CVIndependent

Sat12142019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

I can’t say whether Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Steve Jobs in Danny Boyle’s new firecracker of a movie is accurate; I didn’t know the guy. I can say that the performance is, dramatically, one of the best things you will see in cinemas this year.

Steve Jobs, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by the ever-reliable Boyle (127 Hours, Sunshine), plays out in three parts: Apart from a few flashbacks, we see Jobs backstage at three significant product launches during his career. The film is expertly staged, playing out like the most entertaining and brutal of Shakespearean dramas.

As Jobs ties his bowtie and prepares to launch the Macintosh in 1984, his personal life is messing with his mojo. Estranged lover Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) is distressed over the paltry sum Jobs pays her and their alleged daughter, Lisa (Makenzie Moss), in child support. Jobs is worth millions, but offers only hundreds per month—because he doubts his being the father.

Chrisann has some good arguments. A paternity test puts the likelihood of Jobs being the dad at more than 94 percent, and Lisa looks an awfully lot like him. This is no matter to Jobs, who spends years denying fatherhood—while reluctantly turning over more than the court-mandated amount of cash, because part of him really likes Lisa. He even names a computer after her.

We see Steve Jobs at his very worst, a man so obsessed with his company’s new gadgets that he won’t face the reality of his fatherly duties. Lisa, portrayed at different ages by Moss (6), Ripley Sobo (9) and a show-stopping Perla Haney-Jardine (19), is a girl any dad would be proud of—but Jobs can’t really be bothered. He has goofy-looking computers to sell.

While Jobs won’t be a dad to his daughter, he tries to be one to Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), the engineer who actually built the board that launched Apple computers. Mind you, Jobs isn’t a good father figure. While he claims he will always protect and nurture Wozniak, he fails to come through on some key matters, including the acknowledgement of Wozniak and his team in the Apple legacy. 

Fassbender’s Jobs is every bit that charming man we saw while he was introducing computers, iPods and iPhones to drooling masses. He had such nice, warm tendencies in public that it was hard to imagine him as a bastard behind the scenes.

Unfortunately, his quick wit and ability to reason are often wielded as weapons against his perceived enemies, whether they be Wozniak, justifiably begging for recognition, or Chrisann, begging for money. As far as this movie is concerned, Jobs was a brilliant but not-so-nice man. In fact, he was a major dickweed.

The major coup is that Fassbender still makes Jobs likable. It’s easy to hate the man’s actions, and it’s also very easy to root for his redemption. Fassbender puts petal to the metal with this performance, and he never lets up.

Say hello to Seth Rogen … actor! In his few pivotal scenes, Rogen breaks hearts as Wozniak, a good natured, well-meaning man who obviously loves and admires Jobs, but can’t fathom his stubbornness. It’s a revelatory performance from a man who usually delivers laughs. This time out, you’ll feel his character’s emotional pain and hurt.

Kate Winslet, even though her accent morphs from time to time, is equally compelling as Jobs’ confidant and mother figure, Joanna Hoffman. It’s an incredible performance. The same can be said for Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, the advertising giant who essentially became Jobs’ boss. That relationship is combustible at times, and Daniels blows up the screen.

Steve Jobs will make you forget Jobs, that other biopic that featured a heavily made-up Ashton Kutcher playing with an iPod. Fassbender and Boyle deliver the kind of movie Jobs deserved—warts and all. It’s a mesmerizing film about a complicated man.

Steve Jobs is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Last year, Matt Damon’s character in Interstellar got stranded in space and wound up doing some rather rude things to Matthew McConaughey.

This year, Damon’s character in The Martian gets stranded in space, but this time, he refrains from trying to kill Matthew McConaughey (in part because McConaughey isn’t in the movie), opting instead to grow potatoes using his own shit.

Ridley Scott’s The Martian is a fun—and funny—movie that’s lighter than much of the director’s often-dark fare. Yes, it’s about some poor sap getting stranded on Mars, but, no, aliens don’t burst out of his belly after breakfast.

Damon spends a lot of time onscreen by himself as Mark Watney, a botanist on a manned mission to Mars who becomes the unfortunate recipient of a satellite dish to the gut during a storm—a violent squall that results in the evacuation of the rest of his crew. After an attempt by his commander (Jessica Chastain, also a veteran of Interstellar) to retrieve him, the crew leaves, thinking Watney has bought the farm. (Yep … that’s a botanist pun I just dropped right there.)

Watney awakens to find himself alone on the red planet—with a piece of metal stuck in his gut. After another Ridley Scott-directed self-surgery scene (reminiscent of that yucky self-surgery scene in Prometheus), Watney starts trying to find a way to survive. He fashions fertilizer out of jettisoned poopy-packs, finds a way to make water—and is soon up to his ears in potatoes.

The Martian has fun with science facts, involving things like the creation of fertilizer, the surprising effectiveness of duct tape and tarps, and attempts to make fire out of mostly fire-retardant materials. Scott and his writers present these overtly nerdy aspects of the movie with great humor and the right amount of intelligence.

