STEVE JOBS

by Alan Yudman

I write this on my MacBook Pro, while listening to music on my iPhone that I purchased through iTunes and occasionally checking the time on my Apple Watch. So, I am either a sycophant or an acolyte. Take your pick, I’ll admit to either when it comes to Apple and STEVE JOBS. Those devices are just a part of the public legacy of the Apple Computers co-founder. The eponymous movie is less concerned with Jobs’ technological legacy and more concerned with the imprint he left on other people’s lives. STEVE JOBS is not your normal bio-pic. Rather than try to tell the man’s whole story over the course of his entire life, it is structured in the classic three act format. Each act centered around a product launch: The Macintosh, The NEXT Computer and the iMac. And a little more of Jobs personality is revealed at each key moment. Steve Jobs is presented to us as a highly flawed man. He has a vision that at times only he can see. He is petty, spiteful and has no time or inclination to worry about what people think of him. He treats employees with varying degrees of contempt. I’d call it disdain, but that implies he gives any of them a second thought. They are all just cogs in the machine he envisions will change the world. He has no time for anyone who might distract him from his goals, that includes his own daughter Lisa and her mother Crisann Brennan. He apparently loves Steve Wozniak, though again that love is tempered with an air of superiority, kind of like you love your pet. The structure is an interesting choice because it affords us the opportunity to see Jobs interact with key players who help shape his character, yet it doesn’t get bogged down in too much back story. There are flashbacks to certain key moments in his company’s history, but those are just filling in blanks. Aaron Sorkin’s script is adapted from Walter Isaacson’s biography which I read and loved. Like the movie, it’s not about worshiping at the alter of JOBS. While the movie is not close to the book in detail, it does nail the themes. Jobs is tormented by his adoption as a child, as a result he doesn’t really get close to anyone. He operates in a “reality distortion field”, meaning he see things as he wants them not as they are or should be. And he had a single minded vision that he could change the world. Sorkin’s script is excellent. it has his trademark banter and pace, but not much of his trademark preachiness. The performances of Michael Fassbender as Jobs, Kate Winslet as his confident Joanna Hoffman, Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, Michael Stuhlbarg as engineering wizard Andy Herzfeld and Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, the man who fired Jobs from his own company, are all outstanding. I wasn’t expecting to be moved as much as I was. People talking about computers, how could that be captivating. But STEVE JOBS isn’t about computers. It is about vision, about how all genius is flawed and how in the end Steve Jobs was right.

THE FINAL GIRLS

— by Jeff Schultz

Meta is seldom betta. CABIN IN THE WOODS (the remake) meets THE LAKE HOUSE in this slasher genre sendup, which also functions nicely as a parable of loss and acceptance. More funny than scary, and surprisingly tame in the gore department, it benefits from a cast that can handle multiple layers of reality. If the irony of the mother-daughter relationship(s) gets a bit thick at times, we can forgive, because it’s carried along by a screenplay that’s clever enough to delight, but not smug or overcomplicated. Adam DeVine is an inspired choice for the most sex-crazed (and obnoxious) of the movie-within-the-movie’s party kids. And Malin Ackerman, such a knockout on “The Comeback”, shines in a slightly older role. The movie is also visually rich, with differing looks for each layer — present-day, 1980’s horror flick, and the combination of the two when the time warp occurs. Plus, the final joke makes for a perfect ending, maybe the best laugh of all.

BRIDGE OF SPIES

by Alan Yudman

I had an interesting discussion with my father. He asked whether BRIDGE OF SPIES was Oscar worthy. It’s an interesting question. I gave the usual explanations that it’s hard to tell, it’s early, Oscar-bait films generally are released at the end of the year. Blah blah blah. Then I began telling him about the movie and I think I slowly convinced myself that it might be one of the 10 movies nominated. It is the story of one lawyer played by Tom Hanks who is asked to do the thankless— defend an accused Soviet spy at the most tense time of the Cold War. It covers a bunch of history, including the shooting down of a U2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers over the Soviet Union. Directed by Steven Spielberg it’s almost predictable that the film will be great… or at least better than most. Spielberg and Clint Eastwood are so good at what they do, that their films seem too perfect, too pristine. It’s the problem I had with Eastwood’s AMERICAN SNIPER last year. But in this case, pristine and clean work. This is set in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, a time when life was more pristine and clean. That style serves the story very well, because Spielberg is so good at organizing these historical dramas, his direction doesn’t get in the way. He’s substance over style. I suppose that is a style in and of itself. Hanks” James Donovan is an insurance lawyer with some history of serving the prosecution at Nuremberg. He is once again asked to serve his country, to defend the spy Rudolf Abel, wonderfully portrayed by British stage actor Mark Rylance. Rylance plays the mild mannered spy with a quiet dignity and a little humor. He is meek, yet stronger than those who accuse him of espionage. It is a masterfully quiet performance. Donovan tries his best to give Abel the capable defense entrusted to him, but no one wants him to succeed and his doesn’t except for one prescient moment. He asks the judge to spare Abel’s life because, well, you never know when we may need a spy to swap to the Soviets. Parallel to this is the story of the U2 spy planes and Powers being shot down over Soviet territory. That’s where Donovan’s idea bears fruit. The CIA wants to trade Abel for Powers, but they don’t want to use official channels, so Donovan is recruited to be the negotiator. Hanks is so reliable and true in every role and it is no different here. Donovan wants to get Powers back, but also wants to get an American student wrongly captured in East Berlin as the wall is going up. His CIA contacts want him to forget the student but he knows what is right, seemingly learning a lesson from the Soviet spy he defended. Hanks’ Donovan is forthright, honest and patriotic… the second half of the twin moral centers of the film along with Rylance’s Abel. The script, co-written by the Coen brothers and Matt Charman, is wonderfully understated yet powerful at the same time. Now, back to my father’s question, is BRIDGE OF SPIES Oscar worthy. I can see many nominations in the future, screenplay, director, actor for Hanks and supporting actor for Rylance. So, yes it is worth of consideration and is just the type of movie that could win awards. Tune in next March to see if any of that comes true.

TERMINATOR: GENYSIS

Surprisingly not the turkey I was expecting, this one rises above the previous two but doesn’t come close to the original or the second one. It’s obvious while watching that the writers paid attention to the first two, because they take those stories and twist them into something new. But after the cool first hour, the action slows down and so does the fun. I still liked it and give it props for actually trying to do something different, which is more than I can say for most sequels.

Stormy Curry

BLACK MASS

For the first half hour, Mass feels like every other gangster movie ever made. Told from the perspective of the guy brought into the fold by the big boss, random beatings, etc. Then the story shifts to the shady relationship between big boss Whitey Bulger and the FBI and the movie takes off. Depp does a great job of playing it calm even as he’s exploding with rage or threatening other characters. I wish it had been longer and shown us a bit more of his "business"…but no complaints. Black Mass is a fine entry in the genre and an interesting story about loyalty and the dangers of making a deal with the devil.

Stormy Curry

SICARIO

by Alan Yudman

When the audience sits in stunned silence at the end of a movie, you know you have just seen something special. That was the reaction of a fairly packed theater when i saw SICARIO. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, who helmed the outstanding PRISONERS a couple of years ago, SICARIO is two hours of edge of your seat intensity. Emily Blunt is an FBI agent, head of a hostage rescue team. Her crew responds to a home in Chandler, Arizona where they are told hostages are being held by drug traffickers. They breach the house and find just bad guys and no hostages. But inside a wall they find something horrifying, bodies shoved into the frame of the house and covered up by drywall. Even veteran law enforcement officers are shocked and sickened by the discovery. Blunt is then recruited by a shadowy State Department consultant played by Josh Brolin. His pitch: to do something to get the people responsible for what Blunt found in that house. She agrees without asking many questions and is immediately whisked away to an air force base where she boards a plane with Brolin and his even more shadowy colleague, Benicio Del Toro. They go to Juarez to retrieve a prisoner from a Mexican prison who is a big deal in a Cartel. That is where the movie really hits its stride. We, along with Blunt have our eyes opened to what is really going on. Brolin and Del Toro are operating outside the law but with the knowledge and approval of politicians. That rubs Blunt the wrong way and she struggles with her role in all of this and whether they are all doing the right thing. That leads to tension filled scenes with Brolin and Del Toro and you never know if they are tiring of her complaints enough to just kill her. Blunt is great as the tough and troubled FBI agent. Brolin is effectively unlikable. But the best part of this movie is Del Toro. You cannot take your eyes off of him. His natural demeanor, his narrow squinty eyes, his slightly mumbled speech all add to his menace. You are never sure what he is going to do or how far he will go. Although, you do find out how far as the movie reaches its climax. Villeneuve pushes all the right buttons and makes all the right choices. He knows just how long to linger on a face or when to cut away and let our minds create the unimaginable. Villeneuve also once again uses the best cinematographer in the business, Roger Deakins. Deakins creates a vast wasteland of hopelessness and despair with long aerial shots of the dry as a bone landscape of Arizona and New Mexico. He also knows how to ramp up the tension by choosing the right angles and distances during tense gun battles. Add the ominous score by Johann Johannsson and you have a spectacular film that makes you think and feel about the futile drug wars in equal measure. SICARIO roughly translates to “hitman”. And in this case Villeneuve is the hitman, because he totally kills it with this excellent film.

BLACK MASS

by Alan Yudman

It has been three weeks since I saw BLACK MASS. That’s how long it has been rolling around in my head, while I try to figure out if it’s good, great or something far less. There’s no denying one thing. This is the best work Johnny Depp has done in years. He’s not a pirate or some other character born out of fantasy. James “Whitey” Bulger is all too real. He is a violent, evil, menacing mobster and watching Depp you get a real sense of just how bad this man could be. Bulger was brutal, vindictive and did not suffer fools gladly. The first time we see him he is chastising a colleague for licking his fingers and sticking them in a bowl of peanuts in a bar. But you get the sense that he could just as easily have killed the guy right there. That’s the good in this movie. Maybe even the great. The script is better than average, based on the book by two Boston Globe writers Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. The direction by Scott Cooper (CRAZY HEART) is also better than average but the cinematography is unremarkable or even pedestrian. That is to say it doesn’t draw any attention to itself, so maybe that’s a good thing. On the drawing attention to oneself spectrum, Joel Edgerton is at the other end of the scale. He plays John Connolly, the Southie (South Boston) native who grew up with Bulger and his brother Billy. Connolly is now an FBI agent and thinks he can use his “neighborhood is thicker than water” connection to Bulger to turn him into an FBI informant. It works for a time. They get maybe one good bust out of Bulger’s information, but the rest of the time it is more of a boondoggle that Bulger has pulled on his old buddy that allows him to take over and control organized crime in Boston. That is Connolly’s downfall. Edgerton plays Connolly as a bombastic “wiseguy”, who thinks he’s smarter than his colleagues and whose loyalty to what is right is in question from the start. Edgerton’s accent is good, but it slips at times. Not as bad as Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but it is noticeable. Cumberbatch as Billy Bulger doesn’t have a lot to do other than one scene where he dismisses Connolly who comes looking for a favor. Any other “name” you see in the credits has so little to do on screen that it doesn’t matter who they are. This is all about Bulger and his violent rule of the Boston streets. As a document of history it is fairly interesting and from what I can tell, pretty accurate. But as a piece of entertainment, other than Depp, there is not much there.

DR. KEN

— by Jeff Schultz

As I sit and wait, and wait, for a movie I really want to see, or at least enough to go to so I can write a review, television is not only an acceptable substitute, it can be superior. But not always. Put it this way: There’s bad. There’s so bad it’s good. And then there’s felony bad, where the perpetrators should be prosecuted and banned from the Industry. DR. KEN is felony bad, greatly abetted by an amped-up laugh track dialed to Hysteria that in an almost surreal way pretends each flat, dead line is sidesplittingly funny. Whatever you may have liked about Ken Jeong before this putrid sitcom, hang(over) on to it, because his body’s been invaded by a bad actor with no timing who’s not funny. I’d come to all the above conclusions by the time the first scene was over, and at least that one paired Jeong with an old standby, Stephen Tobolowski. But then it moved to Dr. Ken’s home and we were introduced to Dr. Ken’s stock family, complete with wisecracking kid amateurishly cracking wise with material below junior high school level (yet still keeping that laugh track in stitches). That’s when I grabbed the remote and put this piece of crap to death. Ten minutes hadn’t passed.

THE MARTIAN

by Alan Yudman

After PROMETHEUS it looked liked Ridley Scott had jumped the shark or simply had forgotten how to make a good movie. Scott has found his mojo again with THE MARTIAN. Matt Damon is an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars when the crew is forced to evacuate the planet because of a huge storm. Everyone thinks he’s dead. But he managed to survive and now it’s a battle to stay alive until help can arrive. NASA doesn’t even know he’s there at first. But they finally realize they left a man behind and then the race is on to figure out how to help him survive until another manned mission or a supply ship can make it to Mars. We know Damon’s Mark Watney is from Chicago and his parents are still alive. That’s all we really need to know. His backstory is not important to this story. Watney is a botanist who has to figure out how to make his food, water and air last for more than a year. As he says at one point, he “sciences the shit out of it”. Meantime back on earth, NASA headed by Jeff Daniels and Chewetel Ejiofor are pushing the Jet Propulsion Lab to build a supply ship. The supporting cast of Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Aksel Hennie, Benedict Wong and more are all wonderful. THE MARTIAN doesn’t get too deep into science or nerd speak. It hits all the right notes. It’s dramatic and funny and even has a little political message about international cooperation between the U.S. and China. Damon is such a likable actor it is easy to root for Watney. Daniels is the closest thing to a “villain”. Sometimes his responsibilities as NASA administrator are at odds with the mission of getting Watney back home. But the real enemy is time and resources and the tension created by both. If this all sounds a little familiar, think APOLLO 13. Astronauts in trouble and everyone working to bring them home. The themes are the same, but the execution is what makes this such a winning movie. The cinematography is wonderful, Scott creates a lonely yet beautiful landscape on Mars. It all works because it seems plausible. The movie has an epic feel and look. To rescue you from film boredom, go see THE MARTIAN.