JOBS (2013)

August 21, 2013

jobs1 Greetings again from the darkness. One of the key characteristics of Steve Jobs was that he was constantly striving for perfection. Not just good. Not just acceptable. He wanted the perfect product in the perfect package sold in the perfect store. Whether or not you are a fan of Jobs and Apple, it’s painful to watch a middling movie about the man and the company … a movie that seems to strive for very little, and certainly not perfection.

Ashton Kutcher delivers an impersonation of Jobs complete with beady eyes, slumped shoulders and awkward gait. This is not one of those biopics where the performer disappears into the famous character. We never forget that we are watching Kutcher’s attempt to act and sound like Jobs. But Kutcher is far from the worst part of the movie … in fact, he is fine, given what he has to work with.

jobs2 The real issue with the movie is that it just offers no real insight into the man or the company. Instead we see only the headlines: Jobs drops out, Jobs goes barefooted, Jobs is a jerk, Jobs takes advantage of Woz, Jobs does drugs, Jobs eats fruit, Jobs is a jerk, Jobs is booted out, Jobs comes back, Jobs is a jerk.  The challenge to telling the story of Steve Jobs and Apple stems from finding the genius within the jerk.  Walter Isaacson’s book “Steve Jobs” does exceptional work on that front, and I believe there is a movie project in the works based on his source material.

The supporting cast is impressive: Dermot Mulroney (Mike Makkula), Lukas Haas (Daniel Kottke, Matthew Modine ( John Sculley), JK Simmons, Lesley Ann Warren, John Getz, Ron Eldard (Rod Holt), Kevin Dunn and James Woods. Especially effective, and maybe the only reason to see the movie, is Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak.  Woz is known to be the technical jobs3genius behind the founding of Apple and Gad perfectly captures the spirit of Wozniak as we in the public have come to know him over the years.

Directed by Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote), the film is written by first time screenwriter Matt Whiteley. This seems inexplicable to me. A writer with no credits is charged with coming up with a script on one of the most enigmatic and complex and successful people of our times. In fact, the result is what one would expect … a made-for-TV type glossy presentation that doesn’t dig too deep or offer any insight. In short, the kind of movie that Steve Jobs would have despised.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want the “Cliff’s Notes” version of Steve Jobs and Apple OR you want to see Josh Gad’s best performance to date

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you want insight and substance behind the story of Jobs and Apple … instead, read Walter Isaacson’s book

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LR6yMl2FZSQ

 

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WHITE HOUSE DOWN (2013)

June 30, 2013

WHD1 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Roland Emmerich loves destroying buildings. In Godzilla, he crushed Manhattan. The Statue of Liberty was trashed in The Day After Tomorrow. Independence Day saw The White House explode, and, as you would expect by the title, The White House gets pretty banged up again in his latest. We have come to expect summertime big, slightly dumb, action-packed popcorn movies, and this one certainly fits the bill (emphasis on dumb).

Relased just 3 months after Olympus Has Fallen, the plot is similar, but the approach is diametrically opposite. Emmerich seems to think he gets a free pass thanks to a steady stream of punchlines … spread amongst most every character. Hey, it’s a parody of action films so if you don’t like it, you must not “get it”. Unfortunately, we do get it and it’s just not that funny … the action is weak … the CGI appears shortcut … and the characters ring hollow. Through it’s numerous similarities and tips of the cap, Emmerich seems to beg us to compare it to the class of this genre … Die Hard (1988). WHD2We’ve all seen Die Hard, and sir, this is no Die Hard.

Channing Tatum takes on the lead action role, though he is working with a safety net … the buddy picture element supplied by Jamie Foxx. Unfortunately Tatum has neither the acting chops or the screen presence to pull off the lead, and Foxx’s President Sawyer is simply a poorly conceived character. Tatum’s daughter is played by Joey King, who was so good in Crazy Stupid Love.  Here she plays the role of smarter-than-adults kid and is clearly designed to be the patriotic heart of the film.

