biopic

Jobs

by Jay Kerr on August 25, 2013

in Theatrical Release

Jobs

Jobs (Director: Joshua Michael Stern): Steve Jobs is the title Walter Isaacson gave to his authorized biography of the former Apple CEO. It is thorough, honest and insightful. By contrast, Joshua Michael Stern’s biopic is suitably titled Jobs. It provides a pedestrian summary of Isaacson’s book, brings nothing new to the table and ignores the most interesting and final phase of Steve Jobs’ career.

Rather than fast-forwarding through Jobs’ life, it might have been interesting to slow down and examine a few of the things that made him “insanely great.” The film glosses over Jobs’ relationship with his estranged daughter, his complicated friendship with Bill Gates, his marriage, the years at Next, Pixar and more.

The film covers a 30 year period beginning in 1971 with a barefoot, hippie Jobs, a Reed College dropout who experiments with drugs. It ends with guru Jobs in a black turtleneck and captures the excitement around the 2001 launch of the iPod music player.

Apple fanboys will enjoy how the film gives us a glimpse of what it was like to be in Silicon Valley at a Homebrew Computer Club meeting, the West Coast Computer Faire, or the famous garage where Apple began. Despite all of my misgivings, Jobs is an entertaining look back at the personal computer revolution.

Ashton Kutcher does a credible job of portraying Steve Jobs in the way he talks and gestures. He also mimics Jobs’ unique hunched over walk but in some scenes it is too forced and he ends up looking like a bouncing muppet. It’s difficult to accept Kutcher in a serious role but to his credit he pulls it off.

There is a great supporting cast with Dermot Mulroney, Matthew Modine, Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons and Josh Gad but most of these actors are sidelined by Kutcher who dominates the film. Josh Gad kind of looks like Steve Wozniak and provides one of the best scenes in the movie when he tearfully leaves Apple. Unfortunately this part of Apple history was fabricated by screenwriter Matt Whiteley along with a few other events in the film.

Whitely’s script tends to put Jobs in a favourable light most of the time and glosses over anything that makes him look weak. We never see the Jobs that Isaacson describes as running out of meetings, crying in defeat. There are so many incredible stories about Jobs that could have been leveraged to provide a different take on his story or some new insight into what made him great.

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The Lady

by Drew Kerr on September 29, 2011

in Film Festivals,TIFF

The Lady

The Lady (Director: Luc Besson): Director Luc Besson steps out of his comfort zone with The Lady, a biopic about Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese politician who spent almost 15 years under house arrest in her family compound for leading a democratic uprising that opposed Burma’s oppressive and corrupt government. Best known for high energy movies like La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element, and Leon: The Professional, Besson reins in the action for this expansive drama, which surprisingly focusses as much (if not more) on Suu Kyi’s relationship with her family as on her political history. In performances sure to generate Oscar buzz, Michelle Yeoh plays the titular character and David Thewlis plays her husband Michael Aris, a professor of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies at the University of Oxford.

Suu Kyi lived abroad in England for most of her adult life, where she and Aris raised two boys, until returning to her native country in 1988 to tend to her sick mother. Once there, she is approached by locals to lead efforts to form a new government that will bring democracy to the country, ending the iron-handed rule and human rights abuses of the leaders in power. This is one area of the film where the exposition felt clumsily handled; it’s jarring and confusing when Suu Kyi rapidly goes from seemingly being a simple Oxford housewife to the high profile leader of a politically chaotic country. No background is given on her adult years before her return to Burma (was she politically active while in England?) and there’s no real probing into her motivations or qualifications for taking on such a weighty and dangerous position, other than the fact that her father aspired to be a figure of change in the country before he was killed by opposing military forces when Suu Kyi was a child. That was obviously a factor, but a deeper exploration of this critical point in Suu Kyi’s life is needed, especially when we see the massive sacrifices she makes for her beliefs (she misses years of her family’s lives and is unable to be with her husband as he fights and ultimately succumbs to cancer in 1999). Thewlis gives an excellent performance as Aris, who devotedly shared in his wife’s struggle and unremittingly fought for her freedom.

Yeoh delivers a dignified, compassionate portrait of Suu Kyi, but is handcuffed somewhat by Besson’s and screenwriter Rebecca Frayn’s rather pedestrian summation of her struggle. Despite its lengthy running time (145 minutes), the film feels rushed and fails to resonate quite as deeply as such a remarkable story should. Yeoh met the politician in Burma last December, a month after Suu Kyi was finally freed, and attempted to visit her again in June while on a break from shooting The Lady in Thailand, but was deported and blacklisted by Burmese officials.

I’d never heard of Suu Kyi until U2 brought her name to a wider audience with the song “Walk On” and during brief segments about her at every show on their last couple of tours, for which Besson gives the band a couple of shout-outs in his film, however awkward (one of Suu Kyi’s sons wears a shirt from the band and one of their songs plays on the soundtrack). The Lady, although flawed, is a well-intentioned effort that will bring further attention to her extraordinary life and the ongoing fight for human rights in Burma.


oehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUYyX4NLaCY

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Carlos

by James McNally on November 5, 2010

in Theatrical Release

Carlos

Carlos (Director: Olivier Assayas): The prospect of sitting down to watch a 330-minute film is always a little bit daunting, but luckily I found myself at the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s largest auditorium, surrounded by only 6 other brave souls. In this luxe environment, and fortified by two intermissions, I let Assayas’ television miniseries envelop me like the cinematic epic it’s being sold as on this side of the pond.

I grew up in the 1970s, and so the story of Carlos “the Jackal” was already familiar to me. Lest the younger generation think that terrorism was invented on 9/11, let me remind them that the 1970s was a crazy time indeed. Europe was wracked by political terrorism from radical groups like the Red Brigades in Italy, the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany, and the Irish Republican Army in Ireland and the UK. The Palestinian issue was also particularly hot, with groups like the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) and the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) carrying out attacks in Europe as well as in the Middle East. Even Japan had its own homegrown radicals, the Japanese Red Army. In these Cold War times, the Soviet Union was happy to clandestinely fund the mayhem, just as the Western governments funded dissidents in the Eastern Bloc nations. I’m not even going to mention the proxy wars carried out in Africa and Latin America.

With so many little fires burning, it seemed only a matter of time before someone arrived to try to connect them together. Carlos (real name Ilich Ramírez Sánchez) was the son of Venezuelan Marxists and had been educated in Moscow before launching himself as a terrorist. Pledging his fealty first to Wadie Haddad and the PFLP, Carlos begins the film with his older girlfriend and her son in a settled life in London, where his cover is giving Spanish lessons. During dinner at an upscale restaurant, he argues with her that they need to stop talking about revolution and get involved. Even in this early conversation, he’s talking about glory and his girlfriend rightfully sees that his monstrous ego is at odds with his revolutionary principles. The setting is also telling, for Carlos has a love for the good life that he never bothers to reconcile with his avowed hatred for the capitalist system.

I don’t want to spend the entire review providing plot summary, but I must mention that there is a lot of it to summarize. There is so much ground to cover that for the first two hours, I was disappointed slightly by the lack of characterization. But by hour three, we’re coming to realize that Carlos is an insufferable idiot, puffed up with vanity and blind to his own ignorance of geopolitical forces. His appetites for booze and sex lead him to treat the women around him with contempt, even as they serve as safe havens when he’s on the run. As the film progresses, Carlos starts to enjoy his growing celebrity in the Western press. He gives speeches to hostages about who he is during terrorist operations, even signing an autograph in one case. The funny thing about his spectacular rise is that he’s actually not a very effective soldier. He botches most of his operations and when he ends up releasing hostages taken during his biggest operation (the storming of the OPEC conference in Vienna in December 1975), Haddad cuts him loose from the PFLP.

Vowing to start up his own group, he recruits a few loyalists with whom he’s worked in the past. Chief among them is Johannes Weinrich from the German Revolutionary Brigades, and his former girlfriend Magdalena Kopp, who eventually becomes Carlos’ wife. They set up house first in East Berlin and then in Budapest, where they try to enlist government support for their group. Carlos talks a lot about plans for operations, but never seems to get much done. A KGB-backed plan to assassinate Egyptian President Anwar el Sadat gestates for years before the Muslim Brotherhood beats Carlos to the punch in 1981. All the while, Carlos is living like a mafia don, surrounding himself with luxury and supplementing his relationship with the beautiful Magdalena with visits to prostitutes and affairs with other women. After another botched operation in 1982 involving a car bombing in Paris, Magdalena is arrested and imprisoned, and Carlos flees to Syria where he lies low for several years.

In 1990, Syria, newly-allied with the US, asks Carlos to leave the country. Failing to find a welcome in Libya, he ends up in Sudan. By this time, Magdalena has given birth to their daughter, but has decided to leave Carlos and return to live with his mother in Venezuela. Carlos takes up with another woman and lives his usual extravagant lifestyle, courtesy of the Sudanese government. All the while, his former allies in the Syrian government are seeking to sell information on his whereabouts to the highest bidder. Eventually, the French government decides to bring him back to France and put him on trial, and the end of the film shows his very undignified capture.

Some reviewers have remarked that the final third “sags” a bit, but in the arc of Carlos’ life, that is only natural. His spectacular rise in the 1970s was followed by a long, slow decline, partially due to his own weaknesses but mostly due to the shifting political forces that in the end made him irrelevant. His inflated sense of self-importance grows to look ever more pathetic as his base of operations keeps shifting to smaller and more insignificant locations. It also makes his bourgeois lifestyle stand out in even sharper relief when he mentions his solidarity with the oppressed. In the end, the first celebrity terrorist was nothing more than a construct of his own fantasies and those of the media he loved to court.

In his portrayal of Carlos, I must salute Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez, who was able to project an out-of-control ego in Spanish, English, French, German and Arabic. He also had to gain weight, lose it, and gain it again as Carlos’ lifestyle and age take their toll. Although he is not playing a very sympathetic character (this is not Che, after all), Ramirez holds nothing back, giving every one of Carlos’ ridiculous utterances his full conviction.

Although this was originally conceived as a three-part television miniseries, there are several advantages to seeing it all at once. Chiefly, I really did come to see how much of a fraud this man was and my annoyance level after five hours was impressively high. As well, seeing one terrorist attack after another, whether botched or “successful,” drove home the complete and utter senselessness of trying to effect political change using these methods. These pathetic little people, whether idealists or sociopaths, are so far removed from the corridors of power that they’re used and discarded with little regard by the political players of the world, and to whose ranks they’ll never be admitted.

In that sense, Assayas’ film, so broad in scope and full of details, may end up sticking with me much longer than I initially thought.

P.S. In case you are thinking that the film will be a 5.5 hour slog through senseless violence and raging ego, I will point out a few delights. First, Nora von Waldstätten, who plays Magdalena Kopp, is a porcelain-skinned beauty with a pronounced allergy to brassieres. She was always a pleasure to look at, and I hope to see her in more films. Second, Assayas populates the soundtrack with some inspired, though unusual, songs from the punk and postpunk eras. If you’re a fan of The Feelies, Wire or A Certain Ratio, the soundtrack will keep you smiling.


oehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3QkM7uyF10

8/10(8/10)

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