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Review – Steve Jobs (15) [2015]

Steve Jobs - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Writer:

  • Aaron Sorkin – The American President, The West Wing, The Social Network, The Newsroom

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Daniel Pemberton – Big Kiss, The Awakening, The Counsellor, The Man From UNCLE

In 2011, Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. At the time of his death, he was hailed as a great man, a genius, an innovator, and a man who had stayed loyal to his dreams and fulfilled them. Yet, there was another side to Steve Jobs that was largely ignored in the obituaries. Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs focusses on this side of the man to paint a very different portrait of him.

Young Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender, left) talking through his business plans with his friend and co-founder, Steve 'Waz' Wazniak (Seth Rogen, right, playing decently and in a non-comedic role for a change).

Young Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender, left) talking through his business plans with his friend and co-founder, Steve ‘Waz’ Wazniak (Seth Rogen, right, playing decently and in a non-comedic role for a change).

Steve Jobs is a dramatised biopic of the titular character (played by Michael Fassbender). It centres round events behind the scenes at the launch of the Apple Macintosh in 1984; at the launch of NeXT in 1988; and at the launch of the iMac in 1998. With each launch, we get to see Jobs’ true nature, and the changes in his relationships with his assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet); with his friend and fellow co-founder Steve ‘Waz’ Wazniak (Seth Rogen); with the original CEO of Apple, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels); as well as with his former girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), and their daughter, Lisa (played by Mackenzie Moss at five, Ripley Sobo at nine, and Perla Haney-Jardine at nineteen).

Steve Jobs is a neat and engaging film about the man Steve Jobs actually was as opposed to the myth many believe in. The movie is told via three separate acts that are more theatrical in tone than cinematic. Between Danny Boyle’s excellent directing and Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant fast and witty dialogue, the movie is delivered via long expositions with few editing cuts. This gives the film a genuine feel of continuity and realism that is typical of other films Sorkin has worked on e.g. The Social Network.

Through the three acts, we learn about the sort of man that Steve Jobs was in real life. Yes, he was ambitious and a great innovator. But he was also unreasonable; treated his staff appallingly (with the possible exception of Joanna Hoffman); alienated his friends and colleagues without remorse; denied paternity to his daughter, Lisa; and did not give a cent to his ex-girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan, for child maintenance for Lisa without a court order forcing him to do so (and even then, Jobs only gave the minimal amount; a pittance of what he was earning).

Steve Jobs playing on the Apple Macintosh with his daughter, Lisa (at aged five, played by Makenzie Moss).

Steve Jobs playing on the Apple Macintosh with his daughter, Lisa (at aged five, played by Makenzie Moss).

Why was Jobs like this? God only knows. But Steve Jobs at least attempts to explain the unexplainable. It does this in two different ways: one is by a telling us about an event in Jobs’ early childhood and the effect this had on him; and the other is through Michael Fassbender’s terrific acting. Indeed, the former goes hand-in-hand with the latter. Fassbender’s tight-faced rage, his acerbic belittling of others, and his pathological drive to create better, awe-inspiring products illustrates how hurt (damaged) Jobs was by his childhood.

How true this explanation is (in respect of Jobs’ behaviour) is contentious. Several people who knew him well claim that the film is inaccurate, including Edwin Catmull, the head of Pixar (a company that Jobs was a board member of); Tim Cook, the current Apple CEO; and Waz, himself. Catmull claims that the film’s story is ‘wrong’ (although he does not give a reason for this), and Waz has said that ‘everything in the movie did not happen’ since he never spoke to Jobs before the events that the film portrays. Now, granted, Danny Boyle’s movie does take (considerable) artistic licence. One could never believe that the events happened in real life as they are portrayed in the film because that would have been unrealistic and impossible. But that does not mean that the events did not happen; they just happened at different times and Boyle has put them into his film at certain points to give the movie a solid and satisfying narrative arch.

An older Steve Jobs talking with his long-time business assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, with a decent if at times dodgy eastern European, New York accent). Joanna was known as the only person to ever stand up to Jobs and he respected her for it.

An older Steve Jobs talking with his long-time business assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, with a decent if at times dodgy eastern European, New York accent). Joanna was known as the only person to ever stand up to Jobs and he respected her for it.

Nevertheless, the film’s tight, solid and satisfying arch comes at a cost. In some respects it is too tight. Boyle misses out plenty of moments and events in Jobs’ life that could have altered the perceptions of Jobs. Adding a couple of key moments/events (or even mentioning them) about his family and about the long, protracted manner of his death could have given the film a more complete feeling and enabled viewers to make better informed judgements on Jobs. Yet, even without these moments, one can still form strong conclusions on the man.

Over-all, Steve Jobs is an enjoyable and interesting film about an almost mythical man. In an objective manner, with superb acting, dialogue and directing, we see Steve Jobs for what he was like as a person, how he changed over the years, and the events that shaped him into the man he became, for better and for worse. It is debatable how close to the truth this film is to reality. More than anything, though, Steve Jobs highlights that a person can be a genius and create phenomenal products, but that his/her products can be greater than the person who created them.

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Review – Titanic 3D (12a) [2012; originally released in 1997]

Star Rating: 4/5

A century has passed since the White Star Line’s ‘unsinkable’ Titanic sank on her maiden voyage, taking down 1,503 souls with her to the watery abyss. It was a tragedy, but one that still fascinates people for so many reasons. The absorbing 1997 film, re-released in 3D for the centenary of the disaster, embodies why this is the case.

Titanic’s bow at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Looks little more than a ghost ship now, with rusticles giving it an eerie feel.

Titanic centres round two central characters who board the ship as it takes off from Southampton for New York in April 1912. Rose (when old, played by Gloria Stuart; when young, played by Kate Winslet – Revolutionary Road, Contagion, Steve Jobs) is the daughter of a bankrupt aristocrat and is travelling in the luxuries of first-class. Against Rose’s will, her mother, Ruth (Frances Fisher – The Roommate, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Silent Thief), has set her up to marry Caledon ‘Cal’ Hockley (Billy Zane – Back to the Future I-II, The Roommate, The Employer), a wealthy businessman, to relieve the family of their crippling debts.

Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio – Revolutionary Road, Inception, The Wolf of Wall Street), on the other hand, is a dirt-poor artist journeying in third-class. After spending time in a variety of European cities, he is returning to America for a better life.

Whilst on the decks, Jack spots Rose on the higher levels and is instantly taken by her beauty. Yet, it is not until Rose is on the verge of jumping off the vessel’s stern that they meet. Jack urges her not to plunge to her death in the freezing waters and she follows his advice.

Subsequently, much to the envy of Cal, love blossoms between Jack and Rose… Until a cold, cloudless night when Titanic, running at full steam, strikes an iceberg.

For a film that is predominantly about a love story, Titanic is surprisingly gripping and abetted by a powerful music score, written by James Horner. Astonishingly, the film does not feel like it’s three hours and fifteen minutes long, since director/producer James Cameron (Alien, Avatar I-II, Sanctum) uses the time cleverly.

Cal (Billy Zane) and Ruth (Frances Fisher) reluctantly welcome Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) to dinner in the glorious, first-class dining hall. Rose (Kate Winslet) accompanies him, drawing the ire of her fiancé and mother.

For the two hours or so before Titanic suffers its fatal wound, Cameron ensures viewers believe the false sense of security that passengers undoubtedly felt aboard the ‘unsinkable’ ship (even though audiences know the ship’s doomed fate), and gives the characters a (clichéd) 1912-societal role, depth and humour to maintain one’s interest.

Moreover, Cameron makes the vessel hit the iceberg with (approximately) an hour and a half to go. With Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber – Legally Blonde, Milk, Argo) stating that Titanic has less than two hours afloat, it feels like one watches the ship keel in real time, instead of in a quick, artificial manner. This not only means viewers can realise the anarchy that gripped the ship as she went under; it enables one to appreciate the heroics of individuals on the night, such as the officers who sent out distress signals until Titanic’s power failed, and the life-boat stewards, like William Murdoch (who has been incorrectly portrayed as a murderer by Cameron) and Harold Lowe (Ioan Gruffudd – Fantastic I-II, Sanctum, Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box), who lowered as many boats and got as many people into them as possible, amidst the chaos.

And because Cameron has so much time, he also properly shows us the cowardice of others, like Bruce Ismay (Jonathan Hyde – The Mummy, The Tailor of Panama, Spooks), who wanted headlines so badly he imperilled the ship he named (ironically immortalising Titanic), and Edward J. Smith (Bernard Hill – The Lord of the Rings II-III, Valkyrie, Paranorm), the reckless and dithering captain, who at least had the dignity to go down with the vessel.

On the whole, the actors play their parts well, particularly Kate Winslet (even though she recently came out saying that her acting could have been better and she has a point), Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Billy Zane and Kathy Bates (Misery, Midnight In Paris, Starbright), as the ‘unsinkable’ Molly Brown.

However, the cast’s performances are often undermined by risible dialogue. The worst offender, by a distance, is Leonardo DiCaprio. (Not that Winslet does herself much credit by shrieking “Jack” frequently.) DiCaprio’s ability to spew out contrived lines in a desperate voice is almost an embarrassment to the victims of the disaster.

Dialogue may not be one of Cameron’s specialities (Avatar illustrated that), but as a director he cannot be questioned. The impeccable way Titanic has been filmed and flows are testimony to this. That the movie’s set is huge and that one hardly notices the numerous special effects give clout to this (apart from a couple of poor CGI shots of the bow’s nose).

After sounding like a wounded animal as water flooded the bow and lower levels, the weight of the ship’s stern finally takes its toll on the vessel, breaking it in two.

Alas, the 3D does not effectively aid the film. It is not that effort hasn’t been put in. Rather, Titanic is not the type of film wherein the 3D can enhance scenes much, other than when people are falling from the stern as the giant propellers rise monstrously from the water.

All-in-all, Titanic is an enchanting film that gives us a window into a by-gone era. The film brilliantly details many of the complexities of early-twentieth century society, with moving music and special effects that are as magnificent as the ship that left Southampton. But the movie also does the tragedy justice, pointing out the valour of some and the pusillanimity of others. This is why the fate of the ‘unsinkable’ ship will forever have the power to captivate.

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Review – Take Shelter (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Often, when it comes to a descent into insanity, one is clueless that he/she is no longer behaving in a ‘normal’ way (whatever that means); it is only those around the ‘crazy’ individual that are aware of his/her madness. This is apparent in films like Shutter Island and Black Swan. The drama Take Shelter, despite being lame in comparison to those aforementioned movies, deals interestingly with the opposite.

Curtis (Michael Shannon) looking at some dark storm clouds with concern. This is what convinces him to build a storm shelter, even if he cannot afford it.

Based in a small town in Ohio, Curtis (Michael Shannon – Vanilla Sky, Machine Gun Preacher, Man of Steel), a man in his middle-thirties, is a construction-site worker. He may live in a decent-sized house and his life might ostensibly look like it is going well, but behind the scenes things are not so rosy. Curtis’s relationship with his wife, Sam (Jessica Chastain – The Debt, The Help, Coriolanus), has become strained due to some financial difficulties, as well as emotional stresses concerning their deaf daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart).

Soon, Curtis starts having apocalyptic nightmares and visions of a gas storm that will destroy the town and its inhabitants. Fearing for his family, he builds an impenetrable storm shelter. The trouble for Curtis is that no-one else is concerned about this impending storm, and his mother, Sarah (Kathy Baker – Edward Scissorhands, Machine Gun Preacher, Against The Wall), was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in her early thirties. Curtis is aware of this and worries that he is suffering from the same mental illness. But is this the case?

Sam (Jessica Chastain) makng breakfast for her family. She wonders why her husband has become so distant to her in recent times.

The plot for Take Shelter is simple and easy to follow. Audiences will have little difficulty in differentiating when they’re watching reality and Curtis’s dreams, since the dreams tend to be darker than real world (yet surprising not disturbing). However, as a result of needing to fix the film round Curtis, the director, Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Mud), focuses too greatly upon Curtis at the expense of the other main characters, Sam and Hannah. Indeed, neither Sam’s nor Hannah’s problems are even touched upon, which has the consequence of making them virtually irrelevant to the storyline. This is bizarre and undermines the movie’s realism.

Furthermore, Take Shelter is slow-paced and some parts of the plot go by the way side, such as Sam’s need for (breast?) implants (which would have been a good opportunity to delve into some of Sam’s insecurities), whilst the ending is a cheap stunt to make one rethink the entire movie. Also, considering the music throughout is either an ominous, yet anticipatory, beat or a boding-doom thud, one waits expectantly for the climax, like in Black Swan, or for the revelatory twist, such as in Shutter Island. But it never arrives, which is extremely frustrating.

Viewer’s frustration is likely to be exacerbated by the film’s length. At 121 minutes Take Shelter is quite long, and the movie feels longer still because of the artistic style that Nichols has employed. In theory, there is nothing wrong with this style, but for a film about psychological disorders it may not have been the most sensible method to choose. Too many scenes have little action or dialogue, and when there is dialogue it can often have prolonged gaps and be devoid of emotion. The lack of outburst from any of the two main adult characters seems odd too (and perhaps improbable) considering the emotional strains and financial pressures that they’re under. Maybe if Nichols had taken inspiration from the emotive drama, Revolutionary Road, Take Shelter would have been considerably better.

The family in the shelter after hearing the storm siren. Such is Curtis’s paranoia that he even bought his family the most up-to-date gas masks in the case of a storm.

In Revolutionary Road, Frank (Leonardo Dicaprio) and April (Kate Winslet) had depth and the power to make audiences empathise with their respective feelings and predicaments. In contrast, here, Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain perform with a remarkable lack of intensity, plus there appears to be no love or antipathy between the married couple (even though they constantly remind us of their love for each other). The acting is not poor and it gets better as the film goes on; yet, it is a far cry from the exceptional performances in any of the aforementioned movies.

Over-all, Take Shelter shows us that people with psychological disorders can realise, to a limited extent, that they are veering towards ‘insanity.’ It is just irritating that the film is quite uneventful, tedious and lacks the strong performances necessary to put it on a par with Black Swan or Revolutionary Road.

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Review – Contagion (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2/5

In the Middle Ages, pestilence and plague were semi-regular occurrences. Every fifteen years or so, the grim reaper would appear in the form of the Black Death and scythe down a not insignificant percentage of populations across Europe. Again, in 1918, after World War I (WWI), the world was struck by another form of pestilence: the ‘Spanish Flu’, which killed one percent of the then-world population. Despite being over-all quite poor, Contagion shows us once more that mankind is still not immune to new diseases and viruses.

Mitch (Matt Damon) in shock after suddenly losing his wife to the epidemic.

Contagion is a medical thriller about a virus that rapidly spreads across the world. The first known death in America is that of Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow – Se7en, Shakespeare In Love, The Avengers Assemble), who returns home to her family and husband, Mitch (Matt Damon – True Grit, The Adjustment Bureau, Elysium), from a trip to Hong Kong only to have a seizure and die soon afterwards. Rapidly, more people become infected. There is no cure for the virus either, and around one in four people are expected to become infected. (Although, one in three people who become infected are expected to survive.)

Scientists, from across the world, led by Atalanta-based Dr. Ellis Cheevers (Laurence Fishburne – Apocalypse Now, The Matrix I-III, Man of Steel) and his team, work hard to find an antidote. Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet – Titanic, The Reader, Steve Jobs) uses her knowledge to try and slow down the spread of the virus, whilst working in the field. Dr. Leonara Orantes (Marion Cotillard – Public Enemies, Midnight In Paris, The Dark Knight Rises) works with a team in Hong Kong to establish where the virus came from in order to facilitate the creation of an antidote.

But until an antidote has been tested sufficiently and is safe, nothing can be distributed. In the meantime, indirectly egged-on by a conspiratorially-inclined blogger called Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law – Enemy At The Gates, The Holiday, Side Effects), social order breaks down.

Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle), a scientist under Dr. Ellis Cheevers, working hard in the laboratory to try and create an antidote.

The plot for Contagion has been done in a documentary style, similar to Cloverfield (albeit, without the camera wobbling). This entails that one watches the effects of the virus upon people and societies over a series of days. One images that the director, Steven Soderburgh (Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s Eleven & Ocean’s Twelve, Side Effects), did this to give the film a more realistic feel. If so, he succeeds. As a corollary of the realism, the speed at which the virus transmits and kills people has the impact of frightening the audience (in probably the same way that bubonic plague used to terrify people in Medieval times). Also, the timing of the chaos that subsequently unfolds, as a result of panic by those who have not yet been infected, seems quite natural. It is quite conceivable for law and order to collapse under the pressures that Contagion puts forward.

However, many aspects of the storyline are either left unexplained or fall by the wayside, which undermines the film considerably. Moreover, as the movie has no central protagonist, one cannot build any sympathy or empathy (or care) for any of the characters. Worse, the dialogue, at times, sounds contrived (if not risible) and none of the actors play particularly well. Even the normally excellent Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne and Matt Damon do not do themselves justice here.

Allan Krumwiede (Jude Law), wearing a ridiculous ‘wannabe’ Buzz Lightyear outfit so he doesn’t contract the virus, spreading his new-found insight about why the government has not distributed the cure as yet onto a random car.

Due to the lack of a dominant performer, the audience may struggle to maintain interest in the film. At 106 minutes, Contagion is an average length for a movie; yet, viewers may find themselves yawning or looking at their watches (long) before it is over, which is never a good sign for a film. Not even the music, which adopts a standard fast beat for much of the movie, has the ability to keep the audience’s eyes concentrated on the screen for long.

On the whole, Contagion has many deficient features, as several of the sub-stories are forgotten about and there is a distinct lack of a central and well-defined character. Nevertheless, Contagion appears scarily realistic and shows us that, irrespective of how advanced medical treatment may be, humanity is still potentially defenceless against new and ever-mutating epidemics.

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