For these type of films to work, we need a nasty bad guy. James Woods is fun to watch as he chews scenery as the Secret Service Director. He holds one of the numerous personal grudges against the government and the faceless “Military WHD3Industrial Complex”. Woods’ number one guy on the assault team is Jason Clarke, who was last seen in a key role in Zero Dark Thirty (no coincidence, I’m sure). The rest of the supporting cast is pretty much wasted, including a miscast Maggie Gylenhaal, Richard Jenkins, and the always fun Michael Murphy (where has he been?).

There is nothing wrong with pure escapism, but rather than compare this to the classic 1988 Die Hard, it really has more in common with this year’s mediocre A Good Day to Die Hard. If you prefer your White House terrorist attack movies to be serious and full out action, then Olympus Has Fallen is the better call. Instead, if your preference is strained one-liners, an awkward buddy-film and hazy bad guy motivation, then White House Down might do it for you.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: three months is the maximum amount of time you can go without a new attack on the White House action flick OR you just need some pure escapism with a stream of punchlines during what should be a high-tension event

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer your action flicks to focus on action and not slapstick comedy OR you are already convinced Channing Tatum is less talented than Jason Statham despite his appearance in most movies these days (admitted exaggeration)

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AXbiCdmXgw


STRAW DOGS (2011)

September 18, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. If you have seen Sam Peckinpah‘s classic 1971 original with Dustin Hoffman and Susan George, it is impossible to watch this remake without comparing the two films. Because of that, these comments will include some comparative notes. After all, it’s been 40 years and most people watching this new version have never seen the original, though I highly recommend it.

Director Rod Lurie follows the Peckinpah version pretty closely with the obvious changes being a move from the English countryside to the deep south (Mississippi), and the main characters are now a screenwriter and actress instead of mathematical whiz and … well, whatever Susan George’s character was in the original. Those are the obvious changes, but not the most significant. I really missed the subtlety and psychological trickery delivered by Peckinpah, especially in the relationship between David and Amy.

 Lurie chooses to take advantage of the physical screen presence of Alexander Skarsgard (“True Blood”) as Charlie, the local stud and Amy’s ex. Charlie’s past exploits on the football field and his creepy leadership skills with his posse of thugs, provide the yin of physical strength to the yang of David’s intelligence. It’s interesting to note that this version spells out Sun-Tzu’s description of “straw dogs” while Peckinpah left his audience to fend for themselves. But, of course, what the story boils down to is just how far can a civilized person be pushed … and how far is the bully willing to go?

 James Woods is a welcome and terrifying addition to the new version. Since it is based in the small town south, high school football must play a role. Woods is the former high school coach who is now a violent drunk, and still leader of his former players. He is a sadistic type who picks on Jeremy Niles (Dominic Purcell), the slow-witted brother of Daniel (Walton Goggins) and constantly accuses him of inappropriate behavior with his 15 year old cheerleader daughter.

 James Marsden (Hairspray) and Kate Bosworth (Remember the Titans) play David and Amy. They come back to Amy’s childhood home so she can rest and David can have some peace and quiet while writing his screenplay on the Battle of Stalingrad. Well, we couldn’t really have him writing a rom-com, could we? From Day One, the peace and quiet is clearly missing and Lynyrd Skynyrd wins out over Bach in the battle of radio volume. Tension builds and David is tested daily over what it means to be a man … tested by the local hicks and doubted by his lovely wife.

Things turn from bad to worse when the locals invite David to go hunting with them. What happens with Charlie and Amy during this time changes everything. This sequence was the key to the controversy of the original and what caused it to be banned in many cities and countries. Lurie chooses to handle it in a very straightforward manner – plus, times and mores have changed quite a bit in the last 40 years.

For me, the Peckinpah original remains a classic film with brilliant psychological undertones which left me feeling very uncomfortable and questioning what I might do in this situation. Lurie’s new version offered little of that but does work fine as a straightforward suspenseful thriller.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you would like to compare original vs. remake OR you want to see a very creative use of a bear trap OR you want a close up view up Kate Bosworth’s heterochromia (one brown eye and one blue)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are devotee to Peckinpah’s version OR you prefer your thrillers have little violence

watch the trailer: