Another Look at ‘Steve Jobs’

 

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Anthony Kirby finds a lot to like in Steve Jobs

 

Steve Jobs was something of an enigma. He easily packed five lifetimes into his fifty six years. Perhaps because of early rejection as a child, or a chemical brain imbalance, he lacked social graces and was inordinately cruel to immediately family and many of his closest associates. He had a genius comprehension of mathematical concepts and computer logic, spoke at sixty words to the dozen and had no interest in money or worldly possessions. At one point in the film John Scully (Jeff Daniels) C.E.O. of Apple Corporation visits Job’s home and complains that the company founder, then worth $44 Million, has only a king-sized bed and no other furniture.

In an aside about half way through the drama, Jobs, the son of an Iranian father and German/American Catholic mother, confesses that his first adoptive parents returned him when he was just a few months old. “They wanted a girl,” he said. “My mother wanted my adoptive parents to be university graduates. My adoptive father was a military and later civilian auto mechanic.” However, Jobs bonded with his adoptive father and loved building fences, etc. with him. His parents were Calvinists, which probably explains his work ethic and intransigence.

The film is more a pastiche of Job’s life than a biopic. A full accounting of Jobs would require twice the screen-time. The film does not cover Jobs’ period as Primary Investor and C.E.O. of Pixar Inc. or his interest in the Disney Corporation. The picture covers three pivotal points in the genius’ life. The launch of the original Macintosh in 1984. The NEXT Computer developed during Jobs’ period away from Apple and unveiled in 1988, and the original iMac of 1998. Each scene ends with Jobs at centre stage.

As a college student Jobs encountered Steve Wozniak and Chris-Ann Brennan. Jobs and Wozniak developed the Apple Computer in his garage. Chris-Ann who was briefly Jobs’ mistress had a daughter Lisa whom she claimed was his. Even following D.N.A. testing Jobs disputed this. In the film’s first  scene, shot in 16mm, Jobs is visited by fragile Chris-Ann (Katherine Waterston). She and Lisa, not able to live on the court mandated $385.00, are about to go on welfare. Jobs, preoccupied with the product launch, shouts at Chris-Ann and only backs down when his personal assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) quietly impresses on him that regardless of his animosity to her mother  there’s a five-year-old child who believes you’re her father and loves you.” Listening to this plea Jobs backs down, ups Chris-Ann’s monthly stipend to $500.00 and lodges enough money in her account to buy a modest house. However, he’s still angry and when little Lisa asks him “ Daddy did you call the Lisa computer after me? “ he replies “ No sweetheart, L.I.S.A. stands for Local Integrated Software Architecture” This to a sensitive five year old! Then when Lisa does an abstract drawing on the computer he says, “Picasso did similar drawings with paper and Indian ink.” Even allowing for the pressure Jobs was under this interchange showed how ill-equipped he was as a parent.

Jobs expected to be Time’s Man of the Year for 1984, however, on learning of Jobs’ dispute with Ms. Brennan, Time changed the story to a feature on Apple Corporation. Screen-writer Sorkin discussed his screenplay with Lisa, now 37, “she’s the hero of the film,” he says.

Act two of the film deals with the launch of the NEXT Computer. Lisa is again backstage. She points out that the NEXT Computer frame isn’t a perfect cube. She’s actually measured it with a ruler. Jobs takes time to tell her that “a perfect cube doesn’t photograph well with regards to television, honey.” Their relationship appears to have improved, however, when Lisa hugging him around his waist asks if she can live with him, he doesn’t respond.

Sadly the NEXT Computer isn’t a financial success selling only to universities. Jobs has other irons in the fire, which leads us into Act III.

Close to bankruptcy, Apple Corporation’s Board invite Jobs back as C.E.O. in 1997. He develops the first iMac, and begins the launch in the spring of 1998. Confident as everm he predicts sales of half a million units in the first month and 20,000 a month thereafter. An associate comes back stage armed with a top secret file not to be shown to Jobs: it’s from a business prediction agency. Jobs persuades the associate to show him the file. The business forecast agency predictions are the same as Jobs’.

Joanna Hoofman (Winslet), who is the only confidant who can consistently get through to him, intimates that if he doesn’t somehow make peace with Lisa she’ll leave him and hide somewhere never to be found. “I mean this, Steve, if you don’t make peace with Lisa, I’m history. This has gone on far too long.”

Steve Jobs does eventually make peace with Lisa who watches the launch of the iMac backstage. Later as Lisa goes to pick up her Volkswagen Beatle Jobs notes that she’s wearing a cumbersome Walkman. “Why are you still listening to music on that device, Lisa? I’ll make a listening device that can access 500 pieces of music.”

Arron Sorkin (The West Wing) is a master dramatist, however, this Hollywood style ending is the only scene in the film that doesn’t ring true to this reviewer but that doesn’t take away from a wonderful script that is directed to perfection and filled with great performances.

Fassbender himself forgoes a makeup makeover and doesn’t look like the real Steve Jobs. However, he brilliantly captures his genius and conflicted personality and gives a brilliant, nuanced performance.

 

Anthony Kirby

 

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Review: Steve Jobs|

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DIR: Danny Boyle • WRI: Aaron Sorkin • PRO: Danny Boyle, Guymon Casady, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon, Lauren Lohman, Scott Rudin • ED: Elliot Graham • DOP: Alwin H. Küchler • DES: Guy Hendrix Dyas • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • CAST: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen

 

In regards to the biopic film, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs|is a breath of fresh air, albeit a breath that their actors seldom get in this backstage linguistic battle royale. Their portrayal of Steve Jobs doesn’t follow the tedious and meandering cradle-to-the-grave format, but actually abbreviates the narrative into three separate acts respectively – 1984, 1988, 1998 – all commencing minutes before a major product launch. And like the three acts of a stage play, this film relies on talking… a lot of talking. And like playwrights before him – Mamet, Chayefsky, Shakespeare – Sorkin boasts his own trademark dialogue.

Straight out the gate and we’re riddled with rapid Sorkin rat-a-tat spitfire, piercing and deflating any notion of exposition, as we play keep-up with Fassbender’s Jobs and his backstage world. We follow him, mostly by tracking shot, through corridors as characters from his work and personal life berate him about his lack of empathy. He talks down to his work colleagues, threatens his friends, his ex-girlfriend and daughter are on welfare despite his wealth – anyone who comes into contact with the man becomes miserable… I mean this guy’s a real jerk!

His closest confidant is Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), a marketing executive, and in ways, his guardian angel, who acts as his conscience constantly urging him to do the right thing for his daughter and ultimately himself. Apple CEO, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), is somewhat a father figure, a close friend until the Apple began to rot. Apple co-founder and friend Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) pops by before each of the three launches to support Jobs and ask him to acknowledge the Apple II team. The recurring sentimentality throughout the film is Jobs’ daughter Lisa, who at first he denies is his, but slowly builds a closer relationship with her throughout the years. A lesser films would have saturated the audience with this sentimentality, but luckily here the filmmakers keep their protagonist as unlikable as possible.  

The characters walk and talk in breakneck speed, accompanied by Daniel Pemberton’s lavish score – a fusion of operatic classical and techno burps – that sounds like Beethoven and Kraftwerk had a few too many and stuck the DO-NOT-DISTURB sign up. The high tempo dialogue always keeps the audience alert and on their toes. There’s a sense of emergence about it. Danny Boyle’s sleek, yet uncharacteristically subtle, direction compliments Sorkin’s pace and overall Steve Jobs’ minimalist style and vision. Boyle incorporates colourful visual distortions into the few moments of silence we get. Another little touch Boyle brought to the movie was filming the three acts in different formats -16mm, 35mm and digital, an artistic stroke that Jobs probably would of lapped up like a dog.

The style that Boyle and Sorkin convey is like that of an Apple product – compressed, precise, dynamic, icey, minimal – all subtle characteristics that Jobs utilised when marketing and releasing a new computer. As the most quoted line in the movie – “musicians play their instruments, I play the orchestra” – exclaims, Jobs was a man who needed to be in control. The film suggests that he was a man who was afraid to delve too deep professionally and personally. He felt in control about how he marketed and presented, the bigger picture, the vision, but when it got complicated in IT or with his ex-girlfriend and daughter he couldn’t cope or understand. He wasn’t a man of tech or science, but a man who knew how to manipulate the people, stay ahead of the curve and adapt his vision to the culture.

Fassbender doesn’t resemble Jobs physically, unlike Ashton Kutcher, whose personal admiration for the man and bad acting hurt his feature. What Fassbender brings to the role is sheer energy, whether firing off some Sorkin dingers or utilising great physicality to compliment the erratic dialogue. He doesn’t have to rely on his appearance for the role because he delves deeper in himself to find the character. He has a great cast to support him too, specifically Kate Winslet, whose subtle Polish accent is right on point. Seth Rogen’s performance is modest, which is a great relief and Jeff Daniels straight corporate demeanor fits the bill. There’s one scene in particular between Fassbender and Daniels that is the verbal equivalent of a western showdown. The volume of the score heightens, as cuts to flashbacks help push the argument forward, raising the dramatic ambience as the two characters scream at each other.

Critics have acknowledged the film’s Shakespearean overtones, but I haven’t seen anyone mention Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Jobs being the wealthy entrepreneurial-tech Ebenezer Scrooge, who lacks empathy and is visited by friends and enemies who either want a favour or want to help. Has a few flashbacks to a time before the megalomania and it take three acts to slightly redeem him. Or in more recent years, Sorkin’s Steve Jobs anti-hero characterisation can be compared to There Will Be Blood’s Daniel Plainview – another man so professionally driven that he becomes isolated from people.

Some have criticised Steve Jobs| of relying too heavily on style and cartoonish dialogue rather than conveying a true depiction of the man, as if all the epic sentimental biopics have it down to a tee. This isn’t a documentary, it’s a fictional film based on true events and the filmmakers made the right decision to narrow the focus down to three important events in Jobs’  professional career, whilst intertwining elements of his personal and ultimately pursuing a day-in-a-life portrayal of the man. Others have complained about Sorkin’s snappy dialogue, criticising it for being unrealistic because people in real life don’t speak like it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to listen to tech jargon spoon fed to me in Bob Geldof mode for two hours. I want it razor-sharp and potent so it grabs me and pulls me into its accelerated world. I don’t want to remain docile, I need to adapt.

Sorkin has proved to be one of the most distinctive voices in television and film dialogue working today bearing a strong sense of high-speed energy within his body of work. For Boyle, this is a nicely understated return, abandoning his trademark kinetic visuals and adapting a more subtle approach in order to accommodate Sorkin’s writing. The result is  a well crafted and precise three-act farcical algorithm with a sharp silver tongue. iReally liked it (I am sorry).

Cormac O’Meara

15A
122 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Steve Jobs| is released 13th November 2015

Steve Jobs| – Official Website

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A Little Chaos

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DIR: Alan Rickman • WRI: Jenny Brock, Alison Deegan, Alan Rickman • PRO: Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan, Bertrand Faivre • DOP: Ellen Kuras • ED: Nicolas Gaster • MUS: Peter Gregson • DES: James Merifield • CAST: Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Ehle, Helen McCrory
 
It has taken celebrated British actor Alan Rickman eighteen years to follow up his 1997 directorial debut, the critically acclaimed The Winter Guest, adapted by Sharman Macdonald’s mood-evoking Scottish play of the same name. Such a directing hiatus by Rickman, along with an expansive acting legacy, would possibly suggest that Rickman’s passion for his craft is better served in front of the camera rather than behind it. His second outing as director, however, sees him marry the role with that of actor in A Little Chaos, a 17th century period drama, which tells the story of lowly-widowed landscape gardener, Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet), who secures a contract to design one of the principal gardens at The Palace of Versailles.

 

When King Louis XIV (Rickman) determines that The Palace of Versailles should be an enviable symbol of French imperial resplendence, he commissions an extravagant reconstruction of one of its gardens under the charge of esteemed landscape artist André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) who submits the contract out to tender amongst the elite of French artistic nobility. As the only female contender for the contract and with her artistic ideals severely conflicting with Le Notre’s vision, Sabine is confounded when she secures the coveted indenture, despite overwhelming derisive indignation from her male adversaries. As the mammoth project commences, Sabine battles gender and class barriers, professional sabotage and personal suffering to commence or even execute the majestic project, all whilst resisting a burgeoning sexual attraction to her married employer, le Notre.

 

With such a notable cast, steered by Winslet, who routinely favours intelligent and formidable female roles, Sabine de Barra should be another character of this ilk to augment her illustrious acting repertoire. Sabine de Barra’s awareness of her gender and class limitations and her position as a recent widow does not place her as an embittered or embattled feminist attempting to unleash feminist aspirations on her privileged masculine contemporaries. Rather she is a humble and gracious artist in her own right, in a specific era, who excels in her artistic skill and vision. Yet, feminist aspirations or otherwise, her procurement of the coveted Versailles contract, above the pestiferous elite, does place her within the feminist bracket and it is this trajectory that should drive the narrative in A Little Chaos. The plot, however, of a 17th century subaltern, transgressing the impenetrable demarcations of privileged masculine courtier positions at the French royal court and French society overall, has been abandoned in favour of a trite and predictable love story, alas making A Little Chaos quite a regrettable affair through missed opportunity and Winslet’s decision to undertake the unsatisfying role, simply baffling.

 

The plot and character development of Sabine de Barra, which may have initially appealed to Winslet, owing to a feminine victory over patriarchal social structures, is wholly abandoned and the narrative evolves into a love affair between a noble man and a subordinate woman, an affair that is implausible, farcical and simply too convenient. The mammoth undertaking in reconstructing the gardens, the incessant sabotage in her efforts and Sabine’s trauma at losing her husband and child in tragic circumstances are introduced but are never fully developed or psychologically explored. Undoubtedly Winslet submits her consistently dependable performance and whilst it is nuanced and evenly balanced between determined artist and vulnerable widow when necessary, there is a sense that Winslet is desperately seeking more of an acting challenge that the script does just not allow. Indeed, the role of Sabine is reminiscent of her earlier period work when she was finding her niche as a serious dramatic actress.

 

There are good solid turns from the supporting cast, with a great comedic turn from a giddy Jennifer Ehle as Madame De Montespan and Stanley Tucci as the mincing Philippe d’Orleans. Helen McCrory shines as the snarling, embittered wife of Le Notre and Rickman himself is perfect as the emotionally guarded but sympathetic King Louis XIV but there is a palpable sense that Rickman is yearning to get out from behind the camera and remain in front of it.

 

As expected from a BBC Films costume drama, the production design is exquisite, with faultless, lavish production values. However, there is a sense that the production itself is more on a par with the British aristocracy of the 17th century than the renowned wanton French court of the same era. It is all rather too restraint and temperate an affair, hugely lacking the decadence and opulence of French aristocratic life. Innuendo rather than actuality becomes a safety net on the back of a rather lacklustre plot with a distinct lack of dramatic climax. A Little Chaos is just too cosy, too safe and simply too spiritless.

 

A Little Chaos should be about a lowly but talented young woman’s penetration of the gender and social barriers of the 17th century but in essence it is a formulaic love story. Sabine may appear to challenge gender and class stereotypes as a non-noble woman overcoming female subordination but Sabine’s role as a woman essentially remains contained within her era and she remains defined by the men of her past, present and future. The film is a passable, if not a slightly chaotic effort by Rickman as a director and it leaves one wondering if it will be another eighteen years before he goes behind the camera again.

Dee O’Donoghue

 

15A (See IFCO for details)

116 minutes

A Little Chaos is released 17th April 2015

 

A Little Chaos – Official Website

 

 

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Cinema Review: Divergent

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DIR: Neil Burger • WRI: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor • PRO: Lucy Fisher, John J. Kelly, Pouya Shabazian, Douglas Wick • DOP: Alwin H. Küchler • ED: Richard Francis-Bruce, Nancy Richardson • MUS: Junkie XL • DES: Andy Nicholson • CAST: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Maggie Q, Miles Teller, Zoe Kravitz, Ashley Judd
Whether you’re a preteen girl, an Alexander Payne fan, or just watch a lot of adaptations of bestselling novels, Shailene Woodley has likely made some impression on you as a charismatic up-and-comer. From her roots on television in The Secret Life of the American Teenager to her breakout roles in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, Woodley is now making a play for the young adult dystopian franchise with Divergent, a title which, when accompanying this particular film, appears wildly ambitious.

Based on the first in a series of novels by Veronica Roth, Divergent is set in a future dystopian Chicago in which society is sorted into five groups, or factions, based on personality types: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the kind and pacifistic; Candour, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the intelligent. So far, so Harry Potter. Divergent’s version of the Sorting Hat sees the city’s 16-year-olds take a test determining the faction to which one is best-suited. While they are theoretically free to deviate from the recommended result at the subsequent choosing ceremony, they can be disowned and left factionless if they don’t fit into their new group – becoming, essentially, homeless vagabonds.

Divergent’s heroine, Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior (Woodley), is told by the test co-ordinator, Tori, (Maggie Q) that her results are inconclusive, as she has the attributes of several factions, making her a Divergent type. Tori urges her to conceal this information, as Divergents are considered a threat to the status quo due to their unpredictable way of thinking. At the choosing ceremony, Tris joins the Dauntless faction, the soldier/warrior group who make up the law enforcement and military of Chicago. The film follows her subsequent battle to simultaneously stand out and fit in to her new role.

Divergent does things by-the-book, and unfortunately, that book (Divergent by Veronica Roth) is little better than a vague, elementary mish-mash of tropes from young-adult and science-fiction literature: A ‘Chosen One’; a beautiful, moody love interest; a bullying rival; a family, torn apart; secret identities and allegiances; political manoeuvring and corrupt government; and a rite of passage during which one must endure frankly startling violence. The sheer quantity of themes and motifs Divergent introduces means that none are developed with any nuance, and it feels like the film is trying to do far too much.

The premise is weak – while the idea of testing for and choosing one’s path in life from a relatively clueless teenage perspective makes for a passable allegory, it’s hard to grasp that the incredibly reductive faction system could actually hold sway for a hundred years, even in a ‘post-war’ culture of fear briefly alluded to in the opening narration. Although, when the characters presented in Divergent are as one-dimensional as the factions demand them to be, maybe it’s not that much of a stretch. It does, however, feel like lazy storytelling.

A number of stars, rising and risen, populate the cast of Divergent. The best of these, (aside from Woodley, who is doing her best with the material) is Kate Winslet as Jeanine Matthews, the icy, Aryan-looking Erudite leader with a steadfast belief in the faction system. Perhaps because of her status as a beloved English Rose, (or as the beloved American Rose of Titanic?) Winslet rarely appears in villainous roles, but if anything good comes of Divergent, it’s the proof that she is well-able to imbue even the flimsiest of evil characters with equal parts officious pomp and underlying malevolent intent. Sadly, the aforementioned weak characterisation of almost every character in the film at the expense of plot or narrative convenience, fails to elicit any other standout performances.

At a snip under 140 minutes, the film’s runtime is epically long – it matches that of Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic Noah, also out this week.  Yet a little research reveals this kind of runtime is in line with its current generic contemporaries: Hunger Games: Catching Fire runs at a staggering 146 minutes, while Mortal Instruments: City of Bones clocks in at a slightly less bum-numbing 130 minutes. Is this some sort of attempt to correct our preteen girls’ technologically-shortened attention spans? Once again, it feels like lazy storytelling, throwing a dozen narrative elements at the wall to see what sticks and not editing down the difference.

While star power may draw audiences to Divergent – its leading man, Theo Jame,s may have the bone structure and smoulder to usurp Robert Pattinson on Tumblrs everywhere –the film’s creative choices, or lack thereof, fail to distinguish it in an already crowded genre. Divert your course elsewhere this week.

Stacy Grouden

12A (See IFCO for details)
139 mins

Divergent is released on 4th April 2014

Divergent – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Labor Day

DIR/WRI: Jason Reitman  • PRO: Helen Estabrook. Lianne Halfon, Jason Reitman, Russell Smith, Nicole C. Taylor • DOP: Eric Steelberg • ED: Dana E. Glauberman • DES: Steve Saklad • CAST: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Tobey Maguire, Brooke Smith

With Labor Day, Jason Reitman writes and directs an adaptation of a novel by Joyce Maynard, continuing his shift from comedies to more serious fare. It’s a labour of love, but not entirely successful.

 

In 1987, Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin), convicted for murder, escapes prison and shacks up with Adele (Kate Winslet) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffin). Fugitive Frank may be just the father figure that Henry needs. His manly presence may also help Adele recover from her long depression.

 

Adele has become a broken woman through the absence of her husband Gerald (Clark Gregg), the father of her son. Her hands shake, and she relies too much on her young Henry, who starts a coupon book as he plays her “husband for a day”. Adele explains that “there is another kind of hunger, a hunger for human touch, desire”. Clearly, Henry cannot provide that.

 

Frank’s arrival presents an opportunity to fill the void. Though he’s a convicted killer on the run, he maintains that he didn’t intend to hurt anyone. He ties Adele up, but it’s only for appearance. Brolin, who dominates the film, is a menacing presence in his early scenes, but it turns out he just wants a family too. He starts taking on the chores not done in a man’s absence: repairing the car and the furnace, fixing that squeaky door, cleaning gutters and changing tyres. He sees that the guy selling firewood has taken advantage of Adele, leaving her short. He teaches Henry as he goes about this work and trains him in batting for baseball. It becomes clear that Frank should satisfy Adele’s hunger. He has come to save her.

 

Labor Day feels like it should be a thriller, but it descends into a dull romance with conservative conceptions of gender roles. It features an elaborate sequence in which the newly-formed family bakes a peach tart. As they put the pastry on the top of the filling, Frank asks Adele to help him to “put a roof on this house”, an unsubtle metaphor.

 

Jason Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman (director of Ghostbusters), made his mark with the witty Thank You for Smoking before making an even bigger impression with a series of tart comedy/dramas, Juno, Up in the Air and Young Adult. Labor Day is a beautifully crafted film, nicely shot, with Rolfe Kent’s atmospheric score giving the film an edge that complement’s Brolin’s work.

 

But Reitman maintains Henry’s first-person narration from Maynard’s novel, with Tobey Maguire providing Henry’s adult voice, and he develops Frank’s back-story with wordless flashbacks. Adele later recounts her history to Frank, but Reitman’s structure diffuses his focus across three main characters, and it takes so long for Adele’s voice to come through that Henry and Frank dominate, and Adele’s character lacks development. Winslet has little to do, and when Adele has her chance to make more of an impression, her character becomes even more defined by how motherhood contributes to female identity.

 

It could have added up to a nicely judged psychosexual drama, but Labor Day finishes pregnant with possibility and fails to deliver.

