Steve Jobs

Hi everyone and Happy Holidays. This week we’ll take a look at Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle, starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, and Seth Rogen. It is Rated R for strong language.

From IMDB His passion and ingenuity have been the driving force behind the digital age. However his drive to revolutionize technology was sacrificial. Ultimately it affected his family life and possibly his health. In this revealing film we explore the trials and triumphs of a modern day genius, the late CEO of Apple inc. Steven Paul Jobs.

8.5 out of 10

Steve Jobs, named after the one and only, has Sorkin written all over it. It’s got the same fast-paced grit of The Social Network and the smart, sleek style of Moneyball. This may just be his best one yet though, thanks to a pair of dynamic performances and direction that gives Steve Jobs, one of this generation’s most influential people, a movie that accurately depicts his accomplishments and his failures, both as the co-founder of Apple and as a human being.

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I didn’t think he could get any better than 12 Years a Slave, where he played brutal slave owner Edwin Epps, but alas, he has outdone himself. Michael Fassbender is the driving force of Steve Jobs, bringing both the good and the bad to the titular character. Jobs is not a hero. He is not a good guy. He is not even a nice guy. But he’s human, and that is where Fassbender’s portrayal comes close to perfection. Despite there being no physical resemblance, Fassbender plays the man that we know and want to see; The hard nose, rude, egotistical man who has no mercy for his subordinates. But the most incredible thing is that there is still another side to it all. Steve Jobs still loves his daughter and despite neglecting her for the longest time, eventually shows that his love is unconditional. You’re going to be hearing Fassbender’s name during Oscar season, and deservedly so.

Backing Fassbender up is Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, marketing executive for Apple and more importantly, Jobs’ confidant. She is a tour de force, proving to be the only person that can stand toe to toe with the powerful, intimidating Jobs. She matches him blow for blow, proving to be a voice of reason that he not only listens to, but follows.

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The direction of the film is done in a way where everything is very fast paced and continuously moving– much like the life of Jobs. The transitions between scenes and time periods are flawlessly done through montages of what happens in between the events of the scenes that are taking place. There are really only three or four actual moments illustrated in this entire movie, but each is stretched out to capture every ounce of tension. Every emotion is exposed and used.

The opening of the film is a perfect example of that– one particular moment in which Jobs is demanding his employees to fix the computer for a presentation without regard for the risk of the fix. Intertwined with a fight with his ex-lover over child support, the direction in this scene maximizes the intensity of both sides of Jobs’ life and fuels them together. This is done throughout the movie, making every scene more intense than the one before it.

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The fast-paced nature of Steve Jobs, mixed with a soundtrack and styling that give it a high energy, would not seem appropriate for a biopic. However, this film is anything but conventional. Danny Boyle does an outstanding job of controlling the pace and emotions of the film, aided by a fantastic script. However, in the end, Michael Fassbender is easily the star, commanding this movie with unmatched grit and power, masterfully playing one of the most admired and loathed man of our generation.
~Vig

9 out of 10

We’re gonna need some background here (Minor spoilers): Steve Jobs (No, your brain isn’t melting. We did get one of these biopics about two years ago as well.) is spread over three sections, three different Apple product launches over three different decades. It’s pretty claustrophobic with all the major plays taking place in the backstage of every presentation and the roster limited to a tight chorale of characters (Funny enough, it kind of gave me Birdman flashbacks).

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So, what’d I think of this structure? Did the whole three act thing behoove the story exactly or did it just staccato things? Here’s the short answer: it was like seeing the same story three times with escalating tensions and stakes, each execution better and more powerful than the last. We’ll get that negative out of the way first, of course: make no mistake and be warned, this is an identical story on repeat. The movie’s enclosed cast of characters kept it limited to glossing over the same points and arguments over and over (We see Jobs wrangle with his wife over money and with his companion “Woz” over the state of their company several times each. Strap in.) .

What’s the upshot to this production choice though? Well, as I said before, it’s all about the slow swell of tension. We may be seeing the same people debating the same things every section but, each time, things get a little more intense, a little more ground is covered and everyone gets a little angrier. In that respect, the movie perfectly plunges us into Steve’s top entanglements with impeccable pacing. It’s all also theatrical enough to be satisfying but realistic enough to ensure that its not straying from or romanticizing the true story (See Social Network for some of these mistakes.).

And I really can’t stress this enough: if there’s one thing West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin behind this can write, it’s a heckuva pounding argument (He always does that moment exact moment where ego flickers on and seizes control so well). Michael Fassbender may just be the best vessel out there for Sorkin’s talents as he churns out a cool and calculating yet bubbling, fiery performance (As expected, dear Magneto did me proud with some Oscar-tier work). Coupled with fantastic work from Seth Rogen (You read that right) and Kate Winslet, some of these spat scenes hit such a climatic pitch of writing and acting that they leave you feeling absolutely throttled.

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Part of me does indeed wish I got a linear, lengthy “rise and fall of Steve Jobs” story or something along those lines but I appreciate director Danny Boyle’s foray into a more abstract, bare bones, no B.S. type of biopic. With some lush, breezy transitions to keep things moving and equally powerful acting, Jobs takes it place as a solid contender to be one of the top films of the year and (pretty much as expected) surpasses its Ashton Kutcher predecessor.
~Zach

X-Men: Days of Future Past

This week, we’ll take a look at the newest installment in the X-Men series, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Directed by Bryan Singer, it stars Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, and Jennifer Lawrence. It is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, brief nudity and language.

In 2023, the world is in ruins, plagued by dangerous mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels. These robots, hunting down both mutants and the humans that aid them, have the ability to adapt and counter all mutant powers, leaving Charles Xavier (Stewart),  Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (McKellen), and the rest of the X-Men powerless. Logan/Wolverine (Jackman), is sent back into the past 50 years, to prevent Mystique (Lawrence) from triggering a series of events that lead to the creation of Sentinels. Logan must then find and convince young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and young Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) to aid him in his quest.

9 out of 10

As I’ve established, I love superhero movies. The X-Men series, however, has always disappointed me. X2 and X-Men were both solid, but nothing to write home about. The Last Stand and the two Wolverine movies were a mess. X-Men: First Class was the first time I thoroughly enjoyed an X-Men film. Regardless, tt seemed like X-Men: Days of Future Past was destined to fail. It was a sequel that featured time travel. That never seems to work out well. Yet somehow, Bryan Singer pulled a rabbit out of his hat and produced the best film this series has seen.

The best thing about the movie is unarguably the scene that features Quicksilver. American Horror Story star Evan Peters was a perfect fit, portraying Quicksilver with a cocky, lovable charisma. The scene where he is running around a room, changing the deflection of all the bullets and messing around with the slow moving scene around him sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Charismatic, action packed, and pure fun. The movie carries this tone, but does not lack in the serious, dramatic moments that make it so great. Singer manages to find the balance between the hilarity and tension that allows you to take the comic book movie seriously while also having fun doing it.

quicksilver

The inclusion of seemingly millions of different mutants was pretty cool as well. The beginning featured present day Kitty Pryde, Iceman and Storm, while flashing back to the classic Beast, Magneto, and Professor X, all regulated by the consistency of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. In the same way First Class introduced various mutants, Days of Future Past brought many new mutants into the picture, while also bringing back many from the old movies, including Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Storm, with cameos from Rogue, Cyclops, and Jean Gray. Its a lot of fun to see all these different mutants to some extent, and Days of Future Past did a really good job of preventing it from getting muddled and excessive. WIth so many mutants, you gotta be able to control how you use them, and Days of Future Past did so.

The movie did a great job of controlling its plot as well. Somehow, I was able to see past the confusion that time travel presents. The movie had a very distinct narration that allowed the audience to understand what was happening. There are some questionable questionable details (JFK’s a mutant??) and some unexplained plot points (what ever happened to Havok), but overall, I could very clearly understand what was happening (at least compared to other time travel movies). The intriguing plot, mixed with engaging, fun action sequences, a very clear and balanced tone, stellar overall performances from the entire cast, and a noticeable lack of Halle Berry (jokes), push Days of Future Past into the upper echelon of superhero movies.

In the end, there are a lot of questions. Some that were left unanswered, some that have set up the future series, and some that I’m still trying to rack my head around. Though the abundance of questions is slightly irritating, they lead to  many possibilities for future films. The X-Men series has essentially been granted the ability to start fresh without actually eliminating the events of the first few movies. Singer got rid of all the messy continuity issues with a simple flick of the wrist. The future, especially X-Men: Apocalypse, is looking really bright.
~Vig

9.5 out of 10

I love the X-Men. I love Wolverine. Love Professor X. And even (Despite my better judgement) Cyclops (Who happens to be my fave, yes).

What I don’t totally love is the X-Men movies.

Let me be clear, I love a good amount of them. A handful of them. Two of them. It breaks down as follows:

X-Men: Good. I like it. They got the characters spot on (Especially Wolverine, Magneto and Xavier). Its tough to say what I don’t enjoy about it but I think it comes down to this: it has less fuel than its tank can hold (In my eyes, you could say this about most of the films). X-Men is a pretty multifaceted series with a lot of ideas but this film kept it simple. Simple worked fine, though.

X2: Boom. Here’s the full tank. Ranks right up there with Spiderman 2 as one of the best pre-Dark Knight superhero endeavors. This one isn’t a step up from the first, its a goddang leap and then some. Cool and compact, this one was strong enough to carry all of the weighty ideas X-Men’s got.

X-Men 3: This one did not. Last Stand isn’t unwatchable, it’s just disappointing. It deflated the whole franchise. It siphoned 75% of the gas from that aforementioned metaphor-tank of our’s. And it’s mainly not disappointing because its bad at setting up all of the usual conflicts, it’s bad because it does but it just can’t deliver.

X-Men: First Class: This is the first X-Men movie I ever saw. Ho-lee God. I went because I saw historical figures and superheroes together in one film and I got all of that and so, so much more greatness. My brother and I (Two first X-Meners) were actually debating mutant politics at dinner after the showing. Need I say more?

So where does this one rank? Right up there with First Class.

Yeah, usually there’s a lot of buildup to a lukewarm or negative assessment in these things but, no joke, this was one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen in three years or so and is definitely among the top superhero movies of the decade. Let’s review.

Wolverine has to go to the past to save the future mutants from extermination (Inter-franchise crossover, ahoy!) so he rounds up Prof. X and Beast and springs Magneto (Why? It’s loosely explained but Fassbender’s performance lets me buy it) with the help of a beautifully played Quicksilver. Nevermind that that past sentence alone could carry a two hour movie, that’s just the premise.

magneto

What follows, I can assure you, is pure X-Men, unleaded. This movie doesn’t dilute any of the serious topics with cheesy throwaways but it doesn’t lose any of its fun. It moves pretty briskly but never stops building up. And seeing these characters from two different era interact is every bit as rewarding as the Disney Marvel characters crossover in The Avengers.

No single character carries the movie because, mainly, there is no one under focus. Sure, we follow Wolverine but you’d be surprised how much focus isn’t on him,as much as we love him. It’s on the X-Men, plain and simple. Moreover, it’s on the mutants.

By the end, the continuity’s messed up but the mutants are all together and (With Apocalypse coming) I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
~Zach

IMDB: 8.1
Metacritic: 74
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

12 Years a Slave

This week we’ll be looking at the favorite for Best Picture this year, Steve McQueen’s historical drama 12 Years a Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita N’yongo, and Michael Fassbender. It is rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality.

In America, pre-Civil War, Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) lives a free life with his wife and children, until he is abducted and sold into slavery. Solomon, through various owners and superiors (Fassbender, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch), faces both kindness and cruelty on an extensive journey in which he struggles to retain his humanity and his dignity. Along with fellow slave, Patsey (Nyong’o), Solomon attempts to find peace and rediscover his old life.

10 out of 10
                              9 out of 10

I didn’t think I would love this film. I thought I would get bored very easily. These melancholic, biopic dramas aren’t really my jam. But it doesn’t take an expert to see the mastery in this film. I would watch this movie again in a heartbeat. It blew my expectations out of the water, even after hearing so many great things about it. It truly was a masterpiece, and while it may not be my favorite film of the year (well actually, still deciding), it is far and away the best film of the year. Gravity was great and all, but seriously: this movie was simply amazing.

I don’t know where to start. The screenplay? Great. I am expecting an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. It is written so well, and the dialogue is so genuine and emotional. The sense of realism is absolutely fantastic. The characters, even the hero, Solomon, are all imperfect and more than just characters in a movie. This does have a lot to do with the acting, but I’ll get to that in just a second. The storytelling helps convey Solomon’s journey perfectly, starting from his free beginning, through his struggles and tragedy, to the touching end. Overall, just a great job of adapting and crafting this script.

The cinematography was absolutely dazzling and while I was shocked by many of the nominations this year, I was extremely disappointed by the Academy’s inability to recognize cinematographer Sean Bobbitt’s work for this film (Yes I know, Gravity would probably win anyway). This cinematography does a great job of enhancing the emotional experience solely from the camera work. The long, concentrated shots of scenes displaying horror and pain are cruel and emotionally taxing; it’s extremely hard to take as a viewer. (Very minor spoiler alert) The one shot of Solomon Northup’s character being suspended by a rope, struggling to stay alive as day and night pass by while countless slaves pass by is honestly one of the most fantastic pieces of camera work I’ve ever seen. It details the fear of the slaves, as you see them pass by, helpless and too scared to help Solomon down. This scene is another example of the emotional burden this film of because of how helpless the audience feels, as we see Northup flailing, struggling, yet there’s nothing we can do but wait and watch. An unbelievable piece of camera work.

I can’t say enough good things about the acting performances. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s absolutely killed it, perfectly playing a character with a huge range of emotions but also a will to survive. Even though Solomon’s character is a hero, he’s not selfless. He will do anything to survive. He is not afraid to fight back, sometimes even arrogantly. It is tempting to portray a protagonist as a perfect hero in a story such as this one, but Solomon Northup is, thankfully, not that perfect hero. The other performance that stood out to me was Michael Fassbender’s job slave owner Edwin Epps. Epps is such a brutal, inhumane monster, and somehow, Fassbender was able to capture all that evilness and channel it. It’s underratedly difficult to play a character like this. Sometimes, all the anger and evil is just too much for an actor to capture.

If you’re looking for criticisms, I guess I can give you Benedict Cumberbatch’s pathetic Southern accent and Brad Pitt’s ninety seconds of glory, but that’s about it. This film is cunning, emotional, and intense from beginning to end and is one of the best films I’ve seen in theaters in a while.
~Vig

IMDB: 8.2
Metacritic: 97
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%

On the surface, it may feel like slavery in the Antebellum-era has been addressed before. Mainly because whenever a movie about it does come out, there are weeks of controversy surrounding the film. Take Django Unchained from two years ago as an example. After a few weeks of controversy and a couple of award ceremonies, it evaporated into the filmography of 2012.

In that sense, movies addressing slavery (Whether fictionalized or very real) seem somewhat unremarkable. But in reality, they make up a very important, evolving genre that is slowly unfolding before our eyes. I can think of numerous movies surrounding atrocities of World War I, World War II, Vietnam and others but I can’t really come up with a ton of films that address slavery during Antebellum, a relatively “peaceful” time that has seemingly lost its place in historical fiction.

However, I’d say our movies about American history have gotten far more introspective, and slavery is a time that’s ripe for exposing flaws that seem very distant from us. 12 Years a Slave fits perfectly into that genre by all accounts. It’s a piece that dives deep into the brutality and motivation behind the forced labor that took place in this very culture.

For starters, there’s no real plotline to the story. If it were put on to paper, it’d be just an extended narrative of a free man who deals with the unpredictability that everyday slave life has to offer. Many of the scenes just take time to breath in the atmosphere. There are solid, minute long blocks where we see tedious cotton-picking or construction with Hans Zimmer’s score acting as a backdrop. That’s far more accurate than anything. Slavery for most wasn’t a saga with monologues and action strewn throughout (Just as many a producer would be eager to depict it as), it was a plodding from day to day that with occasional bursts of violence: something the movie definitely isn’t shy to show the audience.

It is slow, very slow but in a way that is perfect to how its characters live and how its era functioned. Meanwhile, its actors are perfectly in sync with it. Every part of the movie works with another to ensure that it constituents an unflinching portrayal of slavery.

Aside from that, I wondered what the exact moral of the film was when I finished but I came to one conclusion: there isn’t one but it still has a lot to say. No matter how frustrating it is, I love when a movie doesn’t spoon feed me a point or offer up simple answers. The point here, at least to me, is to show the brutality of a process that we already know is very brutal but don’t fully understand. Just like the rest of history, we’ll probably never fully understand.

I’d even say that the movie has no thesis but instead one question that it opens and closes with: “Can one truly escape slavery?”. The entire film is build on the premise of a free man being forced back into labor and, in the end, there’s no real conclusion as to how Northup lead his remaining life besides his legal pursuit of those who wronged him. As far as we know, the past is still going to haunt him and all he has left is to run.

That is the movies definition of dehumanization and its far more effective than any secondary account.
~Zach