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.

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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.

8/10(8/10)

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