 

John Moran

12A (See IFCO for details)
110 mins

Labor Day is released on 21st March 2014

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Cinema Review: Titanic

DIR/WRI: James Cameron • PRO: James Cameron, Jon Landau • DOP: Russell Carpenter • ED: Conrad Buff IV, James Cameron, Richard A. Harris • Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

According to my calculations, with a worldwide gross of $1.8 billion and home video/DVD sales of several million units, if you’re reading this then you’ve probably already seen this film. But despite claims that director James Cameron and Fox are just after the money with this re-release, it is hard to complain about it being back on the big screen, as the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic (ooooooh… did I just give the end away?). Indeed, you would hope that All Quiet on the Western Front will be back in cinemas between 2014 and 2018. How could we not return to Saving Private Ryan in June 2044?

The question therefore is should it have been re-released in 3D. Indeed, it’s been a struggle for most critics to not use this film’s resurgence to argue for or against 3D – sure what does it matter what we think about the film at this stage?!

Well you’re going to find now anyway. Let’s start at the beginning… In a 20 minute prologue that is arguably more interesting than the rest of the film, oceanographer Bill Paxton searches the wreckage of the ill-fated liner for a magnificent diamond that by all historical records and archaeological morality deserves to be in a museum in France. A clue leads him to centenarian Rose (Gloria Stuart), who was aboard the Titanic and owned the diamond. She proceeds to tell a very lengthy story about the ship’s sinking which features a surprising number of scenes that she was not present for and could therefore have no means of recounting them accurately.

Over the next three hours, posh Rose (Kate Winslet) meets poor Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), they fall in love, plan to run away together, and then the ship sinks. Various minor characters insist on stealing scenes from the leads.

Revisiting Titanic after more than 10 years, a number of things strike you. How baby-faced Leo looks. How glowing Winslet was back then (it’s a very different glow to the one she has now). How truly godawful the dialogue is (it’s not that the “something Picasso” line is bad, it’s that it takes three more uncomfortable lines to explain the joke). How delightfully hammy Billy Zane is as the jilted fiancé. How much more Victor Garber resembles Enda Kenny when he does an Irish lilt.

Most shocking however is how well spread out the film is. It is extremely long, but like the best epics it never feels particularly boring. Indeed, the Titanic strikes the iceberg a little over 90 minutes into the film, barely halfway through proceedings! This leaves a huge amount of time for the admittedly spectacular, perfectly drawn-out sinking of the colossal ship. Say what you will about James Cameron (suggestions include: ‘His dialogue is laughable’, ‘His messages are delivered ham-fistedly’), but he can do grand spectacle like few others.

So, now that you’ve been reminded why you loved or hated the film originally, let’s deal with this 3D issue. A lot is riding on the reception of Titanic in 3D. Cameron created the current appetite for 3D amongst the masses – an appetite perceived by Hollywood as being perhaps bigger than it actually is – with Avatar, another film you probably saw. Desperate to jump on the bandwagon after Avatar, Hollywood pumped out a number of 3D films that were digitally made 3D in post-production, a method referred to as retro-fitting. 2010’s Clash of the Titans was the first of these films to emerge, and was slated for its cardboard pop-out look. While its sequel Wrath of the Titans is now being praised for being shot in 3D, it seems little has improved in the world of retro-fitting, even with the master of 3D James Cameron in charge.

Titanic 3D is flat and ugly. The characters stand out from the background like marionette puppets, but without any of the definition and depth that creates a real three-dimensional face. Worse still, the film makes regular use of focus pulls and depth-of-field trickery, causing 3D blurs to clutter up the imagery. This is most noticeable near the film’s beginning, as the Titanic leaves port at Southampton and throngs of out-of-focus people pass by the camera as Rose and Jack make their ways aboard. The 3D creates the illusion that these dashing blurs are closer to you, naturally causing your eye to attempt to focus (in vain) on them and drawing your gaze away from the action and principal characters.

Fans of 3D action will be similarly disappointed. The collapsing of the ship happens mostly side-on, so there is very little cause to duck or dodge objects ‘coming right at you’. Worse still, in the wide shots of the ship, the 3D causes the digital persons walking on the decks to stand out, revealing them more clearly as dated computer creations. Titanic’s seams are showing.

In the end, it is what it is, a brilliantly produced movie based on a clumsy, patronising screenplay. You already know if you like it or not, but the 3D will take away from that either way.

David Neary

 Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Titanic is released on 6th April 2012

Titanic – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Carnage

DIR:  Roman Polanski • WRI: Yasmina Reza • PRO: Saïd Ben Saïd • DOP: Pawel Edelman • ED: Hervé de Luze • DES: Dean Tavoularis • Cast: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz

Roman Polanski’s first feature film Knife in the Water, which is 50 years old this year, is a masterpiece of power plays and claustrophobia. Carnage is not that, but it does play on the same ideas as Polanski’s debut, and succeeds to a large degree.

The film begins with a scuffle between children in a Brooklyn park that results in one child swiping at the other with a large stick. As the film’s drama opens we are in the apartment home of the victim, and the parents of both parties are hashing out an agreement about responsibility for the incident. The victim’s parents, nouveau riche and secretly uncultured Michael (John C. Reilly) and his pretentious, politically correct wife, Penelope, scuttle the amicable proceedings when they passive-aggressively imply that the parents of the young aggressor, stressed pacifist Nancy (Kate Winslet) and disinterested corporate lawyer Alan (Christoph Waltz), should pay to repair the damage done to their son’s teeth. Arguments ensue.

What should have been a simple meet-and-greet turns into a day of drunkenness and verbal violence as hosts turn on guests, husbands turn on wives and men and women turn on one another.

Based on Yasmina Reza’s play God of Carnage – a winner of both the Olivier and Tony awards for best play, perhaps the highest honours any theatre piece can achieve – Carnage suffers from its one location structure. While the play can hold the four characters in the apartment for the story’s duration, using that subconscious theatrical device that implies if a character leaves the stage they will somehow cease to exist, the film forces all four to remain in the apartment unnaturally. This is not 12 Angry Men! At one stage Alan refuses to get into the elevator to leave in case he loses phone reception for an important call, and subsequently they stay another hour. There’s only so much disbelief a film audience can be expected to suspend.
What Polanski and Reza, in their adaptation, lose in believability they win back in the performances. Reilly is a keg full of rage just waiting to crack open. Waltz is the manipulative snake we haven’t seen since Inglourious Basterds. The ever-reliable Winslet goes fluidly from repressed to outright hostile as the drinks flow, while Foster gives her best performance since Silence of the Lambs in a role seething with bitterness and resentment.
The film uses its top-notch performers well to bring out the dark comedy and carry the film’s satirical content; the moral here is man is, at heart, a selfish, amoral beast. The savagery of the personal attacks mirrors the childish scuffle they have condemned. Characters seem to care more for their personal belongings than the wellbeing of those around them. Alan is more concerned that a pharmaceutical company he represents may have its reputation damaged than the fact its faulty medicine is killing people.

Unfortunately, all the strengths of this film are largely undermined by the sudden and pointless ending. What possessed Polanski to end the film with an infantile punchline instead of the source material’s acceptance of mankind’s universal failings is beyond comprehension. The ultra-PC conclusion is totally out of keeping with the core of the film, and leaves a bitter aftertaste from what was an otherwise enjoyable adaptation.

Carnage, for all its successes, is a hard film to recommend due to its ending, but it should still be lauded as an entertainment and for its fine performances.

David Neary

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

Carnage is released on 3rd February 2012

Carnage – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxX02-KdsXM

 

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Cinema Review: Contagion

don't touch me I'm matt-damon

DIR: Steven Soderbergh • WRI: Scott Z. Burns • PRO: Gregory Jacobs, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher • DOP: Steven Soderbergh • ED: Stephen Mirrione • DES: Howard Cummings • CAST: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow

Premiered at the recent Venice Film Festival, there’s a huge amount of buzz around Contagion
– so much so that the US release date was brought forward to the weekend of 9/11, a time when people are remembering a terrifying event that affected – and killed – thousands of people.

This marketing tactic might be a lucky coincidence, but either way, does Contagion – a story about the fictional MEV-1 virus that wreaks havoc across the world – live up to the hype? It certainly starts at a breakneck pace with scary scenes that’ll ensure you wash your hands more often and stop touching your face (you do it about 3,000 times a day).

Contagion actually begins with the sound of a cough. It’s Day 2, and in a Chicago airport Beth Emhoff (Paltrow) is calling her lover. She’s been away on business in Hong Kong and is now going home to her husband and kids. Within a day she’s having seizures, and soon after she’s on the slab. They buzzsaw her skull open, check out her brain, and the Medical Examiner says those classic words: ‘Call everyone’.

Her son dies right afterwards too, leaving somehow-immune husband Mitch (Damon) and his daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron) separated by a temporary quarantine and unwilling first witnesses to the fury of an unknown and deadly virus.

Others are falling like flies in London and Hong Kong, and soon the hunt is on to find what’s killing everyone. At the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, head honcho Dr. Ellis Cheever (Fishburne) is trying to stay in control as Homeland Security starts getting twitchy, and Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) is beginning to organize what the mounting numbers of sick and dying are going to need.

As the virus slowly infects the planet, World Health Organization doctor Leonara Orantes (Cotillard) is trying to find Patient Zero: who they were and where they were infected on Day 1, while back in Atlanta in the CDC lab, Dr. Ally Hextall (Ehle) is trying to isolate the virus and find a vaccine.

Out on the streets in San Francisco is Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law, sporting a ridiculous pair of gappy front teeth and showcasing an Australian or possibly South African accent), a blogger and conspiracy theorist who believes the Government and chemical companies are all in cahoots, and that there might be another antidote. He fuels the fire of panic, and soon State borders are closing and the National Guard are on the streets… yet still the death toll rises.

Director Soderbergh brings his slick, crowd-pleasing Ocean’s 11 skills to bear here, setting up a cracking premise quickly and laying the path for a story that promises to have everything; an unseen enemy, a hopeless situation, a cast of heroes fighting for their fellow humans (even if it means their own sacrifice) and a race against time.

We’re in classic disaster movie territory, yet Contagion falls short of the mark because it fails to give anything emotional for the audience to connect too. Sure, people are dying by the truck load – including cast members – but with so many of them in so many places, there’s never enough time to get to know them.

With barely any idea of what’s at stake for them – and what decisions they might make as a result – it’s hard to care that much. Also, sometimes it’s so long before you come back to a character that you’ve not only almost forgotten about them, but didn’t see how they reacted to the escalating disaster: they weren’t frozen in amber, were they?

In attempting to raise the level of tension and make this a film that appeals to everyone across the world – infectious diseases are no respecter of boundaries or oceans – it actually distances the audience, seeming too often to be more of an extreme environmentalist video about ‘what might happen one day.’

The chronic lack of action – it’s all about boardrooms – is a problem too, and at times the film really drags. That’s not a good thing when there’s a parasitic time bomb exploding, soldiers on the streets and people looting and killing – the bubble around the cast needed to be broken.

The much-trumpeted desire to be scientifically accurate but not boring (screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and Soderbergh worked for several weeks with Dr. Ian Lipkin, a scientist renowned for his work on SARS and the West Nile Virus) is something the film accomplishes well, but sadly it isn’t enough to compensate, and instead ends up diverting the human focus even more.

Finally, it stretched credulity beyond the borders of belief when, throughout the film, Matt Damon’s family home always seemed to have electricity, his daughter her mobile phone, and Jude Law his website. In the US at least, hot weather regularly causes power cuts, and everyone knows how often their internet access crashes or their mobiles suddenly cut out, yet in the midst of disaster the Emhoff lights were blazing. Really? With society in chaos and disarray?

It was just another thing that made Contagion far less thrilling – and believable – than it clearly meant to be (and probably really is), so overall it’s an entertaining but forgettable diversion, one that – I admit – did have me shifting in my seat every time someone in the cinema coughed…

James Bartlett

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Contagion is released on 21st October 2011

Contagion – Official Website

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Revolutionary Road

DIR: Sam Mendes • WRI: Justin Haythe • PRO Gina Amoroso, Bobby Cohen, Karen Gehres, John Hart, Sam Mendes, Scott Rudin • DOP: Roger Deakins • ED: Tariq Anwar • DES: Kristi Zea • CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon, Kathryn Hahn

Revolutionary RoadReuniting Titanic’s Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet may seem like a joyous occasion to many an unsuspecting cinemagoer. In truth, Revolutionary Road has no connection to the word joyous, so much so that said cinemagoers may regret ever wanting any such reunion.

Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road has long since been considered classic literature, an insightful look at the unrealised aspirations of Frank and April Wheeler, a married couple unhappily confined to live a life of suburban ‘normality’. The novel reads as a moving portrayal of humanity’s struggle against society. The film reads as a Tennessee Williams’ knock-off. Lost in translation is the insight to these characters, leaving the audience lost in the whirlwind of arguments, moments of temporary happiness, affairs and then some more arguments. This is not helped by the central performances of DiCaprio and Winslet, who had the rather innovative (if largely unsuccessful) idea to play Frank and April Wheeler as a couple so accustomed to their monotonous days that life has become a continual performance. This method affords both actors to give two impressive performances, but leaves the audience without any reliable basis to root for any ‘escape’ discussed by the couple. Surely a simple narration would resolve any such issue? Regardless, without this support, the film develops into a melodramatic offering with a handful of unintentionally laughable moments, more likely to become a camp classic than a critical success similar to Mendes’ last foray into suburban America, American Beauty.

Still, the cast are watchable (especially the Oscar®-nominee Michael Shannon), Mendes’ retains his impressive visuals and its camp quality will undoubtedly be a desirable aspect for many cinemagoers.

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