certain experiences at the movies.  I got motion sickness from “Cloverfield” (as I described in Random Factoid #2–), and it was definitely hard to watch movies with tough subject matter like “Precious,” “Schindler’s List,” and “The Pianist,” just to name a few.

There are certain movies, though, that I believe are made in a stylistic manner that is meant to engage our senses.  The best director out there utilizing such techniques is, in my mind, Darren Aronfosky.  You can’t tell me you didn’t feel a little sick at your stomach watching “Pi” or “Requiem for a Dream.”  I feel like the MPAA ought to include some sort of advisory in their rating that these movies have such stylistic power.

So what do you think?  Does the establishment need to advise the moviegoing public about movies that are going to be intense?