Damon’s performance can be compared to the lone-wolf work of Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Hanks lost a lot of weight for that role, while Damon settles for an emaciated body double and digital overhauling in The Martian. It’s forgivable; Damon has done all kinds of body antics for prior films (most notably Courage Under Fire, in which he played an ultra-skinny drug addict). Let the special-effects wizards and body doubles handle the weight loss. It’s important to keep one’s heart healthy when in one’s 40s.

Damon has never been funnier before in a role, with his Watney constantly making light of his situation and using a running series of jokes to entertain himself. One of the storytelling gimmicks involves Watney videotaping messages for mission control, and each one of those messages is entertainment unto itself.

The supporting cast is terrific, from an icy Jeff Daniels (who is as cold-hearted and emotionally streamlined as they come—and he damn well oughta be) to Chastain as the mission commander suffering from guilt pangs after leaving a man behind. Michael Peña provides comic relief as a sarcastic crewmember, while Kristen Wiig does the same as a NASA spokesperson.

Scott has been in a bit of a rut lately, although I liked Prometheus despite all the plot holes and inexplicable behaviors. (By the way, Scott recently announced at least two sequels to Prometheus, so get ready for some more Noomi Rapace outer-space shenanigans.) The Martian affords Scott a nice chance to play around in his science-fiction sandbox while telling an optimistic story about humans, rather than one in which they are chased by a creature with acid for blood.

The Martian could be in play for some Oscar honors. It’s an all-around solid movie with a truly winning performance at its core. Yet again, stranding Damon on a planet and watching him squirm reaps big entertainment dividends.

The Martian is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

After numerous stops and starts, the Dumb and Dumber sequel has finally made it to the screen, 20 years after the original.

Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels return as Lloyd and Harry, movie history’s two biggest dumbasses. While Carrey slides right back into the role of the mischievous goofball, Daniels seems to be forcing it a bit, so the chemistry is off. Even worse, Bobby and Peter Farrelly make their two stars labor for laughs with a script loaded with hit-and-(mostly)-miss gags.

The plot involves Harry finding out he has a daughter, and the two going on another road trip to find her. (Harry also needs a kidney, thus the need to find the daughter, for donor purposes.) There’s a gag involving an old woman under the covers that I can’t believe made it into a PG-13 movie, and a couple of other decent laughs—but the chuckles are far and few between.

Diehard fans of the original will be happy to see these characters back, though the happiness will be accompanied by the sadness of wasted opportunity. An after-the-credits scene claims there will be another sequel 20 years from now. I’m hoping that’s a joke, because there really is no need to visit these characters again.

I can’t believe how nasty this film is to Kathleen Turner. I’m a little mad at myself for thinking the way she’s taunted is the funniest thing in the movie.

Dumb and Dumber To is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

If you missed this one in theaters, you missed one of the year’s best big-screen experiences. Director Rian Johnson’s time-travel thriller is startlingly good-looking film.

It’s also a great brain-twister, featuring a bravura performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, a hired assassin killing people sent back from the future the instant they pop up in front of him. Things get a little kooky when the person sent back to be offed is actually an older version of himself (a strong Bruce Willis).

Gordon-Levitt wears makeup to achieve a look more akin to Willis, but it’s the smirk and airy voice that really nail it down. Gordon-Levitt had a blockbuster year with this and The Dark Knight Rises, with this being the best screen work he has done to date.

A supporting cast including Paul Dano, Noah Segan and Jeff Daniels is top-notch. Dano is especially good as a fellow assassin (or “looper”) who loses his nerve at the wrong time—and pays a grisly price.

In a role that isn’t getting the notice it deserves (although she has gotten a nomination from the Broadcast Film Critics Association), Emily Blunt takes a break from funny stuff to deliver stellar work as a mom protecting a strange son (played by talented child actor Pierce Gagnon). Blunt holds her own with Gordon-Levitt, matching him at every turn.

Willis gets a chance to do some seedy stuff as his character goes on an unfortunate crusade. He does a good job of making his version of Joe a sympathetic character, even as he does unspeakable things.

As time-travel movies go, this is one of the best. The moment when future Joe sits down in a diner with present Joe is a real winner. (The universe does not end, as Doc Brown predicted would happen in Back to the Future Part II.) If you missed this on the big screen, don’t fret: The Blu-ray will look mighty good in your living room.

Let it be noted that this movie cost $30 million to make, according to IMDb.com. That’s a pretty low budget considering the look Johnson has achieved. It seems like the movie would’ve cost five times that amount, at least.

Special Features: A great commentary with the director, Gordon-Levitt and Blunt. It’s actually one of the year’s better commentaries, a truly fun listen. You also get deleted scenes, a couple of featurettes on the making of the film, and a short doc about the film’s score. 

 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing