"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix - A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. Absolutely no reason to ever see this derivative and dull snooze of a movie.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix, written and directed by Simon Kinberg, is the the story of Jean Grey as she comes to grips with her mutant powers and murky past. The film stars Sophie Turner as Grey, with the usual X-Men suspects James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult along for the ride, as well as a supporting turn from Jessica Chastain. Dark Phoenix is the sequel to 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and is the seventh and final installment of the current main X-Men saga.

After I see a film I usually either sit in the theatre or go out to the lobby and write down my brief thoughts. After X-Men: Dark Phoenix I sat trying to think of something to write and was stumped. It wasn’t that I had no opinion about the movie, it is that I only had the most distant, passing and fading memory of what had just transpired on screen. Dark Phoenix is such a derivative, dull and middling movie that it proves to be instantly, and almost entirely, forgettable.

X-Men movies over the last 19 years have, in general, been aggressively mediocre, visually banal and dramatically mundane (the notable exception being 2017’s Logan). While some of the X-Men movies have been mildly entertaining and thematically intriguing, for the most part they have failed to live up to their extremely rich source material.

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20th Century Fox came into the superhero market with a great deal of fanfare by handing the creative keys of the franchise to at-the-time esteemed filmmaker Bryan Singer, who directed the first film, X-Men in 2000, and four of the seven main X-Men films in total. But nearly twenty years after the X-Men’s cinematic debut, Fox leaves the superhero arena with barely an audible whimper. Dark Phoenix is a continuation of the downward trajectory of X-Men movies that was undeniable with 2016’s abysmal Apocalypse. It seems as though Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix were in a race to the bottom of the X-Men filmography…Dark Phoenix wins that race by a surprisingly strong margin, and is only notable for the fact that it is indeed the very dregs of X-Men movies.

For Fox to end their X-Men run with Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix is a humiliation almost equal to everyone’s least favorite pederast Bryan Singer’s fall from grace. One can only hope that Disney, which purchased Fox and with it the X-Men, can reboot this wayward franchise with some fresh creative blood that can resurrect this moribund series.

As for the particulars of Dark Phoenix…where to begin? The movie is stultifyingly dull, thematically trite, lazily acted, dismally written, impotently directed and is as visually stale and flat as possible. Besides that how was the play Mrs. Lincoln? No doubt better than Dark Phoenix.

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What is striking is that Dark Phoenix boasts a cavalcade of really top notch actors but is riddled with insipid performances. Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress and one of my favorites, but in her turn as Raven she so lifelessly mouths her lines it feels as if she is working the graveyard shift at the 24-hour Arby’s in Podunk, Kentucky. She seems genuinely embarrassed to be in the movie and entirely disinterested in being there.

Jessica Chastain is another quality actress who sleepwalks through Dark Phoenix. You can almost see the money signs in Chastain’s eyes as she vacantly goes through the motions.

Michael Fassbender reprises his role as Magneto and try as he might he simply cannot muster any mettle/metal in his performance…pun intended.

James McAvoy suffers even worse humiliations than the rest of the cast as in one scene, that is so ridiculous it made me laugh out loud, his Professor X is forced to “walk” on his crippled legs, to hysterical affect. This scene was like a bad Saturday Night Live skit, although that is something out of the Department of Redundancy Department.

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Sophie Turner, last seen as Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, is the film’s lead and she does not prove herself up to the task of carrying a feature film. Turner is a beautiful women but, sadly, as my life proves, beauty can only get you so far. Turner simply does not have the skill, charisma and magnetism to command audience’s attention for a feature length film. That doesn’t mean she will never be able to do that, it just means she cannot do it now.

The overwhelming feeling I had about the cast while watching this movie was that they were simply playing out the string and cashing in while they could. This is the last X-Men movie of this cycle, and these actors will most likely never play these roles again…so they need to get while the getting is good…and these performances felt more like a heist and a getaway than commitment to acting artistry. I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, the mortgage isn’t going to pay for itself after all, but it definitely leaves a sour taste in the mouth of fans as the movie’s stars grab the money and hustle to get out of Dodge as fast as they can.

Simon Kinberg wrote and directed Dark Phoenix, proving that he is not even remotely good at writing or directing. Kinberg’s script is abominable and his miserable direction is a major reason why such a stellar cast turned in such horrendous performances.

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Kinberg’s script is so shallow and empty that the biggest feeling I had at the end of the movie is…what is the point of it? Obviously the point is to make money, which it might, but on a more philosophical level the question truly is…what is the purpose and meaning behind this movie? What is the animating philosophical/psychological/spiritual principle of this movie? Yes, the film does have some of the usual Girl Power posing and preening, which has become de rigueur lately, sprinkled throughout. Lines like “since women are always saving the men around here you should change the name to X-Women"!” and “your mind has been poisoned by men with small minds” and “you’re not a little girl anymore” and my favorite exchange where the villain (a female) says to Jean Grey, “you’re emotions make you weak” and Jean replies, “no, my emotions make me strong!” give the impression of a philosophical foundation but are nothing more than vapid and vacuous bullshit meant to appease and patronize the neo-feminists in Hollywood and no one else. In reality the film has no philosophical, logical, dramatic or narrative foundation upon which to build itself, instead it is a soulless, paint by numbers exercise in vacant big budget franchise movie making and nothing else.

In conclusion, Dark Phoenix is a flaccid, unimaginative cinematic venture that is truly unsatisfying in every single way. Even if you are a super hero fanatic, there is absolutely no reason to see this movie in the theatres or anywhere else for that matter. Sadly, this Phoenix was engulfed in the flames of its awfulness and avarice but was never able to rise from the ashes of its own failings and should be condemned to remain forever alone in the Dark…where it truly belongs.

©2019

Song to Song : A Review

****THIS IS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME VERY MINOR SPOILERS (Discussion of themes and plot structure)!!!! THIS IS TECHNICALLY NOT A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!****

My Rating : 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SEE IT (with caveats).  If you are a fan of director Terrence Malick, you will enjoy this film a great deal. If your tastes are less "experimental" and more conventional, you will absolutely hate this movie, so skip it.

Song to Song, written and directed by Terrence Malick, with cinematography by three time Academy Award winner Emmanuel Lubezki, is a meditation on love, shame, sex, mercy and forgiveness set in the music scene of Austin, Texas. The film stars Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman.

For some reason, every time I go see a Malick film in the theaters, I run into some issue with my fellow moviegoers. This time around I had two white-haired biddies come into the theatre as the previews rolled and they proceeded to talk very loudly during them. Then when the film started, one of the old Crones said very loudly, "it's hot in here!!".

I turned and said to them, in as gentle a voice as possible, "excuse me ladies, would you mind not talking, that would be awesome." They said, "ok", but then proceeded to talk throughout the entire film anyway. I kept getting distracted by these two nasty hags and daydreamed of stomping their empty skulls to dust with my steel toed boots every time they felt the need to say how much they hated the film as it was playing. 

I never killed them, or even kicked them, as much as I wanted to, mostly because I assumed one or both of them were packing heat…just a hunch...but because of this irritating distraction it was difficult for me to get into the proper Malick head space to watch the film. The first third of the movie was definitely a struggle, but against all odds, Song to Song was able to win me over, and in the final two thirds was able to transport me into the mind and spirit of its genius director, no small feat with the Greek chorus of dipshits persistently chiming in behind me. 

Enigmatic filmmaker Terrence Malick's work can be an acquired taste, I readily acknowledge this fact. His recent string of films, Tree of Life, To the Wonder, Knight of Cups and this year's Song to Song, are often times describes as "experimental" films. I label them "contemplative cinema" because they are not meant to be watched like you watch a "regular" movie with a linear narrative, but is meant to be enjoyed as more of a meditative storytelling experience.

Malick speaks in a very distinct language, and if you do not understand that language, his films will not only be confusing, but will be downright frustrating and irritating. It would be like watching a foreign film without the subtitles and with sunglasses on. Hence you get people like the two morons behind me who were so out of their depth watching Song to Song they felt the need to assume everyone was equally as ill-equipped to understand what they were watching. Those old whores (again this is just a hunch, I have no definitive proof that they have or had sex for money) didn't understand Malick's language, hell, they probably thought they were going to see the animated musical Sing.

The thing to understand before going to see a Malick film is that Malick makes films that speak in a veiled, but distinctly religious and cinematic language. The trouble with this is that the people who are artistically cultured enough to understand the cinematic language, will most likely be members of the Church of the Libertine and not understand Malick's Gnostic Catholic religious language, and those with the religious understanding will not be cinematically sophisticated enough to understand the structure, style and visuals of the film. It is a dilemma, no doubt, but at this point, I do not care, as I am apparently one of a very, very tiny minority of people (and critics) for whom Malick's film's deeply resonate. I don't care how, or why that is, just that it is. I consider myself blessed because of it. If you do not "get" Malick's work, that is on you, and I beg you to keep your ignorance to yourself, because next time I might not be so reticent and go full on Hulk and smash those who ruin my sacred experience in the local art house. 

As for the film itself, cinematographer Lubezki once again does a masterful job with his floating and dancing camera that creates an otherworldly aura about the entire project. Malick's films, (and Lubezki's), are gorgeous to look at, but they also tell the deeper story of the film with visuals alone, and so it is with Song to Song. Lubezki consistently moves his camera from left to right, sometimes to observe a conversation, other times to expand the make up of the shot. The left to right camera movement is meant to symbolize the alchemical journey the lead character makes on the "left hand path" away from her center.

Regardless of what Lubezki is shooting in Song to Song, each fluid shot offers a brief glimpse at a visual masterpiece. It is like spinning your way through an art museum, the view is staggeringly beautiful, but ephemeral, quickly replaced by a new work of wonder to amaze you.

The themes that Malick examines in Song to Song are similar to the ones he explored in his Dante-esque masterpiece Knight of Cups. This time though, the main, but not exclusive, protagonist is a woman, Rooney Mara's Faye, a struggling musician in Austin, as opposed to the man at the center of Knight of Cups, played by Christian Bale, who was navigating the perils of Hollywood.

Rooney Mara does exquisitely wondrous work as Malick's muse Faye. Mara is able to fill the camera, and her scenes with a painfully yearning melancholy that is mesmerizing to watch. She seems wonderfully comfortable with her discomfort in front of Malick's camera, and that translates remarkably well to the myth at the heart of the film. Mara's face is striking, and she is able to draw the viewer in towards her even while she withdraws into her cocoon of self doubt and spiritual turmoil.

Ryan Gosling plays BV, a song writer and Faye's love interest, while Michael Fassbender is music producer Cook and Natalie Portman plays Cook's girlfriend Rhonda. They all do top-notch, and at times spectacular work in Song to Song. BV's Christ-like gentle nature and kind heart are balanced by Cook's Mephistophelean and insatiable hunger, just like Faye's melancholic yearning is balanced by Rhonda's crushing desperation. 

Cate Blanchett also has a small role but proves once again what a extraordinary actress she truly is. Blanchett is a wonder to behold in her brief screen time. She can tell an entire story with just the smallest of gestures with her hands, watch her tap the glass!! I would encourage any and all actors to closely watch Ms. Blanchett's hands in both Song to Song and in Knight of Cups to see a masterclass in subtly powerful acting.

As with many of Malick's films, most notably Knight of Cups, the theme of forgetting one's true self runs throughout. Faye has forgotten her true nature, her connection to God and her goodness. Like a Prodigal daughter she must leave home, and the Divine, and take the "left hand path" of struggle in order to return to her center out of choice, not chance. Unlike most films, Song to Song is structured as a circle, not a straight line. When Faye returns to where she began, it all seems so new that it is only vaguely familiar. The starting point is the same, but Faye is different, she sees it with new eyes.

The haunting sense of the familiar, and of a lost connection to the true self are common themes that Malick explores in many of his more recent films. Malick films are like dreams and should be watched and understood through that prism. Everything means something, but not what it appears to mean on the surface. And, as in all Malick movies, and as it is in dreams, time in Song to Song is at best fluid, and at most, non-existent.

As Faye tries to return to the Eden she left behind, she is seduced by the temptations of the "left hand path" of this world, success, fame, wealth, and power. But this is a fallen world, and Cook, like the fallen angel Satan, is the king of it. To follow the path of Cook is to embrace the momentary over the eternal, the profane over the divine. While Cook's world is deliciously tantalizing, it is most assuredly the way of spiritual death. On some level Faye knows this, but the allure of that sweet death can be both intoxicating and spellbinding. 

The message at the heart of Song to Song is one that should resonate with spiritual seekers of all kinds, that in order to return to our true selves and higher nature, we must evolve beyond our animal drives and instincts, and simplify our lives and embrace a true and honest heart inspired love (as opposed to genital inspired). Of course, that is much easier said than done, and even when one makes that choice, their more base desires will still call out to them like the Sirens singing ships into their doom on the pointy rocks of shore, but as Song to Song shows us, evolution is a process, one that is cyclical and circular. We return Home from our travels and travails, born anew, but will be called once again to the "left hand path" of our lesser urges and will have to make the journey all over again, just with new eyes.

When BV washes Faye, her sins are cleansed, her heart and soul clear, and they are both born again into a new, and more simple life. Cook will still be in Austin hunting for souls, damaged ones or ones he seeks to damage, but the key for Faye and BV is to return to the simplicity of Eden. Their journey is a return to the earth, a return to love, a return to their true and higher selves. 

Mercy and the freedom of forgiveness are the gifts Faye receives and they propel her to evolve beyond her limiting animal nature, and to sacrifice her wants for the higher purpose of her true self and love. I know this all sounds very new-agey, but it isn't, it is in many ways deeply traditionalist, just without the female subservience. The answer for Faye and BV, is a traditionalist return to a grounding on the earth, not the new age promise of life among the stars. And this may be why Malick's film has caused such a negative stir among cinephiles. The more sophisticated of viewers will probably be members of the Church of the Libertine, and therefore will not see Faye's dalliances with debauchery or moral and ethical compromises as problematic, they would see them as a form of freedom. But the reality is that freedom for Faye, and for many of us, is an illusion, and comes with a steep price, namely your soul. 

That message is anathema to American culture, one that celebrates the individual’s wants and demands instant gratification of any and all desires. As Song to Song tells us, sex is a gift, and to abuse it for any reason is a sin against oneself and the divine. That is a message that most members of the Church of the Libertine will reject out of hand, which may explain why critics are so hostile to Song to Song, as they are unconsciously repulsed by the films moral, ethical and spiritual compass.

Song to Song is a piece of art to be experienced, not a puzzle to be solved. The film, like all of Malick's recent work, not only works visually and acoustically, but viscerally. Song to Song, if you can lose yourself in it, washes over you like the cool waters of a cinematic baptism, inviting the viewer to witness the struggle and the possibility of faith and a true and transcendent love. 

If you are a lover of more mainstream fare, Song to Song is most definitely not for you…not at all. If you love Malick films, I believe you will love Song to Song. If you are somewhere in the middle, I would assume that Song to Song would be a bridge too far for you. This type of cinema, whether you call it "experimental" or "cinematic contemplation", is very challenging, and if you aren't up for the challenge, then you should stick to your comfort zone. But if you do make the ambitious trek to see Song to Song, then please just give yourself over to it. And if you hate it, keep it to yourself. Let's make a deal, I won't ruin the Fast and Furious movies for you, and you don't ruin Malick movies for me? Ok? Great!! See you at the concession stand!!

©2017

 

X-Men : Apocalypse - A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THERE ARE ZERO SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW!!!****

RATING: 1.42 STARS OUT OF 5 STARS

RECOMMENDATION : SKIP IT. THERE IS REALLY NO REASON TO SEE THIS FILM UNLESS YOU ARE AN ABSOLUTE COMIC BOOK AND X-MEN FANATIC WITH A LOT OF TIME TO KILL.

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 5 MINUTES 4 SECONDS

I did it, I went and saw ANOTHER super hero movie. Last summer I was unable to go to the movies during blockbuster season, so I am making up for lost time by giving as much money as possible to those fine people at the movie studios for all of the selflessly great work that they do (God Bless Them!!!). I feel, deep down, that if I didn't make multiple pilgrimages to the theatre this summer and missed a second straight blockbuster season, I would be a bad American…and frankly…the terrorists just might win, and I simply cannot let that happen.

Before I begin my review in earnest I must make a Full Disclosure: during my teen years I attended and graduated from Charles Francis Xavier's (Professor X) "School for Gifted Youngsters" in upstate New York. I have struggled for years to say this but...I am officially a mutant. My mutation gives me two super powers, a Level 5 Contrarianism and the ability to smell bullshit from over a mile away. Granted these powers aren't exactly invisibility and flight but you take what you can get and do the best you can with what you've got..at least that's what they taught me at "XSGY" (Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters) or "X School" as we alumni call it. I cherished my time at X School, where I excelled on the J.V. quidditch team and was voted "least likely to succeed" in the yearbook.

With all of that off my chest, let's get to the film X-Men: Apocalypse. The film is the ninth installment in the X-Men franchise and is the fourth X-Men film directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse). The film stars a cavalcade of top notch young actors, including Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence, Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, James McAvoy, and Oscar Isaac, to name but a few. 

The X-Men comic book mythology is nothing short of brilliant. Mutants are a fantastic metaphor for various modern issues, civil rights and gay rights to name but two, and are symbolic of archetypes both new and old. The X-Men source material is genius, the problem though is that the X-Men movies have never failed to be anything other than pedestrian even at their zenith. I have never left an X-Men film without feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. It is too bad because it would be a glorious thing to have a truly great director, like a Christopher Nolan for example, take the complex and nuanced X-Men foundational material and do something really great with it, like he did with the Dark Knight trilogy. But instead we are stuck with Bryan Singer, a hack personified, driving these films into a ditch for over a decade now. And so it is with the latest installment, X-Men: Apocalypse.

The main problem with the film is that it lacks any dramatic cohesion and tension and is therefore rendered remarkably dull. That lack of dramatic cohesion and tension falls squarely on Mr. Singer, as does the films uninspired and flat visual style. The film feels shallow and rushed and frankly, devoid of any purpose. I should clarify that comment, the film is devoid of any artistic and creative purpose, but it has plenty of corporate purpose, not the least of which is Fox's contractual obligation to make X-Men films in a timely manner or lose the rights to the characters. Oh…and there is always the desire to fleece idiots like myself who will give our hard earned dollars to go see anything with super men and women in tights kicking bad guy ass. 

There is nothing original or even remotely interesting in X-Men: Apocalypse, only the same old tired tropes and cliches, which is not shocking considering it is the ninth cinematic go around for the X gang. I mean, the Fox cinematic X-Men horse has not only been beaten to death, but drawn and quartered and then beaten further into dust. 

From the very beginning the X-Men films have boasted very serious and quality actors, such as Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen and Halle Berry, who did the best they can with the little they were given, and so it is with the actors in this latest film. Michael Fassbender's Magneto is such a rich and fascinating character that he could easily carry a film about himself alone, but I would want that film to be directed by someone with a command of the craft of filmmaking…in other words, not Bryan Singer. Fassbender salvages what he can from the scraps of a script he is given, as does the always luminous Jennifer Lawrence and the solid and steady James McAvoy. Other actors don't fare quite as well. Oscar Isaac plays Apocalypse, and is given nothing of substance to work with at all. His costume and make-up are atrocious and undermine any sort of sense of power and menace the character might have been able to generate, and Isaac is left looking embarrassingly ridiculous. Olivia Munn, who has proven herself to be a very capable actress in other projects (HBO's The Newsroom for example), looks completely lost and terribly uncomfortable her entire time on screen. Her discomfort is palpable and distracting, and while Ms. Munn isn't entirely blameless for her poor performance, a good portion of the blame for her struggles falls once again on the ineptitude of Bryan Singer.

I enjoyed the last two X-Men films, X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, they weren't great films or even very good films but they were at least clever and interesting. In both of those films the storyline jumped back in time and the films became period pieces. First Class was set from World War II up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Days of Future Past was set in the early seventies. Adding the element of time period to the films gave them a bit of a boost in terms of interesting material, costume and the intrigue of history. X-Men: Apocalypse tries to do the same thing by setting the time period in the eighties and it simply doesn't work. The third time around is not the charm in regards to time period, as this time it feels stale, forced and creatively bankrupt.

The time period element is a symptom of the greater disease afflicting the X-Men franchise, that disease is artistic insolvency. The creative team behind the X-Men franchise are simply destitute in regards to good ideas, and due to sub-par directing from the likes of Mr. Singer, they were never even able to make the most of the pittance of good ideas they had in the first place. This franchise is in dire need of new artistic blood. They brought in new acting blood, McAvoy for Stewart, Fassbender for McKellen etc, in the X-Men: First Class film and have rode that horse as far as it will take them. The new blood needed is not in front of the camera, but behind it. A new director, a whole new creative team, from writers on down through to cinematography, costume and set design are desperately needed to salvage the X-Men franchise and give the X-Men mythology the cinematic glory it so richly deserves. I doubt that will happen though, as Fox has made it clear that in regards to the X-Men franchise, quantity will always top quality.

In conclusion, X-Men: Apocalypse is another in a long line of missed opportunities in the X-Men film series. If you are a huge comic book and X-Men fan, you will have probably already seen and already been disappointed by the film. But if you are even a slightly below a fanatical level consumer of comic book films and the X-Men, then skip this film. You will never have any need to see it in the theatre or on cable/Netflix. Now I think I can take a little rest from the theatre as my cinematic comic book calendar appears to be free until Suicide Squad comes out in August. I'll spend this long, hot summer honing my Level 5 Contrarianism and bullshit smelling powers for the fall, when I'll really need them, as it will be election time!!

©2016

Steve Jobs - A Review : Steve Jobs, 2001 and The Cult of Personality

***WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!**

MY RATING : SEE IT IN THE THEATRE!!

 

"THE TWO MOST SIGNIFICANT EVENTS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: THE ALLIES WIN THE WAR, AND THIS. " - STEVE JOBS

As I sit here at my MacBook Pro, with my iPhone by my side, writing a review of Steve Jobs, the film about the late founder of Apple computers, I have to confess that I really didn't know or care very much about the man prior to seeing the film. My ignorance and ambivalence about Jobs, yet my near complete everyday reliance upon his life's work, is a testament to the magnitude of his achievement and an indictment of me and my incuriosity.  Sadly, I am woefully unqualified to comment on the historical accuracy of Steve Jobs, but thankfully, I am moderately qualified to comment on the dramatic and cinematic worth of the movie. 

Steve Jobs, written by Aaron Sorkin and adroitly directed by Danny Boyle, is an exquisitely crafted and impeccably acted film. The film stars Michael Fassbender as Jobs, and boasts very impressive supporting turns from Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg and Seth Rogan.

Michael Fassbender gives a fantastically magnetic and dynamic performance as Jobs. Fassbender is one of the best actors working today and his work as Job's is a tribute to his mastery of his craft and his enormous talent. 

Fassbender's performance is an approximation and not an imitation of Jobs, which is always a wise approach. As I am fond of saying, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the least sincere form of acting"©. Fassbender focuses on the internal emotional reality of Jobs and not on trying to recreate the external appearance of the man. That is not to say that there are no outer manifestations of Fassbender's inner work, there are. For instance, Fassbender alters his voice as he ages Jobs. He hits an oh-so-slightly higher register as a young man and a lower one as an older man, it is done so subtly that it would be nearly imperceptible to anyone not looking for it (or trained in this sort of thing). It isn't a showy thing, but it is an extremely effective one, which is a credit not only to Fassbender's technique but to his artistic integrity.

Fassbender's Jobs is a shark (a symbolic power animal referenced in the film) which is always moving forward and never looking to the past. This manifests literally as Jobs constantly physically walking throughout the story, and figuratively as Jobs frantically running away from his past and his emotional wounds. Stasis is death to Fassbender's Jobs, and when he isn't actively trying to devour his opponents, his enemies or his feelings, he is unwittingly trying to avoid any notions of "regretfulness", a word strikingly evoked in the film by Jobs' daughter. This approach to life leaves Fassbender's Jobs as a single minded business/technological genius, with emotional blind spots the size of his gargantuan ambition. It is not Jobs struggle to conquer history and the tech world that makes the character so imperative, but rather his struggle to understand himself and his existential wounds.

I recently wrote about Jeff Daniels being mis-cast in a bunch of projects where I thought his work was sub-par, such as in Ridley Scott's The Martian and HBO's The Newsroom. In Steve Jobs, I was very pleased to see Daniels give a nuanced and poignant performance as John Sculley, the CEO of Apple and erstwhile father figure to Jobs.  This character, in the hands of a lesser actor, would have been easily overlooked at best or a two-dimensional disaster at worst. 

Kate Winslet plays Joanna Hoffman, Job's right hand woman and confidante, who is a force to be reckoned with. She gives a powerful performance that is laced with a delicate humanity, which makes her the perfect balance to Fassbender's humanity-challenged Jobs. Winslet is the consummate pro, and here she brings all of her formidable talents to bear in creating a character who is able to platonically and powerfully love Steve Jobs, but never be a victim to him.

Michael Stuhlberg and Seth Rogan also give solid supporting performance as Andy Hertzfeld, member of original Mac team and Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, respectively. Although, I nearly fell over when I saw a talking empty-head on one of the cable news shows saying that if Rogan doesn't win an Oscar it would be a travesty. Rogan does a fine yet completely unspectacular job as Wozniak. I think that people often get unduly excited when an actor who has consistently been dreadful simply shows up and isn't as awful as usual. Rewarding mediocrity due to familiarity, or worse, confusing mediocrity with greatness, is often a result of lowered expectations and is sadly, a common occurrence across our culture, one need look no further than our politics with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, or Hollywood with Matthew McConaughey and George Clooney for proof of that.

WALKING, TALKING AND DRUNKEN MONKEYS

I often find writer Aaron Sorkin's style, which I call "walking and talking…quickly", to be off-putting because it can be so mannered, deliberate and disingenuous. Sorkin's writing style is as if David Mamet and a drunken monkey with a political science degree had a baby that wrote a screwball dramedy with all of the fast paced, witty repartee that genre demands. In the hands of lesser directors, such as on Sorkin's HBO show The Newsroom, Sorkin's writing can be unbearable in it's overbearing self consciousness. But in the hands of a true craftsman and artist, like Danny Boyle with Steve Jobs, or David Fincher with The Social Network, Sorkin's style can become captivating, if not down right hypnotic. 

With Steve Jobs, Sorkin's true stroke of genius comes not in his dialogue but rather in how he structures the story. Instead of falling into the usual traps of the bio-pic, basically showing the highlights of the man's life, Sorkin structures the film like a stage play in three acts, where the characters talk about what has happened between acts but what wasn't shown to the viewer. It is all about how people react and feel about events, not about the events themselves. It is a brilliant way to mine the depths of characters and relationships for all of the emotional drama they are worth. It is also a tribute to Sorkin (and director Danny Boyle) that he respects his audience enough to not feel the need to spoon feed them the usual bio-pic nonsense but rather trusts them to be sophisticated enough to understand context without having it shown to them. Turning the story into a stage play for the screen creates a character study and not a bio-pic, and that is what makes it such a compelling and satisfying film.

STEVE JOBS AND 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

There is a little secret hidden in plain sight about where Sorkin gets his inspiration, whether conscious or unconscious, for the structure of the film, and it is pretty brilliant. The opening of the film shows an old black and white industrial-type of film where Arthur C. Clarke, famed science fiction writer and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, stands in a 1960's computer room surrounded by a gigantic computer that nearly fills the entire room and talks with a young man and a little boy about what the future will look like. Clarke talks of a future where people will have small computers in their homes where they can do work and order theatre tickets and the like right from their computer. It is cool to see Clarke accurately predict the future and to see the amazement on the little boys face at the unlimited prospects in his future. That scene tells us all we need to know about the rest of the film, and I was even wondering as the scene played out, if it would be revealed that the little boy was Jobs in his youth.

This opening scene is a clue as to the blueprint for Steve Jobs. Sorkin uses the exact same structure as Arthur Clarke's and Stanley Kurbick's iconic film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that film is subtly referenced throughout Steve Jobs

In 2001, mankind's evolution over thousands of years is covered in three acts. In Steve Jobs, Sorkin uses the same three act, evolutionary leaping structure to show the emotional growth of Jobs the man,  and technological growth brought forth by his company. While Jobs personal evolution and his company's technological evolution are only over a two decade span rather than thousands of years, they are still making as gigantic a leap as mankind does in 2001. Seeing Steve Jobs make emotional evolutionary jumps that are the equal to 2001's thousands of years of evolution only becomes believable if we are sub-consciously attuned to the archetype of mankind's overwhelming need to evolve set forth in 2001

In 2001's first act, Kubrick shows us primitive man at the moment he discovers, with the aid of a mysterious monolith, his first tool, which he quickly turns into a weapon to kill his rivals. Act One in Steve Jobs opens backstage of an Apple product launch (the new age monolith!!) in 1982 with Jobs not even admitting to the paternity of his daughter, and denying the child and her mother, any financial support even though his worth is over $440 million. Like the ape-man in 2001 who uses the technological advantage of the first tool to bludgeon his defenseless enemies, Jobs uses his technological advantage to gain wealth and power which he uses to emotionally bludgeon his ex-girlfriend and the daughter he denies.

In Kubrick's 2001 we then make a jump of thousands of years into the future into Act Two where man is colonizing and living in space. Act Two ends with man discovering a monolith on the moon, which is really just a stepping stone to the great discovery revealed in Act Three. In Act Two of Steve Jobs, we are once again backstage at another product launch, this time for Job's new company NeXT, which he started after being fired from Apple. This tech company, NeXt, like the monolith on the moon in 2001, is really just a stepping stone. In Job's master plan he intends to use the NeXT launch to get back on top and in control of Apple. In addition, Job's daughter has grown a bit, and while he is beginning to take an interest in her life, he still isn't capable of truly loving her or emotionally understanding himself. In being blind to the inner complexes that drive him, Jobs is just like mankind in Act Two of 2001, which has not yet evolved enough to truly understand the intelligence they are chasing across the solar system, nor do they understand what drives them to chase it. 

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In Act Three of 2001, man and machine (the enigmatic computer HAL) travel into space in order to find the origin of this mysterious monolith near Jupiter. Eventually man and machine, in the form of HAL, do battle, with HAL fighting for supremacy and man fighting for survival. Man must overcome technology, his intellect, in order to integrate it and open up his true emotional self. The film ends with man having gone through a dramatic and personally apocalyptic evolutionary transformation and being reborn as the intellectually and emotionally advanced "Star Child".

In the third act of Steve Jobs, we are once again backstage at a product launch, this time for the iMac, which is a spaceship compared to the animal bone of Apple 2 that came twenty years earlier. In this final act of Steve Jobs, Jobs is finally able to overcome his drive for technological and business success and open his heart to his daughter. For the first time in the film he decides he'd rather start the product launch late in order to talk with his daughter, putting her emotional needs before his business needs. This is symbolic of his overcoming his intellect and his business drive and instead opening his previously underused heart/emotional drive. He then integrates his intellect and technology with his heart/emotion when he tells his music loving daughter he will invent a product for her which will carry thousands of songs, what eventually will become the iPod. Directly after that scene with his daughter, Jobs stands on stage at the product launch with lights and flashbulbs popping all around him. As his daughter looks on, Jobs is engulfed in a luminous glow of otherworldly light, symbolic of his final stage of evolution where he becomes the intellectually and emotionally advanced Star Child.

Steve Jobs, like 2001: a Space Odyssey, teaches us about human evolution on both the external/technological level, and the internal/emotional level. The journey at the center of 2001 is that mankind must go forth into deep space, both outer and inner, in order to truly understand our universe and ourselves. The self knowledge acquired on this galactic grail self-quest is what will propel us to through to our next stage of evolution. Steve Jobs teaches us this same lesson wrapped in a different mythology, that we must explore both our external/intellectual drive and our internal/emotional one. One cannot be a truly evolved human being if one doesn't strive to cultivate both outer and inner forms of development and growth.

"MUSICIANS PLAY THEIR INSTRUMENTS. I PLAY THE ORCHESTRA." - STEVE JOBS

Steve Jobs is one of those polished and elegantly crafted films that only master artisans could make. Danny Boyle's flawless and vibrant direction is the key to keeping Sorkin's dialogue, which can be unwieldy in lesser directorial hands, emotionally vital and palpable. Boyle's deft touch and meticulous attention to dramatic pacing, both of the actors and of the camera, create a mesmerizing, seductive and deeply gratifying film.

THE CULT OF TECHNOLOGY AND PERSONALITY

An interesting theme that Boyle explores is the idea of the cult of Steve Jobs. Boyle evokes a sense of the sacred and religious being present in each of the product launches. The audience in the auditoriums chant and move in unison, hungry for Jobs, their Pope, prophet and messiah to share with them his new holy revelations, shrouded on the altar of the stage, which will change their lives forever. Boyle also shows Jobs as being a tyrant and control freak who believes his power should always and every time be unquestioned. Boyle's Jobs has a whiff of L. Ron Hubbard about him, and there is a Jim Jones vibe lurking deep in the heart of both Jobs and his desperate collection of followers and fanatics, whose idolatry of Jobs could easily be turned into zealotry. This cult of Steve Jobs, could easily be the cult of any guru, be they business, technology, political or spiritual based. Boyle's glimpse into Steve Jobs, the man behind the myth, is a pulling back of the curtain to reveal the fragility at the heart of the man who yearned for, and was placed upon, the pedestal of genius.

In conclusion, Steve Jobs is a great film and is well worth your time and hard earned money. Go see it in the theatre, if for no other reason than to watch the theatre light up with iPhones coming alive after the film has ended. As enjoyable and well made a film as Steve Jobs is, audience members compulsively re-attaching themselves to Steve Jobs' technology the moment the film ends is more a tribute to the man's life and genius than any film could ever be.

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  ©2015