Saturday, December 7, 2013

Film Review: Jobs

I don't know how to describe this movie. You have to watch it to appreciate... whatever it is. Make no mistake, it is not good. It is not the world's worst movie, but I would not recommend it either.

There were a lot of good names attached to the movie, Ashton Kutcher and Josh Gad among them, and it was selected to close the Sundance Film Festival. But it was not developed by a major studio and had just a $12 million budget. Ultimately it feels cheap and, while ambitious, incomplete.

Story: 2/5 - Look, it's the story of Steve Jobs's life as he drops out of university and founds Apple Computer, gaining clients and investors and turning it into a major industry powerhouse. Unfortunately, the film does not do a good job of telling the story. I hope you didn't want to care when Jobs throws his pregnant girlfriend out of his house and his life, because you don't have any reason to. When he snaps at a friend and the friend tells another character that Jobs has 'changed,' we don't ever really know why. The pacing is awful.

Writing: 1/5 - This scene actually happens: Steve Jobs presents the Apple II at a computer fair, but which I mean he shows the case, says it will revolutionize the industry, then basks in a standing ovation as an actual, I swear to God, electric guitar solo cuts into the overlay. It's that kind of movie.

Acting: 2.5/5 - I don't hate Kutcher. I actually kind of like him. But he's not right for this role. He's game, you can tell he is passionate about his character, but it just doesn't work. The guy who played Kelso can't be the same guy who dumps his pregnant girlfriend and tears a swath of destruction through silicon valley - it's a level of intensity that doesn't make sense for him. There are some other decent performances in the movie: Josh Gas as inventor/co-founder Steve Wozniak, JK Simmons as tech investor Arthur Rock.

Aesthetics - 2/5 - Cinematographer Russell Carpenter won an Oscar in 1997 for Titanic. He's alright, and the movie is shot fairly well. The sets are pretty good, too. What really hurts the movie is the soundtrack. It sounds cheap, and a lot of the editing is poor as well (both audio and visual).

Total Score: 38% - Walter Isaac wrote a fantastic biography of Jobs. Read that. Or wait for the Sony Pictures movie version of it. Just don't watch Jobs.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Monthly Dose of Westeros: Part 7-Sansa Stark

I guess it’s not-so-monthly now...but still, I will be providing my thoughts and predictions for one storyline every month until the show’s return. Since I have read the books, I know what should happen, but several plots seem to be taking turns away from the original material, while others are almost spot on. I will examine these apparent changes/accuracy, and do my best to avoid spoilers in “A Monthly Dose of Westeros”.

Sansa Stark is probably one of the most show's most hated characters. Not because she's a monster like Joffrey  Baratheon or because she burned down Winterfell like Theon Greyjoy or because she orchestrated a mass murder/wedding like Walder Frey and Roose Bolton. Sansa is hated because she's a princess. A lot of people think she's a bitchy little girl who only wants to be princess and get what she wants. But, that's what girls were in medieval times. Noble girls were groomed to be noble women when they grew up. Sansa is a product of her upbringing and that should be a reason to hate her. Sure, she's dumb sometimes, but she has gotten smarter as her situation has gotten worse and worse. Remember, she's being held captive by one of the most evil people in the realm. She's watched her father die, her direwolf lasted a single episode, her sister ran away without her, and her oldest brother and mother are dead, and she was forced to marry a drunken dwarf after being freed from Joffrey. I don't fault her for being stupid sometimes. Actually, she's one of my favorite characters. I love defending her and I do everything in my power to make people understand that Sansa is not that bad. It gets better.

It's difficult to say what's coming up for Sansa without giving too much away, so instead I'll just give a quick recap of season three Sansa and hopefully make this post long enough to allow me to include a bunch of pretty pictures of Sophie Turner. Anyway, Sansa's betrothal to Joffrey was broken off as Margaery Tyrell was brought into the picture. Sansa is still a captive in King's Landing, but Littlefinger has promised that when he leaves the
What a wedding!
city, he would bring her along with him. Sansa then meets up with Loras Tyrell, who she has a major crush on, and the two get along swimmingly. Unfortunately for Sansa, Loras is gay and also about to be forced to marry Cersei. This is when things get weird. Tyrion Lannister is now being forced to marry Sansa and has to break the news to her in front of Shae. On top of this, Littlefinger departs for the Vale without Sansa and she starts to cry. Then Tyrion and Sansa have a nice wedding, he chooses not to bed her until she's ready, and Shae appreciates that. Sansa and Tyrion begin to understand one another better and actually get along pretty well. Sansa doesn't realize it yet, but Tyrion is the only Lannister who truly cares about her well-being and this marriage makes her pretty damn safe. Just when things are beginning to go well, the Red Wedding happens. Tyrion is sent to break the news to Sansa, but she has already found out, and any good feelings they were starting to get towards each other disappear with one sad look:

She ain't forgivin' him
Sansa's story does improve. Just trust me. She's older and smarter than she has been in previous seasons. She's been forced to adapt to being a captive and she knows that she can't be a princess. For non-book readers, there are several points where you would think this story has hit a dead end and there's no more they can do with this character. Then Blackwater and the Tyrells happened. Then Tyrion happened. In this next season, there will be another major shakeup to Sansa's story that I'm hoping will cause the Sansa-hate to decrease. 

Sansa is one of the biggest pawns in the game of thrones, but in a few seasons, I feel she will be a major player. If you take a minute to rethink Sansa Stark, she might become one of your favorite characters as well.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Film Review: Mud

Just when I started to get down on 2013 in film.

Now, technically Mud may be considered a 2012 release - it debuted at Cannes in May of 2012, but was not widely released until the beginning of 2013. It was a smart choice to hold it off for this year, as 2012 offered much stiffer competition where critical acclaim is concerned -- and critics have loved Mud, which currently has the year's 11-th best score (98%) on RottenTomatoes. In fact, the Mud screener was the first DVD sent out to Academy Award voters. 

The film is virtually flawless, and cements Jeff Nichols among the best young directors in Hollywood. His other films (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter) have some of the same tone, and he reminds me of a visual Cormac McCarthy. The abrupt violence, the pacing, and the gritty tone of his movies reeks of high literature, and Mud is his best film so far - a fine director operating at the very pinnacle of the art.

Unlike McCarthy, the film operates on more than a depressingly real level - as frustrating and close as the story is, there is a higher purpose - the story is about love. Ellis (a brilliant Tye Sheridan) and his friend Neckbone discover a man (McConaughey) who calls himself Mud on the shores of rural Deep South, USA. As Mud strains to reunite with his own forbidden love, Ellis, 14, is coming to terms with girls in his own right while watching his parents grow distant.

The film doubles as a Bildungsroman ('coming-of-age') story for Ellis, as he discovers what love is, what the point of love is, and what it means to be a man.


Story: 5/5 - The plot does its best to remain subtle while presenting very clear, classic themes. Love. Redemption. Maturation. Much like a McCarthy novel, the story is very plain, very real, and very, for lack of a better word, American.

Writing: 5/5 - This is how people talk in real life. There was not a single instance of a character saying something to explain something to the audience or further the plot. Again, McCarthy - these people are defined by their actions, and the story being told is the story of what they do - what they say is academic. That being said, there is some absolutely thrilling dialogue, and McConaughey is given some terrific moments to shine:

Acting: 5/5 - Matthew McConaughey deserves Oscar buzz for his performance, and I think he will get it. From the movies I have seen in 2013, it is he and Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) against the field. Tye Sheridan, all of 15 at the time of filming, deserves talk as well (and not just for MTV 'best kiss' awards). The supporting cast all stands out: Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, Man of Steel), Sam Shepard (The Assassination of Jesse James), and Ray McKinnon (Deadwood) were all perfect casting choices and all do their jobs perfectly.

Aesthetics: 5/5 - Adam Stone as cinematographer is good, not great, as he has been in Nichols's past work. The reason I thought the aesthetic of the film was perfect was how everything came together to create a flawless atmosphere. The sets, the costumes, the photography, the soundtrack - when combined with the characters and the actors' abilities it creates a flawlessly real time and place. I've never been anywhere in the States between Raleigh and Orlando (not counting Hartsfield), but I grew up in a similarly rural, economically-depressed, fuck-you-government area, and I have to say that the film triggered some kind of perverse nostalgia. It's Norman Rockwell, it's John Updike, it's Nelson Algren - the film is a Polaroid of a culture, and it accomplishes this with authority.

Final Score: 100% - I couldn't find a flaw in this movie. It's a drama, of course, so it's not for everyone - but if you like and/or appreciate film, this is the must-see movie of the year so far.